Attachment, Abandonment, and Adoption, 
by Kira Omans

Many people struggle to fall asleep.

As someone who lives a busy life, I consider myself like many people. Sleep often evades me because I’m running through my list of tasks for the week. Either that or my brain has decided to replay that embarrassing memory from first grade—one or the other.

Sleep didn’t start evading me for darker reasons until I moved away from my family.

I suppose there were always signs that I might have issues. Most children who are adopted do, and again, I frequently consider myself in the majority (of both adopted people and people in general).

My parents can testify that I was a clingy kid (I prefer “overly-affectionate,” but we’ll call it what it is). When they arrived at the Chinese orphanage to meet me, I was six months old and visibly terrified. There are pictures from that day of my parents, with the brightest smiles, holding me, a baby who looked more like a pouting fish—my frown was that deep.

By the end of the week, though, I had latched onto my mother. I wouldn’t let her go to the bathroom without crawling after her. I wouldn’t let her out of my sight.

We have a home video from when I was fourteen months old that shows me sobbing, screaming at the top of my tiny lungs. My mom had put me down to grab a snack from the other side of the room. I couldn’t fathom why she would let go of me, so naturally, I made that known. My grandma couldn’t satisfy me. Not even my dad. Only my mom. I only stopped crying when I was in her arms again.

I was pretty overly-affectionate.

Even though I was adopted as an infant, I have felt the effects of my adoption my entire life. When I was younger, I felt it in obvious ways, being a Chinese girl walking around with white parents. As I’ve grown up, I have internalized these effects, and sometimes, I even trick myself into believing that I am completely past dealing with my adoption. I must have encountered every possible difficulty by now.

But living with the aftermath of adoption is an interminable journey.

Adoption has affected my life in ways I never could have anticipated.

A little over a year ago, I moved out of my parent’s house. The first night in my new apartment, I attempted to sleep. My usual weekly tasks evaded me. Not even embarrassing moments from childhood made an appearance. The only thoughts that flooded my brain were, This isn’t my bed. My parents aren’t a short walk down the hall. I’ll never live there again. I wish I was with my family. What if something happens to them, and I’m not there? My dad works at the Pentagon—what if there is another 9/11? What if my mom goes to the mall tomorrow, and there is an active shooter? What if someone kidnaps my brother or sister on their walk home from school?

My mind reeled uncontrollably. I was crying at the thought of living without my family. The logical part of my brain tried to bring me back and convince me that this was irrational, and I was in no present danger. I attempted to dispel these scenarios, but I quickly lost that battle. The thought of living without my family felt so catastrophic and real that I began to fear for my own parents’ mortality. How would I handle that when they inevitably passed away?

At that point, I was having trouble breathing. My chest felt like it was collapsing on itself. My vision clouded with stars, and my mind felt like it was being consumed by an overpowering black hole of my own making. A black hole that overflowed with the fear of being alone. The fear of losing my loved ones. The fear of being without a family.

Eventually, I must have tired myself out, and my body just went into shut down mode to save itself.

The next morning, in a much clearer headspace, I convinced myself that this was a natural reaction to moving out. I made frequent visits home, reasoning that spending more time with my family would make me feel better. Instead, it seemed to make me more cognizant of the fear. Sometimes, I would even start crying the second I pulled out of my parents’ driveway.

The fits at night grew worse. Sometimes, I would work myself up so much that I would hyperventilate, which would spark fear of being in physical danger. Which, as you can imagine, didn’t help. More nights than I cared to count culminated with my boyfriend holding me and slowly counting to three as I tried to inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth.

During the day, I felt that this was all so irrational. I was angry and frustrated and tired. I am a well-adjusted adult. I have a job. I have friends and a healthy relationship. I desperately wanted to understand why I wasn’t strong enough to shake this.

The only thing I could do was learn. I learned about attachment issues that adopted children may have. I learned that I had symptoms of separation anxiety.

I took an interpersonal communication class where I met another adopted girl who had the opposite problem as mine. She was adopted when she was older and grew up without close bonds. Today, she finds it challenging to invest in friendships and romantic relationships. Whereas, I bond very quickly and throw too much of myself into the people I care about.

Even children adopted as infants can be instilled with deeply-rooted fears of abandonment. When I was four months old, my birth parents—who had taken care of me for the first few months of my life—abandoned me on the side of a bridge. I never saw them again.

When I was ten months old, I left the nannies who had taken care of me at the orphanage forever. Within the first year of my life, I was growing and changing, and the instability of who was there for me was constantly changing too.

I latched onto my mom because even as a child, I was afraid that she would leave. Even as I write this, I find myself suppressing emotion. The world ending couldn’t make my mom leave me. Amidst fire and brimstone, she would be right there to ask about my day and nag me to stop procrastinating on my taxes.

My family is my world. Experiencing separation anxiety makes me feel like my overwhelming love for them is what is wrong with me. In reality, it is the deeply-engrained belief that they might abandon me that is wrong.

Two months ago, I moved across the country for my career. Some nights are still hard. Some days, I cry when my boyfriend leaves for work, which is embarrassing to admit. Deep down, I feel that I can’t help it. I just worry that one day, he might not come back. Even though he always does.

I get frustrated with myself because I thought I was more resilient than this. But adoption leaves none unscathed.

My entire life, I thought that adoption was a gift, and it can be. I have a family who loves me, and I live a privileged life because of my birth parents’ decision. It was a rude awakening to learn that this “gift” may also be the reason why I have panic attacks.

Adoption is a source of loss, even for people who don’t consciously understand why they are grieving. Adoption is a lifelong journey, and pieces of my past that I would rather forget will always remain with me.

I didn’t write this to invoke sympathy. I have a job that I love. I have friends and a healthy relationship. I am also fortunate to have the resources to tackle this. Sitting around and wallowing in self-pity is a waste of time for someone who lives a busy life. I want to address the problem, reflect, learn, and take action.

I chose to share this to increase solidarity. Everyone struggles with issues unseen by others. It is so easy to feel alone and isolated and that no one cares. Even though they do. And they want to help.

The fear is still here, but I work through it a day at a time, which is all you can do. Every day, I call my mom, and she picks up within the first few rings. Every day, my boyfriend comes home from work when he says he will.

Every night, I am sleeping a little easier.

 

Kira Omans is an actor, martial artist, dancer, and adoptee advocate in Los Angeles. She is a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and works in action films. Kira is a full-time audiobook narrator and has completed 30+ novels, including work by USA Today Best-Selling authors. Additionally, she is the first adoptee to be crowned Pacific Miss Asian American, and she won the accolade of Best Talent for her Chinese ribbon dance. To learn more about Kira, visit her website: www.kiraomans.com.

Connect with Kira

Facebook: @KiraEmilyOmans
Instagram: @kiraomans
Twitter: @kiraomans

12 thoughts on “Attachment, Abandonment, and Adoption, 
by Kira Omans

  1. Kira, thank you for writing and sharing this. We adopted our daughter from Fujian Province when she was 17 months old. She’d been abandoned at age 3 weeks, and received what we believe to be wonderful care at a local orphanage. She’s a happy, active and very bright 9 year old, and, naturally my husband and I adore her! And we know she loves us. But there are questions she asks periodically about her birth parents, and she is fascinated by all things Chinese — both of which we encourage. She, too, is a little “clingy” but we try to acknowledge it and also reassure her, always. We watch carefully for signs of anxiety and depression (so far, she’s pretty solid). But I will save this article to show her when she’s a little older. I think she would love to meet you — you seem like a very together young woman. And, again, thank you for sharing your experiences.

    1. Linda, thank you for your words and for sharing a bit of your story of adoption with us. We are delighted to welcome you, your husband, and your daughter into this community. And, thank you for your willingness to share the voices of other adoptees with her. We have been honored to have Kira’s voice added to our Quilt of Life. I am sure her story will be a comfort to your daughter someday. With gratitude, Michelle

  2. Kira I read every word of your beautiful,heartfelt essay. I can fully understand how you feel. As a mother of an adoptee, I worry some day for my daughter will be feeling the same way. she has no family but us. she has no siblings or cousins. she is all by herself in this big scary world. I know she thinks about it but will not verbalize her feelings. I worry about her!!, As my husband and I get older I think about her future without us. Will she be able to hold a job and make enough to support herself in life. will she meet someone who loves and respect. her. thank you for sharing this beautiful story with me. I am sure you will be fine in this world. You were lucky like my daughter to have parents who cared for you more than themselves throughout life.

    1. Jeannette, thank you for sharing your feelings so openly and honestly. As an adoptee, myself, I know the importance of feeling heard and seen within the experience. Just keep listening to your daughter and letting her know that she is safe to share any and all feelings with you. Safe to explore her questions! And, know that she has a community of fellow adoptees that is here for her. She can reach out anytime. You can reach out anytime. It’s important for the adoptee to know that he/she does not walk this journey in isolation. Welcome to our community! We’re glad you’re here. With gratitude, Michelle

  3. Hi Kira,
    I am the mother of an adopted Chinese daughter. Her story is like yours. And she has struggled with attachment /abandonment.
    If I may make a suggestion that has helped many explore Family Constellations. Look for a facilitator near you. It is a unique approach to dealing with these deep pre verbal losses. I wish you the best on your healing journey.
    Caren Borowsky

    1. Caren, thank you for your comment. And, thank you for the Family Constellations suggestion. As an international adoptee, myself, I understand the struggles of attachment/abandonment. Thank you for supporting your daughter along this journey. We welcome you both into this community! With gratitude, Michelle

  4. Thank you Pacific Miss Asian America for this great article. Sharing your vulnerabilities, lets other adoptees know they are not alone & not wrong for what they may experience. Also, it is great that this piece will educate. The fact is eveyone (adopted or not) struggles with issues, but being adopted can be linked to certain traumas, which tend to be ignored and overshadowed by sacarin, adoption myths & assumptions. For example, the “Why are you angry?” question, because it is mandated that adoptees are only allowed to feel grattitude.

    1. Aimee, thank you for your comment. We’re honored to have Kira’s voice within our Quilt of Life. And, indeed, it’s vitally important that adoptees know they are not alone and that they are not wrong for feeling what needs to be felt, and asking what needs to be asked. We aim to be real and raw, here, in this community. It’s important that we are! No mandates. No more ignoring the truth. Adoptees need to feel what is real, in a safe space. And, to share their stories in a safe space, too. To know that it’s okay to feel gratitude as long as the gratitude is authentic and not ordered or forced. We can arrive at a place of abundant love and joy — but it cannot be done when we’re engulfed in untruths. Solidarity is the reason Kira gave for sharing her story with us. Unity and mutual support is what, I believe, adoptees are craving. Adoptees like me. We speak a unique language that the world should listen to. A language that we need to hear from each other. No more silence. No more shadows. Thanks again for reaching out!! With gratitude, Michelle

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