Made in China: Brother from another mother

As someone who has grown up in a family where adoption is normalized, I find myself in a unique situation where I am also a person adopted from a foreign country. I find it even more interesting that my only brother was adopted from the U.S. and has a totally different origin story than I do. Having two children who were adopted from different countries but raised practically from birth into a “normal” suburban family was something I didn’t think twice about until I became older and inevitability became more curious. 

I’m sure any adoptee has asked at one point in their life ‘where did I come from?’ and ‘why was I put up for adoption?’ As someone who has no clue why or how I was put into an orphanage, I sometimes wonder if my situation as a foreign adoptee without any knowledge of her past is better or worse than someone who knows their birth parents and the reason why they gave them up.

I have no prior knowledge of my birth parents. I was told when I was little it was a ‘baby on the doorstep’ type of situation. Back in the 2000s, putting children up for adoption was quite common during China’s one child policy era. On the other hand, my older brother, who was born in Minnesota, knew who his birth parents were as it was a set-up adoption. My parents were at the hospital when he was born and has been with them ever since. When we were younger, his birth mother would visit us occasionally, yet the emotions were quite complex for both parties. This made me start to think about which experience would I rather have: mine where ignorance bliss, or my brother’s where it is quite complex.

The older I got and the more I thought about adoption and how each adoptee has a totally individualized experience. When I was younger, adoption was used as an insult by my peers when their sibling was annoying them. Phrases such as “you’re adopted” were commonly used when I’d go to a friend’s house. In those situations, I usually stood quiet and let the awkwardness die at the moment. I would frequently think to myself, ‘is being adopted a bad thing?’ My parents normalized adoption so much that when I was younger I thought that was the norm, and that everyone was adopted. Now I am a huge advocate for educating others about adoption and am very willing to talk about my personal situation. 

Being a foreign adoptee and having no prior knowledge of my birth parents is something I can live with. When I look at the choice of staying in the dark about where you came from or learning an ugly truth, I’d rather be left in the dark. And for a lot of foreign adoptees, that is the case.

Write to Julia Barton at

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