The Duality of being Disabled and Adopted

by Erin E. Andy (지현정), adopted from South Korea to the USA.

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month.

As someone who has lived with this condition all my life, I can say it’s a struggle. As someone who is a transracial intercountry adoptee on top of it, I have felt conflicted about my identity.

There are times my limbs do the opposite of what I want them to do. There have been times I’ve had difficulty getting out of bed when my body is too fatigued by the spasms. There have been times I’ve had to take extra doses of medication to calm myself so I can function in my daily life. There are more times than I would like to admit being stared at for the way my body acts. I’m fully aware of the judgemental looks I receive, which makes my body involuntarily tense up even further. I can never hide my excitement or nervousness as my Cerebral Palsy gives my emotions away.

When people joke about “maybe I should use a wheelchair instead of walking”, it comes across as insensitive. Yet those jokes persist. It can be tough at times to see people mock those of us who can’t control our bodies.

Growing up with Cerebral Palsy, it was difficult enough to fit in, constantly being reminded by my wheelchair and its restraints that I was different. However, on top of coming to terms with my disability, I had to face another aspect of my identity: being a transracial intercountry adoptee.

Within my adoptive family, I felt somewhat comforted knowing I was being raised with other Korean adoptee siblings as well as having a dad who is of Japanese descent. However, going out with my mom was a stark reminder that I was adopted. I don’t look anything like her, and seeing strangers looking at us curiously made it clear that this was different; that I was different. Only when our family attended campouts with other families with adopted kids did I feel comfortable. I wasn’t the only one who was disabled and adopted. I felt accepted. They normalised my existence.

With that said, it was difficult as I grew up to come to terms that my biological family relinquished me. I often wondered why. I was told they were trying to give me a better life, but the pain and rejection of being given up is difficult to reconcile with their good intent.

I never asked to be disabled. I was angry they gave me up so easily. I never understood the reason, at least not for quite some time. I was given up at the age of five, so I knew my biological family, but even so, they made the choice to relinquish me to Holt Adoption Services. I stayed in a foster home for a little while until the adoption agency found a family to adopt me.

Upon going back to Korea in 2014 for a reunion with my biological mother and seeing my homeland again, I came to an uncomfortable realisation: I hardly saw anyone in a wheelchair on the streets in Seoul. I didn’t see anyone else like me outside of my tour group who had a physical disability like Cerebral Palsy. It wasn’t until we went to an orphanage in Ilsan that I saw a few people with physical disabilities. I was confounded and ultimately disappointed. After coming back from Korea, I saw videos and articles over the years of how they viewed the disabled.

Would I have been here in the USA if I had been born head first and given the oxygen I needed to avoid having this disability? What would my life have been like if I stayed in Korea? Would I have been placed in an orphanage as I grew older, or would I have been sent to an institution to live the rest of my days hidden away from the outside world? To this day, I ponder what my fate would have been, had I not been adopted.

My adoption came about because of my Cerebral Palsy, but the struggle of each doesn’t deter from the other. While I still mourn the life which could have been had I never been disabled, I know this life is worth living, here in the USA.

I have a loving husband, many friends from various places, families who care about my well being, and perhaps the biggest thing, the ability to thrive.

I never asked to have Cerebral Palsy or be given up for adoption…

But, even so, I’m here. I exist. My condition is not who I am nor should it define me.