Katelyn Dixon, a Chinese adoptee and former Holt team member, shares her own adoption experience, the challenges she sees many adoptees facing and the resources they often need to work through them so they can thrive.
I’ve learned a lot about love from adoptees.
In the beginning of adoption, there was a phrase “love is enough.” It was touted as expert advice given to adoptive parents, and for many people that meant to love your adopted child as if they were your biological child. It was used to reduce the stigma around what it means to be adopted. So I understand why this phrase was popular. However, over time, we’ve understood that adoptees actually have complex and special needs that biological children do not have.
And this can mean that love is, in fact, not always enough…
Don’t get me wrong, everyone — adoptees included — needs a loving family. But as adoptees, we face some unique challenges, and I believe there are some additional supports and resources we need to thrive.
Adoptee Identity Development
One of the biggest challenges for adoptees is answering the question “Who am I?”
For many adoptees, it feels like there’s this missing puzzle piece, and you’re always trying to look for that missing piece. But there’s nothing that quite fits that hole in your heart. There’s so much loss in adoption — loss of culture, loss of family, loss of birth language — and for many adoptees, there’s no way to reclaim that sense of loss.
So, many adoptees are left without context as to who they are. And how do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from, and you don’t have that history behind you to set you in motion? That’s a really hard space to fill and to be in, and to constantly ask yourself who you are.
For many adoptees, it feels like there’s this missing puzzle piece…But there’s nothing that quite fits that hole in your heart.
For me, my parents didn’t really have the resources or tools to have conversations about adoption and help me develop my identity as an adoptee. So I had to do a lot of exploring by myself, mostly in college. And it was really lonely. Adoption is something that is still challenging to talk about with my parents because they get really defensive about their parenting style and such. But they tried, and I love them dearly for that.
I would have loved if my parents thought about their own cultural heritage and racial background. I think that would’ve helped me to explore my own identity as a Chinese woman and to not feel like I’m a white person walking around in an Asian body, because that’s how I felt growing up. I wish I could have found a Chinese cultural mentor to teach me how to cook, maybe how to speak Mandarin and to just learn some of the traditions.
I think that in this process of identity development, it’s helpful for adoptees not only to have the chance to explore their racial and cultural identity, but also the chance to explore what it uniquely means to be an adoptee. And to do that, finding an adoptee community is so crucial.
The Importance of Adoptee Community
Adoption can be very isolating. It feels like this really unique experience, and we’re told our entire lives that we’re really special. It feels like no one can relate to us. But that has negative effects sometimes, because you’re always looking for someone who understands your story.
There are some adoptees who’ve grown up in predominantly white towns, and they’re the only person of color there. And that can be really alienating as well.
There are some adoptees who’ve grown up in predominantly white towns, and they’re the only person of color there. And that can be really alienating as well. For me, I grew up in a predominantly Asian and white town, and half of my family is actually Asian. But I still felt like no one really understood my experience as an adoptee. I always felt like I was the “special” Asian, even as an Asian adoptee with an Asian mom.
This is why it’s so important for adoptees to be in community with other adoptees. In community, adoptees can explore and find similarities in their stories and life experiences. Something as seemingly simple as an empathetic “me too,” “I understand” or an “mhm” can be extremely validating for adoptees. It makes us feel like we’re not alone in our struggles.
And I think that’s one thing that’s really beautiful about adoption — that adoptees can create shared culture and meaning with other adoptees. In adoptee community, we create our own family and our own language, and that begins to fill in the cracks and holes that adoption has left in our lives.
Resources for Adoptees
Adoption is a lifelong process, and as adoptees grow older, there are milestones in a person’s life, like getting into a new relationship, getting married, having children, going to the doctor for a really significant or intense illness — these are touchpoints in life where adoption trauma is triggered. These milestones touch on the loss adoptees experience, like the loss of birth family, which influences relationship attachment styles, and the complete loss of medical health history, which affects preventive treatment.
Because of this, adoptees need lifelong support. This support could be adoptee-competent counseling and mentorship, or things like U.S. citizenship help or assistance conducting a birth search. I have used some of these resources myself and also saw them benefit so many adoptees when I worked with Holt’s post adoption services department.
Holt’s Post Adoption Services
Holt supports adoptees in myriad ways, but I think what really sets Holt apart from other adoption organizations is that Holt creates opportunities for adoptees to grow in leadership skills and mentorship skills, and gives them opportunities to contribute back to the adoptee community through post adoption services.
As they’re on their adoption journey, there’s a phase in which many adoptees really want to tell their story, and they really want to validate their story. They create blogs, they jump on podcasts, they just will tell their story to anyone who wants to listen.
And then there’s a moment on some adoptees’ journeys where they’re happy with having told their story — they’re good, they feel validated — and then they need to do something with that. Everything that they’ve processed, everything that they’ve learned, the ways that they’ve critically thought about their adoption, that needs to go somewhere. And Holt gives adoptees opportunities to be mentors or camp counselors at Holt Adoptee Camp, where their adoption story can be a gift and a strength that they can use to support other adoptees. It gives them the chance to come alongside younger adoptees and say, “Hey, I’ve gone through the same life experience as you. Let me help you. Let me support you.” And in that, I think there’s a lot of healing for both adoptees — the mentors and the younger adoptees.
I feel what’s beautiful about adoption — despite the challenges — is that an adoptive family made of diverse people from across the world have come together as one.
I believe that you can tell a lot about what a society values by the way that they treat their women, children and the most vulnerable. I think this can include adoptees too. What I love about post adoption services is that they put the emphasis on adoptees throughout their entire lives. And sometimes this can look like supporting adoptive families with the right tools and information they need to best support their child.
What’s Beautiful About Adoption
Maybe it’s just my vision for our world, but I feel what’s beautiful about adoption — despite the challenges — is that an adoptive family made of diverse people from across the world have come together as one.
It’s beautiful because I think this is what most people want in our society — the connectedness, loving people who differ from ourselves, who may look different than us, who come from different backgrounds and different cultures. The “adoptive family” is this microcosm, an example of what our beautiful world could be. Adoption is complex. While it can be beautiful, it can also be full of loss and grief. Over time, as adoptees have the chance to process their losses, and explore and come to terms with their identity as adoptees, maybe their adoption experience can begin to feel a little more beautiful too.
Because when this happens, I believe adoption is this really beautiful, beautiful example of the power of love and what it truly means.
Did you know Holt provides support to all adoptees?
Every adoptee has a unique and complex life experience. Holt strives to support all adoptees, regardless of their placing agency, by providing help with birth search, citizenship and more.