Have you ever noticed a specific quality you share with one of your parents? Maybe it is your eye color, witty humor, or quick temper. Although I was not aware of it when I was 8 months old at the time of my adoption, I was in middle school when I first realized that I didn’t identify with my parents like most kids. However, though I did not share biological commonalities with the parents who raised me, there were many benefits that I couldn’t realize at the time. I was welcomed into a loving home, given untold opportunities, and able to mold myself into whomever I wanted to be. I grew up just like you, a normal kid playing hopscotch on summer days, watching Disney movies, and running around with friends. My whole world revolved around the joys of being a kid, until I realized that my family was different somehow. This awareness set off a cascade of confusion, pain, and a near-constant feeling of isolation. Insecurity took over a huge part of me as I searched for an empty piece of myself in all the wrong places.
I have chosen to share this story with you because of Medelita’s previous Breaking Barriers campaign. Breaking Barriers encompasses so many of us who are different in our own unique ways. I realized that accepting my identity as an adopted child was my barrier that I had to overcome. Back in middle school, I never imagined I would be where I am today, but now here I am writing to you about how my painful journey helped fuel my love of medicine.
My adoption story will never be the same as another child's; we all have our own unique memories of what took place and how we felt growing up. Growing up was challenging, one of the hardest battles I had to face thus far. When you are able to see traits of yourself in your parents it probably gives you a sense of belonging, or feeling of security to some extent. For me it was the opposite; I would look at my mother or father and feel out of place. This out of place feeling made it difficult for me to identify as belonging to my family. I knew something was off but didn’t bother to address the problem. No one had to tell me―I just knew. At this young age, most children are learning to detach from their parents while getting acquainted with new friends and trying to fit in.
Not only did I feel out of place in my family, but among my peers as well. In middle school, classmates picked on me day after day because I was adopted and Asian, making me a minority in two ways. I felt so alone most days, returning home crying and empty. As a child, I couldn’t understand why I felt this way or had to endure this treatment. This is where the lack of self appeared: how do you fit into your family or a group of peers when you don’t know who you are? You have to be able to understand yourself at a simplistic level, of who you are and what you believe in, to begin deciding which friends you want to have, your likes, dislikes, and passions. I had no idea, not the slightest clue, as to who was staring back in the mirror. I felt like a normal American kid on the inside, but my outsides didn’t align.
As I progressed through my teenage years, I noticed that my lack of true self came with many other problems. High school was rough; while most people were coming into their own and learning to accept themselves, I still had no identity of my own and couldn’t accept the fact that I needed to face myself. I tried to hide it by copying others’ identities, dating guys and buying things I didn’t need to try to impress others. My attitude was rude and self-centered, and even though I was rapidly going downhill, I did everything I could to avoid it all. This self destructive behavior continued through high school and ultimately followed me into my early college years. At the beginning of college I was a mess, I still had no clue who I was. Due to my lack of self, I focused more of my attention on filling myself with false identities rather than focusing on school work. I didn’t perform well my freshman year and decided that college would be something I would come back to. I took two years off of college, and in those two years I partied too much, hung out with wrong crowd, and let myself down on many occasions. I went from being the kind, loving, selfless girl and great student that my parents raised me to be to the exact opposite. Most saw me as a rude, lying, self-centered child who was more focused on the way she looked than on her studies. What I realize now is that it was because I was so lost, I was drowning in my own lost sense of self screaming for help. I was miserable internally and I took all of the hurt and sadness out on others hoping they would somehow fix me and take away my emptiness. In the end, no matter what others did, it would never be enough until I decided enough was enough and faced the pain and hurt that I held so deep inside myself.
At the end of 2016, I hit rock bottom and it made me wake up. I started the new year deciding to face myself: no more sulking in emptiness, lying to people for selfish reasons, allowing myself to stay in an abusive relationship, or letting my grades be affected by my recklessness. The very beginning of 2017 is when change began and I discovered a career that would give so much meaning to my journey. No more hiding, I put myself into therapy and decided I needed to figure out why I had been self destructing for all those years. I went to therapy for months, took a medical leave of absence from university, and focused solely on becoming a better happier person who knew who she was. Now in 2018, therapy is long over and I am for once truly happy with myself. I see that young girl who is kind, loving, selfless, and full of God just as her parents raised her.
It took me many years to figure out why I was the way I was, I faced myself, and I’d like to share why: it was the fact that I had no one to look to for identity when growing up. I felt alone. I felt that my birth parents didn’t want me and that I was damaged and defective because of this. I wouldn’t let others love me because I had no idea how to love myself, yet I looked for love in the wrong places. I was nasty to people to distance myself away from them so no one could ever get close to me. My fear of being rejected, given up on, and abandoned was coming true because I was making it happen before others could. Ultimately one of the largest reasons why I self destructed so much was because I was too scared to look inside myself and face that I didn’t have an identity, I didn't know how to be loved and show it, and that I felt I wasn’t good enough. It was an uphill battle that involved lots of self reflection, tears, and support from family and friends whom I couldn’t have done it without.
I am a firm believer that struggles often lead to beautiful destinations, and all my struggles have made me grow and prepare me for what a beautiful life I have now. Now I don’t worry about who I am, because I know. I have an identity because I saw a blank canvas and began to paint who I was. I looked at life from a different perspective and realized I could shape myself into whomever I wanted to be. I changed my way of thinking, prayed more, became mindful of others, started loving my flaws because they make me who I am, and made the decision to make something of myself by choosing to work towards becoming a physician assistant (PA). Without questioning who I am anymore, I use my passion to fuel my drive in my studies. I study to make myself, my birth mom, adoptive parents, and my future patients proud. I realize now that my birth mom gave me away not because I was defective but because she saw the potential in me, as she held me in her arms, as I can see in myself now. Being a PA is not just a career, it is a symbol of my birth mom’s selfless sacrifice to allow a young girl a chance in this world to become something magnificent. I may not know who she is or where she is, but I know being a PA would make her proud. I hope to one day, when I get into PA school, find her and show her that her selfless sacrifice paid off. That her once little girl found herself and turned so much pain into beauty. It is an honor to be able to wear a white coat and help others, but to be able to go back to Paraguay, where I was born, where medical care is scarce and treat others in need is something I look forward to the most in the future. I am so grateful to have found a career that will grant me the ability to impact people’s lives in such a positive way.
To come to an end, I just want to say to any of those who are adopted, I hope you know that you are not alone, and that feeling lost is normal. Even though my story may be different from yours, know that it will be okay and your struggles will turn you into that much more of a beautiful individual. You will be able to empathize with others who feel so much pain like we have. If I can give you any advice it is this: Use your struggles to better yourself; don’t be afraid to confront your pain, emptiness, or any current barriers you are facing. We lost a bond we may never get back, the one with our mother, but we get to choose to create so many more and impact other lives with caring, healing hearts. I send my love to you if you are currently struggling because I know how much it can hurt.
To those who are reading this to understand what adopted children face, I appreciate you and your desire to put yourself in our shoes. Adoption comes with many struggles. Growing up is not as simple as it seems. Even though we are blessed with beautiful families, the scars of being abandoned by our birth mothers are there and alive. For some, like myself, it is a rough battle that we must fight to truly be happy with who we are and accept ourselves. I thank you all for reading this as it was hard for me to write. It brought up a lot of emotion but helped me see how far I have come and will continue to grow. Finally, a warm loving thank you to Medelita for letting me share such a personal story with you, to a company with a heart, I truly cherish this opportunity.
Lastly I would like to leave you with an excerpt from my favorite book, The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier as she truly describes the feelings I and many other adopted children had.
“For love to be freely accepted there must be trust, and despite the love and security our daughter has been given, she has suffered the anxiety of wondering if she would again be rejected. For her this anxiety manifested itself in typical testing-out behavior. At the same time that she tried to provoke the very rejection that she feared, there was a reaction on her part to reject before she was rejected. It seemed that allowing herself to love and be loved was too dangerous; she couldn't trust that she would not again be abandoned.”