Over the coming weeks, Lauren J. Sharkey is going to be answering your questions about some of the issues she’s faced as an adoptee. Hopefully, by learning about some of the issues she’s dealt with, adopters can learn more about how to best support our children as they grow up.
What age were you when you were adopted?
I was three months old when I came from South Korea to the United States.
Can you remember being told you were adopted? If so, is it a positive or sad memory?
I’m not sure if it was a happy or sad memory – more jarring than anything else. It was my first day of kindergarten, and I was sitting at a round table with a few other children when a boy asked me why I didn’t look like my mother. When you’re a child, I think you accept your situation – whether it’s looking different from your parents, eating dinner at 5:00, or going to Sunday mass – as normal. In that moment, I realized there was something different about my family, and I remember being extremely frightened.
Did you feel like you could speak to your parents about adoption as you were growing up?
My parents made it very clear they were always open to my brother and me asking questions about our adoption. I would go a step further and say if we wanted to search, I’m 100% sure they would have supported us there too.
Were you able to ask them questions about your birth family? Were they able to answer them?
One thing I think that’s common in most adoptees is that we’ve been raised by the gospel of adoption. We’ve been told from a young age how blessed and lucky we are, how miraculous and kind it is that our parents took in an unwanted child.
These notions of being blessed and lucky, at least for me, gave birth to a sort of obligatory gratitude. It’s not easy to ask you parents about the two people who were physically responsible for bringing you into this world. So, as much as I was curious about my biological mother and the circumstances surrounding my relinquishment, I felt a deep need not to rock the boat.
Did you and your family receive any support to help you understand your birth history?
I like to think adoption has come a long way since the 80s, but since I haven’t adopted a child I can’t say for sure. I believe my parents did the best with the resources they had available to them, but I think more could have been offered in the way of support and community.
My adoption agency actually advised my parents not to tell me I was adopted – that I would just “know”. I hope adoptive parents now have much better resources and support systems in place to help their adoptee understand what it means to be adopted and how to reconcile the feelings that come with it.
Have you met your birth family?
I am not in reunion and have no plans to be in reunion.
If there are unknowns about your history, how does that make you feel?
I believe two things – every adoptee journey is different, and the adoptee journey is lifelong. At this point in my journey, I feel I’ve accepted the fact there are some things I’ll just never know.
As a younger adoptee, I felt defined by those unknowns. Specifically regarding the reason behind my relinquishment. The fact that I didn’t know why I was placed for adoption haunted me and had a significant impact on how I perceived my self-worth.
From your own experience, how can adopters help and support their children through this, particularly when there’s missing information and gaps?
I think the most important thing any adoptive parent can do is create a safe space for their child to talk about their adoption. There are going to be things said and asked in that space that might hurt you or make you uncomfortable, but your child needs to know they can ask those difficult questions.
I could see my mother’s face change when I asked about my biological mother – I could see the pain move through her entire body. Obviously, it’s a natural reaction. But I think if you can try to control your reactions so that your child doesn’t feel bad about asking tough questions, they might be more likely to talk to you. Also, for the record, I am not a parent.
The topic for Lauren’s next feature will be about the types of documents she has access to from her adoption. If you’d like to ask her any questions about this, just comment below. Lauren’s debut novel, Inconvenient Daughter is available now from Blackwells