Educator. American. Korean American. Advocate. Daughter. Wife. Writer. Adoptee.
Dr. Taylor Whittington is a health educator in higher education, she is an adoption advocate, and she is a transracial adoptee. These are just some of the identifiers that she uses to describe herself. She embraces each of them and believes that these identities, along with a loving and supportive network of family and friends, make her feel whole.
Taylor was adopted as a baby from Korea by her Caucasian, American parents, who already had two biological sons. Her parents wanted to adopt their third child and were pointed towards international adoption agencies after looking into adoption domestically in upstate New York. They were pointed into the direction of international adoption given the tendency of these adoptions in the late 1980s of being
conducted and finalized more smoothly and quickly; in addition, the Korean adoption agencies seemed to have the most robust outreach, policies, and structures in place to allow for the adoption.
While growing up, Taylor’s parents strove to provide her with opportunities to connect with her Korean heritage and explore her identity as an adoptee. “Interracial adoption shaped my and my family’s perspective of multiculturalism,” says Taylor. “It is such a gift to understand multiculturalism through our lived experience. Being adopted, accepted, and loved by people who happen to look different [than me] was enlightening for me growing up and allowed me to appreciate differences from a very young age.” But she underscores that not all adoptees have a positive experience being raised in interracial households, and their stories and narratives should certainly be part of the conversation.
Although she never went down the path of searching for and locating her birth parents, Taylor’s parents were supportive of any and all exploration of her identity and heritage. When she was growing up, they were even members of a Korean-adoptee community in their hometown and would attend food, language, and traditions learning experiences. They even offered to take her to Korea to visit her foster home and foster mom. According to Taylor, “they were sincere and concerted in their efforts to help me shape my identity. But I never felt I needed it. I always felt whole with my family and my identity.” However, she is completely empathetic and supportive of those adoptees that do find a need to journey to discover themselves through their culture and birth heritage.
Speaking about her birth parents’ decision to place her for adoption, Taylor believes “people make the best decision they can in their position. My birth parents couldn’t take care of me and they loved me enough to ensure a good life for me. I have closure with that.”
Given Taylor’s experience and her supportive and loving familial relationships, her biggest advice for prospective adoptive parents is to surround themselves with positivity and positive people. “Many people will have unsolicited opinions and cautionary tales regarding adoptions – many of these people will not be adoptees or adopters. Challenge yourself to always be learning about adoption and never feel complacent in your journey.”
In addition, she encourages parents to always be transparent and honest with adopted children. Her parents never wanted her to feel alone or to make a discovery that wasn’t supported or cultivated by them. They gave her full access to her adoption papers should she want to look through them. They were also honest about the information they didn’t know.
“This [honesty] helped me feel fulfilled about my identity because it was always part of who I am. I was loved by my birth parents but chosen by my parents. My family members always made me feel special for being adopted and one way they did this was by celebrating my adoption day. We still celebrate to this day with a dinner and a little gift.”
Taylor has been shaped by her adoptee experience and her positive relationship with her adoptee identity. Today, she is a vocal advocate for adoption. Her advocacy started at a young age when in high school she began guest speaking about her adoptee experience to various audiences, including nonprofits, organization meetings, and universities. She says, “my wonderful experience with adoption and very loving and supportive parents and family members, gave me the courage to speak to strangers to highlight how beautiful it has been for me.” Her parents were supportive of her decision to start speaking out and she has always been comfortable taking even the toughest questions regarding adoption and interracial adoption, “I don’t get offended. I make adoption a teachable moment and open the doors to conversation and learning more about adoption.”
But not all of the public narrative around adoption and interracial adoption is as positive as Taylor’s experience. She hears negative stories from adoptees, and while she wants to add her positive perspective to that narrative, she never would want to take away from those adoptees’ unique and individual experiences and their narratives.
It was actually seeing so many negative perspectives of adoptees online that led her to create her social media presence as a positive space to discuss adoption. “When I Google adoption or search for adoption hashtags, I find some pretty hurtful things written and often from the perspective of adoptees. I don’t want prospective adoptive parents, who are searching for advice and information online, to only see these negative viewpoints and be turned off of adoption. I am in no way trying to take away from these negative accounts and narratives, I simply want to add my narrative that my experience has been wonderful. And I always ensure my caveat that I can’t speak on behalf of my fellow adoptees and I am only speaking from my own lived experience. My wish with my Instagram account is to impart to prospective and current adoptive family members that adoption has been such a gift to me. I aspire to reassure adoptive parents that love, not DNA, makes a family.”
Though the target audience of her social media posts is prospective or current adoptive parents, she loves interacting with adoptees and adoptive family members through her Instagram. “I love receiving heart-warming messages – people thanking me for telling my story and sharing my perspective, and people thanking me for my positive energy and encouragement regarding their adoption journey.” The comments on her posts are primarily positive, but occasionally she’ll receive negative comments, “I do acknowledge their comment and thank them for sharing their experience. I’m not going to try to have a debate or shut them down. I want to allow others to have a platform to also tell their story. We should be validating others’ experiences.”
Taylor hopes her story can add to the public narrative on adoption. Not only is there negativity online, but the mainstream media has not created the best representation of adoption and adoptees. According to Taylor, “Many plotlines are lazy and weak and fall back on adoption jokes. Movies and shows often portray the adoptee as ‘odd’, instead of well-adjusted, happy, and healthy.” This might be because the people writing these stories and characters are not from backgrounds of adoption and could use some education about the adoption experience. She does, however, note that she loves the adoption portrayals from three movies and shows – Meet the Robinsons, Modern Family, and Paddington Bear.
Adding to the adoption narrative, Taylor has written a book called Pear the Adopted Bear: Pear Gets Adopted! She says she wanted to create a children’s book to help explain and normalize adoption to small children. “Pear the Adopted Bear is green and Pear’s family members are all orange bears. It represents interracial adoption in an age-appropriate way.” In an effort to be inclusive, all the bears’ names are based on fruits so that they are purposely genderless and racially ambiguous. Taylor’s hope is that all adoptive families can feel seen and represented through her book. You can purchase Taylor’s book on Amazon and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Help Us Adopt, a non-profit grant program that helps couples/individuals with the costs associated with their adoptions.