Intercountry adoption is often portrayed by adoption agencies using words like “forever family” to attract couples wanting to adopt, assuming a child in need is matched into a family, as if born to. One assumes the adopted child’s place in that family becomes permanent, right?
Wrong! Intercountry adoption does NOT equate to permanency. The reality we see today goes against everything that adoption is meant to be about.
Here are some images from the United States (US) Department website (they changed it sometime after this post):
If we google the definition of adoption, Wikipedia tells us:
Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting of another, usually a child, from that person’s biological or legal parent or parents, and, in so doing, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities, along with filiation, from the biological parent or parents.
Unlike guardianship or other systems designed for the care of the young, adoption is intended to effect a permanent change in status and as such requires societal recognition, either through legal or religious sanction.
Today’s practice in the US of actively deporting adult intercountry adoptees back to their home country because they are not guaranteed citizenship (i.e., permanency), portrays a different message to the definition of adoption. Why should we take note of how the US are treating their intercountry adoptees? Because the US is the largest receiving country in the world for intercountry adoption.
How can citizenship not be automatically given? How is this “ethical” or “transparent”? Why aren’t intercountry adoptions, dating from the 1950s to early 1980s in the US, considered enough to provide permanency to the adoptee as a citizen in their adoptive country?
It fills me with hope and inspiration to see intercountry adoptees growing in our understanding of the wider context of intercountry adoption to include the politics, ethics and rights of intercountry adoptees.
Years ago, I started off having very little understanding of my own adoption journey, let alone the bigger picture. As the years went by, I explored my own issues and then through reaching out and connecting to many adoptee peers, I started to realise the similarities within our journeys, regardless of birth country. Finally, I came to understand — I am but one of hundreds of thousands around the world, impacted by the policies and governing international agreements that indelibly re-shape our lives forever via intercountry adoption. My journey of understanding is reflected around the globe as we adult intercountry adoptees mature enmasse and start to speak out and question the fundamentals of intercountry adoption.
To illustrate this point, I want to share an essay by Sri Lankan adoptee, Gabbie Beckley, also adopted and raised in Australia. She is a social worker and has submitted this essay to fulfil the requirements of her MSW Masters in Social Work. She has reunited with her Sri Lankan family and was adopted by an Australian family who always supported her and enabled her to embrace and learn about her birth culture.
Gabbie has also journeyed and explored what adoption has meant for her individually and has travelled beyond that now, to understand the larger picture of what intercountry adoption means for many of us worldwide. I loved her ending paragraph in which she rightly questions why our human rights as adoptees are not considered beyond childhood.
Have a read of what Gabbie has to say and let us know your thoughts.
Earlier this year, an artwork competition was held amongst Australian intercountry adoptees for our upcoming book, The Colour of Time, the sequel to The Colour of Difference.
We received quite a range of artwork and were amazed at the depth of the messages portrayed about being an Australian intercountry adoptee. Its important to share this artwork because it’s rare to see such a wide range that visually expresses so much, in one space, by intercountry adoptees. Huge thanks to all who participated and for giving permission to share this with the wider community!
The winning artwork from which we based the cover design of our new book, was created by mature aged artist, Lan Hopwood, Vietnamese adoptee who wrote this to explain her submission:
Child image is ‘rooted’ in an Australian landscape (I grew up in country NSW with paddocks, etc.,), dilapidated fencing reminiscent of the broken journey of an adoptee, the poignancy within that child’s face – lost identity. Caught between two worlds as time ticks by. Grass flower captures an image of a child bathed in sunlight, face raised in innocence, joy & hope. Global map showing diaspora of intercountry adoptees.
She also submitted another piece and wrote:
Past and present. A child shipped like cargo to another land and over time and to the present day, a mother goes about her daily life with the strains of past decisions and trauma etched upon her face. A life that child could have stepped into if she had remained. The child’s eyes of sadness and loss that speaks of intercountry adoptees and their search for identity.
Artwork submitted to the competition by other Australian intercountry adoptees is shown below in random order:
by Yasmin Cook, Sth Korean teenage adoptee, who wrote:
My artwork is a reflection of how I feel about life. The family is central and I see the SMS text message language of ‘ILY’ – “I love you” in the word of ‘Fam ILY’. The background reflects a map of the world with South Korea at the top of the triangle and Australia in another corner. The words surrounding the design are heart felt and genuine reflecting my personal journey as an intercountry adoptee.
by Rosa Potter, Chilean young adult adoptee, who wrote:
The Andes Mountain representation with gum leaves to represent Australia; coloured silhouettes represents the differences of colour.
by Rebecca Springett, Sth Korean young adult adoptee, who wrote:
The hands represent a mother and a child together showing a safe and secure feeling. Holding hands shows this trust and protection for one another. Each flower represents the intercountry adoptees for example, the plum blossom is the national flower of Taiwan. The circle of flowers are together as one and are always there for each other. I wanted to show unity with each country and show how we are all supported by Australia (Australian wattle).
by R’bka Ford, Ethiopian teenage adoptee, who wrote:
From the corner, the inner dark circles represent being in a place where I didn’t understand what was going on – so the lines are thick and black. Then gradually as the drawing technique becomes clearer I know a little bit about where I am going and who I will be with. The petals represent me experiencing new things in Australia and blossoming and exploring, until I finally break away in my own unique person as a combination of two places.
by Geetha Perera, Sri Lankan mature aged adoptee:
by Jessie Cooper, Chinese teenage adoptee, who wrote:
Sometimes I feel like a smashed up Rubiks cube. My whole being doesn’t belong here. I should be back in China in an orphanage where I originally was. A whole Rubiks cube is my LIFE!
This Road of Inspiration is a path I will keep walking on to get through all my troubles.
Some days my heart hurts so badly that I just want to shut down.
by Tia Terry, Sth Korean mature aged adoptee:
An Evening with Drysdale
Automatic Presumptions: self portrait painting
Linocut Print: inspired by traditional Korean Art
by Gabby Malpas, Chinese mature aged adoptee:
I will not love you long time Asian women have been ‘fetishised’ by western society for decades. It has been years since it was acceptable to view other races in the same way yet this attitude persists. I will shamefully admit that I did nothing to fight this when younger and probably even enabled it in some cases.
Topsy Turvy – A fish out of Water As a transracial adoptee my difference is obvious. I always look like I don’t belong in my own family. But when I’ve travelled through Asia, it is obvious that I also don’t belong there. It’s not just language barriers, it’s clothing, mannerisms and behaviour. I constantly feel like I am under scrutiny. This is something I’ve gotten used to now. I don’t know any different. Blue waterlilies are associated with ‘knowledge’ in Chinese Buddhist culture
Are you Sure? Look closely at this image: on first glance it looks like a tropical jungle scene from somewhere exotic. The crimson rosellas, passionfruit vines, begonias and elephant ears can be found in many Sydney backyards. Most asians experience racism in their lives. As a transracial adoptee I was more sensitive to this because growing up I didn’t have the benefit of coming home to a family who looked like me or shared my experience. Recounted incidents to adults were met with “it didn’t happen to me, you must have imagined that”, or “I’m sure they didn’t mean it”. So I grew up with much self doubt, anxiety and anger. Please listen to us. Even if this is not your experience why doubt that it isn’t ours?
Colour Blind A tongue-in-cheek title for an explosion of colour. This is a gentle rebuke on ‘colour blindness’, especially around transracial adoptees. People mean no harm when they say to us: “I don’t see colour“, but it’s damaging because it’s a denial of our difference and our experiences. We have and continue to have a completely different life experience to those of our adoptive families but also to other races who are in their own families. We don’t fit into either world easily and once we reach adulthood and move away from our safe environments we often get thrust into a world of racism and hurt that we are completely unprepared for. Colour matters. Recognising that it does and giving your child tools to navigate the world as a person of colour is crucial.
Thank you to all submitting artists!
The copyright of all artwork shown here belongs to the artist. No part of it in any form or by any means to be reproduced, stored in a system, or transmitted without prior written permission. Enquiries should be sent to ICAV who will seek artist permission for any request.
The Colour of Time follows the journeys of 13 of the original 27 contributors from The Colour of Difference. Reading about their experiences 15 years on, you will gain a greater understanding of how the adoption journey is navigated over time as adoptees mature and age. The book looks at whether things change, and if so, how?
Included in The Colour of Time is a new younger generation of 15 intercountry adoptees, some as young as 18 through to others in their early 30s. They shed light on whether the issues they’ve experienced mirror the complexities raised by the older generation in The Colour of Difference. Has the mandatory education for prospective parents made a difference? Has racism been an issue compared to those raised in the 70s and 80s, post White Australia Policy era? Has greater awareness of the complexities highlighted in The Colour of Difference made any impact?
Overall, the book The Colour of Time includes 28 intercountry adoptees raised in Australia and adopted from 13 birth countries. The book provides a snapshot of some issues faced over the life long journey of being adopted, specific to intercountry adoption. These range from being young adults finishing high school wrestling with identity issues, searching and reuniting, navigating dating relationships, becoming parents, chosing to remain single, navigating post reunion relationships, losing adoptive or biological parents through age, resolving or learning to manage traumas and mental health issues long term, and much, much more …
The Colour of Time is a must read for those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the life long journey of intercountry adoption, whether an adoptive parent, an adoptee, an adoption professional, or anyone interested in adoption.
Many of the book participants aim to attend and it will be a great way to celebrate this amazing milestone in recognising and recording Australia’s history in intercountry adoption. The book will be available with limited print copies and unlimited as an ebook. Details as to how to obtain a copy will be provided in the next few months.
I hear from more and more adult intercountry adoptees, adopted at older ages, about some of their traumatic experiences in transition from their homeland to their adoptive country. I acknowledge this is not the only layer of trauma we experience in our adoption or relinquishment and that transition for younger age adoptees can be just as traumatic. The key difference for younger aged adoptees is they may grow up not being able to verbalise the experience due to a lack of language development at the time of transition.
I question why adoption agencies and governments are not putting more resources into ensuring these major transitions are done better, especially considering it is older age adoptions that are the majority of intercountry adoptions done today around the world.
Children who are older aged and have language skills need to be given clearer understandings of what being adopted to another country and family means, apart from the “heaps of toys and food” examples that are the obvious material benefits. Perhaps the orphanages themselves have little idea of the impacts and complications experienced in intercountry adoption, so how would they know to better prepare children emotionally? Sending and receiving governments who licence adoption agencies to facilitate adoptions should hold the responsibility to better prepare children and lessen the trauma of transition!
Adoptive parents could be required to visit the orphanage and the child in it’s birth country more times, before the child is flown overseas. Have some experiences to bond and connect together in the child’s country before being flown out.
Adoptive parents could be required to live for x months in the town of the child after the adoption before bringing the child home to ensure not too many changes are occuring at once and to allow the child some continuity to stay in contact with the other children or carers from the orphanage. The parents would then get to know the other children who were of importance to their newly adopted child.
A carer of the child, someone the child knows and trusts, could travel with the child and remain with the family for the first few months to lessen the trauma. This would help the orphanage staff become more aware of the realities of the transition for the child upon entering their new adopted country, and feedback into better preparing future children.
Education could be given to orphanages about the trauma the transition creates, from adult adoptees themselves.
Adoptive parents could be required to become fluent in the child’s language before receiving the child. This would ensure one element of the transition which can potentially create trauma due to not being able to communicate, doesn’t unnecessarily add to the overall whole of being an overwhelming experience.
Both sending and receiving governments could listen to adult intercountry adoptees more about the experience of transition and learn from our views.
The child could be assessed psychologically, from an emotional well-being point of view, to establish how additional trauma of transition and uprooting them from everything they know, might impact them – and then develop a plan with a timeframe that is reasonable for the child’s well being.
Isn’t adoption supposed to be in the ‘interests of the child’? We need to move towards a model of incorporating a ‘whole journey’ view about the interests of the child who grows up – not just the immediate life or death survival extremist position that seems to justify intercountry adoption and how it is still conducted today.
I want to share Jayme’s experience to highlight my points above. Jayme is a Korean intercountry adoptee, raised in the USA from the age of 4.5 years old. His experience tells us just how strong the memories and trauma is of his transition from Korea to the USA.
I did previously share another from Thai adoptee Min and she briefly mentioned the trauma she remembered in her transition.
I hope in sharing these experiences, it will serve to remind us of how intercountry adoption is experienced by the child. We do grow up and our experiences need to be acknowledged. Intercountry adoption policy and processes by governments and agencies around the world would do well to ensure better outcomes for those who follow by learning from us who live it.
Are you feeling sick whilst reading about the number of twins who have been separated at birth via intercountry adoption?! It’s wonderful that SOME are managing to accidentally find each other and reunite .. but think of how many aren’t! Based on this recent article alone, it indicates 1500 sets of Chinese twins! What happens when you consider all the other countries of origin?
I am angry that these children (who grow up to be adults like me) are growing up robbed of their rights to their basic identity! The situation of twins being separated acts to highlight the gross Child’s Rights violations that intercountry adoption facilitates.
I place the blame squarely on the adoption agencies and the birth and adopting countries who are clearly not interested in the child’s rights but are doing adoptions as financial transactions. What is overtly wrong in these separations, are that adoptive parents are reportedly not even being asked if they want to adopt twins, nor are they being told the child is a twin! So they inevitably become complicit in the systemic child’s rights violations that occur for intercountry adoptees who are twins.
When will this stop? When will adoption agencies and countries who are a signatory to the Hague Convention on intercountry adoption, ever start to listen to what adult intercountry adoptees think of such practices and make appropriate changes?!
As you can read in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which every country has ratified except for the USA, it is against our fundamental right to split twins up from birth and remove all traces of our identity. Not only are we separated and not told, but agencies make no efforts to followup and enable the re-establishment of a twin’s identity even if they found out later a child had been a twin. Knowing as I do, how important biological ties mean to us intercountry adoptees, I call it an outright crime that agencies and governments do little to remedy this situation. After 60 plus years of modern intercountry adoption worldwide, we should not still be agreeing to “twins” being separated at birth without even notifying an adoptive family that the child is actually a twin or giving them this knowledge and choice.
The leader of the world, the United States of America has not yet ratified the UNCRC! Would it be too much to expect that the world’s leading superpower who happens to trade (yes import AND export) the greatest number of children via intercountry adoption, actually follow through and enable these same children to retain their family relations via intercountry adoption?
Here’s a link to the UNCRC and note for intercountry adoption situations, relevant articles are 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 (directly relevant for deportation cases); 12 (for adoptees who are older), 20, 21, 25 (note the lack of this followup in intercountry adoption cases as post placement report is not sufficient), 30, 34 (for those who end up sexually abused in their adoptive families), 35 (for how we are sourced).
For twins, Article 8 is most relevant to what I raise awareness to in this blog.
1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.
2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.
As a fellow Australian intercountry adoptee, I watched LION and found it to be better than what I’d expected after having read so many different reviews.
It captured so many emotional aspects of an intercountry adoptee’s journey. I felt the most powerful aspect was that of Saroo’s adopted brother (also from India) who clearly struggled with his adoptive life from day 1 of arrival into his new family. Being a mother myself of a special needs son who experienced meltdowns, the behaviour I saw reflected a boy who not only had endured the harsh beginnings like Saroo that led to trauma related behaviours, but most likely also suffered from other special needs – apparent by the multiple scars on his head when he first arrived and the meltdown on night 1. I must say, his adoptive parents are portrayed as handling that night quite lovingly and calmly even though I’m sure in reality it must have been a shock after having such a “perfect” adoptive son the first time round. It also serves as a healthy reminder of the need for adequate pre-adoptive education and the realistic expectation setting that adoptees do not come as blank slates, not even new born babies.
Saroo’s adoptive brother’s struggles spoke volumes to me for the adoptees I know who don’t fare well, despite being placed with the best of adoptive families. These adoptees suffer daily and have little respite from their deep emotional and mental suffering and I see this especially from those who arrive as older age adoptees into families who don’t understand there might be any pre adoption trauma. In one section of the film it was raw and painful to hear Saroo accuse his adoptive brother of causing his adoptive mother so much pain. The anguish this caused in Saroo’s adoptive brother’s face – his expression was as if to say, “If I could do better I would … and how dare you judge me!” This raised in my mind the unrealistic assumption we adoptees hold that it is our role to give our adoptive parents only happiness and joy.
I also empathised with Saroo’s adoptive brother because Saroo’s harsh judgement comes from another unquestioned assumption that we adoptees should have nothing to suffer as our adoption already saved us from all the doom and gloom of our past and created in us a “new life”. As Saroo’s adoptive brother portrays, sometimes that new life eludes adoptees and it is the sad reality that many suffer for the rest of their life and never quite manage to capture that elusive dream of being “happy for ever after” in our adopted life, like Saroo wanted to be capable of.
For those adoptees like Saroo’s adoptive brother who can’t escape our fates, the movie did well to capture this reality. I often hear from adoptees within an adoptive family that one adopted child became the people pleaser and upon appearance, does well versus the other who struggles and pulls the rest of the adoptive family with them. Not from any fault of their own, but just because things are tougher with more to face and having a different personality and personal fortuitude to be able to cope any better. Like Saroo’s adoptive brother, this is their best but it often gets judged as not being good enough in return for showing gratitude in being adopted.
For Saroo who appeared to be the “perfect” adoptee, the film did well to show that even the perfect adoptee is silently struggling inside. His relationship with his girlfriend suffered and she was the one closest to Saroo, his relationship suffered with his adoptive parents, his ability to hold down a job, etc. Everything it seemed was affected by his past! It is so true to portray that even for the “perfect” adoptee we still have raging within us just as intense battles as the “difficult” adoptees do. I believe the seemingly “perfect” adoptee hides it better and is as powerfully driven by the nature of our relentless questions and fragments of life and identity before being adopted as our “acting out” or struggling adoptee.
The dynamics between the two adoptive siblings was powerful and I could feel the sense of wishful thinking to move back to the time which Saroo had prior to his adoptive brother’s arrival. The unforgettable scene at the dinner table where Saroo as an adult finally says “he’s not my brother” is the one moment of truth in their family where the unspoken finally becomes spoken. I think for many adoptive families it is not considered enough how much a new arrival of adoptive sibling can impact the first adoptee / child and how they can come to resent the change in the dynamics and balance to the family.
The other powerful theme which I could relate to, was of how Saroo was so sensitive to his adoptive mother and feeling that he needed to protect her from his truths. This is a reality that becomes visible time and again when intercountry adoptees share with me about their desire to search or understand their roots. They don’t want to upset vulnerable mum who clearly loves and wanted them so much. Our adoptee desire to show our gratefulness and love in return costs us our own truths and creates the necessity to hide it. So too, Saroo ends up isolated and going through his journey very alone and unsupported. He’s so afraid that her knowing about his searching will deeply wound and if not literally “kill” his adoptive mother – which he regards his adoptive brother as doing already.
This is an issue many of us intercountry adoptees have, whether warranted or not, in feeling that we need to protect our adoptive parents. There was also a poignant line in the film after Saroo’s adoptive mother shared about her vision that led to adopting him, saying that it made her “feel good for the first time in her life”. That statement said what many of us adoptees feel but never verbalise – that we are there to make our adoptive parents feel good about themselves and we are afraid to give them any information and truth about ourselves or our life before them, that will jeapordise our relationship with them. We live in fear of them regretting us because we haven’t fulfilled their dream or vision.
How sad that Saroo spent so long having to protect his adoptive mother (and adoptive father) from his real feelings of sadness that his memories caused for him – the depth of his desire to reassure his own biological family that he was alive to therefore stop worrying and searching. What is even sadder is that there wasn’t the truth and openness between Saroo and his adoptive parents to allow both to connect and be supportive to one another because in fact, their realities were not in opposition but could have been symbiotic.
This dynamic is again something I hear from adoptees who share with me and what I also experience myself. We are afraid to really let our adoptive families know the true depths of our sadness and loss about our original families because we feel they will be disappointed or feel “less than” parents to us. Saroo’s adoptive family dynamic is not uncommon in adoptive families but rather, I would dare say it is uncommon to see any other dynamic within most adoptive families. Time and again adoptees share they won’t search until their adoptive parent dies, or they don’t want to share about their desire to search because it will “hurt” the adoptive parent, or they don’t need to search because their adoptive parents are “family” and they don’t need any other.
I noticed the many times Saroo tried to reassure his adoptive mother – especially when he was heading off to India and again when he had found his biological mother, that she would always be his family and that he loved her. This is such a burden for adoptees to carry – constantly feeling we have to reassure our adoptive parents of our love and gratefulness. You rarely hear of biological children suffering this same burden! Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about our adoptive families with such an oversensitive barometer!
I was glad to see Saroo made the trip to India by himself. We adoptees sometimes need do this so as not to complicate our trip with worrying about the feelings and complex emotions of our adoptive family. Our search and reunion for some needs to be a moment in time where it’s just about us, the adoptee and our birth family – as it was prior to being adopted – so we can experience our grief, elation to be reunited, sadness and everything inbetween, without the additional burden of feeling responsible for our adoptive family’s emotions.
I loved the ending which explained why the film was named LION and reflected so well, what we adoptees experience – that of not knowing the correct pronunciation of our original name because our adoptive experience is so immersive and complete that we fully lose any ability to speak or understand our birth language, especially when adopted at an older age.
The film did well to portray the state of affairs in India where children who are vulnerable like Saroo was, have very little help offered. There seemed to be few safe shelters, social workers or services to feed the poor and hungry. I’m personally glad to see the film is being used as an avenue to create assistance to Indian street children in future and provide better options than what Saroo experienced.
I look forward to hearing more about Saroo’s journey for I suspect this might just be the beginning of him sharing his voice. He has shared his journey with the WHOLE world and that is no small feat to be so open after keeping his search and feelings so secretive for so long! I hope he will overcome his over-developed sense of responsibility for his adoptive mother and come to take a useful place in the worldwide intercountry adoption dialogue about what really happens for vulnerable children and their families and what needs to be done to protect them better.
In contrast to his adoptive mother who uses the film to promote further intercountry adoptions, I hope Saroo will help create a forum in which the world can delve into ethical questions involved in the rights of vulnerable children and their families and a rightful place for intercountry adoption after ALL attempts to reunify the family has occurred. In the film there was one line Saroo said about his struggle with being adopted into a “place of so much privilege” and trying to make sense of this in contrast to his internal drive to “find home” and family and no-one helping him when he was a lost child. It made me hopeful that Saroo will use his opportunity of worldwide fame as an intercountry adoptee to drive critical thinking about what we in western countries have and our sense of responsibility to use our resources for enabling a better world, instead of gaining from other country’s vulnerabilities.
I connected with Abby Forero-Hilty from a Colombian intercountry adoptee group on FaceBook. She has worked hard to put together a new anthology that shares 18 Colombian intercountry adoptee experiences. Most participants were raised in the USA except 4 who were raised in Europe (Germany, UK, Belgium & Switzerland). The anthology is titled Decoding Our Origins: The Lived Experiences Of Colombian Adopteesand it’s proceeds will be given to Colombian intercountry adoptees and their original families who struggle to afford DNA testing kits.
I read the book in two sittings. I loved the mix of literary styles .. prose, lyrics, narrative, photographs – it made for an interesting read! It is deeply emotional and contains very moving personal accounts of the struggles and achievements of those who contributed. It covers some profoundly sad experiences and includes many stories of reunion and beyond.
I felt very connected reading Decoding our Origins because it reflected much of what I’ve experienced and learnt from intercountry adoptee’s worldwide covering a variety of countries of origin. The issues and experiences reflect what I’ve always termed the “kaleidoscope of intercountry adoption journeys”.
One aspect that stood out was these experiences voiced by the USA based Colombian intercountry adoptees, appear to be largely the result of the USA’s privatised system of adoption. It has only been since 2008 that the USA became a signatory of The Hague Convention for Intercountry Adoption. Prior to becoming a signatory, independent adoption agencies facilitated intercountry adoptions for prospective parents. We read the results from these intercountry adoptees themselves, now grown up, with a voice of their own. They share the consequences of growing up with ill prepared parents due to a lack of mandatory and standardised education, lack of standardised screening, and a lack of education to adoption agencies from the kaleidoscope of intercountry adoptee experiences.
Decoding our Origins, being largely the voices of USA based Colombian intercountry adoptees, is a reflection on the USA who is the largest receiving country in the world … and a sender of it’s own children via intercountry adoption! Will the USA and countries in Europe work harder to listen to and include a wide range of voices from the adult intercountry adoptee community to improve standards and processes in intercountry adoptions to achieve better long term outcomes for the child (who inevitably grows up to become an adult)? Only time will tell.
We now see enmasse, generations of intercountry adoptees like these Colombians in the USA and around Europe, who have suffered in their adoptions. Suffered rehoming, trafficking, deportation, false documentation; who are searching for their true identities and place of belonging, who struggle to have their emotional journey validated, and essentially for whom they have been given inadequate pre & post adoption supports. Our receiving countries have an ethical obligation to ensure if they are going to continue to bring in children via intercountry adoption each year, they lift their standards to ensure these children have positive outcomes in the future and not continue to suffer as many in this Colombian anthology share.
Some suggestions to lift standards would be to provide fully funded resources specific to intercountry adoption, like:
Let’s not forget the role of the sending country, Colombia. One has to question why our sending countries including Colombia, continues to send so many of its children out. Why, after so many generations, does Colombia fail to create and implement family preservation systems especially given such a high proportion of these Colombian adoptees successfully reunite and find their families intact? Why also has there been such a long history of irregularities in identity documentation from orphanages and hospitals in sending countries? Decoding our Origins exemplifies the long term consequences for intercountry adoptees who are sent away to another country under such practices. Our governments becoming a signatory of The Hague for Intercountry Adoption does little to improve these aspects of intercountry adoption for us intercountry adoptees!
Decoding Our Origins: The Lived Experiences Of Colombian Adopteesis now available from their website.
Gut wrenching to learn of our biological mothers’ life experiences!
This book is a must read for those who think critically about intercountry adoption. It is written by an academic, Hosu Kim, who is herself Korean born and moved to the USA in the 1990s. She is a sociologist and regards herself as a transnational feminist scholar. She provides amazing insight into the history of South Korean intercountry adoption and most importantly, focuses on experiences of South Korean mothers who lost their children to intercountry adoption.
As an intercountry adoptee myself, raised in Australia and adopted out of the Vietnam War, I have always advocated for empowering and including the voices of our original families to ensure a more balanced perspective of intercountry adoption. ICAV has been instrumental in helping to bring to the forefront the voices and experiences of intercountry adoptees. Intercountry adoptees have continued to evolve, connect, and collaborate, speaking loudly throughout the world about our experiences. In comparison, our mothers and fathers are still invisible and mostly not considered when it comes to intercountry adoption policy and decision making at all levels.
I hope this book, being the first of its kind to academically research the experiences of a number of South Korean mothers, will help the world take steps for inclusion of their voices and experiences!
About the Book
Kim coins the term “virtual mothering” to describe the process by which South Korean mothers get separated from their children for intercountry adoption via maternity homes and then reconnected again with their child via imaginary or real processes such as TV shows, internet blogs, and oral history collections. Her book demonstrates how these South Korean women begin as mothers in the traditional sense but it is not a fixed identity based purely on birthing. Instead, mothering as a South Korean woman who has given up her child via intercountry adoption is a transient and transformative process.
To help us better understand the concept of virtual mothering she cites phrases from mothers such as:
“I am a mother but not a mother”,
“I abandoned my baby but I really didn’t, I didn’t abandon my baby but I might as well have”,
“I was alive but it cannot really be called living”.
Early chapters explore the historical emergence of intercountry adoption within the context of post war South Korea. Often we assume mothers relinquish in intercountry adoption contexts because of poverty but Kim gives you the in depth view of what happened in South Korea. She demonstrates the direct links between war, war orphan crisis, the need for emergency relief programs provided by foreign aid organisations (usually religious NGOs) that turned into permanent child welfare institutions. The emergence of these NGOs as maternity homes and then adoption agencies subsequently allow the South Korean government to avoid the responsibility of developing social welfare infrastructure. In turning a blind eye to taking responsibility, coupled with long held patriarchal beliefs and traditions, the South Korean government chooses to sacrifice mothers and children at the expense of the country’s first priorities – national security and economic development.
Upon reading this book, I gained insight and answers to my long pondered question of why South Korea remains the largest exporter of children yet have a strong economic situation. A strong economy was achieved at the expense of the children exported enmasse and the mothers who were never given any other choice! As an intercountry adoptee, this injustice makes me angry! I often hear other intercountry adoptees wrestling with the same sense of abandonment, not from our mothers, but from our countries who choose to give away their responsibility of us.
The chapter on the role of televised searching/reunion narratives was insightful and fitted with what I’ve also learned from adoptees’ perspectives. The overt orchestrated reunions to “portray the cultural belief that transnational adoption offers a better life” via the American Dream. The “idealisation that adoptive parents and life in the west” is better. The lack of empowerment for the parties involved. The sensationalised first meeting that does little to be real about the complexities. The sadness that encompass adoptees and mothers post reunion. All of these realities struck me head on and highlighted the glibness of such televised search shows!
Kim correctly states television shows “linearise the loss of time .. flatten the complexities of loss”. The harshness of the biological mothers realities post reunion is something I see mirrored in the lives of intercountry adoptees .. the almost impossibility of being able to build any meaningful relationships due to “language, culture, finances, bureaucratic barriers and differences” .
Kim’s following statements powerfully bring home the reality of our mother’s truths:
“it is therefore thru reuniting with her child that the birth mother finally sees and feels the metaphorical death of her child”..
“it is the acknowledgement of the magnitude and irretrievability of these losses”
” .. reunion was both a final realisation, an acknowledgement of loss of time, loss of child, and loss of their own mothering”.
I felt crushed by the weight of South Korean mother’s experiences! It was as heavy as I had sensed in my years of being connected with intercountry adoptees and from the realities I gained from our latest paper on Search & Reunion: Impacts & Outcomes. Adoptees find out the truth of their relinquishment and adoption when they reunite. As Kim highlights from these mother’s experiences, it’s often not as the adoption and television industry try to make us believe.
Kim adequately used the phrase:
“the social death of birth mothers is not merely a state of invisibility, but rather the result of violent processes involving .. domination and humiliation that devalues the lives of these women”.
Once we open ourselves to our mother’s realities, one can’t help but judge the adoption industry harshly for its dehumanising consequences to mother and child. Our mothers really had no choices and their value was crushed from the beginning. So too, it is reflected for adoptees whereby we continue to have little legal, financial, ethical rights or assistance when we experience an intercountry adoption that has not been in our interests e.g. outright or suspected trafficking, deportation, rehoming, and abuse/death at the hands of unsuitable adoptive parents.
Kim wrote about mother’s who inevitably end up “estranged from their own lives”. This same “severance from self” is one of the fundamental issues many adoptees also struggle with. Our mother’s accounts cannot be ignored or denied!
“Her loss severs her from her past and seeps into her present wherein her feelings, needs, and desires become estranged from her; through this estrangement, she becomes cut-off from her own future”.
Intercountry adoption cannot be undertaken without acknowledging the lifelong impacts on our mothers who have been separated from us, their child. Kim challenges everyone to recognise the losses our mothers suffered and the processes and means by which their lives are rendered invisible and devalued. This book asks us to be engaged and affected by what has happened in the name of economic development.
My special thanks to Hanna Johannson who connected me to Hosu Kim and her research!
I was recently contacted by a researcher who wanted to know if we could share our experiences of how searching and reunification impacts us. I decided it was a good reason to put together a long overdue Perspective Paper.
I didn’t realise this paper would end up being a book as it includes over 40 intercountry adoptees, contributing 100 pages!
Questions asked to stimulate the kind of responses I was seeking were:
What country of origin are you from? What country of origin were you adopted to and at what age?
What do you think it was that made you search? Was it something you always wanted to do or did you reach a point in your life that instigated the desire? What were your expectations?
How did you go about conducting your search? What resources did you utilise? What obstacles did you encounter?
What outcome did you have? What impact has that had upon you? How has that impacted your relationship with your adoptive family?
What has the experience been like of maintaining a relationship with your biological family? What obstacles have you encountered? What has been useful in navigating this part of your life?
How have you integrated your search and/or reunion in your sense of who you are? Has it changed anything? In what ways?
What could be done by professionals, governments and agencies to help assist in Search & Reunions for intercountry adoptees like yourself?
These questions were guidelines only and adoptees were encouraged to provide any further insight to the topic.
All types of outcomes were included, whether searches were successful or not.
This resource will provide adoptees with a wide range of perspectives to consider when contemplating the issues involved in searching for original family. The paper will also provide the wider public and those involved in intercountry adoption a deeper understanding of how an adoptee experiences the search. Governments, agencies, and professional search organisations have direct feedback on what they can do to improve the process for intercountry adoptees.