An adult adoptee’s journey to forgiveness
By Juliet Ercolano
When I was only one month old, I lost my first family. I lived for five months in an orphanage in China. Because of the shortage of food, the nannies thickened our bottles with ground rice. I am told that we were kept swaddled in blankets to keep us warm, and to take the place of someone holding us. We spent many hours trying to entertain and soothe ourselves. When I was adopted, I had a bald spot in the back of my head from rubbing back and forth against the mattress, trying to comfort myself. My parents told me I cried the first time I saw a rattle shaken in front of my face. We did not have toys in the orphanage and seeing and hearing it scared me.
Of course, I don’t remember any of this, but I’ve heard the stories so many times and each time they have left me feeling angry and confused. To make me feel better, my parents often reassured me that my birth mother must have loved me very much. The orphanage told us that I was left at a crowded train station. This showed that my birth mother wanted me to be found and wanted me to have a better life.
It makes me feel sad that I don’t know anything about my birth mother. I don’t know if anyone really understands how much I wish I knew the things that most children take for granted. For years, thinking about my birth mother caused me a lot of inner turmoil, and I blamed myself a lot of the time for my birth mother abandoning me. Maybe I did something wrong that caused her not to want me. I will never really know.
I know that if I ever have a baby, I won’t separate from her for any reason at all. I will make it work somehow and some way, no matter what. I would remind my precious baby girl each day how much I love her and how important she is to me and how I’d never let her out of my sight.
The feeling of not being good enough still haunts me to this day. If I am not “perfect,” I fear that people will walk right out of my life. That anxiety is something I’m still working hard to overcome. It was particularly bad when I was in kindergarten. From the time one of my parents dropped my off at the classroom to the end of the day at pick-up time, I would worry: What if they don’t come back? I remember crying every day, terrified that my parents would forget me, would leave me and never come back. The other children in my class didn’t understand. I felt different from the rest of them and thought something must be wrong with me. I made myself feel sick every morning, just anticipating the end of the day. I was taken to a child therapist for a while, but it did not help much. I was too shy to talk. All I can remember during those sessions was that she made me draw and play a bunch of games. Luckily, a year later, my older sister joined my school, and I felt a sudden sense of security knowing she was in the same building I was in. My attachment issues with my parents got better year after year and I no longer was afraid to go to school.
The good news is that now that I am older, I don’t think about my adoption as an upsetting thing at all. Of course, at times I wish I had more information about what led to my adoption and about my birth family, but mostly I don’t think about it. I don’t feel any different from a girl living with the parents who gave birth to her. My adopted parents are my parents, not my “adopted” parents. I have two mothers—one who gave me life and the other who let me live it. My family is the one in America. I no longer associate feeling anger with my birth mother. I find myself feeling more grateful and happy than upset.
Though I have struggled with my adoption at times, I now honor my birth mother’s choice. In short, I have forgiven my birth mother. It was hard for me, but I am mature enough to realize that it must have been very difficult for her, too. I realized at some point that I was embracing my negative feelings as a way of staying attached to my birth mother, who I never really knew and whose circumstances I could never really understand. I recognized that it would be foolish not to let go of those bad feelings, which were hurting me and making it harder for me to appreciate and enjoy the life I had now. Forgiveness was a letting go of the bad and a letting in of the good. And that is why I forgive.