I was born in Cebu City, Philippines, in 1985 with the name Desiree Maru. I was relinquished on the day of my birth due to poverty and I stayed in my birth city at an orphanage, Asilo de la Milagrosa, for two years. In 1987, I was adopted through Holt International and flown to Wisconsin, in the United States, to parents I had never met before. They had also adopted an older brother from the Philippines, who was not biologically related to me. This was my beginnings in a new family and I was given a new adopted name, Stephanie Flood.
I grew up in a small Midwestern town in Wisconsin until I was 15. Then we moved to Phoenix, Arizona where I started high school. I later moved two hours north to Flagstaff in 2006 and completed degrees in Journalism, Creative Writing and Library and Information Science. I am currently working as a library media assistant in an elementary school on the Navajo Reservation.
At the beginning when I was adopted, I recall adjusting as best as I could. I was always aware of being adopted. What was most difficult for me was my adoptive brother who showed a lot of signs of trauma that wasn’t understood or treated properly. As he got older, the aggression he displayed impacted our family dynamics. My adoptive mother was at times harsh to the point of physically abusive to me. My adoptive dad was aloof and worked a lot. I use to try and write poetry to him to reach out but some days he wouldn’t even look at me. He would sometimes push around my brother and yell at him at night. I would lock myself away in my room and I struggled to keep my life appearing normal until I was able to leave home altogether at age 18.
During my mid-to-late twenties, I acted upon my ongoing and fervent desire to find my birth mother. I reached out to Holt International who had facilitated my adoption. They corresponded with emails and were able to track down my orphanage and find my birth files which contained an old address of my mother. Social workers from Asilo de la Milagrosa visited the address and found her. My birth mother was asked if she wanted a reunion and she agreed.
It took almost a year to plan for the reunion and in February 2012, I embarked on what was my first trip back to the Philippines. It was also the first time to be back in Cebu and the orphanage that sheltered me, and to meet my birth mother and half brother.
I didn’t have much support except a friend who came with me, a Korean adoptee, with whom I shared much in common. We met at a Buddhist retreat centre in California in 2011 and he had encouraged me and ignited my childhood longing to find my mother. I had hoped finding her might give me a sense of closure or completeness. My adoptive mother knew I was going but she seemed to resent the idea of my reunion and I wasn’t speaking with my adoptive father.
When I met my birth mother in the office in Asilo de la Milagrosa, I was very nervous and quickly became overwhelmed. The situation was extremely difficult. She started telling me a lot of hard information about my conception – that I’d been the product of rape, that I was the only one of five siblings whom she’d given up for adoption, and that my birth father was insane and still trying to kidnap her children. She was crying a lot and really emotional. She said she still loved me.
I also met my half brother who was much younger than me and I felt an emptiness because I didn’t look like either of them. I also had questions in the back of my mind as to whether they were the right people as there was a discrepancy about my birth date but I couldn’t ask because I was too overwhelmed. At the end of our meeting, she invited me to come with her and my half brother to meet the rest of the family, but I couldn’t take this on at the time. They felt like total strangers to me. I returned to the United States and I focused on completing my studies. I wrote letters to them in English but I never received a response. My half brother found me on Facebook and I saw that he posted a picture of our reunion but whenever I sent him a message, he didn’t respond either.
Since my reunion, I’ve had ongoing difficulties with my adoptive family. My older adopted brother had been distant with me since my late teens and he began to show self-destructive behaviour during my twenties. He disappeared from the family in 2012 after my reunion; he had a child, showed more signs of mental instability and became a completely different person. I found all the complex dynamics difficult to navigate. I tried for many years to have a healthy relationship with my adoptive family but emotionally it was tough because of the disappointment I felt from not being supported or understood. I continuously felt sad, my feelings and Filipino ethnicity never fully validated, my reunion and the issues for my adopted brother both lacked acknowledgement within my adoptive family. I was slowly becoming aware of the affect this ongoing sense of disconnect was having on me.
After a while, I realised I had to confront how I felt about my relinquishment and adoption. I needed to take charge of who I was as an adult and what I needed for my own health, wellbeing and state of mind. It had been emotionally damaging to stay personally connected to my adoptive family and I ended up doing EMDR therapy and this has been a huge step forward. I also started learning Latin American styles of dancing which has been liberating and rejuvenating.
Today, I feel I can balance my life. I have an inspiring job working with children, I’m studying my second Masters, I’ve gotten some art and stories published and I feel more whole. I’ve established a safe distance with my adoptive family – although the main communication I ever had with my adoptive family had really only been with my adoptive mother. I had maintained contact with her since my early twenties mostly via phone calls and later emails, but now I have let go of wanting to be close with her. EMDR therapy has helped me balance my two needs: of wanting and needing a family versus realising it emotionally hurts pretending everything’s fine and trying to please them.
I recently told a friend that I feel orphaned all over again. There is no choice but to be alone and face these difficult issues by myself and try to find strength in my solitude. The only choice I see is that as an adoptee, I have had to choose myself and take care of myself because nobody else really can. I have to rely on myself because when I lived under the roof of my adoptive parents, there was too much turmoil; I was not emotionally supported, I was not protected and it was an undiagnosed mess.
When I look back at how I’ve survived, I realise I had only myself to rely on. I would sit alone in my room crying and push myself to get up. I encouraged myself and that’s how I started writing in my journals. Writing became my way to keep myself in check, to not fall into despair, to have an outlet to express the confusion I felt. That is the resilience I developed which keeps my life balanced today. I grew into a fighter, working hard at what I believe in everyday.
I long for a place where I can just relax, heal, and feel real joy. It’s been such an uphill battle. Trying to heal, find myself and understand who I want to be, find a career path; it’s taken me longer than others but at last, in my early 30s, I feel like I’m finally budding.
Adoption seems to be a very bureaucratic process. I look at the Philippines and see the street children crisis. Orphan issues around the world are increasing because more people are being dislocated by war, disasters and socio-economic crises. It’s disconcerting because I was one of those orphans. After recognising the heartache I’ve experienced as a result from being dislocated, I can only imagine the impact on the world when this is multiplied en masse.
I was the product of rape, taken away from my natural heritage and family because my birth mother was trying to protect me from a psychotic biological father who was abusive and poor. My mother couldn’t afford to support her other children and she was making unwise decisions with all the men who had fathered her children. I believe her story and I’ve become a more compassionate and thoughtful person for hearing it. I want to become more of an activist. What I observe is that we lack the education about adoption, i.e., the laws of adoption and its impacts. I’ve considered writing articles to raise awareness of orphan and adoption issues.
I feel I need to straighten out my life before I can consider another phase with my birth family. Overall, my experience has been challenging and complicated. This struggle is helping me redefine myself and understand the larger picture of our human trials. I’m still finding my way in this world and finding better ways to express myself.
My life has been one huge rollercoaster of a journey since I was born. But despite the hardships, I still believe in the good in all of us and that I can make it if I try.
You can follow my creative writings and media at my website www.smflood.weebly.com.