Memoir of Once the Forgotten Child

Author: Veronica Iuliana Clark

Originally published in Limelight: A Socio-Legal Journal on National and International facets; Tezpur Law College, Assam.

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My first photo from in the orphanage

For the longest time I’ve wanted to write about my memoir and where my life started. I am one of the Romanian Forgotten Children. A short summary in Romania’s history to give you context: Romania was under the control of a communist dictator named ​Nicolae Ceaușescu and he caused some damage in the political and economic spheres during his time in the Romanian Communist Party. During his reign, Nicolae Ceaușescu wanted the citizens of Romania to have as many children as possible but that was difficult to do because the country was not very stable and the dictator was taking all the money from his citizens. This left the citizens with hardly any money to take care of their own families and children to survive. As a result, many parents had little option but to give up their children, so either put them on the streets or in institutions. If the child was not normal looking or had a default, then they would automatically be sent to a mental institution.

My Romanian name was Veronica Iuliana Macovei but my name got changed to Veronica Iuliana Clark. I was born in August 1993, în Buzău District in the city of Ramnicu Sarat. At the beginning of my early years, my life was a struggle, but I promise I have a happy ending. Like many of the forgotten children, I was put into an institute (orphanage). In my early years, I was sent to two orphanages – one in Vrancea District (where newborns to 1 years old got sent) and the other orphanage was located in Focsani, Romania (for children 1+ years to 18 years old). But I am getting ahead of myself. My biological family, Dina Macovei (mother) and Vasile Macovei (father) were unable to keep me because they worked somewhere that did not allow parents to bring their newborns. My biological siblings: Cristina, Sonia, and Inut Macovei stayed with my birth parents because they could work. I was mad at myself for years because my birth parents kept all the other children but not me. Many years later I have understood the reasons why my parents had to give me up and I have forgiven them.

I was born in a hospital and stayed there for several days because I was born premature and had some blood problems. After those couple of days, I was sent to the baby orphanage called Focsani Home for Children. I stayed there for about 1 year. I was so thin you could see my ribs and the bruises from when I tossed and turned in the crib. The crib held me and another baby. To be honest, I do not remember anything about the baby orphanage. After was 1 years old, I was sent to the older children’s orphanage. I was there for almost 5 years.

My Orphanage

I do remember everything about the second orphanage. There are times at night I still get nightmares from that place. I remember the building was made of yellowy, beige concrete from the outside, and in the inside, there were two rooms. One room was where the Romanian children would play and the other one was for eating. The upstairs space had Mickey Mouse and Friends painted on the walls to fool visiting people to believe the kids are okay and having a happy home. I remember all I could hear were kids constantly screaming and crying. The caregivers wouldn’t have enough time to spread affection to all the children.

The best comparison I could give would be the study called Harlow Monkeys – about the monkeys and what the baby monkey would choose: the warmth with love or the food? The money’s choice was always nurture from the sheep cloth that imitated a mother’s touch. Well, I wish I got to choose that. Instead of nurture, every child got enough nutrients to make sure that nobody thought they were starving us. I can still smell and almost taste the food they would give us. The meal was like gruel, some sort of corn mashed oatmeal with coffee mixed in – a gruel like mixture. That is the best way to explain it. My American adoptive parents said that was the same story I told them once I was able to talk. After meals, caregivers would send us back to the play-pen area but it wasn’t much fun. I remember children would hide their toys to protect them and if one took someone’s, then that’s when there would be a fight. I had bruises and scratches everywhere all over my body. The bruises were from fights with other orphans. Once the evening started we would all eat the same meal that we got before and then we would go to our beds for sleeping. The other orphans and I would be placed horizontally in the bed and there would often be 4-5 children in the same bed. I would always be at the end and that meant I always fell out. I think that is why I prefer the floor compared to a comfy warm bed.

I remember in the orphanage the screams we all made. The screams were in a high pitch tone with a hint of fear from being scared, and hatred. All of us would do that because we wanted something like food, water, attention, or we were wet, or had been hit. I do remember if any of us orphans would keep screaming, we would get abused by the caregivers to behave or be sent to “the room”. The room was very dark  with no windows. We would be placed in a crib, we’d receive no food, and we’d have no interactions with other orphans or staff. I remember this room very much because I was sent there a lot. During the day in the room, the walls were yellow like every other wall in the orphanage – a yellow, beige and brown color. During the night in the room, I would see nothing but blackness and fear. I cried lots of nights in this room, but after I realized no-one would come, I then learned that no-one would help me. Once I learned that, I was then taken out of the room and be returned where everyone else was. The many times I was sent to the room was endless. I am not able to tell you exactly how many times but it was often hours, days, or even weeks. I just remembered I hated that room because I was constantly terrified and alone. There are so many more stories I could share about the orphanage, but then that would make me think about my past even more. ​

From all the horrific times in the orphanage, I finally saw some light​. In America there was an adoption agency called​ Special Additions, Inc.. The Executive Director/Founder was Debra Murphy- Scheumann and she would help with international aid. Debra worked all over the world in third world countries and would go on joint mission trips with the Medical Mission for International Aid, Children’s Home in Romania and Moldova. Debra also decided to create Special Additions, Inc.​, a house in Botosani Romania – a placement home to show and have Romania recognized that not all children are being abused and neglected.

Her placement house has amazing and the kids were incredible there. Debra quotes, “I feel like that is when I felt at home and wanted to save the lives of orphans in Romania”. Her placement house is one of the many successful projects she has created. To this day, I do not know what I would have done without her. She helped save me. She is also my guardian angel for life and one of my closest friends.

Before the establishment of the placement house in Romania. Debra Murphy-Scheumann sent my photo to an American couple – Becky Susan Hubbell and Dave Michael Clark. The couple already had two biological children of their own. As Debra showed my photo to the family, they cried and wanted to save me so I could have a forever family. And on 4 July 1997, I was finally adopted to America. 

My dad and I

In July, my older adoptive brother Jono and my adoptive father came to get me. My adoptive mother packed tons of clothing and toys to send with them. When the two of them met me, I was so shy and would not talk to them. They said I would only make sounds coming out of my mouth.

While my father, brother Jono, and I were staying at a hotel in the capital of Bucharest, the two of them realized I was not potty trained, did not speak Romanian nor English, hated baths, was not very good at walking, would stuff any foods they would give me in my cheeks, and I loved the stroller rides that my brother would take me on while in Romania.

After several days of being with them I started warming up to them and they showed me their love. They said I loved to go with my brother in the stroller really fast. I would laugh forever and that is when I knew I had my forever family. I have been loved ever since and from there, I got two other adopted sisters from international countries. I love them all to death and am glad that they are my siblings. ​I’ve realised I don’t have to be biologically related to be a true family. It doesn’t matter how you are related – what matters is that every member is family, no matter what!

My adoptive mum, siblings and I

Let’s jump many years forward. Once I had been in the USA for some years, I was able to get the resources I needed to succeed in life. I got the opportunity to learn english and have speech therapy lessons, I got involved in the community and graduated from my schooling. I got my high school diploma in 2012, then my Associate of Liberal Arts in 2017 at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas. Now I am working on ​my Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a minor in Spanish at the University of Missouri of Kansas City (UMKC)​. Besides getting the resources I needed, I got the opportunity to go study abroad in Florence, Italy. I had to apply first, including providing an essay. I got accepted in the Spring of 2015.

In Italy at the Florence University of the Arts I took courses like Public Relations which is one of my favorites. I have used the skills I learnt there in my advocacy work. The other courses I took was Cooking of Culture and Society, Soccer Experience, and Landscape and Architecture Photography. 

The asylum and cat

I am going to mention one major event in my Landscape and Architecture Photography course. There was a field trip in which we had to go visit an abandoned mental asylum. This experience impacted me greatly. I do not normally get goosebumps when I visit orphanages but this orphanage was different. This was one of the worst mental institutions in all of Italy and sadly, there are several like this. When we started walking there was this house set down on the right in beautiful landscape – but when I looked at this house I knew my life will be changed forever. Our photography professor said that this house is where several of the mental people live when they are freed from the mental orphanage. When I looked at it, I saw this house is like old trailer cars, broken down with tires everywhere. The house had clothes draped everywhere and it was old. The trailer cars were worn out with rust, junk was everywhere surrounding it. There was this dog living there that roamed down the driveway. The professor was hoping it would not get close to us. My professor said, “Do not take photos” because he had tried to ask in Italian and the people said no. Another thing my professor said several times to the inmates was, “You people are FREE now and you can do as you please.” The asylum buildings were not locked anymore and the people were free to go but they would not leave because they are considered outcast. My professor wanted us students to go in groups of three and so we did. As our group of three were walking down, there were screams from that house that gave me shivers down my spine and I was feeling scared because we were not even at the asylum part yet. Walking down I could see a lovely lawn. Continuing down the pathway there was gorgeous scenery all around. As I was walking down the pathway, I felt my stomach tighten and I began to feel very nervous. I was so nervous I held my arms tightly across my chest and walked slower than the rest of the group and did not talk.

I do not remember exactly but at that moment I was having flashbacks from when I was in Romania in the orphanage. I felt so bad I got stiff all over my body. My professor was wondering where I went because I was walking so slow and came back to see what was going on with me. He asked, “What is the matter and why are you so quiet?” I was dead silent and did not want to respond or say about my past in my orphanage in Romania.

Flashback memories

I told my mom about the trip and she told me to stop talking about it because she remembered whenever I talked about my orphanage in Romania, I couldn’t handle it emotionally. The memories are too painful but it won’t let go out of my mind because it reminds me about my past. So I had to apologise to my professor and change the subject. He stopped asking me and told me that I did not have to continue with him or the class if I did not want too. But I wanted to face my fears so I continued on slowly, heading to the mental institution.  As we were going down the road getting closer I became so nervous I had to take several breaks. I explained to my professor that those screams I could hear were the same as in the Romanian orphanage where I had been. I could not get the screams out of my mind and it was haunting me.

Finally the whole class arrived at the asylum. The first thing I could see was the gate. The gate and the fence alone around the property was scary for me already. I felt for sure I was going to pee in my pants, but I did not. The ​front gate was metal and the fence was wire and rusting now, but it was like an entrance you see in the concentration camps in WW2​. The interesting memory I have is that the mental institution was hidden from some trees in the fence, the grass was green and had weeds with white flowers, and the first thing I saw when entering through the gate were tons of cats. Sometimes the cats followed. We were only allowed to take photos of the asylum building but not of the people. I could see a playground that was maybe once for happy times but not now. I could see holes and cracks around the asylum. I decided to take a look through the hole and I could see the tension and fear people had of spirits roaming around in the building. I imagined and could feel the air and the spirit of the voices of people who had died within this place. I apologize if I frighten you. I want you to understand there is cruelty all over the world and you should at least a sense of the harsh reality of it.

Back on a happier note, there was a positive while studying in Florence University. In March 2015, I got the opportunity to go to Romania again since my last visit had been in 2005. I am proud of my country for improving the conditions for children that may not get a forever family like me, but have a second chance to succeed in a brighter future. The institutions are now called placement houses and some look like college dorms, very small apartment rooms, and also children’s centers. The children’s centers are for the children that have either physical or mental disabilities and get all the resources they need.

During my semester break, I decided to go back to Romania. I got the opportunity to help advocate once again at one of the non-profit organizations called, Asociatia Catharsis Brașov. There I got to help advocate in international adoptions for the rights of those with mental health issues. I got the pleasure to work with​ Azota Popescu​,​ Cristina Mihaela Piuian​, Corina Monan and so many others who make this organization possible. I also had a wonderful team who were advocates like me – Garett Jones, Alexander Kuch, and Izidor Ruckel. While there, ​I got to share my passion for adoption and what we want to improve on, in mental health​. I also spoke on Radio Transylvania and got to work with an intelligent woman named Augusta Dordai. Another station was Radio Cluj where we got to spread awareness of, and talk about current and future goals for Romania.

Alongside advocating at one organization in Romania, I was also helping a journalist in Romania who wanted to help Romanian adopted children find their birth family. I was very happy to have gotten the chance to help many of the people that wanted to find their birth families and have a successful story. I even got the chance to find my own birth family. I found them in 2014. I was nervous and excited at the same time. I found my mother, father and siblings are still alive. I got to first skype with my birth sister Cristina Macovei and that was amazing. Although I do not speak Romanian there are other ways like body language to know how people are feeling. I did have a translator as well. Over the months and years I have been able to communicate to my family (aunts, uncles, cousins) in Romania via social media. Even my adoptive mother Becky Hubbell got to meet one of my aunts, Monica Macovei and her children, on Skype with me.

Early years advocating, meeting the American Ambassador, Michael Guest

I could not ask for anything else in my life. I am trying to go back to Romania again to meet in person my birth family because every time in the past that I had advocated in Romania, I had always been there for business and had never gotten to truly travel for fun. To this day I still have a close bond of staying in communication with my birth family. Since advocating is in my blood, I have been very involved.

Prior to returning to Romania and to this day, I have an impressive history of advocating for international adoptions. The reason I advocate for not just international adoptions, mental health issues, and humanitarian issues, is that I ​hope I can make just one person better understand the issues and help lift the voices of people who are not able to speak for themselves. ​

I have helped several non-profit organizations such as Amnesty International at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, CARE international, Medical Mission Foundation (Kansas), Harvesters, Ronald McDonald house (Kansas), YMCA (Northern Kansas City, MO and an English As a Second Language Instructor), Tennyson Center for Abused and Neglected children in Denver, Colorado, and so many others. With my history and experience, it is the reason why I am majoring in Sociology and I hope to work with a non-profit organization and help around the world making just the slightest positive impact on others. I may be young but I will never give up for a passion that is very close to my heart. International adoption helps children get their forever family and every child deserves that.

I will be 26 years old this year. I am wanting to conquer humanitarian global issues that most people are afraid to touch or fight for. I share my story not to make you feel bad for my life, but to show that my experiences and accomplishments have made me into the woman I am today​.

I am a leader, an activist, a humanitarian, a female, and a survivor​. ​At the beginning, I was once the Romanian Forgotten Child, but now I am found.