Pact Fall Fundraising Gala Speech

Pact Has Changed My Life Forever

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In my mid twenties, I embarked on an adventure back to my first home in search for my family in India, in search for what is rightfully mine. With my future children in mind, my dear friends and I documented my travels that ended up eventually becoming a feature length film. Unexpectedly, knowledge of my film began to travel through the adoption community. And that’s how I was introduced to Beth and PACT. Beth was so kind to invite me to the Pact Family Camp to present my film to adoptive parents. She was the first person to call me a transracial adoptee. I had never heard of that label before but it was exactly what I needed to hear. Something so small as two words helped me settle years of confusion about my experiences and my place in my family, with white parents.

With no expectations about what camp was going to be like, I packed my bags and drove up to Lake Tahoe. As I drove up the driveway, I saw a little brown child running across the street towards the pool and their white parents following not too far behind. My heart sank and tears began to flow. That was really the first time I saw myself from the outside. 

Opening ceremony welcomed all families into the conference room. I will never forget when Beth asked all adoptees, foster care youth and alumni to raise their hand. I saw at least a hundred hands in the air! This rush of validation, acceptance, and unconditional love went through my body. Coming from a family that didn’t speak about my adoption, India, my first family, adoption language, or the possibility of searching and reuniting, I was absolutely overwhelmed to see so many other families built like mine, all in the same room. I immediately knew that I was where I was suppose to be.

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Since my first Pact Family Camp in 2014, I have met, listened to and became close friends with other TRA’s, Foster Care Alumni, natural mothers, and adoptive parents. In fact, they are the reason I moved to Oakland earlier this year. Together they all have honored my voice, my experience, and gave me credit for being an expert in adoption. Through the authors, bloggers, filmmakers, theatrical performers, and poets that PACT has exposed me to, my perspective have expanded around race, gender, sex, identity, parenting, and language. The most precious gift that I have received from PACT is my support group for TRA’s of Color. I’ve been allowed to cry, mourn, express anger, laugh, and roll my eyes without having to defend myself. I am not alone in this and my self esteem and self love have heightened to a level I have never experienced. I consider everyone that I have met through PACT an extension of my family. A family that understands me as a whole person, without having to say one word.

So tonight, I am here to celebrate and highlight the work of the dedicated, strong, insightful, gracious and compassionate staff members, including all the counselors, volunteers, panelist, and board members of PACT. Transracial Adoption is complex with so many unexpected challenges. But with the all trainings, webinars, annual family camps, consultations, education, support groups, placement services and more, PACT truly is a leader in providing the best opportunities to learn how to move through the challenges with the adoptee’s best interests at the core.

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Myself, along with so many other adoptees and foster care alumni have been given the open space to share our experiences, joys and challenges. We hope to create a better experience for those that walk this path beside us and behind us, and sometimes before us. I want to personally thank you all for coming tonight and supporting the much needed services for those that are the most vulnerable. I am proof that PACT can change lives and support a healthy and open narrative around adoption. Thank you Beth and my dear PACT family for making me a better person. I love you all dearly.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

Love Is Not Enough

A few weeks ago I was asked by a friend of mine to participate on a panel for an organization that she works for called Sierra Forever Families. She wanted to create a training for the staff from all three locations that focuses on the perspective of adult adoptees and foster care alumni. At first I was thrilled at this opportunity because I didn’t and still don’t quiet get that my voice is what people want to hear. I am so used to hearing the beautiful side of adoption, not the sad and lonely side of adoption. My experience at the training as a panelist proved that what I had to say not only seemed like something that they haven’t heard but something that they may of needed to hear in order to help the younger generations of adoptees and children in foster care.

Going back to hearing professionals on television and professionals in books, I would hear the word love thrown around like it was a cure all remedy when it comes to adoption and bringing a child into a new family and home.

“Love is all they want”

“Love is all they need”

“Every child deserves to be loved”

I do agree with all of these statements, but it goes much deeper then just love. Love is just not enough.

Unconditional love is what is needed. Unconditional love means that I can act out and not be left alone again. Unconditional love means that I can cry and grieve my first family and not feel ashamed about it. Unconditional love means that I can have both families in my life and heart and I not have to chose. Unconditional love is walking down this emotional path with my family. Unconditional love is a great understanding from all members of the family.

To go even deeper, unconditional love is still not enough.

What would have been enough? I don’t know if there could have ever been enough to take away the pain and fill up the loss.

I do know that awareness that my experiences are different as a woman of color could of helped. Having a support group of other adoptees while growing up would have helped. Talking about my birth mother in a beautiful way would have helped. Being in therapy would have helped. Not hearing assumptions that my birth mother may have been a prostitute would of helped. Being advised on how to deal with racism would have helped. Being told how to be proud of my dark brown skin would of helped.

With that said, Love Is Not Enough

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