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Sarah Lohroff

Michigan, USA

Wuzhou, China

Because there were these negative stereotypes about Asians when I was growing up, I think that deterred me from wanting to learn more about my culture. It was just painted in such a negative light. It wasn't something that people valued.

My parents suffer from infertility, that's part of the reason why they adopted me. And growing up, I didn't really think about adoption. It didn't bother me, I just accepted it. It was just life. It wasn't until the last year and a half, I really started to ask these questions and wonder more about my past. It's not just something that happened 20 years ago. It's actually something that's affecting me now. And a lot of the things that I didn’t have the space to wrestle with as a child, I’m wrestling with now. I'm playing catch up with my emotions.

When I was growing up, I definitely had a lot of internalized racism. I remember just wishing I looked like everybody else. I wished that I was white or that my eyes were blue. I didn’t like it when other people noticed or pointed out that I'm Chinese. I would say, “No I'm American” or “I'm white.” Because being Chinese was just not the way I saw myself. I was in such denial. When people would make racist comments to me as a kid I always blew it off. It was like, “Oh, that's not me.” And then that carried on in my life.

With my parents, there wasn’t a single conversation about race or looking different. Therefore, there just was no clear approach to questions about myself. If there was any sort of conversation about my adoption, it would be specifically regarding adoption, not the fact that I was internationally adopted. And even now, I don't talk about it because they are still just not the people that I would go to for that. I remember asking them once if everybody was adopted from China. Because in my mind, that was just the majority of adoptees I knew and was every kid’s story. And that was my way of normalizing this fact that all these people look like me, but they are not biologically related to me. I also asked them questions about my biological family like “Why did they not take care of me?” or “Why did they cut me off?” I just got the same answer every time, which was “I'm sure they wanted the best for you and they did whatever they did because they love you.” And my mindset then was, “So if people love me then they abandon me?”

Growing up, there's this organization, like a day camp that I went to. There were these different subgroups within this camp and you were grouped based on what country you're adopted from. They would take the time to educate you on your culture and heritage. They would teach you the language or help you get into the arts. Just all these little pieces of culture that they would try to expose you to. And I think that that's something that I really valued looking back on it. Because I wasn't really in touch with the fact that I was Asian; I didn't really acknowledge it as anything other than just another day camp. But I think subconsciously, it gave me this sense of comfort, like everybody looks like me. I'm actually the majority for once in this room. And that was something that I really did appreciate.

But because there were these negative stereotypes about Asians when I was growing up, I think that deterred me from wanting to learn more about my culture. It was just painted in such a negative light. It wasn't something that people valued. I didn't feel any sort of desire or purpose to go digging deeper into something that people didn’t care about.

I think it's very possible that my life wouldn’t have been better in China, but I think we should also understand it might have been beautiful there. It could have been equally good or it could have been better. It’s not just this black and white like you saved me from this terrible situation and now my life is perfect. I still had to lose something that was really close to me.

Somebody told me that I should really consider my adoption as part of my story. Up until that point, I felt it didn’t really matter because it was so long ago. And then I decided to dig into it, like there's actually something here that's worth thinking about. I'm sure it's affecting my life in ways I probably don't even know. Before the pandemic, I was living with my parents and then I moved out in May to Indianna where I moved in with a foster family. I had a very brittle framework of how I approached my story and this aspect of my life, but living in this house has really helped me flesh out exactly what my feelings are. Living with a family that isn’t my own has brought out a lot of my own experiences in life where my parents have failed to be good parents. And it has forced me to face the reality of some of the things that I grew up with that I thought were normal weren’t normal for other people. My mom had really bad depression and she was verbally abusive. And I had to sit with that and realize that this isn't the way that people are supposed to relate with their mothers. So I didn't have a great relationship with my mother growing up; I was always afraid of her. And then living in this house where the dynamics are different, like my foster mom is a really good mom who really cares, I had to face my own truth. I didn't grow up with that. I remember the harder things a lot more than I remember the good things. And then I've always thought about my biological mother. It probably started in high school where I just would have these nights where I couldn't stop thinking about her. And I would just grieve this loss. I didn't know why I was crying, like I never really knew her. It was just this very intense, tangible grief that I was feeling over something that happened when I was an infant. I didn't really understand that.

I am a hundred percent convinced that adoption, being separated from your parents, is a prenatal trauma. It definitely has an effect on you later in life. It's kind of like nurture versus nature. So being separated is your baseline trauma. And then based on how your parents raised you that can either be an improvement or it can make it a lot worse. But I think because of that baseline, there's already this disposition for things to go wrong. I wish it was something that people recognize. Adoption is a beautiful thing. But it's messy to believe that everything is fine because they've been adopted. Buying into that lie is where people get into trouble because then they think that these kids are going to be okay. But then they have these behavioral issues and adoptive parents can't figure out what is happening. But a lot of it stems from their adoption. Because they don’t have the language, that’s their way of grieving and processing something that happened to them that really nobody has the words for.

There's this book that I read a few years ago called Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier and she talks about this triad: the parent and biological parent and the child and how those three things constantly bounce off of each other. I want adoptive parents to understand this complexity and also encourage them to do the work through their own crap. I think there’s just too much of people not acknowledging the fact that what they have dealt with in their own life is going to affect their parenting. And then they just carry it on to the child and then the child will retaliate and then you have this dysfunctional family. Parents should learn how to deal with their own emotions because a lot of those insecurities will come up with these children. I want them to know how to be proactive and not reactive to the adoptee's own traumas and insecurities. Just knowing themselves and knowing the complexity of their child and really just being okay with the nuance and the hardship that's going to happen. You’re not going to be perfect, you don't have to know everything before you adopt. Obviously, things are going to come up that you couldn’t have predicted, but at least give yourself the space to begin that journey. For me, being a better parent is being willing to put in that work.

I haven't felt obligated to learn more about my culture. It's purely because that's something that I want to do. And I think in the end I'll just know myself better because it's part of who I am. And it will ultimately just give me a more holistic view of my identity. And in a way, it'll give me some closure. Just from learning and doing more academic research, I think that there's been this attitude change in me. Like I should be proud to be Chinese. That's something that I should take pride in and I should feel good about. Because I didn't growing up. And so this is my way of reclaiming something that I just pushed away for so long. We should accept this. We should let it be a part of our story and give it space to be explored.


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