This is the transcript from my section of the Online panel on intercountry adoption, 22 February 2015.
My name is Lynelle Long. I was adopted at the age of 6 months old by an Australian Caucasian family who had 4 biological children of their own – 2 older, 2 younger. In the 1970s there was very little pre adoption support – my parents had no idea the child they were about to adopt should be considered “special needs”. In my adoptive parent’s days, prospective parents had the illusion if you adopt a baby, you consider it a blank slate – loving it would be enough because experience, environment and nurturing would overcome anything preverbal. How wrong that proved to be!
When I was adopted at 6mths old it would have been useful for my parents to receive assistance with navigation of professional services that could assist them. I turned out to be a sickly child who horded food, gorged it down, pooped it out, I had huge reactions of hives to foods, I had bowel troubles, I had trouble bonding in particular to male carers, I had sleeping difficulties, and wet the bed to quite a late age, etc. My parents would have benefited from having medical and psychological advice from a specialist who understood issues that arise from a child being in orphanage type environment and within a totally different culture, language, environment.
As I grew older and went to school I experienced racism from others, like many of us adoptees. I was growing up in a remote regional area where I was the only non-white child, apart from Aboriginal children. It would have been helpful to have had some support in terms of devising strategies to deal with the racism as opposed to my internalizing it and developing low self esteem and self hatred for my looks and race. Even within my own family I was dealing with overt racism with comments by adults saying negative things about Asians taking over Australia or Aboriginals and how they’re lazy they were. My own family couldn’t see how I had skin and looks that were different because they were so focused on me being “one of them” yet I was constantly receiving comments from strangers around me.
Prior to 10 yrs of age, I distinctly recall being very sad about my biological family that we were not together. I realized in hindsight in my late 20s early 30s that it must have been me feeling very aware of my losses but I never had anyone to explore these with and so they got pushed down until a later stage where I could process these properly. How beneficial it would have been for my family to have been aware of “my losses” and help me deal from the beginning.
During my time in my family prior to young adulthood, it would have been hugely beneficial for there to have been some kind of “checkpoints” by a mental health professional educated in intercountry adoption. For the minority of us, like me, who suffer negative impacts of adoption such as abuse or adoptive family breakdown, it is hugely important for the right professional support to be available and the funding to undergo this type of help. I ended up having to go through a plethora of professionals until I finally found the one who was actually able to help me recover.
As I grew to young adulthood, it was a huge benefit to find support from other adoptees for returning to my birth country – knowing how to set the right emotional expectations for my return and how to navigate around Vietnam. It was helpful to have contacts on how to find an orphanage and carer who looked after me and to understand the cultural norms of the country – for example, understanding value of $ in Vietnam, that $340AU is a whole year’s salary to a Vietnamese.
When I first went to Vietnam it was an emotionally overwhelming trip – I did I feel a connection to a place I had no memory of being before, and it was an education to see the country for what it was, rather than what I had learnt it to be via films on the Vietnam War. I still recall the shock and revulsion I felt for America after visiting the War Museum where you see babies that are massively deformed who died after/before birth due to the affects of Agent Orange. In contrast was the amazing friendliness to foreigners by the local Vietnamese. And then I visited an orphanage and spent time with children with deformities caused by agent orange – I couldn’t but help see the reality of what war had done and its cost to its children, including myself.
For me, the Searching & Reunion stage of our journey is where Post adoption supports are absolutely lacking. How and where do we start when dealing with poverty stricken countries? I came from a war situation with very little paper trail. There is such a need for help in knowing where/how to access our orphanage documents and for translation services of these documents and especially for when the actual reunion occurs. I have very little chance of a reunion even after attempting to search 3-4 times. Given no post adoption support exists, my options are to appear on National Vietnamese TV, or take my chances with the Vietnamese adoptee established DNA database search. If I could find my birth family, I would. Not all adoptees have the same desire but there is an absolute need for helping us set realistic expectations of reunion, and then psychological and cultural support for afterwards due to differences in expectations, values, religious, economic, educational, culture & language divides between adoptee to biological family.
Lastly, I want to mention the need for further Research, Training & Networking of Professionals in intercountry adoption. We have no way to date of connecting all the people who specialize in intercountry adoption, to leverage their knowledge and experience and utilize it for the benefit of guidance/advice on legislation or advocating for hands-on support for families and adoptees. We also have little scientific research on the long term outcomes of intercountry adoption vs other solutions and the rates of success vs break down in families. We have no database of intercountry mental health adoption professionals that adoptees can access when needed and there is little available to train those health professionals on the issues that intercountry adoptees can face.
Post Adoption support is required at every stage of our development after we are adopted, and prior to this, Pre Adoption Support is fundamental and should be given to our adoptive families. We would do better to prepare prospective parents by using the term “special needs” for all intercountry adoptions because of the complexities involved. The education should include extensive understandings of the medical issues that can arise from time spent in an orphanage, psychological impacts of abandonment throughout the lifecycle, cultural impact of removing a child from their country of origin, and cover topics such as racism – subtle and overt, bonding, testing behaviours, teenage years and how more complicated it is for an adoptee. If pre adoption support is done adequately, together with post adoption support along the lifetime of an adoptee, there should be less compounding of problems for the adoptee growing up.