Lucky is only half the story.

Throughout my life, when I discuss my adoption, people always seem to respond with -”A.J. you are so lucky.”

“Lucky;” the word reverberates in my ear, engendering a gamut of emotions, frustration, misunderstanding, mild anger and resentment, but also a genuine desire to explain why that word bothers me.

There is a tendency to treat adoption as this virtuous, perfect act, wherein the child has been saved from some monstrous future and everything is beautiful. But that’s not the whole story. Adoption is an agonizing and difficult process. It’s sad, heartbreaking, complex and hurts, a lot. That aspect of adoption is frequently downgraded or overlooked.

I would be the first person to agree that my life has been vastly improved; my options and opportunities exponentially increased because I was adopted as an infant from India, and grew up in the United States. I would never argue otherwise. But there are two ways equally important facets to consider when discussing adoption; hope and loss.

On one hand, I am blessed beyond measure to have left what would most certainly have been a life of poverty, hardship and struggle, for a new beginning in my parents’ house in Madison, Wisconsin. I was raised with an incredible outpouring of love and understanding, while my parents and siblings completely accepted me as part of the family. I grew up essentially taking part in all that “white privilege” offered. I’m formally educated, never wanted for anything and grew up in predominantly middle class neighborhoods. My family is awesome. I love my friends dearly and I have a wonderful life here in the US.

But on the reverse, I lost my birthmother as a baby, had my birth cultural connections nearly completely snapped, and will never be as “Indian” as I would have been, had I never left. That reality is one that brings me great sadness. I was not raised with my mother tongue or any other Indian language. I grew up completely outside of the Indian-American community, never feeling included by them or comfortable with myself in their presence. I lost a connection to India that I will never reclaim.

Beyond my own wounds, my birthmother lost her son. I was the child my mom bore for nine months, gave birth to and will never see again. If that is not a sobering thought, I’m not sure what is. I imagine the pain and anguish she must have gone through, or still goes through thinking about having to give me up because she could not offer me a life that she thought I deserved, but could not give me because of her circumstances. Maybe her parents pressured her into “getting rid of me,” thinking it would bring shame on the family as she was not married. Whatever the reason, the fact remains, a mother gave up her son and she probably did not have a choice.

My own parents, who internationally adopted in Madison, Wisconsin in the late 1970’s, went through their own amount of difficulties. International adoption was rare, and not nearly as common as it is today. I’m sure people questioned their decision. Trans-racial adoption was not something that people really understood. They probably endured many stares as they brought an Indian baby, clearly not from their flesh, all around the city. They might have been labeled weird or strange and possibly bore the silent judgment of people around them. I hesitate to put words in their mouth, but I would be shocked if my adoption was “easy” emotionally for them.

The next time you meet an adopted person and you tell them how “lucky” they are, try to resist. Lucky is only half of the story, the rest usually is not palatable for everyday conversation. Being adopted is a wonderful thing in many respects, but it’s also a trying and wrenching act as well. I never lose perspective of all that I’ve gained through my adoption, but I also never forgot the pain that comes with the blessing.


  1. thanks so much for this post. i will surely save it as a reference for myself over the years so that I can better understand the experience my sons will surely have. I’m grateful for your honest, thought-provoking words. Lisa

  2. AJ,
    Your posts continue to intrigue me. One thing I think is hardest about the concept of gratitude, is that it is only expected from adoptees, not from birth children. No one says to a birth child, “You must feel so lucky you were born”. It is this choice to see adoption as perfect, without disadvantages, that leads people to say that we are lucky. I agree that if they thought a moment, they may be able to resist that urge.
    Thanks again for your thoughtful posts.

    1. AJ – very interesting and thought provoking blog. Thanks for sharing.

      Subini – intriguing comment. Without trying to split too many hairs, I would argue that gratitude is also expected of birth children as well. Both from people on the outside (which is more to your point) who remind the birth children of how lucky they are to be so privileged, as well by birth children themselves who are aware of the randomness of their “placement” to being born to their certain set of parents (because of emotional or financial well being etc.).

      So the external and internal sentiments of “gratitude” are there for birth children as well, but perhaps to a less frequent/common (and intensity?) degree then for adopted children.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *