Between 24 December 2020 and 1 January 2021, a total of 6 adoptees from Europe took their own lives, a Black Week in Europe for adoptees. The number of unreported cases is definitely higher. All could not clarify their origins, their pain was too strong, and they found no other way to make the pain bearable.
It is so infinitely sad, aching and unbearable to hear about it. I have been working with adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents for 10 years now and have given lectures on the subject. I also quite happily avoid the subject of how close adoptees are to death, although I know better.
How many times in the past few years have I heard that adoptees should be glad they were saved. In the last few months a little girl made me realise how important it is to work with adoptees, foster children and the system around them. On the outside everything looks so simple. The child has new parents and “is good“.
The pain of children is not permitted by the outside world for a lifetime. The grief for their first “mother” lasts a lifetime. Children who know their new mom cannot understand their pain. My little son explained it well yesterday. These children have an “emptiness in their hearts and even though they laugh, they are always sad”.
There is still a lot of educational work to be done with traumatised adoptees and foster children. Prevention work and post adoption services are the most important features for me!
If I had one wish, I would wish that every adoptee could clarify their origins and that no obstacles were put in their way. The adoption papers would be complete and the adoptive parents would always offer support in everything.
I am so infinitely sad that these 6 found no other way out and I just hope so much that adoptees, adoptive parents or other people close to adoptees, seek help and support at an early stage.
We adoptees can uphold this issue within our groups. The “dearest” in life was taken from us and anyone who does not understand how we miss our first mother, need a little more understanding of the desire of those who have been adopted.
We cannot prevent the adoptees from making their decisions. They planned it. It was their own decision, with the hope that their situation would be tolerable.
I know a German adoptee who took his own life at Christmas a few years ago. We were told that he died and no matter where it was told, everyone his age knew he had committed suicide. Everyone knew about his situation but no one could help because they didn’t know how.
I am so proud of the members in my groups. We exchange ideas, learn to talk about their own adoption, and support one another. In the last months of 2020, I felt a really nice togetherness in the group. Sensitive and careful! The online meetings went the same way. I would like to keep and maintain that.
Dear fellow adoptees, you are strong and brave people. I’m looking forward to the next meeting that we can spend together.
The past 2 weeks it is as if we were on a roller coaster within the adoption community in which all the themes that have passed by in recent years were under a magnifying glass.
The loss of our fellow adoptees hit like a bomb, mainly because it touched parts of ourselves – because in the end, we have all lost a part of ourselves through relinquishment and adoption.
By accepting and acknowledging that we know death is something we usually stay away from, we need a hero and we have to become our own. Normally loss has no place, we only have an eye for surviving but when we recognise our loss, we also recognise the lost parts within us.
In the past week, we have experienced that we can no longer ignore death and we motivate each other to share and acknowledge our pain, fear and sorrow. By jointly expressing the wish that we want to remove the taboo about death and loss, a space has been created in which both sides of the adoption are starting to have a place.
We no longer just survive but also openly mourn and honour the lost parts within us. Let the tears we had as a child flow, and our child part is finally liberated.
And with this, the realisation is also born that we can embrace death and life because then fear disappears and we can live from love …
De afgelopen 2 week is het of we binnen het adoptieveld in een achtbaan zaten waarin alle thema’s die in de afgelopen jaren voorbij zijn gekomen onder een vergrootglas lagen.
Het verlies van onze mede geadopteerden sloeg in als een bom. Voornamelijk omdat deze delen van onszelf raakte. Want uiteindelijk hebben wij allen een stukje van onszelf verloren door afstand en adoptie.
Maar het accepteren en erkennen dat ook wij de dood kennen, is iets waarvan we wegblijven. We hadden een held nodig en we zijn onze eigen held geworden. Verlies had geen plaats we hadden alleen oog voor het winnen, overleven. Want als we ons verlies erkenden, erkende we ook de gestorven delen in ons.
De afgelopen week hebben we ervaren dat we er nu niet meer om heen kunnen en motiveren elkaar om onze pijn, angst en verdriet te delen, te erkennen. Door gezamenlijk de wens uit te spreken dat we het taboe er af willen halen, is er een ruimte ontstaan waarin beide zijdes van de adoptie medaille een plaats beginnen te krijgen.
Waar we niet meer alleen overleven maar ook openlijk rouwen en de gestorven delen in ons eren. De tranen die we als kind hadden, laten we stromen en ons kindsdeel wordt eindelijk bevrijd.
En hiermee is ook het besef geboren dat we de dood en het leven mogen omarmen. Want dan verdwijnt angst en kunnen we vanuit liefde verder leven…
by Soorien Zeldenrust & Dong-Mi Engels who write this article on behalf of the Adoptee & Foster Coaching (AFC) team, Netherlands.
Standing still with today, with life, surviving and giving up. You’re tired and you don’t want to feel anymore. You wish to find a path, away from the pain and sadness.
A day where 6 suicide reports of intercountry adoptees, which all took place on and around New Year’s Day, have now arrived to our Adoptee & Foster Coaching (AFC) colleagues. One from India, two from Korea, all 3 adopted to Netherlands; one from India, one from Chile, both adopted to Belgium; one from Chile adopted to Germany.
Making the unbearable bearable
Your body is broken the moment you were separated from your greatest commitment: your mother and your origins. Once in a new family and another country you will be obliged to attach yourself to this. Not only from the environment, but also from yourself to survive. As a child you can only stand with yourself by adjusting. When “problems” come later, it will be downplayed or your surroundings try to “fix it”. After all, you were so neatly adjusted (read: devastated).
You’re getting older, the unforgettable feeling and being different from your surroundings remains present deep inside and slowly rises to the surface. Soon it gets to the point that you can no longer ignore (recurring) relationship problems, workplace issues or health issues. Where should you look for it and who should you be with? Is there someone who can really understand what you’re going through and what you’re feeling? Usually not in your immediate vicinity and not from the regular professionals either. And yet you want an end to the intense pain, the unprocessed sadness and (the double) grief. You wish for an end to longing for a home or a place, that desire for hiraeth, a deep homesickness.
Some of us reach a point where they don’t want to feel all of this anymore and can’t handle confrontation anymore. They also feel guilty towards their adoptive parents because they can’t handle the pressure of being “happy”. They’re over it.
By sharing these hopeless looking thoughts and greatest fears with like-minded people, you can break through this and you will feel that you are no longer alone. It really does get better. You can handle this pain and learn to embrace it because you will understand it and never have to wear it alone again.
We as AFC coaches unfortunately can’t prevent what happened last New Year’s Day. There are adopted people who see no way out. All we can do is be there for you when you are ready to reach out and ask for support. By giving recognition and sharing, we want to let you know that you are not alone and there is a place to learn and be yourself, with all your questions, sadness, fears and thoughts. Make yourself known and be heard. We provide a listening ear, the correct aftercare and the necessary awareness in the outside world.
Worldwide, intercountry adoptees commit suicide 4-5 times more than the average non-adopted person. This occurs especially when adoptees can’t find their first parents and relatives and they are very vulnerable during the holiday season.
These are my battle scars from when I was around 12-13 years of age, done around these holiday times. I would get really depressed looking at all those loving families with parents who look like them, spoke like them, etc. It didn’t help I was a Chinese male with white parents.
Whenever I look at my wrists I am thankful I made it through those times. It took me till the age of 30 before I really dealt with my PTSD and depression due to my inter-racial and intercountry adoption. Now and then I have moments where I go back into my past and think about “was it all worth it”, living my life and getting to where I am today – am I better off or should I just have ended my life back then?
I guess a lesson to be learnt from this, is no matter what you do as an adoptive parent – there are some things that a child needs to learn the answers to questions themselves. It’s not up to you as parents to give them the answer that you want them to believe in and hear.
For Adoptee Remembrance Day I want to highlight and honour those who have attempted suicide and also those who have died of suicide. This is a topic within adoption that needs far more attention and resources. We lose adoptees to suicide because there is not enough supports to recognise and enable healing from the losses that many experience.
I wrote this because I understood this cry for help from someone I’m currently supporting and it rings of the truth we experience in being relinquished. Our relinquishment is not a once-off action without consequences – our loss is experienced internally on a very deep level, and for some, it’s felt every moment, every day and can become overwhelming!
“I want to go home!”
This is the cry of a young man as he struggles, dangling from the noose created for himself.
In these most vulnerable moments, the pain is so intense and raw, he can see no other way to have some peace.
How does he ever get to this moment?
It’s a lifetime of misunderstood pains which build up, no words to express.
It’s a bodily anger and rage from not understanding why she left him, was he not good enough? Was it his fault?
From an early age the body cuts off – his only survival mechanism.
Love does not conquer this pain, anguish, and confusion! Love cannot penetrate.
Who is he? How did he end up here, in a different country, surrounded by people that are not his by nature? This is not what he wanted!
Generations lost – their trauma resides within his body.
Darkness seeps into his soul.
No way out?
Only hope will relieve … find her.
The one – who’s sounds and movements his body cells remember.
It will be his only chance to live.
Can someone help him come home … to her?
Then maybe it will make some sense.
This loss and pain he doesn’t understand.
Home is where he wants to be!
In honour of those we have lost who struggled through this, and for those who still struggle every day – You Are Not Alone!
These past few weeks since easter has been reflective and sad for me. Whenever an adoptee friend commits suicide, it brings on many emotions:
Raw sadness that we’ve failed another person impacted by adoption!
Helplessness that the powers-to-be (sending and receiving governments, agencies, lawyers, social workers) who control and continue to facilitate intercountry adoption, don’t do enough to prevent this type of outcome. We know after 70 years of intercountry adoption, that the trauma involved in intercountry adoption HAS to be supported for LIFE!
Anger that it is documented and well understood that we continue to suffer much higher rates of suicide than non-adopted people and yet – the powers-to-be still continue to facilitate intercountry adoption with very little commitment to adequate post adoption supports, nor any consequences to being held accountable for their role in facilitating the adoption.
Grief for the people left behind, who are suddenly made intensely aware of the feelings of powerlessness that led the person to leave this world in this manner.
Frustration that for the majority of adoptees, we can get to this space without reaching out for help because we are often surrounded by public ignorance and media misrepresentation that adoption is only “wonderful” and provides a “forever family”; or of “a moment-in-time-reunion” that creates an illusion that this will fix the internal pain of needing to know where we belong. The damage these fake messages create when not balanced or listening to those who live it from a broad spectrum across time, is that this message can act to negate and amplify the struggles adoptees often feel.
And where are the supports for those left behind? How does our peer community deal with the ripple effect when this happens? I have not seen many resources to equip us with this. We struggle along, wandering in the dark.
What this does to me is put me on high alert for any adoptees I know who share about being in this dark space. You would be surprised by how many there are – often the ones whom nobody suspects! All I can do is reach out, offer to listen, tell them I am here when they need it most and encourage them to reach out for professional help. This is because the pain is often our deep trauma from relinquishment and possibly complicated if the adoption wasn’t supportive and positive. It’s an awful feeling to wonder who’s going to be next. I’m only one person and there are thousands of us intercountry adoptees. It feels like a ticking time bomb! Yet I also totally know how they feel because I was there during my most painful years. I know how easily life becomes that dark space where you truly believe no-one cares but even if they do … it feels like the pain is never ending.
For those who don’t understand and want to, for me when I was in that space, I just wanted the pain to end! I just wanted to feel some peace! I was tired of crying, tired of being so sad, so angry, exhausted trying to pretend I was “normal”. But suicide is a temporary solution and often when in that space, we aren’t looking at the reality of not being here in life and all the things we will miss out on, or the impact on the people who we leave behind – we just become consumed with wanting to end the pain!
Somehow, we must create a space that helps adoptees deal with this pain in a safe way.
Adoptee suicide drives me to continue to reach out to my peers, to try and create a safe space where their emotions and confusions can exist without judgement. ICAV is about providing resources and connecting peers to enable the journey of finding their truths, encouraging them to find healing, and offering some hope.
I can only wish that adoptee suicide stimulates more of us to reach out regularly to our adoptee peers; check in, show an interest, be a listening ear and help encourage them to reach out to spaces/places where they will be uplifted and supported.
ICAV created the Intercountry Adoptee Memorial Facebook page 2 years ago. Sadly, we have over 30 intercountry and transracial adoptees memorialised there in just this short period of time — but what about those we don’t know of because they never tapped into support networks? They are the ones whom I worry about the most!
This is why I spend my energy advocating to stop or change the way intercountry adoption is done to ensure better post adoption supports (such as free search and reunion and DNA testing, free counselling, free mental health assessments and support), better assessment and education of adoptive families, find ways to enable justice for those who have been dealt the worst hands (deportation, abuse in adoptive families, illegal and illicit adoptions, rehoming). There are so many complicating issues in intercountry adoption and adoptees should not be left to navigate these alone without the right support systems in place. Sending and receiving countries should be held accountable on whether their intercountry adoptions are a success or not. This implies there should be long term follow up on those whom government, agencies and lawyers place — including followup with the families on both sides (adoptive and birth).
Adoptee suicide tells me we still haven’t done enough to prevent and minimise harm caused by the structures that facilitate and support intercountry adoption.
If you are an adoptee impacted by the loss of your adoptee friend via suicide, or you are contemplating suicide, please consider reaching out for professional crisis support and to your local Post Adoption supports.
Peer support can also be useful as we can sometimes advise where to find these professional post adoption and crisis supports. A list of adoptee-led post intercountry adoption supports can be found here; but unless professionally trained, peer support is informal and not provided 24×7.