Adoptees and Suicide at Xmas and New Year

Christmas and New Year is a time when we usually get together as families, celebrating and reconnecting. For some adoptees, this is a particularly tough time of the year because not all of us are closely connected with our families (birth or adoptive). Often it is this time of year that can be the hardest for it brings up painful feelings of not being closely connected .. to anyone. It can remind of us how we don’t “fit in”, how we are forever in-between spaces, or of how little we are understood by the very people who raise or birthed us.

Grieving the Child of the Past by Dan R Moen (Filipino adoptee)

Adoption is based heavily on loss – loss of our origins, loss in knowing who we came from and why, loss of our culture and traditions we are born to, loss of our extended families. And adoption does not always replace everything we’ve lost. Adoption is also heavily based in trauma – it is the trauma our generations went through that often result in us being relinquished for whatever reason. Or it can be the trauma our country went through, a result of war, famine, natural disasters, etc. We adoptees carry these losses and traumas within us, often we are unaware we carry it, until we do some deep diving into our origins and reconnect to some of our most primal feelings of abandonment and grief.

This Christmas and New Year period, I hope that we can be mindful of our fellow adoptees for whom this can be an especially triggering time of year. Last year in Europe the team of adoptees who are therapists at AFC knew at least 6 adoptees from their immediate circles who suicided between Christmas and New Year. This year, globally who knows what our numbers will be – for we’ve also lived through another tough year with COVID-19 and that has further heightened the sense of isolation for many, adopted or not.

I’ve just finished participating in two major events this year to raise awareness of the connection between between being adopted and experiencing suicidal feelings or actions. The first was a webinar with lived experience where we shared openly. You can view it here:

The second, which followed on from our first, was a Twitter event in which more of us shared our lived experience and thoughts which you can read here as a summary wakelet.

Huge thanks to the sponsoring organisation United Survivors and intercountry adoptive mother Maureen McCauley at Light of Day Stories, who organised these 2 incredibly powerful and much needed events.

I wanted to share my answers for Question 4 which asked us, for fellow adoptees who are struggling, what would I say? My response is:

You are not alone! Many of us have been in that space, I know how tough it is to find a way through, but it is possible. Please reach out to your peer support spaces – there are so many of them. If you need help finding them, ICAV has a list of intercountry adoptee led orgs around the world.

Please also don’t be afraid to try and find a mental health professional. It can make a world of difference to be supported by someone trained to understand our lived experience. If you need help finding them, ICAV has a global list of post adoption supports as a great starting place.

Adoption begins with traumas and most of our life, we spend unpacking that and making sense of our life, who we are, how we came to be here. But once we surround ourselves with support and commit ourselves to working through those painful parts, our life can change and we CAN find healing and connection.

It begins with ourselves, finding connection back to ourselves – who we were born to be, not necessarily who we are adopted to be.

Our life as an adoptee does not have to be controlled forever by our beginnings but it is so important to not deny and ignore the pain, but to offer your inner hurt child a space where her pain can be heard, and where healing can begin.

My message for adoptive families and professionals who struggle to understand how/why adoptees can feel suicidal, I highly recommend you watch our video series which covers the universal themes I’ve observed, reflected through the stories many adoptee have shared with me over the past 20+ years. It is SO important adoptees feel heard, validated, and given the space to share from our hearts, without judgement or expectation.

Part of the vision I created and still hold for ICAV remains very true at this time of year:

A world where existing intercountry adoptees are not isolated or ignored, but supported by community, government, organisations and family throughout their entire adoption journey.

Adoption Like This Has To STOP!

To my fellow adoptees who were triggered recently by the news about the Stauffer family who publicly told the world about rehoming their 4 year old little boy Huxley (of Chinese origins also living with autism).

I speak out with you in solidarity against the way some adoptive families and the adoption industry continues to treat us as a commodity! The recent coverage crassly reminds us of how traumatic our life has been .. the adoption wounds together with our bedrock of relinquishment trauma, gets further layered upon when multiple abandonments occur. I know when the “system” allows or facilitates re-abandonment like this (deportation is another form), we personally feel violated, as if it has literally happened to us, again.

I personally know adoptees who have lived this experience of being relinquished by multiple adoptive families – “rehoming” is such an impersonal term for an experience that is so immensely personal! What most people don’t understand is the trauma never leaves our being and it takes us decades to war through it – if we get through at all!

I want adoptees who suffered this experience to know, it wasn’t something wrong with you — it’s that there is SO much wrong with the current system of intercountry adoption that allows this to happen.

The recent experience highlights everything we adoptees speak up about that is wrong. We are treated like a commodity! Given away and discarded when it becomes too hard, not the ideal that the family signed up for (and purchased).

There is something inherently wrong with the mantra of adoption that everyone naively believes Huxley will be better off with his second family. This assumes that second time round, the agency and adoptive family will get it right — but our lived reality of adoption highlights that the process of matching is such a random lottery! The agency may do no better the second time round, especially when they have no incentive or punishment for either outcome, nor are they forced to be held accountable for failures like this or to report it.

I’m sure that you, like me, might feel mad about this situation because we continue to receive the message that something is wrong with us – that we are not good enough. As relinquished children, this is an internalised message we spend our lives fighting to correct! We often feel like damaged goods. Sadly, not even the best adoptive family in the world can ensure Huxley or others like him, come out of messes like this without lifelong consequences.

The system is wrong when prospective parents are not adequately assessed, educated from a trauma informed base, nor rejected. Not everyone should be given the privilege to parent us! It takes a very gifted and emotionally aware type of person to truly help an already traumatised child to heal, flourish, and feel accepted enough to be able to overcome their beginnings!

There is also not enough post adoption supports to ensure better long term outcomes. Governments and agencies treat adoption like a once-off transaction where their responsibility ends the day our adoptive parents take us home. They are rarely given adequate support and their “education” ends the day the transaction is complete, whereas we know, every phase of life opens up a new layer of complexities to unravel. We have no independent advocate who watches out for us long term to make sure we flourish and no reports exist on our long term outcomes over decades. There are certainly very few mechanisms for adoptees to report or take action at the time or later on, when we are mistreated or further damaged. Will Huxley be given a fund from the adoption agency or first adoptive family to provide him with a never ending supply of professional helps should he want – to wade through the maze of compounded traumas? I can’t imagine so! And when we speak out about experiences like this, our voices are usually silenced in preference for the adoptive parents and it is expected the child should “move on” as if a “magical other adoptive family” will “fix us”, so we can live happily ever after! Problem is, we are not living a fairy tale and the next adoptive family is probably not given extra post adoption supports for life either!

The myths in adoption such as “forever family” create unrealistic ideals of adoption that add to the mountains we adoptees and our adoptive families have to overcome. Even with the best family and resources, sometimes there is just too much trauma and sometimes, nothing ever makes it better! Do they teach prospective parents this to set more realistic expectations?

What makes this recent experience for Huxley so triggering for me, is the lack of respect for his personal journey and struggles – his journey made public from day zero with almost a million viewers seeing every detail! His additional challenges publicly displayed to the whole world. That the family monetised their YouTube channel off the back of his trauma is unforgiveable and he will one day consider all this when he’s in his 30s or 40s and ask all the questions we adult intercountry adoptees ask now — how could a family do that, when they are supposed to be supporting and loving? Was it ever really about him or them? We are not a cockle or a peacock to be displayed and show cased when it suits for adoptive parents to be seen as a saviour! Our journey is a lifetime of trauma and loss! Ignorance on a scale like this only acts to compound existing traumas. I wonder if he’ll consider it abuse when he’s older? I would.

It is not okay to participate in an adoption system that churns and spits out adoptees as if we are a gidget with no feelings or soul! We are of immense value, we are vulnerable and deserve better. If this is how intercountry adoption is conducted, we should be all shouting out for it to stop until it’s done in a more appropriate manner that respects us as human beings and teaches families that you either take us with all our gifts and challenges – or you let us go, help us stay with our family and culture, or with another family who has the capability to be there for us long term! With the sheer volume of adoptee led platforms in cyberspace that provide education and insight into our journeys, I wonder how any adoptive parent or agency can continue to claim ignorance and naivety.

I hope the collective anger we adoptees feel right now will encourage us all to shout out from the roof tops about our experiences and free ourselves from the inherent shame we feel in being abandoned and rejected. This is not our shame to bear – it is a system that perpetuates further trauma onto our already traumatised bedrock.

For adoptees who experience rehoming, it’s abandonment multiple times. There is nothing wrong with us but everything wrong with a system that perpetuates a type of people who adopt from a naive and grossly inadequate understanding, fooling themselves into believing they can rescue us – only to fall flat on their faces. I’m a parent of a child on the autism spectrum. I totally know how hard parenting can be – but I’m also an intercountry adoptee with foundational traumas and I understand how important it is, that we get this right so that the trauma vulnerable children live, is no longer compounded by the damaging system we see glaring right in front of us!

Note: I have been astounded by how many amazing and astute adoptive parents exist out there in cyberspace who have been as angry about this as I. I hope that you too will turn that anger into encouraging adoptees to speak out and be heard. Help to elevate our voices!

Resources

Reuter’s Rehoming Expose

Since sharing my thoughts, I have seen many other intercountry adoptees writing and sharing theirs! Wonderful to see our voices coming out of the dark and giving exposure! Here’s a list of what’s been written since:

https://redthreadbroken.wordpress.com/…/myka-stauffer…/

https://gal-dem.com/huxley-adoption-story-youtube…/

https://www.mother.ly/news/myka-stauffer-adoption (this article includes Prof JaeRan Kim, also an intercountry adoptee and the only academic who has so far researched intercountry adoption breakdowns)

https://taylorshennett.wordpress.com/…/a-chinese…/

https://stephaniedrenka.com/open-letter-myka-stauffer/

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/…/huxley-stauffer-youtube… (this article includes Susan Cox, also an intercountry adoptee who works for Holt International)

https://www.insider.com/im-an-adoptee-im-tired-white…

https://danielibnzayd.wordpress.com/2020/05/29/adoptive-parents-not-your-story-to-tell/?fbclid=IwAR35OG2l4M28K4M2-AfcorS7yIW9DjHI_I9sXJim7MJ6QUL7vATtI2Dzb

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