Earlier this year Sandra Bullock, an A-list Hollywood actress won the Academy Award for her performance in The Blind Side, a movie about a Southern lady who adopts a black homeless kid. In real life she adopted a baby on her own and kept it secret for months. Several other A-list celebrities such as Madonna, Cheryl Crow, Katherine Heigl, Meg Ryan, Mary Louise Parker and Calistha Flockhart have adopted recently or over the past few years. Adoption, not to mention babies and pregnancy in general, did not use to be a very hot topic in Hollywood, but suddenly it has. Baby pictures, regardless if they are biological or adopted, are not worth a thousand words, more likely a million bucks. I wonder why.
Looking at my own life and my own children I am curious about this process. My son is almost 16 months old now. In general, I do feel like most other mothers at this stage. I am definitely proud of having 'survived' the first year of my son’s life, meaning gone through the first overwhelming feelings of welcoming a new little human being into our lives. Not to mention I have 'survived' those sleep deprived nights with burps and vomit and diaper changes. And yet I know this is perhaps the most precious time with my children, just watching them grow and see them develop into small human beings with so much love to give you that it’s almost impossible not to enjoy this time!
But there are feelings and thoughts that I can only share with a handful of mothers. When I was the same age as my son or maybe a little younger, I left my birth country South-Korea and travelled to Norway where I was adopted by a Norwegian family. I changed my name and identity so to speak and became a Norwegian citizen. I have no idea what I was thinking and if I was thinking at all about any of this when I was 16 months old. The good thing about babies and toddlers and small people as I like to call them, is that they are very forgiving and generous with their affections when they are loved and cared for. In that way I was lucky. I was cared for in the best possible way by a loving family in Norway. I have pictures and memories from my childhood in Norway. But I have no memories of my birth country or my birth parents. Sometimes when my daughter asks me about it, I wished I had. After all, sharing our childhood memories and stories is a part of your own children’s childhood as well.
This made me think of another incident that happened a few months ago here in United States. A 7 year old Russian adopted boy was sent on a flight as a non-accompanying minor on a transatlantic flight heading back to Moscow, Russia. His adoptive mother could not handle his aggressive personality she explained in a letter that was addressed to Russian authorities. Russia replied back by halting all pending adoptions from Russia to the U.S., putting a few hundred families in an emotional turmoil.
I don’t know why my birth parents did not want to keep me. But if my adoptive mother decided that she could no longer care for me and sent me back to South-Korea that would basically mean that as an orphan, I would be rejected twice. I do think that if this boy was given a good home, he would grow up loving his adoptive parents, and not grow up being hateful and angry at the world for rejecting him. I know I did.
I also know that giving love and being loved is not genetic. It’s not something that is inherited, it’s a gift. I know my adoptive mother loved me as much as my other Norwegian siblings and she has really worked hard through all my life to prove that. It takes courage to adopt because in some cases you don’t know if the little person you are adopting is able to love you back. Unfortunately that happened to the Russian boy and I believe it happens to some adoptees around the world as we speak. Some families try to work out these situations, others fight it and some give up. For the adoptee it’s not really a choice to be adopted and so it is also not a choice for us whether or not or family is able to take care of us.
I think it is important that celebrities set an example in these cases, and I think it is important to focus on adoption not as an alternative but as a choice. Adoption is not second-choice or second-hand. Adoption is about the same thing: Having a baby of your own. In some cases I think the media can be deceitful and making the process look easier than it is. After all, not everyone has a lot of help around as well as having access to resources about adoption. If you’re stuck in the process it’s easy to give up.
Looking at my 16 month old son and watching him smile at me as he walks his first steps I know I am going to be there for him all the way when he grows up. It’s a reassurance as a parent I embrace, at the same time as I sometimes think about my birth mother out there and what she has lost. My heart goes out to her and to all birth parents out there. It takes courage to adopt, but it takes tremendous strength and willingness to make the decision to give away your child. Luckily for most of us adoptees we are still able to be loved by our adoptive parents and pass that on to future generations to come.