One Way Adoption Isn’t Like Having a Biological Child

Thu, April 22, 2010

Adoption, Changing the World

“This is where I was found.”

That’s what PunditGirl told her class when we presented a slide show of photos from our recent trip of a lifetime — one that will result in the first memories our daughter has of her birth country.

I included this photo for our presentation to her classmates as an example of one of the many types of street vendors you find all over China.  But she was right — this was also taken in the general area where we were told she was found before being taken to her orphanage when she was just a few days old.

Mr. PunditMom and I were blown away that she chose to share that piece of information with a roomful of her friends.  We were in the midst of photos of The Great Wall of China, the pandas and other photos of daily life in China when this one popped up in the slide show and she made her rather matter-of-fact announcement.

Without drama.  Without tears.  Without making it sound like it was any big thing.

We have other images of that location that show in more detail the area that was her “finding place” …

… so we were a bit taken aback that she recognized that the close-up photo of the fruit vendor was actually shot near the location where she was discovered as a baby ten years ago.  The place where her life changed in monumental ways that most of us will never be able to comprehend.

I’ve often tried to piece together what little information we had about the first days of PunditGirl’s life.  When we traveled to China to bring her home, we were given varying information about where and how she was found.  We weren’t sure of her real story, though we tended to believe that she had been found in the bus station after receiving a copy of the “finding ad” that was required to be placed in the local newspaper at the time she as discovered.

When we were told on this trip that we would be taken to visit  PunditGirl’s finding place — something that many adoption social workers recommend as a way to help adoptees put together some of the missing pieces of their story — we said that we had conflicting information about the location.

A lengthy conversation ensued in Chinese between our agency contact and the local guide/interpreter.  “Oh no,” they replied, “this is what the official account says.”

We still can’t be 100 percent sure.  We were given “official accounts” in the past about other things that may or may not be true.  But it turns out there is a hospital across the street from the bus station — another piece of information we had never been told, but one that could suggest that the bus station story is the true one.

But it had never occurred to us that our daughter had been left on the sidewalk.  In December.  In the cold.

One of the first photos we have of PunditGirl is a 2-inch-by-2-inch portrait-type photo against a ruby red background — a baby just a few months old with the angriest scowl you’d ever want to see.  I still get a glimpse of that look on her ten-year-old face from time to time.  But when we first saw it in the photo, we thought, “What could make a little baby look so angry?”  Before we knew her story, we joked that the bad baby comb-over she’d been given for the photo had to be the cause of such indignation.  Now we know it was a lot more than just having a bad hair day.

At the moment, PunditGirl is taking this part of her story very matter-of-factly.  We’ve tried to plumb her mind a bit to get a sense of what feelings she might really be having about this piece of her life story.  For now it seems that she hasn’t formed any discernible judgment about the fact that she was found lying outside on a sidewalk in the winter (though it is a sub-tropical climate, and from the weather records it apparently wasn’t below freezing on the evening we believe she was found).

We know she’s still processing everything we saw and experienced.  Heck, I’m still trying to get my head around all of it, especially as it was experienced in such a whirlwind kind of way– it was a ‘if this is Wednesday, it must be Chengdu’ sort of trip.  Maybe the fact that we came face to face with more of PunditGirl’s story than we had known before is one of the reasons I’ve been so disturbed by the Russian-adoptee-gets-sent-back-to-his-birth-country story.

No adoption story is ever easy.  No matter how much happiness that comes from celebrating the creation of a new family, adoption, by definition, is also a story of loss — loss of birth family, loss of first identity, and for most children who were in orphanages, loss of the happy baby story that most other kids have.  And that loss can produce significant issues that have to be dealt with and worked through, often over a lifetime.

Even with the countless hours we’ve spent over many years trying to manage PunditGirl’s anxiety and attachment issues (she was never diagnosed with full reactive attachment disorder as some children are and I suspect that Justin Hansen probably was), and even when it felt like I was the worst mother in the world because I couldn’t figure out what to do to help a child who thought she was unlovable, and I prayed I could convince someone to write me a prescription for Prozac or even a little Xanax, I never imagined getting to a place where I could have said, “Hey, China.  Thanks, but no thanks.

It’s not brave.  It’s not noble.  It’s just me as a mom.  And us as parents.

Photos by PunditMom, copyright 2010

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15 Responses to “One Way Adoption Isn’t Like Having a Biological Child”

  1. Tracy Hahn-Burkett Says:

    Beautifully written, Joanne.

    Thanks for sharing some of PunditGirl’s physical and emotional journeys with us. It’s so amazing to watch our kids uncover who they are and respond with strength to the truths of their beginnings.

    Every adopted child comes with a history, no matter where she comes from or how old she was at the time of adoption. They don’t come to us with all the blanks yet to be filled in. We adoptive parents have to help our kids grapple with that history; that’s part of the challenge. It sounds like you’re doing a great job–and also that you’ve got a great kid!

  2. annie Says:

    I think we all grapple with the feeling that we were unlovable.

    When I was in my early twenties, I discovered that my birth mother had been adamant that I be placed in my new home before Christmas (I was born two weeks to the day before the holiday). It was a non-negotiable point for her. For me, those decades later, it was the first real proof I had that she cared.

    I still get little twinges when I read about stories of women who’ve tracked down the the children they gave up and wonder why my own birth mother doesn’t look for me – not that I have any idea what I would do with another elderly mom at this point in my life, but it’s the principal of the thing.

    It’s hard to not have a birth story – like other kids do – probably more so now than when I was growing up because parents today are obsessive about every little detail.

  3. Sheri Says:

    Beautiful post.

  4. Donna Says:

    I probably should not have read this while at Starbucks – I’m sobbing in public. This was a beautiful post.

  5. Cynthia Samuels Says:

    Oh my. I’m so proud of Punditgirl and of her parents. Feel good about her reaction — it took a long long journey to get her here and you deserve so much credit. I know there is far yet to go – but still, it’s a great landmark.

  6. Jaelithe Says:

    It’s clear that PunditGirl gets her amazing poise and strength of will straight from her PunditMom.

  7. jodifur Says:

    Oh I love this post so much.

  8. Daisy Says:

    She is an amazing young woman with a great deal of strength. She is indeed lovable, and you’ve shown her that firsthand and every day.

  9. mayberry Says:

    This is amazing. Thank you for telling your story.

  10. kelly Says:

    I loved this piece. I am moved by your daughter’s story, and her telling of it.

    I thought about my own son, adopted domestically. He was recently diagnosed ADHD and sensory integration. He kicks. He bites. He spits. And, I love him. I hold him tight. I rock him gently. I tell him it will be okay. And, we will find a way for it to be.

    I ache for that little boy put back on that plane. I ache for every single person who feels the loss that adoption brings, even as it has brought me the greatest joy of my life.

  11. Jessica A Parent in Silver Spring Says:

    PunditGirl is brave and honest and true…just like her mom.

  12. Katherine Says:

    What a beautiful post. I’m sure PunditGirl is much better off with the acknowledgement of the loss in her early days, than the many children who are force fed happy childhood myths. It calls to mind a friend who filed for divorce before her daughter was a year old — that will always be part of her story. Every child has challenges, some are bigger than others (some are much much bigger) and they shape her. Denying this reality only makes it worse.

  13. Julie @ The Mom Slant Says:

    Parenthood is easy for none of us, and I know adoption doesn’t make it all better for the children, yet I’m so awed by the love and strength of adoptive parents and children alike.

    Thank you for giving other parents and children a window into your world and PunditGirl’s.

  14. kristen howerton Says:

    We’ve not yet taken that trip back with Kembe, but I am very curious to see what kind of emotions it brings up. Like your daughter he seems to take it very matter-of-fact. But it’s interesting to see how my older son is beginning to process his own story, and even his (adoptive) brother’s story, with a sense of loss in regards to their first parents.

  15. Kim in the Philippines Says:

    This is a post that hits close to home, as my foster-soon-to-be-adopted son has a painful story, one which sounds, perhaps, similar to your daughter’s. While he isn’t asking questions yet, at three years old, I am dreading having to tell him about how he was found. How DO you paint the birth parents in a positive light when your child was NOT brought to the doors of the orphanage, but was, instead, thrown out like the day’s garbage? Or the children who were rescued from a life of abuse & neglect? I’ve read lots of adoption literature that tells adoptive parents to not say bad things about the birth mom/parents, but how do you do that when the story is so painful?!?!


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