Let's say you and your colleague decide to embark upon a weight loss endeavor together. With the holidays rapidly approaching, both of you are a bit worried that you'll start the New Year with unwanted pounds if you don't watch your eating and exercising habits over the next several weeks. You decide to sweeten the pot by adding a competitive twist. The person who loses the most weight is entitled to a custom made all-day spa package at salon of her choosing - courtesy of the 2nd place winner. Game on. You both are ready and your motivation could not be higher.
Unbeknownst to you, your co-worker is insanely wealthy. She has informed you that she has hired a personal trainer at a top gym, a private chef to prepare and cook all meals that are not only designed to fit the ideal caloric and nutritional parameters but also taste like they should be the specials at a 5-star restaurant. She is able to rearrange her work schedule so that she can workout with her trainer for several hours each day. She has also temporarily hired a full-time nanny that can help with the housework, childcare and other daily responsibilities so that she can devote as much time as she can to her diet, sleep, exercise and health regimen. In short, she has constructed an environment which allows her to operate under the most ideal circumstances to not only maintain her weight, but to lose it and look and feel better than she ever has.
You, on the other hand, are faced with a disparate reality. Your partner has been out of work in his field for almost 6 months now and money is as tight as ever. Realistically, you're not able to purchase the kinds of foods that you know would be most conducive for your health. Sure, you'd like to buy the salmon and an abundance of fresh produce, but it's just not practical considering that you have 5 mouths to feed, so ground beef and canned veggies it is. A gym membership is out of the question let alone a personal trainer. To help make ends meet, your husband took a part-time retail job in the evenings so it's solely up to you to make dinner, help with the homework for all 3 kids, make the school lunches for the next day and oversee the bedtime routines. By the time all 3 kids are asleep, you can barely keep your eyes open. You can feel your blood pressure rise as you think about your friend who has already lost 7 pounds and you cringe at the fact that you'll probably have to borrow against your 401(k) to pay for her spa package. Instead of popping in an exercise DVD like you know you should, you turn on Bravo, grab a bag of chips and try to forget about your long, exhaustive day and how you need to get up in the morning only to do it all over again.
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When I think back to my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood and how much I struggled at various points to recognize, accept and eventually claim my own inherent value as a person, I can see so many parallels to the above scenario and how the lack of access to certain, critical resources had shaped my early identity and sense of self. Please realize that is not coming from a place of "Woe is me" or "Life is so unfair and adoption is to be blamed for everything", but rather a way for me to better understand how those early events of my abandonment and loss is not to be minimized in any way, shape or form. As an adoptive parent, it also helps me to better understand how the inequities between what my son (adopted from Korea as an infant) had access to versus what my (bio) daughter was given and how the absence of crucial resources can manifest itself into various behaviors, thought patterns and the development of self.
From the moment she was born and arguably even in utero, my daughter has never not known a time when her needs have not been acknowledged. The timely responsiveness of attentive and consistent caretakers, namely the woman who gave birth to her, is her only reality. From her first cry, the same person has been there to validate and affirm her existence. The same can be said for my brothers (who are my parent's biological children) as well as many of you who are reading this. In my opinion, my daughter had unlimited access to every resource available as she started her life. Not so for myself or my son or for most other adopted persons. Many of us were abandoned and our cries for food, for touch, for recognition fell upon deaf ears until we were found. Some of us were hospitalized and were not able to have access to skin-to-skin contact for days, weeks, months or even years. And still some of us had a revolving door of caretakers who depending on the circumstances, could not attend to even our very basic needs in an acceptable amount of time that told us that we mattered, that we were important to someone - that we actually existed.
In the case of the opening scenario, it's easy to see how one's circumstances in life can more easily influence our choices than others. It's not that I consciously wanted to feel unworthy, unloved or unwanted throughout my life, it's just that given my life's beginnings I had to work that much harder at feeling worthy, loved and wanted in life. One could argue that since the day I was adopted I have never been shown anything but continuous acts that have repeatedly demonstrated just how worthy, loved and wanted I really was, and that would be true. And to be sure, that went a long way in not only helping me to find my own self-worth, but believing it, too. But so too did my earliest beginnings marked by abandonment, separation and loss go a long way in inscribing an imprint in my both my brain and in my body that will forever be with me. Understanding that notion has allowed me to more gentle and much kinder to myself. I was adopted in an era where the impact of abandonment and loss was minimized at best, some even thought of it as a myth that we adoptees used as an excuse for our "poor choices". Adoptive parents today know better and today's adoptees deserve for our beginnings to be acknowledged and affirmed.
No, we do not need to be defined by our circumstances. But let us be more mindful of recognizing and validating how ones earliest circumstances can and do impact the adoption experience.