Moving Forward from Yesteryear’s Intercountry Adoption Processes

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Life happens in steps. And for me, as an adult intercountry adoptee who is trying to make amends with my intercountry adoptee past with writing—my steps started fairly wobbly. But as one takes these steps, a magical thing happens. You begin to move forward.

I reached out to InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) in September, 2017. Lynelle Long, the founder, called me on a Sunday and we had a phone conversation. My first adoption story was published on ICAV’s website by the end of that month. This started the ball rolling. As a 32-year-old Filipino adoptee, I was ready to voice my hardships from my intercountry adoption process in the mid 80’s. Next, another adoption story of mine was published with Overcoming Odds, another adoptee led website. After that, I took another step forward with ICAV as more ideas were beginning to rise from this online activism.

“Stephanie, just wondering if you’re interested in taking on a role within ICAV?” Lynelle had asked me on Facebook in early November 2017, “Seems like you’re keen to channel your energies in some way and I’d like to help facilitate that.”

“I really would,” I wrote, “I’ve been thinking all this time of what I could do. I have ideas to write. Or share articles. Maybe write news articles. Or even regular blog posts?”

The collaboration sparked. My blog posts about my adoptee life and experience started being featured on ICAV’s website the week I became a representative within the network.

Next, Facebook became a nexus for connecting with ICAV members.

To my surprise, over 600 members exist in ICAV’s closed Facebook group, many are the leaders of intercountry adoptee led groups from around the world. One day, I felt the need to connect with these other members personally. I took another step shyly sending friend requests to ICAV members. From this moment on, my quiet life in this small, mountain town where I live in Northern Arizona, blossomed overnight. I was forming new connections and it was like opening a window to let light into a once dark house.

On 13 January 2018, Lynelle posted a very critical question in ICAV’s Facebook group which rang with its own thunder. By January 17th, this post already had about 20 different comments from over twenty different adult adoptees from around the world.

“If we lived in an ideal world, given your adoption experience is as it is, what would you need to be at peace with it all?” Lynelle asked in the post, “I’m looking for you to name what you would need if it were possible, to solve the inner turmoil that being adopted creates.”

So many responses hit home for me.

Christine posted: “Truth and answers. I have seen so many documents with errors/falsified (some were purposeful, others were done by human error); however, it has caused me to question details of my adoption story. Other details received from one person to another have changed when asked at different times… Having doubt that what I thought all along was “my” story may not be true is difficult.”

I could relate to this comment since from my reunion with my birth mother in the Philippines in 2012, I learned that my birth mother had lied on my biological papers about my father. She lied about his name and chose to not reveal any information on him. That, and in the reunion, she had also stated a different birth day other than what it said on my papers too.

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Another post really hit the nail on the head.

Chaitra posted with a critical list:
1. Knowing the truth about the circumstances that led to my adoption.
2. Meeting and having a relationship with my birth family.
3. Being fully immersed in Indian culture as a child so that I would have had knowledge of food, language, holidays, traditions, etc. as well as racial mirrors.
4. Having adoptive parents who openly communicated with me about adoption and race.
I had none of these things.

This post had the most likes. When I read this, I was amazed how this list summed up much of the intercountry adoption issues I experienced too. As a Filipino adoptee, I wasn’t given any of these things. No information on my past. No access to my birth family. No access to my birth culture and heritage. No communication about my adoption and race. Everything was left in the dark and I lost so much as an adult because of my lack of access.

One other powerful list was posted by Abby who wrote:
“1. Absolute truth for ALL adoptees.
2. Justice served to ALL gov’t officials, “orphanages,” adoption lawyers – past and present, involved in intercountry adoption who worked to separate mothers and their children and erase the identities of those children instead of working to preserve families.
3. Intercountry adoption to cease completely.
4. Intense focus and attention paid to educating women and girls and family preservation.
5. The ability to speak perfect Colombian Spanish.
6. Total disclosure on who my father is.

I saw a familiar theme from this comment that I’ve recognized in many other intercountry adoptee stories. That many adoptees today feel they should have the complete rights and ownership to their information including birth history and circumstances. I personally hesitate on the idea of intercountry adoption to cease completely since I know of successful experiences. However, I agree that the government is detrimentally erasing the identities of vulnerable children with the way past administration has been coordinating our biological records.

Sunny posted a very comprehensive statement that also caught my attention. She said:
I would need to know that the shift in adoption has moved from parent-centric checklists to truly working in the best interest of the child. If I could help just one potential transracial adoptive parent reconsider their decision to adopt, that would satisfy me. It would be comforting if I knew that transracial families incorporated the lifelong racial competence needed to raise a child of a different race. As soon as I hear them admit that the work required to raise a transracial child is lifelong, I will be happy.”

I related to Sunny’s comment because I myself experienced an impersonalized intercountry adoption process, which had a lack of post-adoption support, a lack of resources to help me adjust in a non-diverse town, and a lack of needed social infrastructure to protect me with items like adoptee rights. I can verify that I feel this process was not working in the best interest of myself, or my older adopted brother who was also from the Philippines.

Kimberly wrote another significant post as well which said:
“I would like non-adoptees to know what adoption means, not what it is but definition. So many people breeze past the what it means to be in State care, to be parentless for any period of time as a baby, and then take in to a stranger’s home to be their child.”

This was comment was very important because those items that Kimberly mentioned include the critical realities of adoption that need to be assessed with each child today too.

Finally, I scrolled down and let out a chuckle with Dominic’s post:
“Just to know I have relatives. Surely they couldn’t have all perished in the Vietnam wars!”

As that’s what it’s like on an adult adoptee looking back on their own erased past.

In the midst of this discussion, I had gotten inspired from reading so many adult adoptee voices from around the world defining ways to solve the issues they’d experienced.

I can relate to all of these answers,” I wrote, “It’s amazing to see the feedback coming from each one of us. This all seems like the making of a new manifesto or charter, guidelines that should be brought about now. All of this could bring about awareness and improvements in government policies, adoption regulations and adoption organizations.”

I never thought I’d be commenting or bringing about ideas of making new guidelines and improvements in today’s adoption regulations. I never thought I’d be structuring an article from this discussion that contains so many adult intercountry adoptee voices rising all at once.

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Step after step, I am starting to believe that we can move on from this dark past together. With the advent of Facebook and social media, we can start collaborating. We can support each other now and mend our issues with new solutions. Even as our past may lie frozen in the wastelands of old policies and administrative issues that need revising. Step by step, we can heal and move on from what happened in our intercountry adoptee experience of long ago.

I believe it. And I think, so does ICAV’s International Representative, Jayme Hansen a South Korean adoptee raised in the USA residing in Germany, who shared this:

“I wish I could erase the pains of this world but alas, we cannot. We can only go forward from where we are today.”