Adopted: The Movie

A few months back I’d heard the buzz about this movie, but until we got Netflix recently, I didn’t have a way to watch it.  This past weekend it arrived in the mail and my husband and I settled in to watch it. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, but this film exceeded my expectations in a gut-wrenching way.

For those who haven’t seen it, the documentary film follows two families: the Fero family, including 32-year-old Jennifer who was adopted from Korea as an infant, and the Trainer family, who are in the process of adopting from China. It chronicles Jennifer’s search for identity, sparked by learning that her mother has terminal cancer, and the Trainer’s journey to their daughter.

And the similarities are striking. While Jennifer’s adoption took place in 1975 when adoptive parents received little to no training in adoptive parenting, the education received by the Trainers (adopting in 2006) doesn’t seem to be much better or at least hasn’t been taken to heart. Jacqui Trainer admits to owning three attachment books, two of which she skimmed and one that she said she’d read most of. They were depressing, she said, so she decided that she would set them aside, and if she needed them later, she would know where to look for the information.

The Trainers acknowledge that there may be tough times ahead once their daughter comes home–that they will be “turning her world upside down” and that “she’ll be grieving.” But they  feel that they have enough love to cover the hard issues they might face.

In contrast Jennifer’s story is saying that love isn’t enough. She’s conflicted because her parents loved and nurtured her, and she loves her family, yet she says she’s felt empty. “I want my whole identity; my whole life,” Jennifer says. “It’s not rejection of my family; it’s just wanting to be authentic and real.”

Jennifer talks several times about how adoptees are always the ones adapting–from a very early age and possibly over and over. “Families adopt; adoptees adapt. Adoptees are chameleons because they don’t want to be abandoned again,” she said. “So you make sure every thing appears perfect.”

Once the Trainers have their daughter, Roma, home, they say things have been much easier than they’d expected. Roma rarely cries, they say, and she was “fully attached” to her adoptive father on day three of them being a family and warmed up to her adoptive mother by day nine to 10. “I’m sorry, yes, we have the perfect child,” Jacqui says. John adds, “She seems well-rounded. If she has an underlying issue, she’s not made it known.”

Jennifer’s struggles are heart wrenching. She longs for her parents to acknowledge her for who she really is, yet her parents don’t feel it’s necessary to talk about her adoption and race. At one point her father says, “I think she should be thankful she’s here. And I think there’s an overemphasis on the fact that she’s Korean.”

Jennifer’s mother once wonders why Jennifer didn’t share her racial issues with the family as they were happening during her school years. Jennifer says she was too embarrassed by racial taunting in school to talk about it with her family and instead rage began to grow inside her. “I remember being around 12 or 13 and coming out of my room just to yell at my mom. I had so much rage toward her. Because of all the people, a mother should get the angst that I was going through being Asian in a white family and a white community.”

Often in the adoption community, adoptees like Jennifer who are processing what adoption really means for them and who are speaking out about the hard issues that come from adoption are labeled as “angry and bitter.” Yet I don’t see bitterness or anger in Jennifer. I see a wounded little girl who was never allowed to fully grasp what had happened to her.

“This isn’t about what my parents did wrong; I mean look at all the things they did right. It’s about that 9-year-old girl who didn’t have the language. I’m her voice. You can overcompensate and sugar-coat the adoption story … but you’re only getting her because she was abandoned. And she knows that at a younger age than you can image.”

I know that not all international adoptees feel the way Jennifer does, but books and blogs and list-serves have shown me that many have experienced issues similar to those Jennifer details. And while watching Jennifer’s journey made my heart ache for her, I had to wonder how Roma Trainer will feel when she’s older. Will she experience the same emotions? Will she feel that her parents really didn’t understand the journey they embarked on when they brought her home from China? If so, how sad will that be? After all, they have the resources–including adoptees like Jennifer Fero–to help them understand the adoptee’s journey, if only they will listen.

“I don’t have any resentment toward my parents. I feel they did the best they could; they loved me and nurtured me,” Jennifer says. “If people adopt today, I expect them to do better.”

And that’s the question really. Is this current generation of adoptive parents doing it better? Have we learned from adoptees who have been through the struggle? Are we changing the way we parent so it encompasses all of who are children are?

My hope is that we are; my fear is that not enough are hearing the message. I’m thankful for Jennifer and other adoptees who are speaking out, sharing the most intimate of journeys to help me better parent my son. And I hope I am doing “better.”

1 Response to “Adopted: The Movie”

  1. 1 Jenna Rose
    February 4, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    hey, ive just started to read everything here. but im adopted and i think this is such a good idea. i feel as though the stigma is being eased away and it’s because of people like you.

    thank you

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My Korean Culture Blog

Just a reminder that if you want to learn more about Korean culture (both traditional and pop culture), language resources, and cooking, check out my other blog: thekoreanway.wordpress.com It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

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