Being married to a transracial adoptee is no picnic in the park. Just ask Mr. Harlow’s Monkey.
We’ve been together for almost 20 years and in March, we’ll have been legal for 18 years. And to say that I tested Mr. HM those first few
years decades is quite an understatement. I have many friends who are adopted and one thing many of us have in common, whether placed in same-race, domestic, international or transracial adoptive homes, are issues with trust and attachment.
For some adopted persons, that can translate as being stand-offish, cold and commitment-phobic, with a tendency to leave people before they leave us.
For others, this might translate into clinginess, jealousy and neediness with a tendency towards suffocating the very people we love the most. This is what’s referred to as insecure attachment.
Either way, it can be very difficult for the partner or loved one of an adopted person, especially if it seems that they’ve suddenly become obsessive about their adoption. And if you are partnered to a transracially, transculturally adopted person, this could be triple the whammy.
Because the subject of adoption is so child-centric, I often wonder whether adoptive parents think about what their child is going to deal with as an adult. So I was interested in this "Parners of Adoptees" information sheet from the Benevolent Society‘s Post Adoption Services that I found through another web site.
One of the paragraphs in this information sheet states:
You have probably grown up with your biological family. This is a very different experience from being part of an adoptive family. Adoptees are cut off from things that non-adopted people take for granted – birth parents, the extended family, genetic inheritance and sometimes ethnic or racial origins. Adoptees often search in order to re-connect with the past and contrary to many people’s belief, those who search are not necessarily unhappy with their life. Adoptees who have had a happy adoption can also experience feelings of emptiness, of yearning and of something missing in their lives.
The grief associated with this sense of loss can sometimes surface at the time of specific events, such as the death of an adoptive parent, the illness of a loved one, or on "happy" occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries or the birth of a child. These situations can all be reminders of the lost birth family.
When Mr. HM and I met, I was 18 and very much in my "adjusted adoptee" stage. In fact, I sometimes spoke to adoptive parents at my church, telling them exactly what they wanted to hear. I had no idea that other adopted persons might not share my opinions or feelings because I never spoke to any other adopted people. That’s right, for the first two decades of my life, I did not ever talk to another adopted person about how I felt about being adopted.
Imagine Mr. HM’s surprise when in my mid-twenties, I began to delve into my adoption "issues." It made sense that as I became an adult and started to develop an identity separate from my parents that I would look at the role that adoption played in my life. For the first time, I was with someone who I felt completely safe with and I processed my feelings about being adopted along side of him. But there were many times when he just couldn’t understand the depth of my feelings.
Mr. HM had long dealt with my issues of trust and abandonment, which manifested in both little and big ways. For instance, I once threw a temper tantrum for days because he’d picked me up from work at the wrong entrance (I worked at the giganto Mall of America at the time). I raged on and on, terrified that he’d forgotten about me and I’d be stuck there all alone. I was a grown adult at the time, and yet the anger expressed outwardly really masked a fear – a fear that I knew deep in my soul – that I was not wanted or worthwhile and was abandoned yet again. I really had to work hard to get to the point where I didn’t personalize everything as a sign of his committment to me. Pretty ironic, since it was actually me who was always on the verge of leaving.
Dealing with my dislike of holidays – especially birthdays – was a big question mark for Mr. HM. As was my stressful hot and cold relationship with my adoptive parents. Although he knew I had some issues with my adoptive parents – after all, we eloped partly because of them – he did not know just how much the guilt&gratitude/anger&abandonment pendulum would continually swing throughout the years.
I don’t know what it’s like for other transracially adopted persons, but my adoption issues came after my racial identity issues. And often, the two overlap to the point that it’s impossible to separate which behavior or feeling is adoption related, racial identity related, or if in fact it is both at the same time.
Some Korean adoptees I know felt pangs of regret that they married white spouses either because of lack of diversity where they lived or because of their inner negative feelings about Asians. Imagine being that spouse when your partner suddenly regrets being married to you because you’re white. Many adopted Koreans get divorced or separated after they begin to address their adoptions.
I’ve known some marriages and relationships fall apart because the partner just could not deal with the adoption, search for birth family, or anger/issues with adoptive family. Some are accused by their non-adopted partners of being overly dramatic or acting like a victim.
"Why now?" is a common question, especially towards those of us who were "adjusted" earlier in our lives and then found themselves – well, not maladjusted – but questioning.
What would it be like to be the partner of someone who at the beginning of the relationship refuses or does not recognize their adoption history. And then BAM! Suddenly something triggers it – perhaps its the birth of your child, or maybe its the death of an adoptive parent, or even contact somehow with their first parent(s). Imagine being there with that person when their whole life changes. And what do you do if your partner becomes a different person as a result? Imagine being the person whose partner feels they were cheated out of marrying someone of their racial or ethnic community.
At times, my friends and I have joked that there should be a special support group for spouses and partners of adoptees, kind of like Al-Anon (and while we’re at it, I’m sure my daughter is going to blame some aspects of my mothering on adoption too).
For Mr. Harlow’s Monkey, one of the most trying times was when I decided I needed to go to Korea to do a birth family search and I did not want him to come with me. It was something I felt I needed to do with other adopted Koreans, those who shared the same experience of being adopted from Korea. And when I returned, empty handed and spent months depressed and angry? Not the most fun way to spend a winter.
Adoption has life-long impact on us, the children who were the subjects and objects of adoption; how we deal (both in positive and negative ways) with our adoption experience affects not just our immediate adoptive families. Adoptive parents must recognize that their children will be adults.
Adults who will likely partner. Adults who may have children some day. And those partners and children will be the recipients of whatever unresolved issues the adopted individual might struggle with.
I’m very fortunate to be partnered with Mr. HM. He calls me an outdoor cat, because he knows that I’m ornery and need a lot of space. It hasn’t always been easy for us, and those ten years or so when I was really struggling to figure out who I am as a Korean American adult adoptee were difficult. I imagine we’ll have other hard times too, after all most relationships go through rough spots. And since I can’t ever be unadopted, these issues will likely resurface many more times in our life time together.
As the partner of a Korean American adoptee, that’s part of the package.
(Thanks, Casper, for bringing this to my attention!)