Family goes deeper than genes

China Granger

Sophomore Aru Kundhardt smiles  with her parents, Susan and David

Sophomore Aru Kunhardt smiles with her parents, Susan and David Kunhardt

The families many of us were born to have shaped our lives in endless ways, yet we often take them for granted. For several students as Redwood, the bond they formed with their families began after birth, with their adoption, and has continued to impact them today.

Aru

Sophomore Aru Kunhardt has no memory of the place she was born, nor can she remember anything about her birth family.

“I only have pictures so, you know, my brain’s making memories,” Kunhardt said with a shrug.

As an 18-month-old baby, Kunhardt was adopted from an orphanage in Almaty, Kazakhstan and moved to Corte Madera with her new family.

Kunhardt said that when she was younger, her adoption rarely crossed her mind but that she has recently become more interested in her birthplace.

“I didn’t think about it before probably the last two or three years, but now I’m just kind of interested about what the environment is like there now and who my parents were,” Kunhardt said.

According to Dr. Nancy Curtis, an Oakland-based pediatrician who specializes in the health and behavior patterns of internationally adopted kids, going through different stages in our lives can affect how we view our past experiences.

“It tends to be that when any new developmental stage emerges, for instance you are more sophisticated now than you were in elementary school, your brain has to work through those same issues all over again,” Curtis said.

According to Curtis, through each stage of brain development, people begin to see the world from a slightly different perspective, and for adopted children, that reevaluation of one’s past experiences can include questions about the identity of one’s birth parents.

“I always wonder who my original parents were or what life would be like if I wasn’t adopted,” Kunhardt said. “I like exploring things and I think finding out, if I had the chance to meet them, would be really cool.”

However, these unanswered questions about her past do not bother Kunhardt.

“It’s not one of those things that I would just not go to sleep at night because of,” she said.
Kunhardt said that if she hadn’t been adopted, she thinks she might have taken certain things in life for granted.

“Now that I know I’m adopted, I feel like everything’s set out for me, which is kind of nice. I realize that I’m blessed with this place,” Kunhardt said.

 

Lilly

Junior Lily Kane-Dacri was born in Chengdu, China and was adopted at eight months old.

Junior Lilly Kane-Dacri was born in Chengdu, China and was adopted at eight months old.

Until recently, junior Lilly Kane-Dacri had no memories of the place she was born. Adopted when she was eight months old, Kane-Dacri was not able to experience the city from which she was adopted until she was much older.

Two summers ago, Kane-Dacri visited the Chinese city of Chengdu, to reconnect with her past. Traveling with her parents and a translator, Kane-Dacri went back to the orphanage she was in and the foster parents who took care of her before her adoption.

In 1980, the Chinese government put into place its one-child policy, intending for it to be a simple method of population control. It eventually catalyzed not only a nationwide gender imbalance, but also a shocking rise in the number of female babies being aborted, given to orphanages or abandoned.

“So many of us were abandoned and now adopted because of that policy,” Kane-Dacri said, referencing the social impact of China’s gender imbalance. “[My parents] just did what they had to do,” Kane-Dacri said.

Living in Marin, Kane-Dacri has been able to bridge her Chinese heritage with the American culture she was raised in. When was younger, she was able to take Mandarin classes and was a part of the Marin Chinese Cultural Association.

According to Kane-Dacri, her parents have always tried to integrate her into her Chinese heritage and that her adoption has always been “normalized”.

“My parents have always been super open about it with me. I mean, I don’t look like them—my parents are Caucasian,” said Kane-Dacri.

Kane-Dacri said that sometimes she faces negative stereotypes about her adoption.

“I think some people think I have issues or I’m messed up from it because the whole experience people paint out as dramatic,” she said.

According to Kane-Dacri, there can also be the misconception that adopting a child is only an option for couples who are unable to have biological children.

Kane-Dacri explained that her parents were able to have children but chose to adopt her because they wanted to make a difference.

Kane-Dacri said that she sees very few differences between the dynamic of her family and any other. “My love for my parents and how my parents love me is exactly the same as any other kid.”

 

Kali

Sophomore Kali Gibbs laughs alongside her younger brother, Kaden Gibbs.

Sophomore Kali Gibbs laughs alongside her younger brother, Kaden Gibbs.

Even though her family doesn’t share genes, sophomore Kali Gibbs says that her adoption makes her family a lot more grateful for each other.

“It makes everyone more connected,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs was adopted at three years old from Florida along with her biological younger brother, Kaden, who was two.

Gibbs is especially close with Kaden. However, a few months ago her parents broke the news that her and her brother were actually half siblings. Gibbs was suprised that her parents had waited so long to tell her, but has since come to terms with it.

“It didn’t really make a difference whether my brother and I were related,” she said. “I think the whole adoption thing made us a lot closer than any other brother and sister I know.”

Because she was adopted when she was a toddler, Gibbs said the details of her adoption and her birth mom are fuzzy.

“We didn’t really know what was happening,” Gibbs said. “My [biological] mom just said, ‘This isn’t the mom you know, but you’ll call her mom too.’”

Since then, Gibbs hasn’t been in contact with her birth mother.

“We both separately moved on,” she said.

While adoption is a sensitive subject with her parents, Gibbs is open to the idea of coming into contact with her birth mother when she is older.

One reason she’d want to meet her birth family, said Gibbs, was to get answers to some of her questions about where her physical and personality traits came from.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating because you want to have answers to these questions but there’s no way to go about finding them out,” Gibbs said. “My parents just don’t have answers to a lot of questions I have.”

According to Dr. Andrea Pinkerton, a psychologist who works with adopted families, the feeling of wanting answers is very common.

“There’s an innate longing for that information,” she said. “There’s a relief with seeing yourself connected with others.”

As far as her adoption goes, Gibbs said that there isn’t anything she would change about it.

“It is what it is. There’s nothing I can do to change it. I can’t say that I’ve ever regretted it at any moment,” Gibbs said.

 

A previous version of this story misstated that Gibbs was mad when her parents informed her that she and her brother were half siblings. In fact, she was just surprised.