It’s early morning, here in England, and much is quiet except for the sounds of sheep in the field. I’m in the English countryside, where I was born, and enjoying the soothing melody of home.
It’s been nearly three years since I’ve been back here. Just as it always has, my birth country greets me and meets me with memories: a past and present intertwined with gratitude and grief; my journey as an international adoptee.
Home, it’s been a weighted word for me all of my life. Perhaps, other adoptees will understand what I mean by this. As a person of international adoption, I have struggled with where home is for me.
I’ve tossed and turned with thoughts of what and how much I am allowed to feel for the land I was born into and the land I was adopted into.
If you honor one side are you dishonoring the other? This is a very real question for the adoptee: the internal conflict between birth heritage and adopted heritage.
Often times, it was easier for me not to face this question. As an adolescent—a time filled with the longings of identity and belonging—I’d turn off my emotions and silence the chatter of those telling me who and what I was.
I’ve been a fan of actress Sandra Bullock since forever. And, after hearing her recent interview with Hoda Kotb on the Today Show, I admire and respect her even more. The truths that Ms. Bullock shares on adoption, within this interview, are poignant and important.
I’d like to focus on three of Bullock’s truths and share my thoughts, as a mother-by-adoption myself, in order to help others who might currently be considering adoption or who have begun the journey to adopt.
I’m not an adoption professional. What I am is an expert on how it feels to be adopted. I’m an international adoptee. I hold a wealth of knowledge and understanding about living in the skin of adoption.
I was born in England. Not in London, but in a smaller place known as Bury St Edmunds. Bury St Edmunds is a town in West Suffolk on the River Lark.
It is of an ancient ruin and is said to have been the site of a Roman villa and later a royal Saxon town. Bury St Edmunds is named for Saint Edmund—king of the East Angles—killed by the Danes around 870, and is buried there.
I tell you this not because I’m a historian, but because I hold a deep sense of pride in where I am from and from where I was adopted.
I used to hide. As an adoptee, I hid from the world. I was so afraid of being rejected that I left before anyone else could leave me first. I was in hiding.
Innocent, yet accused. Named, yet nameless. I had been an orphaned child, marked by abandonment: a mark that seemed to be my permanent identity. And, so I hid.
Many adoptees do the same. A moment in our lives—a decision made by others—hurts us so deeply that we retreat into the shadows. We often live on the outside looking in. Our new families wonder what is wrong, “Why can’t my child trust?” If they only knew that we’re in hiding, afraid of reaching out our arms and opening ourselves to love.
These were my last few hours in Ethiopia. My daughter’s adoption had been finalized and we were on the way to the airport in Addis Ababa. As an international adoptee myself, I knew that I was not taking my daughter “home.” We were leaving her homeland and I had great respect for the power of that moment. I held a deep reverence for the loss that she was experiencing within her, even though she could not voice it or make sense of it, yet.
There are times when I find it challenging not to be hard on myself. Just last week, for instance, we took a family Spring Break trip. We traveled through Joshua Tree and Zion National Park.
In Zion, we set out on an afternoon canyoneering and rappelling excursion. Now, I have rappelled in my life—this wasn’t my first rodeo. In fact, there was a time when I rappelled deep into caves and down steep cliffs, like a pro. So, I felt very secure in my ability to scale the giant rocks of Zion. I also was pretty psyched about showing my kids my rappelling ability.
I’m an international adoptee. I’m also the parent of two children delivered into my life via adoption from Russia and Ethiopia.
We’re an international family created through adoption. We love each other and we have so much fun together.
We are also Americans; immigrants to the U.S. and citizens by naturalization. We contribute and we serve this nation, our community, our family, and our friends.
Recently, I read a staggering statistic: International adoption by Americans has declined by 81% since 2004. And, crippling new policies and practices are projected to completely end international adoption within the next five years. (How to Solve the U.S. International Adoption Crisis, by Nathan Gwilliam, Ron Stoddart, Robin Sizemore, and Tom Velie, adoption.com, March 19, 2018)