As a child, I had this underlying fear that I would be sent back to South Korea, my birth country. I worried that if I wasn’t “perfect” or didn’t act the “right” way, that surely, my mum would just send me back.
I was old enough to understand the concept that if something is broken, you return it. I remember asking my mum when I was young: why, if I wasn’t exactly what she had “purchased”, would she want to keep me?
She turned to me, with her blue eyes and blonde hair, and said, “you were always meant to be my daughter – there is no doubt in my mind that you were always meant to be with me.”
Since then, I have never really questioned the bond that I have with my mother. But other people seem to. I am fatigued by others’ scepticism and preconceived ideas of what a family should be. This leaves me feeling less deserving of a family, like a last-resort option, and often ashamed of who I am.
I am fatigued by others’ scepticism and preconceived ideas of what a family should be.
I do understand that most people I encounter are just interested to know more about my experience as a Korean-Australian adoptee. My story is unfamiliar to them, and they seek to know more. I wholeheartedly encourage this curiosity, but I believe that there is a need to finely balance this with sensitive language, an open-mind, and compassion. So, here are three things that I wish people didn’t say to me about adoption, and why.
1. “I would like to adopt, but I would also like a child of my own”
The use of the wording “a child of my own” contributes to that underlying sense of not feeling worthy of a family and that I will never truly be a part of the one I am in. It suggests that a biological child provides a parent something more than what an adopted child ever could. Perhaps stating “I would like to adopt, but I would also like a biological child” may help break down this misconception. My parents had a biological son, and then adopted five children from South Korea. I don’t doubt that they love all of us children the same, regardless of our blood relation.
2. “Wow, your parents sound like great people”
Many people say this to me when I tell them that I’m adopted. Every child has the right to a loving family. I don’t see why I should feel more grateful than any other person to have this. This comment makes me feel like I must be a burden or unlovable – my parents must have been really generous people to take me in, right? This is the one comment that my mother gets quite upset about. One day she was at the shops with me (I must have been about five years old). A woman turned to her and said “wow, you’re so lucky”. She said that in that moment she finally felt understood – understood that she was the lucky one to have been gifted a child.
3. “Have you met your biological parents yet?”
This comment cuts two ways. Firstly, by adding “yet” to that question, it assumes that that it is feasible to meet my biological parents and that I would even want to. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, asking this question is highly personal. I recommend not asking this to someone that you don’t know well. For many adoptees, like myself, we have searched for our biological parents for years but have not been able to find them. While I am content in this, I will always grieve the loss of a mother and father who look like me. I struggle when people ask me this question because I want to remain authentic to my story, but it just feels so intrusive to be asked about my abandonment. I believe that the details of my adoption need to be earned through trust and respect, not as a flippant remark during an introduction.
While I am content in this, I will always grieve the loss of a mother and father who look like me.
These are just three of the more common questions or statements that I hear. As I have grown up, I am getting less of “do you call your mum, ‘mum’?” and “I am so sorry to hear that you’re adopted”. I think this shows progress. But we still have a considerable way to go for people to understand the true impact of their words. I hope that sharing my story provides an opportunity for reflection and learning. The evolution of language around adoption will help bridge that gap between what is said versus what is heard by adoptees, like me.
Dr Eden Robertson is a 30-year-old Korean-Australian adoptee from Newcastle, currently working as a childhood health researcher.