In Meinen Eigenen Worten

My name is Fiona and I was born in Hong Kong and given up because of being mixed race and having so-labelled “special needs”.  I’m half Italian/British, quarter Japanese, quarter Chinese.  I have a couple of documents that tell me about my biological mother – that she was a heroin addict and had given birth to other children – my half siblings.  My older half brother was adopted by his biological father and older sister from a different father was also adopted.  I wonder if they know about each other … or me?  I was labeled “special needs” because of my mother’s heroin addiction and the stigma attached to it.

I was adopted at 4 months of age to a family who wanted a baby girl and they already had 3 older biological boys.  My adoptive family spent the first 6 years of my life living in Hong Kong because dad had worked as an expat and ended up loving it so much, they all stayed longer than planned.

I remember my friends from Hong Kong – I had an Indian friend, a Chinese friend and it wasn’t until the past 6 years that we ended up connecting again over FaceBook.

When we moved back to Australia permanently, I was over 6 and a 1/2 years old.  We moved to Geelong which was quite a white suburb.  Here I was, a Eurasian with freckles and glasses in a sea of white kids at school.  I never smiled in my school photos.  I remember doing my best to be happy but always having those moments of people asking “where are you from” and their curiosity as to why I looked so different.  As a kid, I just wanted to fit in!  My adoptive family would try to overcompensate for these ignorant questions by commenting about my similarities and jokingly reply that I inherited it from them!  These comments from my family were meant in good will but made me feel angry because it was a denial of my reality.

I was given my Chinese name as a middle name and I recall the embarrassment I felt every time I was called out for class role – it was so overtly obvious that I wasn’t the same!  It made me feel ashamed which was hard for my adoptive mum to understand as she liked my Chinese name.  I’m just glad they didn’t give me an Italian or Japanese name as well!

I’ve always been aware of my differences to my adoptive family and I’ve struggled with these and tried not to compare myself, but the differences were always so obvious.  For example they are very intelligent whilst I feel I’m pretty average and they would try to overcompensate by saying “but you’re so creative!”

My adoptive family have always been very supportive although I don’t ever remember being told I was adopted.  Every December 30 my family have a special dinner to remember the day I was brought home to become part of the family.  I was always a curious child and sometimes sad but they never once made me feel bad for feeling like this.  I’ve wondered why my Asian part was focused on more than the other Italian or Japanese but perhaps it was because my adoptive family lived in Hong Kong?  We have always eaten at different restaurants and loved foods from around the world!

My adoptive mum always told me that being different meant I was special.  I remember walking in confidently and saying to the admin office at my primary school, “Did you know that I’m special?”  Being adopted was a positive thing in my family.  It wasn’t until I started to develop my own relationships that I noticed the differences, especially when I started talking to boys.  The way people ask questions, whether with genuine curiosity versus straight forward rudeness never ceases to surprise me!  Luckily for me I always felt nurtured and supported by my family so the comments haven’t scarred me.

I lived in Geelong until I was 15 years old then I went to Canada for a year’s student exchange.  I was placed in a tiny town in the Canadian Praries in a family which happened to have two adopted kids – the trip was like a self discovery.  I got along with that family so well and I look back now and wonder whether there was a natural instinct to “fit in with family” based on having already been adopted and having done it once before?  The people in the town were very curious and fascinated about me and it was the first time I didn’t feel judged even though I was a foreigner in their country.

I compare this to how I now feel living in the large metropolitan city of Melbourne – it’s supposedly a multicultural city but I don’t feel like I fit in.  I almost feel like an outcast – I see Chinese and Japanese people around me but I don’t know where I fit.  How can I love myself when I don’t even know who I am?  Fitting in is a thing on my mind these days.  I have always had low self confidence about my appearance and it’s hard being of mixed race to try and find where exactly I belong.

I am now 27 and I am wondering if it is normal to question things at this age?  I’m at a time where I am looking at my life story through my own eyes rather than what was told to me and created by my adoptive parents and adoption agency.

I’m at a time where I am looking at my life story through my own eyes rather than what was told to me and created by my adoptive parents and adoption agency.

From the documentation about my mother it seems like she had a really tough life with not a lot of great options or support. She seems to have had a very troubled life and didn’t seem to have a chance to be who she was.  Knowing this has made me want to embrace my own identity and live my life to the full.

I have recently been connected to other Hong Kong adoptees and have been given help to contact the Hong Kong Government for more information about myself.  My first instincts are that I don’t necessarily want to find or meet my mother – I don’t want to impose myself on her life.  I just want to know if she’s well and happy.  Ten years ago I would have wanted to meet her but now I’m older, I’m not so sure.  I do wonder about reunions and whether they are positive for the other person, the parent who has relinquished their child.  Perhaps I would just like to write her a letter and reassure her not to feel any guilt because I’ve had a happy life and am starting to become the person I want to be and wish her well.  Sometimes I think things are meant to be left undisturbed.  If she wanted contact, I’d want to take it slow.  Sometimes I think about her and dream of having had a nice life together – I don’t know where that bond comes from but I still wonder about whether we could have been together if she were given support.

I haven’t actually returned to Hong Kong since I left around age 6.  I have googled the address that was on my documentation for my mother and I would like to be able to walk around the orphanage and reconnect with Hong Kong – the place, the culture, the feel.  I would love a photo of her – I think it would help me to see some resemblance of myself – I have so many freckles and olive skin!  I might even live in Hong Kong for 6 months and do some volunteering, check out the places I use to go to school, rediscover it all .. but I haven’t even figured out passport issues yet!

I have thought about finding my biological father and have just received information from Social Welfare that they found a name for him and that he’s 70 this year.  Until now, the way he is portrayed in the documentation, I wasn’t sure if I’d want to find him – apparently he had abused alcohol, as had my mother, and did not want to take responsibility for me.  But deep down I have an open heart and mind and I always give someone a chance.

When I was young I had a naive view of adoption. I had always said I wanted to adopt a baby from Africa, to have a family that looked all different.  Mum had always said “keep an open mind about having your own kids” and I never believed her until now.  I had a view that I was entitled to adopt but in the past few years, I would hope if I still end up adopting a child that I would be able to be aware and sensitive towards the child like my adoptive parents were.  I realise in hindsight that I would always say things like “but you don’t understand” to my adoptive parents, when in fact, I never gave them the option TO understand.  All the feelings I’ve had as an adoptee, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect any parent to foresee these arising!

My story feels uncomplicated in comparison to other intercountry adoptees.  I feel thankful.  At this age, its interesting to see how I’ve pushed away or memorised my story and how I’ve felt.  I just repeated without understanding … but now I recognise that I have to look back before I can go forward. I suffer quite low self esteem but now I’m relating that to identity, being mixed race, being different to my adoptive family.  I understand how important it is to make sense of my beginnings and discover who I am. I’m sure it will be a life journey but I want to be confident in myself when I have a family of my own.

“I understand how important it is to make sense of my beginnings and discover who I am.”

Whilst I was parented well, I wonder what things I’ll do differently and how I’ll overcompensate to my children who will be experiencing life differently than me – but they’ll be even more mixed race!  It’s so amazing that this is the first time I’m doing this and it has nothing to do with anyone else.  When people talk about adoption they usually talk about the process – rather than about the person, the adoptee, who had no choice in it.  Everyone has a right to know their history and origins!