Adoption Is Not a Black and White Kind of Thing

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. 

Adoption Is Not a Black and White Kind of Thing
By Katie Weaver

My adoption story starts like any other typical adoption story: I was separated from my biological parents. In my case, it was likely China's one-child policy that forced my biological parents to choose between the risk of keeping me or the risk of abandoning me.

I, like many other healthy baby girls in the late 1990's and early 2000's, was abandoned on the side of the road in China days after I was born. I was taken to and raised in an orphanage for a year and a half before being adopted internationally in October 2002 by an American couple residing in the state of Oregon.

I grew up with a younger sister, also adopted from China (we're not biologically related). I have two older brothers as well. I spent the first 12 years of my life with my adopted family living in a house located in the kind of neighborhood where everyone is quiet and safe and has two kids, a dog and that "white picket fence dream" cliché kind of thing.

Something I've noticed – that not many people talk about -- is the emotionally heavy and possibly traumatic effect adoption can have on children. Many people, when they think of adoption, think of happy things. This kid didn't have a family to care for and protect them, and now they do. Good thing, right? Of course.

But what happened to make that kid not have anyone to care for and protect them? Whether it's a systematic problem, such as China's One-Child Policy, or a problem in the home like a toxic or abusive situation, or a tragedy like the death of one/both of the child's caregivers, something isn't right.

Nearly all children who go through systems involving adoption or foster care/orphanages have experienced some sort of stressful upheaval or trauma in their lives. As a result, many adopted kids, including me, may endure trauma, grief, mental illness, attachment/bonding difficulties, abandonment issues, and identity issues.

After I was adopted and became established into my new home, I started experiencing a lot of night terrors. My mom was up with me almost every single night until I was about eight years old, as she attempted to soothe an inconsolable child. As I grew older, I continued to have night terrors, but I gradually learned how to calm down and soothe myself at night, which I have found to be an important and useful skill in my waking life as well.

I learned how to more appropriately self-soothe, and at the age of nine, I finally stopped sucking my thumb, a bad habit I had possessed even before I left the orphanage. Throughout elementary school and into my upper years, I continued to struggle with a myriad of other things, many of which were overlooked by teachers and school counselors.

I had a hard time making friends and being social with other kids. I would grow too attached to teachers and other "safe" adults in my life. I felt depressed, anxious, unsafe and overwhelmed quite often. I had a lot of sensory overloads at school. I had meltdowns at home all the time. I had nightmares every night.

I was a mess. Some of these struggles are connected to the fact that I'm adopted, and others connected to other hardships I've dealt with throughout my life such as mental illnesses and other unrelated trauma and large stressors. But I know that my adoption certainly played a role in the different things I struggle with, especially my struggles with attachment, relationships and my constant fear of abandonment that I find manifests in all of my relationships, even ones that are considered "small" or less significant, like with peers, teachers/coaches, and coworkers.

Regardless of all the struggles and adversity I've faced throughout my childhood leading into young adulthood, I've also had a lot of moments where I stopped to think about how glad I am that I was adopted.

As painful and traumatic as early mother-child separation is, I'm thankful for my biological mother and the fact that I was placed in an orphanage and adopted into my family as a result of her relinquishing me.

Being adopted is a very special thing to me. Growing up, whenever we would do icebreakers in school where we had to "say your name and something special about you" I'd always have my special thing be "I was adopted."

When I was little, I would ask my parents repetitive questions all the time about my adoption. Why was I adopted? Why didn't my biological parents want me? What happened to my birth mother? How did you find me? What if you didn't like me? Where would I be if I hadn't been adopted?

And their answers would always circle back to the same motif: that my adoption was in my best interest, and they (my parents, both adoptive and biological) loved me and want the best for me.

I can't imagine having been placed with a different family, and I feel fortunate to have been placed with parents who are caring and supportive of me. I also can't imagine not having the resiliency I have as a result of all the things I've been through and struggled with. In many ways, I don't know where I would be if I hadn't been abandoned and then adopted.

Adoption was literally the beginning of my life story; it got me here.

I believe that it's important for all of us to realize that adoption is not a black and white kind of thing. It's far from it. Something I have been working on a lot is realizing that nothing in life is simply black and white.

As someone who is a very rigid thinker, I've struggled a lot to try and understand that most things fall on a large spectrum and cannot just simply be labeled as "good" or "bad", "right" or "wrong".

Adoption is an extraordinarily complex thing and should be treated as such. I hope to one day see a society where people are able to understand and willing to acknowledge that.

To help understand the complexity of adoption, we need to hear the honest stories and experiences of those directly affected by adoption and family separation: orphans, foster kids and adoptees alike. Let's give these kids a voice that's heard and respected.


Katie Weaver is a community college student who is still unsure about what her future will look like. She was adopted from China in 2002 and was raised in Portland, Oregon, where she still resides to this day. She adores her black cat, Scout, and enjoys practicing in circus arts and colorguard.

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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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