The Ladybug | One of these is not like the others

The Ladybug is a biweekly blog about adoptees and their experiences

By Abigail Duncan, Staff Writer

My “Gotcha Day” was last week. A “Gotcha Day” is the day that your adoptive parents brought you back from the orphanage. For many adoptees, this day is important. For me, I never remember the date.

My parents always text “Happy Gotcha Day,” and sometimes it makes me feel weird. During my younger years, I viewed it as an extension of my birthday celebration, but now, having an awareness of what adoption means to me, I get a bit down. My birthday is the same. The mark of trauma can cast a gloomy cloud over the celebration of life.

As I grow older and unpack unprocessed trauma, it can be a lot to handle emotionally. I get stuck viewing it as one problem after another, wishing I could just be “normal.” What I mean by normal is a superficial notion that most people don’t have as many issues or emotional baggage that has to be unpacked later.

While being an adoptee might not be “normal,” it makes me atypical. Maybe the “normal” is overrated. Adoptees, at least those that I know are from China, have the same scar on their arm from the tuberculosis vaccine that is administered before coming into the United States. I think it’s kind of cool that we all have something in common, like we’re connected in some way.

In learning to embrace this new part of my identity, I’m finding beauty in being different. So while it’s easy to get down about things, it’s important to remind myself that there’s a lot to be grateful for. I have a roof over my head, food on the table, I’m getting an education, I have clothes to wear, unconditional love from my family and supportive friends who are always a holler away.

In talking with my other adopted friends, I’ve realized that something rare about myself is that there are a lot of adoptees in my family. My sister and I are both adopted. We have two first cousins who are also adopted. We are family friends with one of my sister’s China sisters, who are other babies adopted at the same time. My adopted first cousins have two adopted second cousins. Then, one of my first cousins has two China sisters, and one of them has another sibling who is adopted.

Those are just the Chinese adoptees in the family. Non-Chinese adoptees include my uncle’s sister, a cousin of a cousin’s sibling and on my mom’s side a kind-of step-cousin. In total, there are 13 adoptees somewhat connected to the family. The lines get confusing for relationships, but we’re all connected.

There are so many Chinese adoptees to the point that it was normalized in my family. For most family gatherings, it’s my sister, me and my two first cousins. This smaller subset community of adoptees allowed us to acknowledge our differences in a comfortable environment and feel at home. I would speculate that growing up with family members who “look like me” created a safe environment to acknowledge adoption. This situation is insanely abnormal for most families.

When parents go to China to adopt, they use an agency for pairing as well as handling all logistics. The agency my parents used is Half the Sky Foundation, which is now OneSky. With a little research, the founder of this organization, Jenny Bowen, wrote a book titled “Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Orphans Taught Me About Moving Mountains.” While I haven’t read this book, it will be going on my to-read list of adoption-specific books.

Another book on my to-read list that my mom suggested is “The Lost Daughters of China.” As a baby, one of the books my parents read to me was called “I Love You Like Crazy Cakes.” This book taught me the story of adoption. I didn’t realize until now, but this book shaped how I viewed my adoption. I recall a memory of my parents and other family members reading this book to me as I sat in their laps. The pictures are a core memory.

There are few children’s books for adoptees. I am different from my peers. In my Sci-Fi class one of the cinematic tools we discuss is othering. Since it’s a sci-fi class, it has to do with aliens versus humans, humans versus humans or technology versus humans. While we use this tool to speak about the intentions of writers and directors with their actions, the act of othering — or differentiating from one another — is very much instilled in human culture.

In school, other kids asked me why I don’t look like my parents. On paper, my last name isn’t reflective of my heritage. Pointing out differences was something we were taught in school. In Sesame Street, there is a song called, “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others.” There are worksheets asking children to “Spot the Difference” and “Which Doesn’t Belong.”

It frustrates me that children are taught at such a young age to differentiate and put others into categories or boxes. I understand that to some extent it is a part of their developmental stages, but maybe teachers can change the narrative to embrace differences by highlighting what makes someone or something special.

As much as we are taught to pick apart the differences in each other, we can change the narrative by finding similarities to relate to. By sharing our stories, we can gain a new perspective and understanding of one another. Sometimes when I am down I blame my differences for things being the way that they are, but I am learning to appreciate them for making me stronger.

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