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?