My adoptive aunt passed away two days ago and when the grief of this additional news struck, I took space to mourn, and while embracing more of life’s inexplicable changes, I discovered a new and unexpected change in my heart.
In this time, I’ve been home a lot, staying comfy and quiet in Aina Haina, not wanting to go out. I didn’t know this would happen or that my anger would ever subside. But I came to find myself able to forgive in the end, and let bygones be bygones.
I know when my heart changed.
It happened after I’d been doubling up on my therapy for weeks, and specifically, at the moment when I was sitting in a pew, at a new church a few Sundays ago. This is when it happened.
It was probably the most hilarious and beautiful Sunday mass I’d ever been too, in this chapel, with glass windows that reached this vaulted ceiling, overlooking the ocean, on the beach. This guy came in with beach trunks, and no shirt, and every time the musical accompaniment played, he’d stand up and read really loudly out of the bible without being prompted to do this. My seriousness broke into a giddy smile watching this. I started taking photos of him on my phone like a tourist, and that’s when I just felt better.
Understanding dawned on me. Life. Love. Heartbreak. Dissapointment. Loss. Hope. Resiliency. Ke Akua. God. People. Acceptance. This story of my life, where I never got my family, I was never born with culture. But I always knew the values of the world we live in today. Why values are the only thing that keeps us all alive. And I talked to my therapist after that and I told her, I was ready now.
Ready to forgive it all.
It’s Sunday evening. I’m ready for tomorrow too.
I spent all day today reading student poetry and replying to their writings. Outside, it is dark. I can hear the cars passing by my window. And inside me, I feel okay with my adoptee relations and all that’s happened. Inside, I don’t hold resentment.
After reviewing my students’ poetry, I visited a favorite beach of mine and took a photo of the water. After that, I went and got some poké at a nearby food store. I snacked on the poké at the side of my house, overlooking the water as the sun was setting. My kitty was next to the window beside me, watching me through the screen.
For a while, I’ve been questioning what what kind of genre my life is. I used to believe my life was a dark dystopian horror where I was a victim to unfortunate events. That my life was littered with raw, dark situations and characters. It was just today, where I realized, my life is not a horror genre! It’s in fact, been a coming of age story all along.
In the end, I live a quiet life on Oahu. I live humble, alone on my own, in a quiet side of the island. I have my kitty and I’m spending my summer teaching students how to write, watching movies at home, visiting a few of my favorite places each week. I started a new Instagram that I hope might make some new connections.
Even though I get bored at times, I know that the worst is over.
I’m happy to not be in love. I’ve been living my dream of living next to the ocean. I’m reaching a newfound conclusion with life and how my adoptive relations all turned out. I don’t feel the need to block anyone anymore, and these days. I am ready to be authentic and have healthy relations universally, with the boundaries from my commitment to healing and overcoming everyday. And I’m ready to learn more about native cultures and Hawaii, and teach today’s multicultural youth on how to be their own voice in this world.
Now , these days, I’m mostly just wanting to have my own home where it’s affordable to live.
by Roxas-Chua, adopted from the Philippines to the USA; author, artist.
For many adopted people adoption is traumatic. I’m not as linear in my story-sharing because I can’t stay very long in breathing that atmosphere. I choose writing, calligraphy, and art to work on my story. Because I didn’t have a good birth, I’d like the chance to have a good death. I’m on a path rebuilding from severed shapes and invisible pieces. It’s a path where you build from your own found illuminations. It’s a place where I am an infant, a boy, and a man happening all at the same time. Writing and making art are not easy although it make look like it is. Here are truths told in two abstractions, two bruises when my senses project a location of pain inside the body. There’s no need to challenge the stories of adopted or infant-abandoned people when it doesn’t fit feel-good narratives of society and media. I ask that you listen, see, and sit with me when I open my body to you.
by Gabriela Paulsen, adopted from Romania to Denmark.
EMDR Therapy Changed My Life!
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for me, involved the therapist moving 2 fingers in front of my head so the eyes are moving side to side, while I was thinking about a trauma event. The stimuli can also be something I hold in my hand which is vibrating or it can be tapping done by the therapist. The eye movements help the brain to take up the trauma and reprocess it again, so it does not disturb me in daily life. During the eye movements, I sometimes had different reactions such as crying or maybe some body sensations like getting hot or fast breathing because my body experiences the trauma event again. There can many kind of different reactions and the tricky part is that I had no idea how I would react until I tried it!
In my case, I wanted to work with a trauma I had from my time in Romania as an orphan, I think it was from the orphanage, but I am not completely sure as it could also be a memory from my time in hospital.
My trauma was a memory I only got when I was sleeping and when the trauma was about to occur it felt like I might pass out and loose control. In that moment I knew that I would relive the trauma event again. I experienced the nightmare quite often as a teenager. The last time it happened, was around 10 years ago, just before I turned 17-18 years old. The trauma event felt extremely real. I was very scared and after I woke up, I was completely paralysed with fear. I had always thought this was something real, so when my therapist recommended EMDR therapy for me, I said yes and we started to work with this trauma. I only have my nightmare to work from, so it was not much. I had absolutely no idea whether I would react or not and it was actually quite difficult to think about such an old memory during the eye movements!
Session 1 On my first session of EMDR, it took a while before I started to react. I started to sit as if paralysed, I could only look straight forward and talked more slowly because it felt like I was put into a hypnotic state of mind. I then started to remember more of the trauma and I starting to breath faster even though it felt like I was holding my breath. My body was definitely starting to prepare for the trauma event memories and I felt very alert.
After that session, my brain continued to work with the trauma, which is expected. I could feel it because I was very alert, I was scared of being in a dark room and of some gloves I had because they are a symbol of a hand. During a work day, there was a potentially dangerous situation of a woman who was very threatening towards one of my colleagues, who reacted with aggression. I got extremely tense because of that and I was breathing like hell because I was ready to fight. It was a huge and shocking reaction I had and I couldn’t talk properly because of my breathing, so I had to take 5 minutes break to calm myself.
Session 2 I had problems getting my mind to go back into the trauma so my therapist and I had a short break from the eye movements to relax and help me get back into it. After a while I started to react with the paralysed / hypnotic state of mind and quick breathing but within myself, it felt silent and it appears like I am not breathing. After a while, I wanted to move my arm but directly afterwards I regretted this because I immediately felt like I did something wrong. Later, I started to remember more, it was like a part of me was revisiting the traumatic event. It was very interesting to explore because I got new information about my trauma. After going deeper and deeper into the trauma my breathing got faster and faster and suddenly I felt like I was about to break down into tears. I continued for a few minutes more and then I stopped doing the eye movements because I got very sad, I was crying and then my breathing was changing to be very big and deep, from within my stomach. I could feel my bones in my back so much from the heavy breathing. During this, I experienced the most insane feelings inside of me whilst my tears were running freely.
I didn’t understand at the time what happened because my brain was in the present and yet my body was reliving the trauma I had experienced. It was very hard to feel the trauma again. I thought that I must have looked like a person getting raped or tortured. It was a completely insane experience and afterwards I felt very confused about what happened and I asked my therapist to explain it to me.
Afterwards, I was extremely tired and my whole body felt very heavy. My muscles in my arms felt like they had lifted something way too heavy! I was also very alert and the rest of the day and the next 3-4 days, I was in this stressful state of mind. I would feel suddenly deep sorrow and tiredness several times a day without knowing why. It was literally like something was hurting inside me several times a day and like something wanted to come out of my body but I was with family, so I worked very hard to not break down and at the same time, I felt like I couldn’t get the emotions out either. It was very confusing. I also started to not like high noises and I felt scared if there where many people too close around me, like when I was on public transport. I usually do not have such problems. I was still scared of darkness and sometimes I got scared without knowing why. One of the times I was scared I was thinking about the woman who had caused my trauma.
Session 3 After 3 weeks, I was going to do EMDR again and I was very nervous and exciting about what would happened. The night before therapy I had a very short nightmare again which had not happened for around 10 years! This time, it was like I was further in the trauma event as compared to in the past, I had only ever dreamed as if I was at the beginning. In the nightmare some people were about to do something that I definitely didn’t like and I was thinking “stop”, so the nightmare ended extremely short. It felt like a few seconds but it was enough for me to feel again how I actually felt during the trauma event from years past. The next day, I was very stressed and actually scared.
During EMDR therapy session after this, I felt like my eyes were working against me, not wanting to participate. So I talked with my therapist about how I had completely closed down because of the nightmare. I didn’t have huge reactions during that session nor the next 2 sessions. In the last EMDR session, I could nearly get the image of the trauma event in my mind and I no longer felt scared – it was as if the trauma no longer affected me as powerfully as before. Between the sessions, I have felt very bad mentally but one day, it was like gone completely and I felt much happier, more relaxed and not as chronically tense. I also stopped having problems sleeping in a dark room – in the past, a completely dark room signalled that the re-lived trauma would occur.
In the past and prior to doing EMDR therapy, I would get anxiety from the outside getting dark, or having many people around me and high noises. Now all of these things are no longer a problem so I feel like I can go on living as myself once again. My friends have also told me that I seem more relaxed and most importantly, I feel a huge difference in my life!
I can highly recommend EMDR therapy for adoptees especially when it comes to trauma that the body remembers. I feel like I have healed my body and let out a terrible experience. Before EMDR therapy, I didn’t understand that my body was reliving such huge trauma all the time and how much it was impacting me.
We still have a long way to go to reach the wider public and educate them about the inherent trauma and losses in relinquishment and adoption. To assist with this, I’m trying to connect into spaces that are not adoption specific and share our message.
I recently sent our Video for Professionals to an organisation Stella that provides medical treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) called Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB). Who knows, perhaps it might be effective for some adoptees? Our trauma from relinquishment often has no language because it happened to us as young children or babies, so I am constantly on the look out for new treatments or options that can help give relief to the ongoing emotional minefield that many adoptees live. SGB works on the premise of dampening down our fight/flight response that results from ongoing trauma.
Stella’s chief psychologist, Doc Shauna Springer and the Head of Partnerships, Valerie Groth, both chatted with me and watched our videos. Until then, both had no idea as clinicians about the traumas inherent in relinquishment and adoption. They are inspired to join with me to help educate the public, so here is the short 30min podcast interview they conducted to help facilitate this. Click on the image to listen to the podcast.
If you already know about the traumas inherent in adoption, nothing in this will be new, but if you want a podcast that helps others understand from a first learner perspective, perhaps you might consider sharing it with them.
We also have our compiled list of resources as a starting point for those interested to learn more about the connection between trauma and adoption from experts all over the world.
by Stephanie Dong Hee Kim, adopted from South Korea to the Netherlands.
Is a name just “but” a name?
The meaning of words and language is so much more than a collection of letters, signs or sounds.
Words and sounds have meaning, these are symbols, they reflect feelings and thoughts. A name expresses your identity: who are you, where are you from and who and where do you belong (to)?
Questions which don’t have an obvious answer for many adoptees and every person who is searching for both or one of their birth parents.
I was conceived and grew to be a human being in my Korean mother’s womb, as the fourth daughter of the Kim (김) family, and my parents named me Dong-Hee (동희) after I was born.
I was adopted by a Dutch family and got a new first name and also a new family name . Lately, to me this started feeling like ‘overwriting’ my identity and I don’t feel senang about that anymore.
I see myself more and more like a Korean woman who grew up in the Netherlands and has a Dutch nationality. My Korean identity is my background and forms a big part of who I am, even though I didn’t grow up in that culture.
There is a slight difference between how I feel about my first name and how I feel about my family name.
I am grateful that my adoptive parents never took away 동희 from me and just added Stephanie so that my life here would be easier. It’s still easier to have a western name nowadays, since discrimination hasn’t disappeared through the years.
I feel more and more that my blood relation and my Korean background is where I want my family name to refer to, I feel proud to be a 김 family member.
I feel less connection with the Dutch family name, because I do not share any cultural and biological family history with this name and the people wearing this name. Also, there has never been much contact nor connection with any of those family members, besides my adoptive father and -brothers.
That’s why I’ve decided to get used to what it’s like to let myself be known by my Korean names, starting with social media . Just to experience what it does to me, if it makes me feel more me and in place.
I would like people to start feeling comfortable to call me by either of my names. I think it will help me sort out which name(s) reminds me most of who I really am, makes me feel home. Maybe it’s one of them, maybe it’s both. I’m okay with all outcomes.
It’s in some way uncomfortable to me because it feels like I’m taking off a jacket and with that I’m a little exposed and vulnerable.
But that’s okay, since I have been identifying myself with my Dutch names for more than 42 years.
This was originally posted on Instagram and redacted for publishing on ICAV.
by Anna Grundström, adopted from Indonesia to Sweden.
It wasn’t long ago when I used to think of my adoption not as a journey, but a destination. I ended up where I ended up, and it was clear early on that there would never be answers to why. My questions took to the backseat and remained there for years, observing a ride I didn’t connect to, my own beginnings.
About two years ago, I somehow transitioned from the backseat to the driver’s seat and put both hands on the wheel. While there were still no answers to my questions, I realized that I could still ask them.
I’ve come to understand that asking isn’t always about getting a wrong or right answer, or even an answer at all, in return. Asking is more about acknowledging myself, my own thoughts and feelings. Giving permission to wonder out loud, to be upset, angry and frustrated. To recognise the loss of things, places and people. And sometimes there are answers, so subtle that I almost miss them: like noticing how I tear up when the sun first rises in the morning, or how a particular sense of longing shoots down my spine when inhaling a random scent.
There’s something about recognising the loss of our past as adoptees, naming it, embodying it – even if we don’t know why or how. Somewhere within our body we do know. Somewhere in the body it is all still there. To celebrate, to grieve and to accept – it is all part of my adoptee journey.
Anna provides Guided Movement and Creative workshops for adoptees – check out her website to see what’s coming up!
A week ago, an amazing panel of 6 transracial intercountry adoptees shared with me about their experiences of racism, growing up in a country where the racial majority does not reflect their skin colour and outward appearance.
The webinar focuses on Australian experiences because we provided this forum during business hours for Australian adoption and foster care professionals. In my experience connecting with thousands of intercountry adoptees around the world through ICAV, racism and how we suffer and live through it, is a globally shared phenomenon, regardless of adoptive country.
Listen to the shared experiences here at the recording of our panel webinar:
Timecode for those who want to get to the relevant parts:
00:00:00 – 00:03:13 Introduction & why we discuss racism 00:03:27 – 00:04:30 Welcome to country 00:04:35 – 00:08:20 Introduction of adoptee panel 00:08:20 – 00:41:14 What does racism look like & its impacts 00:41:15 – 01:09:47 Suggestions on how we can be better supported 01:09:56 – 01:23:14 Questions and answers with audience 01:23:15 – 01:26:02 Thank you and summary of key points
by Benjamin Kelleher, born in Brazil of African origins and adopted to Australia.
Has pop culture and the thirst for Americanised TV and media viewing, masked, diluted, or interfered with the process of transracial adoptees connecting to their biological history?
What sparked my questioning of the media juggernaut was the recent passing of an important date in my own heritage. 13 May 2022 marked the 134 year anniversary of the day the country of Brazil officially abolished slavery. Being an Afro-Brazilian intercountry adoptee, you can imagine my interest in the civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and any topic which covers the modern history of the greater African diaspora and this date in particular.
But you may ask, why my initial question? Well, what some may not know, is the fact that whilst estimates vary from source to source, roughly 40% of the Africans forcefully removed and relocated to the new worlds during the transatlantic slave trade ended up in Brazil as opposed to the 10% the USA received. Another fact is that whilst Great Britain outlawed slavery in 1807, the US in 1865 — Brazil was officially the last of the western world to abolish Slavery in 1888. So, in essence whilst the championed President Lincoln was setting slaves free in the US, Brazil had another 23 years of economic corner cutting, on the backs of African people.
With the death of George Floyd and the BLM movement striking TV’s, phones and anything with a screen in 2020, the plight of the black man was again thrust into world view and a talking point for many all over the globe. Many again looked to the USA with raised eyebrows as to the institutionalised treatment of people of colour (POC). Over the next year the BLM movement took shape in many countries. What I certainly don’t remember seeing any reports on, was the fact that in 2021 according to the Washington post, 56% of Brazil’s population were black yet made up 79% of deaths by police in that same year. 2021 also saw 67% of the prison population noted as black people.
Being adopted to Australia, I find at times I am somewhat perplexed that we can have such a plethora of movies, books, documentaries, blogs, and podcasts that will feed a need for knowledge on this topic when specifically talking about the American history. Yet, to find the same level of information on countries such as Brazil, or even the Australian history of how we have treated our own indigenous and POC, one must be willing to do a bit more digging and legwork.
Speaking from a transracial adoptee perspective, I can see how this would not affect my peers of Anglo complexion to any great length. Yet for those of us, who at times may have struggled with or found it challenging to form connections with our biological history and to a degree identity, this seems to form another hurdle on the road of complexities that can be the intercountry adoption lived experience.
So again, I conclude my rant by asking, are we losing a greater sense of world history and narrowing our field of view when it comes to the history of a multitude of ethnicities and POC in a bid to continue to devour American pop culture through media and as a by-product, it’s historical views?
by Maars, taken from the Philippines to Canada. You can follow Maars @BlackSheepMaars
Birthdays are hard for an adoptee.
It’s a reminder of the day I was given life. It’s a reminder of what a mother and father could only dream up for me.
However in adoption, those dreams are short-lived and someone else dreams a new one for me, but it’s never guaranteed. Not all dreams carry the same intention and love and that’s true in a lot of ways for me having lost my birth parents.
But now I dream for myself, and that’s me reclaiming myself.
As I reflect on today, what 34 years has been, I still grieve that baby with that smile, how much she didn’t know would be ahead of her. How much loss and grief she’d have to overcome as the years passed and the loss of all that she was born with.
I wish I could have saved her. I wish I could have saved her from all the painful moments she’d face, and I could have held her for every time she wailed for her birth parents. I wish I was able to guarantee her that one day, she’d find all her pieces again and that it would come with a different type of grief. I wish I knew how to be there for her.
Today, I wish for her and myself, that baby Maars and myself may continue to heal the wounds she no longer needs to hold onto. I wish that she can find peace and happiness in the present.
Some things I never get over, some things will always find its way to surface. Some things will heal over time.
On 3 April 2022, a group of 19 Australian intercountry adoptees participated in an ICAV consultation for the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) who have developed a Concept Paper for a National Anti-Racism Framework. We believe intercountry/transracial adoptees are under represented in race discussions in almost every adoptive country and wanted to make sure we had a say. Gabby’s input below is included in our full papers here which we submitted to the AHRC.
I was born in 1966 in Auckland New Zealand. I am 100% Chinese and at the time of writing, I am 56 years old. I started coming out of the adoption fog at 48 years of age, after meeting my birth mother in 2004. It seems old but to clarify, at 48, I finally connected with other Asian adoptees and found validation, support and the language to express my feelings around my life experience.
I have a huge respect for parents. I am a step parent but have not done the heavy lifting that parents do. It’s hard being a parent. Throw adoption or fostering into the mix and that becomes very hard. Throw transracial adoption into that mix and the challenges become even more so. These are my thoughts around racism. All of our experiences are different.
I am very happy. I see the value of good relationships with friends, peers and family, and acknowledge that all of us have experienced trauma at some point in our lives. However, I have struggled with racism my entire life with my difference pointed out almost daily by classmates, co-workers and friends. Not too regularly, I have also been attacked and harassed on the street and was bullied badly throughout my school years. Jokes and micro-aggressions seem harmless and it took me decades to understand why I was constantly angry: an innocent question about my name/my origins/my nationality seems innocuous, but day after day, often from complete strangers makes a person exhausted, wary and sad/angry. I often withdraw.
I have this to say – I could not tell you this at age 12, 18, 25, 30 or even 40. It took decades to begin to process, understand and articulate what I am feeling.
Dear adoptive parents
Here is what I would like you to know about my life experience as a transracial adoptee:
Please understand my life experience is, was and will always be different to that of my white peers, siblings and parents. Like it or not, quite often we transracial adoptees are treated very differently to our white siblings and peers. I noted a big change in people’s behaviour towards me when they saw one of my parents come into view. Racists are sneaky – they are not going to say stuff with you around. And it comes in many subtle forms: how many brown kids are watched like a hawk as soon as they enter a store? How many brown girls are told they talk too much or are too loud/naughty when their white classmates are termed ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘confident’ for the same behaviour?
I was raised colourblind. It was the 60s, 70s and 80s. We knew no better. I was 55 years old when the penny finally dropped about my own family’s response to my experience with racism. An older sister said, “But we just assumed you were one of us,” (therefore, it was impossible for you to experience racism). Another piece of the puzzle solved. However, my 7 year old me would not thank my family for the dismissal, harsh words or outright denial that anything had taken place. Things are different now. We have resources and so much information available.
If you are triggered by the terms: white privilege, white fragility and wilful ignorance then think long and hard before adopting a child of different race to you. We are looking to you to teach us, to have our backs and stand up for us. And this includes your circle of friends, your own family and peers. I was raised in the age where children were seen and not heard. I accepted outright racist comments/acts from neighbours, friends, extended family, and later, colleagues because I felt that it was my lot or I was undeserving of better. But think about what that does to someone over a lifetime! Is it any wonder that we adoptees are 4 times more likely to have substance abuse or suicide? Let’s try to change that.
Believe us. I was 5 or 6 years old when I reported my first racist incident to my parents (and this was because I was scared. I didn’t report the ‘ching chong’ chants, the pulling back of eyes and harsher treatment by certain nuns because I was brown and clearly born of sin – those were a daily occurrence). Two much larger and older boys cornered me and pulled down my pants to see if ‘my bum was the same as the other girls’. Horrific and it still haunts me to this day. In response to sharing what happened, I was punished and told not to lie. So I stopped. It was clearly not safe for me to speak up and I didn’t want to be punished for it (to be fair I think it was the mention of private parts that had them more outraged). I left NZ for good in 1988. I put distance between myself and my family because of the above and some bonds were sadly broken for a while. Do you want this for your own family? If your children do not trust you to have their back they may be reticent to report more serious stuff like abuse, bullying and even date rape/domestic violence.
Just because we don’t tell you doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I finally found the courage to speak up in the last two years. I cut friends, extended family members and suppliers for my own mental health and sanity but also I finally understood that I didn’t have to engage with such people.
Words hurt. And the hurt lasts a lifetime. So those jokes you make about other races — their food, shopping habits, hoarding, driving skills … all those lazy stereotypes that the Australian media like to peddle – well, your kids are listening. When we see racist incidents reported be dismissed or downplayed by the media (especially if it is a footy star/ celebrity accused), how do you think that makes us feel? We don’t need to hear: ‘They weren’t racist to me – are you sure it happened?’ ‘What did you do to make them act in this way?’ ‘Rise above it!’ ‘Ignore it!” ‘Can’t you take a joke?’ ‘I’m sure Xxxx didn’t mean to be offensive…’ This ain’t it. Do better.
Quite often we are rejected by our own race – we are seen as ‘too white’, too culturally ignorant, and our names are white. This can be very confronting. We grow up, study, work and socialise generally in white spaces. We adapt to our environments to fit in but can be treated very harshly by our own race because of this. A heritage camp and trip once a year can’t help with this and if we are living in a white country – it is understandable that we just want to fit in/fade into the background like everyone else. But we can’t. Don’t shame us for trying to survive in our own environments.
Racism is hard to process when the perpetrator looks like a member of your own family. An Asian child who grows up with their own cultural background watches how their parents react and behave when they are faced with racist incidents. They see how their parents behave and speak to the offender. Nothing may be said but there is a shared experience within the family and younger members can learn from their elders – and even grow up to challenge passive responses.
Check out Gabby’s amazing Art Mentoring that she does as a volunteer with younger Chinese adoptees.