Rising From Loss: I Am Unwanted and Wanted

Rising From Loss: I Am Unwanted and Wanted
Photo by Genevieve Tedder

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.

By Reshma McClintock

Unnamed, unwanted, and likely never seen by the woman whose body housed me for roughly seven months, I was abandoned at birth in Calcutta in 1980. I was the physical manifestation of my young Indian mother’s shame.

How could she even look at me? I spent three months in an orphanage where I was named, cared for, and placed for adoption. Upon arrival in the United States I was adopted and welcomed into a sweet family, and afforded every opportunity one could ever hope to have.

The wide reaching affects of being adopted dictated much of my life and have since the moment I was separated from my Indian mother. The majority of my life can easily be summed up as joy-filled, loving, and stable. Far from flawless, I’ve experienced a life full of goodness overall which is why I understand the quick assumption that the goodness in my life stems from and should be credited to adoption.

Truly, I get it.

There aren’t many things I’d change about my childhood. I was raised with love, grace, and affection in abundance. We yelled, laughed, slammed doors, and openly discussed most things in our home on a regular basis.

When I think about my parents and brothers, I’m overwhelmed by a physical feeling of love. We are a spirited, tightly-knit squad; impenetrable and fiercely protective of one another.

Apart from being the only person of color in an all-white family, I sincerely felt a sense of belonging deep within me when we were together. And although the sight of my family in public often incited questions about whether or not I actually belonged, I felt safe and secure with them.

Many are quick to categorize me as an adoption success story. However, the realities within adoption reveal irreparable brokenness, family decimation, and profound loss. Whether adopted or not, all humans experience loss, but often adoptees are expected to embrace gratitude for the things we were adopted into and forsake the grief for everything we left behind.

Growing up I rarely, if ever, spoke of being Indian. I didn’t like talking about being adopted or about my heritage for two reasons… The first being I didn’t feel Indian. I felt white. I’ve had a huge identity crisis regarding my race most of my life because I grew up in the grip of white privilege.

The second being I didn’t want to bring up anything that separated me from my family; the only disconnect we had stemmed from just that, separation. I belonged to them, but not really. I felt like I was theirs, but I once belonged to a different family, so if I never spoke of it, my silence further cemented I was where I belonged.

I worked hard to bury my feelings so the deliberately crafted facade I created wouldn’t crack; this started as a child and carried into adulthood. It wasn’t that I was pretending to be happy. I was happy.

I was just also burying my sadness over the other family to whom I used to belong; the other life I might have lived had I not been the embodiment of shame due to one being bound by decades of cultural mores.

When I allow my mind to settle on my Indian mother, I think of her with affection and sadness. We have both suffered a devastating loss. I’ve never been oppressed by culture or tradition the way she was so I cannot begin to understand her feelings surrounding me.

As the mother of my own daughter, I also cannot imagine she has never thought of me with similar affection and sadness, although I do wonder if she ever even allows her mind to settle on me. Did she bury me the way I buried her when I was a child?

My parents didn’t adopt me to elevate themselves as saviors, solve infertility issues, or as a part of fulfilling their good deed quota. I was adopted internationally for three reasons: 1. My Indian mother couldn’t/didn’t want to keep me. 2. India didn’t have systems in place to care for and keep abandoned infants due to societal stigma or lack of resources. 3. My (adoptive) parents wanted to be a family for a child without one.

I am unwanted and wanted; I am disconnected and connected. I am Indian and not Indian; I am with and without a family.

Being an adoptee is a part of who I am, at my core. It affects each aspect of my identity. Being unwanted dictates who I am; being wanted doesn’t erase my initial abandonment and how it has impacted me.

I was adopted into the most loving family which has no bearing on the fact that I have been disconnected from my biological family; from the Indian woman who carried me inside her body, whose likeness I may or may not have, who either reserves space in her heart for me or doesn’t.

Adoption is a two-part deal. A fracture and a bandage. I don't believe the fracture ever fully heals. When families are fractured it does irreparable damage. When children are adopted, their adoptive families become the intended bandage. My bandage was crafted thoughtfully and beautifully. It restored a sense of family and belonging, but if you look close, you will see the fracture still exists. This kind of wound cannot be healed and it must be acknowledged as the broken foundation on which everything else is built.

Adoption begins with the severing of the most intimate relationship; mother and child. And this fracture is a devastating one. Adoption can give. Adoption can provide safety, security, and a sense of belonging, but even when that is the case (and it isn’t much of the time), the bandage is just that; a temporary covering for a massive, bleeding wound.

So often adoptees are asked to do the unthinkable: forget. Even those of us adopted as infants cannot ever forget the brokenness which led us to our second families.

But, adoptees are resilient above all. We boldly share our stories because society has categorized us as either grateful or angry and both are far too narrow to describe even one aspect of being adopted.

We must share our own stories with our own voices, because if you are not adopted, you cannot imagine how we feel without listening to us speak for ourselves. Adoptees carry heavy grief; a grief so weighty it seeps into every part of who we are, how well we give and receive love, and leads to a lifelong identity crisis for many of us.

Our resilience is fruit bearing. Adoptees are one of the largest groups of people advocating for their peers; changing legislation, bringing attention to ethics in adoption, educating adoptive families, providing counseling resources, and sharing candidly in magazines, on websites and blogs, in art, and in book form.

There are two parts of me that simultaneously exist; one part fully encompassed in loss and the other partially encompassed in gain. I live well in the joy of my gains, but that joy doesn’t heal the wounds my losses inflicted.

I’ve faithfully been embraced by the family I was adopted into and no amount of love has ever been withheld. As it pertains to attempts to heal the wound, though, it isn't enough to provide safety and love.

Those are two crucial components to good family life, but for adoptees, so much more is missing, so much more has been cut from us. Attempts to heal the wound are futile which is why adoptees must be provided space to grieve. Any possibility of partial healing derives from acknowledging the loss before rejoicing in any gain.

Much has been taken from me; biological family, culture, and another life entirely. The things given to me don’t nullify the things taken, and that’s okay as long as the wound is acknowledged. In concurrence with my losses I have peace in my relationship with God, in the wonderful family I do have, in friendships, and in adoptee advocacy. From my greatest source of loss and pain, I draw strength and purpose. While my wound bleeds endlessly, my heart bursts with hope because I know adoptees are making an impact as we join forces and speak bravely and with fortitude.

Reshma McClintock is an adoptee from Calcutta, India. Her first return to the city of her birth was documented in the film Calcutta is My Mother which is expected to premier in 2018. In 2016, after seeing a need Reshma created DearAdoption.com as a platform for adoptees, by adoptees; the site has been well and widely received. Reshma lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and daughter.

Photo by Genevieve Tedder

Photo of Reshma by Genevieve Tedder

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie's blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

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