Stolen and Adopted to Belgium

by Mariela, born in Guatemala and raised in Belgium.

It was war time in Guatemala and my mother was ready to give birth to me. I was her third child and she was having difficulties with the labour. She asked a neighbour to take her to the hospital because the neighbour had a car. My father was a Guatemalan soldier fighting in the war.

I was born in 1986 at the Capital’s hospital and after returning home, the weather turned very hot and I developed a fever. My mother returned to the hospital for medical help because I wasn’t well. The lady at administration asked whether my mother had papers for me. Upon answering that she didn’t, the lady instructed her to go make a declaration for my birth and then return with me and the papers.

My mother did as she was instructed and the medical staff then took me away for medical care. My mother slept then returned and asked for me so I could be breastfed. The medical staff advised that I was in a different part of the hospital (the neo-natal section) and had been taken there via ambulance. My mother had not consented to this and insisted on going to where I was but the doctor was against this.

My mother called my aunty and explained what had happened. They both tried together and went to the neo-natal section where I had apparently been sent. They even asked at the Missing Child department within the hospital. The staff searched in the computer for our family name but the message my mother kept receiving was, “We don’t know about your daughter”.

Some images from my first return trip to Guatemala

My mother was not poor because in Guatemala, if you give birth in a hospital, you have to be somewhat wealthy. At the hospital, two women from the Capital stayed with my mother and she kept asking for me. They eventually told her that I had died and my mother asked, “Where are the remains of my baby? I want to see her.” They told her it was not possible as I had apparently been “buried” in an unmarked grave with a lot of other people in the same place. The women asked my mother to sign a piece of paper because the rules in Guatemala require that when a baby dies in the hospital, the family must sign the death certificate. My mother was devastated and returned home. She had my older brother and sister to look after.

That is what I have learned about how I was stolen and kidnapped from the hospital in Guatemala two days after I was born. I only know my story because I searched for 8 years to learn the truth. It was my daughter in 2017 who inspired me to keep trying. She asked many questions about where I, and consequently she, was from and she was convinced we might be Guatemalan Indian. At that time I knew little and I wanted to be able to provide some answers.

After I was kidnapped from the hospital, I was placed at a secret house with a lot of other babies. The babies were guarded and the older children tied to the beds with ropes. I recognised myself in a photo which another adoptee shared with me from the time spent in this secret house. Many of us were sent to Belgium and France via intercountry adoption. There are at least 200 other adoptees like myself from this trafficking ring. A lot of us search in Guatemala for our origins but the information in our documentation is false which makes searching almost impossible.

I am now at peace with how my life was so severely altered but it has been a hard journey. I had a lot of wonderful people help me find the truth of my beginnings and it turned out the two women from the Capital who asked my mother to sign the paper, never sent the documentation in. So technically, I am still apparently in Guatemala and there is no record of my adoption nor being sent out of Guatemala to Belgium. This has impacts on my life because it makes it dangerous for me to return to my homeland – it’s possible the police could stop me from leaving Guatemala to return to my adoptive homeland and I could be jailed for having false documentation.

A year ago, I found my mother with help from a reporter from America. I will meet this reporter in person this month and return to Guatemala for the second time. I will have guards and will go on TV to do a story about my illegal adoption. In my adoptee association in Belgium, Racines Perdues, 10 other adoptees like me have found their families but there are 200 of us, which shows how low the success rate is.

Meeting my mother for the first time

It was tough when I found my mother because my older siblings and parents believed I had died. My sister thought I was joking her and initially refused to speak with me. It wasn’t until I showed her my photo on Facebook that she finally believed me because we look so alike.

I am very happy for my mother that we have now found each other but she thought I had died. Our story is very sad and bad. I have 10 brothers and sisters altogether in both Guatemala and the USA. My father left to live in America after the war and has his own family there. I am so happy to have found them all. My father is flying in from the USA to meet me in Guatemala because the verification of my identity with the false paperwork is a huge problem and I would have trouble travelling to America. My father had never signed my birth paper so the trip will allow me to have him listed on my documents as my father. He too has been shocked to learn I am alive because my mother had told him I had died.

My adoptive family in Belgium have always supported me to search and return to Guatemala. When I learned the truth of my kidnapping, my adoptive father was very angry and my adoptive mother very very sad. A natural reaction to a terrible situation.

Both of my adoptive and biological parents speak to each other through me in Spanish. I’m not ready yet for my two mothers to meet, it’s only been a year since I found my Guatemalan family.

I could only have learned the truth and found my family with help from wonderful people in my life! Huge thanks to fellow adoptee Sophie who has become my best friend and will return with me this January. Also, we could not have done this without the help from our partner organisations in Guatemala. Together, we now specialise in illegal adoptions from Guatemala to help our fellow adoptees. We must not lose hope and my goal is to encourage other Guatemalan adoptees who want to find their families and learn about their origins.

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