Adoption Survivor

dealing with it

What emotion now?

with 16 comments

Most days, I am a sad grieving adoptee.  Some days I am an angry adoptee.  But today, today I am a guilty adoptee.

What people forget is that anger is not an isolated event.  It is near the end of a long process.  Prior to anger is frustration, and prior to frustration is confusion, and prior to confusion is sadness, and prior to sadness is a wound.  And after anger is guilt and blame, not necessarily in that order.  And to deal with all of the above, we are forced to work backwards.

Today my guilt is over my adoptive mother.  I have written publicly recently that she deprived me emotionally.  That was such a hard, hard admission to make.  I feel just awful about it.  Even if it is true.  I never would have come to that admission, even an acknowledgment of that, if a therapist had not pointed it out to me.  I refused to believe it was even possible.  I wanted so hard to believe there was something good about my adoption.  Only my mom seemed human to me.  Because I felt sorry for her.  And because I felt sorry for her, I chose to not hold her accountable for anything that happened to me.  But now I do, and yet I still feel guilty about it.

The smart 60's housewife

Look at my mom here.  Before K-mart existed.  So smart and stylish.  In their mid-century modern furnishings, in their ranch house in the suburbs.  She went bowling, she held a cigarette like Lucile Ball.  She was in the church choir.  She went to the beauty parlor every week.  My parents were on the cutting edge, adopting a child internationally.

Look at my mom here.  Stuck in the house all day.  Nothing to do except read romance novels, eat candy, and chain smoke.  Try and keep up with the Jones’ on a teacher’s salary.  Wear a girdle to fit into the form-fitting shift dresses.  Iron a mile of white shirts.  Every day scheduled with a different household task.  Then off to church on Sunday.  Year after Year after Year.   No real friends.  Nothing personally fulfilling to do.  Just have babies and keep house.

My mom and dad had two children two years apart.  Four years later they had another baby on accident, after which my father had a vasectomy.  Six years later, they adopted me. “Why,” I asked her, “Why did you decide to adopt?”

Why, we just saw those cute Korean babies in magazines and we wanted to do something good and Christian and charitable for them.

The truth is, my mom was bored out of her mind.  The truth is, once the youngest was in school there was absolutely nothing for her to do during the day.  The truth is, my parents’ marriage was strained.  The truth is, my mother had a competitive streak and low self esteem and she wanted to be envied.   Adoption was going to fix everything; and it did, for awhile.

Adoption made my mom a celebrity in our neighborhood, in our small town, in their church.  She had someone to shop for, to dress up on Sundays.  I was like a doll for her.  I remember how upset she was that my feet were too tiny to buy black patent mary janes to match the outfits she’d made, for instance.  It REALLY bothered her.  All the time I sensed little irritations coming from her, just under the surface, over anything and everything.  Feeding me lunch was laborious.  Reading me a story was annoying.  I’d ask for something, and she would sit me in front of the television.  There weren’t a lot of  hugs and kisses.  Actually, I don’t remember any.  She would hold my hand in public, but that’s about it.  The only thing I remember that was remotely bonding was a brief while where we walked to a department store and she would treat us to a float at a bakery/soda shop on the way.  When I got a little older, she would say, “why don’t you play outside like the other children?” and be annoyed that I chose to sit inside and read a book.  My reality was a burden, but without me, her days were totally empty and pointless.

When I told the therapist how cold my siblings were and how much they resented me, the therapist told me my mom was a bad mom.  She pointed out that my siblings must have felt emotionally deprived too, or they wouldn’t have resented me.  She pointed out that if my mom had been a good mom, she wouldn’t have tolerated that kind of attitude, that she would have sensed something was wrong and taken care of it.

I got defensive over my mother.  She obviously had issues of her own, from her own childhood.  I felt nobody understood her but me.  She seemed as fragile as my father claimed she was, sitting there with an absent longing look in her eyes as she devoured romance novel after romance novel, candy after candy, cigarette after cigarette.  She sighed all the time – her life was a life of quiet desperation, resentment, and passive aggressive hostility.  I told myself it didn’t bother me that she never spent any time with me.  I told myself it didn’t bother me that I was left to waste away the hours by myself.  I knew she had been an only child and she probably gave me the same amount of attention, or lack thereof, that she had received. I told myself it didn’t bother me that I was a prop or a project or even just a topic of conversation.  I voluntarily shouldered all of the secrets of my incest so as to not hurt her.  In my eyes, she had absolutely nothing worth living for.  I felt sorry for her.

I dreamed she would divorce my father.  The two of us would run away and she would become a liberated feminist and we would learn to have fun and be girls together.  She would save me from my father’s attention, and I would help her become independent.  Maybe we could become friends…Of course, that would never happen.

Instead, when my father confessed he had been molesting me for years and years, she called him a bastard and, besides that one word uttered SHE NEVER SPOKE OF IT AGAIN.  Not to me, not to him, not to anyone.

I never got one hug.  Not one question.  Not one tear.  Nothing.   She never said even one word to me about it.  Ever.  My entire childhood of abuse just never happened.  So much for my fantasy of her protecting me and us carving out a new life together.  My mother kept her emotions to herself as much as she kept her affection on ice.  I was on my own.  But hadn’t I always been?

There had been a time where, as a CPS case aid I monitored supervised visits with potentially hostile mothers.  Mothers who sided with their partners instead of their children who had been sexually abused.  I guess if I had reported my father, my mom would have been classified as a hostile mother.  But even those mothers hugged their children.  I would sit there and record their visits and watch them interact, and in one hour those children of hostile mothers got more physical interaction than I got in my entire life from my mother.  My therapist was right.  I WAS emotionally deprived.  I can count on my fingers and toes how many hugs I have gotten in my life, and none of them were from my parents.  (except for when I left home)

On one occasion, my mother spoke wistfully of how I used to lay my head in her lap as she sat on my bed in the morning to wake me up for school.  Actually, this only occurred four times.  And it was I who initiated that affection.  And it surprised me she did not pull away.  And these four times, which amounted to all of ten minutes, was the highlight of our life together, the sum of our affection.   So yes, I feel guilty about including her in the dark portrayal of my abusive childhood.  Because she was so emotionally bankrupt herself – she just didn’t know HOW to love anyone.  I wanted her to love me so badly, but there was nothing there.  And she wanted to be loved, but she had nothing to give.  She expected all the mother/child loving and bonding to originate from me.  We both needed a mom but we were both deprived children.

I’m sorry, mom.  I’m sorry I couldn’t be your mom and love you.  I was just a kid.  I’m sorry dressing me up wasn’t enough. I’m sorry your life was meaningless.  I’m sorry I was your husband’s surrogate wife.  I didn’t ask to be.  I didn’t ask for any of this.  I’m sorry.

Grandma Holt, why would you let people like this adopt?  I would rather have had a hug than three square meals every day.  I would rather have lived in an orphanage with other children than be sexually abused.  Instead I was left to take care of these needy people on the verge of collapse.  I had to dance around the unspoken impending doom of their collapse every day.  I was the well from which they both dipped.  I don’t really blame them for being broken and emotionally depriving me or sexually abusing me.  I blame you, Grandma Holt, for irresponsibly placing me in their swansong of dysfunction.  I blame you for introducing me to them. I HAD to care about them, they’re all I had.  I had to care first about them – and now that I care about myself, I feel guilty about them – and it’s all your fault.  Because you wanted to do God’s work, but you didn’t give a damn how.

Fuck you and your damned saving the world with adoption.  It’s over forty years later, and I’m no better off than when I left Korea.  It’s over forty years later and I have to go half way around the globe in search of one hug from one familiar heartbeat.  It’s been over forty years of silent grieving.  Your irresponsible missionary zeal was the root cause of yet more pain and sufering – and it was all unnecessary.  The war was long over by the time you took me.  The Amerasian war babies were safely off the penninsula.  Your rescue mission was done.  If there was a period of economic hardship, and you were such great Christians, why didn’t you do more to help Korean families feed themselves?  You’re no Christian.  You are an exploiter of vulnerable people.  You are a peddler of human flesh.  Yes.  I blame you, Grandma Holt.  The abuse I suffered was all due to your negligence.  I am holding you accountable.

Now I’m an angry adoptee again.

Adoption is so fun.


Written by girl4708

October 6, 2008 at 2:46 am

Posted in After Abuse

16 Responses

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  1. Adoption survivor, I want you to know that this is a hug across the miles. I’m a Christian and I understand how dangerous idealism can send well meaning people down the wrong lane of life. But I also see how intentional Christians can make a difference in the lives of families by, as you say, improving their lives. Adoption is a sometimes answer, but not an always answer, is what you seem to be saying. Thank you for your courage to share your story and even your struggle with guilt. You’re moving toward wholeness. Don’t stop. Keep going. There’s a day of healing ahead. Peace and grace to you.

    Patricia Hickman

    October 6, 2008 at 5:18 pm

  2. Welcome to the world of angry adoptees. I have been one for years now. Its good that you are speaking out.


    October 6, 2008 at 6:29 pm

  3. Thank you for your kind words. It did me good to hear my story resonated, and that you got it. I hope others can see that this truth coexists with the other truths about adoption.

    My life has been a cautionary tale. It derives its meaning only from readers who are open to appreciating what lessons it can provide.


    October 7, 2008 at 4:37 am

  4. I am one of those Christian “charity” adoptions. A child who was adopted so that they could share “how the Lord had blessed them” to some unfortunate child.

    Unfortunately, their “Lord” did not bless the female adopter with a stable mind. The woman was crazier than a shithouse rat. Always blaming her “blood sugar” for the fact that she went nutso for no reason.


    October 11, 2008 at 7:39 am

  5. It is really good to speak out about the bad side of adoption, which exists yet people seem to gloss over it. Thank you for having the courage to share your story. Reading this truly means alot to me and makes me feel less isolated.


    October 22, 2008 at 7:22 pm

  6. […] 10.06 What emotion now? […]

  7. I’m an adoptive mother. Someone please tell me what I’m supposed to learn from this. Don’t adopt babies from Korea? Check. Don’t use children to fill emotional voids in my life? Check. Don’t molest children or allow others to molest them? Check.

    Please forgive me if I seem frustrated; I really don’t understand what “angry adoptees” want adoptive parents to do with this information. I know that not all adoptions work out, but not all biological relationships work out either. None of it can work out when there’s this kind of abuse going on.

    Clearly this woman never should have been a mother. But in my case, the woman who adopted you is very much like my son’s birth mother, who I knew for a long time before her baby was born. And I give all my children the things you say you lacked–affection and attention and room to be themselves. I do not want to gloss over these painful experiences; I just want to know what I can learn about raising my son.

    Katherine C. Teel

    October 29, 2008 at 5:07 am

  8. Wow Katherine, your first paragraph was kind of shocking in its insensitivity – it kind of diminished me and my experience.

    The fundamental thing I wanted parents to take away from this particular blog post was exactly what Patricia Hickman took away from it. She reads and writes between the lines and thinks about the big picture while understanding the nuances. Her understanding made writing this post worthwhile.

    I am not and never have been a person who speaks plainly, because plain speak lacks nuance. You must read between the lines, Katherine. That is probably the best thing about this piece – that there IS so so much to learn from it. When I write, I have to take off my own protective lenses in order to write. I have to make many runs for tissues as well. When you read, you too will have to take off your protective lenses too if you are to get anything from it.

    There is no need for adoptive parents to get defensive about what I write. It’s my personal story. I believe it can resonate with many adoptees, however, because it shares some common themes. The thing about my parents is they were very much like you – they wouldn’t have been able to ascertain any lessons from this story either. In their eyes, they were good parents that just slipped up now and then.

    I believe the way for anyone to learn what to do better is to step outside of one’s comfort zone. Instead of congratulating oneself for the many ways in which one is NOT like the parents in stories you read of adoptions gone south, one should instead read with an eye to when and how do I resemble those parents? Evolution means getting beyond validation and taking a hard look at oneself. Because if there’s one thing all adoptive stories gone south have in common, it’s parents who could not recognize their own failings or self interests.


    October 29, 2008 at 8:19 am

  9. You want me to send you a hug across the miles like Patricia did? I don’t think I’m quite ready to send you virtual strokes, since I’m still feeling both frustrated and condescended to.

    I don’t really buy the argument that if I don’t see myself reflected in the story of what your parents did to you, it can’t be because I’m really not like that, but must be because I’m in denial. All of my children are well aware of my failings, as all of us are always aware of everything our parents did wrong, but they are certainly not the ones you listed for your parents.

    My family’s story is not by any stretch the story of an adoption gone south. I just assumed that people who’ve had painful experiences could offer me some guidance on how to make my son’s life as full and happy as possible, or how to be with him if it turns out that some pain is unavoidable. I’m trying to learn from you, not diminish your experience; I’m trying to acknowledge that there are things you have to teach me.

    But telling me that I have to read between the lines isn’t helpful. I don’t know what to look between the lines FOR. I was not adopted, so I have no idea how my many flaws (or even my best efforts) will be perceived by a child whose worldview includes his own adoption.

    Perhaps you have more interest in being angry at people like me than in helping another adopted child by teaching his parents. You have a right to your anger, and I guess I can always ask someone else for help.

    Katherine C. Teel

    October 30, 2008 at 4:16 am

  10. Katharine,

    This website is called Adoption Survivor for a reason. My story was for me to work out some of the many complexities of my adoption – not as a course syllabus. The Q&A category is more for that.

    Your frustration and your cutting words have an underlying hostility that make you difficult to talk to.

    I hear you talk and I hear my parents. That’s right – you are very very similar. It’s very triggering. There are things you can learn, but you have to be open and you have to listen and maybe you have to accept the gestalt that I am your son one day in order for you to actually listen.

    But your arrogant voice is not an open listening voice, despite your verbalizing your desire to hear. My parents weren’t willing to do the hard self analysis, and as a result, they lost a daughter. A daughter who, out of love, suffered their ignorance and self-centeredness for an incredibly long time.

    You’ve added a tenor to my blog that I don’t appreciate. I was happy with it until you came along, seemingly demanding what you want to hear YOUR WAY. You’ve rifled through my bookshelves, left the books in disarray, and thrown some on the floor. It’s very rude. I just don’t have the strength for your challenges at this juncture. And yes – your posture is more challenging than truly inquisitive.

    You are welcome to come and read and try and understand this adult adoptee’s perspectives. But know that I can only have a dialogue with people who come to the table with humility.

    And since you want lessons spelled out and handed to you – the main lesson of this story was that we children will desperately try to love our adoptive parents despite whatever failings they may have, and that it is proper child placement which sets up the failure or success of the outcome. Missionary zeal combined with misplaced desires to adopt do not make for good adoption outcomes. And as far as I can tell, these fundamental reasons for adopting have not changed much in the past four decades.


    October 30, 2008 at 6:02 am

  11. (((((girl4708)))))

    I can’t imagine someone reading this post and not wanting to reach out and give you a hug. My heart breaks for the little girl that was put through this daily torture and my heart breaks for the adult that is left with the emotional wreckage.

    Last time I checked your blog was not titled “blog to help adoptive parents raise their kids.” This is your blog to tell your story and I fail to understand why anyone would think that you are their personal adoption-the-right-way coach.

    How completely and utterly insensitive. And it is that insensitivity right there – that right-off-the-bat defensiveness about something that had nothing to do with her – that shows me that she IS more like your mother then she would like to believe.

    I liked my life with an emotionally absent adoptive mother – and that is exactly how she would react if she read your blog.


    October 30, 2008 at 2:11 pm

  12. “I just assumed that people who’ve had painful experiences could offer me some guidance on how to make my son’s life as full and happy as possible, or how to be with him if it turns out that some pain is unavoidable.”

    I think what you’re trying VERY hard to do is look for some 1+ 1 = 2 type of formula. I’ve had people come to my blog and say “Well, what did your adoptive parents do wrong? What kind of childhood did you have?”

    It’s like if there’s some perfect, sure-free way of doing things… then some adoptive parents think “Oh no, not MY kid! My child will NEVER feel any pain, so if *I* do everything that your parents apparently *didn’t*, then my child will never ever express feelings of sadness or loss or anger.” etc etc.

    You’re not going to get a magic 1 + 1 = 2 equation in the world of adoption, and especially NOT at the blogs you’re looking at.

    “I don’t know what to look between the lines FOR.”

    Why? What are you trying so hard to do – to be a perfect parent? Read blogs. Perhaps this blog isn’t particularly as helpful to you because it deals with the aftermath of abuse as well as adoption. But you can still learn from it – how she speaks of the loss of language, loss of culture, loss of her original parents.

    Heck, you could even come over to my blog and look at the links – there’s several. They are written by people who are searching, have searched or have even reunited. And their experiences could be valuable.

    Let me ask you something: have you spoken with your child about how they feel, and told them it’s okay to be sad or grieve about what they lost? I went to your blog and saw some discussions you had – why not go further into those issues with your child?

    There’s also where the mother reads the blogs of adult adoptees and initiates the conversation. If you still have no idea why I’m telling you this or you think “Well, I DID talk to my child about adoption several times!”… and you still think “What am I supposed to be looking FOR?” (as evidenced above), maybe it’s time to expand on the conversation? Just a suggestion.


    October 30, 2008 at 3:16 pm

  13. Wow-
    This is Jena from Voices for Vietnam Adoption Integrity.
    I wanted to thank you for your comment on my post “If Indeed”.

    There is much in this post that resonated with me.

    I am learning, more and more, that as in most of life, I will do my very best with my children, all of them, bio and adopted. I will make mistakes, but they will be my mistakes and I will own them, they will not be my children’s to carry.
    As an adult who had a choice to adopt, I need to be ok with my son, who had no choice as an infant, dealing with all of his emotions as he grows, I have to find a way for him to have the space to just be.

    I read many adult adoptees who initially struggle with guilt, as they begin to realize that adoption was not wonderful, that it started with a irreplacible loss, and I wonder- is there a way, as a mother, for me to communicate to my son that he is not responsible for me, for my emotions. How can I let him know that if he is angry, confused, hurt by his adoption, that he is justified and allowed to have these emotions. That having those emotions does not make him disloyal, and that it is ok for him to have, in a sense, divided loyalties….(to his first family and to us? and ultimately, to himself)


    November 3, 2008 at 1:16 am

  14. more points to you again, Jena, asking the right questions. somehow, i don’t think you’re going to have any problems, so this answer is more for those who couldn’t even conceive in aiding a child to grieve, <justifying their anger, and allowing them to truly deal with their feelings by removing the aparent factor.

    for what I do when I want someone to know their feelings are valid and allowed is express empathy.

    parents are often sympathetic, but because they want an orderly controlled life they are afraid of allowing a child’s full recognition of their emotions to be expressed. and too many adoptive parents are afraid of some of the blame and/or responsibility they share because they participated in the severing of one life to create another. i champion the child on this, obviously, because the child had no choice but the parent did. the guilty adoptive parent needs to work their problems out on their own and not add to their child’s burden. (this is not addressed at you, J, just general thoughts on adoptive parent issues)

    i would say to that child: “that must be hard for you – i can’t imagine having to deal with that – i would be so angry and frustrated and sad – i would want to tear things up and scream, etc. etc. if you ever want to do that, it’s okay. it might take both of us a minute to realize that’s what it’s about. but it’s okay. i don’t care about things. i care about you. and if you ever want my help finding your mom or whatever, i’ll be there for that too.”

    “because what’s important to me is what’s important to you.”

    and the child may not admit to any or all of the above.
    but they will know that you reached beyond yourself and tried to put yourself in their shoes and their perspective.

    parents too often forget they can also be friends…
    being real is all it takes, and it’s easy to do.
    adoptive parents are too hyper vigilant about their roles to be real. if they just relaxed and respected their child more, the issues would dematerialize. i truly believe that.


    November 3, 2008 at 9:29 pm

  15. ((((girl4708)))),

    I stumbled across your blog yesterday and I’m a bundle of so many emotions right now. I’m sad and angry, for you and so many other adoptees, and yet so excited to hear from someone who has lived my story. Not the loving, well-adjusted adoptee experience, being adopted that binds all of us adoptees together, but from the other side, that the facade of the outside did not at all portray what was going on behind closed doors.

    This post about your adoptive mother, I could have written verbatim about my adoptive mother. Emotionally bankrupt, incapable of true intimacy, who leaned on me to be her confidant and best friend, expected me to meet all of her emotional needs and also meet my adoptive father’s sexual needs, but my needs as a child went unmet. A childhood that no child should live and survive through. And yet, here we are, we did.

    I’m so thankful to have found YOU, and this site. I could cry in relief to find I’m not alone. That someone understands the hell we went through, and continue to experience as adults. I hope you find peace and healing.

    Hugs and support!


    December 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm

  16. Thank you Malinda,

    I’m glad my writing speaks to you: I know it’s helped me like nothing else to feel that peace you speak of. I’ve come a long ways since I wrote this over three years ago.

    This thing that happened to us – other people tend to reduce it to ghastly and horrific cliches, and yet it’s so much more complicated than that: We loved our abusers, we had hopes, we were betrayed, we always had to put other people first, we weren’t allowed to own any of our own emotions, our days of innocence instead filled with knowledge, etc. That’s an impossible thing for others to begin to imagine.

    I have spoken to many abused adoptees over the years and one major recurring thing that comes out is that most of us have felt guilty if any of it felt good, or confused as to why we didn’t feel hate in certain situations where the non-abused would have blanket hatred, or have been angry at ourselves for not protecting ourselves better, etc. As I said, it’s very complicated to sort out. And yet, that sorting out is so valuable. If we live through it, I think we can become highly evolved beings, maybe even a cut above what society views as “well-adjusted.”

    Hugs to you, too!


    December 12, 2011 at 4:12 am

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