The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka explores the painful moments in an adoptee’s experience that are often overlooked, underplayed, or ignored. The author shares some of her innermost thoughts and feelings growing up in Minnesota as a transracial and transnational adoptee with her biological sister who was also adopted by a Minnesota couple. The memoir traverses the landscape of Korea and Minnesota, and the author’s Korean birth family and Minnesota adoptive family with care and frankness that some readers may find uncomfortable, especially adoptive parents. The author’s recounting of her frustrating and disheartening experiences with post-adoption support services through Lutheran Social Services MN, now Children’s Home Society/Lutheran Social Services (CHSLSS), in trying to access information about her own adoption history over 10 years ago was sadly an accurate portrayal common to many aodptees’ ongoing experiences with post-adoption services and support via adoption agencies. The author also gives us a glimpse into her family’s life and experience in Korea, and the circumstances at the time her Korean mother made the grueling decision that the author and her older sister were to be adopted and the lifelong impact of this decision for the author’s Korean and adoptive family.
Skimming some of the online reviews of this book, I found they ranged from supportive, to appreciative, to the not uncommon critique that embodies the “playing a victim, self-pitying, ungrateful adoptee”. Some of the critical comments were made by individuals who identified as either adoptees, adoptive parents, or family members who grew up with adopted siblings. While the author’s story and experience is important in its’ own right, and it is only one adoptee’s story, the reviews highlight the tenuous dance felt internally within adoptees and externally within adoptive families and the larger society between the ideas of “gratitude” for “being chosen/adopted/saved” and feeling of guilt/shame/confusion when adoptees also experience disenfranchised grief, ambiguous loss, anger, and sadness in response to the trauma inherent in the adoption experience.
There is an unspoken widely accepted belief that adoptees who feel anything but “gratitude” for being “chosen/adopted” are somehow “ungrateful, self-pitying, victims.” This false, yet dangerous narrative that is implicitly and explicitly told to adoptees from family, friends, peers, teachers, spiritual leaders, adoption agencies, post-adoption agencies, and media can lead to feelings of isolation, shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression. In truth, adoptees and humans in general can hold two opposing feelings at the same time and both are valid. An adoptee can feel love for their adoptive family and birth family without being it being an either or situation. An adoptee can feel sadness and appreciation for their adoption experience. An adoptee can feel anger and love for adoptive families and birth families. An adoptee can long to search for their birth family and know more about their story, and also love and appreciate their adoptive family. Refusing to allow adoptees, adoptive families, and birth families to have permission to feel whatever they are feeling, and be able to share their own personal stories is only leading to disconnection as individuals and families. Connection, sense of belonging, and validation are essential to our experiences as human beings and individuals part of the adoption community.