The Ladybug | Figuring Out What Adoption Means to Me

The Ladybug is a biweekly blog about adoptees and their experiences

By Abigail Duncan, For The Pitt News

Last spring I tried to start a new club at Pitt called “Three Points 1 Heart.” Our mission was to create a safe space for adoptees to come together, share stories and provide resources. While the club didn’t really get off the ground, I still have the same motivation — to share my story and what I’ve learned as a Chinese adoptee. I hope people, regardless of being adopted or not, can take away something from what I have to share.

While I am adopted, I cannot speak for all adoptees. I share my story as a personal experience and what I have learned along the way with the acknowledgment that all adoptees have their own unique stories to share.

As for the name of my blog — sometimes adopted children are called lucky babies because we were matched with families, and in the adoption community, and in general, ladybugs are considered a symbol of luck.

Starting at the beginning — as a baby, everything parents or caretakers do is important, which is why new parents are so stressed about “screwing up their kids.” At least, that’s the impression I get when I think of new parents. But seriously, things do matter. Babies don’t cry just to be annoying. They cry for attention and it is parents’ reactions that impact a child’s attachment style.

When a baby cries, normally a mother or caretaker acknowledges it by tending to the baby’s needs, but in an orphanage, it’s a bit different. There are so many other babies and things to oversee that a single baby crying might not be attended to right away. While I don’t have any recollection of what life in the orphanage looked like, I can imagine that as a baby, I would cry and it probably took a little time until someone came to calm me down, or maybe I was just left alone until I finished crying. I have no idea for sure, but having an anxious attachment would suggest it was something like that.

For those who don’t know, anxious attachment is an attachment style in which someone might be anxious regarding interactions with their significant others. This could look like worrying their partner might stop liking them any second, constantly needing attention or reassurance, or tying their self-worth to the relationship. This is a very brief definition, but you get the point. Regardless, the feeling of not having my needs met as a child would come to make up the pieces of who I am today.

Up until about five or six years ago, being adopted didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t feel as though I was different from anyone else. I was grateful to have a roof over my head, food on the table, education and a family. Sometimes at school, when my parents dropped me off or came for an event, other kids would stare or ask why I didn’t look like my parents. And one of us would say I’m adopted from China. My parents would joke and say, “Don’t you think we look so much alike?” It just became routine and I didn’t think too hard about it.

I didn’t really come to identify with being adopted until junior or senior year of high school. I started going to diversity conferences which pushed me to acknowledge all of my identifiers and to hear others’ experiences. The experience taught me to lean into discomfort — in long pauses in conversation, finding reflection in silence, acknowledging privilege and hearing other people’s experiences.

One of the activities at every conference was called “Who’s in the Room.” For those who don’t know, the activity is when a list of identifiers are called out one by one and those in the room stand for the identifiers they are comfortable with being seen and be acclaimed. It allowed people to acknowledge the identifier as their own and to look around the room at others who share this quality and know that they’re not alone. Done right, this activity can be very powerful. In this, I learned to claim a part of my identity I was struggling to understand — along with additional identifiers I struggled to value — and found comfort in knowing others were going through some of the same struggles. I became proud of who I am.

I came to college with an acknowledgment of adoption. It was during this stage of my life that I learned how it impacts my day-to-day existence. Living on my own, or at least away from my parents, I struggled being by myself. I didn’t know what to do with all the free time. I constantly wanted affection. I didn’t want to sleep alone and when I couldn’t get one person to meet my needs, I would find them elsewhere. I viewed romantic flings more as sources of attention and validation than romance. I also had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), so time management was pretty much nonexistent. I was a train wreck and a half, but somehow, I didn’t think any of this was a problem yet.

It wasn’t until the end of a serious relationship that I felt ended out of nowhere did I realize the issue was me. All I knew at the time was that I was devastated. I couldn’t understand why he ended it and blamed him for giving up on the relationship. I saw it as him abandoning me. It took a lot to realize the part I played in the end of the relationship. On reflection, I admitted to myself that there was a lot of unhealthy behavior I contributed. I had made mistakes in the relationship that I couldn’t explain other than it having to do with adoption trauma, and when he forgave me, I just told myself it was fixed. There were many issues I’d pushed to the side and became oblivious to, having rose-colored lenses. Without those rose-colored lenses, I saw clearly that I might benefit from therapy to dig deeper.

Less than a month later, I was on a plane to an in-patient treatment place in California and set up with a therapist who’d specialized with adoption trauma. My parents had helped me research treatment places to find the best fit. When I arrived, I was paired with a therapist who was knowledgeable when it came to adoption trauma. She introduced me to the book “Attached,” which is how I learned that I have an anxious attachment style. This new knowledge coupled with all different sorts of therapy — which I can expand on another time — gave me the tools and ability to better understand myself. I’m very fortunate to have supportive parents who were not only willing to get me the tools I needed, but also to partake in family therapy. I came home with not only a tan, but a new level of understanding about myself and the tools to lead a healthier life.

Three years later, I can say that taking time off from school to focus on myself was the best decision I could’ve made and allowed me to bring the best version of myself to the table to have a happy and healthy relationship as I am in now.

If you would like to learn more about the four attachment styles, I highly recommend reading the book “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find –and Keep– Love” by Amir Levine, M.D., and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A.

Abigail writes about adoption and the experiences of adoptees, you can reach her at [email protected] with any further questions or comments.