An #importedAsians POV: Moses Farrow
The Universal Asian had the privilege of interviewing Moses Farrow as he shared his adoption story, surviving an abusive and chaotic adoptive home, and his journey to becoming an advocate for mental health, more adoptee research, and the telling of adoptee stories to maintain a living history of the adoptee experience.
Moses Farrow was born in South Korea with cerebral palsy. He believes this is telling of the condition and situation that his birth mother must have been in during her pregnancy and his birth. At about 2 years old, Farrow was adopted into his high-profile family—though at the time his adoptive mother was recently divorced—as the youngest of seven children in the house but the first to be adopted into the family. His adoptive mother would later adopt another seven, mostly disabled, younger children over the years.
Most of his early childhood memories are centered around physical and speech therapies to address his disability. This created in Farrow a need for control and ownership, especially over his own body. He struggled to accept that he couldn’t musically or athletically join in with his older siblings or peers. Still, he said he was fortunate enough to not feel that he suffered from teasing or ridicule at school, though he felt his challenges internally. This lack of confidence was further exacerbated by the abuse he experienced at home.
He described growing up in a New York City apartment with his seven other siblings, who were all a wide range of ages, as being chaotic where everyone shared rooms and spaces. Underneath the hubbub of life was a growing sense of fear and anxiety for Farrow as he grew older and gained more independence with his disability. He shared that he was constantly having to be on high alert as to when he might get yelled at, in trouble for some unknown offense, and blamed for things. He worried about what might be said or what he had unwittingly said. Initially, he thought this was a normal way to live.
One early memory, Farrow recalled, was when he was about 5 and was abruptly awakened by his adoptive mother dragging him to her bathroom accusing him of taking her pills despite his half dazed denials. He second-guessed his own denials and received the punishment of a bar of soap in his mouth for an unknown period of time until his adoptive mother decided it was enough for him to go back to bed.
Another example Farrow gave was when he was playing with a Speak & Spell and the sound became garbled. He took it to his adoptive mother, and she immediately blamed him for breaking it. “The next thing I know, I’m laying across her lap getting spanked. It was just a switch; from playing, bringing it to my mom to find out what’s up with it, and the next thing I know there is screaming and crying and getting blamed for it.” In the end, he found out that all it needed was a new battery.
While independently these examples may seem benign, the consistency of such behavior took a toll as he felt the environment was always unsafe and unstable.
Although some are able to survive these kinds of situations, like Farrow has, there are others who do not. Within Farrow’s own family, the lack of safety and trauma experienced was unbearable for three of his adopted siblings, who are recorded to have been lost due to suicide or suicidal decisions. Because he was (still is) estranged from his adoptive mother’s side of the family, which includes many of his adopted siblings, Farrow sadly acknowledged that it still weighs heavily on him that he was not there for them as an older brother.
Despite the difficulty and stigma around suicide, Farrow believes that it is important to talk about it and address the pain. He admitted that there have been points in his life where he also felt suicidal. Farrow believes that although one could argue that anyone who is raised in an abusive home can feel tremendous isolation and loneliness, which are often the catalyst for a suicide victim, he also emphasized the additional weight of adoption trauma. “You can’t undo lived experiences. You can’t undo relinquishment. You can’t undo a forced separation. You can’t undo something that might have happened to you during pregnancy.” Adding on to the trauma of adoption, abuse and external lack of validations are pieces that challenge the survival of adoptees. Farrow feels it is important to understand that “too many of us wonder what is wrong with me, and am I really to blame?” and that there is more to the overall context than just the individual.
Farrow expressed that adoption itself stems from a series of losses that causes trauma to the adoptee that moves beyond just needing to survive, so his own experience is multilayered with the chaotic nature of his adoptive home.
When he became a young adult, Farrow was able to make a change for himself. He was asked by an adviser, “Who is Moses?” This started him on his journey to self-discovery and created his ability to live fully rather than react to life passing by. He had to deactivate the survival instincts, or fear of threats, that he had developed, and learn to feel safe within himself and his social environment.
To achieve this, he had to change his physical environment, which included distancing himself from his family. Farrow found friends who offered support and care. These friends became like family, which led him to redefine what family is. He also has a renewed relationship with his adoptive father that he still maintains.
This change provided him with examples of love, compassion, and what it means to trust; thereby giving him a new perspective where he has been able to find emotional security and safety. He shared that it is still a constant exercise and effort to be aware of his past and of the activation points that set him off as a reaction against the imprinted traumas of his childhood.
Furthermore, he found a way to survive by discovering a sense of purpose and giving back to the greater good so as not to give in to the personal suffering and weight of his own pain. Still, he shared that he continues to struggle with confidence, but a Ted Talk by Kristen Neff on self-compassion gave him inspiration to continue on his journey toward healing and advocacy.
According to Farrow, there needs to be a stronger understanding of what it means to be adopted and about the types of adoptions. In other words: “Is a child abducted and adopted? Or, is a child trafficked and adopted? Is the relinquishment forced and then adopted? More research is needed around adoption origin stories.” He believes there will continue to be more interest, funding, and information available as more adoptees’ stories come out and are talked about.
Farrow left us with this message: “We need to come together and have these platforms to acknowledge amongst ourselves our unique but shared experiences of being adopted. It is important to have these spaces as modern day historians to record our experiences as more children continue to be adopted so that we can continue to move forward and change the trajectory of experiences. No matter where one is on their own journey, whether a positive one or not, all that matters is that we have a historical record. The more that we share our stories, the more accurate a picture we create so that we know how to shift the conversations, adjust the adoption experience, and avoid repeating previous mistakes.”
Everything in his life has culminated into now and what he can uniquely offer. As such, Farrow actively advocates for human rights, suicide prevention, and mental health. He is dedicating his life to raising awareness and representing the voices of those who are no longer with us.