Imaginary Mothers is a feature-length documentary about four mothers from Costa Rica: Crescencia Maria Castro Chaves, Helen Xiomara Barrantes Mora, Xinia Sancho Viquez and Doris Benavides Morales. These women’s lives have been forever changed by adoption. They bravely reveal the heart-breaking impact that losing their children has had on their lives and as they fight to be reconnected with their children, they also struggle against the myths about young single mothers in Latin America.
The director of Imaginary Mothers, Jacqueline, is an intercountry adoptee from Costa Rica and she tells the story of her mother, Angela Arias, who never gave up hope to see her again. In making this film, Jacqueline learns about her Costa Rican family’s grief over her disappearance and their longing to understand the true circumstances around the adoption.
This film brings to light the circumstances surrounding intercountry adoption in Latin America during the 80’s and 90’s, and the many warning signs that were ignored about corruption in intercountry adoption.
This film is not just about women in Costa Rica, but also about women all over the world who have lost their children through adoption. The mothers in this film speak out for recognition for the wrongs committed against them and their children. This is the first time these women tell their story and, in doing so, they reveal a universal truth about the need for redemption and validation for mothers in this situation. Together, these women find a voice in the film to tell their stories and encourage social and political change.
Lynelle’s Thoughts after Viewing:
What an amazingly emotional journey Jacqueline has been on! I can only imagine how hard it has been to experience the heartbreak of the mothers of Costa Rica. My soul hurt for their situations; so alone with no-one to empower them or even let them know of their rights, let alone options or support. What saddened me was to see how they are still treated. They are downtrodden enough from the past, and it is awful when they turn up wanting to know information about their child and are denied. This made me, as a child separated at birth, wonder how my dear mother is coping. Was she also in situations like these mothers? It was a real eye opener to understand she probably doesn’t have the resources to find me and that the structures in her society probably block the way, even if she wanted to find me.
I especially loved the artistry in how this documentary is presented. Unique and an artful representation of the mothers.
I recommend watching this documentary to anyone who is interested in hearing the experiences of mothers in intercountry adoption situations, like Costa Rica, and the realities they face, past and present.
Well done Jacqueline! You have made an outstanding contribution to helping people better understand intercountry adoption – the inequities, the injustices, the structures that reinforce to mothers that they often have little choice. You captured well their grief, anger, despair, hopelessness for they have had no-one to speak up for them until now. This documentary is their light, their hope!
I really hope this documentary about the Costa Rican mothers opens up the hearts of people around the world, to become motivated to help put an end to the injustices that mothers like this face. Jacqueline is an amazing trailblazer for this is the first I’ve seen that gives voice to the mothers of Costa Rica. Jacqueline has done a wonderful job to expose and give voice to what is really going on for these mothers.
Are you a maid, au pair or prostitute? I have heard all this through my childhood and professional career in Norway.
A Norwegian chronicle by May Martinsen, CEO of IRMI Group. Written in collaboration with the Norwegian Adoptionforum organisation and translated from the original article published in Norwegian newspapers.
I started writing this text nine years ago, but it was filed and stored because I didn’t dare stand up. Have we managed to break the code and have a country without racism?
According to Norwegian People’s Aid, job seekers with foreign names have a 25 percent less chance of being interviewed, and 43 percent of immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America were overqualified in the positions they worked (2012). In Norway, we have section 185 of the Criminal Code, also known as the racism section, but it may seem that we have not been able to solve the challenge.
It is often talked about that Norway and Norwegians are so friendly and inclusive and that there is hardly any racism in this country. But the concept of racism also encompasses attitudes and discrimination that impose on people traits based on race, religion and culture. I was born in Korea and adopted by ethnic Norwegian parents from the West Coast. I would say we were mutually fortunate; they were resourceful parents who wanted a child, and I was a child who needed parents. You’d think I was Norwegian. But society and individuals have often reminded me that I am not.
I recently met another resourceful lady with a Chinese background, but she is Norwegian like me. She wrote a post in Drammens Tidende on April 5, 2016 about what it is like to be an entrepreneur and a woman with an immigrant background who faces the daily racism in Norway. Although I was adopted by Norwegians, held leadership positions for 15 years, I have also not been able to escape racism.
The Visible Racism
I grew up in a village where almost everyone was ethnically Norwegian. Because of this, I had rough parts in my childhood. My parents probably also experienced racism early on. They told me about an episode where I, as a young child, cried on a flight. One of the passengers had told them that “people like her” belongs to Emma Hjort, that is a home for mentally disabled children.
As a child, I had to get used to getting comments like negro pussy, negro whore, fucking yellow geek, etc. Children make pranks and strikes, and it belongs to everyone’s childhood. But if something went wrong, the blame was put “on the yellow one”. I got grounded and more often blamed than what is deserved. It did something to me as a little kid. And I was never a whistleblower. I chose to “suffer in silence”.
I learned early on to acquire the attitudes “if you are going to accomplish something in life, then you must ‘fight twice as hard’ and ‘it’s never about how you feel, but how you take it’.” Instead of getting sad and bitter, I focused on finding a solution for a better everyday life.
My solution was to become a Tomboy with a touch of humour.
But it never stopped entirely. The worst episode was at a church service and we were confirmants. Before the service, several people forced me into the school toilet. They put my head down in the toilet bowl saying, “If you are to be confirmed, you must be baptised first” as they soaked my head with toilet water. I arrived at the church sticky, and some shouted, “I think yellow sewage smells in here!” The statement was followed by scornful laughter from the whole rural school. This was the day I felt I had two choices: to commit suicide by cutting up my artery or drowning; choice number two was to stay focused on the school and think about getting away from the village. I chose the latter.
According to school surveys conducted by the Olweus Group, over 40 percent of those who have been bullied have thought about suicide.
The Youth Data Survey February 2017 says that 10 percent of 16-year-olds have tried to kill themselves. Some, unfortunately, “succeed” with it, so bullying and racism, combined with isolation, have fatal consequences for many young people.
For me, a major turning point came when one of the leading bullies, after many years, apologised to me and acknowledged to their parents and me what I had been exposed to as a child. Not everyone gets the opportunity to forgive as I did.
The Silent Racism
In the book Plausible Prejudice by anthropologist Marianne Gullestad, she writes about invisible racism – the discrimination we do not notice because it is based on beliefs that many people think are perfectly normal. Many seem to think that identity is something to do with descent.
I was of the belief that society was improving. But in adulthood came a new lesson – I have chosen to call it “the silent racism”.
I had given birth to my second child and was rolling around my little blonde daughter when people on the street stopped me and asked, “Whose child are you looking after? Where are you a maid?” Men would frequently approach and asked how much I cost for one night. I have always had a classic and conservative style, so I was surprised. I quickly learned not to get too offended and accept that this society is “just like that”. It is again about attitudes, ignorance and stigma.
As an Asian-looking woman in Norway, I have the impression of being seen as an international commodity: A maid, au pair or a prostitute. When it was tempting to get angry, I let it be. When the “offers” have appeared, I have used humour and responded with a clear West/Midcoast dialect and a smile saying, “Sorry – I’m way too expensive for you!“
Already in 2012, the United Nations expressed concern about rising digital racism. Our children are now learning about online web behaviour through school. But what about the adults?
On digital dating sites, people meet in search of possible boyfriends, girlfriends and future life partners. I know several people who have married, as a result of contact through digital platforms.
Although I have been skeptical of these arenas and thought it best to meet people in real life, I was curious about established and used dating sites while I was single in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, I then drowned in requests for prostitution and bedroom activities, both the visible and invisible explained that I was an Asian. I concluded early on that this arena was most suitable for ethnic Norwegians, and quickly signed out and terminated the account.
Has there been any positive development here in this area for the last 15-20 years, I wondered recently and established a profile to take the test. The conclusion is that fortunately it seems to have gotten somewhat better. But unfortunately it is not entirely gone.
Societal Development and Responsibility
After spending some years in Tokyo as a diplomat for Foreign Ministry, my husband and I moved home, and I started a new director job in Oslo in 2011.
On the first day of work, a colleague asks during a closed program with a guided tour, “Where are you from?” A logical question and the answer was simple: “I just arrived back from Tokyo, but grew up outside Namsos” (a local city in Norway). But the colleague gave me a look as if I should have fallen from the planet Mars: “That is not true!” I laughed before connecting that it was my ethnicity that suddenly came into focus. Given that I was the only woman in the management group and also had a different ethnic background, maybe it wasn’t strange? I politely replied that I was adopted from Korea by Norwegian parents.
The reaction was unforgettable. “No, it’s not called that. Such people as you, are not adopted. You are imported.” I couldn’t help but laugh, also because I didn’t believe my own ears. Had we really not come any further?
In a fiftieth birthday celebration, I was in a conversation with a senior director in a Norwegian directorate, who spoke about the challenges Norway is facing with all the Somalis. I became curious and had to ask more about what that person meant, explaining that I myself was adopted and had Norwegian parents. The answer was, “Oh, you’re from Asia. Yes, people such as you, are so hardworking and sweet.”
“People such as you“?
I thought I was Norwegian!
I travel a lot at work. Amongst all the airports I visit, OSL Gardermoen stands out. 9 out of 10 times, I and my luggage must be inspected. It’s called “random control.” An interesting observation is that this happens all the time, whereas it rarely happens in other European cities when I arrive. I have done sports of it, so when I am with others in the traveling party I tend to say: Keep track of what’s happening in security checks now.
I will not claim that these everyday episodes are racism, but they are my observations. Two weeks ago they tried to be expel me from the EU / EEA queue in passport control, citing that I was Japanese. When I showed my Norwegian passport with a smile, the person who had approached was quite upset and embarrassed.
When it comes to immigration policy, integration and prevention of racism, do not forget the “invisible” Norwegians who are adopted or born in Norway. My daughters have an ethnic Norwegian father and are born in Norway. New generations, young promising adults, will not have to find themselves in comments, prejudices and discrimination. As a mother, I can teach my own children to include and care for, and strike hard when others are subjected to bullying or racism. But we can never manage the battle alone.
We need to increase knowledge and clarify the responsibility we all have for helping to change attitudes. Do not let those who are exposed suffer in silence. The work must be rooted in the politicians and the state as part of an important social responsibility. It is a disappointment that we have not been able to improve any further.
I am Maria Heckinger and at age 66, I am one of the older adoptees posting on this site. I am honoured to be asked by Lynelle to share a couple of stories unique to my adoption.
First, a little history about the Greek adoptions. It was the early 1950’s and WWII had taken a huge toll on Europe, leaving no country unscathed. During the war, Greece was occupied by armies from three countries; Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria. The Nazi Occupation was followed by a protracted Civil War, which left the Greek economy and infrastructure in ruins. Mass adoptions from Greece to the United States started as early as 1950. Then, in a humanitarian gesture, the United States passed more broadly conceived refugee relief legislation in 1953, allowing the immigration of European refugees and foreign adoptions to proceed. It is a little-known fact that Greece was the first nation in modern times to open its borders and allow intercountry adoptions. And proceed they did, in remarkably large numbers.
1984, I was 30 and back in Greece for the first time since my 1956 adoption. While
on that trip I found the orphanage where I spent my earliest years. Overlooking
the coastal city of Patras, it was a massive building. Sitting in the
director’s office, I did not expect to find such detailed records—or the
director’s willingness to show them to me. All the notes, religious charms, and
legal or informal documents left with babies were saved and were kept in big
ledgers. When the director showed me the note written by my mother, and the declaration
she filed at the local City Hall asking the orphanage to take over my care, I
was left stunned. After the tour, I returned to Patras and, within two days, I found
my birthmother, Hariklea Voukelatos. At 30 years of age, my life changed in an
instant. I spent a joyous week with Hariklea and my half-sister, Katina. It was
the beginning of a 36-year relationship that led to meeting uncles, aunts, and
cousins. My elation at finding my birth family was tempered, however, by
anxious thoughts of how to tell Ellen Pace, the only mother I knew and loved.
I was happy my story had touched people so profoundly, but there was one person I worried about telling, Mom. Dad had passed away the year before, and she was alone after 43 years of marriage. I did not want to add to her pain. Having to tell Ellen about finding Hariklea was a scenario I never dreamed I would face. Ellen had wanted a child so badly I didn’t want her to think I was ungrateful, disloyal, or she was losing me to my real Mom. Ellen was the most selfless person I knew, and I loved her more than anyone in the world. She had adopted and loved me unconditionally, and I would take this secret to my grave rather than hurt her.
With my San Diego plans complete,
the only thing left was to put my photographs into an album. Unlike Mom, who
was motivated by love when she selected my album years before, my motivation
was fear as I chose one with easily removable pages. I was still undecided on
what to tell Mom, so it gave me options. Upon arrival, I picked up my car and
headed to Mom’s home in San Diego’s backcountry. The baseball-sized knot in my
stomach was a constant reminder of what lay ahead. I tried to ease my
apprehension with thoughts of how receptive Mom had been about adoption – not
just mine, but my three siblings as well. She had spent countless hours making
scrapbooks filled with their adoption artifacts too. Richard Jr. and Deirdre’s
albums even included their mother’s name. In the past month, I had found a
mother and a sister, discoveries I was still processing. I was excited to know
my new family, but I wanted to protect the one I had. It was a delicate balance
I struggled to maintain. My fears of hurting Mom took on a life of their own
and nearly blinded me from believing she could accept such a truth. With her
house in sight, the knot in my stomach was now the size of a basketball. I
pulled off the road and gathered myself before I continued. Mom knew I was on
the way, so there was no turning back. With no guidebook on how to handle this
type of situation, I had only one choice. Face the music and trust the Mother
who loved and raised me. Pulling into her driveway, Mom came outside to greet
me, and I hugged her a little longer than usual. Her arms around me felt like
home; safe and familiar.
I was putting my luggage in the spare room when Mom came to the door and asked a question that stopped me cold. “So, did you meet any relatives while you were over there?” I busied myself with my suitcase, and after a long pause, I managed a weak, “Yes.” Her next question was the one I dreaded: “Who did you find?” My throat constricted and I could barely speak, so I deflected with a question of my own. “Mom, guess — the most unbelievable relative you can imagine?” “You found your mother, didn’t you?” I mumbled, “Yes.” “Oh my God, you found your mother? I want to hear all about it,” Mom proclaimed. Stunned, I stood there like a statue, unable to move or speak. The weeks of angst had been for naught, and my fear of hurting Ellen had consumed me unnecessarily. Mom’s questions made this more comfortable than I could have dreamed. Relaxing a bit, I wondered what had prompted her initial question. Had Mom suspected I was hiding something during our telephone conversations? Could she sense I was carrying an emotional burden? I knew it was now or never, so I went to the bedroom, grabbed the album, and set it on the kitchen table. I patted the chair next to me, invited Mom to sit, and began. The photos were invaluable as I led Mom through my two months in Greece. I moved through them at a deliberate pace, hoping we wouldn’t spend too much time on the pictures of Hariklea. As we neared the photographs of her, my fears returned, and I was overwhelmed by feelings of betrayal. I looked away and questioned my decision as Mom examined the woman who had given birth to “her” child. I hope Mom doesn’t think I look like Hariklea. Should I have included the photos with my arm around her? What about the pictures of Hariklea, Katina and me, arm in arm at the taverna? “She looks like a nice woman. What’s her name?” was all Mom asked. “Her name is Hariklea, and she is nice. The young woman is her daughter, Katina.” Mom was surprised Patras still had an orphanage with such good records, but she was bowled over when I described how we found Hariklea. I didn’t know much yet, but I shared what she had told me about her life. When I told Mom about my week in Hariklea’s home with Katina, she was happy for me and wanted details of our time together. Mom couldn’t imagine dining by the sea with your feet in the sand, but she laughed when I shared stories of Hariklea’s bossy personality. I concluded with a comment about her generosity but did not mention the soul-crushing guilt she still felt over losing me. Mom didn’t need to hear that. We finished looking at the album and enjoyed the meal she had prepared. After we washed the dishes, I went for a walk along the stream running by her house. I knew Mom needed some private time with her thoughts and the photo album. I was gone for a half-hour but returned to the back of the house so I could peek through a window and see if she was finished. There she was sitting at the table, hunched over the album and staring at the page. I knew which photos Mom was glued to, and I couldn’t imagine how she felt right now. Did she feel threatened by my birth mother? Was this the day Mom feared might come? Would she worry I loved her any less? I felt happy, sad, and vulnerable as I watched her study the photographs of Hariklea. Tears sprung from my eyes and ran down my cheeks as I quietly watched her. I wanted to give Mom all the time she needed, so I went for another walk. The second time around, I made a noisy entrance via the front door to announce my arrival.
 For more information on these early waves of international adoptions from Greece, see Van Steen, Gonda (2019). Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece: Kid pro quo? (U of Michigan Press), 77-78.
My father was admitted to hospital yesterday as he had tightness in his chest and pain across his shoulder radiating down to his shoulder blade. The first question he was asked was, “Is there any family history of heart disease?” He was able to say, “My father had a heart attack, my brother had a stent put in and my sister also has heart disease, so yes there is.” This was then able to inform the medial team assessing him that there was a high possibility that this was heart related and so they could act accordingly.
When I was diagnosed with hip dysplasia back in 2010 the first thing I got asked was, “Is there any family history?” This of course was not the first time I’ve been asked that question. I’ve been asked that question my whole my life when I’ve presented for menial whatever’s. I’m adopted … oh right … sometimes awkward silence …. and therefore I don’t know.
The first thing we did of course when we found out that I had hip dysplasia, was get my daughter tested and bingo – guess what ?! It’s genetic!! She had it too. I was pleased but also sad that I had passed this on to her. I was pleased that for the first time in my life my newly discovered diagnosis meant I could help her catch hers early enough for her to still need surgery but not as invasive as what I needed to have. And there is the case in point, from a medical perspective on why biology matters.
Biology doesn’t matter. But they say blood is thicker than water. Biology doesn’t matter. But more than 26 million people have taken a genetic ancestry test. Biology doesn’t matter. But you have your grandma’s eyes. Biology doesn’t matter. But I’m so happy you got your dad’s musical talent. Biology doesn’t matter. But most states in the USA seal original birth certificates. Permanently. Biology doesn’t matter. But DNA carries the genetic instructions for development, functioning, growth, and reproduction of all known organisms. Biology doesn’t matter. But 406 episodes of Forensic Files kept TV audiences enthralled using biological evidence to catch violent criminals. Biology doesn’t matter. But ‘Finding Your Roots’ is a primetime hit for public television in the USA. Biology doesn’t matter. But an estimated 8 million children have been born worldwide using IVF and other reproductive technologies. Biology doesn’t matter. But all I ever wanted was to know who my mother is. Biology doesn’t matter. But mothers and the children they lost to adoption are desperately searching for each other, all over the world. Biology doesn’t matter. But it does. It really, really does.
Một giọt máu đào hơn ao nước lã / A drop of blood is worth more than all the water in a pond.
In the house I grew up in, on the second floor, there was a formal dining room and then a hallway leading to a large bathroom, a sewing room, the master bedroom and lastly my bedroom. On the wall opposite the dining room there was plenty of space for my adoptive parents to hang framed black-and-white photos of distant relatives who stemmed from both their family trees. In order to go down the hallway to my bedroom, each day and night, I had to pass by this orderly array of photos. Sometimes I passed right by them, sometimes, usually when I knew I was alone, I would look deep into the subjects’ eyes, so much so, that I’d start to believe they were staring back at me.
It was at these times, and in so many other ways, that I wanted someone with facial features, hair colour and physical stature similar to mine to peer back at me and explain the strange dissonance in which I increasingly felt trapped. But no help was coming because I was beyond help in some odd excommunicative aspect. No matter how much I tried dampening my distinguishable appearance, it carried me right back to my peers who generally judged me to not be wholly compatible with their cliques. As far as my adoptive parents and immediate family were concerned, I was theirs, for all intents and purposes, but when it came to innocuous remarks about familial traits or good-natured physical comparisons between cousins I was set aside and ignored. It was as if they were letting me know that this was “family business that doesn’t concern you.”
When you don’t resemble the people you’re forced to swim with in the big pond of The World, then you lower your body temp and try to cope and always look for an escape.
This is the last in the ICAV Blogger Collaborative Series for Adoption Awareness Month 2019.
We hope you enjoyed these and all the posts shared during Adoption Awareness Month.
A massive THANK YOU to all the ICAV members who contributed to elevate our voices this November. They are:
Anonymous Joy Alessi Kristen Anderson J Aucayse Gabbie Beckley Cherish Bolton Kate Coghlan Jasmin Em Kelly Foston Marie Gardom Mark Hagland Jonas Haid Abby Hilty Tim Kim Juliette Lam Jesse Lassandro Less Lee Lynelle Long Sarah Märtensson Kev Minh Pika Pika Harley Place Hea Ryun Garza Bianca Salai Daniel Walsh Christina Williams Kim Yang Ai
At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share.
I am Pradeep Wasantha or Philippe Mignon. I was adopted when I was 4months old by a Belgian family. There are many things the world needs to know about the world of adoption. For example, know that if you have an adopted person in your entourage, she is not an alien. She may not have a name or be given a name that matches her but pointing her out with an ill fitting name, may hurt her deeply. You must also know that finding our bearings is sometimes very difficult. Which leads me to say that there is a lot to know and understand about adoptees.
Finding one’s place in society is all the more difficult for some adoptees because we must build an identity without having any reference – no basis. Sometimes our adoption papers are fake – no biological starting point.
It must be understood that we adoptees are very strong and fragile at the same time. Mainly because in our adopted country we are strangers (usually because of our skin colour) and if we return to our country of origin, we are also strangers because we don’t know the national language nor customs. In short, we are strangers wherever we go. So we cling and hold to what we can. Friends. The adoptive family. You.
Pradeep (Philippe Mignon) Founder of Empreintes Vivantes for Sri Lankan adoptees – Belgium
At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share.
I believe that the world needs to know that adoption occurs because society is broken and from this broken world comes the NEED for adoption. If only we could remove the need for adoption, we would fix a lot of the world’s problems.
The only way to stop adoption is to remove the NEED for adoption and address the causes such as help single mothers financially to be able to raise their child.
Some mothers are not well enough to raise their child and there are many more causes that create a need for adoption.
by Tim Kim
Families who come together through adoption deserve the same rights, privileges, and security as biological families including citizenship and nationality, which are the fundamental human rights of all individuals.
Citizenship is critical to economic stability, family preservation, and social legitimacy.
Legislation is needed to ensure that citizenship rights are equally applied to all children of American citizens.
Adoptees who join American families as children, grow up with American values and contribute to our nation’s communities in every way.
Equal citizenship rights will also strengthen our national values by empowering adoptees to fully participate in American democracy.
At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.
The biggest thing I want people to know this month is that I’m not anti-adoption. If it weren’t for adoption happening to me, I wouldn’t be living the life I am now. I can’t say it’s necessarily a better life, it’s just a different one than the other life I could be living had I not been adopted.
Non-adopted people don’t think of what their ‘other life’ could have been like because for them, their existence wasn’t founded on first family separation and the traumas associated with it — there’s not an ‘other life’ option that enters their minds. For me, it is always there.
So, when I say I’m not anti-adoption, that means that I understand why it exists. As someone who was directly affected by adoption, I know firsthand its impacts and I’m not afraid to speak about them – all of them.
During NAAM especially, I want the world to know that I’m not fighting against adoption, I am simply fighting to be heard and seen.
by Christina Williams
Everyone has a story: beautiful, terrifying, wonderful, heartbreaking, mysterious, coincidental, whatever.
Everyone deserves to feel a sense of belonging.
Everyone deserves to discover their own identity.
Unfortunately for some, the path of discovery leads to denial, rejection, abandonment, half-truths or hidden truths. Scars reveal themselves. Scars some of us didn’t know existed. We’ve been so busy building dreams and chasing sunsets, yet others have lived with a daily pain.
Fitting in, being misunderstood, different ones trying to do their best. Or not. It’s all part of the territory.
Has anyone inquired of you lately, ‘How are you going with it all?’ ‘Where do you see yourself in 20 years?’ ‘How will your story end?’
One thing I have learnt though, through the processing of life and daring to ask our big questions, is that everyone of us has the power to decide our own destiny. As the ever-optimist, I’m believing that each of us would finish well. Selah 🕊
There was an interesting post going around an adoptive family facebook group during National Adoption Awareness Month that I haven’t seen before. It got me inspired to share from the intercountry adoptee perspective what I would change IF we could.
The question was: “If you had the power to change any adoption laws, what would you change?” As you can imagine in an adoptive parent forum, many of the answers were adoptive and prospective parent centric. I did share a few of my initial thoughts, which unsurprisingly, in that group, not very popular. So let’s share my thoughts here as essentially this is the crux of what ICAV tries to do – we speak out to help policy makers and implementors think about what their processes and practices do to the child, the adoptees for whom it’s meant to be about. Some of the responses from ICAV members are incorporated as we did have quite an active discussion in our facebook group for adult intercountry adoptees.
If I could change adoption laws as an intercountry adoptee, in no particular order, I would:
make it illegal to traffic children via intercountry adoption and ensure a legal pathway for reparative & restorative justice — such as allowing us to return to our homeland and/or original family, if and when we desire;
make it illegal to rehome or return us;
make it illegal to change or falsify our original identity that includes DNA testing the relinquishing parents to confirm their parentage of us;
make it illegal to abuse us;
create a legal pathway to prosecute the agency for failing to adequately psychologically assess our parents to ensure no further harm is done via the adoptive family environment;
make it a legal requirement for all the actors who participate in the facilitation of adoption to provide lifelong post adoption supports that are free, equitable, and comprehensive, arising from a trauma informed model. It needs to be itemised what Post Adoption encompasses e.g., full search and reunion services, translation of documents, language courses, cultural activities, psychological counselling, return to homeland services, open access to our identity documents, etc.,
make it illegal to trick birth parents, to ensure they fully understand what relinquishment and adoption means;
make it illegal to adopt a child until it is proven beyond doubt that no immediate family, kin or local community can support and raise the child; this must include proof that the provision of a range of financial and social welfare supports have been offered;
create a legal pathway for orphanages, agencies, lawyers and judges to be prosecuted by birth families who are prevented access to their child, especially in situations where they change their minds;
create a legal pathway to prosecute countries who fail to give citizenship or deport intercountry adoptees; this includes removing these countries who accept or send deportees from any international convention;
make it illegal to separate twins;
centralise adoption, bring back full accountability of adoption to the State and remove the privatised model of intercountry adoption agencies to remove the conflict of interest and the blame shifting;
remove money and fees;
make it illegal for private lawyers to facilitate intercountry adoptions;
make expatriate adoptions go through the same process as intercountry adoptions in the adopting country rather than being able to by-pass the tougher requirements.
make all plenary adoptions illegal;
legalise a new form of care internationally that incorporates the concepts of simple adoption, kinship care, stewardship, permanent care, and guardianship models that provides for our care but not at our cost in identity and removal of connection to ALL kin;
create a law that allows adoptees the right to decline their adoptive parents as an adult if they wish;
create a pathway to ensure Dual citizenship for all intercountry adoptees that includes citizenship for our generational offspring, should they wish.
This is just a starting list for thinking about what laws would need creating or changing in order to protect the rights of adoptees! I haven’t even started to discuss what laws would be needed from our original family perspectives. It would be interesting to hear their perspective. One has to question the current bias of existing laws that are skewed and mainly protect the interests of the adopters instead of a balance between all three and prevent intermediaries taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of each of the triad members.
There will always be vulnerable children who need care but today’s existing Plenary adoption laws are archaic and outdated. We adoptees know from living the experience that there are many gaps and pitfalls in the current plenary adoption laws used in intercountry adoption today.
#3 ICAV Blogger Collaborative Series for Adoption Awareness Month 2019
Let’s say I’ve opened up and shared that intercountry adoption has put me in a place of living beside society and that I’m feeling my losses. If I open up to one family member in Sweden and one family member in my native Iran, both of them will say the same thing in response: “You should be grateful that you didn’t end up an orphan in Iran”. Implicitly all other alternatives would be worse so I don’t have the right to complain. I should stay quiet.
When discussing the alternatives to being adopted, people generally talk about prostitution, poverty, rejection from a cruel society where family is everything – basically zero prospects at all for a good life.
Would I have preferred that to the comfort of growing up in a free country and receiving an education, being able to travel? If that’s so bad, what other solution do I have?
Implicitly my Iranian relative would say that their country cannot change – that orphans will always be frowned upon and that sex outside of marriage, drug abuse or poverty are irredeemable. Implicitly my Swedish relative would believe that intercountry adoption is the best solution. There is an embedded colonialist viewpoint which only becomes visible if you reverse the reasoning: what would you think if a white, Swedish orphan was randomly sent to a strange country like Iran? When we have orphans in Sweden, what would we do with him or her? We would try WITH ALL OUR MEANS to find their relatives and place them there. If that didn’t work, we would put them in a safe home where there’s accountability and support for his or her trauma. We would make sure the child knows as much as possible about their birth family so that they can search for them at any point and always feel connected to them. This would be the alternative to adoption.
But as long as richer countries mine poorer countries for babies, using adoption as bargaining chips in diplomacy, there are no incentives for the poorer country to deal with its problems. The orphanages in my native country are still flooded. After the Islamic Revolution, Iran didn’t want to use us children as bargaining chips anymore and stopped letting the orphans go abroad. Nowadays, you need to be an Iranian citizen, you need to write over one third of your assets and you will be monitored with the baby for six months before the adoption gets finalised.
If you don’t think the Iranian way sounds like a more reasonable solution for orphans it’s probably because of the colonialist viewpoint, that western countries have to be a better option for EVERYBODY to grow up in. You probably think the stigma of being spotted at every class photo as an adoptee (italics), not knowing your native language or culture, getting questions about your background every single day and being subjected to racism from early childhood is a price everyone is willing to pay.
The most reasonable solution is, of course, what we would do to our “own” here in the West. I am aware this requires a movement in the poorer countries to create a shift. That’s why we need adoptee voices!
When I see this question – I feel it’s a classic sea-lioning trope i.e., a type of trolling or harassment which consists of pursuing people with persistent requests for evidence or repeated questions, while maintaining a pretence of civility and sincerity. It may take the form of “incessant, bad-faith invitations to engage in debate”.
This question and others like it puts the onus on adoptees to have the solutions and answers while declining to centre adoptee voices as integral to defining the issues.
I look to guardianship over adoption, care not erasure. Care of children in crisis doesn’t need to involve wide scale secrecy, severing of family bonds and complete removal from birth culture.
An emotional and financial burden of search lies on adoptees because of the secrecy. Birth families are often disempowered and actively discouraged from contact. And yet it seems that more adoptees are open to contact if it’s led by the birth families, when the fear of rejection is lessened. No government assisted systems are in place to offer genetic testing and support for reuniting and no pressure exists from adoptive or birth countries, or the Hague Convention to do so. Adoptees are forced to deal with complicated feelings about searching because of ongoing concealment of information in adoption which is especially the norm within intercountry adoption. Clandestine practices are entirely normalised within adoption where it would otherwise be unacceptable and illegal.
The public is fascinated with family secrets and reunion stories. Television, film and books on search and reunions are plentiful but never does anyone question the reason for such punishing anonymity and severing of all biological relationships. Never does anyone ask the adoptive parents why it’s a component of adoption or ask them to imagine what affect that would have on a person, or invite them to imagine how easy it would be to talk about those feelings with adoptive parents who convey fragility and fear around the topic.
The answer to this question could be an essay, thesis, or book in itself. I can’t do it justice here but I’m going to mention some initial thoughts because it is such a relevant question. Ultimately, this question asks:
Is adoption a solution and should we be doing it?
The underlying concept in adoption is that most people recognise humanity is not perfect, there exist children and families who struggle and need help, and most of us want to help vulnerable children but how we go about giving that help is really what we think about when we ask for alternatives to adoption. It is assumed that the legalised way of intercountry adoption must be a good thing because governments have agreed on it, they look like they have safeguards in place in the form of Conventions (The Hague Convention for Intercountry Adoption) and it’s been happening for decades. However, having lived the life of an intercountry adoptee and knowing thousands around the globe, my response to people who ask what alternatives to adoption is three-fold.
Firstly, I believe we should be doing more to prevent the need for intercountry adoption and many organisations are doing amazing work in this. We need people to spend the amounts of money from the adoption industry into preventative programs that focus on family and community preservation.
Secondly, when people ask what alternatives to adoption, I reply with asking whether they know who the top 10 sending countries are in the past 20 years. I then point out that China, South Korea and Russia are in the top 10 sending countries despite being first world nations with substantial GDPs. One has to ask why are they continuing to send their children abroad? And this includes America who is in the top 25 sending countries. Intercountry adoption is NOT about a lack of money and resources yet most people will not consider alternatives to adoption because it’s about their need for a child, having that child as “theirs” to keep forever, instead of focusing on what is best for the child. If we were interested in what is best for the child, we’d listen to adult intercountry’s adoptees who by and large, share about the difficulties of growing up between two lands. Adult intercountry adoptees say we need to do more to help keep children in their countries and address the lack of alternatives to adoption there.
This brings me to my third point. If we look to some of our first world countries who have great alternatives in place already, we know that alternatives exist and many of them work effectively.
Some examples: France uses Simple Adoption compared to the widely used Plenary Adoption. In Australia, some states use Guardianship/Stewardship, Kinship Care/Out-of-Home-Care, and Permanent Care/Foster Care models which have been operating for many years now. Sweden is rewriting their social infrastructure to ensure that children’s rights are central. A Swiss report that compared child protection systems internationally, provided 14 recommendations of what is necessary for “good practice”. A recent Quartz report lists the best countries in Europe who are currently providing amazing family welfare programs. This sort of social infrastructure is often missing from poverty stricken birth countries. Helping them develop family support systems would go a long way to prevent the need for ever having to consider adoption. There are also some experts in the field like Lori Carangelo whom we can turn to and understand what they consider as alternatives to adoption. More recently, a first-of-it’s-kind research has just been released by Karleen Gribble at Western Sydney University in which she surveyed impacted foster and adoptive people, asking what we preferred to plenary adoption. Her research has been given to the Australian government by AdoptChange, where you can access the whole report for free.
I believe asking about alternatives to adoption is one the most relevant questions we should be discussing in intercountry adoption. When this is properly discussed, it leads to the realisation that other solutions exist and that holding onto an outdated Plenary Adoption model is for no useful reason other than — because “we’ve been doing it like this for decades”. People don’t like change. Change costs money. Change requires a new mindset. We do know alternatives exist, we just don’t have the political will power to change the hugely profitable industry that has built up over decades to do what is right for the children and families involved.
Intercountry adoption is all too often portrayed as the ONLY saviour to a complex problem that gets simplified to marketing concepts such as “Orphanage vs Adoption” i.e., darkness vs light, death vs living. This portrayal is overly simplistic and to think of change, we need to move away from these all or nothing concepts.
Adoption in its current Plenary form should not be a solution today given we have alternative options and more importantly, ways to prevent the need for such an extreme solution. Plenary adoption should never be a first solution. If a community and family can no longer care for their children despite first being offered many preventative strategies, then Kinship Care, Simple adoption, Guardianship models do far better to protect the rights and interests of all involved. It’s time we discuss this question fully and to listen to those who live it from a broad range of experiences.
At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.
It is more than being torn from birth family. It is being torn from the every day culture. Spiritual and cultural norms are absent and there is no connection to ancestral knowledge. It is our DNA and it is denied when we cannot connect to our culture. Once adopted, you are labelled , always.
by Kelly Foston
Adoption is often about the parents living out their dreams. Some believe they are making the world a better place. Some believe they are making themselves better. Isn’t the desire to be a parent ultimately a selfish act? But how many non-adopted children are expected to be ‘grateful’ for the rest of their lives?
I think an adopted child has a double edged sword. They walk along that blade for the rest of their lives. On one side of that blade is the privilege of an alternate life path. On the other side is the disadvantage of missing their birth culture. As part of adoption month, I would like this to be acknowledged.