How to Love a Trans-racially Adopted Person (Part Three): Loving Myself
As a transracially adopted person, learning to love myself has many intricate and complicated layers.
For me, the very basic and foundational element of love is directly tied to deep and painful loss: loss of my origins and a connection to the woman and man that created me.
Being adopted means that while I gained a family of experience, I lost my family of origin. I lost my original mother — you know, the first human being I was connected to physically and emotionally. The one whose tenor and tone of voice I heard in utero and has been embedded into my vocal chords. The one whose smell could instantly calm me down and make me feel safe. The one who held me IN HER BODY for nine months. The one whose blood runs through my veins. The one who named me June Elizabeth. The one who was supposed to love me and never, ever leave.
That person, my original mother, Helen, left. She left the hospital without me, and when I was five days old I joined what is described in official documents as a “loving foster home.”
The loss of my original father is a bit more complicated and confusing. He remains a mystery and may not have a clue that I even exist. He is part of me and yet completely disconnected from me. It is because of his ancestry that I am a woman of color. The part of me that is directly related to him is a part of me that I love so deeply but have had to work independently to understand without him as my guide.
Thanks to the closed adoption era, much of what I am able to piece together about my birth and my first few months is found in my non-identifying information and medical records. I’d really like to imagine that there was a whole lot of love for baby me but with only transactional paperwork and no witness, not even one person that was there at the time to share the details of the moments and memories of what that love really looked like, it is hard to know for sure. What I do know for sure is that even the best possible love that might come to me after losing the love of Helen and my birth father simply would not be her or him, the two people who were supposed to love and keep me.
When it became certain that a pre-adoptive home was found for me, my birth mother made her final decision to relinquish me and I was placed with the Dinwoodies and ultimately, adopted into their family. To be clear, the love that I found with my family of experience (my adoptive family) is deep and full and rich and amazing. Let me also be clear that is not perfect but I know this love is real. I can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell this love — especially the love from my mom. She cooks and bakes with love. Her hugs are drenched with love, her voice (even when she is mad) has a steady tone of love, and her eyes sparkle with love. It is the shape and size of her heart and the confidence I have in her love for me that has helped to heal my broken parts and manage the original love that I lost.
Over the years, I settled in as a Dinwoodie and my name was officially changed from June to April. My father and mother created a little slice of heaven for my siblings and me and it was there on our small farm that I felt protected and loved. I watched my dad, the strongest man on the planet meticulously build our homes as well as perfect woodpiles and stonewalls. I learned the value of hard work and commitment to time with family. I played endlessly with my sister and brothers — creating memories and bonds for a lifetime. This was our center of the universe and it was filled with the very best kind of love we could all give.
Experiencing this love allowed me to believe in love, and for a while I believed in the adoption narrative that my birth mother loved me so much that she wanted a better life for me. While this made sense, it left me with a very difficult reality to navigate. If it is true that she loved me so much she left me, won’t everyone who loves me deeply ultimately leave? This idea as well as attempting to navigate my bi-racial, adopted identity has made for an interesting ride through life, especially related to love and romance.
When I finally connected with Helen as an adult, filled with hope of a meaningful and healing reunion, she rejected me. She made it clear that she was not up for a connection or to meet and that no one in the family knew about me. It was then I stopped believing in the “she loved me so much” narrative. I had to. On the one hand, it was oddly freeing because I now understood that love may not have been the ultimate motivation for her and perhaps fear and shame were the driving forces. On the other hand, I was utterly crushed. Something must be seriously wrong with me for her to reject me not once, but twice.
I have reflected on how the many intricate layers of my adoption experience have impacted my romantic relationships in How to Love a Transracially Adopted Person Part One and Part Two. Being so open and vulnerable about my relationship to love has been some of the hardest and most honest writing I have done thus far. It has also been amazing to look back at some of the beautiful love I have shared with wonderful men.
What I have come to realize is that my transracial adoption experience has created unique circumstances for me in terms of forming my identity and learning how to truly love myself. Even with the palpable love of my family of experience, not having access to my birth parents and basic information about who I am has made it difficult to know and love myself. Therefore, it became imperative that I make it my business to construct my identity and self love with what I do have access to. It means I recognize and honor the parts that I know and understand and that I manage and face the parts that I don’t. It means that it is critical that I cherish the parts of me that are easy to love and pour energy and effort into the parts that are much harder to love.
This past year while I did not find my perfect love in a partner, I have gotten a heck of a lot closer to finding the perfect love of myself. For me perfect love is really not perfect at all but rather messy and often complicated but oh so genuine and fulfilling. For the first time ever, I have focused on taking extra good care of myself. I am getting as much rest as possible, keeping my body strong with exercise, my spirit strong with meditation, keeping my heart and soul strong with the love of friends and family, and keeping my mind strong with the guidance of an amazing therapist. All of this commitment to myself allows me to keep bravely exploring the unknown parts of my identity and keeps me motivated to offer my testimony to help create community and shine a light on the realities of adoption.
Sometimes, when I think about how I navigate this transracial-adopted life, I am in awe of myself and there is an abundance of self-love. And other times, usually when I really like someone romantically, and I’ve shown up at my absolute best and then they “ghost”, there is that familiar feeling deep in my body that I am not good enough and “poof” just like that, they’ll be gone forever. It is then when I must shake it off, call in reinforcements from my tribe, and look JuneinApril square in the face and whisper, “Don’t worry, I love you and everything is going to be ok.”