Adoption is so complicated—there are so many different ways to look at it. Until recently, the subject was only in the back of my mind because it would make me sad to think about my birthparents. I also felt that my adoptive parents were enough for me; where I am now is where I am supposed to be, and the fact that I am adopted is not important as long as our family loves each other. As I am beginning to understand myself more as an adult, I am realizing just how prevalent adoption is in my life. I am an Adopted Asian American. Adoptees can only relate to other adoptees when it comes to certain experiences and thoughts. This is what makes us different from Asian Americans, and sometimes this can make us feel isolated. We have our issues like other Asian Americans, but we have extra baggage. With love, care, support, and education from friends and family, adoptees may have an easier time accepting their complicated adoption and understanding their complex identity.
The 2009 documentary, Adopted, by Barb Lee, features two perspectives: one view is from an adult Korean adoptee who is coping with her adoption and the other view is from a white couple, John and Jacqui Trainer, who is adopting from China. Jennifer Fero, the Korean adoptee, expresses her struggle with identity and the things she wishes her adoptive parents would have done. Viewers see Fero’s confusion and pain, which makes them wonder if the adopted girl from China will feel the same and if her parents will guide her better through the issues that may come up as she grows older. Fero is a powerful voice for adoptees because she addresses the other side of the coin that adoptive parents may not realize. For example, being colorblind is not as good as people think; adoption is more than just a happy ending; and whether the adoption is closed or open, birthparents have a strong impact on adoptees. In addition, grief and finding identity are difficult to deal with as an adoptee, but having supportive, understanding parents helps ease the confusion and pain.
Why China? Why did John and Jacqui Trainer decide to adopt from China? To them, it just felt right. Jacqui said, “We don’t see skin color once you’ve fallen in love with them, so it didn’t matter to me.” This seems to be common among parents who adopt transracially. Family is family and it doesn’t matter if we look different. Parents who accept and love their adoptive children as much as they would to their biological children show how unconditional love works, but not acknowledging that their adoptive child is racially different from them is not beneficial. Although the parents do not care about skin color, the adoptee will be forced to realize they look different when they venture outside of the home. What the public sees is not the same as what family sees. Jennifer Fero’s parents raised her without this acknowledgment. Her adoptive mother said “I never thought of her as anything else but my daughter. I have a hard time with the race thing. I was raised not to see race.” Jen talked about the bullying she had to face because of her appearance. She said that she kept it inside because she wanted to fit in, but “when you go out, you’re not aware that you’re Asian until you’re reminded by name calling, taunting, or lack of boyfriends.” Additionally, she rejected her Korean roots because she was teased so much. Jen and her older brother, who is biologically related to their parents, were raised in a primarily white town. If Jen’s parents taught her more about how others may judge her because of her appearance, and that the family is multiracial, then perhaps Jen would have had an easier time finding her identity.
Additionally, Jen showed how important it is to see how the act of adopting is two-sided. Her feelings of grief over her birthparents and birth country are lost amongst the celebrations of people who see her adoption as a gift and joy. Jen said, “you learn from a very early age not to trust your feelings,” and that she fakes it when she is around people. Perhaps she wouldn’t have had to “fake it” if her friends and family realized her struggle and confusion about being adopted. The documentary shows the Trainer family bursting with love and excitement when they receive a referral about the Chinese girl they are going to adopt. Their excitement is infectious, but we also hope that they do not forget the tragedy and suffering the birthparents and the adoptees have to go through in order for them to be placed in their arms. Do not forget that for every adoptive parent who gains a child, a birthparent loses one. According to Jen Fero, “You can over compensate and sugarcoat the adoption story—How much you wanted her, how long you waited, how much you paid for her or whatever it was, but you only got her because she was abandoned, and she knows that at a younger age than you can ever imagine.”
Jen’s story also brought up the significance of adoptive parents recognizing the birthparents. For example, her adoptive mother said that she was grateful that she has Jen and that her birthmother gave her up, but otherwise, she doesn’t care about the birthmother. Jen replied with sorrow in her voice: “I wish you did (care) because . . . I have her face. I might have her eyes. The biggest invisible privilege among birth families is that they look like each other.” For adoptees, birthparents are the closet they can get to knowing who and where they came from. Birthparents are the only ones who have their DNA. These mysterious parents cross our minds whether we want them to or not. Some think more about it than others, but the thoughts linger and come up throughout life. If adoptive parents do not recognize that there is a connection between birthparents and their children, they are denying their children the people who gave them life. Hopefully Jacqui and John will honor the bond that connects their daughter’s birthmother and their family. Jacqui seems to be more compassionate than Jen’s mother when she says, “The birthmothers have some pretty big loses. They are grieving, and the birthmother will remember that day (of her daughter’s birthday).” We hope adoptive parents can continue to acknowledge birthparents because they are so important to adoptees.
Adoptees grieve over their losses from adoption that they had no control over. It is also good to remember that some adoptive parents go through grief as well if they adopted because they were infertile. Jacqui and John went through this pain. Their situation is unfortunate and sad, but their experience can be used to help their adopted children cope through any grief they have. Interestingly, Jacqui said that her daughter, who was still a baby, did most of her grieving in China, which she thought was remarkable and fast. Personally, I assume that her daughter still has a lot of coping ahead of her, so I hope that John and Jacqui can support her for all stages of grief in her life. Sadly, Jen Fero said she didn’t know how to cope with the loss of her birthmother. There is so much pain and confusion that adoptees face and it may start at a young age when they realize how most the kids around them have their birthparents. Without the help from their adoptive parents, this intense feeling builds up and implodes. Perhaps talking about it is the best thing adoptees and adoptive parents can do. Jen Fero made a good point when she said that coping with adoption is not just her journey but it’s the family’s journey. They were the ones who adopted her, right?
The adoptee perspective and the adoptive parent perspective given in Adopted provided an excellent way to emphasize the emotions that each side goes through. Scenes where you could feel Fero’s tension, bitterness, and pain broke down the general thinking that adoption is a wonderful thing—a child’s life is saved and the family is joyous to bring a child into their life. Additionally, Fero showed viewers how confusing it is to identify as an adoptee: “I am but I’m not . . . I’m adopted but I’m not. I’m American but I’m not. I’m Korean but I’m not. I’m white but I’m not.” On the other side, John and Jacqui Trainer are mostly shown as an excited, loving couple that can’t wait to adopt a baby girl from China. It’s very sweet and touching how much they care for their adopted daughter, but they also indirectly show how their happiness might overshadow the pain that their daughter went through and will have to face. Although love and care are important, adoptees need more to understand who they are in the world. Adoptive parents and adoptees have a journey together to cope with adoption and to understand what it’s like to be in each other’s shoes.