Adoption Can Be a Psychological Prison

How do I start over?

The question echoes in my brain every day here in Hawaii, now totally away from the relations of my former adopted life.

How do I live anew as one person in this world?

I left my adoptee ties that were technically governmentally bonded relations that I had no control over as a Filipino orphaned child circa 1980’s. For me, they had been total strangers and I didn’t have any oversight or support in post-adoption.

As time went on for me, I wasn’t able to have the fortune to get to know my biological family as after my reunion in 2012 in the Philippines, I decided to go my own way once I discovered our language barriers and my inability to confirm any facts on them.

So yes, fast-forward to current times and it is Sunday, and I have relinquished my bond of my adoptive ties for various reasons, and it hasn’t been easy but for me, it was necessary.

This break action has been mental, emotional and physical. Slamming this lever down included making physically strategic distance by moving far, far away on my own to the Pacific islands in 2019, re-establishing dual citizenship to my birth country in the Philippines in 2021, and civilly sending a kindly written email to my adoptive parents this year after my adoptive brother’s jarring and untimely death.

Additionally, the extended adoptive ties I’ve noticed can also naturally deteriorate with time itself after years of peaceful but gently intentional non-communication.

What happens after you’re on this path of annexation, you wonder?

For me, I’ve arrived at an interesting intersection in my adulthood when I’ve sort of returned to a former state of orphanhood with no real station in life, no bonds, all biological history, heritage and economic status obsolete all over again.

Doesn’t sound that appealing, I know! Tell me about it.

The perk is that instead of being a vulnerable child, I am a 36-year-old woman living in Hawaii. I have rights. I am in control of my wellbeing and fate. I have responsibilities. I drive my own car, I pay bills, I have funds; I have a job and I am not helpless.

I can take care of myself. So to me, the biggest perks are in being healthy and reclaiming my life, identity and sovereignty needed over my own needs and wellbeing.

So quickly the adoptee bond can turn into toxic relations if the parents are narcissistic or emotionally or physically abusive.

After the death of my adopted brother, who was also a Filipino American adoptee and died of severe mental issues and alcohol poisoning, I had a stark wake-up call of how these adoptee relations were silently impacting me too.

And I had to make better choices for myself, I would be risking too much if I ignored this.

It is like leaving a psychological prison, I told Lynelle on a weekend in May.

After some reflection, I realized that as a child and having to make structured attachments from being displaced, this legal bond fastens.

And as a displaced, vulnerable child, I think one falls privy to co-dependency, the need for a family structure overrides even the need for safety for his or her own wellbeing, like if abuses arise in this domestic home.

Or other aspects might not nurture the adoptee, like when the child isn’t being culturally nurtured according to their birth country.

Or when the parents or family members are financially and socially acceptable as to meeting criteria of adoption, but possess narcissistic personalities which is also detrimental to the child’s personal, emotional, psychological and cultural development.

A child stays glued and psychologically devoted to their family ties through development stages and on past adulthood because the need for foundational attachments is paramount to one’s psychological upbringing and success.

And if these ties are in any way bad for the adoptee early on, I think these relations that were once saving can quickly turn into a psychological prison because you are truly bound to these social ties until you’re strong enough to realize that you have a choice.

And you can break out of this bond, this governmentally established bond, although possibly later on as an adult. And, with some finesse.

As an adult adoptee, from my experience adoptive ties that develop healthily or dysfunctionally, after a certain amount of time both types transitions into permanence to that adoptee. Adoptive ties mesh and fuse just the same as biological ties, once you’ve gone so long in the developmental process.

This adoptive relation is totally amazing when it’s good, like any good relationship.

The spin is that when there are issues plaguing the adoptive unit, which can be subtle, interplaying with the personality and culture of the adoptive relations, these issues can go totally disguised, unreported, and it can be toxic and the affects can last a lifetime.

From experience, I see that it is because the adoptee child is vulnerable and doesn’t know how to report issues in the relations, because the option isn’t even granted to them.

No one is really there to give or tell the adoptee child that they have these rights or options. When it comes to post-adoption, there isn’t much infrastructure.

Sadly, if dynamics are not supportive to the adoptee, in time, it can cost an adoptee the cultural bonds to their own birth country or the loss of their native language.

It can cost an adoptee their sanity and mental health.

It can cost an adoptee their self-esteem, which all bleeds and returns into the social sea of their placement or back out into other countries.

And, it can cost an adoptee their life.

On the upside, if the placement is good, it can save a person’s life as well! And it can allow this adoptee happiness and joy forevermore.

Each side of the coin both instills an adoptee’s human value and the toll the placement takes on every child who becomes an adult in society is also expensive, leading to exponential advantage and success in society, or potential burnouts.

For me, my adoptive placement was costly in the end. However, I was still able to survive, work and live. I was materialistically taken care of, thankfully.

I honestly think much was due to my own faith, offbeat imagination and whatever blind luck I was born with that all carried me through this.

Overall, this has been a total trip and my journey has been very far from embodying the traditional fairy tale adoption story.

So now, it’s time to do the hard work, an adoptee mentor messaged me today. But I can do it, we all can do it! It just takes good choices and regular upkeep.

Nearing the end of this post, I will share to my adoptee community that we have a choice especially once we’re of legal age. I’m sort of a wildflower in general, and a late bloomer, so I’m coming out of the fog and becoming aware now in my mid-thirties.

Yes, we have a lot to rear ourselves depending on the economic status we find ourselves in without our adoptee ties. But like other adoptee peer support has shared, you should not do this kind of thing by yourself. You can have support structures the whole time in this.

And yes, it is terrifying, because you will have to rebuild your sense of identity when leaving toxic family relations. As yes, it can be like rebuilding your identity all over again from when you leave them and start anew, as a now a self-made, sovereign person.

From a Hawaiian private school I work at now, I have come to find that cultural identity building begins in the present and it is built upon values, history, education and the wisdom of the past. Now that I have found a home in Hawaii, maybe I can learn more about it.

I will also be working on weekly goals that I hope to share to the community as I continue on this never-ending journey.

In conclusion, if you are in a good adoptive family, God bless your fortune and I have so much love and happiness for you! However, if you are needing to split away from the ties, like if your adoption wasn’t that healthy, then please know it isn’t impossible.

Professional and peer support is here for you, every day on your way to freedom. You can create your own sovereignty, it will just take work.

Read Desiree’s earlier post at ICAV: What I Lost When I Was Adopted and follow her at Weebly or Instagram @starwoodletters.

America—You Made It Hard to Be Proud to Be Asian-American

by Mary Choi Robinson, adopted from South Korea to the USA

As I sit down to my laptop it is May 2, the second day of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Awareness Month and I reflect on Alice Wu’s The Half of It I watched last night to commemorate the first day of AAPI month. Watching the movie with my daughter, I thought how I wished it or something like it had been available when I was a teenager or even in my early twenties. To see an entire film focused on the life of a young Asian woman on the cusp of self-discovery and adulthood would have made me feel seen and a part of the fabric of American identity. So while this month is meant to showcase AAPI heritage I am not in fact proud to be Asian-American…yet.

I am sure my previous statement will elicit reactions from disbelief, to shock, to anger, and everything in between from varying groups of identities. So let me explain why I am not proud yet, how America made it nearly impossible for me to be proud, and how I’m gaining pride in my Asianness. As a Korean adoptee, raised by white parents in predominately-white areas, I have always navigated two racial worlds that often oppose each other and forever contradict my identity. The whiteness of my parents did not insulate or protect me from racism and in fact would even appear at home. When I first arrived to the US, my sister, my parent’s biological child, took me in as her show and tell for school with our parents’ blessing. Her all white classmates and teacher were fascinated with me and some even touched my “beautiful silky shiny jet black” hair, something that would continue into my early thirties until I realized I did not have to allow people to touch my hair. Although I start with this story, this is not a piece about being a transracial, transnational adoptee—that is for another day, maybe in November for National Adoption Awareness Month—but to illustrate how my Asian identity exists in America.

As I grew up, I rarely saw other Asians let alone interacted with them. Instead, I lived in a white world full of Barbie, blonde hair and blue eyes in movies, television shows, magazines, and classrooms. The rare times I did see Asians in person were once a year at the Chinese restaurant to celebrate my adoption day or exaggerated or exocticized caricatures in movies and tv shows. Think Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Long Duck Dong in Sixteen Candles, or Ling Ling the “exotic gem of the East” in Bewitched. Imagine instead an America where Wu’s film or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asian or Fresh Off the Boat or Kim’s Convenience would have opened up for generations of Asian Americans. Rarely would I spot another Asian in the school halls. However, I could never form friendships with them, heavens no, they were real full Asians and society had taught me they were weird, ate strange smelly things, talked funny, and my inner adolescent warned me association with “them” would only make me more of an outsider, more Asian. In classrooms from K-12 and even in college, all eyes, often including the teacher, turned to me when anything about an Asian subject, regardless of whether it was about China, Vietnam, Korea, etc., as the expert to either verify or deny the material. I always dreaded when the material even had the mention of an Asian country or food or whatever and would immediately turn red-faced and hot while I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pant legs until the teacher moved on, hoping the entire time I would not be called on as an expert like so many times before.

My white family and white friends would lull me into a false sense of belonging and whiteness by association. That false sense of security would shatter when they so easily and spontaneously weaponized my Asianness against me with racial slurs during arguments. Of course, I was used to racist verbal attacks from complete strangers, I had grown up on a diet of it, but it especially pained me from friends and family. The intimacy of those relationships turned the racism into acts of betrayal. That was the blatant racism; the subtle subversive racism caused just as much damage to my sense of pride. As a young professional in my early twenties, a white colleague told me how beautiful I was “for an Asian girl.” A Latina student in one of my courses loudly and clearly stated, “The first day of class, I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to understand you and I’m so glad your English is so good!” And of course I regularly receive the always popular, “Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” Because Asian Americans, whether born here or not, are always seen as foreigners.

AAPI Awareness Month did not even become official until 1992. But anti-Asian sentiment in the US has a long history and was sealed in 1882 with the first national stance on anti-immigration that would be the catalyst for future immigration policies, better known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, coincidentally signed into law also in the month of May. In February 1942, the US rounded up and interned Japanese-Americans and Asian-Americans of non-Japanese decent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Now in 2020 amidst the global lockdown of Covid-19, anti-Asian attacks, both verbal and physical, have increased to startling numbers. As recently as April 28, NBC News reported Over 30 percent of Americans have witnessed COVID-19 bias against Asians. Think about that—this is Americans reporting this not Asian Americans. The attacks have been worldwide but this report shows what Asian Americans are dealing with alongside the stress of the pandemic situation in the US. Keep in mind the attacks on Asian Americans are not just from white folks, indeed we’re fair game for everyone as evidenced by Jose Gomez’s attempt to murder an Asian American family including a two-year old child in Midland, Texas in March. Let that sink in—a two-year old child simply because they are Asian! Asians are being spat on, sprayed, and worse by every racial group.

To help combat this current wave of American anti-Asian sentiment, highly visible leader and former presidential candidate, Andrew Yang advised Asian Americans in a Washington Post op-ed to:

“…embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis. We should show without a shadow of a doubt that we are Americans who will do our part for our country in this time of need.”

My reaction to Mr. Yang’s response bordered on anger at the implication for Asian Americans to continue the perpetuation of the model minority myth. The danger of which, besides reinforcing divides between racial and minority groups, extols the virtue of suffer in silence. Do not make waves, keep your head down, be a “good” American. Sorry Mr. Yang, I am finally gaining pride in my Asianess and I cannot and will not stay silent any longer.

It has taken me my whole life to gain nuggets of pride in my Asian identity. Now I appreciate the color of my tan skin and dark almond-shaped eyes and no longer compare my physical beauty to white women and the standards society has forced on us all. For the first time I actually see myself, and all Asian women and men, as beautiful because of and not in spite of being Asian. I no longer avoid other Asians and cherish friendships with those who look like me. I love to explore the diversity of Asian cuisines, cultures, and traditions and continue to learn about them since, remember, “Asian” is diverse and not a monolith of just one culture. Now I speak up without fear of rejection or lack of acceptance when I witness anti-Asian or any racist behavior and use those moments as teaching opportunities whenever I can. I no longer resent not being able to pass as white. I am becoming proud to be Asian.

Read Mary’s earlier blog My Adoption Day Is An Anniversary of Loss

Poetry Reflects My Inner World

by Kevin Minh Allen, adopted from Vietnam to the USA.

I came to poetry late, but it surfaced in my life at a time when I needed it most. Poetry has always been a means for me to collect, investigate, and reflect my inner world, which has been undoubtedly imprinted with the indelible mark of adoption. The following poems seek not answers but to raise questions inside anyone who may be listening:

You can follow more of Kevin’s work at website: Sleep is No Comfort

My Adoption Day Is An Anniversary of Loss

by Mary Choi Robinson, adopted from South Korea to the USA.

This is Choi Soon Kyu.

She is about 4 years old in this picture and recently orphaned and sick from the ravages of poverty.

Before this picture was taken she had a prior life and was someone’s child, someone’s daughter with most likely a different name.

About 8 months after this picture on February 18, she will be delivered to the US, be given a new identity and family; a new life that is foreign, scary, and imposed upon her. Her name will be changed and she will lose her language and culture to new ones.

Her three identities, her three lives, are borne of trauma and loss. She is now me and I survive every day from all she lost.

Don’t tell me to be thankful or grateful, or that every child deserves a safe, loving family and home.

Instead try to understand that I carry this unbearable grief and loss every day. A grief that is not worse but unlike other grief that cannot always be easily expressed. A grief I’m not certain how to mourn and will most likely never recover from, that may have generational consequences.

Some days I struggle more than others, especially when unexpectedly blindsided by adoption.

So today is not just the anniversary of my adoption/arrival to the US, but also an anniversary of loss. But I’m still here and doing the best I can making the most of this life, so I’ll celebrate that.

If you’d like to read more from Mary, her Masters thesis is included at ICAVs Research page – Living a Parallel Life: Memoirs and Research of a Transnational Korean Adoptee.

Anonymous shares about Adoptee Anger

This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.

by Anonymous, adopted from China to the USA.

I have experienced anger as an adoptee. For me it occurred in my late teens and early 20s in that transition time between high school and college. I was angry at my parents for adopting me and not putting in effort to learn or share my birth culture, I was angry at my birth parents for putting me up for adoption and having a baby they could not care for. I was angry at larger systems of poverty and inequality that put people in difficult situations. I was so angry at people telling me I was Chinese or Asian but I had no idea what that meant.

I was angry at Chinese people I met that were disappointed I wasn’t more “Chinese.” I lashed out at my parents and said very hurtful things to them about adoption. I also unfortunately turned much of this anger and toxicity onto myself and it negatively affected the way I viewed myself. For me, the anger was about being confronted with the understanding that adoption didn’t just give me a family, but also meant that I had one in the periphery that I might never know. I felt like a foreigner in my own body, constantly being judged for my race but not claiming that identity. I couldn’t process how to come to terms with the effects of poverty and the larger systems that led to me being placed for adoption.

I really felt anger as the onset of grief.

Now the anger has faded, and I do feel a deep, complicated sadness when I think about these topics. What helped me the most was reaching out and connecting with other adoptees. It helped me to channel and validate my feelings about adoption, see more nuances in the process, and regain a lot of self-confidence and self-worth.

As I have gotten involved with adoptee organizations, I’ve found solace, healing, and joy. My parents, while we’ll always have differences, love me and they never retaliated when I said mean things about the adoption process or them. From close friends and family, I was treated with compassion, love, understanding, and community. I think that’s what every person needs when working through these big, unexplainable things.

The Pope Shaming People into Adopting Children

by Cameron Lee, adopted from South Korea to the USA, therapist and founder of Therapy Redeemed.

Are we shaming one another into adopting children? Let’s consider the impact of that kind of messaging.

First, please visit @patrickintheworld for an organized dialogue on humanity – and how Francis’ words fall short in recognizing our intrinsic experience of it. You don’t need to adopt a child to fulfill your humanity. And not everyone who adopts a child is selfless.

Second, can you imagine adopting a child because you felt guilty or selfish for not adopting one? Please see my previous Office Hour With Your Therapist episode, “Is Your Marriage Ready for Adoption?”

Third, a pet is very different than a child. I’d strongly caution comparing them as if they can be switched out like car parts. Explore the hashtag #notathing and examine the fruits of such a commodifying narrative. Adoptees, from infancy to any age, need a kind of thoughtful and informed care that exists beyond the way we describe cats and dogs.

Fourth, as this messaging comes from a spiritual authority who struggles to meaningfully address the importance of post-adoption services, I urge us to continue supporting families in the church who have already adopted.

Despite differences in worldview, adoptees (and their families) need to know they’re not alone and they need help in navigating all the complexities that come with relinquishment, transfer(s) of custody, and beyond.

I’m in no way saying we should discount families outside of the church. But I worry there are adopters in spiritual communities who’ve entered this journey because of mis-informed motives (no judgment from me, I know you don’t need more of that!), and have found themselves in desperate need of resources and hope.

Lastly, it should go without saying, let’s continue to interrogate the conditions that minimize or tokenize efforts toward family preservation. I’d love to see more Christ-fueled initiatives to keep children with their parent(s) and kin.

Yes, the conversation flows beyond the scope of this single post. Please feel free to browse my account for more faith-related thoughts on #adoption – as well as the myriad of #adoptee voices on and off social media who have been speaking on these issues of reform and restoration.

Pain of Loss and the Joy at Seeing her Reunified with her Family

by Jessica Davis, American adoptive mother of Ugandan daughter, successfully returned to her Ugandan family; co-founder of Kugatta which brings families together who are impacted by Ugandan intercountry adoption.

Namata with her siblings

Every year I think I will not cry and it will not hurt as deeply as it once did. But each time I see all that was almost permanently taken from Namata, the pain returns just as deep (if not deeper) than the first time when I realized what I had participated in — and what needed to be done. I still have extended family members who refuse to admit that reuniting her with her Ugandan family was the RIGHT and JUST thing to do.

There are many people that believe it is okay to take children from LOVING families if these families are poor, living in the “wrong” country, practicing the “wrong” religion, or for a number of other irrational reasons. It is incredible how much money, time and resources contributes to the separation of families who should never be separated in the first place.

I will never stop speaking out against the wrongs being perpetuated within the intercountry adoption system. I won’t stop fighting for those that have been exploited by this system and I will certainly never forget the amazing little girl that came into my life and taught me to do better. As much as I miss her, my heartache pales in comparison to the joy I feel seeing her home with her family and thriving.

We did everything “right”. We used a highly rated adoption agency, followed all of the proper protocols and procedures and reported everything that was wrong as we discovered it. In fact, even though it has been proven our adoption agency was corrupt, Namata’s paperwork was fabricated, the Ugandan judge was bribed, the embassy interview showed Namata’s mother did not understand what adoption was and we were not told this at the time, our adoption of Namata from Uganda was and still is considered LEGAL. What does this tell you about intercountry adoption?

Namata didn’t get to go home because it was the right and just thing to do. Serena’s rights being violated and Namata’s best interests ignored were irrelevant by those that should have cared. The reason Namata got to go home and be reunited with her family was because Adam and I refused to accept that this was all okay or “for the better”.

Countless families have been needlessly ripped apart via intercountry adoption just like Namata’s.

Rarely do I hear anyone express concern for these injustices or what has been lost, rather people use good intentions gone awry to ignore these realities and press on as if nothing wrong has occurred. If people won’t listen or can’t understand the problem at hand, maybe they will SEE it when they look at this family and realize all that was almost lost and there was literally NO reason for it at all.

Namata and her family

Read Jessica’s last post: Does Justice or Accountability Happen in Illicit Adoptions?

What I Lost When I Was Adopted

I look around me today and I have no family in sight. I was torn at the roots when I was born in the Philippines in destitute poverty in 1985, orphaned at birth and adopted in 1987.

Dually, my intercountry adoption process had systematically erased my entire heritage and knowledge of my ancestors. While also permanently bonding me to people that had no interest in preserving or keeping in tact my birth nationality and culture.

I don’t know why that had to happen in the adoption process.

Why the past needed to be so efficiently erased as if it never existed.

Why did any of this have to be erased?

The narratives of my grandparents, the narratives of my great grandparents, the voices of all the flesh and blood and bones that made my DNA today.

Why did their stories have to leave me?

Was it because I was brown?

Was it because I was born from the Philippines, which in history has always been a developing, marginalized country with a colonized past?

Was it because I was a vulnerable child who didn’t have a say or rights to my own life at that time? Was it because my memories and my identity didn’t matter?

Did I have to be separated from my own birth country and my own birth country’s mother tongue to be saved by a more privileged family?    

And why was the remaining biographical information so unbelievably useless and irrelevant? And why did I have to wait until I was 18 to receive even that information, which parts of it, I later found out from a reunion with my birth mother—was not even true.

Am I complaining because I was orphaned?

Or am I complaining because there were parts of this adoption process that was systemically inhuman including adopting me to a Midwestern Caucasian couple that had shown no interest in preserving my cultural heritage or keeping myself connected to my own birth country’s language. As it shows, even in that adoption documentation, they had no interest in my heritage.

Little did I know—that if I had kept this connection when I was a vulnerable brown child and basically purchased by a privileged white family, I would have been able to return to the Philippines in my adulthood, my birth country, and I would have been able to speak fluently, which would have given me a much easier pathway in reclaiming my citizenship.

Even my birth name, why did my adoptive parents who never met me, suddenly have the right to change my birth name when they adopted/purchased me?

Why kind of rights had been given to them?

What rights were taken away from me in this dual process?

Where did my citizenship in my birth country go when I was adopted?

Why did any of this have to leave me—when I was adopted?

You can read Stephanie’s article: On the Road to Recovery, follow her at Weebly or Instagram @starwoodletters.

A Vigil for Christian Hall, 1 Year On

On 30 December 2021, 7-9pm CST we gathered in social media application, Clubhouse to participate in an online vigil, created and led by Vietnamese adoptee Adam Chau. The event was organised in conjunction with Christian Hall’s family who created the physical in-person vigils at various cities around the USA. The purpose of the vigils was to honour Christian’s life, raise awareness about and bring the impacted communities together in solidarity to seek Justice for Christian Hall. You can read their latest articles here and here.

A number of adoptee guests were invited to share our thoughts for the online vigil: Kev Minh Allen (Vietnamese American adoptee), Lynelle Long (Vietnamese Australian adoptee), Kayla Zheng (Chinese American adoptee), Lee Herrick (Korean American adoptee).

I share with you what I spoke about in honour of Christian Hall.

My name is Lynelle Long, I’m the founder of Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV). I’d like to thank you Adam Chau for organising this online event today in honour of Christian. Thankyou Nicole, Christian’s cousin who is on our call, for allowing us to join in with this vigil. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss! It’s a privilege to be able to speak. I am a person with lived experience of intercountry adoption and like Christian Hall, I am of Chinese descent … except I was born in Vietnam and adopted to Australia, whereas he was born in China and adopted to the USA.

The common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced abandonment as an infant. No matter what age we are, for an adoptee, loss of our first family as abandonment/relinquishment is a raw and painfully traumatic experience. It stays with us throughout life in the form of bodily sensations and gets easily triggered. When this happens, these sensations flood our body as fear, panic, anxiety.

Worse still is that when our abandonment occurs as an infant, we have not developed a language as a way to understand our experience. We are simply left with pre-verbal feelings (bodily sensations). It took me over 20 years until I read the first book, The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier which changed my life in terms of coming to understand how abandonment and adoption had impacted me. That book was the first to help give words to the experience I felt up until then, as an entirely somatic experience, as uncomfortable sensations in my body, that I hadn’t understood, which I’d spent my life running away from every time they re-emerged.

The other common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced suicidal ideation and attempts. For him, it tragically meant the end of his life by police officers who did not understand his traumas. For me, after numerous failed attempts and ending up in ER, it meant a long process of awakening to the trauma I had lived. 20+ years later, I have spent most of this time helping to awaken our society to what adoption is really about for us, the adopted person.

Being adopted never leaves us. We might try to escape and pretend that it has no impact but deep down to our core, our abandonment wires almost every aspect of our being – most importantly, how we connect or not to others around us and to ourselves. At its core, intercountry adoptees experience loss of identity, race and culture. Unless we have supports around us that understand and help us to overcome the trauma of abandonment early on, we stumble in the dark, completely unaware of how our abandonment impacts us. Many adoptees call it “being in the fog” until we become awakened. Today, decades after Nancy Verrier first wrote her amazing book, we now have many, many books written by adoptees who are THE experts of our own lived experience. These books are a written testament to the complexities we live through adoption and how this impact us.

In the past 2 months, I have worked with others to speak out about the impacts of abandonment and adoption trauma and the direct connection to risk of suicide. I acknowledge that Christian’s family do not relate his tragic death to suicide, but I suspect his feelings of abandonment were triggered as key events led to him being on the bridge that day. I hope that more adoptive families will educate themselves about the complexities we live as people who get disconnected from our origins via intercountry adoption. There are almost 2 million of us worldwide and we are speaking out en-masse to help the world understand it is not a rainbows and unicorns experience. We require lifelong supports from professionals who are trauma and adoption trained. In America alone, there are hundreds of thousands of intercountry adoptees – America remains the biggest receiving country in the world. Too many are struggling emotionally every day, yet in the USA, there is still no free national counselling service for intercountry adoptees and their families. There is also NO national post adoption support centre in the USA funded to help intercountry adoptees grow into adulthood and beyond. Isn’t it a huge shortcoming that the largest importer of children in the world has no lifelong supports fully funded, equitable, freely accessible – how can America expect positive outcomes for children who are amongst the most vulnerable if we don’t fund what we know they need?

I never knew Christian personally. I only discovered him through his death. I wish I had known him. From the many intercountry adoptees I connect to, I know we gain so much emotionally from being connected to others just like us. Being connected to our peers helps reduce those feelings of isolation, helps us understand we aren’t the only ones to experience life this way, helps connect us to sources of support and validation that we know has worked. I wish Christian had met our community. I’ll never know if it would have made the difference so that he wasn’t there that day on that bridge. As an adoptee, I suspect Christian most likely wanted help that day, help to ease his hurting soul, not death. 

Also, let’s take a moment to remember his biological family in China. Whether they ever truly had a choice in his relinquishment, we’ll probably never know but from my knowledge in this field, it’s most likely not. Christian’s adoption was likely the result of the 1-Child Policy era in China where thousands of families were forced to relinquish their children, many of them ending up intercountry adopted like Christian. Please take a moment to consider that through adoption, his biological family don’t even have the right to know that he has passed away. 

The travesty in adoption is that trauma is experienced by all in the triad (the adoptee, the adoptive family, the biological family) yet the traumas continue to go largely unrecognised and unsupported in both our adoptive and birth countries. We must do better to prevent the unnecessary separation of families, and where adoption is needed, ensure that families undertake adoption education, learning about its complexities in full and having free equitable access for life to the professional supports needed.

My huge thanks to his extended and immediate family for being brave and opening themselves up thru all this trauma and allow these vigils where his life and death can be honoured for the greater good. I honour the pain and loss they’ve lived and thank them immensely for allowing our intercountry adoptee community to join in with them in support.

Thank you.

If you would like to support Christian’s family and their push for justice, please sign the petition here.

If you would like to better understand the complexities involved in intercountry adoption as experienced by adoptees, our Video Resource is a great place to start. Wouldn’t it be amazing to create a resource like this to help educate first responders to better understand the mental health crises that adoptees experience.

Adoption: Not a Default Setting

by Mary Cardaras, adopted from Greece to the USA.

The legal right to an abortion in the United States tilts once again precariously on the precipice toward the great dark abyss. And once again, because these debates intersect and often are paired, adoption is back to the point of a rolling boil in social media circles, in newspapers and on television. This is because U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, mother of seven, two of whom are adopted from Haiti, sashayed her way into the question of adoption while hearing a case from Mississippi about abortion. She asked whether “adoption rather than abortion would ‘relieve the burden of parenting.’” In this question she seems to have fully revealed her hand. She has also managed to stir great passions among the adoptee community, far and wide, about adoption itself and our regard for it.

Abortion is a legal option for women and should remain so. But adoption is not a default setting to abortion. Neither should it be regarded as an automatic, fail-safe, fix-all alternative to any question about how to assume responsibility for a child. We need to permanently adjust what ails the practice and narrative of adoption, which happens to be a lot.

The reality is adoption has actually harmed millions of children over decades because children have been treated as commodities and experiments. We infantilized birth parents. We’ve villainized them in some cases. And we’ve decided that the white establishment, who work in and manage the lives of children in organizations and institutional settings all over the world, affecting numerous ethnic, racial and indigenous communities, know better. They don’t.

We know; we, the great, vast diaspora of adoptees, me included, know that the lives of children and their futures are still being compromised and mishandled without a thought for both the child and the birth mother. The mother is often rendered “incapable.” The children lack agency. And as for those who believe that adoption is always a selfless gesture, a love-induced solution to a problem, they have no clear understanding about the repercussions and consequences of the decision to give up a baby. Thank you to writer Gabrielle Glaser and her groundbreaking book, American Baby, for bringing the nefarious side of adoption, through one gut wrenching story, from the darkness and shame, to the light of day. That book and that author have changed the conversation and we need to keep talking. 

“Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today.” This iconic quote by Ernest Hemingway from For Whom the Bell Tolls cuts me to the quick as I consider my own teenage birth mother at the very moment, at that very second when she made the decision that would forever alter her young life and mine. With hand to pen and paper, she signed me away, whether by encouragement or force or emotional surrender and sheer exhaustion, she never was given the chance nor any honest and open conversation about her choice and what the unintended consequences of her decision might be.

Adoptees have, over and over, heard both the “you had a good life” argument and the cheery “you were so lucky” rote sentiment. Both of these may be true for many of us, but they have nothing, whatsoever, to do with a mother who makes the profound and painful decision to hand over her flesh and blood to strangers. And they have nothing to do with an adopted child who grows to be an adopted adult and feels in varying degrees, for different reasons, and at different times, severed from their past, however brief it may have been, and about which they deserve to know fully. Who we come from and why is vitally important and necessary for our growth, development, and psychological well-being in the long term.

I was one of 4,000 Greek-born adoptees who were exported from our country of origin between 1948 and 1970. Some of us were politically-motivated adoptions. Some were legal adoptions. Many were done by proxy. Some of us were stolen babies. Some of us were sold and commodified by doctors and lawyers and priests who acted as intermediaries. Some were separated from siblings. Some of us were ripped from twins and identical twins. All of us were taken from our mothers. Some of us were taken from both parents.

No one ever thought about us, until now; about what happened to us, why it happened to us, and what we feel and think about it. Thank you to Gonda Van Steen and her book Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece: Kid pro Quo? for bringing us out of the shadows. This book is creating ripples that will turn into waves for change in Greece and maybe for all international adoptions. 

Compared to adoptee communities from China, South Korea, Viet Nam, Guatemala, and other countries around the world, we were among the first (likely even the very first) and oldest ethnic communities that provided children, en masse, to childless couples; to Jews after the war, who could not find Jewish children after the Holocaust, to Greeks who wanted Greek babies and to non-Greeks, who knew that there was a glut of children in Greece, after two wars, for the taking.

We are a small group, but now a mighty group that is aging and becoming more vocal and mobilized about what happened to us. In most of our cases, our adoptive parents have died. And now time is running out for us; for reunions, to meet birth parents and family who remembered us, who loved us, who missed us, who remembered what happened, and can recount our stories. We seek restorative justice in all matters of identity, which means easy and open access to our birth certificates, all our records, our personal histories, and we want our citizenship, in our case, to Greece, restored because it was stripped from us.

We were stripped, too, from our mothers, from their embrace after emerging from the very well of their beings, underneath their hearts, completely dependent on them for life itself. And in an act of cruelty, we were quite literally stripped from their breasts, often immediately after birth, which were filled with the warm, sweet milk that was individually meant and created for each of us. We were weaned too soon. Should we have been weaned at all? And if so, how so?

After weeks of speaking publicly about adoption, and on television and in print interviews, writing about it, too, in Greece, I got to thinking about CJ, my beautiful, loving, and troubled golden retriever. I “get” her. I understand her to my core. She is one of my best friends and a constant companion. She was and is emotional, she was difficult to understand, and it was a struggle to raise up my puppy into the calmer and more peaceful adult dog she is today.

I chose her from a litter of nine. When I met her, she was tiny, adorable, and pudgy, the way golden babies tend to be. A ball of fur, just weeks old, she tumbled around on stubby, tiny legs, fighting like her brothers and sisters to get to Mama’s nipples. They needed their mother. They needed her for sustenance. They needed her to teach them right from wrong as she carried them around by the scruff of the neck, a low-pitched rumbling growl when they got out of line, a snap at them to pipe down when there was too much whining and yelping and crying. She was there for them until she wasn’t anymore, taken from her pups after just five weeks.

CJ was weaned too soon and it took months to get her right. She was incorrigible. Difficult. Obstinate. Ask anyone who tried to work with her. When was this puppy weaned, one of the best trainers in northern California asked me? At five weeks, I answered. Way, way too soon he said, shaking his head. It was no wonder she struggled. Our previous golden, Sedona, was weaned after three months. What a difference in disposition and confidence!

Further, it occurs to me how we treat puppies. For those who adopt purebred dogs, we get their papers. We know who their mother and father are. We know their dispositions and whether they were “champions.” We know the kennel they came from and the condition of the kennel. We know the breeder. In fact, there is a long interview and discussion with them. They interview you about the home and then there’s a questionnaire about whether you will be suitable. For a dog. The same is true for those animals that come from shelters. There is a lengthy process and sometimes the dog comes to “test” the home and other animals they may be cohabitating with. If it doesn’t work, there is no placement. The point is there is an awful lot of consideration for the animal.

Don’t you see that we handle the separation of animals from their mothers better than we do with human babies and their human mothers?  Infants tend to be immediately ferreted off from the person who created them, from the person who carried them, nourished them before they even laid eyes on them, held them? How cruel it is to take a tiny human being from the mother who could feed and tenderly cuddle their offspring until and unless there is an informed uncoerced solution, that comes from the mother herself, who may realize she has to do something else. And then to prepare for it, to prepare the baby for it and to counsel that child as it grows about where they came from, how they came to be, and why they were placed with new parents. And wouldn’t it be great if birth parents were fully involved in that process in order to give the child the best chance at life and at growing to understand why their life was altered? This needn’t be confusing and we must take more time than we do to solve the problem, stigma, and often heartbreak caused by adoption.

I have explained, over and over again, that my adoptive family (which was wonderful by the way) and my birth family are not mutually exclusive. They are separate, but the continuum of one to another has comprised my identity, which is still not fully formed, and I am in my 60’s. Will I ever know? Further, I just learned that my birth mother died last year after I searched for her my whole life, wanting a reunion of some kind, mostly just to talk, to get answers, to see for the first time who I came from, and to finally know someone who looks like me. My sadness about that is real and cannot be overstated.

She, my birth mother deserves my attention and care, even though she can’t see me or hear me. Never will. Why? Because in her name I have to advocate for those other mothers who will come after her. Abortion couldn’t have been an option for her. Adoption was her only alternative and since it was, she needed care. She needed love. She needed support and a place for she and her baby to figure it out. In the end, she may have made the same decision, but her decision could have involved the strangers her baby was going to. She did not deserve to be shooed away from her offspring at a critical time when her offspring needed her most and in every way.

In the case of my mother, she was shamed to the point of changing her name and her identity. And when I was born, no one could stomach dealing with a teenage mother and her child who was “exogamo,” born outside of marriage. She wouldn’t be able to handle it, they told her, and so the state would, except that it didn’t.

The answer for so many adoptions, like mine, was to marginalize the birth mother for life, and to ship the children off; stripped of their culture, their language, their religion, their identities, and in thousands of cases, their race. This happened to millions of us. And birth mothers and their children, are not necessarily better off for it.

When it comes to adoption, social workers and lawyers and doctors and those who run agencies that care for mothers and children need to take direction from those who have lived the experience and have managed the consequences. It is not fair that pronouncements about adoption come from on high and down to us, the great unwashed. We’ve had enough of those “well meaning” people who want to make decisions for us because it makes them feel better about “solving a problem,” which they know absolutely nothing about. Adoption still carries a stigma. We need to both adjust the narrative around adoption and speak about the people who are, differently.  

Why?

Because that day will be just one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come depends on what we do on that one day. The lives of so many mothers and their children deserve the wisdom of that sentiment and the respect of a fighting chance to make decisions that do no harm.

Mary Cardaras is a documentary film producer, a writer and an Associate Professor in Communication at California State University, East Bay. She is a proud Greek, an adoptee and adoptee advocate fighting for universal restorative identity justice for all adoptees around the world and for those children born through anonymous sperm donation. She is the author of Ripped at the Root. Her forthcoming book, Voices of the Lost Children of Greece: Oral Histories of International Adoption, 1948-1964 will be published by Anthem Press in 2022.   

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