Being the Adopted Kid

Being the Adopted Kid

In honor of November being National Adoption Month, Portrait of an Adoption is running a special series called 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents.  Painful and beautiful, these stories will bring you a deeper understanding of what adoption looks like, allowing you to appreciate the many brushstrokes that comprise a family portrait.

By Kim Wilkes

I don’t ever remember being told I was adopted.  I just always knew.  My mom would tell me that I was her gift from above.  I never felt unloved, and I never felt different… until the questions started coming.  The first one I remember was “Why don’t you look like your parents?”  All of a sudden, I became confused, uncertain, and alone.

Growing up, I didn’t know very many people that were adopted, and as I got older, this made me feel more and more different.  Add this baggage to the already tumultuous time of a girl’s teenage years and you have one unhappy kid.  Junior high and high school held nothing worth remembering; all I knew is that I wanted to get out of that town where I felt everyone labeled me as “the adopted kid.”

I am ashamed to say that as a kid, I would relish the times when I would get to go somewhere with only one parent.  Not because I was getting one on one time with my mom or dad, but because when I was with both of them, I knew I stuck out like a sore thumb.  Somehow, I felt it was less obvious that I was adopted if I was with only one parent.

Going to college was a fresh start, or so I thought.  No one knew I was adopted and no one would see me with my parents and be able to infer that I was.  But just as I was starting to ignore the fact that I was adopted, the next question came. “What are you?” Yes, I am not definitively one ethnicity.  But since when is that permission to ask such a question?

“What are you?” is the question that most rakes at me.  It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard every time someone asks me that.  I don’t understand what people intend to do with the information that I’m half this ethnicity and half that ethnicity.  As far as I can tell, ethnicity is most used to cast a stereotype.  People don’t want to get to know who I am; they just want to group me into whatever category I’m supposed to fit into based on my ethnicity.

In college, one of my best friends also had the name Kim.  One day, our friends started distinguishing between us by calling her “Kim” and me “Asian Kim.” I can’t tell you how much pain that caused me.  How much I wished I was the one known just as “Kim.” I didn’t want a label put on me.  I wanted to just be me.  I don’t know what ethnicity I am.  I am not sure that I will ever even want to know.  But what I do know is that I am an intelligent, caring, and giving person that is very much loved by her parents.  Why doesn’t that matter more?

The next question came when I moved out of state and had a new primary care physician.  My whole life I had doctors that knew me and my parents, and knew that I was adopted.  The nurse at my new doctor’s office didn’t know.  “What is your family medical history?”  For months, maybe even years, the nurse would ask me this question every single time I would come in.

Finally, one day I was so exasperated that I said, “I don’t know!  I’m adopted- I don’t know anything, so please stop asking me that!” There really are so many triggers in an adopted person’s life.  There are constant reminders that you’re different.  And a society that has the mentality that adoption is the second option.  ‘If we can’t have one on our own we’ll adopt.’ I have often felt second rate, not good enough, because I am adopted.  Couple that with the insecurity of actually being given up for adoption and therein lies the self-confidence issue that I will probably struggle with the rest of my life.

But all of this is not to say that I believe adoption is a bad thing.  I have heard the story of how I was adopted by my parents.  I know how much they went through- physically, emotionally, financially- to have a child.  I know how much I was wanted- by them.  It is this knowledge that keeps me going when I feel unwanted and unloved, and believe me, those times come.  I also know that as much as I’m my mom’s gift from above, my adoptive parents are my gift from above as well.

How lucky I was to have two loving parents that did everything they could for me!  I don’t know the circumstances by which I came to be given up for adoption, but I do know that the outcome was the best thing for me.  I may not be genetically related to my parents, but I am wholly and completely their daughter in every other way.

Yes, I am adopted.  Why does it matter to you that I am?

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    I loved reading this. You've given an eloquent voice to adoptees who may not have known how to express what they were feeling, and you've helped adoptive parents to open a dialogue with their kids. Thank you so much for sharing, Kim.

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    Such a great piece! As an adult adoptee, I identified with every word. I used to HATE the "family history" questions at doctor visits. Now that I'm an adult, being adopted is just not as big a deal as it was. But it did make the searching-for-identity task of every adolescent and young adult more complex.

  • I agree...just beautiful! Thank you for sharing your heart and your experiences. It was eye-opening to hear how at different ages there were different triggers/complexities that presented....a good reminder that adoption is forever present in the life of a person who was adopted.

  • Kim, thank you for sharing your story with us. My husband and I are just starting the adoption process and reading your story, your POV, is so helpful to me. We only hope to be as lucky as your parents are, but trust that parents and children that belong together come together. Thank you!

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    As an adopted child in different circumstances (I was adopted by my grandmother and remained dubiously in the "family"), I am thrilled-probably not the best word-to see how PRECISELY you have summarized most of MY feelings and perspectives. THANK YOU! I'm making my mom (you know, my REAL mom that adopted me) read this so maybe she can understand me a little better.

  • Yeah, those doctor's questions always brings up weird feelings but hey, it makes filling out the forms so much quicker. I also feel not only different because I was adopted but was basically adopted twice when my first adopted mother ran off with another man before the adoption was final leaving me at a neighbors house. Since the adoption wasn't finalized (after a year) and my adopted father was in the Navy and wouldn't be able to go through with the full adoption his mother adopted me. So even though, I was still "in the family" I still wasn't biological and my "dad" to me was still the first adopted father but now was legally my brother. Talked about being messed up and having abandonment issues that even when I come to terms with everything I still sometimes get those old "Who am I" feelings.

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    Regarding the "what are you" question: you are a gorgeous lady, so I can understand the curiosity that was so badly phrased. I probably would have asked something closer to "I'm curious about your ethnicity because you're so beautiful."

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    What a beautiful and honest story. Thank you so much for sharing it! My son is Native American while my husband and I are both Caucasian, so I have wondered about how that will feel to him when he gets older. You've given me a glimpse and I thank you for that! Hopefully I can help him mitigate some of the bad stuff thanks to your insight.

    PS - I don't care what ethnicity you are - you are gorgeous!

  • Hi Kim, I am commenting on your post after so long because something happened yesterday that moved me to relate a little better to some of the points you raised.

    I am an adoptive mother of a biracial boy. Like you, it is clear from his looks that he is of mixed heritage. Like you, his "ethnic" looks have prompted a lot of inquiries from curious people (inquiries to me, his mother, because he is only 3 years old). I have not been bothered by the curiosity because the context has, thus far, seemed positive - they say: "Wow, he is gorgeous, what is he?" And I am OK with that (in fact, I could honestly say that I am one of those people who would probably ask someone as exotic looking as you, where that beautiful combination of looks comes from).

    Until yesterday. We had a big Thanksgiving dinner with many of my immediate and extended family members present. One of those extended family members said things like: "I hope you realize how messed up your kid is going to become in high school, when he is tormented by his peers for being biracial" and "At least he looks more white than black" and "Nature always trumps nurture, you are naive if you think you can make a difference - he has too many setbacks imposed by his biracial background." All this from a supposedly highly educated person (a pediatrician!), a white man married to a white woman and having four grown biological children who are emotionally compromised in pretty serious ways (one recently committed suicide).

    I am too livid this morning to even think, much less do anything else. All I can think of is how much I want to keep my child away from people like this man. There is a world of ignorance and stereotyping out there that I was aware of, but had yet to experience its personal touch. And now I have, and now I understand why that question: "What are you?" would rankle you so much.

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