The Casual, Not So Casual Meet and Greet Convo

Meeting new people is always so interesting, uncomfortable and invasive or me. Of course most strangers don’t know that I am adopted, but confusion seems to arise when I answer their basic questions about myself and my family. Over the years, I began to notice that I was disclosing my adoption within the first few minutes of meeting someone, only to relieve their confusion about my answers and not for my own personal desire to want to share. There have been times where I chose to leave the conversation when they get that blank stare on their face just to avoid having to tell them the missing link in my story line. In those moments, I have to decide if my adoption is going to be part of my identity or a part of me that is really no ones fucking business.

A brief conversation I had with a kind woman at my weekly mediation group proves my point. Note: personal thoughts are told in parenthesis

Her: Hello, how are you? You are awfully quiet.

Me: Yes (well, we did just get done with a 40 minute meditation session)

Her: Is this your first time here?

Me: No, I began coming last fall, but had to stop due to my school schedule. I am now able to return because my Thursday evenings are now open.

Her: Great, what are you studying?

The conversation was lead to discussing my masters program and blah, blah, blah. Then it begins.

Her: Are you from Fiji?

Me: No, I am from India.

Her: Do  you speak Indian?

Me: Do you mean Hindi? (For reals? You look to be at least 80 years old and you still think Indians speak Indian?)

Her: Oh yes, do you speak Hindi?

Me: No, I do not.

Her: Do your parents speak Hindi? (Oh shit, here we go)

Me: No, they only speak English

Her: Its amazing how families come over and lose their language, their culture, their heritage and everything that comes with being Indian. (Oh gawd, you’re right. It’s amazing and it kind of sucks)

This is when I tense up and get a reality check about my losses. I quickly analyze the situation before my next move. I seem to go through the same questions before responding. Do I feel safe? Do I want to disclose my adoption to this stranger?  Who the fuck is she? Is she on a need to know basis? Is this a learning opportunity for her? Why do I feel like this? How do I get out of this? Should I just avoid her and nod my head in agreement? What do I do?

With a sunken feeling of sadness and shame, I chose to answer with some honesty.

Me: Well, that comes with adoption. I experienced all of those losses with being a trans-racial adoptee. (There it goes, I dropped the most personal bomb)

Her: Oohh, a trans-racial adoptee?

Me: Yes, I was adopted by a white family.

Her: Oh, interesting.

She begins to tell about a family friend’s child (8 years old) and his recent awareness that his skin is darker than his mothers due to his estranged father being black. I think this is something that is not very common in her social groups, but I respect her for trying to relate. I followed her story about the importance of having dialogue around racial identity during a child’s development and that its usually due to white privilege that white parents are not having these conversations with their children of color. I blatantly said that its doing a disservice to children and during their early years of development.

So, going back to my original point… this was the first time I met this woman and I felt obligated, pressured, and stuck to go deeper with a stranger than I ever intended to just to straighten out her assumptions. Yes, I didn’t have to, and yes, I could of politely excused myself from the conversation, which I have done before. My point is that this is not the first “casual” meet and greet conversation I have had that lead to me telling more than I want. Some other triggers that take the conversation to a deeper level of intimacy is when I get asked if my parents cook Indian food, if I have family/relatives in India, or if they are surprised that I don’t have an Indian accent. I can usually avoid saying too much and I have figured a way to dodge my adoption story, but it’s rare.

I guess this shit is what comes with being adopted. I’m just glad she didn’t mention how lucky I am because then I probably would have lost my shit which is not ideal after meditating. 🙂

New York Screening of YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past

NYIf you are in the New York area on July 14th, then please join me in watching my film about my search for my birth mother in Goa, India. After the screening, I will be available to answer any questions about from the audience.

To watch the trailer and learn more about YOU FOLLOW: a search for one’s past, please visit youfollowthefilm.com

To purchase tickets to the New York screening, please visit wearegazillionstrong.org

Gazillion Trailer from sharmila ray on Vimeo.

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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.

The Value In My Name

I am not one to put a lot of weight on labels when trying to describe myself to others. In fact, I make an effort to detach myself from labels as much as possible. After much thought, there is one label that I value and am proud to have and that is my name.

My name was given to me by my birth mother, and although my parents had the right to change it during my adoption process, I am so happy that they chose not to. To be honest, it seems very unnatural to change a child’s name if they already have one. Having the same name my birth mother gave me remains to prove that I had a family prior to the family that I am a part of today.

Why did my parents keep my original name (first and last)? To find out, I reached out to them and got their answers. My dad simply stated that they liked my first name. The reason they moved my last name to become my middle name was because they wanted to keep me connected to my family linage in case I wanted to search later on in life. 🙂

The way that I see it, my name is a gift from my birth mother. She is the one that sacrificed her life, her family, and her safety to give me life and a name that may have meant something special to her. There is no reason in the world why that should not be honored. To be honest, I feel that my name is really the only thing that I have of hers, which is probably why I value it so much.

My name does not only connect me to her, but it also connects me to India and my past. It almost proves that I am still part of my birth family even though I am living on the other side of the world. Through adoption, I was uplifted from Goa. My name keeps me grounded and tied to India in a way that reminds me that I was never uprooted from Goa. I can see the difference now.

To keep honoring my birth mother and family, I plan on passing down my middle name to all my future children and I hope that they choose to do the same. I feel compelled to keep them connected to their natural family lineage and by passing down my middle name is the least I can do for them.

To hear that some adoptive parents do in fact change their children’s name through the adoption process, breaks my heart. I’m sure that they have their reasons, but hopefully their reasons are for what’s best for their children, and not for creating a false reality around their own needs and insecurities.

Although it does break my heart, at the same time, I love to hear that adult adoptees are taking back their birth names. To some of us, connecting to our authentic identity begins with a name or it may end with a name. Either way, adoptees are exercising their freedom of choice, which can be taken away as an adolescent.

I am able to honor and carry my identity, my India, my past, and my birth mother and family with me everyday because my name has remained the same since birth. Thank you, mom and dad!

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Adoptees Connect

Please Don’t Tell Me I Was Lucky to Be Adopted 

Shareen Pine took the words right out my mouth. Her article that I included above is an article that spoke to me on so many different levels…

“Adoption loss is truly multi-generational”- Shareen starts off with a conversation that her daughter had with her friend about how she also feels like an adoptee because she lost her birth grandmother. I have always thought about my future children and how I wanted to create as much truth about their past as I could prior to me having them. I mean, the thought of my children was a major influence as to why I wanted to begin and complete my search for my birth mother and family. I wanted to be able to give to my children what my adoptive parents were not able to give or didn’t know how to give. I wanted to provide names, pictures, answers, a story for them to pass on to their children.

What I didn’t realize, was that is goes much farther than what I want and how I feel. Shareen acknowledged how her daughter felt and that is something that I never considered before. There is not much I can do now since I do not have any children yet, but I realized that no matter how many pictures or stories I tell them about my search and what I was able to find out, they are still going to experience the same loss as me… no relationships and no contact with birth family prior me. I think that Shareen’s daughter is very wise to see herself as an adoptee in her own special way because besides me and my children’s father, they will have no connections or ties; they too may feel a loss as I do.

“Adoptees are often so busy trying to prove that we’re fine…” -This is how I would self soothed myself when I felt broken and lost not only as a child, but also as a young adult. My response to family’s concerns up until recently has always been, I’m fine or Ill be okay. I didn’t have the strength or the comfort to really express myself until I started counseling in college. A big part of not expressing myself was that I didn’t have the language to do it. I didn’t know how to talk about my feelings. I didn’t know how to not feel guilty. I didn’t know how not to worry about what people thought or how I would make them feel if I yell out, I hate being adopted. I didn’t know that it was okay and that it was absolutely normal to have these feelings because I was constantly being reminded to feel lucky and grateful. I would speak the words of feeling lucky and grateful to others without them having any meaning behind them. I could feel myself forcing these words out because that is what people wanted to hear and expected me to feel. I allowed others’ expectations to override and bury my truth.

“Can you imagine being the only person in the world you know you’re related to?”- Right!?! This is really an odd and confusing feeling, especially being around family and friends who are all biologically connected and related to one another except to me. I didn’t really get this feeling until my little brother was born. All I could hear was how much he looked like my father. Looking back on that now, it was really a weird experience and odd to be around those conversations. I felt left out. I would always wonder if my parents attention would spark at that moment and think about how I may feel. I was hopeful that they would turn to me and ask me how I felt or even acknowledged that that is a conversation I wouldn’t be a part of.  We all remained quiet.

“…Or why they told me that my adoptive parents saved me.”- I have heard it all. My adoptive parents saved me, my birth mother loved me so much that she had to surrender her rights to raise me, your life is so much better now, you probably would have been a prostitute or better yet, dead in the gutter because that’s what Indians do to the female babies. Talk about a lot of shit to hear and try to make sense of as a young child. For some reason, it did always amaze me how these possible truths came from people who have never been to India, never lived in India, and don’t  know shit about my birth mother and her truth at the time of my birth. It took me all the way up until just a few years ago to accept that these people wanted to feel like saviors and that they wanted to feed their ego. Their words were so inaccurate after I found out what my truth was that it now makes me laugh at how stupid they all look now.

Even till this day, I think about what my life could have been like if I were to stay with my biological family in Goa. Never once do I think or feel that it would be worse or better than my life now.

To close this post, I would like to say thank you to Shareen Pine and her daughter for speaking out and sharing their truth. Validation is so important in adoption and I cannot begin to express how much I have learned from their words.

The Colorblind Game Failed

Whenever you are sad, who do you talk to? When you are depressed, who do you confide in? When you are confused, who do you speak out loud to? When you are lost, who do you go find?

During my moments of feeling sad, depressed, confused, and lost I had no one to run to. Yes, my family was there, but what I had to say was not going to be something that they wanted to hear. Growing up, my family played the colorblind game with me and acted as though I was no different and just one of the family members. They are not to blame, considering the education around transracial adoption was very limited thirty years ago. I blame the adoption agencies that were only out to make money and close files.

My adoption, my loss, my mental health or that of my sister’s was never a topic of conversation. Without the dialogue, I grew up confused and learned to repress my feelings as if they were not important or valid. How can I speak up about my loss and confusion surrounding my adoption if it was never acknowledged? As a child, how could it be left up to me to yell out? As a child, I didn’t want to draw any more attention to how I was different than what was already apparent physically.

As a young adult, I have tried reaching out to my parents. I remember giving them both the book, 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew with  highlighted sections that spoke to me specifically. Neither one of them reached out to continue the conversation. I talked to my dad not long ago about how hard it can be sometimes to be adopted and he replied that he had no idea about it all and was silent. He has yet to bring it up again. When I speak to my mother, she takes a lot of it personal as if I am telling her what a horrible job she did as a parent. I can understand that. A the same time, what I need from my parents is for them to listen and validate me. I need them to bring up the conversation first, I need them to ask me questions, I need them to take care of me. As much as I push away, I need to them to keep coming after me because I keep drifting farther and farther away.

Now that I am an adult in my thirties, I think I must look to others for support because what I need is not going to come from my parents at this point. It has been very tough to accept this.

The feelings that I have about my adoption are not great feelings. At this point in my healing process, I am not really a fan of adoption and the joys that it brings to everybody else’s lives. Even till this day, I still catch myself suppressing feelings of loss and sadness. I didn’t want to continue this unhealthy cycle, so I started this blog to release the tension and break down my barriers. I haven’t told my parents about it, nor do I think I will. I’m hoping this outlet will lead to acceptance and the belief that my life is suppose to happen the way that it is set up now. I’m not there yet, but maybe.  As much as I want to talk to my parents, I don’t think what I have to say is what they want to hear. I think at this point, it is better that I now play their colorblind game and take my sorrows to therapy and my blog. 🙂

Torn Between Homes

I was sitting at my kitchen table, eating dinner and watching Long Way Down with Ewan McGregor, and as he is traveling south through Africa, I get so emotional all of a sudden. As that very moment, I began to miss India…

I feel so torn; torn between two homes, two lives, two families. This last month or so, I have become hungry to travel back home to India. I want to be around my people and to just see them everyday. I want to just live a simple life for a while without all the struggles and chaos of trying to keep up with being successful and creating a life within the American culture. I am in this life at this moment and all I want to do is just live it, but I don’t know how to when I want to be on two opposite side of the world at the same time.

At times like this, I truly feel like I am so far from home. Almost like I am just visiting here and I will soon go back home or as if I am in the wrong environment. It really is challenging to try to create this connection with India, when it’s not close enough where I can just get up and leave for a weekend or a few weeks. If I could have it my way, I would relocated my whole family and make them come with me. I don’t think it is too much to ask, right? I mean, they expected me to just fly across the world and become a part of their family without helping me stay connected to Goa, so why can’t they? I know it’s not that easy, but I was expected to just fit into their family, their culture, their lifestyle like I am this little being with absolutely no roots. All my connections and ties were severed; not once mended until I became old enough to begin stitching my past with my present.

I remember talking to my mother years ago when I was around 18 or 19 years old. I was telling her that I  wish they (her and my family) had taught me about India, about Goa, about the culture, the language, something. I remember her reply because I never felt as alone as I did when I heard her speak her truth. She said something along the lines of “you are now old enough where it is your responsibility to learn what you want to know about India.” Yes, it did become my responsibility because I was entering adulthood and that’s how the American culture treats 18 year olds, but at the same time, I felt like I don’t want to do it alone. I don’t want to feel like I am alone anymore. I wanted my family to embrace and bring in some parts of the Goan culture, not just for me, but for themselves. It’s almost like, India is good enough to give them their babies, but not good enough to bring into their home. It just seems so bizarre to me.

Anyways, I am pushing the blame on my family and I need to forgive and accept. I just hate this feeling of lonesome and having to choose to be in either America with my family, or in India alone.

Nisha in Sari