Adoption is a Lifelong Journey

Written by Katya Vanderleek

My name is Katya and I was born in Ivanovo, Russia, 26 years ago. Truthfully, I know very little of my own origin story. I have been told that I was left by my birth mother in the hospital the day after I was born. For reasons that I may never know, she gave the hospital no honest information about herself, so when authorities tried to find her, they couldn’t. I can only imagine what those days must have been like for my birth mom. The stress of what I can only assume was a crisis pregnancy, the chaos of her world as she tried to figure out what to do with this baby, the heartbreak she must have felt leaving me that day. I think of it often, and it helps me have some compassion for her, and for all that she went through. She carried me for 9 months, kept me safe and healthy, went to a hospital to give birth, and then left. I think of that day often, my one day with her, and I am grateful that she gave me life. I have nothing but my imagination to picture it all, but I’ve spent 26 years imagining what our one day together was like. 

I spent my first three months of life in that hospital before I was placed into Orphanage Number 2: a large, brick, run-down looking “home” with lots of kids and not a lot of caregivers. I lived in this orphanage for two and half years, and then was adopted by a family all the way from Canada. That orphanage was home for me, and those years were formative for me – for better or for worse. That space was temporary, but as soon as I arrived in Canada I had a permanent family. 

  It feels like this should be my happy ending. I was brought home into a safe and loving family, no longer an orphan, the traumatic parts of my life behind me. That’s my adoption story, it ends after I was adopted, doesn’t it? 

It seems like those first two and a half years of my life shouldn’t have a huge effect on me. After all, I don’t even remember them.  I was adopted into a family who cares for me, I should be whole and happy and grateful, right? Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for my life now, and I am so fortunate to have been adopted and been given the opportunity for a life I never could have lived within the walls of that orphanage.  I often think of all the kids in that orphanage who never got adopted. I wonder where they are now, how they are doing, and what they’re doing. My heart aches for them. 

I have a good and beautiful life, and I really am so lucky. 

So then why do I so often feel lost and disoriented? Why do I, without fail, cry on my birthday every year? Why do I feel I have this hole that I need to fill? Why do I stare at myself in the mirror and think ‘who the heck am I?’ Why, with all the good in my life, do I still grieve?

Everyone you meet is carrying the weight of something you cannot see. My weight is loss, and I am learning that this loss must be grieved. There are so many unknowns in my life, in my history; so many questions that will never be answered. That fact is hard to accept. Loss of birth family, family history, genetics, Russian heritage, even the fact that Russia doesn’t allow international adoption anymore is in some way a loss, and just loss of this mystery of a life that could have been, the list of losses go on and on. I have this hole in my heart because there is so much I don’t know. I long to know someone who looks like me. I long to know my birth mom and her story. I cry on my birthday because that’s the only day I had with her and the next day she walked out of that hospital. I lost a family and a life and a history that I will never regain. That rejection, whatever the reasoning, can’t be diminished by a good life. It runs so deep.

I once read an article by Fiona Tapp where she spoke about her own experience and she talked about this idea of adoptees being simultaneously the most unwanted and wanted people in the world, that she believed adoption represents the greatest rejection and holds the possibility of the greatest acceptance.  I resonate deeply with this feeling of dichotomy, and I am learning to hold both of these ideas together. It’s absolutely okay that I often feel weighed down by the rejection of my birth mother, but that there’s also redemption in the fact that I am accepted and loved and cherished by so many people. I can feel a deep sense of loss and hold tightly to the acceptance I’ve received. 

The adoptee journey does not end at adoption, it is an ongoing journey of healing. For me, healing comes with allowing myself to be (and feel) accepted by the people who are in my corner and on my team no matter what. Healing is taking a DNA test and learning that I am, in fact, 99.9% Russian. Healing is taking pride in my heritage (I genuinely hope Russia beats Canada in the World Juniors or Olympics or any other national competition…). Healing for me is getting to write a sliver of my story in this blog. Healing for me is being completely honest, feeling and accepting each emotion that comes along with being adopted, both the deep grief and the abundant joy. 

My adoption story didn’t end the day that I was adopted. My adoption story continues every single day of my life, because I can’t separate myself from the experience of being adopted. There are so many unknowns in my life, but what I do know is this: I can grieve the life that I lost, and I can celebrate the life that I gained, and in doing so I can continue to pursue healing. 


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