Do your Eyes Light Up when I Walk into the Room

Jennifer’s Story

Jen (right) and adoptee friend
at ICAV Social Nov 2001

I arrived in Australia as a 10 day old baby on the second of two airlifts from Vietnam in April 1975 and was adopted into a Chinese family.  I strongly remember being ashamed of my Vietnamese ancestry and physical appearance. I declared my country of birth on airline forms as Australia and detested being the target of high school bullies during Year 9. Who am I? Where do I belong? What was special about me? I felt like no-one really understood what it was like to be adopted. This made me feel very alone. I projected self-hatred onto other people which was obviously a reflection of my own negative feelings towards myself. I was confused; but as I confront my past and explore my heritage and the history of the Australian Operation Babylift I am beginning to embrace my talents and see myself worthy of giving and receiving love.

Apart from knowing what physical features and personality I share with my birth-parents the one thing I crave most in the world is acceptance and worthiness as a daughter. What does unconditional love feel like? Would I feel this bond if I met my biological parents? I believe my deep sadness is the driving force that motivates me to become involved in adoption support groups and activities. When I was younger it was difficult to relate with other white adopted children who had adequate and accurate information about their “real” family”. As a Vietnamese orphan I conceptualised that my mother relinquished me because she felt that she could not adequately care for me.  Growing up it was hard to tell my parents about my desires to socialise with other Vietnamese adopted children who understood what it was like coming from a war-torn country.

A few years ago when my brother and I were in our early twenties, my parents finally decided to split up. This was extremely difficult for me to cope with as I still did not have a firm understanding of who I was and the familiar family foundations were slowly crumbling around me. I felt out of control and alone more than ever during the separation of my mother and father.

Recently I bumped into a family friend and saw this as an ideal opportunity to ask if I could make contact with her adopted kids. I specifically wanted to know how they felt having Chinese adoptive parents. She was shocked and quickly informed me that her children did not know they were adopted and her husband wanted to keep it that way.  As usual my sensitive nature took this embarrassing moment very personally. 

It felt like she was stabbing a knife into my heart and asserting that there is something seriously shameful and unacceptable about people who are adopted. At that point, my adult and rational mind kicked in reminding me that adoptive parents have their own anguishes and fears as well. Although I acknowledged that she and her husband are making choices the best way they know how, I think telling the truth is always the best choice no matter how much pain it can cause.

The most positive aspects about being adopted is that I have been given a life in a country where there are plenty of opportunities and resources to grow as a person. My parents looked after me financially and provided me with an excellent education.  Nonetheless, my greatest wish is to be able to connect more deeply with my family. My mum remembers how I use to tell her a lot about my day but I feel my conversations with her were an attempt to gain her approval. I felt I was not intelligent, gifted, and attractive enough and because of this I believed I was not really accepted amongst the immediate and extended family.

I consider the type of relationship I have with my family is not solely an adoption issue.  I think being adopted magnifies my deep feelings of difference and unworthiness.  There are many emotions that all children, not just those who are adopted, experience during their lifetime of growing up. I believe that most children at one time or another just want to know that their parent’s eyes DO light up when they walk into the room.

I appreciate that my parents did the best they could at the time and I believe when they know better they will do better .. and until that time .. I deal with it! I strongly believe I am the creator of my own experiences, and at every moment I have the power to consciously choose how I will perceive and respond to what is being presented to me.  I remember that “pain IS inevitable, but suffering IS optional”. So the question I have is, how will you respond to your adoption experience?

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