Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Interview with an adult Ind*an adoptee
Last week, I had the privilege of sharing a long conversation with Esther. She is a stunning, smart, articulate 25-year-old woman, who is passionate about living for Christ. She also shares something in common with our daughters -- she began her life in India, and was adopted by a family in the United States.
Esther is the niece of a friend, and we first chatted last summer at a wedding. She graciously agreed to be part of a longer conversation with me about her experiences growing up as a girl of color in a predominately caucasian environment, and her thoughts and feelings about being adopted. She also agreed to invite all of you into the conversation. Thank you so much, Esther!
A little bit of Esther's history . . .
Esther's life began like many of our children's stories: she was born to a young, unmarried woman who was unable to care for her. Her birth mother made sure she was safely brought to an orphanage. One other really amazing thing she knows about her history is that Mother Theresa visited that orphanage when Esther was a baby, and prayed over her and the other babies.
When she was four months old, Esther was united with her adoptive family and came home with them to the Midwest. She has one brother who is her parents' biological child, and another brother who was also adopted from India. She grew up in a very small town, and then moved to a medium-sized city when she started high school.
Her experiences with racism . . .
As a young child, Esther lived in a small town and attended a small private school that was nearly all-caucasian. She and her brother were teased and bullied because they had brown skin -- Esther thinks it wasn't actually about any racial stereotypes about Indian people in particular, but simply because kids singled them out because of their skin color. It was very painful for them, and she felt that the school didn't take the problem seriously. When Esther started high school, her family did move to a larger, more diverse city. She said it was completely different, and she didn't experience teasing or bullying during high school.
Esther's encouragement for us is to take seriously what our kids tell us, and be assertive with our kids' teachers, school principals, and guidance counselors. We need to be prepared to insist on a response from our school if/when our kids encounter racism or bullying. She also said that parents need to strongly consider their environment when adopting transracially -- if we live in small, predominately white towns, we should seriously consider moving to a more diverse town or city.
She also mentioned that her brother, who was also adopted from India, has been on the receiving end of some racial profiling at the airport. He is always subjected to the full-body, invasive searches at airports because of his appearance. And he encounters further scrutiny because he is diabetic and uses an insulin pump.
On traveling to India this year . . .
Esther was part of a mission experience called the World Race. (It's an 11-month trek around the world serving others, and experiencing what it means to share the Gospel in different settings.) She spent time serving in India, part of which was spent working in an orphanage. Returning to India sparked many questions and thoughts for her -- about children who grow up alone or in poverty, about her own journey as an adoptee, and about her birth mother. She feels she is just beginning to process everything, and highly recommends finding opportunities for our children to visit their birth country.
Her thoughts about being adopted . . .
Esther's family didn't talk a lot about adoption, or do things to connect to her birth culture (such as Indian cooking, clothing or heritage experiences or camps). She wishes now that more of those elements had been present, especially simply talking about adoption. As a young girl, she didn't realize her family was different than other families, which was healthy in some ways. She said with a smile that she just thought "the first kid comes out with pale skin, then you have brown ones." In elementary school, someone called her "adopted," and it was the first time she really put the pieces together that she had been born to someone else, then brought into her family.
She recommends talking often with our kids about their stories, and being frank and open about what it means to be adopted. She also mentioned that she and her brother often perceived things differently, and she recommends praying and being thoughtful about what each individual child needs. Esther emphasized that kids understand things differently at different ages -- so it's really important to listen to how your children phrase things, so you can discern what they're thinking.
As an adult, she deeply appreciates the chance she had to grow up in a family, to be introduced to Christ, and to escape the poverty or exploitation that may have been her future with no family. She wonders if she has biological siblings or other family in India, and hopes to find answers about that someday.
The "missing piece" . . .
She talked about a sense of something lacking that has been with her as long as she can remember. Her parents divorced when she was 9, and she and her brother lived with her dad after that. She has sometimes felt a sense of detachment with her family, and wonders if that is the result of their particular family dynamics, or if it's about being adopted. She said that question stays with her -- "is this an adoption thing, or just how our particular family is?" And there are no solid answers in the end, which feels unsatisfying.
She talked about being generally happy about her family and her life, but still having that lingering feeling of a "missing piece." She thinks it's important for parents to know that about their adopted children -- that sometimes there will be a feeling of incompleteness, and it's not a judgement on us as parents.
She encouraged us to build families and homes where it's safe and okay to express feelings like loneliness, anger, and sadness. Our kids need to know it's okay to feel ambivalent about their history, and that it's okay to experience conflicting emotions: loving your adoptive family, but wondering about all of the might-have-beens had she been able to stay with her birth family.
Other encouragements for adoptive parents . . .
Esther said that words of encouragement and belonging are important for every child, but may be even more vital for adopted children. She encouraged us to speak words of affirmation and life to our children. For her at times, and for many adopted children, are lingering questions: why was I abandoned? Was there something wrong with me? She recognized that this question happened at times when she was vulnerable in some way, and believes that it was part of a spiritual attack on her. As a result, she also encouraged us to pray consistently for our children not to believe those lies when they pop up.
What's next for Esther?
The next destination for Esther is Spain! She is working and fundraising for 6 months of education about missions work, specifically using film/documentary filmmaking as a medium to advance the Gospel. She has earned a B.A. in film production already, so this is continuing education about applying that knowledge. She will be with the G42 organization, which is based in Houston, Texas.
If you'd like to thank her for sharing honestly with us parents about her thoughts and feelings, please consider making a donation toward her time in Spain. (That was my idea, not hers -- but I hope we can surprise her!) If you'd like to help her, private message me on F*cebook, or use the e-mail address to contact me (it appears if you click to leave a comment).