by Dilsah de Rham adopted from Sri Lanka to Switzerland.
Ink, Watercolours, Pastel
This is also about the dilemma of the dualities in life faced by adoptees in general. The feeling of the blind unconsciousness – the sad, overwhelmed feelings when we are not aware, the awareness about our identity, feeling in-between the white and biological cultures we belong to as intercountry adoptees.
by Christina Soo Ja Massey, aka YooNett adopted from South Korea to the USA.
The Tears of Trauma I cry as a helpless Orphan, I cry as an Adult throughout my Life.
This piece of art deals primarily with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Trauma of being abandoned, left to fight for my Life, but being unable to do so … The fear, anxieties and hopelessness of the situation. I attempted to convey how this Trauma persists throughout my Life. I have come to my Adopters already deeply scared only to relive old Experience via new Scars.
“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”.
Nous ne choisissons pas de naître Nous ne choisissons pas d’être adopté.e
par Thomas Zemikaele SJ né eb Ethiopie et élevé en France. English translation here.
Comme à des milliers de personnes adoptées, une des nombreuses questions qui m’a été posée fut “Tu viens d’où ?” Ma réponse commençait invariablement de la même manière : “Je viens de loin. Et même de très loin.” Car psychologiquement, géographiquement, et comme beaucoup de personnes, je (re)viens de loin.
Longtemps et plutôt inconsciemment, j’ai considéré que j’avais eu de la chance. La chance d’avoir été choisi, malgré tout, la chance d’avoir pu être sauvé. C’était une loyauté implicite. Mais tout aussi inconsciemment et en parallèle, une part de moi ressentait fermement que c’était et que c’est en réalité un faux sujet que cette loyauté. Une approche et une lecture pernicieuses même.
Aujourd’hui, je le dis sans hésitation et sans trembler : en tant que personne adoptée, nous ne devons absolument rien. Je dis bien : absolument rien. Pourtant, mon propre parcours me ferait dire, et ferait dire volontiers, que je suis supposé devoir quelque chose, la survie. Sauf que je ne suis pas responsable de ce qui s’est produit. Avoir été adopté n’est pas, de mon point de vue, et ne peut pas être fondamentalement avoir été sauvé. Alors que c’est exactement ce que les autres entendaient lorsque je leur disais d’où je venais ; ils entendaient que j’avais été sauvé (grâce à l’adoption). Mais s’ils m’avaient bien écouté, ils auraient surtout entendu autre chose, ce que j’avais pourtant clairement dit : j’ai survécu. La nuance est de taille.
Car oui, il serait plus exact de dire que j’ai survécu. J’ai survécu car même en ayant souffert moralement et physiquement, en touchant du doigt la solitude glaçante, en ayant ressenti la peur, l’inconfort, en ayant été immergé dans une obscurité où la mort n’était pas bien loin, j’ai tenu. J’ai tenu car mon père biologique avait été là, juste un peu avant que je ne fasse l’expérience de la laideur du monde. Il avait fait en sorte que je survive. De lui, oui, je pourrais dire qu’il m’a sauvé. Oui. Et s’il y a bien un autre être à qui je dois quelque chose, un sentiment, une chaleur, c’est à ma mère, celle qui a dû supporter l’impensable pour une mère : accepter et continuer de vivre sans son premier enfant. Elle non plus n’a pas choisi.
Systématiquement, chaque fois que je songe à ces décennies perdues, gâchées par le hasard et les circonstances, gâchées par l’incompétence de certains incapables, ma gorge se noue et je dois m’efforcer de retenir et mes larmes et mes cris. Si je m’autorisais à flancher, une seconde, juste une seconde, on me prendrait pour un fou. Je dois à mon père les risques qu’il a pris et fait prendre aux autres, sur plus de 1000 kilomètres pour ne pas que je succombe. Non, ni mes parents, ni ma terre, ni moi, n’avons véritablement choisi tout ce qui a suivi.
Bien sûr, je peux être respectueux de ce que j’ai eu par la suite, des soins, de l’éducation, du toit qui n’a pas toujours été protecteur et apaisant, je peux être respectueux pour l’assiette pleine. J’ai été et je suis respectueux mais pas redevable. Je ne dois rien. Car je n’ai rien demandé, j’ai accepté. Accepté de vivre. Mais ce qui m’avait été promis, ce qui avait été promis au travers du deal de l’adoption, je ne l’ai pas vraiment eu, loin de là. J’ai subi d’autres pertes, mon sourire s’est fait plus rare, mes rires ont disparu, beaucoup trop tôt, mes douleurs ne se sont pas toutes envolées. Ma flamme intérieure a continué de vaciller sous les vents de l’existence et des névroses d’adultes. La sécurité, la paix, ne parlons même pas du bonheur, je ne les ai pas vraiment eus. J’ai fait avec. Ou plutôt sans.
Mais “ça va” ! Combien de fois a-t-on éludé des questions derrière ce “ça va” alors que rien n’allait. Bref beaucoup de choses sont désormais claires dans mon esprit, je ne négocie plus ni implicitement ni ouvertement. Tous comme certains de mes souvenirs enfouis jusqu’ici, ma colère se libère. Une colère froide, une colère qui n’emprisonne plus, une colère qui n’aveugle plus. Une colère que je pense être légitime. Je n’avais pas compris. Je ne comprenais pas. Je n’avais pas digéré.
De nombreux témoignages loin d’être anecdotiques, et pourtant on continue de présenter l’adoption comme une chance, un cadeau. Mais à bien y réfléchir, NOUS SOMMES le cadeau. Nous n’avons reçu aucun cadeau et n’en recevons toujours aucun. Sauf à considérer que le fardeau de la survie soit un vrai cadeau. Nous avons perdu et continuons parfois à perdre au fil du temps. Clairement, nous sommes offerts à des destinées hasardeuses, et rien ne nous est offert. Pas même parfois l’amour désintéressé, non égocentré, le véritable amour, et pas même l’écoute. Nous comblons des manques, des carences, mais nos propres manques et nos doutes sont parfois démultipliés, confirmés, nourris. Nous sommes supposés dire “merci” alors que ce sont des “pardon” que l’on devrait nous dire, sans manipulation. Nous sommes parfois considérés comme illégitimes alors que ce sont les conditions de l’adoption, ses modalités, qui sont parfois manifestement illégales, illégitimes. Et il arrive même que ce soit notre “nouvelle famille” qui soit en réalité complètement illégitime. Illégitime quant au droit qu’elle est persuadée d’avoir sur notre mental et sur notre corps, et quelquefois sur les deux en même temps. La légitimité est de notre côté. Nous ne sommes plus des enfants, et nous avons aussi, d’une certaine manière, je le crois, une responsabilité vis-à-vis des petits, des jeunes, des adolescents dont on croit qu’ils sont juste en crise d’adolescence ; une responsabilité aussi pour ces adultes dont la parole continue d’être niée, caricaturée, décrédibilisée, minorée. Nous ne choisissons pas de naître. N’oubliez jamais, qui que vous soyez, que nous ne choisissons pas non plus d’être adopté.e.
J’ai vécu mon arrivée et mon “adoption” avec la sensation profonde d’émerger d’un long cauchemar, d’un monde sans sons, sans saveurs, fait simplement de peurs et de douleurs. Comme un véritable moment de renaissance inversé. Ce n’était pas une “adoption” à mon sens, ce n’était pas ma “nouvelle” famille, c’était ma famille. Sans forcément être heureux, j’étais à la fois fasciné mais surtout apaisé. Comme si enfin je déposais les armes après une éternité faite d’instants d’hypervigilance. J’étais apaisé lorsque je me suis retrouvé devant mon père “adoptif”. Oui, bien qu’épuisé par le voyage et l’intensité des instants, j’étais happé par ce nouvel environnement, ce nouveau monde, lors de ce soir d’arrivée. Ca pourrait sembler beau présenté ainsi. Et pourtant… C’est tellement plus complexe et tellement différent en profondeur. Car n’oubliez pas non plus : un bébé, lorsqu’il naît, il crie et pleure. C’est plutôt bon signe et rassurant pour sa courageuse mère et pour ceux qui le font venir et l’entourent. Mais des cris et des pleurs, ce n’est pas un hasard, pour le coup. Je n’ai pas crié, je n’ai pas pleuré ce soir-là. Je regardais juste, je levais et relevais la tête, silencieux. C’était il y a près de 32 ans.
Pendant ces 3 décennies, je n’avais pas saisi certaines choses, je ne réalisais pas quelques-unes des facettes de sujets qui pourtant me concernaient aussi. Comme celui de l’adoption. Je n’avais pas été un enfant adopté, je n’étais pas une personne adoptée. C’était autre chose. Les circonstances avaient juste permis que je vive plus longtemps que ce qu’un hasard avait tenté d’imposer. Cette même loterie qui m’avait enfin permis de sortir de cette obscurité.
Pour toutes ces raisons, et longtemps, je n’ai pas été très critique concernant l’adoption. Mais c’était tout “simplement” parce que je tenais à la vie que j’avais accepté le moindre mal. Parce que j’étais déjà épuisé, éprouvé, dans tout mon être. Alors je crois que je voulais simplement souffler un peu. Mais même si elle a été plutôt supportable au début, l’adoption n’a pas manqué directement ou indirectement, de m’apporter son lot de difficultés, d’autres traumatismes, d’autres souffrances.
Pendant plus de 30 ans, j’ai vécu, ou cru vivre, au grès des flashs, sans savoir d’où je venais exactement, sans avoir d’informations sur mes origines précises, sur mon passé. Seuls quelques instants étaient préservés, gravés. Imprimés dans un cerveau en mode sécurité car en alerte permanente. Bien sûr je savais que je venais d’Ethiopie. Mais l’Ethiopie c’est 2 fois la France et avec une diversité que l’on imagine pas. Nous, adoptés éthiopiens, sommes tous nés à Addis-Abeba à en croire la version officielle. C’est écrit noir sur blanc sur le certificat de naissance. Dans notre cas, c’est surtout écrit blanc sur noir le plus souvent. Pourquoi faire compliqué lorsqu’on peut faire simple et modeler une réalité, lorsqu’on peut falsifier et s’arranger avec les “faits” ?
Survivre à certaines affections physiques et chocs psychologiques, c’est parfois possible. Parfois. Mais clairement, les quelques difficultés majeures restaient de ne pas savoir, de se sentir multiple, d’avoir parfois le sentiment étrange d’être un autre, au fond, tout au fond, et donc de ne pas se sentir vraiment soi. Comme s’il y avait un autre “je” préservé quelque part, comme si parfois on était juste spectateur de cet autre soi déraciné et contraint de vivre une vie dans un environnement différent, un environnement dans lequel il avait fallu s’adapter, se nier aussi parfois. Un tiraillement constant, plus ou moins tenace. Qui vous freine, vous désoriente, vous fragilise, vous affaiblit, vous oblige, donc malgré vous, à creuser en vous, pour voir s’il reste quelque chose. Oui, le plus dur ça a été de ne pas savoir, et de faire l’expérience de parties de soi qui s’éteignent. Il en va du muscle comme de parties de votre âme. S’éteindre en partie, littéralement.
Pourtant, j’avais accepté le principe de mon adoption, en témoignait le fait que je ne le vivais pas en tant qu’adoption. Et puis objectivement, il n’y avait pas d’autre solution dans mon cas, dans le contexte, dans cette époque. Tout ça, je l’intégrais et le cautionnais même. Mais je n’ai jamais compris pourquoi ça devait aller de pair avec l’injonction d’être heureux, voire même avec celui de faire le deuil de son passé. Je n’étais pas heureux et je n’avais fait le deuil de rien. On ne m’avait pas prévenu qu’il y aurait autant de deuils à faire. Même après. Surtout après.
Hélas, le bonheur ne se décrète pas. Ca se saurait si tel était le cas et le monde ne serait pas à ce point barré, éclaté, instable. Je n’acceptais pas et je n’accepte toujours pas que l’on prétende, même subtilement, que je suis supposé être heureux, content, satisfait, sous prétexte que j’ai échappé à la mort, à la famine, à la guerre, à un non avenir. Je ne l’entends pas et je l’entends plus autrement : le plus triste et douloureux reste malgré tout que je n’ai pu échapper à l’adoption. Car dans l’adoption, tout y est pour partie : la mort, la famine, la soif, la guerre, le non avenir, un avenir perdu car non vécu. Des pertes. Des pertes inestimables. Mêmes si l’on a l’immense joie, la délivrance, de retrouver les siens ou d’avoir été retrouvé.e. Des instants, des années, une part d’une vie est perdue.
Non décidément, nous ne choisissons pas d’être adopté.e et au fond, je pense que nous subissons au moins une double violence. La première, la naissance, est acceptable et même belle, magique, sauf éventuellement pour l’être qui naît. C’est la vie, le mystère et le sublime de la vie. La seconde violence, l’adoption, est beaucoup moins belle : car c’est le monde. Le monde que l’on fait, le monde que nous subissons, le monde et ses injustices. Nous les avons subi, nous les subissons longtemps parfois ces injustices, sous des formes diverses. Mais subir ne signifie certainement pas accepter, ni tolérer.
as a trained graphic designer but especially and artist and activist, poster-like images are made as punchy, few words, simple photoshopped images and the message is easier to catch. the fact we can NOT easily read yellow words on the white space is how asians navigate into the white world. many asians, aboriginals, autochtones adoptees have been mainly adopted to white families and believed for very long they were white themselves, that’s how we grew up, that’s how we survived racism (sometimes at home, often at family gathering – at school, at jobs). it represents layers of ready life … displaced and stolen but a life we made it, of scars, loss and longing for understand …
#1 ICAV Blogger Collaborative Series from Adoption Awareness Month 2019
One of the first things people will ask me is how old I was when I was adopted. When I reply that I was 2 months old, I can see them discount my loss. They may even say, “So you don’t remember” but it’s a misconception, not only because things don’t have to be recalled to be subconsciously remembered, but also because I don’t have to remember having something to know what I’m missing.
Imagine if you were bitten by a dog as a baby. You might have no conscious recollection of it, but your subconscious will have it stored somehow and you will likely be terrified of dogs for the rest of your life, without understanding it. Adoptees experience a loss which is pre-verbal but there is no such thing as pre-feeling; implicit memory is body held. Childhood relinquishment creates life-long fear of rejection and loss and either a distrust of others or of self. Our resulting attachment styles can make it difficult to connect with others and maintain healthy relationships.
The smell of our biological families is not remembered, but is palpably different to our adoptive family, even in adulthood I notice this every time and it jars me.
The absence of someone or something can be important not just in the moment of losing it, but in everyday life. For example, the loss of sight or hearing, or use of a limb, or the ability to empathise or navigate. Having no memory of those things doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have a longing for them — their importance and meaning isn’t lost on us because we don’t have it. Those who’ve grown up poor have no memory or experience of being rich — but likely they still would like to have money, just as those of us without our bio families, genetic mirrors, belonging or culture, to name just a few, know there is something missing — but not just missing, taken.
When I was a young-under-20 year old adoptee, I would have agreed with the statement, “You were just a baby, you don’t remember”. As an over 40 year old now, having fully shed my adoptee oblivion and so fully aware that adoption and relinquishment actually have many impacts on me, I can attest that the body does remember the separation from mother, even if we are infants at the time of separation and adoption.
I remember going through years of therapy, mostly cognitive, until I found an amazing therapist who helped me reconnect with my body. The work I did, helped me to heal the dissonance between my mind (influenced largely by my white adoptive life) and body (influenced largely by my genetics and biological).
My mind always tricked me, telling me everything my adoptive life imbued, for example, that I was lucky to be saved by adoption and living in this amazing country, Australia. But my body told me differently. It was where my deep sadness sat, feeling that I didn’t know who I really belonged with (who was my tribe?), where I came from and feelings of isolation. I spent most of my life in my adoptive family pushing away those body feelings and living the persona of my adoptive life … looking very together, high achieving, and seemingly happy. But it all became too much in my mid 20s and I experienced deep depression and attempted suicide multiple times trying to escape and push away those deep body feelings. The therapy literally saved my life. It was the only space I had been given that allowed me permission and validation to grieve and allow my body to express what I’d spent most of my life until then, trying to suppress. Finally, I was able to grieve for my mother who I actually had no cognitive memory of, but in allowing myself to grieve, I learned that my body did in fact remember.
So, I know today why that therapy was so powerful because despite the myths of adoption like this statement, we DO remember everything about our mother who we are symbiotically connected to for 9 months. That separation from her was imprinted in the cells of my body. I might not have had the words to describe the sadness, grief, pain and confusion of why I never heard, felt, or smelt heard her again, but it took an amazing therapist and certain type of therapy to help me unlock the body memory so that I could do what I needed — to reconnect with that memory of her and honour it. To give it a place in my life and no longer deny she didn’t matter, because she totally did.
In every cell of my body, there was the undeniable truth. So for me, that statement that we do not remember as infants, is so not true. I was just a 5 month old baby when I arrived in my adoptive family but I did remember. She was deeply imprinted in me and I spent years trying to ignore that truth which only made the trauma of separation worse.
I only began to heal once I recognised and embraced the truth of that body memory, which doesn’t lie.
This statement itself is true for me. I don’t remember. I’ve always thought that I’d be more damaged if I came here at an older age. More damaged in the sense that I would be harder to love and easier to disregard if I got into major trouble with either mental health or society at large. It’s as if this is an entry ticket for people to want to get near me, an assurance that I will be just like them.
Even after telling people that I was three months old when I came here, they still continue to ask me if I know the Persian language. That always puzzled me. What baby speaks a language at three months? Is this evidence of how little these people have spent energy putting themselves in my situation? Probably.
When it comes to someone who loses a parent when they are too young to remember, people show a lot of compassion. Nobody would say to them, “You were just a baby, you don’t remember”. Instead they are showered with helpful words about the tragedy. Their trauma is affirmed. The only time our trauma is affirmed is when an adoptee gets into trouble or has depression. Then these same people say that there is nothing to be done about it, that we were already damaged.
I was adopted at 10 months old. Prior to this I lived for six months with a French Vietnamese family with the lawyer who facilitated my adoption. I lived in their house with them. Before this, I was in an orphanage being cared for but not loved nor given all the attention a mother normally gives a new-born. Even in-utero my mother probably knew that she could not keep me.
“As a fetus grows, it’s constantly getting messages from its mother. It’s not just hearing her heartbeat and whatever music she might play to her belly; it also gets chemical signals through the placenta. A new study finds that this includes signals about the mother’s mental state” (Science Daily, 2011)
The first year of a baby’s life and during pregnancy is so important. A mother’s physical and emotional availability is vital for the babies emotional and psychological development. It can also impact on our future ability to learn and retain knowledge, amongst other things.
My body remembers. I had my first major panic attack when my now ex-partner found out she was pregnant. I was happy and excited but my body responded differently. It went into complete panic around the threat of being rejected and abandoned all over again. The physical attack on my body as a result of the trauma experienced in my first year of life was so great that I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I lost 7 kilos in two weeks through stress and physical fear that I would be left and replaced by our new baby.
Any loss of significant intimate relationship I have formed in my adult life has triggered varying degrees of anxiety. I’ve done copious amounts of counselling, Craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, dance therapy, art therapy, massage, regular exercise to manage my body’s response to old stress and trauma stored in every single cell. I’ve done a lot of work to change the narrative that I am enough and I am able to care and look after myself in times of adversity such as a relationship break up.
I know that I will not die now and that I have enough resilience and self-love to care for myself and truly believe I’m worth it.
My son had a recent health scare. Thankfully he’s fine, but at an appointment with his new paediatrician, the subject of family history came up, especially as I’d been diagnosed with a hereditary syndrome only a few months earlier. I said I could only provide limited family history, having been adopted and thus far only able to find my mother and some half-siblings. The doctor asked how my syndrome manifested itself because my son’s symptoms were possibly related. We discussed my physical symptoms and then she asked if I also experienced “brain fog” (moments of forgetfulness and/or being unable to process information). I replied that I do sometimes experience it but I’d always considered it to be “trauma brain.” This, of course, prompted her to ask what trauma I had suffered.
I answered, “I’m an intercountry adoptee. I lost my mother, my everything — and was adopted by a family of a different race on a different continent.” “How old were you when you were adopted?” she asked, a look of sympathy in her eyes. “Around 2 months,” I answered. All sympathy vanished, replaced by a slightly exasperated look, “Oh, but you were just a little baby at the time. You couldn’t possibly remember.”
Her comment implied: (a) babies cannot form emotional/cognitive/somatic memories; (b) babies cannot experience trauma; (c) losing your mother immediately or shortly after birth has no effect on a baby; (c) any combination of the above.
Though I have heard this comment countless times before, I was shocked to hear it coming from a paediatrician. Had she not learned about the numerous studies that have been done on various animal species, as well as humans, showing the detrimental effects of early baby/mother separation?
What if I had told her that the trauma I’d experienced at the age of 2 months hadn’t been the loss of my mother but physical abuse instead? Or sexual abuse? Or severe neglect? Do you think she would have immediately poo-pooed THOSE causes as legitimate causes of pain and trauma – even to a baby – as she did for adoption? No way! She probably would have been outraged and rightfully so!
Programs like Kangaroo intensive care therapy for premature babies are in place in hospitals across the globe because it is widely recognised that babies need skin-to-skin contact with their mothers. Books about early infancy remind us that a baby and its mother are one organism until the umbilical cord is cut, and that newborns do not realise they are separate individuals from their mother. Science seems to grasp the fact that the mother-child bond is critical to preserve, especially very early on in life and throughout much of childhood. Yet society has been conditioned to think that babies who are separated from their mother due to adoption don’t/can’t remember (either cognitively or somatically) and/or aren’t traumatised by this early loss. You can’t have it both ways. Pain is pain. Trauma is trauma. All babies need their mothers – not just the ones that aren’t adopted. Every cell of an adopted person’s body knows empirically that she/he has lost her/his biological mother.
We remember. One woman is not just any woman. One baby is not just any baby. People are not interchangeable. Except when it comes to adoption.
My origins have not left me, my history still lingers in archives and attics, my blood relatives may still be circulating somewhere in the region from where I was scooped up and transported out of South Vietnam and into the United States in 1974.
Sure, as an eight-month-old infant, I had no idea what was going on around me and there was no way I was given any choice in whether I stayed or not.
Being uprooted and re-settled, and re-named and re-homed, all within my first year of life, made not a dent on my infant memory.
The failure of recall of all the micro and macro events and faces behind them who coordinated and shaped my early beginnings was expected and encouraged.
I was trained to not look back at the person I was prior to my transformation into a naturalised U.S. citizen.
My infanthood as an orphaned foreigner was seen as illegitimate; my “real life” was only recognised when I became an American citizen.
But what I cannot remember is still what I cannot forget.
What I do remember are the many times when I withdrew from my community because it became readily apparent to me that I was never going to truly settle quietly and comfortably into the life crafted for me.
What I cannot forget is my adoption was meant to ostensibly wipe the slate clean for me while at the same time wipe my mother and my father and their child off the face of the earth.
Guest artwork by Xiaolan Molly Thornton, adopted at 3 years of age to Australia from China.
Xiaolan says: This artwork depicts how I feel being divided by two cultures. One of Australian and the other, Chinese. The background is supposed to represent the landscape of China and I have blended in aspects of Australian culture which I now embrace as part of my identity.
This artwork may not be reproduced, shared or copied without the consent of Xiaolan.