What Is It Like To Be Adopted?
Sharing My Adoption Experience
So today I’m going to write about something that a lot of you probably can’t relate to: adoption. I was adopted from Sri Lanka when I was eight weeks old, so my experience is different to some in that I have no memories of my biological parents or of the country where I was born. However, being a chocolate coloured kid with a lily white skinned mother meant that I often received awkward questions, particularly when I was younger. Whenever I tell people I’m adopted, the response is either surprise and curiosity, or pity, sometimes people even give me their condolences for my adoption
The first and most important thing that I want people to understand is this: I had no choice in the matter, the same as you had no choice about being born. One family gave birth to me and decided not to keep me and another family chose to adopt me as their daugher. I don’t feel that I should be sad about the life that I could have had, or that I should be extra grateful simply because I was adopted, because to me it’s the same as you being born to your parents. Whether somebody chooses to give birth to a child or to adopt a child, they are choosing to be the parent to that child and the child should never have to feel like they owe them for that. The job of a parent is to love their child unconditionally, whether the child is theirs by birth or by adoption. My Mum never suggested that I owed her anything for giving me a good life in Australia. On the other hand, my father sometimes reminded me that I could have been a tea-picker or a prostitute if it wasn’t for him. Which one of the two do you think I felt more close to? Reminding the child that they are better off with you just makes them think of a life they could have had and therefore feel that you aren’t their real parent.
My father expected me to be grateful that he had ‘saved me’ from a terrible and hard life, but if I had grown up over there I wouldn’t have known any different. Would life have been so terrible and hard? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s the same as your parent expecting you to be grateful that they gave birth to you and not somebody else. Or your parent saying ‘you should be grateful that we kept you after we gave birth to you because we could have put you in foster care’. Your child should not have to consider any alternatives to you being their parent. You don’t sit and think about the fact that you could have been born somewhere else to somebody else, because you weren’t. In the same way, I don’t sit around thinking that I could have been raised somewhere else, because I wasn’t. Just as you may feel blessed to have a wonderful family, so I feel blessed to have had a wonderful mother, not because I was adopted, but because she was my Mum.
The second thing you need to know is that I don’t really feel anything towards my biological family. I don’t feel anger, I don’t feel love, I don’t feel connected, I don’t feel hurt, I don’t feel anything. How can you feel something about a group of people who you have never met? I don’t know if my feelings would change if I met them because I haven’t had that experience. I don’t think about them often because I don’t feel that there is any point. What has happened, has happened. I am so lucky to have had a wonderful Mum and I can’t imagine my life any other way. It would be like you sitting around all the time thinking about what your life would be like if you had been born a member of the royal family. You were brought up where you were brought up, you are who you are, so why burden yourself with thoughts of a different life? All any of us can really do is make the most of the life we have.
Growing up as an adopted child, here are some common questions I have been asked:
Why is your Mum white?
When you think about it, this question really doesn’t make sense, but I have been asked it a lot, particularly in junior school. ‘I guess she’s white because she was born white. Why do you have blonde hair?’…What they were really asking was ‘why do you and your Mum have different skin colours?’ or perhaps more to the point, ‘why are YOU not white?’ So, to answer the question, my Mum is white because I was adopted, and I am brown because I was born this way.
When did you first find out you were adopted?
I actually don’t remember finding out. It was just something that I always knew. I guess it’s something that couldn’t really be hidden, considering the differences in skin colour, but it was never a sensitive topic at home. As I grew older, I had more questions and Mum was always open about answering them all. I’m glad of that, because it made being adopted seem normal. When it came to my relationship with Mum, I felt the way I assume biological children feel, there was no question in my mind that she was my Mum. Being adopted did not make me feel any less loved or any less her daughter. Other people noticed our outward differences, but at home, I never felt any different, the skin colour wasn’t even something either of us noticed.
Do you want to meet your real family?
Firstly, I already know my real family, I grew up with them. My biological parents are not my real family, they are strangers to me. That aside, this is a hard question to answer. In all honesty, if somebody said to me, ‘your biological family are in the next room, would you like to meet them?’ I wouldn’t say no. I think that it would be an interesting experience and I kind of look at it from a researcher’s point of view – would I feel a connection with these strangers? What sort of similarities would there be, both physically and mentally? These are questions that I can never answer without going through the experience of meeting them. There are rare times when I do get curious and want to know a bit about them, but these times are few because I have so much in my own life to think about and deal with.
That being said, meeting my biological parents wasn’t really something I had a strong desire to do. My real Mum was always enough for me. I suppose the situation would be different for people who are adopted at an older age, but since I was so young I didn’t have a reason to feel like I wasn’t Mum’s daughter. Even though I was adopted, I don’t think I really ever thought of myself as not being her biological daughter, if that makes sense. My Mum was all I needed.
While I do have some natural curiosity and I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to meet them or find out about them, I’ve always felt that meeting my biological family could do more harm than good. My mind and my life are both complicated enough without trying to add a whole new family of blood related strangers who speak a different language and live in a different country. Meeting them would satisfy the curiosity I have, but my Mum is my Mum and I am her daughter and she is my real family and that’s all there is to it.
Do you know why your biological parents gave you up?
Yes. Do you know if your parents planned you, or were you a mistake? I don’t mean to be rude, but that’s how personal the question you’re asking is. I might be curious, but it really isn’t my business whether your parents planned you or not….
You must want to visit Sri Lanka to see where you came from, right?
Yes and no. I do want to visit Sri Lanka, but not really to see where I came from. In my mind, I come from Adelaide. I want to visit Sri Lanka because I hear it’s a very nice place to see, with lovely waterfalls and beaches. So yes, I would like to visit the country, but more for a holiday, not a soul-searching trip. I can’t say how I would feel once I got there, because I haven’t been in that situation. At the moment I take an interest in the country, but don’t feel strong ties to it.
Why aren’t you more interested in your own culture?
Firstly, what do you mean? I personally define my culture as the customs and beliefs that I was brought up with, which is the same as you. If you’re talking about the place where I was born, well for me, learning about it would be the same as you learning about Spanish culture. It is foreign to me, something I know hardly anything about, and would have to learn from the beginning. It is not inherently a part of me, it is something new. I am interested in learning more of the cooking because Mum used to make really nice Sri Lankan curries, but I’m as interested in learning about the rest of Sri Lankan culture as I am in learning about other cultures.
Could you marry your first cousin?
By law, I don’t know. But even if I could, that would be weird and it’s a really odd thing to bring up. I don’t go around thinking, ‘Oh he’s my cousin, but we aren’t really related.’ My cousins are my cousins. I feel the same about my first cousins as you do about your first cousins, assuming you feel the same about your first cousins as I do.
What if you marry somebody and he turns out to be your brother?
Then I would have married my brother..In this day and age, you probably have the same chance of that happening to you as I do…
Here’s a few differences in life that adopted children face that you may not think about:
1) Visiting the Doctor:
You know when you go to the doctors and you have to fill out those forms answering your family medical history? Well, I just have to write ‘adopted’. Same with when the doctors question you, I just have to say ‘I was adopted’ and I get no more family medical history questions. Although, I must confess, if I come across an arrogant GP I tend to let them ask me all the questions and tell them all my family history and then when they’re done I politely and helpfully add, ‘but I was adopted when I was 8 weeks old though…’ I just love watching their faces after receiving this useful piece of information.
It does concern me a little though, because some of these medical things that they dismiss due to adoption could be nurture, not nature, which means they may still be relevant.
2) Family Trees:
Most children can look at their ancestors and relatives and see resemblances; same eye colour, a similar forehead, same chin, same hair, same legs, etc. However, for me that has never been the case. This doesn’t mean I don’t view them as family, but I suppose it’s one reason why I was never all that interested in my family tree when I was younger, because there isn’t much excitement in it for me when it comes to searching for people who might look like me. I never really felt left out or concerned about this though, because nobody pulled out the family tree and then looked at me sadly and said, ‘oh, but nobody here looks like you.’ It was just never a big deal.
Three things people say that frustrate me:
‘You’re so lucky to have the chance to live here.’
Yes, I am, but so are you. You are lucky to have been born here, do people point that out to you every day? Why should it be different for me? Yes, I’m thankful and grateful, but I also had a normal childhood and never knew a life that was any different. I had as much choice in my adoption as you did about being born, so I don’t think I should have to feel any different about my circumstances and my family than you do.
‘It’s so amazing that your parents adopted a child. I could never adopt, I want my own children’.
Firstly, your child is your child, whether you adopt it or give birth to it. You don’t adopt a child and then say, ‘oh but she’s not my real daughter’ When Mum introduced people to me, she didn’t say ‘this is my adopted daughter,’ she said, ‘this is my daughter’, because that is what I am. When you choose to give birth to a child, it’s the same as choosing to adopt a child. You plan to have a new young life in your home that you are responsible for, that you are committed to, that you will love unconditionally for the rest of your life. If you have the attitude that an adopted child will not be your real child, then I sincerely hope that you never ever get the chance to adopt a child.
Incidentally, this conversation that seems to happen a lot more than you’d think:
Me: I was adopted
Person: Ohh, so have you met your real parents?
Me: My real parents are the ones who brought me up, but I haven’t met my biological parents. I thought of visiting Sri Lanka with my Mum once.
Person: Wait…so do you mean your birth Mum or your adopted Mum?
Me: (inner sigh) My adopted Mum.
From then on in the conversation the other person has to refer to my Mum as my ‘adopted Mum’ just so we’re both clear about who my Mum is.
‘Where are you from? But where are you FROM really?
If you ask me three times in a day, you’ll probably get three different answers. Do you want to know where I was born? Where I was brought up? Where I live now? Sometimes I give all three, or sometimes I’ll just say ‘South Australia’ and watch them nod with slight confusion. The most annoying thing is the following conversation:
Person: Where are you from?
Person: But where are you from?
Me: I grew up in South Australia
Person: Yes, but where are you FROM?
Me: well…I was born in Sri Lanka…if that’s what you mean…
Person: nods knowingly, thinking, ‘I knew she wasn’t one of us’.
The thing is, I am one of you. I was brought up being one of you. My mother’s side of the family are white dairy farmers, which is another piece of information I love to throw around and watch the confusion on people’s faces.
A much easier question for these people to ask would be, ‘excuse me, why do you stand out like a delicious piece of milk chocolate surrounded by cottage cheese?’ Because that is essentially what they’re asking, ‘why do you look different?’ And once they get the answer that I was born overseas, they are satisfied and don’t even consider the fact that I was brought up with the same culture as them, that I speak English just as well as them (because I must be dim to have taken three tries to answer their question correctly), or that I don’t identify as Sri Lankan.
For me, being adopted is wonderful, confusing, happy, sad, curious…but at the same time, it is normal and it is all I’ve ever known. If I let it, I’m sure it could mess with my head, and sometimes perhaps it does, but one thing is for sure;
I know who my Mum is and I wouldn’t have it any other way.