Growing up I always knew I was adopted. It never bothered me. I never questioned it. It just was. Not until sophomore year of high school did I begin wondering about my adoption. I remember being in biology class, talking about genetics, and feeling very lost. Not lost in the material, but lost in myself. All around me classmates were talking about who they got their eyes, nose, mouth, and ears from. I realized I would never know these things. I always heard people telling my older siblings (my parents’ biological children) they looked like either my mom or my dad. Where it never bothered me before, now it did. I would never hear anyone say those things to me. In that moment I felt a deep loss, a loss I had never felt before. And so began my series of “what ifs.”
“What if I hadn’t been adopted? What if I had been adopted at an older age? What if I had lived with my birth parents? What if I had been adopted by someone else? What if I had gotten to choose whether or not I wanted to be adopted? What if I had a part in the decision? What if I had biological brothers or sisters? What if cancer was prevalent in my family? What if there were other diseases? What if China didn’t have the one-child policy? What if I had been a boy? What if my birth parents were looking for me? What if…..”
In the midst of all these questions I lost all sense of who I was. I felt as if my whole life was one big lie, one big unknown. I didn’t want to think about my adoption. I didn’t want to deal with the questions now bombarding my life. The chaos and emotions these questions ensued were unwelcome. I felt everything: anger, hurt, loss, pain, and guilt. I felt guilty for having these questions, for even entertaining them. Shouldn’t I be happy, shouldn’t I be grateful, shouldn’t I be rejoicing? I felt I didn’t have the right to feel these emotions or ask these questions.
As a result, I never voiced these questions to my parents. I never wanted them to feel hurt. I didn’t want them to wonder if they had done something wrong. I didn’t want them to think that I questioned their love or didn’t love them in return. I also didn’t want them to feel attacked and in response get defensive. I was afraid they wouldn’t take my pain, anger, hurt, and loss seriously. I was afraid that instead of guiding me through my questions, they would ignore them. I was afraid of being seen as being selfish and ungrateful for all they’ve done. Because of fear and guilt I hid myself behind a mask. I didn’t allow anyone to see the pain I was going through. I didn’t allow anyone to know about the internal struggles going on.
Adoptive parents, it’s common for some adoptees to have these types of questions. The reason I titled this “My What Ifs Are Not About You” is because I want adoptive parents to know, at least for me, that my “what if” questions were never about them. They didn’t stem from anything they did or didn’t do. These questions didn’t come about because I thought they were lacking as parents. They weren’t from feeling unloved or unwanted by them. They weren’t from me wishing for a different life or different parents. Instead, these questions came from a place of pain and loss. I was adopted at two and a half. It was difficult for me to comprehend that those first couple years were totally erased from my life. No documentation, no scrapbooks, no home videos. It was as if I didn’t exist.
I wish I hadn’t allowed guilt and fear to keep me silent. I wish I had known that asking questions and having emotions beyond joy and happiness were valid and understandable. I don’t blame my parents at all. I know adoption isn’t easy on adoptive parents. I know they have their own questions and probably their own “what ifs.”
I want to encourage parents to open the door for their child to talk about their adoption. For me, I needed my parents to take the first step. I needed to know they would react out of love and not hurt. I needed to know they would listen and not dismiss. I wish that early on I had heard something like “I know you may not have questions now, but you may in the future. I want you to know if that happens, I’m here, ready to listen.” I also want adoptees to know that it’s okay to ask these questions. It’s okay to wonder. Don’t feel guilty. Having “what if” questions is understandable and valid. I want you to know you don’t have to remain silent. My hope is that whatever is holding you back from speaking, no longer would.