It’s early morning, I’ve only the birds for company for a few more hours. Until my favourite person wakes up. Across the world in the place I was born it’s already early afternoon on my birthday.
Birthdays are a strange, strange day for adoptees. The days preceding it are pensive and sad for completely different reasons to those who perhaps see only more candles on cake. It’s an odd day to celebrate given the anniversary of loss eclipsing that day.
My birthday is one of normalised secrets and mysteries, unspoken questions unanswered. Who was the woman to whom I was born on this day? How was my birth? Did she hold me at all, for how long, minutes, days, weeks, months? How was she feeling? Sad, relieved, resentful, frightened. Decisive?
Who were the other women who cared for me and brokered my adoption? Nuns convinced they were doing a God’s work. While from my perspective it seems more like a Handmaids Tale.
I know my mothers name, her age and that she was Indian and I have her ID number, assuming my birth certificate wasn’t falsified as many were in other parts of Asia. That’s all, except perhaps that she was likely Catholic. You would think a name and an ID card number might be enough to find her. But it’s another continent, another culture. One in which I have no sources, no allies or relationships and no sense of the unwritten rules and expectations.
Her name now brings up an obituary listed in late 2016. A woman with this name died leaving behind a husband and a daughter. More mysteries, could it be my mother, and if so, is the daughter me, or a sister? Is her name common in Malaysia? Are those whom Google uncovers with this name, no more likely to be relatives than a Brown or a Smith? Or is it more rare? The first search reveals a young man, a journalist in Malaysia, a crime reporter. He’s on Twitter but he has only a handful of followers and very few tweets showing me who he is. Should I follow him, and see if he follows the clues back to me? Am I a random stranger whose profile of a Chindian Malaysian adoptee is only of passing interest or could it resonate with the possibilities of a shameful family secret? How does an adoptee reach out to people in these circumstances knowing the possible weight of consequences?
I could hire a detective – perhaps with this information it wouldn’t take a well connected expert long to find people and information. But I’m told it’s common practice to expect to bribe people for information. For my information. I’m resentful about how much it might cost me to find out what everyone else takes for granted. A history they’ve never even had to consider a human right. It just exists. Perhaps it’s even a little boring, the story of the day you were born, told again and again.
If I take my search to another level, there’ll be no going back once a certain line has been crossed. So much can unravel once it does in a family across the world, and in one here.
Only adoptees will really understand this, perhaps they will always mean more to me than family. They are mostly strangers across the world, they know intimate details about my adoption story and almost none about my day-to-day life. A kind of Adoptees Anonymous.
Today a call with my British adoptive parents will be unavoidable. There will be pseudo jollity. They’ll wish me a happy birthday, ask me about my day and presents, and no one will mention the secrets and mysteries of this day in 1972 in Malaysia.
Returning to Vietnam in April this year was partly to do some searching but what I’ve realised since being back, is that it actually had more to do with my inner healing. What I didn’t realise until now, was the after-effect and impact that would continue strongly, three months since returning to Australia.
I was blessed to be able to make my fourth trip back to Vietnam with my adoptive parents and my youngest biological daughter. The trip was a three-generation shared story.
It’s been 25 years since my Aussie mum, dad and I made our first trip back. I recall on that first trip, declaring that I’d changed my mind about returning and mum had to physically support me off the plane as I wept at the enormity of the situation. This time, I looked lovingly out the plane window at the lights of Ho Chi Minh city and felt genuine happiness to be back.
We had a plan to meet with a priest who was in the same order as the priest, Father Oliver, was who ran my orphanage when I had been here as an infant before my adoption. This priest still works at the same church where Father Olivier had been head priest. The most amazing thing was, we got to see where I was born!
Throughout this trip, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the people I met who have invested in helping me search for my family. I also got to meet the investigator who was working with ISS Australia before they lost their funding. This investigator has been the only person able to locate a document that had my Vietnamese mother’s name on it. The investigator is herself a fellow Vietnamese Australian adoptee, so she completely understands my story and the feelings associated with my search.
Whilst in Vietnam, I enjoyed eating as much like a local as possible and I made sure I had a Vietnamese coffee every day. But the real surprise has been what’s happened for me since returning from Vietnam this time. I am filled with a genuine sense of peace about my search. I’m truly okay with not being any further along with finding blood relatives. The connections I have made with people who are still searching for me has been amazing. Just knowing there are people who care enough to help is very humbling.
Since being home in Australia, I have a real sense of being more present in my life and I have more space within, to just be me. I can’t explain the feeling but I’ll try. I feel content and no longer have the need to operate from a place where I’m trying to impress people or get them to like me. I don’t care if they do now or not. I’m filling myself with more self worth and know that I can trust myself to be my own keeper i.e., take care of myself. This return trip has been a real growth journey for me.
I’m also excited knowing that I will return again next year. I left not needing to be sad or wondering when I’ll be back. I’ve decided I need to make a trip back at least once every two years to stay connected to my homeland, where my soul feels at peace.
As a result of my attendance at The Hague Working Group for Illicit Practices in Adoption meeting in May, I met with over 20 Central Authority representatives. One of them was the Executive Director of the Inter-Country Adoption Board (ICAB) in the Philippines. She has invited ICAV as a guest speaker to the 15th Philippine Global Consultation of Child Welfare Services in September this year. Who best to speak than Anna who is a Filipino intercountry adoptee and long serving ICAV Representative!
The work we do at ICAV is done via volunteer time and effort. Travelling around the world to share our lived experience is costly so it is hugely appreciated when others recognise the personal cost and offer to assist.
The amazing and talented Gabby Malpas (ICAV NSW Representative) has been generous by donating 3 pieces of her artwork to help Anna attend. Gabby is running an online Art Auction and the proceeds are being donated to contribute to Anna’s travel expenses. If you would like to support this, go to Gabby’s professional facebook page Gabby’s Art Auction, find the image you want to bid on, and add your bid in the comment by Wed 31 July 11:59pm AEST. The highest bidder wins and the proceeds will be donated, with Australian tax deductibility, towards Anna’s travel expenses.
I would like to personally thank Gabby for her amazing generosity in this specific instance, but also for her long serving role within ICAV as one of our NSW Representatives! Gabby gives her time to many areas in post adoption support. She continues to run her watercolour art classes for teenage Chinese adoptees in Sydney as part of her mentoring role for young adoptees and donates artwork to various adoptive parent and post adoption support organisations around the world because she is passionate about helping her fellow adoptees.
Here are the 3 pieces of artwork that Gabby is donating towards Anna’s travel costs:
If my mum read my posts about adoption, she’d think, “Not Juliette, not my daughter!”
I’ve done the emotional work because I know my parents haven’t and never will. Brexit tore my family apart when my parents voted and arguments revealed just how little they understood they had an Asian immigrant daughter. I struggled and battled them over Brexit, Trump and racism for two years. I raged, I withdrew, I reflected, I dug around for answers but I knew I could only ever work on myself. I knew the whole argument about Brexit had always been about adoption, but they didn’t. Likewise, I knew the first rift that happened in my teens, on the surface was about moving (countries) for about the 6th time in my short life, was also about adoption. But I never said it, so we never talked about it. And as far as I know, they never knew it.
So when at age 46 a friend gently suggested I meet up with her 70 year old adoptee friend who’d done plenty of therapy around her own adoption, I shrugged and agreed. I did not realise how much it would clarify and soothe me to talk to another adoptee, something I had never done before. That’s still incredible to me! Imagine being blind and never connecting to another blind person for most of your life – never knowing how universal your feelings are or realising only those who’ve experienced it, truly understand. As someone who’s been adopted, compared with those who haven’t and think it’s a beautiful happy ending with little to do with anything else, there are things I could never tell anyone while growing up. My loneliness, my longings ended up revealing and highlighting that biology matters and that my family was not enough and that their difference (not mine) was a source of deep isolation and pain. I understood from an early age just how forbidden that topic was and just how little self awareness my parents had about their own grief and it’s impact on me.
I could not find my place in this large white working class family whose only experience of Asian culture was take-out food. I’m not sure they ever rejected me exactly, perhaps I rejected them? But I certainly wasn’t embraced by them. I wasn’t in the minds of extended family, except to be asked about politely as an after thought, after speaking with my parents. If it ever occurred to my immediate or extended family to wonder how I felt being adopted and different, transracially and intercountry adopted, I never had any evidence of it.
For those aware of Tuckman’s model of group development (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing) I never got past the first stage of Forming with my extended family. They never stopped being polite. That reminds me of the first reality show on MTV, “.. the true story…of seven strangers…picked to live in a house…(work together) and have their lives taped…to find out what happens…when people stop being polite…and start getting real…The Real World.” Perhaps it sounds blissfully charming to live in a world where people never stop being polite, but the real connection doesn’t actually happen until you do. That doesn’t mean when you stop being polite you start being rude, it just means you start exploring each other in a more open and honest way and that can get muddy – but done with curiosity and empathy, it can also lead to stronger and more meaningful relationships.
Now that I think about it, I’ve never left the storming phase with my adoptive parents. The classic movie 12 Angry Men is a great example in a nutshell of a group of strangers, moving from being cautiously polite through to an angry battle of wills, until they begin to learn more about each other’s stories and perspectives and in doing so, are able to reach understanding and consensus. A group can be colleagues, or it could be a jury, or new or old friendships. If you cast your eye on your relationships with friends or family, you’ll see the ones that got past the forming/polite stages, or through the storming phase, and those which never have. Side note, one of my friendships actually got a real life dose of this after we worked briefly together on a project and never saw each other again until we found ourselves on a jury together. We’ve been great friends ever since!
Some teams or relationships will never leave the storming phase and will then never reach their potential together. They will at best remain independent of each other and work alongside each other without too much jostling, at worst actively sabotage and disrupt progress and harmony. When they reach the storming, they will never test their own beliefs against differing perspectives, instead they will retreat into the safety of a story told from a single lens, their own. This is what my parents have done, you may be wondering right now if I have done that too. Certainly there is plenty I can’t know. But I can tell you I have thought it out from their perspectives initially more than I did my own, it’s the nature of life as an adoptee. For emotional safety, the pervading priority is the comfort of adoptive parents and the story they tell themselves. Society easily empathises with their longings — not ours as adoptees. It’s my deep understanding and prioritising of their perspective which also keeps me from unravelling theirs with my own. This also hinders the possibility of healing the widening rift in our relationship with truth.
Rightly or wrongly. Most of my therapy has been an attempt to work out the question of whether I should or not. Whether they are capable of growing at this point in their lives, or whether I would only cause pain and confuse them without any useful end game. In doing so, I create more emotional labour for myself in trying to explain the unexplainable.
When my mum went to see the movie Lion with her sister, I wondered whether it was an opening for us to talk. When I asked her how it was, all she said was, “It was good”. Neither of us pushed it further than that, though I remain astonished that she could have nothing more to say than that. I imagine that she looked at that story and specifically saw all the ways in which the protagonists story was not like mine, not like hers. What I think she would cling to was that I was a baby, not a few years old with memories of my family. In her mind, I had not experienced what he did as a lost child in India, searching for my missing relatives and not knowing how to get back to them. But of course I did, except as a baby, I experienced it all without language and by the time I had words for it, I also had awareness of the pain it could bring. And awareness of how little anyone would understand it.
I now have language for my experience and I understand the value of sharing it with other adoptees. Sharing with adoptive parents and with a society which harbours a one dimensional view of adoption through the lens of adopters, I want us to move past the forming phase of using babies to heal the wounds of infertility and opaque illusions of saviourism. I want us to move past the storming phase of denying the reality of adoptee losses and denial of our human rights, into an age of genuine problem solving, equipped with self awareness and the courage to learn from others. Still, it’s common to find people responding to this thought with, “Not every adoptee …”, not their friend, not their cousin, not their daughter.
To you, I remind you that my mum would read this and think that too.
Guest post shared anonymously by one of ICAVs members and originally published in the Transracial Adoption Perspectives group which is setup to promote a greater understanding of transracial adoption for adoptive and prospective parents. An excellent resource and one of the safest spaces being managed on Facebook, for the triad.
Once again yesterday evening, I found myself in a nearly-all-white social space (the only people of color were myself and one Black/biracial woman). I was there for a very good reason, and have no regrets whatsoever, and everything went totally fine.
But every time I go into all-white or nearly-all-white social space now, it reminds me both of the lived experiences of my childhood, including the intense sense of social isolation and of differentness I experienced, and of why I chose to push myself into racial diversity and representation as soon as I could, as a young adult, and why I’ve now been living in vibrant racial diversity and representation in a major city for the majority of my adult years. Growing up in near-total whiteness was devastating for me, and it took me many years to “peel the layers of the onion” and to find myself as a person of color, to “place myself” as a POC, as it were, and to center myself in an environment that worked for me.
I had deeply loving parents, but honestly, no-one knew anything during that first wave of transracial and intercountry adoption in the late 1950s and the 1960s, and there were absolutely ZERO resources for adoptive parents back then–ZERO–and those of us in that first wave, suffered as a result. My parents did an incredible job with zero resources, but still, there were negative consequences.
So my wish for the littlest transracial and intercountry adoptees is that they not have to spend several decades of their lives finding their social place in the world, that they find their identities, voices, and social spaces, as people of color, decades before I did, that they grow up to be confident young adults of color. Indeed, one large element in my sense of mission in co-founding the group Transracial Adoption Perspectives, was to influence the white adoptive parents of the second decade of the 21st century to learn about and recognize some fundamental truths about the lived experiences of transracial adoptees, in order to help those littlest adoptees, who are their children now.
My journey into wholeness, integration, and self-confidence as a person of color has literally taken me several decades. My profoundest wish for the littlest adoptees is that they not have to struggle for several decades to get to their equivalent of the place where I am now, because taking several decades is just too long a journey, honestly.
I hope that adoptive parents around the world will be able to hear this, and will be able to do what it takes to support their children on their journeys. That would be an amazing thing, truly.
In any case, thank you for reading and considering this.
A post from an adopter on my Facebook page got me thinking about an issue.
Is there an exception to the rule where intercountry adoptions should be allowed?
The woman stated that, “All 13 of my children from China have special needs. Some pretty severe. One thing for sure … no-one in-country stepped up to adopt them.”
I have thought about this issue for along time and believed there should be special provisions and derived a list of these:
Orphans that are in imminent danger and have a high chance of dying, such as a natural disaster or a conflict (examples, Haiti and Vietnam’s Operation Babylift)
Children that are discarded by society and have a poor chance of survival (examples: HAPA children – this is a Native Hawaiian word which literally translates to “part” or “mix”. In Hawaii, the word refers to a mixed ethnic heritage such as half white and Korean. In Korea, such children are ridiculed, tormented and rejected by society).
Children with disabilities. As the adopter described, these children are unlikely to receive health care and such children are normally shunned by society. Sometimes these children would receive barbaric treatment of being beaten, starved and refused medical care.
On the surface, this sounds like a great idea but after much consideration, I found this logic to have some shortfalls. I listened to a podcast called Freaconomics (link in resource list below) on the subject of organ donation. Here you see something valuable that is given to a recipient for free. No money is allowed to be exchanged between the parties to prevent corruptive markets and abuse. Surely, a child is as valuable, or more, than the thousands of organs that are transplanted each year in America. The Freaconomics episode named “Make Me a Match” stated this economic proposition eloquently by saying:
“Matching markets occur where money and prices don’t do all the work. And some of the markets I’ve studied, we don’t let prices do any of the work. I like to think of matching markets as markets where you can’t just choose what you want even if you can afford it — you also have to be chosen. So job markets are like that; getting into college is like that. Those things cost money, but money doesn’t decide who gets into Stanford. Stanford doesn’t raise the tuition until supply equals demand and just enough freshmen want to come to fill the seats.”
Here we see a proven method of exchanging something of great value for nothing. I believe that the system could be implemented to place children into loving homes without corruption. However, adopters, orphanages and third-party agencies focus primarily on the emotional aspects of placement instead of addressing the real issues of corruption. If governments could implement a system where money would not be exchanged to place children – I would be in favor to support such placements immediately. Why would anyone not support such a system? I think one of the biggest issues is adopters themselves!
The issue I see is that not all adopters have altruistic reasons to adopt. Few adopters will ever admit to this. Adopters have preferences in children that they want to adopt and usually prefer lighter skinned babies (on average) over dark-skinned babies. If individuals were purely altruistic, then the race of a child would not matter and there would be no price elasticity based on race. However, we do see higher prices for more desirable children. David Smolin in his article “International Adoption: Saving Orphans or Child Trafficking” clearly pointed out this by stating:
“The perception that children are being implicitly bought and sold within the domestic adoption system is furthered by the common practice of private agencies charging vastly different sums based on the race of the child. Thus, it might cost thirty-thousand dollars to adopt a white infant but only ten-thousand dollars to adopt an African-American infant.”
The current practice may save a few children and nobody can deny this. However, on the flip side, we can all agree that a large number of adoptees are injured along the process. The online site called http://poundpuplegacy.org/ has catalogued over 638 cases of abuse, rape and death of adoptees. This is only a mere fraction of the abuse that occurs to adoptees and it’s the money that drives the demand side of the curve and ultimately the abuse. This lucrative business model, for the most part, continues to separate families and causes suffering and loss for the child that gets adopted. The positive adoptee and several adopters drown out the outspoken voices from the not-so-perfect adoptions. They want to highlight that positive adoptions are possible and largely ignore the issues that are addressed by the opposition. They fail to address that the overwhelming majority of children to be adopted are not children from war torn countries, true orphans or have disabilities. The main drivers for taking children away from families via intercountry adoption, is poverty.
The pro-adoption side fail to address these negative externalities. They never explore what is best for the entire cohort group. In the medical world, this idea is seen through the use of “triage”. This term describes how medical professionals need to behave in situations where they are overwhelmed by large numbers of casualties. Providers are taught to sort patients to do the greatest good for the greatest number. We too, should look at adoption in the same lens. Not only via the lens of adoptees but often the second point in the adoption triad – the original families. They too are often suffering and overlooked in the equation. David Smolin stated this corruption against the original families as:
“The international rules apparently allow aid to be offered only to those birth parents who relinquish their children, rather than requiring aid to birth parents to be unconditional. Thus, the international rules permit patterns of aid that create incentives to relinquish.”
In closing, saving the few who are marginalized, overlooked and forgotten does nothing for the overwhelming majority that are left behind. The system continues to corrupt and it does nothing to pressure the countries to change. Real change comes from external forces that demand change of these countries that are violating the rights of the child by allowing adoption to occur. I know many people disagree with me but to make lasting change we cannot be doing the same things of the past to expect a different result.
Denny walked into the library and I greeted him at the circulation desk. Immediately, I felt that he was my soulmate. Later on, I found out he felt the very same thing. He’d visited a few more times, and then disappeared for a few months. In that time, I started learning how to fly by myself. I worked rigorously at the library, explored Oahu, shyly started dating using Tinder, and one day we ran into each other at a gym–on the staircase of all places. He gave me his number. The next day, we met at a natural grocers and drove to the coastline together to see the ocean at night. We stared up at a star-filled sky, gazed in awe at billowy clouds, and found out how similar we are to each other. There was an ease and a familiarity with him that I’d never felt before. We think alike, I told him, astounded.
We’re on the same wave, he said.
Starting a relationship has been terrifying for me as an intercountry, Filipino-American adoptee because of my past.
Last night, he told me he wanted to grow old with me. I told him that I’m scared, and he asked me why.
This question made me think, really think.
A Moment of Self-Discovery
The answer to that question, let me to self-discovery. I realized that as a child, I lost the first person I’d ever loved and that was my brother. He was damaging to me and must have broken my heart a billion times, until I moved out at 18. And only in my early 30’s, did I start to heal with therapy. All this time, I’d become extremely absorbed in personal work, art, creative outlets, academics and spirituality, basically avoiding relationships because deep down, I’d been so scared of being close to anyone. This is because I’d been scared to lose what it is that I love the most.
I dug deeper and finally came to a conclusion.
I never thought anyone could ever love me, I said.
My Fear of Falling in Love
This fear, I realized, came from the trauma I’d experienced in my early childhood. I felt that this stemmed back to having felt abandoned by being orphaned as a baby. Those feelings followed me in my early years living in an orphanage. It clung to me through my adoption and relocation to the Midwest, and onward, since my big brother, also adopted from the Philippines, had extreme PTSD. And even though I loved him deeply, he triggered and traumatized me until I was 18.
Starting a relationship is challenging, but Denny’s words of hope have been the seed to a new beginning, watering a new feeling that I can be loved despite my brokenness. It’s watering the hope that I’m not as alone as I once was. And in this constantly reforming present, I am believing in myself more. I am stronger and healthier. And I’ve found what matters most of all–the relationship and love that I have with myself–for in the light of love, I find myself more and more everyday.
Even though this is amazing, to curve my own difficulties, I have to go at my own pace. I must remain independent, and keep focused on my own dreams. I have to give myself space to process and do the things I need to do to remain in check with my own personality quirks and needs. I am still set on becoming a librarian. I am also still set on being a writer and to keep on with my travels, collecting beautiful photos, and artifacts of my offbeat spirituality and meditations along the way.
At 33, I am a late bloomer and all I can say–is that to try is better than not trying at all. To be hopeful, is better to not have any hope.
To keep your dreams alive, is better than living a life empty of them.
Love exists, in a myriad of forms, despite the hardships of yesterday. And what I’ve learned on this journey of a lifetime, is that even if you might not believe in love anymore–this love will still believe in you.
Do you have a successful experience with “falling in love?” Did you have any challenges that came from having a difficult past or from being an adoptee, and how did you overcome these challenges?
At this current moment I’m flying thousands of kilometres through the air to reach my destination – The Hague, Netherlands. It’s going to take me 24 hours and you all know what that’s like – cramped in a stuffy space with people coughing, kids crying, airplane food, almost-can’t-turn-around-in spaces they call “toilets” and trying to sleep in those goddam chairs that don’t go back enough! Thank goodness I don’t do trips like this all the time! But it will be my first visit to the land of windmills, tulips and wooden clogs! Skippy Kangaroo Vietnamese girl meets canals, black stockings, and cheeses! Whatever will I get up to on my travel this week? I did promise my hubby I’d be on my best behaviour! (lol)
On Monday, prior to the working group meeting, adoptee leaders and I are meeting with the HCCH to discuss what we would like to be put forward for the week. This is such a great opportunity for impacted adoptees of many backgrounds to now be visible at the highest level of government gatherings. This will open up the opportunity for governments to know that we who live it, want to be included and consulted on policy and practice that has created our lives.
My goal within ICAV is to ensure we learn the lessons from our past and to empower and create more opportunity for many voices to be heard from a wide spectrum of lived experience.
It will only by truly listening to and including all triad members, that those making decisions at government level, will have a deeper understanding of how their jobs impact our lives at both micro and macro levels and anywhere in-between.
So I celebrate new connections! New connections amongst government people who live and breathe intercountry adoption daily in their job; new connections amongst my fellow peers for whom many of us work together via social media, but we seldom get to meet face to face because of our geographical distances. I celebrate the endless possibilities that can be created when we connect people together with a passion to turn our life experiences and the lessons learnt into a way forward that helps those historically impacted and those who might be impacted in the future.
This is also not to say this meeting or forum is the solution to the many known problems and pitfalls in intercountry adoption – we need all impacted peoples to get involved in various ways, big and small, to step up and take action in a way that’s meaningful to them. The forces that create intercountry adoption need to be tackled from many angles and ICAV does not judge to say which way is better, right or wrong. I personally believe in giving things a go – reaching out, creating connections and trying to influence where I can in a way that’s respectful and professional.
So stay tuned and let’s see where this path will take adoptee advocacy at intergovernmental level. I’m hopeful … but also realistic to know that international law and governments have their limits; I recognise resources are often the issue even though the passion and desire to change may be there. We can only work with what we have and try to make things somewhat better. As my adoptive mum often says of me, I’m one who reaches high for the clouds and by doing so, maybe I might get to Everest! And if not, well at least I gave it my best!
For a high level summary of what HCCH does, see here.
Special thank you to Laura at HCCH for her time in providing this information and for making it possible for ICAV and other adoptee leaders to attend this upcoming meeting because she listened to our requests and found a way forward!
I remember back in my mid 20s when I had been in a serious intimate relationship for 7 years – my first love! Do we ever forget our first? No! For me, it was sooooo intense! The first person who I felt truly loved me as I was – warts and all. The first person who really tried to understand my mind and heart. The first person whom I felt “safe” with. As an intercountry adoptee, I had grown up in an adoptive family that hadn’t been an overwhelmingly positive experience and I yearned to feel love, yearned for a connection that wouldn’t be scary or hurtful. I remember my adoptive dad saying more than once not to be so “clingy” to people when the occassional visitor gave me attention. I craved their warmth and nurturing mannerism! The words of my adoptive father made me feel there was something wrong with my desire. In his words I was, “All over them like a bad smell”. But looking back, I recognise this now as the adoptee within who was hurt, abandoned and seeking the connection with a mother figure who wouldn’t let me go.
I kept looking for that “connection” and into my young adult life, I had several serious intimate love relationships. Each time, when it ended, as it inevitably did – it really hurt! I desperately wanted to be loved but I also needed to keep the person at a distance so they couldn’t hurt me too much. My experience of life was that people who said they loved me, either left me because I was “too much” or they hurt me.
Through alot of therapy in my mid 20s and 30s, I eventually recognised what was going on. I call it the push-pull dance that we adoptees master. The dance says: I want you close but I want you far away. It is the powerful dichotomy that we adoptees live. It reflects the dance we have going on within ourselves of wanting to believe we are loveable but living a reality that says the opposite – if we are loveable, then why are we left alone on our own, without our mother. We then subconsciously search for that connection to repair the hurt damaged child within, to want to see a reality that says “we are loveable”. I internalised my relinquishment as “there is something wrong with me” which was enhanced by an adoptive family environment in which I was neglected and abused. These experiences compounded into a feeling that I was always inferior, of no worth and why would anybody want to stay with me. The damage was so immense that I did actually hate myself and this was reflected in self harming behaviours such as suicide attempts. My self hatred was turned inwards upon myself. Others may show it in different ways.
Every human being has a powerful desire to feel loved and for adoptees – it is enhanced on steroids. Our rejected inner child drives our motivations and instincts to recreate and bring back that connection which was unfairly severed with our mother who carried us in-utero. We never really get over that loss of “mother”. I’ve done alot of therapy in my life but fundamentally, it still hurts to have lost her and never know who she is, to be held within her arms as a babe usually is, and to never hear her soothing voice or be held up to see her smiling, adoring face. We adoptees lose those precious moments forever, even if we manage to reunite and find each other again it doesn’t undo the trauma imprint left upon our heart and psyche. So it is not surprising that we carry on our search for that magical “mother-child” intimate connection through our romantic adult relationships.
The hard part is, when we feel so unloveable there is a mismatch between what our heart and our mind says. Our mind says what we all know logically – that every human being is of worth. But yet in our body, our heart, we don’t feel loveable. So our mind wants us to believe we can be in a relationship and that somehow we will find that one relationship which will wash away our pain – we pull people towards us, desperate to find that connection. But in our body and heart we don’t feel we’ll ever be good enough and therefore we push them away. We then get into a cycle of judging ourselves harshly for being in these patterns, saying, “See, told you so! Nobody will ever love me. I’m not loveable”, and it becomes a self fulfilling and cyclical prophecy.
So the question remains: are we adoptees left to forever be incomplete in someway? Going through the motions of this constant push-pull dance? I believe through my own experience, that we can find healing and it can vary for individuals as to what that healing looks like. For me, it was the deep body reconnection therapy I did which helped the most. It was a powerful moment when my therapist helped me recognise that my mother and I are not separated forever – that I am a part of her, that I haven’t lost her, for she is actually within me. That I carry her within me! That blew me away to actually feel this truth. I finally grieved and consoled my inner hurt child.
I also had spent several years working through the negative impacts of my adoptive family and the damaging messages I had internalised. But eventually, it all came together through perserverance and commitment to being on the path of self recovery. Once these things happened, I learnt to reconnect with myself and stop pushing away my own inner feelings of hurt, loss, rejection and to deeply love my inner child, accept her and not make her feel bad for “being needy” and wanting love. The subconscious instinctive response to push people away no longer controls me and I’ve been capable of being in a healthy positive intimate relationship. I now understand why many of us adoptees can journey along without ever being aware that we have “adoption related issues”. It is not until we see the repetitive cycles of our intimate relationship patterns, the push-pull dance, that we begin to fathom how much our relinquishment impacts our life. For some of us, it can be the first overt signal that something is not quite right.
A really useful book that helped me along while being in therapy, was Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Connection. (The first book of hers that I read, The Dance of Anger, was so important to my healing!)
If you are an adoptee reading this blog post and you can identify with the pattern of wanting people close to you but subconciously pushing them away, you are not alone. This is a completely normal response to a difficult beginning. We act this way for a reason and the good news is, it can be changed. It starts with a conscious decision to learn as much as possible as to why we became this way and how the pattern began. Then its a matter of finding a way for yourself that helps free you of the subconscious drivers. I refer to this as being on the path towards healing and recovery.
In the past month, I’ve become a fan of Anthony Robbins after watching his Netflix I Am Not Your Guru show. So much of his approach matches my healing journey where I learnt to accept and nuture my wounded child. I think that’s why it’s so devastating if we have an experience of an adoptive family who never fully accepts (or even understands) our wounded traumatised child within. When adoptive parents reject and push that hurt child away, it gives us the subconsciuos message that our child is not loveable and therefore, we as adults replicate what they’ve done because we don’t know any better. We push our inner hurt child away too but yet, the real path to finding healing from our relinquishment, is to embrace our inner child, love it, nuture and protect it and then allow it co-exist with our adult self. Only then do our beginnings no longer control our destiny.
Our path towards healing and recovery can start any moment. It is a choice. We don’t have to be controlled by our beginnings forever. A healthy positive intimate relationship is possible! Reaching out to post adoption supports are a great place to start. Finding a therapist who suits your style and personality is another. Doing yoga or meditation is another. But give yourself the chance and be gentle on yourself. This stuff doesn’t change overnight, it can take years of commitment to healing and recovery. It starts with awareness and the desire to figure it out.
The Anti-Immigrant Climate in the United States of America
An Intercountry & Transracial Adoptee’s Perspective
by Rachel Kim Tschida
Special Guest Blogger on ICAV
I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in public affairs, and I’m taking a course on immigration policy. A recent question that was presented to our class was, “How has the anti-immigrant climate in America affected people you know?” I immediately thought of the impact it has had on intercountry (and often transracial) adoptees.
Speaking from my own lived experience, it was actually startling for me when I first realized that I was an immigrant. This might sound crazy but growing up in an American family with American parents, it just never crossed my mind. Yes, logically I knew that I was born in Korea and came to America when I was 6 months old, and my first passport was issued by the Korean government for my first plane ride aboard Northwest Airlines from Incheon to Seattle, and then Seattle to Minneapolis-St. Paul. I have photos and newspaper clippings from my naturalization ceremony when I was 1 year old (my mom dressed me in a red white & blue dress for the occasion). I even received a hand signed letter from U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz, congratulating me on becoming a citizen (and how he also immigrated to the U.S. as a child). However, “immigrant” was never part of my self- identity.
This all started to shift a few years ago, when I heard about a Korean adoptee who was in deportation proceedings. At first, it didn’t even make any sense to me – how could an adoptee, someone who was adopted by Americans like me, be deported? At the time, I didn’t realize that not all adoptees were naturalized – either their parents didn’t know or for some reason or another, just didn’t complete the process. After reading the case of this adoptee, and going down a Google rabbit hole, all of the pieces started to come together. The next time I stopped by my parents’ house I thanked them for following through on all of the steps of my adoption and naturalization. I also asked to get all of my documents, including my certificate of naturalization and adoption file, just in case.
Through conversations that I have had within the intercountry adoptee community, I have realized that I am not alone on the complex path of self-discovery around adoptee/immigrant identity. There are some intercountry adoptees who do not identify as immigrants, while there are others who proudly and adamantly claim their immigrant status. I have also realized that I had one of the better possible adoption outcomes, with regards to how seriously and diligently my parents went through the adoption and naturalization processes. In the massive folder of adoption paperwork from my parents, I found notes in my mom’s handwriting with reminders like “call attorney” or “don’t forget to file naturalization paperwork”.
Throughout the past 2 years, I have seen an increased level of fear and anxiety within the community. As anti- immigrant policy proposals have increased in number and frequency, related discussions within intercountry adoptee community groups and online chats have proliferated. Everything from whether or not we need a certificate of citizenship AND a certificate of naturalization, to stories of naturalized Asian American citizens who have been de- naturalized for spelling mis-matches in their application (which can be prevalent when translating Asian names from their native characters into Romanized letters), to the impact the proposed removal of birthright citizenship would have on the American-born children of non-naturalized adoptees. This particular issue adds even greater distress around family stability to adoptees whose very lives were impacted by the separation from their birth families. Adoptees have given each other advice such as carrying proof of citizenship at all times, having copies of adoption certificates and naturalization certificates when traveling abroad and re-entering America, immigration and border control, and hiring immigration attorneys.
This has also led to many philosophical debates around the positioning of intercountry adoptees on the immigration hierarchy – especially Asian adoptees. In stark contrast to the exclusion of Asian immigrants through the 1875 Page Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917, and the quotas of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, the adoption of Korean children by (usually) white American families began in 1953 – more than a decade before the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This exceptionalism narrative – that adopted children of American parents are “good immigrants” yet at the same time almost never viewed as immigrants by their families, the immigration process, or society at large, is probably why I also did not identify as an immigrant myself. There was the assumption (and expectation) that we would be easy to assimilate into American society via our American families. It poses an interesting question; how can America view an Asian, African, or Latino child who has crossed the border with his or her Asian, African, or Latino parents so differently than an Asian, African, or Latino child who was adopted by (white) American parents?
Adoptive parents and adoption agencies successfully lobbied for the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which granted automatic and retroactive citizenship to some (but not all) intercountry adoptees. Now, adoptive parents would only need to ensure the adoption was legally finalized based on the type of visa issued, and they would no longer need to go through the naturalization process. This seems in theory like a clear victory for the adoptee community that would close a gap in our immigration system. However, it continues to reinforce the exceptional immigrant narrative.
That said, even in 2000 concessions were made to the Child Citizenship Act in order to get it through Congress. The most notable and damaging was that it excluded adoptees who were already 18 on the day the law was enacted- February 27, 2001. There was an assumption that adoptees over 18 could easily navigate the immigration system and apply for citizenship themselves. Despite the “forever children” narrative that is also often placed on adoptees, this was an abrupt shift in suddenly viewing us as adults and transferring the responsibilities (and failures) of adoptive parents onto adoptees. This also seemed to define the shift toward placing adoptees in the same category as all other immigrants, at least in the eyes of immigration enforcement.
Unfortunately, there are many intercountry adoptees who have no viable path to citizenship, for various reasons. They may have entered on a non-immigrant visa, or their parents did not keep their adoption files which are the only proof that an adoptee entered the country legally via adoption. Despite the air of “exceptionalism” in the passage of the Child Citizenship Act, one could also argue that adoptees had no agency or self-determination in their adoption whatsoever – they didn’t choose to be separated from their birth family and be sent from their birth country, nor choose to be adopted by Americans. Therefore, those who hold the most power within this adoption system should also bear the responsibility – American parents, adoption agencies, and the American government. For better or worse, the premise of adoption is built upon the promise of offering a “better life” and “creating a family” – and the denial of American citizenship is a complete contradiction to this promise. For many adoptees, their American families, homes, and lives are all they know.
Since 2000, there have been numerous attempts to amend the Child Citizenship Act, in order to grant retroactive citizenship to those who were excluded. The most recent attempt, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2018, has not yet passed despite being bipartisan and bicameral. The Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC), a national organization led by adoptees without citizenship, will continue to advocate for a legislative solution. Other adoptee organizations and community organizations such as Korean American or other Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) social justice organizations have also mobilized around the country, in an effort to raise awareness and engage with their local, state, and federal elected officials. It is worth noting that the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2018 has been specifically positioned as a family and human/civil rights issue, and not an immigration issue – and that previous attempts to add adoptee citizenship to other immigration reform bills failed.
A small group of us in Seattle have come together and formed a joint committee between a Korean American nonprofit and an Asian Adoptee nonprofit organization. We continue to discuss how, when, and where we can contribute to these efforts and what our sources of funding will be. We have had many late-night debates about the framing of adoptees as immigrants, not as immigrants, as adults, as children of American parents. We have struggled with the implications of positioning adoptee citizenship as an immigration issue, family issue, and/or human rights issue. We have debated if we should try to build alliances with other impacted immigrant groups, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, or if we should proceed separately.
We are at the end of November – National Adoption Awareness Month and the anti-immigrant and xenophobic climate has forced many of us to have uncomfortable conversations with our families and even ourselves, as we process what it all means for us as the adopted, immigrant, (people of color) children of our (white) American parents.
To keep up to date and support the work of American adult intercountry adoptees fighting for their right to automatic US Citizenship, see Adoptee Rights Campaign.