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Words of Advice

A few weeks ago, I visited Sierra Forever Families to speak to a group of adoptive and foster care parents. A casual thirty minute talk turned into an hour and a half of some good dialogue. I felt comfortable and open with everybody and I got the same feelings reciprocated from my audience. Although I felt like we touched on a lot of big topics and themes, I left feeling drained but also eager to tell the parents more. If only there was enough time to speak on everything I have learned this last year. From what I have collected from Pact Camp, books, films, articles, blogs, PACER, my dear friendships and my TRA Tribe, I could write a "How To..." book, and have many volumes. This is no right or wrong way to adopt a child, but being well informed with compassion and an open mind is very crucial to the emotional, mental, and spiritual upbringing of an adopted child. Here are a few things I thought of as I was driving home...

  • Don't imply that we have to choose between claiming our birth family or adoptive family.- I have a right to chose both set of parents/families as mine or not mine. My feelings towards both need to be respected and acknowledged.
  • Love Is Not Enough- Please refer to my previous blog
  • Space on birthdays - Birthdays or coming home parties are a great way to celebrate the union of new family members through adoption, but for some adoptees, birthdays and such celebrations are also a reminder of the loss of first mother/families, trauma, separation, and/or abandonment. Be aware that some of these feelings may be present around birthdays or the day they became a part of the family. Creating a safe place and time to talk through the feelings or at least acknowledge that they may be present can keep the adoptee from internalizing the sadness.
  • Explaining family relations- Having to always mention something about my adoption and how I was a part of my family was odd, because I didn't really know how to address or answer the real tough questions or comments. I didn't know how to talk about my adoption and feel confident at the same time. I didn't know that I didn't have to answer their questions at all.
  • Triggers after 18 years old- Even though I am an adult now and I am pretty emotionally mature, I still want my mommy and daddy to call me and ask me how my life is (specifically about my adoption journey this last year). I know I may sound needy, but my point is that I have ongoing feelings and triggers that are constantly coming up in my life. Some, I am aware of and can pinpoint the cause, but some triggers get to me and I just need to talk about it and be taken care of by my parents, even at the age of 32+.
  • Not a clean slate- Even though I was adopted about six months after my birth, doesn't mean that I came with no past or history that will never be desired. I think that some adoptive parents chose to adopt infants because of less emotional ties to birth mothers/families, less traumatic experiences to heal, or for the opportunity to raise a child as their own (a blank slate). Regardless of the reason, I and other adoptees come with a history, a past, and a previous family that we have to right (and some desire) to know about.
  • Matching role model- In second grade, I had an Indian woman as my teacher! I was so excited to see her. I clung on to her so tight and still found a reason to love her even though she was a strict teacher. I just remember seeing her everyday and wondering if she was my birth mother, if she knew my birth mother, or if she simply looked like her. There was something so comforting about seeing another Indian person on a regular basis that was a part of my life during that school year. Later on as I got older, I would love to watch the Miss World or Miss Universe pageant competitions. I would always watch for Miss India and hoped that she won. Just seeing another beautiful woman on TV confirmed that there were other Indians all over the world. Even today, my favorite show is the Mindy Project staring Mindy Lahiri. Just being able to watch not only an Indian woman on television writing, producing, staring and running her own show, but watching a dark Indian woman on television makes me feel represented and acknowledged for something positive rather than just another Indian owning a corner market store. I guess what I'm saying here is being able to see others like me in positive and successful roles allows me to be seen outside of the typical stereotypes.
  • Connect with other families built like yours- It wasn't until I entered Pact Camp last July that I saw  families built like my own. I seriously thought I was the only one. I knew that my cousin is a TRA as well, but besides us, I never really experienced many other families like my own in person on a regular basis. As a result, I felt odd and different. Then to finally see little kids of color running around with their white parents following closely behind hit me harder than I had ever expected. Every family that attended the camp was just like mine. I was an incredible feeling and I wish I had those connections growing up like the families do now. Normalizing adoption is key.
  • Living in a diverse neighborhood- I was very lucky enough to live in a diverse neighborhood. I had friends that were Cambodian, Vietnamese, Filipino, and African Americans. I have heard stories from my fellow adoptees that they grew up in secluded, predominately white, rural areas where they were the only child of color at their schools. Being around other kids of color helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin when growing up in an all white family.
  • Privacy vs. secrets- This one is difficult to balance at times. As an adoptee, my circumstance as to why my birth mother relinquished me and how I ended up in my family is nobody's business but mine. My past, my story, my history is for me to tell. For some new families that are welcoming a new child into their home through adoption, parents may get a lot of attention from other family members and friends. I am sure that there will be a lot of questions, curiosity, and excitement, but honoring the privacy of an adoptee's story is the most important than giving in to other's curiosity. I have heard stories where extended family members know more about an adoptee's birth family than the adoptee themselves. When it comes to the adoptee wanting to know more about their own story, their birth family, why they were adopted, then the adoptee has every right to know all the information that is provided, but not the rest of the family or circle of friends. Adoption is built on secrets and secrets do not benefit anybody. Keeping secrets about the adoption from the adoptee is not okay, but if the adoptee wants to keep their story a secret from the rest of the family, then they have every right to do so.
  • Talk about adoption often- Normalize adoption as much as possible, without making adoption the only topic of discussion. I didn't talk about my adoption much growing up, so I didn't know how to talk about my feelings or even have the confidence to be vulnerable about my sadness. Having adoption be a comfortable topic of discussion at any age will give the adoptee the power to protect themselves and to open themselves up when he/she decides to. Acting as though adoption didn't take place or that its normal without talking about it is simply ignoring the fact that adoption is present. It leaves the adoptee to figure it out and make sense of it on their own. When bringing up the topic of adoption or the more uncomfortable feelings that adoption may come with, adoptees may not respond or talk for awhile. Hearing that adoption is okay to talk about within family circles can relieve a lot of pressure to protect the feelings of adoptive parents. Even though adoptees may not respond right away, they are listening and waiting for the right time to speak up. That right time, may come unexpectedly a day, a week, or even years later. Just hearing and knowing that they can be open about their adoption when they are ready can be comforting.
  • Support non adoptive children- I have an older sister and she was seven years old when I came into the family. As of now, I am not sure what her experience was, but I am aware that she also went through a major adjustment period. She was no longer the only child and as I was told by my mother, I got a lot of attention when I arrived and she had to "take a back seat." It took me awhile to shake off that responsibility of causing my sister to feel that way because of my presence, but I can respect that she went through her own experiences. I am not sure how my parents supported her before and during this transition then and now, but I hope that my parents did acknowledge her feelings somehow.
  • Therapy- I didn't attend therapy regarding my adoption until I was in college. I wish I was in therapy much sooner, even family therapy because of the benefits I gained from it. My mother even wishes that she had put me into therapy as a child after witnessing the challenges I have gone through. Therapy for an adoptee can help the ongoing triggers, normalizing adoption, and creating coping skills for dealing with loss, sadness, and any other challenging feelings that may arise.

Adoptees Connect

Please Don't Tell Me I Was Lucky to Be Adopted  Shareen Pine took the words right out my mouth. Her article that I included above is an article that spoke to me on so many different levels...

"Adoption loss is truly multi-generational"- Shareen starts off with a conversation that her daughter had with her friend about how she also feels like an adoptee because she lost her birth grandmother. I have always thought about my future children and how I wanted to create as much truth about their past as I could prior to me having them. I mean, the thought of my children was a major influence as to why I wanted to begin and complete my search for my birth mother and family. I wanted to be able to give to my children what my adoptive parents were not able to give or didn't know how to give. I wanted to provide names, pictures, answers, a story for them to pass on to their children.

What I didn't realize, was that is goes much farther than what I want and how I feel. Shareen acknowledged how her daughter felt and that is something that I never considered before. There is not much I can do now since I do not have any children yet, but I realized that no matter how many pictures or stories I tell them about my search and what I was able to find out, they are still going to experience the same loss as me... no relationships and no contact with birth family prior me. I think that Shareen's daughter is very wise to see herself as an adoptee in her own special way because besides me and my children's father, they will have no connections or ties; they too may feel a loss as I do.

"Adoptees are often so busy trying to prove that we're fine..." -This is how I would self soothed myself when I felt broken and lost not only as a child, but also as a young adult. My response to family's concerns up until recently has always been, I'm fine or Ill be okay. I didn't have the strength or the comfort to really express myself until I started counseling in college. A big part of not expressing myself was that I didn't have the language to do it. I didn't know how to talk about my feelings. I didn't know how to not feel guilty. I didn't know how not to worry about what people thought or how I would make them feel if I yell out, I hate being adopted. I didn't know that it was okay and that it was absolutely normal to have these feelings because I was constantly being reminded to feel lucky and grateful. I would speak the words of feeling lucky and grateful to others without them having any meaning behind them. I could feel myself forcing these words out because that is what people wanted to hear and expected me to feel. I allowed others' expectations to override and bury my truth.

"Can you imagine being the only person in the world you know you’re related to?"- Right!?! This is really an odd and confusing feeling, especially being around family and friends who are all biologically connected and related to one another except to me. I didn't really get this feeling until my little brother was born. All I could hear was how much he looked like my father. Looking back on that now, it was really a weird experience and odd to be around those conversations. I felt left out. I would always wonder if my parents attention would spark at that moment and think about how I may feel. I was hopeful that they would turn to me and ask me how I felt or even acknowledged that that is a conversation I wouldn't be a part of.  We all remained quiet.

"...Or why they told me that my adoptive parents saved me."- I have heard it all. My adoptive parents saved me, my birth mother loved me so much that she had to surrender her rights to raise me, your life is so much better now, you probably would have been a prostitute or better yet, dead in the gutter because that's what Indians do to the female babies. Talk about a lot of shit to hear and try to make sense of as a young child. For some reason, it did always amaze me how these possible truths came from people who have never been to India, never lived in India, and don't  know shit about my birth mother and her truth at the time of my birth. It took me all the way up until just a few years ago to accept that these people wanted to feel like saviors and that they wanted to feed their ego. Their words were so inaccurate after I found out what my truth was that it now makes me laugh at how stupid they all look now.

Even till this day, I think about what my life could have been like if I were to stay with my biological family in Goa. Never once do I think or feel that it would be worse or better than my life now.

To close this post, I would like to say thank you to Shareen Pine and her daughter for speaking out and sharing their truth. Validation is so important in adoption and I cannot begin to express how much I have learned from their words.

The Colorblind Game Failed

Whenever you are sad, who do you talk to? When you are depressed, who do you confide in? When you are confused, who do you speak out loud to? When you are lost, who do you go find? During my moments of feeling sad, depressed, confused, and lost I had no one to run to. Yes, my family was there, but what I had to say was not going to be something that they wanted to hear. Growing up, my family played the colorblind game with me and acted as though I was no different and just one of the family members. They are not to blame, considering the education around transracial adoption was very limited thirty years ago. I blame the adoption agencies that were only out to make money and close files.

My adoption, my loss, my mental health or that of my sister's was never a topic of conversation. Without the dialogue, I grew up confused and learned to repress my feelings as if they were not important or valid. How can I speak up about my loss and confusion surrounding my adoption if it was never acknowledged? As a child, how could it be left up to me to yell out? As a child, I didn't want to draw any more attention to how I was different than what was already apparent physically.

As a young adult, I have tried reaching out to my parents. I remember giving them both the book, 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew with  highlighted sections that spoke to me specifically. Neither one of them reached out to continue the conversation. I talked to my dad not long ago about how hard it can be sometimes to be adopted and he replied that he had no idea about it all and was silent. He has yet to bring it up again. When I speak to my mother, she takes a lot of it personal as if I am telling her what a horrible job she did as a parent. I can understand that. A the same time, what I need from my parents is for them to listen and validate me. I need them to bring up the conversation first, I need them to ask me questions, I need them to take care of me. As much as I push away, I need to them to keep coming after me because I keep drifting farther and farther away.

Now that I am an adult in my thirties, I think I must look to others for support because what I need is not going to come from my parents at this point. It has been very tough to accept this.

The feelings that I have about my adoption are not great feelings. At this point in my healing process, I am not really a fan of adoption and the joys that it brings to everybody else's lives. Even till this day, I still catch myself suppressing feelings of loss and sadness. I didn't want to continue this unhealthy cycle, so I started this blog to release the tension and break down my barriers. I haven't told my parents about it, nor do I think I will. I'm hoping this outlet will lead to acceptance and the belief that my life is suppose to happen the way that it is set up now. I'm not there yet, but maybe.  As much as I want to talk to my parents, I don't think what I have to say is what they want to hear. I think at this point, it is better that I now play their colorblind game and take my sorrows to therapy and my blog. :)

The Most Precious Gift She Could Have Given Me

These were the words my mother said to me when she spoke about me and my birth mother. At first, I thought it is very sweet and endearing. I agreed with her and felt like as though I was a gift. It wasn't until later when I started to hear the stories of birth mothers and the pain that they have to endure to gain the courage to relinquish their natural born child and give up their rights to parent. Hearing the stories of endless tears, doubt, regret, confusion, grief, lies, and fear made me think... "Was I really a gift from my birth mother?"

It just seems so hard to believe that if my birth mother even felt just one or two of these feelings, then how can I be given as a gift. Gifts are given from one person to another with the desire to give. Did my mother have the desire to give her child to another family? Gifts are wrapped up in beautiful, shiny, wrapping paper with a large red bow. Did I come wrapped up in a bow with a card? Gifts are given without any obligation attached. Did my birth mother feel obligated to give her child away?

I am not trying to take away the feeling or minimize my mothers feelings about receiving her gift. If she wants to feel and believe that I was a gift, then she has every right to feel that way. For all I know, my mother could be talking about something completely different than what I am speaking of now. My interpretation could be off or my simple minded understanding of her words could be a long shot from her truth. I am not in her position.

Now that I know how some birth mothers feel about giving birth and really having no other options that keep their child with them, I don't think my birth mother sees it the same way. I truly believe that no woman would view their child as a gift to give to another family. I do not have any children of my own at this point, so I can only imagine how heartbreaking and devastating it could be to give up my rights to parent my child regardless of the situation I am in. And now to turn and wrap that heartache and trauma into a gift of love with a bow seems to be minimizing the feelings of the first woman involved.

Torn Between Homes

I was sitting at my kitchen table, eating dinner and watching Long Way Down with Ewan McGregor, and as he is traveling south through Africa, I get so emotional all of a sudden. As that very moment, I began to miss India... I feel so torn; torn between two homes, two lives, two families. This last month or so, I have become hungry to travel back home to India. I want to be around my people and to just see them everyday. I want to just live a simple life for a while without all the struggles and chaos of trying to keep up with being successful and creating a life within the American culture. I am in this life at this moment and all I want to do is just live it, but I don't know how to when I want to be on two opposite side of the world at the same time.

At times like this, I truly feel like I am so far from home. Almost like I am just visiting here and I will soon go back home or as if I am in the wrong environment. It really is challenging to try to create this connection with India, when it's not close enough where I can just get up and leave for a weekend or a few weeks. If I could have it my way, I would relocated my whole family and make them come with me. I don't think it is too much to ask, right? I mean, they expected me to just fly across the world and become a part of their family without helping me stay connected to Goa, so why can't they? I know it's not that easy, but I was expected to just fit into their family, their culture, their lifestyle like I am this little being with absolutely no roots. All my connections and ties were severed; not once mended until I became old enough to begin stitching my past with my present.

I remember talking to my mother years ago when I was around 18 or 19 years old. I was telling her that I  wish they (her and my family) had taught me about India, about Goa, about the culture, the language, something. I remember her reply because I never felt as alone as I did when I heard her speak her truth. She said something along the lines of "you are now old enough where it is your responsibility to learn what you want to know about India." Yes, it did become my responsibility because I was entering adulthood and that's how the American culture treats 18 year olds, but at the same time, I felt like I don't want to do it alone. I don't want to feel like I am alone anymore. I wanted my family to embrace and bring in some parts of the Goan culture, not just for me, but for themselves. It's almost like, India is good enough to give them their babies, but not good enough to bring into their home. It just seems so bizarre to me.

Anyways, I am pushing the blame on my family and I need to forgive and accept. I just hate this feeling of lonesome and having to choose to be in either America with my family, or in India alone.

Nisha in Sari

I Am All Grown Up Now... Well, Kind Of.

I am 31 years old and I seriously thought that I had my shit together. I mean, I graduated college, I traveled back to India twice, I searched for my birth mother, I am financially independent, emotionally stable, and I'm in graduate school. Seems like I have my shit together, right?! Well, surprise! I don't. It was just about a month ago, I thought I was doing well until I got an email from a woman who happened to find me while searching for the woman who owned my orphanage years ago in Goa. She is responsible for turning my life upside down, in a good way of course. She explained to me that she used to intern at my orphanage in 1993 (10 years after I was there). As we began to exchange emails, she further told me about the life she lived inside those walls during her four month stay. To be honest, it is truly a miracle that she found me by chance. She shared stories about the other women working with her, the routine she had with the children, and the food that she ate. The best part is that she had pictures!!! She sent me a few pictures of the children and women she worked with and in the background were the white cribs all lined up. At that moment, I broke down. For an adoptee who knew absolutely nothing about her first home during the first six months of her life, the shock of receiving pictures of the orphanage during the time it was in "business" was life changing, not to mention the crib where I would rock myself to sleep every night and lay my head to dream. Yes, she was there 10 years after I was, but things in India rarely change, and if there are changes, it's not over night. Her stories and her photos filled in the first six months of my life and she is proving, in a way that I existed before my family picked me up from the airport. You may be asking yourself why is it that I trust her or could she may be lying to me. I briefly doubted her for a moment as well, but she explained the house exactly how I remembered it when I visited (it was empty at the time) and explained the woman who owned my orphanage exactly the way that others have explained her. The front yard and backyard in the photos resemble the images in my memory from when I visited years ago. At times like this, trust and faith slip in and remove all doubt. A sudden ease settles in and pure joy sets off. My tears shortly started flowing down my cheeks. Unlike many adoptees I know, I am able to rewrite my history and my life before coming to the US. These stories are not just for me, but for my future children and their children and their children.

Although pure joy settled in, a much deeper emptiness arose that I had never felt before. Yes, I have gained a new page in my personal history book, but I have also began to grieve the loss of my birth family. As soon as I returned back to the States after meeting and getting denied by my birth mother, I accepted it, and quickly moved right back into work and school mode like I was "suppose to". Regardless of the situation, I never took time to grieve the loss of my mother, my siblings, my life in India; instead I did what I thought I was suppose to, which was accept and move on. This is the emptiness that I am struggling with at the moment. This is the loss that I am working through. This is the "what ifs" that I am fantasizing about. This is the painful side of adoption. I can no longer bury it and act like the bigger person. I need to grieve and continue to cry everyday about being and feeling absolutely alone here. This is my time to not be a grown up.

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