The Fog

It was only recently that I became aware of the phrase “coming out of the fog”, a term used in relation to adoptees. The phrase refers to the moment when an adoptee shifts their perspective from the constructed view of how adoption has been presented, to the less talked about reality of what adoption also is. As an adoptee this is a re-learning process of navigating a new narrative of identity and the many intricate layers that spans from personal to societal. We dare to ask questions about the way that adoption has been perceived and taught as normal. We no longer conform to the answers already in place, but instead seek out our own truths. We understand that by taking this road, we may not ever see ourselves the same again. Although this duality may have always existed within us, whether we decide to recognize it or not, it is when we fully allow ourselves to walk on that edge of gratitude and grief, that we “come out of the fog.”

For as long as I can remember I’ve viewed my adoption only as a positive thing. Any negative thoughts around it that came up mostly in my teens, I “got over” and “grew out of” just like any other teenager dealing with identity. I was a hardcore believer in nurture, never in nature. Even when I thought of my own birth, imagining myself being birthed out of a wall hovered above earth, seemed normal to me.  This image would appear whenever I shared the beginning sentence of my birth story “I came to Sweden from Indonesia when I was a 30-day old infant”. In front of me I saw this wall with fragments of images related to what I was told about my birth journey and read in my birth document: the world globe map; a red dot that is Jakarta; brown and green shaded continents sitting in massive spaces of blue covering the globe; the KLM airplane with me in it accompanied by a nurse; and when the plane reached Swedish air space it passed through this tall, white wall and marked the beginning of my life as Anna.

Everything that happened after coming through the wall on the other hand appeared clear. I got a name, a home, food, new clothes. Even though I was too young to remember my childhood it is thoroughly documented in many different photo albums, recordings of my first words on a cassette tape, and birthdays, holidays and vacations on film. All in which I have turned into part of my identity story. It has in fact been so clear that the wall simply faded into the background, I rarely questioned it growing up. And the more time went by, eventually I stopped questioning the wall all together, the more I embraced the fog.

The fog is seeing the world and ourselves from the eyes in which adoption is presented in our society. How lucky we are. As well-intended that may be, it’s only giving one side of the story. We celebrate what is gained, but rarely speak about what is lost. Give a child enough love and they will adapt. Just because we can’t remember memories verbally doesn’t mean that we can’t remember them at all. We can. And, we do. Our bodies remember.

It wasn’t until the past 2 years, after an accumulation of things surfaced in my life, that I one day woke up with what may be seen as a calling: I had to visit Indonesia. I was surprised at myself as I had never felt any connection, or interest about my birth country. But now, suddenly there was a new image of myself paving way in my mind: the image of me as an adult visiting Indonesia. An image that had not been tainted with how I understood my birth country as “the other” with people who had nothing and needed to be saved. This was the first image of myself in relation to Indonesia without considering my feelings of rejection of a mother who gave me up. Or my feelings of guilt to the mother who lovingly raised me, though blissfully oblivious to our racial difference and experiences.  Time had passed, I was an adult now. I had a life of my own.

I decided to travel to Jakarta in the early summer of 2020. 2020 came with the unexpected guest COVID, which threw my summer travel plans far to the side. I was not going on this journey that called me the year before. Instead, I sensed that  different type of journey  begun to stir.  My curiosity about my birth country was still there but slowly took a turn and I found myself faced with confusion not understanding what it was about Indonesia that I wanted to explore. I didn’t have anyone there to visit. I looked like an Indonesian but knew nothing about the culture. Would people treat me “less than” because I was adopted? Would they make fun of me, or feel pity? Why did I want to visit the location I was born? I wasn’t searching for anything. What if I didn’t like it there at all, or liked it too much? Would I ever be Indonesian enough, or Swedish enough?

It was the beginning of the summer, and I couldn’t tell if these thoughts the remnants of quarantine life, or the effects of a people all over the country and all around me broken into pieces by racial injustice, but something in me had shifted. Questions that I usually kept at bay and emotions I reasoned myself through, revealed themselves and refused to leave. I didn’t understand exactly what was happening although I sensed it had something to do about the tall, white wall. I could hear it. It was starting to crack and would soon crumble.

Even though I had never admitted it out loud, this had always been my worst fear: to admit that being adopted had affected me because that would truly mean that I didn’t belong anywhere.  It dawned on me that my trip to Indonesia could be the most joyous journey ever, or the most heart-breaking journey I would ever experience. At the end of the day I had indeed lost a language, a life, an identity, a culture, and a family before I even had words to express what that meant to me. I was someone else before I arrived in Sweden. I couldn’t just go there like any other tourist. The cracks in the wall grew louder. By the time mid-June came around, I woke up with sadness so large I could barely move.

This was me “coming out of the fog”. It is a strange place to be. To feel such sadness, grief, and an uncontrollable amount of anger but not always being able to pinpoint what, why, or aim it at a specific person. To love the life I live/have been given/have created but to recognize that the layers of love and fear; of loss and gain; of bureaucracy, ethical rights, and the business of adoption is thick. So thick that sometimes I’m not sure I know if this life is mine. Some adoptees say that “coming out of the fog” is to step into our truth. A truth that is not pleasant, or kind, or feel safe. It is chaotic. Daunting. Lonely. Non-verbal. Some days I just cry. And although I can feel the why in my bones, it’s hard to accept that I’ll never be able to know exactly what and whom I lost before the wall.


“An abducted child is expected to retain fond memories of, and long for reunification with, their “real” families of birth, and reject the abductor raising them, while adoptees are expected to bond unquestioningly to non-related strangers, and in some cases are expected or encouraged to abandon any thoughts or talk of seeking out their roots.” - Desiree Smolin

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