As far as I can remember, the concept of love has been burdensome. Some adoptees are told their birthmothers loved them so much they relinquished them for a better life. Others are told they were unwanted and unloved by their birthmothers. I speak only for myself and my experiences, and for me, I fall into the former category.

My adoptive parents never disparaged my birthmother and were honest about the background of my adoption. If anything they put her on a pedestal. I understand why they did, however, in hindsight, this may have been more harmful than helpful.

I understand the sentiment. It’s propaganda used throughout the adoption industry, used as justification for relinquishment and adoption. Letting something you love go. It’s not a new concept. If what you know of love is sacrifice, if what your body feels is abandonment, how healthy is your definition of love? As a transnational, transracial adoptee, defining it for myself has been marked with peaks of enlightenment and valleys of sorrow.

Relinquishment as Love

As I slowly reclaim my identity as a Korean American, I am learning more about Korean history and the external factors that may have contributed to my relinquishment and adoption. Korea as it is today is not the Korea when I was born. This isn’t subjective but factual. There are many historical nuances I am not privy to as an adoptee. Things I won’t understand or have access to because I am viewing everything from a US/outsider view.

Since I am not in reunion, it isn’t for anyone to say what led to my relinquishment. Certainly not random non-adoptees and it’s not for other adoptees to assume either. It could be the turmoil within Korea at that time. It most likely was due to my omma being single and unwed. But to assume I was relinquished out of love is not something I believe to be correct or particularly helpful. I think it’s a gross generalization often used to justify adoptions.

Adoption as Love

As much as I have seen love weaponized to support relinquishment, it’s all too often weaponized by advocates for adoption. Particularly adoption agencies and adoptive parents. I won’t speak for adoptive parents and my feelings regarding adoption agencies have not changed. But the generalizations about love are fast and furious. Love conquers all. Love overcomes everything. But does it?

I was loved as a child. I am loved as an adult. But love hasn’t changed the trauma from relinquishment. Love hasn’t healed the abandonment issues. Therapy and an enormous amount of self-reflection has helped tremendously.

Being Loved as an Adult Adoptee

Adoptees are often seen as perpetual children. Therefore, I think love is often seen as something that continuous flows. Birthparents, adoptive parents. Everyone loves the adopted child. But the adopted adult? Does everyone love adopted adults who are more informed and aware of their trauma? Does everyone acknowledge disenfranchised grief and how it plays a role in adopted adults’ lives?

I cannot speak to the past or who my omma once was. The only thing I can speak to is to how she has treated me now. The love that she may have had is not something I have witnessed as an adult adoptee.

I think it’s very important to understand this. Because so many want to make excuses or generalize love in a dishonest way. And one thing I cannot tolerate is lies. I would much rather face the truth as it is, regardless how painful.

Love as a Continuum

As humans we change and evolve. Our experiences shape who we are. The person who relinquished me as an infant is not the person they are today. While they may have loved me, it isn’t for anyone to assume that love remains. Even in a different form.

While my adoptive parents love(d) me, it wasn’t enough to overcome how adoption affected me. Personal and professional relationships (sometimes extremely toxic), patterns of unhealthy behaviors. Love couldn’t change unhealthy coping mechanisms due to relinquishment. Abandonment, trust, betrayal. They were/are all part of relinquishment trauma for me. It’s also why it isn’t as simple as many want it to be.

Agency to Define One’s Own Experiences

I’ve thought about love for more than I care to admit. Feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing which I don’t think are unique to adoptees. However, when many speak about adoption, it’s commonly intertwined and weaponized with love.

Honestly, I think it’s insulting and causes more harm than good when individuals make blanket statements about love to adoptees. Even among adoptees. With our lived experiences vastly different, it isn’t for anyone to define what love is to someone else. Adoptees should be afforded the agency to define it for themselves, not be defined by anyone else’s assumptions.

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