Somewhere Between (directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton), which I saw on Netflix, follows four teenaged girls adopted from China into white families (one is mixed-race) in the US as babies or young children. On the surface it looks like a niche documentary that would ring true for Chinese adoptees and their families but it’s so much more.
It stands on its own as a fascinating journey that dips and veers in all kinds of unexpected directions. There is mystery, plenty of poignant moments, a thrilling ride, a good dose of heartbreak as well as growth and transformation.
Along the way, we learn about what it’s like to be adopted from China (there are 80,000+ Chinese adoptees in the US) as well as a few universal truths about adoption.
I watch all adoption movies through a personal lens now and try to translate what I see to how it affects my life as an adoptive parent. Here are a few things I learned from the movie.
Transracial adoptees need a sense of cultural belonging
All four of the featured adoptees grew up in white communities where there were few if any visible minorities. All of them mentioned this as a major hurdle citing examples of racism, stereotyping and feelings of isolation at school and in the community. One adoptee seemed to overly adore her tall, blond beauty pageant-winning sister, another didn’t really feel complete until she met her Asian boyfriend at university, and another overcompensated through extreme A-type competence to cope with not fitting in.
One adoptee pointed out that racial difference becomes a huge factor as kids hit the identity formation years. Little kids are happy to be loved by their parents. Then one day, when all they want to do it fit in, they realize everyone is staring at them. This made a lot of sense. I find Theo is very comfortable and secure right now but he also doesn’t have a strong sense of racial identity yet.
Adoptees want to know their birthstories
Another point that came up repeatedly was that the young women all wondered about their birthfamilies and why they were ‘abandoned.’ A small part of them felt unwanted despite being deeply loved by their adoptive families. I had a light bulb moment when I realized that I need to be aware that our love as adoptive parents does not negate 1) a feeling of being unwanted and 2) the dual state of loving your adoptive parents/family but still wanting to know your biological family.
The truth is out there
All of the girls were told they would never find their biological parents or any information on their history. But in the most unlikely and myth-busting scene, one of the adoptees meets her entire birthfamily in China. The upshot is that after meeting her ‘Chinese family,’ she stands a little taller and seems confident and secure in her ethnicity and in herself. There are many surprises in this storyline, which I won’t reveal. It’s documentary gold: exciting, heart-wrenching, revelatory. Side-learning, which I already knew: birthfathers care (but my lips are sealed).
Meeting other adoptees can be hugely healing
A world conference of Chinese adoptees spurs on huge changes in the adoptees including the aforementioned reunion. The overachiever also appears to undergo a transformation after meeting others like her. Suddenly able to express her feelings though moving poetry, she starts speaking to groups of adoptive parents about how she feels. Achieving a calmer state, she exchanges her type-A activities for quieter more introspective pursuits.
Meeting others like you is incredibly powerful. There is a sense of belonging that family and friends who weren’t adopted simply can’t provide. I’m glad that Theo has his posse of little adoptee friends, and I hope they will still be friends when they hit the teen years when their friendships will really count.