Adopted to Spain

by Andrea Pelaez Castro adopted from Colombia to Spain. Andrea has written a masters thesis that investigates adoptions in Spain with a focus on how to prevent adoption rupture/breakdowns. You can follow her blogspot Adoption Deconstruction.

INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION IN SPAIN: DECONSTRUCTION OF AN ANACHRONISM

Some might think how lucky I am because I didn’t lose my mother tongue, nor my biological sisters and the fact that we blended in with our parents. Along these years, a lot of people dared to tell me we should thank whoever is in charge of this world that we weren’t on the streets drugging or prostituting ourselves. It was my parents who put that idea in our soft brains in the first place. Those words marked my entire childhood, but I’ve always felt something was wrong. I didn’t felt grateful for all those things I was supposed to be. On the contrary, I kept asking myself why we were in country that wasn’t our own, why we were treated so different from others kids, and why we couldn’t claim our mother (something we stopped doing because of the punishment we received). This constant fight between what I was supposed to feel and what I felt turned out to be, was the longest period of hatred and low self-esteem that I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t bear the anger and loneliness that comes with what I was told: my mother abandoned us because she didn’t love us. Repeated word after word like a mantra, I embraced that idea in order to survive and be accepted. However, being conscious of the situation I was living, I eventually reached the turning point when I left the nest.

My life was about to change again thanks to my determination to know the truth, frightening as it might be. In 2015, I lived in London for a year, my first independent experience which allowed me to think about my origins and my mother. When I came back to Spain, my adoptive country, I decided to start my journey along with my professional career as a lawyer. As a way to understand why I hold myself back for so many years and why my parents didn’t want to speak about adoption, I began my studies on Family and Children Law in Barcelona. I devoured every book and article about adoption, emotional regulation, relinquishment, trauma, ADHD, attachment disorder and first families that landed on my hands. I became a sponge absorbing every bit of knowledge that could help me to comprehend this exchange of children happening all over the world. I named my final thesis “Adoption in Spain: assessment and support to prevent disruption”. Finally, a critical thinking about adoption emerged to answer all my questions related to my parents and the way I was educated.

When we arrived to Madrid, Spain, after the long trip from Colombia, I marvelled at the big city, our new home and the kindness of those strangers. What I never could have imagined was the solitude and lack of acceptance of the people that were supposed to care about us. What I am about to tell I’ve never shared before (besides my chosen family). Our first ten years with our parents can be summed up with one word: isolation. We only knew physical and emotional pain, treated as if we were savages or from ‘la guerrilla’ (FARC members), insults they used to call us. With constant threats of being relinquished again and reminding us about their regrets for adoption. The entire building heard our crying and screams. We told some adults, but everyone looked the other way. This abuse upon our bodies and minds left us hopeless and developed into an attachment disorder, afraid of physical contact but longing for any kind of sign of love.

We could only understand what was happening being young adults. We aimed for their recognition of the trauma they caused, trying to comprehend why they didn’t reach for help or psychological aid. Still, I made an effort after I finished and shared my thesis with them so they could understand about international adoption and the effects of the affective bond broken in the first place. But every attempt was in vain. In that moment I perceived the causes of their own distress and grief, such as their unfinished mourning of infertility or the absence of care and attachment from their own families. They were raised under violence and depriving circumstances, therefore that’s the only kind of love we knew from them. However, even being aware of this, I didn’t quite accept the current situation and I persisted in fixing my family, longing for a tie that never existed.

While I specialised in children, family law and adoption, I started to peel the first layer: looking for my origins and my mother. For this purpose, the main step was to educate myself and deconstruct why I ended up here. I was adopted in Spain where adoption is a legal construct that is meant to protect children who have no families or when their relatives cannot provide for them, but I figured out that instead, adoption is preserving others’ privileges and interests, inherited from favoured families thanks to colonialism and Catholicism. The first stirrings of adoption occurred after the civil war in 1936-1939, leaving the defeated side subjugated under a dictatorship, which ruled the country until 1975. We all know this period as the time of ‘bebes robados’ (stolen babies). The opposing families were diminished and punished by the government, sending men and women to prison and taking every child they could to place them in ‘suitable’ homes. This undertaking was possible due to the collaboration between the dictatorship itself and the Catholic Church. Hospital personnel and maternity residences (run by nuns) were connected and instructed to register and hand over the babies, previous payments were made by the priest of the village or the district. This vast network kept going until the 90s. Associations estimate 300,000 babies were abducted in 1940-1990 in Spain after Justice was served for the first time in 2018. Most of those adults and their mothers who claimed their rights weren’t able to know the truth considering those crimes were historic and there was no one alive to take responsibility nor documents to prove it.

From this perspective and the generalised conception of nuclear family (one mother-one father), but also a restricted moral view that encourages sexism and undermines single motherhood, the adoption was and has been assimilated as the biological filiation. I’ve heard so many times one phrase from people who want to adopt: ‘Why must we get an assessment of our abilities as parents and yet a 17 year old girl doesn’t need it in order to be pregnant?’ There is another one that arises: ‘What if the child comes with issues?’ And the gold mine: ‘Shouldn’t international adoption be permitted without restrictions? Those children need to be saved’. These statements are from common people, well-educated, with economic and even emotional resources. Despite these sentiments, there is so much to be taught and learnt about adoption and adoptees. Our voices and stories must be heard so we are no longer represented as ‘forever a child’, which prevents us from acknowledging our experience as a life long journey.

I would like to address and comment on those phrases:

  • First of all, privileges from prosperous countries and poverty or lack of resources from first families are the reason why someone can afford to raise an adopted child. Therefore, if impoverished countries could receive those funds set aside for an adoption, children could be raised by their parents and would stay in their communities. In addition, when a child is born from others parents the affective bond doesn’t grow magically or in the same conditions as a biological one because his/her roots are stated, so prospective parents will always need to learn from scratch what is to grow without knowing our beginning.
  • Adoption comes from trauma, considering the emotional wound left and carried within ourselves, caused by deprivation from the primal protection, nourishment and affection of our mother and sometimes caretakers in orphanages/institutions or foster homes. Mainly, the issue is not the child, but the adult that wants to adopt thinking about himself, concerning how things or events would effect on one when the purpose is no other but the person separated from their origin. We are not meant to be suitable for adoptive families, it is meant to be the other way around.
  •  Finally, but not less important, international adoption is a veiled and corrupt purchase and we do not need to be rescued from our birthplace. Our families could have less or be in a temporary crisis, but it shouldn’t mean these circumstances may be used as an advantage by privileged families. It is a widely-known vicious circle, where a child can be taken by authorities or abducted by organisations. There are stories where even a poor family could have received threats and/or money in order to give up their child so others can be fed. I insist, those resources could be exactly the required aid, but still white saviours and the colonialist debt find their way out. It is a burden our countries keep suffering. As well, international adoption creates a psychological shock and sorrow. It means our pain and grief are only moved to another place, which are not accepted because those feelings have been denied in our adoptive countries since ‘we have been saved and thus we must be eternally grateful’.

In Spain, and other countries, sometimes people who approach adoption as a way to form a family do not realise and/or aren’t even interested in deconstructing their own desires and the consequences. Yes, here we speak about adoption, there is news about it on TV, there are associations from adoptive parents and adoptees, but it is not enough. What needs to be care about is the critical view on this matter. We can no longer ignore that this system doesn’t protect children nor save them. Especially plenary adoption, which is the most outdated contract to ever exist. Yes, it is a contract where one signs and pays to give their name to a child and gain rights over another person so he or she can be raised by someone else and in another country. That being said:

WHY DO WE HAVE TO LOSE OUR FIRST FAMILY TO BE PROTECTED OR RAISED BY OTHERS? WHY MUST THE AFFECTIVE BOND BE BROKEN? WHAT IS THAT FEAR THAT PREVENTS US FROM BEING ABLE TO STAY CONNECTED WITH OUR ORIGINS?

THE AFFECTIVE BOND

International adoption is a success precisely because of this reason: people being afraid of losing someone that is not theirs to begin with. What an archaic concept! Back to the assimilation of adoption as a natural filiation. The affective bond cannot grow if our roots and our past are rejected. Still there exist a type of movie within the terror genre which speaks about this fear, where adoptive children rebel against their family or the first mother comes back to claim what is her own. Fear and rejection cannot be the seed of any family. This is the reason my thesis wasn’t quite appreciated at that time, because I addressed an important subject and pointed out a fear we were born with (not being accepted). This clean break concept within plenary adoption is outdated and must be removed from our communities. Society might not be ready to abolish this figure due to economic, fertility and mental health problems, but adoptees should not be the ones to suffer others’ choices. Adoption must come from a place of stability and acceptance of our own limitations, otherwise generations are wounded and anguish created over issues that are not our duty to fix or responsible for.

Now that I’ve found my family and I understand the circumstances that led me here, I can start my healing process, which doesn’t mean being static, but moving forward through sorrow and all kinds of grief. The next layer I’m trying to live with and didn’t accept at the end of my research is that there is no affective bond or a concept of family in my adoption. At some point I had to endure the pain that comes with it, but finally it set me free. In the words of Lynelle Long, my contract with them is over. Reading those words and relating to them at this time, is the beginning of a crucial period of my life. I highly recommend others to initiate the search of our origins, only new wisdom can be spread into ourselves, and also do not be afraid of sharing your story. Don’t deny yourself or your wounds. They are just a reminder that we are still alive and we can heal together.

THIS IS MY STORY

I’m 32 and I was adopted at age 7 years old, along my two little sisters (5 and 3 years old) by Spanish parents in 1995 in Colombia. Our Colombian mom was 20 when our Colombian father died in 1993. His death was related to a drug/paramilitary organisation. This event changed our whole life. I’ve been in these stages of grief, negation and hatred, but now I think I’m in the negotiation phase of the loss of my family, my mother and this whole different life I could have lived if things would have been distinct, even just one thing. Due to this violence, the male members of my father’s family were wiped out in case of a possible revenge. This way, my mother lost contact with his family, therefore she couldn’t take care of us while trying to provide for us. The ICBF (Colombian Central authority that protects children) found out about this situation and intervened. My Colombian mother didn’t have any economic or emotional support (at least, nobody cared enough to look for the rest of our family), so she had to make a decision with both hands tied.

Two years later, we were moved to Madrid, Spain. Our adoptive parents were old-fashioned not only in their thinking about education, but also in their emotional intelligence. They didn’t really empathise with us or accept our past and origins. As a result they wouldn’t speak about adoption. Until I flew the nest, I wasn’t able to think about my first mother or family. It was too painful and I wanted to be accepted by any means. I never felt close to my adoptive parents, but they took care of us three children and we never knew what is to be separated from each other. In 2016, I decided it was enough and I started this scary journey. My sisters never felt prepared to do it with me, but they have been by my side looking over my shoulder, and as they like to say: this is like a telenovela (soap show). However, I did my own research and became my own private investigator. I only needed our adoption file to get her ID number, and with a little help from contacts in Colombia, I found her in 2018. I wasn’t ready to make contact at the beginning, but I overcame this difficulty by writing a letter with my sisters. Then in December 2020, I got to find my father’s family on Facebook. One name was missing that my mother told me about, but it was the key to unlock what was holding me back from truly knowing my family.

I realize, especially reading other adoptees’ experiences, how lucky I am. I’m aware of the consequences of adoption, its trauma and wounds, the scars we have to learn to live with; the deconstruction of my origins and my own personality, the necessities and defences required in order to survive. This whole process has taught me something more valuable that I’ve could never imagine: accept myself and others. I have always had my sisters with me, who are learning from this growth with open minds, knowing it is not easy and they are not ready to go through the same phases as I am, but they are willing to listen and walk with me as far as they can. Recognising and understanding that this was not possible with our parents has been the most painful step, but we’ve managed to take control of our lives and choices. Now I’m preparing myself for this trip, physically and emotionally. At this moment I’m reading ‘Colombia: a concise contemporary history’ to finally know my country, which I ignored for so many years. Thanks to my Colombian mom, I’ve discovered that I was really born in Muzo, Boyaca.

My birth town, Muzo, Boyaca in Colombia

Original Spanish version of this article here.

Adopté d’Haïti

par Christla Petitberghien adoptée d’Haïti en France.
English version here.

France and Haiti flags

Si la réforme de 2013 a certes permis une avancée, je ne pense que cela suffise. Je crois qu’il faut abolir l’adoption plénière qui non seulement prive les personnes adoptées du contact pourtant crucial avec leur familles naturelles mais aussi efface même leur existence juridiquement. Notre certificat de naissance est déclaré nul et non avenue et est remplacé par un autre document fictif qui déclare que nous sommes nés de nos adoptants. C’est de la falsification. Autrement dit,c’est une forme de détournement cognitif qui nie et écrase notre identité biologique première et notre réalité au profit d’une “Fiction” dite légale et pourtant qui est à l’origine de la plupart des discriminations systémiques auxquelles nous devons faire face nous , personnes adoptées, groupe social marginalisé et invisibilisé. Je me demande toujours comment les gens peuvent trouver ça normal de couper et de détruire les liens entre l’enfant et sa famille ? Comment est-ce que nous pouvons trouver cela acceptable ? Pourquoi nous trouvons normal que des individus est à passer leur vie à chercher leur famille ? À vivre dans l’incertitude et la non-information ? À se demander qui si sa famille est toujours en vie ? Ou si nous retrouverons nos pères et mères décédés ? Pourquoi avons-nous tant banaliser la séparation et cherchons même à l’encourager. Nous devrions cesser de croire que retirer les enfants des familles aux situations socio-économique précaires aide l’enfant. Ça ne l’aide pas. Ça ne résout rien si ce n’est créer plus de traumas à cette enfant.

Dans le système de l’adoption, la pauvreté est perçue comme une raison pouvant justifier l’adoption des enfants. On suppose donc que retirer les enfants de leur famille est une solution à la pauvreté. Alors même que les conditions de vie de la famille d’origine ne devraient pas être la raison de toute séparation d’un enfant à ses parents. N’avons-nous pas vu les véhémentes réactions de la population américaine et mondiale lorsque Donald Trump avait mis en place une politique de séparations entre des familles immigrées et leurs enfants? Combien de personnes étaient scandalisées ? Combien de personnes alertaient sur le fait que séparer un enfant de sa famille en raison de leur situation économique est inhumain ? Pourtant, dans le cadre de l’adoption, la même chose se produit. Les mères sont séparées de leurs enfants pour des raisons économiques et sociales au lieu de recevoir le soutien approprié et personne ne s’en offusque. Grâce à l’adoption, cela est rendu acceptable. Riitta Högbacka, chercheuse à l’université de Helsinki a bien rappelé dans son étude sur “l’adoption internationale et la production sociale de l’abandon” que “l’Assemblée générale des Nations unies (2010) a, par exemple, clairement déclaré que la pauvreté ne devrait jamais être la seule justification pour retirer un enfant à ses parents, pour le placer dans une structure de protection de remplacement ou pour empêcher sa réinsertion, mais qu’elle devrait être considérée comme un signal de la nécessité d’apporter un soutien approprié à la famille. Dans la pratique, le manque matériel est un facteur majeur de motivation des adoptions, et les mères naturelles appauvries n’ont pas reçu d’aide ou de soutien pour garder leur enfant. Le système d’adoption laisse les mères à elles-mêmes et ne les aident pas.” C’est bien vrai, combien d’entre nous, avons retrouvé nos familles dans la même situation qu’au moment de notre adoption ? Toujours dans la même pauvreté , toujours sans ressources et n’ayant reçu aucune aide ? Les parents sont toujours laissés pour compte dans le système de l’adoption. Comme l’a dit Debora L. Spar,la doyenne associée principale de la Harvard Business School Harvard School of Business, «Ce sont les États pauvres qui produisent les enfants et les riches qui les consomment. Dans ce processus, les parents pauvres sont laissés pour compte, n’étant que les fabricants initiaux des enfants d’autres personnes. ».

Arrêtons de penser que les enfants dans les crèches et orphelinats n’ont pas de familles, qu’ils ont été délaissés ou abandonnés parce que ce n’est pas vrai pour la très grande majorité. Beaucoup de personnes prétendent que les familles ont fait le choix de laisser leur enfants. Ce n’est pas vrai. Aucunes n’avaient la capacité de faire un choix authentique réel et authentique. En effet on leur propose pas d’autres possibilités que l’adoption. Il n’existe pas d’alternatives de prise en charge temporaire, d’aider financière, de structures d’acceuil des mères en situation difficiles, de soutien face aux manques de ressources. Donc qu’est-ce qu’un choix fait en l’absence d’autres choix ?Ce que nous ne considérons pas dans la rhétorique du supposé libre choix des familles naturelles, c’est le cadre bien précis et contraignant dans lequel la décision de la séparation s’inscrit. De fait, ce que nous écartons de la table, c’est la manière dont le renoncement de l’enfant par une mère et sa famille a été déterminé par des facteurs sociaux, économiques et politiques.les actions de la plupart des mères naturelles, loin d’être un choix éclairé et fait en toute liberté sont plus des séparations forcées qu’autre chose. Leur “choix” s’est fait en l’absence de toutes autres alternatives, donc contraint par l’inégalité des conditions dans lesquelles elles vivent. De plus,lorsqu’on parle de « consentement éclairé » en matière d’adoption, il faudrait rappeler que toujours ce consentement n’est jamais parfaitement éclairé et qu’il y’a toujours une énorme asymétrie d’informations qui participent à favoriser les consentements des mères naturelles. En effet, si quelques fois les mères ont été correctement informées de leur perte de tous droits parentaux sur l’enfant et la rupture permanente avec leur progéniture que cause l’adoption, certaines informations qui seraient pourtant déterminantes pour la prise de décisions des mères ne leur sont jamais dit. De quoi je parle ? Du traumatisme dévastateur qu’engendre la séparation d’une mère et son enfant tant pour elles-mêmes que pour l’enfant. Les mères ne sont jamais mises au courant des recherches établie sur la séparation, des risques pour l’adopté, des chances d’infertilité secondaire et de développer des troubles psychiques et un stress post-traumatique, de l’importance du lien mère-enfant. Comment expliquer que les adoptants sont aujourd’hui dûment informés des effets des traumatismes ( séparation, déraciment et adoption) sur l’enfant adopté alors même que les mères naturelles qui sont poussés à prendre une décision aux conséquences irréversibles ne le sont pas ? On voit donc que le consentement ne peut dès lors jamais être fait de façon éclairée quand on omet la vérité sur le devenir de l’enfant et sa mère.

Ainsi, nous devons penser les enfants des crèches non comme délaissés mais comme ayant une famille. Ces enfants ont des parents et sinon toute une famille élargie qui tiennent à eux. Nous devons penser pas à cette famille. Parce que nous n’aiderons véritablement les enfants, nous ne pourrons prévenir les abandon qu’en prenant en compte leur famille. Aidons les plutôt à garder leur enfants. Soutenons les financièrement pour qu’ils puissent les élever dignement. Investissons dans les associations de préservation familiale et réunification familiales. Investissons dans les programmes d’autonomisation des familles. Travaillons pour réduire toujours plus le nombre d’adoptions.

Abandoned Adopted Here: Review

Abandoned Adopted Here is an adoptee coming-of-age representation en masse whereby we see for the first time the older aged intercountry adoptees of the 1950s and 60s giving insight as to how they navigated the space between two identities, cultures and countries.

I loved seeing so many creatives/artists in one medium reflecting on their journeys and sharing with such openness on what it means to be transracially adopted.

As an inter-country adoptee from the 1970s era, I loved being able to see a reflection of my own experience! The words many shared, describes mine, yet they are the older generation who I hadn’t publicly heard a lot from. Lucy has enabled them to find their voice which is so important in modelling to the next generations of adoptees growing up! I also learnt about the mass movement of Hong Kong children to Britain interwoven with the history of Britain and how it was so similar to my experience of coming to Australia prior to the multicultural era!

The film is an honest portrayal of the difficulties we navigate to fit in and ultimately how we reconcile and embrace the differences between our identities we were born into but lost versus the identity we inherit from being adopted.

Abandoned Adopted Here also sharply portrays the lack of preparedness adoptive parents had in those early 50-60s days and how it impacted on the adoptee – of being forced to conform to their white surroundings, stifling their natural curiosity questions which could have allowed openness but instead emphasised Britishness.

The documentary depicts the common struggle most transracial adoptees share of being judged at a physical level by people who don’t know us and then their shock when we open our mouths and speak with such clear adopted-tongue accents!

I love how the film interweaves excerpts from Lucy’s play which gives us an in-depth look at her own personal struggles, layered with the other artists and showing the commonalities inter-country adoptees share.

Abandoned Adopted Here is not just for adoptees, it challenges East Asians in general to “own” their input to the British empire’s history and expect to be included!

Terrific documentary by Lucy Sheen, intercountry adoptee from Hong Kong to Britain.
Her website about her documentary:  Lucy Sheen’s Abandoned Adopted Here.

Review by Lynelle Long
Founder of InterCountry Adoptee Voices
Adopted from Vietnam to Australia

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