One of my pet peeves is the prevalence in the adoption community of talking about teen and adult adoptees as if they are a homogeneous group. Even a few adult adoptees I’ve spoken with fall into this trap when they purport to speak for all adoptees. Nothing could be further from the truth. A few months ago I posted about my 15 year old daughter’s experience on visiting the country of her birth. That was her experience from my perspective and from her conversations with me. Her experience is not universal. It may not even be how she remembers it now, or how she will experience it if she goes again. In order to share the diversity of experiences children and teen adoptees might have when visiting their birth country on a homeland visit, I’m sharing the experience from another 15 year old adoptee about her visit to China when she was nine. This is how she experiences the importance of that trip as viewed six years later in the midst of a serious struggle with adoption and life issues. Keep that in mind as you read her account
I always knew my background. The story that had been told to me over and over again all through my childhood ” Once upon a time in a beautiful land called China there was a mommy and a daddy who loved you very much but they couldn’t take care of you and so they gave you to the orphanage who brought you to us”. Little did I know then that in the future these words would have such an effect on me. Now, I was going to China for three weeks– the place where I was born, and also the place where those same “mommy and daddy” just didn’t love me enough.
I had always known I’d been adopted. My parents were very open with me, plus there was no denying the fact that I looked different than the rest of my family. Though we all had brown eyes, mine were shaped differently and my skin was darker. I never really minded being adopted or looking different because I knew they were my family, and I loved them no matter what. People didn’t ask, so I assumed they knew, No one ever made fun of me, called me names, or was prejudice towards me that I can remember.
I wonder now what was really going through my 9 year old head when we went to China. I was really excited to go, but it didn’t seem real. Just riding an airplane so far seemed scary. They were these big metal things that went into the air and could drop … drop you really far. I was going to this mysterious place in a whole different world, and if I had been a boy I might have even grown up there. I busied myself on the plane ride playing cards with my aunt or taking funny pictures of my sister, but really I was thinking about what would happen. I wondered if my parents were going to leave me in China and go home without me. I knew that would never happen, but I convinced myself that it might.
I stepped outside of the airport, and it wasn’t very beautiful or magical at all. I felt like coughing because it was so hot, smoky, muggy, and cloudy. You couldn’t even see the sky. Safe to say, it was not the best first impression. China was everything I didn’t like…Loud, Bustling, Crowded, Scary and Unsafe. I really hated how it felt. I almost started crying just standing in the terminal. Everything that I believed in and dreamed about was something I hated. I thought I would feel better and at home in China–maybe at peace with myself. But I felt the exact opposite. Even more sad, lost and confused than ever before.
Everything got a bit better from there. I started making friends with the other kids in my travel group. There were four girls from 9-12, and we were the older and coolest kids on the trip. We became good friends and saw everything from the Great Wall, Beijing zoo, silk factories, and so much more. We ate fish with heads still on it, ducks with peanut sauce, and green tea ice cream, for god sakes. Everything was an adventure.
The squatting toilets were a big challenge. I couldn’t understand why the Chinese used dirty little weird holes in the ground. I didn’t know how to use them without peeing on my pants. I stood in the stall trying to figure out what to do. Finally, I just took off my pants and peed, then put them back on. China was so weird!
After Beijing we went to the city where my orphanage was. This was the first time I had really felt like this trip was related to my adoption eight years before. I had seen the video many times of my parents getting me. Despite the bad quality of the video you could still see the nannies in the hallway of the hotel marching in a parade of adorable little babies. Today I was going to see it all again.
Every adoption workshop I’d ever been to always said that there was a possibility of having attachment “issues” and needing to find closure, but I never understood it. Seeing the orphanage is supposed to be a big deal. We had been preparing for this for a long time. It was the real reason for our China trip.
My orphanage was a large building that was painted white and blue, and looked really sketchy. We were welcomed warmly with hugs from the director and a tour of the orphanage. It was really weird seeing the place where I lived for 7 months of my life. The tour was uneventful and sad at first. It was all these adorable babies who had no family of their own. An even scarier thought was that I was one of them only 8 years before. I saw where I slept and played, and it was just kind of an emotion flood.
Every disappointment China had faced me with so far was replaced with a feeling of incredible closure and everything I wanted. We met the nanny that had handed me off to my parents and my new life. My mom started choking up. We sat down for pictures and gave her the album that my mom and I had made. She told me about the day she found me in a basket outside the gates of the orphanage. I was 1 month and 4 days old the day I was abandoned and given my first I’m not good enough signal. I love this lady, and think about her every day.
My experience in China was really eye opening. It helped me get closure and see for myself what life could have been. It made me thankful for everything I had. But really, I was only 9. I think it wasn’t enough. Now 5 years later, I think it’s time again to go back to rediscover everything and everyone…the sounds, smells and people. Even though I left China, it is still a part of me.
The author of this essay is doing much better after receiving therapy at a residential treatment facility. Adoption is a lifelong process, not a one-time event.