Restore the links between adoptees from Haiti born as unknown parents and their biological parents.
The dark side
Before April 1, 2014: date of the signing of the Hague Convention in Haiti. Thousands adopted without identity were adopted internationally with a mention born of an unknown mother and father or sometimes the first name of ‘only one parent. Among her children, several were unfortunately entrusted to non-full adoption through human trafficking of all kinds. Some children simply want to find their biological family because they feel they do not have access to their medical history, their legitimate identity.
Studies have shown that many children from adoptions live with traumas with psychological impacts ranging from suicide to neurodevelopmental effects that are due to their adoption. Several have been entrusted to benevolent adoptive families but ill prepared to welcome a child weakened by the injury of abandonment, moreover many of these have experienced a double abandonment of their adoptive parents by being placed in a reception center or a second adoptive family.
A tiny fraction of biological parents are slowly starting to find their biological children. Some testify that they did not knowingly give their children for adoption, but may rather have confided the assets temporarily and that on their return to the orphanage the child had been given up for adoption without their consent and without any possibility of information to find contact with this children in other cases of biological parents were told that the biological parent was dead when it is false and so many other situations not to all named. This is a child who was adopted said without real identities and / or without identities of their 2 biological parents was not beyond a reasonable doubt, adoptable. Surveys, theses, and numerous testimonies also show that only 10% of these children were in fact really orphans. Since some of us are now old enough to take steps to find our biological families, we are amazed to witness all these hidden defects.
Another problem is on the horizon: failures to be helped by the various establishments such as: orphanage, hospital that asks us to donate sums of money to obtain our legitimate information … So here we are newly confronted with so-called Good Samaritans who offer us to carry out our research for them also a sum of money, a unstructured and corrupt circle that continues. It’s a call to villainy. How do you distinguish the good from the bad foreign Samaritan? We have and will leave an empty legacy of identity that we will leave to our children and our future generations. As the pioneers of this experimental generation on international adoption in Haiti we ask for your support in all its forms in order to restore the balance.
Original submission in French
Rétablissont les liens entre les adoptés d’Haïti nés sous l’appellation de parents inconnus et leurs parents biologiques.
Le côté sombre
Avant le 1er avril 2014 : date de la signature de la convention de La Haye en Haïti .Des milliers adoptés sans identité ont été adoptés à l’international avec une mention nées d’une mère et d’un père inconnu ou parfois le prénom d’un seul parent . Parmi ses enfants, plusieurs ont été confié malheureusement à l’adoption non plénière à travers un trafic d’humain de tout genre. Certains enfants veulent tout simplement retrouver leur famille biologique puisqu’ils estiment ne pas avoir accès à leur antécédents médicaux, leur identité légitime.
Les études ont démontrés que plusieurs enfants issues de c’est adoptions vivent avec des traumatismes ayant des impacts psychologique allant du suicide aux effets neuro développementaux qui sont due à leur adoption. Plusieurs ont été confiés à des familles adoptives bienveillantes mais mal préparées à accueillir un enfant fragilisé par la blessure d’abandon, d’ailleurs nombreux de ceux-ci ont vécu un double abandon de leur parents adoptif en étant placé dans un centre accueille ou une deuxième famille adoptive.
Une infime partie de parents biologiques commencent tranquillement à retrouver leur enfants biologique. Certain témoignent ne pas avoir données leur enfants à l’adoption en tout connaissance de cause mai plutôt les avoirs confiés temporairement et qu’à leur retour à l’orphelinat l’enfant avait été donné en adoption sans leur consentement et sans aucune possibilité d’information pour retrouver le contact avec cette enfants dans d’autres cas des parents biologiques se sont fait dires que le parent biologique était mort alors que c’est faux et tant d’autres situation pour ne pas tous les nommés. C’est enfant qui ont été adoptés dit sans réel identités et/ou sans identités de leurs 2 parents biologiques n’était pas hors de doute raisonnable, adoptable. Des enquêtes, thèse, et nombreux témoignages présentent également que seulement 10 % de ces enfants étaient en fait réellement orphelins. Puisque certain de nous sommes maintenant assez âgés pour entreprendre des démarches de recherche pour retrouver leur famille biologique, nous assistons avec stupéfaction à tous ces vices cachés.
Un autre problème est à horizon ; fautes de se faire aider par les diverses établissement tel que ; orphelinat, hôpital qui nous demande de donné des des sommes d’argent pour obtenir nos renseignements légitime… Nous voilà donc nouvellement confronté à de soi-disant bon samaritains qui nous offre d`effectuer nos recherche moyennant eux aussi une somme d’argent, un cercle sans structure et corrompus qui se perpétue. C’est un appel à la villigence .Comment distinguer le bon du mauvais samaritain étrangé ? Nous avons et nous laisseront un héritage identitaire vide que nous laisserons à nos enfants et nos futures générations. En tant que pionniers de cette génération expérimentale sur l’adoption internationale sur Haïti nous demandons votre soutien sous toutes ses formes afin de rétablir l’équilibre.
“In very cynical terms, an American told me: “But don’t you understand, buddy, that this is the last reservoir of Caucasian children in the world?”
Last year I decided make an appointment with your agency to read my adoption file. I arrived on the day of the appointment, and everybody seemed surprised to see me. When I explained why I was there, they called you Carol because you didn’t show up. That evening, you wrote an e-mail that you were “sorry” you “forgot” my appointment. Your colleague Amelia took care of it. Amelia was nice, she was young, she had never worked with my birth country. Amelia didn’t explain how adoptions work for the adopters, for the children, or for your beautiful agency. Like I was supposed to know. She read out loud the few documents that she saw in my file. She made a copy of those I wanted to take with me. There’s one paper I didn’t ask for and I wish I had. Amelia was unable to tell me what was a “judicial abandonment” nor how the living conditions were at the orphanage, how long I stayed, or why I was put there in the first place. Amelia decided to read me the social investigation your agency did on my adoptive parents, probably because she felt sorry for me. She also pointed out that my adoptive father was, “Tolerant and open-minded, he liked meditating, it’s written right here”. From my previous life, there was nothing. “You should ask your adoptive parents”, she said. “At the time, we weren’t as thorough when we were filing the papers”. How many children are affected by filing methods that weren’t as “thorough” as they are now? When I left, I was bitter, frustrated and angry. I thought, “Those people are responsible for the process that changed my life forever and they know nothing”.
This year, I contacted you again Carol, to ask you how to get in touch with the intermediary who brought the children from Romania to France. I had clear memories of him since he went on vacations with my family in France for several years. You gave me two e-mail addresses and you sent me the link of an association of Romanian adoptees. They could help me find possible brothers or sisters, you said. I thought your beautiful agency helped adoptees “find their roots”. Wasn’t it a “central theme” for adoption agencies? You “invest[ed] more and more on […] the quest for one’s origins” and “your competence in this particular regard [was] well-known”… right? I even found an article about this with beautiful, colourful graphs in one of your magazines. The adoptee association you introduced me to later told me you called them to enquire on the searching process in my birth country because you had no idea how to proceed yourself. The only thing your beautiful agency did, was give me a copy of my file – which is the bare minimum. In some cases, you gave adoptees a file that had nothing or almost nothing in it, or with pictures of another child. As we saw last year (not you, since you didn’t show up), the psychologist who was supposed to give me “support” simply read out loud the papers that I was able to read myself, gave a compliment about my adoptive father without knowing him and told me, “Sorry, there’s nothing more we can tell you.”
Thank you for introducing me to the Romanian adoptee association though because their website truly is a gem. You should go check it out. I selected a few sections for you. “Since the 1980s, the number of people from rich countries who want to adopt a child has been ten times higher than the number of children adoptable in poor countries.” “Between 1990 and 2000: over 30 000 Romanian children are adopted abroad.” “The “casa de copii” (literally “children’s homes”) were State institutions were day-care, housing, food and medical treatments were offered to children whose mothers or parents weren’t financially and/or psychologically capable of doing so, for the amount of time necessary for the parents to get better and take them back.” Interesting. Did you know that a “casa de copii” (the institution I went through) wasn’t an orphanage? “The “Romanian orphans” weren’t all orphans, far from it! It might have been convenient to think so, but 97% of children had a mother who was very much alive and whose identity was known and some children also had a father. More than 50% of mothers came to see their children. Some on a regular basis, others less frequently, and others only on religious holidays.” In 1993, the Romanian government passes a law that says a child who hasn’t been visited by his or her parents for six months can be declared “abandoned” by the court and thus become adoptable. Mothers usually didn’t have any means of transportation and the trick was to move the child to an orphanage which was over 50 km away (30 miles) and there you had it. This is the law that was used in my case.
I was curious about this law from 1993 so I looked it up. I found out that in order to regulate the adoption chaos after the fall of the communist regime, a law demanded that adopters work with an agency authorised to process adoptions by the French, as well as the Romanian authorities. In 1993, the US Congress was discussing Romania’s right to get the Most Favoured Nation Clause (a trade agreement). “The US had made improvement of the situation of the Romanian children a condition for this trade agreement, and it was in that context that Romania adopted the so-called “abandonment law”. […] In 1991, an incredible number of intercountry adoptions took place, estimates were more than 10,000. Many children were not adopted from orphanages, but directly bought from poor families. In 1991, a new law was adopted, limiting intercountry adoptions to children in children’s homes and orphanages. But the children’s homes’ directors would not give those children because they were not legally adoptable, more often, the children’s parents would be known and visit their children. As a result of this limitation, adoptions dropped enormously in 1992. And thus, under the disguise of wanting to improve the living condition of institutionalised and disabled children, the US congress pushed for an abandonment law, a law that rendered children adoptable.”
These two laws, “Law 11/1990 and Law 47/1993 on child abandonment set up the legal framework for the emergence of a Romanian international adoption market after 1994. These two laws create[d] the offer – children legally declared as abandoned and prepared for adoption. In order to have an operating market, the demand need[ed] to be created and the prices established.”
When a child was abandoned, which was not as systematic that you would like me to believe, under which circumstances did the parents give their consent? When you’re living in extreme poverty, when you’re fragile, isolated, when you’re facing social and familial pressures that are sometimes overwhelming, can you really make an informed decision? When everybody wants you to believe that the only way to make sure your child survives, is to give him or her away forever, can you really make an informed decision? When nobody tells you that you’ll never see your child again, when you are asked to sign a paper you can’t even read, when nobody tells you how new laws might affect you and your child, when nobody, not even the authorities of your own country, offers you any support, even temporarily, can you make an informed decision? When you’ve just given birth to a baby and you have no idea how you’ll make it until tomorrow, can you make an informed decision?
In 2007, Roelie Post described how Holt, an American agency, was mandated by Unicef Romania to help prevent abandonments. Here is how those charming people were pressuring young mothers from poor backgrounds to give up their baby: “We discuss with the mother the possibility to consent to adoption right after birth. We wait for the obligatory 45 days to pass and then she signs. We wait another 30 days, during which she may change her mind, and then, the adoption file goes to the DCP [Department of Child Protection]”. What a lovely way to prevent abandonments, indeed. If the tactics used in poor countries to get children for adoption were used in richer countries, people would be outraged. We would all be denouncing the violation of basic human rights, of children’s rights, of women’s rights. When you know that the vast majority of children used to be sent for adoption for economic reasons, it makes you wonder, Carol. With just a little bit of help, how many parents would have been able to keep their children? It was only in 2009, that poverty was no longer deemed a legitimate reason to remove a child from his/her family. For how many decades was this the one and only reason that was used to remove a child from his/her family? I’m one of those children who were told, “Your parents were too poor to raise you, that’s why you were adopted.”
I read your nice magazine, Carol, the one from your website. I noticed you wrote an article about the search for one’s origins. I was excited to read what you had to say on the subject. It turns out you actually have very short experience working on that side of adoptions, and up to now, you have mostly been helping adopters. But there was one section I found particularly appalling. “What do they want? What are they looking for? They allow themselves, in our offices, which is a symbolic place, to go back to being the little boy or girl they once were and who was left on the side of the road.” Is this what you see in front of you, Carol? Children? People who are still the age they were when they “went through” your agency? You think I came all the way to Paris to “allow myself to be the little girl who was left on the side of the road”?
Your problem Carol, and the problem of all those people who want us to believe that adoption is a fairy tale (adopters, psychologists, “adoption specialists”, or even the old uncle you meet at your best friend’s wedding), is that you refuse to see the people most affected by adoption are no longer children, and that they have the intellectual capacities to demand explanations, to question the processes, the practices, and the whole system. You also refuse to see that we are absolutely legitimate in doing so, because in order to become someone else’s child (for international adoptions), we have to lose our natural family (parents, brothers, sisters, and the whole extended family), we have to lose our country, our language, our culture, our religion, and most of all, lose our identity. Since we were the object of the transaction at the time (a passive object, which didn’t at any moment agree to it), we understand better than anyone else how it feels, to lose all those things and how it feels to be adopted. You can keep your sympathy.
This year, your beautiful agency made headlines because adoptees from another country, very far from mine, accused you of having deceived their natural families in order to get them adopted in France. “It’s not us, we know nothing”, you claimed. How could an agency who seems to never know anything get the French authorities’ blessing to bring children from all over the world into the country for over 40 years? This encouraged me to keep digging. Remember there’s a paper I forgot to ask for last year? Big mistake, but I had no idea what kind of people I was dealing with at the time.
You were hard to reach Carol, I had to wait over two months for you to get my file. You scheduled a phone appointment. When I asked if you thought it was normal that my file had so little information about the Romanian part of the process, you came up with pretty shitty excuse. “You know, we don’t know in what conditions the files were created in the birth countries.” “Maybe the birth countries didn’t ask the parents anything, maybe nobody asked anything when the child was left at the orphanage, maybe they weren’t very thorough”. There it is again, Carol, your motto: “It’s not us, we know nothing.” With a new little addition: “It’s the birth country’s fault.”
If you didn’t know, if you weren’t really sure, why process adoptions from Romania? The European Union asked Romania to halt adoptions long enough to create a child protection system because of all the past malpractices. And you think this happened because the adoption system in Romania wasn’t fraudulent? You think Carol, that Romania was referred to as a “baby bazaar” or an “ex-supermarket for adoptions” for no reason? Theodora Bertzi, former director of the Romania Committee for Adoptions used this term to refer to adoptions in Romania, adding: “Children were sent abroad like packages. There was a lot of money involved. They were white and healthy, and adoptions were processed very quickly. Children had become objects used to address adults’ emotional needs.” According to Yves Denechères, a French professor of contemporary history, and Béatrice Scutaru, “Between January 1990 and July 1991, […] orphanages open[ed] their door but the number of adoptable children prove[d] insufficient in front of the exploding demand in rich countries. Many candidates to adoption “tr[ied] their luck in Romania”. “Thus, the rules of a post-war paucity market set in: everything was for sale and everything could be bought” (Trillat, 1993, p.20).
The report addressed in March 2002 to Prime Minister Adrian Năstase when the moratorium on adoptions was decided (quoted previously), clearly states that adoptions up to that date were a market. The words “adoption market” are used 6 times in this report. And you’re going to tell me Carol, that your beautiful agency had no idea? Well, one thing is sure, you guys kept shopping there for over ten years!
Back to the phone call. I asked you how come your agency didn’t know more about the adoptions you processed in Romania. You were feeling helpless, you told me. “Try to understand”. “The intermediary isn’t answering”. If he was the only one who knew what was going on, isn’t it a bit concerning? “The people working on Romania at the time are dead, or are old ladies now.” And, “If I knew more, I’d tell you but I can’t. Try to understand how helpless I feel”. You weren’t transported into another country, you weren’t told “those people are now to be called “mom” and “dad”, you didn’t have to re-learn your native language to understand what a bunch of undecipherable papers are saying, you didn’t have to look up laws about family, child protection and abandonment to figure out what happened to you, and yet, from your comfortable little office, you were telling me to understand how helpless you felt. I don’t claim to be a psychologist but weren’t you reversing roles there?
You then asked me in an irritated voice what I wanted to talk about exactly: my abandonment? I know you’re really attached to the concept of “abandonment” because it gives a legal base and a moral justification to the removal of children from their birth countries, and to the irrevocable legal and emotional severing of the family ties with their natural parents (in the case of closed adoptions, which are the majority in France). Your beautiful agency makes a living thanks to abandonments, after all. The word “abandonment” itself is placing the entire responsibility for what happened on the natural mothers who aren’t there to defend themselves. Like they had a choice. That way, their children don’t want to look for them later because they think they were “abandoned” by a mother who didn’t love them and didn’t want them in her life. But we don’t know that. There’s no way to prove it. It just happens to be really convenient to justify adoptions. If we were a bit more honest, we’d talk about “separation” because there were one or several separations, chosen, or not.
There weren’t actually that many truly abandoned children. When there was an abandonment, coercion, manipulation, lies, blackmail and other appalling tactics were often used to get the desired commodity: a child, as young as possible. I’ve already told you all this. Adoption agencies that held office directly in maternities, nurses that refused to let the young mother leave with her child or to give her her child back after birth, children who were declared dead right after birth to be then exported for adoption, directors of orphanages – or children’s homes- who refused to let the families see their children (who were placed there, not abandoned), social services that moved children to prevent their families from seeing them, and the authorities which kept orphanages open and filled with children specifically for international adoption were all realities, Carol. In an article published in the Irish Times in 2002, Serban Mihailescu, the Romanian minister for children, said: “The effect of foreign adoptions was “extremely negative” and encouraged officials to keep the institutions full of children.” The number of children in institutions increased because more and more foreigners wanted to adopt Romanian children and more and more of the personnel in the institutions worked as dealers and they pushed the children for the intercountry adoption. It’s like a business, a $100 million business”.
Blaming Romania only would be too easy. Without such a high demand, there wouldn’t have been such a high artificially-created offer of “orphans” to “rescue”. The pressure faced by Romanian authorities from the biggest importing countries (the US, France, Spain, Italy, Israel) was huge and the lobbying response to any attempt at regulating adoptions was ferocious. In 2002, after the moratorium on international adoptions was decided, adoption agencies from those countries still accepted files from potential adopters and requests were still being sent to the Romanian Committee for Adoptions, hoping they’d be forced to grant them. When negotiations for Romania’s integration into NATO started, “US officials […] warned the Romanian government that a continuing ban could jeopardise acceptance of Romania for NATO membership.” You know what I call that? Adoption blackmail.
You see, Carol, during the almost three months that you asked me to wait in order get my file back, I educated myself on adoptions from Romania in the 1990s. And I only have more questions now. I want to know how the six months without a visit from the family of a child were counted. Who counted the days? Was there a register? Was there a written trace of those visits? Did somebody sign a paper to prove the visit had taken place? Was the visitors’ identity controlled? Where are those papers Carol? I want clear explanations on that “abandonment” because right now, I have nothing that proves it. And you’ll understand I don’t really trust you or your agency given how much you had and still have to gain from all those so-called “abandonments”.
A few weeks later, after another useless phone call, another e-mail, you ended up agreeing to send me the papers I didn’t get the first time. By e-mail. Finally. Welcome to the 21st century. I found more inconsistencies that once again, you couldn’t explain. “It’s not us, we don’t know.” In the meantime, I kept working on the file sent to me by the French authorities (which contains papers you claimed you didn’t have) and I realised there were abandonment papers from the court of my birth region. I managed to read my natural parents’ address at the time. I found a few dates. Maybe these details aren’t true, or maybe I’m not interpreting them well. But they were right there from the beginning, in a document that neither your agency nor my parents ever bothered to decipher and have translated because the truth is, you didn’t care. What mattered to your beautiful agency and to my parents was to get a child, to erase his/her identity, to bury his/her past. And they lived happily ever after, with the poor, abandoned orphan that they saved from a life of misery.
You see Carol, nobody told me that having to deal with you would be the most challenging and nerve-racking part of the whole process. Imagine what it’s like for people who don’t have enough support, time, energy, or mental space to do all this. I can’t help but think that you and your agency are treating adoptees that way on purpose because if it was easier, maybe more people would start asking questions. In your agency’s magazine you write that you have a “symbolically important role as the intermediary between the original and adoptive families, as the guardian of the adoptee’s pre-adoptive and adoptive histories.” This sums up beautifully all the lies your agency has been writing about of its “help” in adoptees’ search for their roots. You are indeed the intermediary. But the original family isn’t even named. It is erased, made invisible, as if they had never existed. You claim you know nothing, which either proves that you were incompetent, that you were looking the other way, or that you didn’t bother to check what was going on and in every case, it’s extremely alarming. You don’t investigate on the pre-adoption history before the adoption, and certainly not afterwards once the adoptee is an adult. You make promises that you can’t and won’t keep to give legitimacy to your actions and polish your reputation as an agency that is respectful of law as well as people. What I learnt from this experience is that you respect everyone except those you claim to be saving.
 Bogdan Baltazar, spokesman for the Romanian government, in an interview with the TV channel CBS.
 Law on adoptions 11/1990 modified July 8th, 1991.
 Roelie Post, Romania For Export Only: the untold story of the Romanian “orphans”, p. 66
 Re-organising the International Adoption and Child Protection System, March 2002, IGIAA (Independent Group for International Adoption Analysis).
 Roelie Post, Romania For Export Only: the untold story of the Romanian “orphans”, p. 200
 “The directives on alternative child protection measures, which were approved by the UN in 2009, forbid to place a child in care simply because his/her parents are poor. It is preferable to offer appropriate support to the family instead.” Intervention by Nigel Cantwell, during an MAI conference, 16th October 2018
 New York Times article from March, 24th 1991, by Kathleen Hunt:
« One young gynecologist in a major hospital in Bucharest says he was approached by three separate lawyers to keep them informed of any babies abandoned at birth. “They offered me $100 for every baby I could produce, and $200 if I presented it already with the mother’s consent to put it up for adoption.””
 International adoption of Romanian children and Romania’s admission to the European Union (1990-2007), Yves Denechere, Béatrice Scutaru, Eastern Journal of European Studies, Volume 1, Issue 1, June 2010
 Roelie Post, Romania For Export Only: the untold story of the Romanian “orphans”, p. 200 « After the maternity tour, Unicef Romania guided Mariela to Holt, one of the biggest US adoption agencies, which held office in the maternity clinic”.
by Brenna Kyeong McHugh adopted from Sth Korea to the USA
Below is the documented data and information from The Ministry of Health and Welfare in Korea.
It is inaccurate and incomplete as it states that only 156,242 infants, children and adolescents were adopted from 1953 to 2004. The actual total number of adoptees from Korea since the 1950s is estimated to be 220,000 or more.
There are an estimated 15,000 Korean adoptees in Minnesota alone, including myself. The numbers are appalling. 8,680 children were adopted in 1986, myself included. Read that number again: EIGHT THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY. This is just the number that is documented; it is most likely much higher. 8,680 children lost their families, names, identities, language, and culture. 8,680 families were forever altered and destroyed. 8,680 of us endured irreversible trauma that we continue to work and process through as adults, granted, those of us who did not lose our lives to suicide, abuse, addiction, and other circumstances.
According to the data in the second chart, the leading reason that was documented for adoptions was listed as Abandonment. The second documented reason was Unwed Mothers. They only listed the number of male children who were adopted but not the number of female children, which we can all assume is much, much greater.
These numbers for every year since the beginning of international adoption from Korea are astronomical. The data itself indicates the systemic issues that feed the adoption industry, making it the beast it is today, including racism, White supremacy, saviorism, capitalism, ableism, poverty, socioeconomic issues, politics, etc.
Throughout my journey as an adopted person, I have been told different accounts about the first part of my life. I was first told that my name Lee Okkyeong (pronounced Yi Oak Young), was given to me by my family. Later, I was told that it was given to me when I was being processed at Eastern Social Welfare Society, the adoption agency. I was also told my date of birth was an estimate. I was initially told my mother was single and unwed and that my father was basically a dead beat who left my mother before knowing she was pregnant with me and that he couldn’t hold down a job. When I was 24 years old, I was told by the adoption agency that my mother and father had actually been married.
The beginning of my life is full of contradictions. I still don’t know my truths and I’m going to continue to assume that I never will. Being adopted and trying to piece my past together has proven to me time and time again that people in power and the system are not to be at all trusted, and are not designed or created for the us – the marginalized, the poor, and those who seek change and truth.
The adoption industry will lie, fabricate, use, exploit and destroy families in order to make profit. The adoption industry does not care about children; it only cares about money and having control and power. I realise just how unaware I was of the inequities and inequalities in adoption when I was little and how they affected me even though I couldn’t fully understand or name them.
Korean adoptees are more than these numbers. We are more than this data, and these documented statistics. We are human beings. We have histories and families. We are more than our losses, pain, and trauma. We deserve our truths. The more we adoptees share our narratives and return to Korea to search and fight for our truths and families, the more government and adoption agencies will not have any choice but to acknowledge us and what they did to us – their children.
Part of my personal goal in the past couple of years within ICAV, has been to find ways to help empower the voices of our first families in the intercountry adoption arena. For some years I have been pointing out they largely have no voice and remain invisible. Having not found my own Vietnamese mother yet, I often wonder about the circumstances that led to my relinquishment. Now, as an educated professional raised within western thinking, I view the larger picture of intercountry adoption and wonder how much our journey’s as intercountry adoptees and those of our families, could be prevented. In speaking with other adult intercountry adoptees from all over the world, I know I’m not alone in this pondering.
Last year in October, I had the privilege to meet online an inspiring young woman, a Colombian intercountry adoptee raised in Germany. She spoke with enthusiam about a project she was about to embark upon which connected with my personal goal. I shared with you here about Yennifer’s goal to raise awareness of the experiences Colombian mothers live, who have lost their children via intercountry adoption. Like me, she was driven to do this because she too had always wondered about her mother and what caused her own relinquishment.
Now, just over half a year on, I interview Yennifer to hear how her first journey to homeland has been, together with an update on her project.
Read here for Yennifer’s update on her project entitled No Mother, No Child.
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!
Someone recently asked if I could provide a short statement on these questions:
What does it mean to be adopted?
How does it feel?
And what is it like not knowing who your mother (parents) is?
I struggled to contain my answer in one paragraph but did … and then I decided I’d share the long version because at its essence, this is what we adoptees struggle with and wish others could understand better.
For me, being adopted has meant that I was once abandoned for whatever reason. Mine was in the context of the Vietnam War so I can almost cognitively accept there was a valid reason – perhaps my mother died in the war during childbirth or perhaps my whole family got blown up in a bomb. I still vividly remember watching Heaven and Earth – a film about a Vietnamese woman in the Vietnam War and I had a strong empathy for the atrocities many Vietnamese women went through, especially the ones who’s babies were cut out of their mothers stomachs and the women raped by soldiers. My heart ached for whether that might have been my mother’s situation and I overcame my sadness of why I might have been given up with the reality that – perhaps my mother went through more trauma and loss than I did.
The possibilities of why I was given up are endless and almost comforting to know she probably didn’t give me up because of being pregnant out of wedlock as in Korea or because of a 1-child-policy as in China. Perhaps it was poverty as is the case in many other sending countries like Ethiopia. But at the end of the day, I can rationally see children do get abandoned and some are legitimate orphans … and in a war torn situation like mine, domestic adoption, foster care or other alternatives were just not possible at the time due to everything being in chaos with no stable government to ensure the citizens of that country get looked after.
I do believe when we are old enough to understand the political and economic situations surrounding our adoptions – it impacts how we adoptees view intercountry adoption. For me, I’ve never seen myself as against all forms of adoption because of my situation where in a war torn country there’s almost a legitimate reason for why intercountry adoption was needed. I do question aspects of the Operation Babylift concept which occurred after I was adopted – in particular the speed at which it happened, the lack of clarification of the children who were sent abroad as to their real status, how they were selected, and the politics involved – I dare say if Operation Babylift were done today it would be seen as mass Child Trafficking and receive huge criticism by Child’s Rights activists around the world! Indeed Operation Babylift was controversial in an era were intercountry adoption was in its infancy.
For the Korean adoptees today from a Western mindset, seeing generations of babies being sent abroad because of stigma against single unwed women, one can understand why as a Korean adoptee you would become fiercely critical of adoption! The same will apply for the generations of Chinese adoptees being sent abroad to solve their country’s population problem via intercountry adoption. Adult adoptees from these sending countries will inevitably grow up to ask the question – what did the Government do to assist these babies to be kept in their birth country rather than being conveniently shipped off via intercountry adoption where millions of dollars are saved from having to find a solution in-house? What about the Rights of The Child? In countries like Guatemala, Cambodia, and Ethiopia families have been ripped apart from the corruption and greed of baby sellers under the guise of intercountry adoption – of course these adopted children will grow up to have an opinion of what happened on a massive scale and question why the governments of their own birth country and receiving country did little, early enough, to stop more adoptions when there were plenty of indicators that children were being adopted out without any proper oversight or ensuring they were legitimate orphans.
So the question of what does it mean to be adopted starts with the abandonment concept but then depending on which sending country we come from, gets layered with other social, political and economic issues about why our birth countries allow us to be adopted, layered yet again with how our adoption into another family and culture really turns out, and in the minority of cases, layered again if we can be reunited. Complications arise naturally from the actual adoption in whether we are lucky enough to be placed in an appropriate family with support, empathy and help to navigate the complexities of our life at different stages of development – e.g. were we raised in a multicultural setting to allow us to assimilate and not feel like racially isolated; was adoption openly talked about; was it acceptable to express our feelings of grief and not knowing about our first families; were we allowed to be ourselves or were we subconsciously having to live the life our adoptive parents wanted and meeting their subconscious needs; were we supported in returning to our country of origin and wanting to search for information?
Some of us are not so lucky in obtaining the “awesome adoptive parent” lottery ticket and so our being adopted takes centre stage in trying to understand why we deserved mistreatment and hurt (intentional or not) from our adoptive families and only serves to add to our vulnerabilities and feelings of helplessness from being abandoned. For those of us who have fantastic adoptive families, I dare say we can move quicker through the minefield of trying to understand what being adopted means because we received the love and nurturing that is necessary to flourish and develop healthy self esteem and racial identity – but it’s still not an easy journey even with the best of parents.
So essentially how does it feel to be adopted? The best analogy I could come up with as an adult adoptee now in my 40s, is it’s like peeling away layers of an onion.
You move thru’ life wonderfully for a while and then hit a new layer that stings the eyes and heart.
It takes time to absorb the meaning of one’s abandonment and loss at each new layer and level, and our identity evolves slowly over time.
As time progresses, we realise what these layers are and accept them instead of wanting to run away and escape them. Once we get to understand this, we are able to move through these layers with less disruption to the whole of our lives. For me, adoption has become less of an issue the older I get because I’ve slowly been able to integrate all these facets and complications into my sense of who I am and why I am.
It’s such a complicated thing to try and explain what it is like to not ever know one’s first mother and father. There’s the not knowing in terms of facts – their names, histories, race, and language. Then there’s the gut feelings of sadness and grief and the why’s of “why we aren’t with them?” Then there’s the “well – who am I then” without being able to answer any factual questions.
When I was younger and before I learnt to stop running from the feelings of grief and loss, I would long for my mother. I recall looking into the starry sky at night and wonder if my mother ever thought of me or missed me as much as I did her. I would dream of her leaving me on a dusty road and me crying out, “wait!” I realise now I was full of grief in my years under 10.
I missed a mother I couldn’t put a face to, but one to whom I felt innately severed from.
There is no doubt in my mind and after reading The Primal Woundand watching documentaries likeIn Utero, that it is true – we do bond in utero with our mothers and we feel disconnected if we never hear her voice or feel her around us again. I couldn’t really come to allow myself to trust my new mother (my adoptive mum) and I see now as an adult how hard this must have been for her. In my child mind, if mother can disappear than I’d better learn to be self reliant and not trust any other mother. I know my adoptive mum tried to show me she loved me but it’s just I couldn’t psychologically let her in. When did it change? I think it wasn’t until in my mid 20s when I did some therapy with an amazing woman (yes, I knew I had to find a female therapist to assist me in my unhealed “mother” work)! I finally learnt to trust a woman and allow my buried grief to surface – to share that very real and deep pain of being separated from one’s mother – with another “mother figure”. It was really only then I could totally embrace my adoptive mother, allow myself to connect and share who I was without being afraid I’d lose myself or somehow be disloyal to my first mother, and understand the three of us were connected.
The not knowing is just my reality. I haven’t known any different. Its like everyone else gets given a cup that’s full of water but my cup is empty and I need to have a drink. Its a basic biological fundamental that our bodies need water! But how do I fill the empty cup and even if I figure it out, will it be enough to satiate the thirst? Normally water quenches the thirst just like having knowledge of our parents and our family heritage gives us the basis/starting point for our identity.
For adoptees like myself who have no facts to go by, the not knowing is like starting to write a book or film without doing any research to ascertain the history in order to create the setting/scene. It just begins with us and it can feel like we are adrift in a huge ocean. There is nothing to shelter against and no other life lines we can connect to to stop us drifting and getting washed around. I had many moments during my life where I felt like I might get toppled over and disappear forever beneath the huge waves. I honestly don’t know what I hung onto to survive – maybe sheer will power, maybe some resoluteness within me to find the answers and make sense of it all. Maybe it’s what still drives me today – to find meaning to my solitary existence. But the reality today is, I realise I’m not alone at all. There are many of us, thousands, sitting alone on our ocean amongst the waves … by connecting each individual together with the bigger picture, it helps make collective sense to our meaning and purpose and what we can achieve.