Alyson, tell us a little about yourself.
I am 36 years old and was adopted at five months old from South Korea. I grew up in Central PA and moved back here after college. I have two children, 8 and 5, who keep me busy. I’ve worked as a registered nurse for almost fifteen years and will graduate with my master’s degree in hospice and palliative care this July. For my church (Epiphany Lutheran, Harrisburg), I am the chair of social events as well as a Sunday school class volunteer. I am on the Advisory Council of KAAN, a national organization for adoptees and their families, and currently serve as Membership Engagement co-chair. I also am the current president of the South Central PA Hospice and Palliative Care Nurses Association. In my spare time, I enjoy volunteering at my children’s school, working out at the gym, and being around friends (not during Covid-19 crisis, obviously).
Mother’s Day is often portrayed as a lovely Hallmark moment. And yet, for many, including adoptees, it can also be unsettling. What do you wish more people understood about the impact of this holiday on adoptees?
It is a day to remember we have a different story than most and it can feel uneasy for some. This does not mean that for all adoptees Mother’s Day is difficult but for some it is a day to think about the mom who birthed them, the mom who raised them, and any other mom figures in their life. Some adoptees are now mothers themselves and this can also stir up some emotions. Mother’s Day can be difficult for those who have lost any of their mother(s) as well.
For me, I have my birth mom I never reunited with and do not have any information on after searching, my foster mother with whom I did reunite in 2010, and the mother who raised me and is “mom” to me. My dad remarried so I have a step-mother too. That’s a lot of moms!
The Saturday before Mother’s Day is sometimes called Birthmother’s Day. Do you think this is a helpful acknowledgment or something that is better in theory than reality?
I have heard of this day. I personally think it is a good idea but why can’t we celebrate all mothers on the real Mother’s Day? A mom is not just defined by giving birth and blood relation in my book.
Transracial adoptees have additional layers of identity to negotiate. Can you tell us how race and adoption have interacted in your life?
Race and adoption were always present topics in my life but have taken different meanings. Growing up in a predominantly white community, I wanted to do everything just to fit in and this meant trying to manage stereotypes, racial slurs, and feeling like I didn’t quite belong.
After college, everything changed when I wanted to explore what being a transracial Korean adult adoptee meant. I went to the KAAN conference in 2010, traveled back to Korea in search of my birth family, got married, and jumped all in to find out who I was and what it meant to be a Korean adoptee. I now embrace being a transracial Korean adult adoptee and search to spread knowledge to others about what it means and the challenges we face. Not all adoptees embrace being a transracial adoptee and not all adoptees feel the same about being an adoptee. Let adoptee friends tell you their story if they choose but .in my opinion. it never goes well to initiate a q&a session about such a sensitive topic.
If you could change a few things about how people commonly talk about adoption, what would they be?
The main thing I would change is intrusive questioning. It is not acceptable to ask very personal questions simply out of general curiosity. Phrases that are not OK include: Is that your real mom? How much did you cost? Are you from North or South Korea? Did you find your birth mom?
And if you are asking where transracial adoptees are from, please be specific. We will usually say where we grew up even though we know you want to know what our ethnicity is. Then ask do you mind if I ask your ethnicity and respect our answer of yes or no. Please try not to reply oh I know someone who is ____ too. When I ask someone’s ethnicity and they tell me they are German, I don’t say I know a ton of Germans or ohhh, that’s great, I love German food! in response.
I also wish more people would take the time to educate themselves about adoption in general, looking up information themselves instead of expecting adoptees to teach them. That would get rid of so many stereotypes and microaggressions.
The media and movies do not always portray adoption in a positive light. What negative stereotypes do you wish could be removed from regular use?
The Asian fetish, submissive characters, and not using Asian actors in movie roles that call for an Asian character. This is improving slowly.
What resources or organizations do you recommend for teen-age and young-adult adoptees? What do you recommend for parents?
You can also search out Facebook groups, including any local groups of adoptees in your area. For younger children or teenage adoptees, a summer camp focused on adoptees may be something of interest. There are also groups on social media for parents only or ones open to both adult adoptees and parents. Even through the groups I just listed above, you may find parents of adoptees to connect with who are knowledgeable and respected in the community. Just be mindful that not everyone’s opinions on issues will be the same; acknowledge and respect everyone’s opinions. You do not have to agree but being mindful of others is always necessary.