Make Your Mess Your Message by Shari Leid (Book Excerpt)

Excerpted from Make Your Mess Your Message by Shari Leid. Copyright © 2021 Shari Leid. Reprinted with permission from Shari Leid. Seattle, WA. All rights reserved.


Chapter 49

Tiffani’s Story: Acknowledging My Adoption Trauma

Born in Seoul, Korea

Fun fact: Tiffani’s adoptive parents were both very fair-skinned, both six feet tall, and both very Southern!

Tiffani and I share a special bond that stems from our life experiences. We were both abandoned by our birth families in South Korea, and we were later adopted through the same adoption agency in the 1970s. This was at a time when interracial and international adoptions were uncommon, and Korea was the first country to export their orphaned children for adoption. Speaking with Tiffani during our Zoom date was the first time I had ever spoken to another Korean adoptee about our adoption experiences.

Date 49 — What is the mess that became your message?

It is the “luck of the draw” what family you will end up with when you’re adopted — especially back in the 1970s when international adoption wasn’t the somewhat well-oiled machine that it is today. Tiffani was adopted at three and a half years of age, when she was taken from South Korea to rural Huntsville, Alabama, USA. Tiffani describes her adoptive family as absolutely loving. Her dad was in law enforcement as a state trooper, and her mom was a nurse. She describes her sister, who was three and a half years older (a biological child of her parents), as an “angel,” and they were very close. Tragically, all three passed away. Her sister died in a fatal drunk driving accident in 1986, and both parents died of cancer in 2014.

Tiffani has survived her entire adoptive family. She now resides with the apple of her eye, her teenage daughter, Malia.

Early in 2020, due to the pandemic, Tiffani was furloughed for seven months from her job. This layoff turned out to be a blessing, giving her time to reflect back on her life. The time off work forced her to “be quiet” to take an honest look at herself. Through this process of introspection, she got involved with a non-profit group for transracial and international adoptees. The mission of the group is to eliminate transracial and international adoptee suicide through mental health advocacy and support.

I loved the open and honest discussion I had with Tiffani that day. Like me, Tiffani did not grow up with other adoptees, and we both went through a significant period of our life rejecting our

Korean roots — not wanting to have anything to do with other Korean people or Korean adoptees. However, as we have grown older, we’ve realized that there is a benefit to connecting with those who share a similar history. As Tiffani explained to me, there are a lot of adoption-related issues that many adoptees share, which are often overlooked. When adoptees struggle with mental health, they can often be misdiagnosed and/or treated only considering the period of time from the adoption forward — with the original adoption trauma and the separation from the biological family ignored.

Tiffani and I discussed the trauma of adoption: being pulled from one’s birth family, being placed into a new family, being taken away from one’s birth country and culture, and being raised in a family where no one looks like you. As Tiffani said, for many interracial adoptees, including her own experience growing up in rural Alabama, “it is like living in a fun house — where everyone around you is White, and then you look at a mirror and you look like a monster. Your hair is different, your eyes are different, your skin is different, and you don’t fit in anywhere, even at home.”

The message Tiffani received from the mess of experiencing and then identifying her own adoption trauma is that she is here to educate and empower transracial and international adoptees and their families. She encourages them to acknowledge and recognize the trauma so that tools can be provided for adoptees to navigate their identity, appreciate their value, and learn to trust.

As she pointed out, these tools weren’t available for our generation of adoptees, so we had to figure it out for ourselves, often in isolation. It is her hope and her mission that future generations of transracial adoptees will have the tools, the resources, and the support to feel empowered and educated as they travel through life. She wants all transracial adoptees to be able to understand our early trauma, while also celebrating at the same time the beauty of adoption, embracing the differences that may exist between the adoptee and the adoptive family.

The mess: Unaddressed trauma stemming from adoption.

The message: Balance the struggles, including recognizing the adoption trauma of a child separated from their birth family. At the same time, celebrate the beauty of a family created through adoption.

Action step: Identify any of your past traumas that are ready to be worked on this year. Take affirmative steps to seek the help you need.


Today’s date is:

While I am not going to dwell on my childhood trauma, I will acknowledge it; and, if needed, I will seek the tools and resources to help me navigate through my childhood experience for a better adult life.


Former litigator, Shari Leid currently operates An Imperfectly Perfect Life, LLC, a professional mindset coaching business primarily serving clients who are in those tricky middle age years, helping them create the life of their dreams. She is a national speaker and author of The 50/50 Friendship Flow: Life Lessons From and For My Girlfriends and Make Your Mess Your Message: More Life Lessons From and For My Girlfriends. Her third and final book in The Friendship series is scheduled for Fall 2022. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.



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