Birthday Dinner

Every year on my birthday I think more about my first mother. Over the years, I have honored her presence in my heart with either a thought, a prayer, or a birthday wish as I blew out the candles. This year I did something a little different.

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It was just a few years ago that I met a woman via Facebook. She shared her stories of when she was a young Brigham Young University student volunteering at my orphanage in the 1990’s. The one detail that I kept dear to me was the food the women, mothers, and children ate; “dal and rice almost every day.” The budget was tight, but if they had extra money, they added vegetables.

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So this year, I decided to spend the evening of my birthday alone, honoring her by making dal, rice (not pictured here) chapatis, and coconut chutney. I said a prayer and sent a lot of love around the world.

 

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Birthday Blues, Episode 2

My 33rd birthday passed last weekend. As usual, I didn’t think much of it and casually started talking about how to celebrate it with friends.

When brainstorming, I consider what I haven’t done before and what I could do on short notice. The idea to camp in Yosemite was explored and became my birthday destination!

I invited a few friends,  but since all of my dear friends traveled long distances to my graduation two weeks prior, they all gracefully declined.

It was all good because I was going to go anyways, which turned out to be the best outcome.

I packed by bags, picked up camping gear from my sister, set my GPS and hit the road.

I arrived on Friday, set up camp, hiked a bit and meditated. Being that I am from a country where there is at least a 12 hour time distance, I find myself thinking of my first mother the day before my birthday. I thought about her all day in fact. Its not uncommon for adoptees to some how include our first families in our thoughts at this time of year.

This year seemed the same as last. I was not really in a celebratory mood or really desired a lot of attention.

Saturday morning arrived and it was officially my birthday. My mother and stepdad came to my camp for the day. As soon as they showed up, they wanted to rest and take a nap. I took off and began to explore northern Yosemite on my own. It was a magical moment to be out in the wilderness on my own. I breathed, cried, stared at the waterfalls, prayed, and sat in silence.

Throughout the whole day, I thought about my first mother and what she could possibly be thinking about, feeling, and if she was imagining me as a 33 year old young woman. I missed her. I mourned because it is truly unlikely that I will ever meet her again and have a relationship with her.

Last year on my birthday, I was in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The city was full of Catholic churches. It was nice to have a piece of Goa with me on my birthday. https://theadopteediary.com/2015/07/02/birthday-blues/

This year was similar. I wasn’t surrounded by Catholic churches, but I was surrounded by beautiful Indian families. It was nice to have a visual reminder of my first home on my birthday. indians in yosemite

It was nice to be alone, on my own, and free to not celebrate my birthday in the traditional sense.

 

Throwback Thursday to 2014

I contributed these words to a dear friend, writer, a role model.  Submitted 9/27/2014

  • How old ere you when you first began getting together with other adopted people, and discussing what it felt like or meant to be adopted?

When I first got the idea to seek out other adoptees and support, I had just returned from my first trip back to my country of origin, India in 2009. I had spent two months in India searching for my birth mother and when I came back, I had a lot of emotions, thoughts, fears, insecurities, uncertainties that I needed to process. I was in search for people who I could have a conversation with that could give. I was already surrounded by people who listened, but had nothing to contribute, and that was what I was in desperate need for at that time.

  • Had you been wanting to have this experience before it actually happened? (ie., did you seek it out and how?)

 

Yes, I wanted to always know other adult adoptees. The desire to know other adoptees felt like just another fantasy. I was never really motivated to search out others or support prior to 2009. I always felt I was fine and that I would get over it soon. Ha, well that didn’t last long at all.

  • Did you know other adopted children when you were growing up? Did you ever discuss adoption with them?

I have four cousins that are also adopted, but I would rarely see them because they are all older and we don’t live close to each other at all. We would only see each other at major family events and those would only last a short period of time so our conversations never went to that level.

  • What was it like to be adopted BEFORE you had this experience of meeting other adopted people?

Being adopted was confusing growing up. What I mean is that all I heard were the great things about adoption, “you are so lucky,”” this is your only family,” “love is all that matters,” and “your life is so much better now.” While hearing all this shit, I was feeling just the opposite. I felt lonely, sad, disconnected, empty, broken, isolated, and hurt. Something just didn’t add up for me. I remember crying to my best friend in college about how I hated being adopted. She had nothing to say, and that’s when it clicked for me… she doesn’t get it. Nobody gets it.

  • Describe your relationships and interactions with other adopted people. Are these relationships part of an organized community, or individual? 

Oh my goodness, I love my adopted peeps! I feel such relief that it’s literally indescribable. A few words explain a lifetime of experiences. A few words validate a lifetime of feelings. A few words provide a safety net for personal expression. A few words create healing dialogue. A few words spark a commonality that doesn’t need words. My relationships with other adoptees have been made possible by adoption organizations like PACER and Pact an Adoption Alliance. Through the sharing of my film, I have also created some friendships with other adoptees via social media, but there is nothing like meeting and talking in person.

  • Is there any specific “sub-group” of adoptees that you are involved with, either formally or informally (international or transracial adoptees, parent adoptees, domestic, foster alumni, etc)

I am a part of the transracial adult adoptee subgroup. My relationships with other transracial adult adoptees stem from Pact an Adoption Alliance.

  • How often are you in contact with other adoptees, in your everyday life? How often do you speak with other adoptees about adoption issues that come up for you?

I am not in physical contact with other adult adoptees on an everyday basis. There are PACER meeting that I enjoy attending when I am not in school. I connect with my transracial “tribe” via social media, emails, text messages whenever possible and I reach out whenever I am in their neighborhood. I mostly send out an email or text message to friends that I think about in the moment. I am interested and trying to plan an adult adoptee dinner/gathering every couple of months or so just to stay in contact and develop friendships/bonds.

  • What is it like to discuss your adoption experience with non-adopted friends or family?

Discussing my experience is quite difficult. Growing up, my parents, family, or friends never really brought it up and if they did then it wasn’t really an authentic conversation. I never felt safe to discuss my adoption with my family because for some reason, my feelings would be mistaken as an attack which would cause family members to get defensive; I would immediately withdrawal. At this point, now that I have my adult adoptee tribes, I don’t really feel compelled to share too much with those that are non-adoptive, unless they ask of course, then I will be more than willing to share how I feel about my story.

  • Can you remember the first time that you were first in the presence of a group of other adoptees? What was that like for you?

The first time I was with a group of adoptees was when I attended a PACER meeting back in 2009. It was a triad group and it felt great to not only be around other adoptees, but also birth mothers. The women that I met made my birth mother real for me. Their presence pulled my birth mother out of my fantasies and made her real, with a story, with feelings, with heartache, with grief, sadness, shame, pain, and anger. The truth that those women spoke helped me realize that I was never abandoned or given up.

My first raw experience of being with other adoptees was when I first pulled up to the Pact Family Camp in July 2014. The first thing that I saw were little black children running across the street to the pool with their white families following. That’s when my heart dropped and I started breathing heavy. I was in absolute awe to see a family built like my very own. I thought I was seriously the only one. After I spent some time alone, getting myself together and prepped for the week, I attended the welcoming presentation that introduced the camp, the facilitators, the counselors, and the weeklong programming. Again I was speechless when seeing all the families gathered together in one large room. When Beth Hall asked for all the adoptees to raise their hand, I began to cry because I was so overwhelmed to see that about 80% of the room raised their hands and they were all adoptees of color. Kids, counselors, staff members, foster care alumni, even parents raised their hands and I immediately felt like I was with my people. That moment was life changing for me, I realized after that week at camp that being connected with other adult adoptees has been the most important, validating, gratifying, peaceful experience that I have ever felt before. The men and women that I have met, and have yet to meet in the future has contributed to my own mental health, physical wellbeing, and emotional stability. I am forever grateful.

Her returned letter read:

Nisha, reading your answers made me cry. Thank you for your honesty. Such a powerful response. I’m overwhelmed myself now!

oxox
Susan

Birthday Blues

This year for my 32nd birthday, I wanted to be in a place that was unfamiliar. The joy of traveling to somewhere new was pulling at me for some time, but due to my work and school schedule I could not get away. I waited patiently and developed a plan.

I decided to pack up my whole studio apartment and stuff it all into a storage unit so I could become a nomad and to celebrate and visit family and friends all summer long. I am not sure if it was the best and most responsible choice, but I needed to take a risk and live.

My best friend, Marissa also has a birthday in June and so we decided to head to San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Republica Dominicana to celebrate for two weeks.

MarNisha

On June 11th, we set out to explore Old San Juan. We walked, talked and drank the whole afternoon. As we walked around with no agenda in mind, I noticed a large white church in the middle of the bustling city streets. We walked up the stairs and I sat in the back on a brown bench. I proceeded to give thanks for the opportunity to travel as well as many others gifts.

As I do every year, I say a little prayer for my birth mother. I send out so much love to her that in the back of my mind, I imagine her feeling the same energy and love pulsing through her core at the same time. I never missed her so much until that day. She stayed on my mind and in my heart the whole day. Even though I will probably never see her again, I just hope that she feels me and my love for her.

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Throughout the day, many feelings of loss rolled through me. Being that I was in a dominate Spanish speaking country, I couldn’t help but think about language. It wasn’t until that moment, that I really understood the loss of language through adoption. That feeling took me back to the time that I got to meet my birth mother, but was unable to converse with her privately because she did not speak English and nor did I speak Konkani. To just have a few minutes alone her was all I have ever wanted.

Those feelings of language drifted into feelings about reunion. Although, I was able to meet a woman whom I believe is my mother, I will never be reunited and actually have a relationship with her like so many of my fellow adoptees in reunion. Although, I am happy for my friends, I am also very jealous since international adoption creates a larger barrier for me to know my birth family.

Once these thoughts subsided, I stepped outside and sat on the steps to watch everybody explore. I quickly realized that the architecture in Old San Juan was very similar to Panjim, Goa. Not only the color of the buildings, but the palm trees, tropical feeling, moist humid air, the city’s ordor, the small roads, and the view of the ocean took me back to my trip to my first home. It was a special feeling to be in a place that is so similar to where I came from. It almost felt like I was suppose to be there on my birthday; to have a piece of Goa with me for the day.

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After a few days in Puerto Rico, we jumped on a tiny plane and headed towards Republica Dominicana. Our last stop on the island was Punta Cana and as soon as we arrived by bus to our Airbnb apartment, I was reminded that Goa wasn’t too far away.

punta cana

It felt good to be reminded of my first home during this birthday adventure.

I missed India and the possible life that I had no choice in leaving behind

Words of Advice

A few weeks ago, I visited Sierra Forever Families to speak to a group of adoptive and foster care parents. A casual thirty minute talk turned into an hour and a half of some good dialogue. I felt comfortable and open with everybody and I got the same feelings reciprocated from my audience. Although I felt like we touched on a lot of big topics and themes, I left feeling drained but also eager to tell the parents more. If only there was enough time to speak on everything I have learned this last year. From what I have collected from Pact Camp, books, films, articles, blogs, PACER, my dear friendships and my TRA Tribe, I could write a “How To…” book, and have many volumes. This is no right or wrong way to adopt a child, but being well informed with compassion and an open mind is very crucial to the emotional, mental, and spiritual upbringing of an adopted child. Here are a few things I thought of as I was driving home…

  • Don’t imply that we have to choose between claiming our birth family or adoptive family.- I have a right to chose both set of parents/families as mine or not mine. My feelings towards both need to be respected and acknowledged.
  • Love Is Not Enough- Please refer to my previous blog
  • Space on birthdays – Birthdays or coming home parties are a great way to celebrate the union of new family members through adoption, but for some adoptees, birthdays and such celebrations are also a reminder of the loss of first mother/families, trauma, separation, and/or abandonment. Be aware that some of these feelings may be present around birthdays or the day they became a part of the family. Creating a safe place and time to talk through the feelings or at least acknowledge that they may be present can keep the adoptee from internalizing the sadness.
  • Explaining family relations- Having to always mention something about my adoption and how I was a part of my family was odd, because I didn’t really know how to address or answer the real tough questions or comments. I didn’t know how to talk about my adoption and feel confident at the same time. I didn’t know that I didn’t have to answer their questions at all.
  • Triggers after 18 years old- Even though I am an adult now and I am pretty emotionally mature, I still want my mommy and daddy to call me and ask me how my life is (specifically about my adoption journey this last year). I know I may sound needy, but my point is that I have ongoing feelings and triggers that are constantly coming up in my life. Some, I am aware of and can pinpoint the cause, but some triggers get to me and I just need to talk about it and be taken care of by my parents, even at the age of 32+.
  • Not a clean slate- Even though I was adopted about six months after my birth, doesn’t mean that I came with no past or history that will never be desired. I think that some adoptive parents chose to adopt infants because of less emotional ties to birth mothers/families, less traumatic experiences to heal, or for the opportunity to raise a child as their own (a blank slate). Regardless of the reason, I and other adoptees come with a history, a past, and a previous family that we have to right (and some desire) to know about.
  • Matching role model- In second grade, I had an Indian woman as my teacher! I was so excited to see her. I clung on to her so tight and still found a reason to love her even though she was a strict teacher. I just remember seeing her everyday and wondering if she was my birth mother, if she knew my birth mother, or if she simply looked like her. There was something so comforting about seeing another Indian person on a regular basis that was a part of my life during that school year. Later on as I got older, I would love to watch the Miss World or Miss Universe pageant competitions. I would always watch for Miss India and hoped that she won. Just seeing another beautiful woman on TV confirmed that there were other Indians all over the world. Even today, my favorite show is the Mindy Project staring Mindy Lahiri. Just being able to watch not only an Indian woman on television writing, producing, staring and running her own show, but watching a dark Indian woman on television makes me feel represented and acknowledged for something positive rather than just another Indian owning a corner market store. I guess what I’m saying here is being able to see others like me in positive and successful roles allows me to be seen outside of the typical stereotypes.
  • Connect with other families built like yours- It wasn’t until I entered Pact Camp last July that I saw  families built like my own. I seriously thought I was the only one. I knew that my cousin is a TRA as well, but besides us, I never really experienced many other families like my own in person on a regular basis. As a result, I felt odd and different. Then to finally see little kids of color running around with their white parents following closely behind hit me harder than I had ever expected. Every family that attended the camp was just like mine. I was an incredible feeling and I wish I had those connections growing up like the families do now. Normalizing adoption is key.
  • Living in a diverse neighborhood- I was very lucky enough to live in a diverse neighborhood. I had friends that were Cambodian, Vietnamese, Filipino, and African Americans. I have heard stories from my fellow adoptees that they grew up in secluded, predominately white, rural areas where they were the only child of color at their schools. Being around other kids of color helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin when growing up in an all white family.
  • Privacy vs. secrets- This one is difficult to balance at times. As an adoptee, my circumstance as to why my birth mother relinquished me and how I ended up in my family is nobody’s business but mine. My past, my story, my history is for me to tell. For some new families that are welcoming a new child into their home through adoption, parents may get a lot of attention from other family members and friends. I am sure that there will be a lot of questions, curiosity, and excitement, but honoring the privacy of an adoptee’s story is the most important than giving in to other’s curiosity. I have heard stories where extended family members know more about an adoptee’s birth family than the adoptee themselves. When it comes to the adoptee wanting to know more about their own story, their birth family, why they were adopted, then the adoptee has every right to know all the information that is provided, but not the rest of the family or circle of friends. Adoption is built on secrets and secrets do not benefit anybody. Keeping secrets about the adoption from the adoptee is not okay, but if the adoptee wants to keep their story a secret from the rest of the family, then they have every right to do so.
  • Talk about adoption often- Normalize adoption as much as possible, without making adoption the only topic of discussion. I didn’t talk about my adoption much growing up, so I didn’t know how to talk about my feelings or even have the confidence to be vulnerable about my sadness. Having adoption be a comfortable topic of discussion at any age will give the adoptee the power to protect themselves and to open themselves up when he/she decides to. Acting as though adoption didn’t take place or that its normal without talking about it is simply ignoring the fact that adoption is present. It leaves the adoptee to figure it out and make sense of it on their own. When bringing up the topic of adoption or the more uncomfortable feelings that adoption may come with, adoptees may not respond or talk for awhile. Hearing that adoption is okay to talk about within family circles can relieve a lot of pressure to protect the feelings of adoptive parents. Even though adoptees may not respond right away, they are listening and waiting for the right time to speak up. That right time, may come unexpectedly a day, a week, or even years later. Just hearing and knowing that they can be open about their adoption when they are ready can be comforting.
  • Support non adoptive children- I have an older sister and she was seven years old when I came into the family. As of now, I am not sure what her experience was, but I am aware that she also went through a major adjustment period. She was no longer the only child and as I was told by my mother, I got a lot of attention when I arrived and she had to “take a back seat.” It took me awhile to shake off that responsibility of causing my sister to feel that way because of my presence, but I can respect that she went through her own experiences. I am not sure how my parents supported her before and during this transition then and now, but I hope that my parents did acknowledge her feelings somehow.
  • Therapy- I didn’t attend therapy regarding my adoption until I was in college. I wish I was in therapy much sooner, even family therapy because of the benefits I gained from it. My mother even wishes that she had put me into therapy as a child after witnessing the challenges I have gone through. Therapy for an adoptee can help the ongoing triggers, normalizing adoption, and creating coping skills for dealing with loss, sadness, and any other challenging feelings that may arise.