The Emotional Process of an Adoptee

Written by Carmen Mennear

In the early 1990’s of August, I was born in Guatemala. My adoptive parents were called and informed that a child that they had waited nearly ten years for had arrived. Only that the day before they said “yes” to adopt twins who were born, but sadly they did not survive the night. In a matter of moments, they gave me a name. They chose a Spanish one to match my indigenous blood. A month later, we met for the first time. Between their back and forth trips, I stayed with a foster family. There were lots of unknowns and risks taken until six months later, they brought me to America. A suburb in a southern state became my new home.

My parents never told me that I was adopted yet I grew up knowing it. Everyone in my circle knew this about me. It’s not like it was a secret, but I treated it like it was. Because being internationally adopted means it’s foreign and it seemed okay to keep it that way. When I was six years old, my parents adopted again from Guatemala. Though not biologically related, I gained a sister. I no longer was the only adopted child I knew. Somehow my sister and I figured out what it meant to be a daughter in the family, but also a daughter in a different culture.

This identity piece continued for me when my husband and I lived in Eastern Europe. We called it home for a short time. Every now and then I would see a person who almost mirrored my features before quickly perceiving they were of a different ethnicity. In many ways, I felt out of place because I could not find someone who looked just like me. It was not until we moved back that I realized that I had lived in this third culture persona because I felt all-American while also knowing I am all-Guatemalan. Taking on the self-regard of being so now settles with me more when I see the country’s flag. It may not be home for me now, or not ever, but at the beginning of my life, it was home.

My roots took root the day our son was born. It was the first time I held physical and emotional connection. Although he had blonde hair and blue eyes (still does), his appearance meant nothing in comparison to how I felt to be his mother. Throughout my pregnancy, I remember thinking how it must have been when my birth mother carried me. For years unknowingly, I’ve been grieving her. Though the storehouse of emotions that I had since infancy to adulthood has been unearthed, lament remains. Grieving the losses that come with adoption is not something I was taught how to do nor was I told that it was okay to be sad about. Therapy has helped in this way, but my faith has helped more.

For those who want to be adoptive parents, I concerningly ask that you consider the emotional process of an adoptee who will grow up. The child that you advocate for will one day be on their own with their identity. Your commitment in how you go about preserving their identity matters. Be mindful of the language you use in describing where they’re adopted from especially if it is a location outside of the U.S. There have been many times I wonder if I had not come to America through adoption then would I have made it here by migrational foot. It can be life-changing for families if there is attunement toward the adoptee, not only as a child but as an adult. Truth is is that everything that happened pre-adoption does not stop at the moment of signed documents and a sworn oath. Our lived experiences have value. Adopted as an identity will stay with the adoptee for life. This is only an abridged version of who I am and how I have resolved to find roots and acceptance as an adoptee.

So how do I live with it? With hurt and hope. One of my favorite bands wrote a song that has a line that speaks to the emotions that I think are felt in adoption. It says, “hurt and hope, watch as I carry both, not exactly as we planned I know, but it’s still good.” Not everything found in adoption is good, but I have found that trust in the One who makes hope exist is good.

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