Telling My Mother

Maria Heckinger today

I am Maria Heckinger and at age 66, I am one of the older adoptees posting on this site. I am honoured to be asked by Lynelle to share a couple of stories unique to my adoption.

First, a little history about the Greek adoptions. It was the early 1950’s and WWII had taken a huge toll on Europe, leaving no country unscathed. During the war, Greece was occupied by armies from three countries; Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria. The Nazi Occupation was followed by a protracted Civil War, which left the Greek economy and infrastructure in ruins. Mass adoptions from Greece to the United States started as early as 1950. Then, in a humanitarian gesture, the United States passed more broadly conceived refugee relief legislation in 1953, allowing the immigration of European refugees and foreign adoptions to proceed. It is a little-known fact that Greece was the first nation in modern times to open its borders and allow intercountry adoptions.[1] And proceed they did, in remarkably large numbers.

Hariklea Voukelatos, my birth mother

In 1984, I was 30 and back in Greece for the first time since my 1956 adoption. While on that trip I found the orphanage where I spent my earliest years. Overlooking the coastal city of Patras, it was a massive building. Sitting in the director’s office, I did not expect to find such detailed records—or the director’s willingness to show them to me. All the notes, religious charms, and legal or informal documents left with babies were saved and were kept in big ledgers. When the director showed me the note written by my mother, and the declaration she filed at the local City Hall asking the orphanage to take over my care, I was left stunned. After the tour, I returned to Patras and, within two days, I found my birthmother, Hariklea Voukelatos. At 30 years of age, my life changed in an instant. I spent a joyous week with Hariklea and my half-sister, Katina. It was the beginning of a 36-year relationship that led to meeting uncles, aunts, and cousins. My elation at finding my birth family was tempered, however, by anxious thoughts of how to tell Ellen Pace, the only mother I knew and loved.

The following excerpt is from my book, Beyond the Third Door Based on a True Story. Vancouver, WA (2019).

I was happy my story had touched people so profoundly, but there was one person I worried about telling, Mom. Dad had passed away the year before, and she was alone after 43 years of marriage. I did not want to add to her pain. Having to tell Ellen about finding Hariklea was a scenario I never dreamed I would face. Ellen had wanted a child so badly I didn’t want her to think I was ungrateful, disloyal, or she was losing me to my real Mom. Ellen was the most selfless person I knew, and I loved her more than anyone in the world. She had adopted and loved me unconditionally, and I would take this secret to my grave rather than hurt her.

Ellen Pace, my mom as a young woman

With my San Diego plans complete, the only thing left was to put my photographs into an album. Unlike Mom, who was motivated by love when she selected my album years before, my motivation was fear as I chose one with easily removable pages. I was still undecided on what to tell Mom, so it gave me options. Upon arrival, I picked up my car and headed to Mom’s home in San Diego’s backcountry. The baseball-sized knot in my stomach was a constant reminder of what lay ahead. I tried to ease my apprehension with thoughts of how receptive Mom had been about adoption – not just mine, but my three siblings as well. She had spent countless hours making scrapbooks filled with their adoption artifacts too. Richard Jr. and Deirdre’s albums even included their mother’s name. In the past month, I had found a mother and a sister, discoveries I was still processing. I was excited to know my new family, but I wanted to protect the one I had. It was a delicate balance I struggled to maintain. My fears of hurting Mom took on a life of their own and nearly blinded me from believing she could accept such a truth. With her house in sight, the knot in my stomach was now the size of a basketball. I pulled off the road and gathered myself before I continued. Mom knew I was on the way, so there was no turning back. With no guidebook on how to handle this type of situation, I had only one choice. Face the music and trust the Mother who loved and raised me. Pulling into her driveway, Mom came outside to greet me, and I hugged her a little longer than usual. Her arms around me felt like home; safe and familiar.

I was putting my luggage in the spare room when Mom came to the door and asked a question that stopped me cold. “So, did you meet any relatives while you were over there?” I busied myself with my suitcase, and after a long pause, I managed a weak, “Yes.” Her next question was the one I dreaded: “Who did you find?” My throat constricted and I could barely speak, so I deflected with a question of my own. “Mom, guess — the most unbelievable relative you can imagine?” “You found your mother, didn’t you?” I mumbled, “Yes.” “Oh my God, you found your mother? I want to hear all about it,” Mom proclaimed. Stunned, I stood there like a statue, unable to move or speak. The weeks of angst had been for naught, and my fear of hurting Ellen had consumed me unnecessarily. Mom’s questions made this more comfortable than I could have dreamed. Relaxing a bit, I wondered what had prompted her initial question. Had Mom suspected I was hiding something during our telephone conversations? Could she sense I was carrying an emotional burden? I knew it was now or never, so I went to the bedroom, grabbed the album, and set it on the kitchen table. I patted the chair next to me, invited Mom to sit, and began. The photos were invaluable as I led Mom through my two months in Greece. I moved through them at a deliberate pace, hoping we wouldn’t spend too much time on the pictures of Hariklea. As we neared the photographs of her, my fears returned, and I was overwhelmed by feelings of betrayal. I looked away and questioned my decision as Mom examined the woman who had given birth to “her” child. I hope Mom doesn’t think I look like Hariklea. Should I have included the photos with my arm around her? What about the pictures of Hariklea, Katina and me, arm in arm at the taverna? “She looks like a nice woman. What’s her name?” was all Mom asked. “Her name is Hariklea, and she is nice. The young woman is her daughter, Katina.” Mom was surprised Patras still had an orphanage with such good records, but she was bowled over when I described how we found Hariklea. I didn’t know much yet, but I shared what she had told me about her life. When I told Mom about my week in Hariklea’s home with Katina, she was happy for me and wanted details of our time together. Mom couldn’t imagine dining by the sea with your feet in the sand, but she laughed when I shared stories of Hariklea’s bossy personality. I concluded with a comment about her generosity but did not mention the soul-crushing guilt she still felt over losing me. Mom didn’t need to hear that. We finished looking at the album and enjoyed the meal she had prepared. After we washed the dishes, I went for a walk along the stream running by her house. I knew Mom needed some private time with her thoughts and the photo album. I was gone for a half-hour but returned to the back of the house so I could peek through a window and see if she was finished. There she was sitting at the table, hunched over the album and staring at the page. I knew which photos Mom was glued to, and I couldn’t imagine how she felt right now. Did she feel threatened by my birth mother? Was this the day Mom feared might come? Would she worry I loved her any less? I felt happy, sad, and vulnerable as I watched her study the photographs of Hariklea. Tears sprung from my eyes and ran down my cheeks as I quietly watched her. I wanted to give Mom all the time she needed, so I went for another walk. The second time around, I made a noisy entrance via the front door to announce my arrival.


[1] For more information on these early waves of international adoptions from Greece, see Van Steen, Gonda (2019). Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece: Kid pro quo? (U of Michigan Press), 77-78.

Orphanage photo of Maria Heckinger

About Maria

There Is Only Me

“All those moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain.”

I’m reminded of that line from the movie Blade Runner that was set in November 2019 and spoken by Roy Batty, the replicant who was fighting against time and against his creator who doomed him by installing a kill switch. Those words weigh heavy on this adoptee because I have chosen to stop my clock by not looking into my origins or searching for any blood relatives. Any memory of roots or of faces or events that would connect me to my own origin story I have chosen to forego because no one can claim me. I am no one’s son. My biological existence and furtherance are all now under the aegis of my force of nature. I know my face and other physical features are not reflected in anyone else on this planet, so I am free to take control of my own story, to tell it to myself without deceit, without manipulation. My name is in a passport within another passport, within another. My tree of blood is a stump in the backyard of a tenement where my body was found in Saigon, lost, then found again in a two-level suburban house in northeastern America that couldn’t keep me forever. Because forever is a fallacy to my adopted body. In my own body is where I belong.   

About Kev Minh

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #9

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.

The biggest thing I want people to know this month is that I’m not anti-adoption. If it weren’t for adoption happening to me, I wouldn’t be living the life I am now. I can’t say it’s necessarily a better life, it’s just a different one than the other life I could be living had I not been adopted.

Non-adopted people don’t think of what their ‘other life’ could have been like because for them, their existence wasn’t founded on first family separation and the traumas associated with it — there’s not an ‘other life’ option that enters their minds. For me, it is always there.

So, when I say I’m not anti-adoption, that means that I understand why it exists. As someone who was directly affected by adoption, I know firsthand its impacts and I’m not afraid to speak about them – all of them.

During NAAM especially, I want the world to know that I’m not fighting against adoption, I am simply fighting to be heard and seen. 

by Christina Williams

Everyone has a story: beautiful, terrifying, wonderful, heartbreaking, mysterious, coincidental, whatever.

Everyone deserves to feel a sense of belonging. 

Everyone deserves to discover their own identity. 

Unfortunately for some, the path of discovery leads to denial, rejection, abandonment, half-truths or hidden truths. Scars reveal themselves. Scars some of us didn’t know existed. We’ve been so busy building dreams and chasing sunsets, yet others have lived with a daily pain.

Fitting in, being misunderstood, different ones trying to do their best. 
Or not. 
It’s all part of the territory. 

Has anyone inquired of you lately, ‘How are you going with it all?’ ‘Where do you see yourself in 20 years?’ ‘How will your story end?’

One thing I have learnt though, through the processing of life and daring to ask our big questions, is that everyone of us has the power to decide our own destiny. As the ever-optimist, I’m believing that each of us would finish well.
Selah 🕊

by Jasmin Em

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #8

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.

It is more than being torn from birth family. It is being torn from the every day culture. Spiritual and cultural norms are absent and there is no connection to ancestral knowledge. It is our DNA and it is denied when we cannot connect to our culture. Once adopted, you are labelled , always.

by Kelly Foston

Adoption is often about the parents living out their dreams. Some believe they are making the world a better place. Some believe they are making themselves better. Isn’t the desire to be a parent ultimately a selfish act? But how many non-adopted children are expected to be ‘grateful’ for the rest of their lives?

I think an adopted child has a double edged sword. They walk along that blade for the rest of their lives. On one side of that blade is the privilege of an alternate life path. On the other side is the disadvantage of missing their birth culture. As part of adoption month, I would like this to be acknowledged.

by Kristen Anderson

her name was maité, su nombre era maité

blossoming almond branch in glass by vincent van gogh

i have been told
of a sister
i have never met
she died at sixteen
in an accident
her name was maité

i dreamed of her
last night
soft, gentle
everything it seems
a sister might be
she was to me
through the night

i felt the feeling
one must feel
when they have such a one
as her
the not alone feeling
perfumey girl presence
it was a beautiful dream

she stayed with me today
in my waking hours
i smelled her
through the two thousand pesetas of
super
i pumped into my car

and when i worried about money
she reassured me
it will all work out
dear brother
she said

i stopped by the side of the road
on the way home
and picked her
a wildflower
that i know she’ll love
i’ll give it to her
tonight

her name was maité, su nombre era maité
mi boreal interior collection
j. alonso el pocico, españa
(c) j.alonso 2019

Poems by j.alonso may not be reproduced, copied or distributed without the written consent of the author.

 

prince of spain

i am a prince of spain
i stride across the land
in full view of the people
my identity not in question
the strength of it’s source
as sure as the continent
sits upon the sea

i am a prince of spain
i look through the eyes of ages
i obey the call of my heritage
she blows in my hair
like the june wind 
her song is a tide
throughout me each new day

i am a prince of spain
i am tall, like my king
the red and yellow waves
and my heart along with it
the riches, these wild expanses
adorn the good people
of which i am one
yes, i am one

 prince of spain
 (principe de españa) 
j. alonso
lubrin, españa 
(c) j.alonso 2019

Poems by j.alonso may not be reproduced, copied or distributed without the written consent of the author.

                                  

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #5

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.

I’m not a tree whose roots have been cut off. That’s what others want me to believe. The ones handling the chainsaw to cut me off.

I’m not feeling guilt for having interest in my own story, the truth.
And no, I still don’t have access to full and correct information about myself.

I’m a Belgian guy, carrying my heritage with me. I don’t have to choose which country I belong to. It’s all part of me.

I’m not ashamed to say I’m not grateful for adoption. Not ashamed to say I remember feeling miserable as a child, and lonely most of my life. Because that’s the truth and denial used to be a way to try to cope with those feelings.

No, I’m not a bottomless pit.

It is believed there is trauma from the beginning, from the separation of the birth mom. But even then I did not start with the incapability of bonding or returning love. 
That others can’t feel it or recognise it, is their lack of knowledge or interpretation skills. 

Yes I have trauma mainly from my adoptive parents. Yes, I know many adoptees who were abused.
So I’ll start taking care of trauma and stop trying to rehabilitate. 

I stopped being afraid of hurting my adoptive parents’ feelings a long time ago. And I’ll stop being a people pleaser soon.

Yes, I grew up with racism. Adoptive parents trying not to be racist don’t change that, except for making the topic undiscussable.
And no, my white culture doesn’t change my colour of your skin.

Yes, adoption is about people paying money for someone else’s child.
And drawing the stakeholders in adoption as a triangle will make you forget about the squares and circles in and around it.

No, I can’t tell if it’s better to be adopted or not, because I can’t compare to an unexisting life.
Neither can you.

by Less Lee

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #4

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.

I’m hurting.

Something that is a deep part of me has clearly been pushed so far back into me that the words, “I’m adopted from India” gather as a lump in my throat. They hijack Harley because they recognise the girl who lived before she was Harley.

The words stop my breath and overwhelm my senses so much that my eyes fill with tears and I feel I cannot SPEAK.

This is foreign to me, as I know how to speak.

I know my story and I’ve said it many times without this reaction.

Only NOW, close to 30 years after my arrival, am I able to feel the weight of this story.

It’s heavy and I’m allowed to feel it.

I’m allowed to be in this place.

It was bound to happen since the story isn’t beautiful.
It’s only beautiful on the outside. 

by Harley Place

I think that the first priority is to educate people who want to adopt, because there is a better way. Support the child to stay in their birth country, educate birth families that there is always another option, adoption is the last resort.

If adoption does occur adopting families should commit to searching for birth families or keeping in contact would be ideal.

Maintain a connection to culture is vital to our wellbeing.

by Gabbie Beckley

The Caged Soulmate

by Jonas Haid, South Korean adoptee raised in Germany

The eyes are the mirror of a human’s soul where, if you look deep enough, you will see the deepest pain and trauma from our big loss. This loss is what connects intercountry adoptees from all over the world. Some of us have the ability to strengthen others through positive energy, but when we doing a deep dive into ourselves, the inner pain is omnipresent.

Even if happiness and joy is in front of us, we tend to see the bad in the good. With this artwork I want to show that if we release ourselves and turn our head to the right side, we can see the good things better i.e., use the sunlight in the right way and we can free the shadows which are caged in ourselves.

Artwork (c) Jonas Haid 2019 who created it for ICAV.

NAAM 2019 AdopteeVoices #3

At ICAV, we invited members to share during National Adoption Awareness Month what they would like the public to know. Here’s another of what some of our members are happy to share to the public.

I’d like people to know that some of us do just fine . Some of us are happy with the life we are given.

I have friends and family around me who love me. Yes, I still think about my biological family and wonder how they are doing. But I truly believe they gave me up so I could live a life they couldn’t give me. 

I’ve been able to go to school and get an education. I’ve had a safe and good childhood. I’ve tried out sports and instruments. I’ve explored and found what I like and what I want to do in life. I’ve been able to be me this entire time, even though I was born in a completely different part of the world. 

I’ve been visiting my birth country and it is a beautiful, stunning place. I plan to visit again many times in the future – show it to my boyfriend and maybe one day, to my maybe future kids. 

My parents wanted me and my sister and we’ve been loved all our lives. I don’t feel like I’ve been kidnapped or ripped out of my parents’ arms.

My parents and my family here will forever remain my family. I might meet my biological family one day and then my family might expand. But those people I got here will always remain my family.

by Anonymous

I’d want the world to understand rather than know. Understanding leads to selfless compassion and empathy.

All people in the world know something. After that, what they do with it is up to them. Maybe that’s the safety I’d need to escape from the “I’m not enough” feelings. To have somebody listen and for me to be heard. Otherwise, I’m merely a study or statistic.

If the world understood, I’d have my citizenship instead of my children being fearful they’ll lose their mom. Maybe I’d be more present as a mom. It’s generational.

by Bianca Salai