Joey’s Journey as a Male Chinese Adoptee

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One of Joey’s earliest photos.

I was born in Xi’an, China and I have very little knowledge about my origins. It is believed the police made up my abandonment report and the story is told that I was found on the streets and handed to police who took me to the orphanage. However, I have no documents to verify any of that. I stayed in the orphanage for a year until a couple of missionaries from Wisconsin setup a foster home and took some of us orphans because of the concerns about neglect, abuse, and lack of attachment. I was in that foster home for less than a year until I was adopted out in March 1996 to a caucasian family in Wisconsin.

I was approximately 3 years of age and all my documents have been made up. I don’t have recognisable memories of my time in either the orphanage or the foster home but I struggle to want to talk about or try to recall anything. It just feels dark and depressive and I try to blank out those memories.

There were other girls a similar age, who were adopted like me to the USA at the same time. I remember stealing, hoarding food and a lot of nightmares. I keep in touch with some of those other girls and my sister (not biological) and I were adopted into the same family. Our adoptive family had two older biological children. My adoptive parents wanted a family of children with a balance of genders; so with myself and my adopted sister we make up 2 boys and 2 girls. My sister and I were given birth dates two weeks apart.

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Joey today.

I’m now 24 years old and I’ve gone through years of questioning and thinking deeply about my origins and why I’m now in the USA. I recall people assuming why I was in the orphanage – maybe I was the 2nd son, or my parents died, or I was born “unlucky” by Chinese standards and given up because of superstition, maybe I had a single mum or I was born out of wedlock with the shame attached. I really don’t know why and I also don’t have any special needs to warrant me being given up. I have not looked for the police records or checked what was done to advertise my being lost but apparently a poster was put up with a photo however, there was no birth date or name and I was considered a “lost boy”.

I’ve been back to China since my adoption but not to search for biological family. I’m at a stage of my life where I’m ready to search and have asked a reporter to help me.

The memories I have of foster care prior to adoption was the high number of carers that changed in that short space of time. I had at least 7 different carers and they all left. I would receive special attention and favours from them but then those people would disappear. I have no doubt this has impacted my ability to feel safe and secure and to be able to positively form attachments.

My adoptive parents were people with good intentions and a lot of love but they were unprepared and had little idea of the realities of adopting two older aged adoptees who had lived a life of loss and little attachment. My adoptive sister was the acting out one and I was the compliant perfectionist. She took up a lot of emotional space in our family and I ended up being the one in the middle who tried to keep the peace. We experienced a lot of upheaval, chaos, uncertainty, and conflict.

By the time of high school, my sister got sent to boarding school which she was expelled from and then sent to a residential treatment centre. Since then life hasn’t been great for her and I also left home and kept emotionally distant from our parents. For me, it was hard watching her struggles as they mirrored mine except she was abandoned again. I visited her at the residential treatment centre but it was like a prison where they monitor everything you do. The only good thing was she received a lot of counselling.

Unfortunately because I was the perfectionist child, too scared to act out for fear of abandonment, my parents thought I was okay. I hated seeing her misunderstood at home and I guess because I tried to be there for her and connected to her emotionally, I ended up being her punching bag at times.

I don’t blame my parents but they were reacting to our trauma and they were definitely unprepared. They’ve been through a lot and did the best with what they could, but it wasn’t enough. It makes me angry that agencies and governments put people in impossible situations like ours. We reached a point where there was nothing more that could be done.

As parents and children, we were put in an impossible situation and without the foresight or understanding of trauma and how to manage it, we were a train wreck waiting to crash. Could it have been prevented? I believe so and that’s why I speak out.

I do still have a relationship with my parents but I needed space to work things out because they don’t understand the trauma we live. They still believe God called them to adopt and this is something I struggle with. Why would God want anyone to go through this? To me it seems pretty messed up. I don’t feel God has called hundreds of thousands of people to adopt. Why would God put us through more pain than we already had.

It’s seems so black and white to most people to assume I’d either be dead or poor if I hadn’t been adopted – but these are not the only two possible outcomes and when discussion on adoption happens in this manner, it doesn’t leave much room for any other possibility.

I don’t feel adoption is Biblical or should be used as a first alternative. Mary had a child out of wedlock and God did not shame her or encourage her to give up her child.

For most of my life I’ve felt I walked alone and was in a fog. This didn’t change until  I read The Primal Wound and for the first time, I read descriptions that described how I was feeling. I then started reading more and more about adoption and recently I’ve started to educate people around me and advocating in my community. Now I try and find other adoptees and hear what their experiences and views are.

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A recent catchup with fellow intercountry adoptees.

I’ve always been a deep thinker and I’ve been consumed by adoption literature and expanded my reading to understand what has contributed to my condition. AdoptionLand has been a valuable resource. Learning about world events and how different elements intersect, the world economics of adoption, how orphanages are built and run, human trafficking and how there is more demand than supply. I’m interested in systems outside my personal space and coming to understand the big picture. I often ask myself why things are the way they are, could it be any different, what has contributed to our abandonment and loss, who benefits from adoption, what groups get the money, why some countries have shut down and the ethics behind these decisions; it seems a self perpetuating cycle.

Our adult intercountry adoptee population worldwide is growing in numbers and hopefully we can someday have a collective voice whereby government will listen. But the battle is tough in America because we are up against Christian institutes who perpetuate the myths of adoption. They ignore our trauma beginnings and this results in further compounding of our troubles. I feel the solution is so simple – let’s try and help kids stay together with their biological families instead of taking children and placing them in new families in far away countries.

I want to bring understanding and awareness that adoption isn’t the rainbows and unicorns as typically presented by adoption agencies, religious institutes and governments. It has so many complexities, not just in each adoptee experience, but in how adoption is conducted globally. There’s a lot of suffering and loss and our voices are out there but not taken seriously and listened to by the powers who orchestrate our adoptions. If this were to change, it would benefit everyone. For example, health care costs could be reduced because we see a high proportion of adoptees in psychiatric wards, prisons, and suffering in mental health facilities. It needs to be acknowledged we are not blank slates when we arrive in our adoptive families – we go through an immense amount of trauma and there has to be a better way to support us.

People need to really question what is in the best interests of the child, listen to us who have lived it, and examine one’s motives to adopt. Hopefully we can make this world a better place for vulnerable children to grow up in.