Forget Your Past

by Bina Mirjam de Boer adopted from India to the Netherlands.
Originally shared at Bina Coaching.

Forget your past!

I was told this sentence 5 years ago today, when I visited one of my children’s homes for the 2nd time.

The woman who received me wasn’t interested in my questions about my past and didn’t even understand why I wanted to see my file. I had no rights, “Forget your past!”, was screamed loudly! She threw the papers I gave her with a disdainful gesture at my head. She wanted to close the visit with this. The next 2.5 hours were really awful with a lot of screaming, manipulation and arguments between myself, the wife, the interpreter and the social worker.

This visit ended up giving me more questions. Fortunately, thanks to other employees, I finally received answers after 3 years. But my identity is still unknown.

The answers I received brought pain and sadness, but eventually also acceptance and resignation over that part. In my opinion, not knowing is ultimately a heavier fate to carry!

If you are going to search for your identity as an adoptee, it is important that you prepare yourself well. Understand it is almost impossible to know how things will turn out! You can’t imagine how the visit will go beforehand and how you will react if you receive information or not. In India we notice that obtaining information very much depends on whom you speak to.

In addition, there is the difference in culture. We are so devastated that we often view our native country with western glasses. We are not aware that our practices and thoughts are often so different to that of our native country. Sometimes that means that we don’t have compassion and can sometimes even feel disgust for the traditions of our native country.

Root trips often give you the illusion that you can find your roots on one trip or visit. The reality is that you have to go back to your native country and your home several times to get answers.

I myself notice that every time I visit India, I feel more at home and that it’s healing to be able to visit my past. Each piece of puzzle creates more resignation.

US Adoptee Town Hall Event Thoughts

by Kara Bos adopted from South Korea to the USA.

US Office of Children’s Issues: Virtual Town Hall Event for Adopt Intercountry Adoptees

I was notified of this event due to ICAV urging adoptees to represent our voices in this invitation for dialogue from the US State Department regarding adoptee lived experiences. It was my first time participating in such an event as I don’t think of myself as an activist and would imagine these types of invitations reserved only for established groups that speak for the collective. However, I was given the opportunity to join for the first time, a collaborative event with State Department officials and intercountry adoptees. It was a thrilling experience to see a diverse set of adoptees from all parts of the USA sharing their personal stories.

There were at least 60 intercountry adoptees and 15 Department of State team members on this virtual town hall call. 46 of us were given two minutes to respond to the question, “What do you, as an adoptee, want US policy-makers to know about the lived experiences of adoptees?” Naturally 2 minutes per adoptee was not enough time to cover this heavily weighted question, but we all did our best to respect each other’s time and stay within these limits. Topics shared were very personal and emotional and involved issues such as mental health support, citizenship for adoptees to be retroactive and inclusive, connection and resources for connections made readily available for inter-country adopted children independent of adoptive parents who may not support sharing these resources with their child, and post adoption services such as birth family search/right to origin, proper investigation and regulation of adoptive parents/adoption and random post adoption checks occurring long-term and not only within the first 3 years of adoption to mention a few.

The State Department was led by Marisa Light who moderated and provided a listening ear, only jumping in on the occasion to clarify when certain issues such as citizenship for adoptees being “outside their jurisdiction”. However, they did at least mention that they know the people who are responsible for this jurisdiction and promised to bring this to their attention.

Something to also note, is that there isn’t a single intercountry adoptee working in the State Department that holds oversight of intercountry adoption into the USA. When asked this question, they could only emphasise that Marisa’s boss who is apparently higher up in the ‘chain’ is a domestic adoptee and “holds all of our concerns very dear to his heart.” Naturally any adoptee would question, “How accurately can a department who oversees the adoption process truly understand the complexities involved with intercountry adoption if not a single member is an intercountry adoptee?” Furthermore, if intercountry adoption has been functioning since the 1950’s, since when have they started asking for dialogue with intercountry adoptees? Why isn’t there a single intercountry adoptee as part of this oversight division?

Stephanie Eye a Senior Advisor in the State Department replied with the following email, when I asked how they were planning on following up with the issues we had raised:

“We are in the process of reviewing all of the issues, concerns, and questions raised during the call and plan to follow up with adoptee participants to provide clarifying information, including specific areas where we have jurisdiction and where other entities may be more helpful.  That will be disseminated to the adoptee listserv that we are creating and to which all town hall participants will be subscribed.  We hope to get that out to everyone very soon.”

I can only hope that this isn’t just checking the box in regards to listening to our voices. I can only hope that real effective change will be put in place when listening to our voices. I can only hope that the truth of our lived experiences will be used to not only protect future adoptees but to also retroactively help the adoptees that are still suffering. All we can do is keep the dialogue open, and continue to voice our truths. I urge all adoptees to do so, even if it seems like no one is truly listening.

As Ghandi once said, “Many people, especially, ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologise for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”

Distorted Priorities

Not being granted Citizenship as an adoptee is like having a False Positive.

It has come to my attention that the US Senate and Congress members have recently been sending letters to push for their agenda in intercountry adoption. The first I attach here to Assistant Secretary Carl Risch requesting attention to recommit to one of the purposes of the Intercountry Adoption Act, “to improve the ability of the Federal Government to assist” families seeking to adopt children from other countries.

The second I attach here to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo requesting resources and focus to address the waiting families wanting to bring home their children with COVID restrictions.

While I appreciate the Senate and Congress members sentiments to get involved and highlight the importance of these issues, it frustrates me that on the one hand these letters are written, using all of the power between them as a collective, yet I have not seen such a letter to push for the Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 (ACA). For the past 5 years, I know our dedicated intercountry adoptee leaders – Joy Alessi from Adoptee Rights Campaign and Kristopher Larsen at Adoptees For Justice and their teams have been working tirelessly, trying to get Senators and Congress people to support the much needed and overdue Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 (ACA). We need enough Senators and Congress members to support the Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 because there are gaps left from the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 that resulted in intercountry adoptees prior to 1983 being left without automatic citizenship.

I gotta ask the obvious question here: why won’t American politicians get behind the Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) yet they will use their political force to push for more adoptions? It is the very same Intercountry Adoption Act 2000 that’s cited by them to get support amongst the Federal Government to assist newly desiring adoptive families to build their families, but yet – for the historic families who once sought to adopt children, who find themselves decades later, without citizenship for their children (now adults) – there is no permanence and no political leadership to address the problem. Isn’t it rather distorted that the powers to be will focus more attention on getting new children in without having made sure the ones already here, have stability, permanence and citizenship? What is adoption if it isn’t to ensure permanence, which is fundamentally about citizenship in intercountry adoption? Let’s also not forget every beneficiary of the Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) was already vetted at entry and promised citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) seeks to cover adoptees who entered on adoption purposed visas (IR4) otherwise known as legal permanent residents.

I feel for my adoptee colleagues who work tirelessly, pushing what feels like an uphill battle to gain the support needed to address this long overdue issue. Why aren’t letters like this being written to ICE or USCIS and to all the top level government officials including the President, who have the connections to influence these important decisions?

I don’t have the answers to my questions, I simply ask them because I hope others are too. We need Senators and Congress members to take leadership on the issue of automatic citizenship for the thousands of intercountry adoptees, now adults, who are living in suspended animation. These adoptees have been asking American leaders to represent their cause and help them overcome what feels like an insurmountable barrier – to be considered rightful citizens of their adoptive country. This right seems to be obtainable in every other adopting country – except the United States of America!

Imagine Losing Your Parents Twice!

by Bina Mirjam de Boer adopted from India to the Netherlands.

It was October 10, 1990. “Imagine” by John Lennon played on the radio. I heard my adoptive mom on the phone tell my sister that our father passed away….

14 years and orphaned again.
My adoptive father suddenly died because of a medical mistake after a hernia surgery. As a result, our family would never be complete again.

As a child my surroundings often told me to be grateful for my new life with my new parents. No one told me adoption not only causes you to get new parents, but adoption also causes you to lose your parents twice.

The pain and sadness I felt as a 14 year old was immense and loneliness was unbearable. I didn’t understand then that I not only mourned the loss of my adoptive father, my safety and my new family, but that the loss triggered my old loss trauma.

Nowadays I know I’m not alone in this. A lot of adopted people have traumas that originated before they were adopted.

Traumas invisible and unpredictable and triggered by loss. Loss of a pet, home, friendship, health, job, divorce of adoptive parents or loss of a loved one or adoptive parent(s).

Sometimes the early child traumas are too large with all the consequences. But often knowledge of loss trauma can help with relinquishment and adoption, we need to declare this “abnormal” reaction to an apparent small event.

The circumstances surrounding my adoptive father’s death have helped me to make it my mission to create knowledgeable aftercare through and for adopted persons.

At AFC we notice that adoptees benefit from adoption coaches who specialise in relinquishment and adoption. This is because those adopted themselves have also suffered similar loss. Knowing the loneliness and the sadness, carrying their fate and surviving the pain.

And today I comfort myself with the thoughts that my adoptive father is proud of me, my passion and drive. And that this didn’t make his death entirely pointless….

#Adoptionisnofairytale

In loving memory, Nico Brinksma.

US Dept of State Adoptee Town Hall Event

It has been over a year since the US Department of State actively sought interaction with intercountry adoptees in America.

On 13 Nov 2020, the US Department of State (the Central Authority for intercountry adoption in America) ran a first of it’s kind event – openly inviting intercountry adoptees in America to share what they would like policy makers to know about the lived experience of intercountry adoption. It is awesome that Dept of State actively consulted widely with the adult intercountry adoptee community!! I hope we will see more of this happening, despite their “jurisdictional” restrictions.

Pamela Kim, born in South Korea and adopted to America gave her impressions of this historic event.

Just left the Department of State adoptee Town Hall event. One of the more moving adoptee experiences I’ve had, surprisingly. I had no idea the government even cared about adoptees especially international ones. The facilitators were great. Each adoptee had two minutes to speak as there were almost one hundred adoptees on the call. Two minutes to say how adoption has impacted us and our lives, what we want them to know.

There were adoptees from Russia, Korea, China, India, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Peru, Iran and more. Domestic adoptees too. The stories were hard to hear. Everyone expressed trauma – around race and identity, loss of culture, abusive adoptive parents, abandonment, trafficking, mental health needs, school environments and bullying, failed birth searches, deportation risks.

The lifelong impact of adoption is clear whether one is adopted as a baby or a teen. I heard many stories of good loving adoptive parent families. I also heard those same people say, “I cannot support transracial intercountry adoption.”

Some people cried.

I shared that my adoption should have been successful because I was an infant, part of the model minority, adopted into a family with resources, went to “good” schools etc. I shared that I’ve struggled my whole life from trauma … with life threatening eating disorders, suicide attempts, relationship issues, fibromyalgia. That my family cut me off many times. That even now there are triggers that bring me back to a place of deep grief and fear.

I talked about my friend who may be deported to Thailand. I shared her GoFundMe. I also shared the petition for the single mothers of Korea, KUMFA.

The Dept of State says there will be future conversations and events to hear our voices. I’m wiped out emotionally but so glad this happened.

It’s like after 39 years of feeling invisible and forgotten we actually matter! We actually have a voice.

We can change the culture around adoption all we want but until the laws change around adoption, we continue to clean up the messes that are our lives.

“There have been a lot of failures…” ~Adult Adoptee

Thank you to the US Department of State for Listening to the Voices of Adult Intercountry Adoptees!!

Thank you Pamela Kim for sharing your thoughts after this event!

The Adoption Fairy Tale

by Sara Dansie Jones born in Sth Korea, adopted to the USA.

Reuniting with my Korean family, 2018.

The evolution of fairy tales says a lot about how we tell stories in America. Americans took the more violent European version and made them suitable for children. And then Disney gave us the happy ever after endings to relieve us from war-torn reality. We grew up seeing princesses with tragic beginnings, and happy meetings that make up for the hardships they endured. I and others could not help relating my Korean birth family as some kind of fairy tale. Indeed, I felt like I had been transformed into a Korean princess for a few days.

But if this was a fairy tale, my fairy godmother would have given me the ability to speak fluently in Korean. My godmother would make my birth father appear so that he could hug me when I came off the airplane. I would still not feel distant from my Korean family by language, distance and Covid. My goodness, I sound difficult to please. Thankfully, a new type of fairy tale has evolved. Where we see a more realistic journey past the “happy meeting.” Meeting my birth family has brought on a new set of challenges. That is the reality of adoption. I’m holding onto the good memories of meeting my birth family 2 years ago, until we can see each other again.

P.S. Autumn in Korea is beautiful.

@Jeonju, Korea

To hear more from Sara, watch her incredible TedTalk.

Adoptee Remembrance Day

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!

ICAVs Memorial page

Resources

The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk
The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier

Dear Dad, You are Still Racist

by Author Mae Claire, born in Haiti raised in the USA.

A letter to my deceased father who illegally trafficked me out of an orphanage in Haiti. 
My works: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00IZG9Q56
Insta: @liftingtaboos
Blog: https://solifegoeson.com/

Mae, 15 years ago

Dear Dad,

The IRS is asking for information on my birth parents in order for the transfer of heirs to be successful. Your death left a lot of holes in an already very complex situation. See, remember when I called you 3 years ago and explained to you how horrible, dangerous and painful your actions were some 40 years ago?

Yes. That conversation. You are right. The one where I explained to you how getting my green card was almost impossible because you chose to traffic me. In the moment, you thought you were doing the “right” thing…because..Saviorism….white fragility, and the need to rescue a poor black girl from a fate that is unspeakable. I mean, I am almost certain there was love somewhere in the midst of it all. But love is a long-term thing. Love means you think about the future.

You didn’t do that dad. In fact, you continued to lie about my existence, keeping me from truly knowing my origins.

In your defense, you did tell me as I got older that my papers were fake. Fake…I was 13. What does a 13 year old understand about having fake papers? All I could do was live in the moment, go to school and do what a regular 13 year old does. Then I turned 17, traveling outside the country became harder because I was…well, trafficked.

“Remember your birthday,” you would whisper to me as we approached a person in uniform. I always thought it was strange that I had to memorize a date that was not actually my birthday at all. I also thought it was unordinary that my passport age was 3 years younger than my biological age.

In the name of saviorism and urgency, you were…making a deal with the devil. Find a woman who wants to sell her signature, find a dead child who has not received a death certificate yet, find a lawyer who would be shady to the utmost and BAM…you got yourself a cute little black girl in need of saving.

But here is the thing. I was not in need of saving. I was not an orphan despite being in an orphanage. So why didn’t you just wait for my real mother’s approval? Why go through illegal channels?

Urgency.

Saviorism.

I had a mother, I had a father, I had 5 other siblings. I had an aunt, an uncle, a grandfather. I had a Family.

But you took all that away from me. Nothing matches and nothing will ever match because of the decision you made when I was knee-high. My paper mother is not my bio mother. Everything is a lie. That is not my Birth Certificate, that is not my name, that is not my age. And at the same time, you were the family I was raised with-a very toxic one at that, but you were all I knew.

So I grew up to hate my skin color, my hair, my face, my race, my culture. I grew up to seek what you had and what you were even though you kept me from being an equal. You made me feel responsible for what had been done to me. You made me feel guilty if I didn’t show love to you the way the bios did. You drove me to contemplate and also attempt suicide. According to Child Welfare Information Gateway “Ongoing contact with birth family members may minimize or resolve the child’s feelings of grief and loss, reduce the trauma of separation, and help the child develop and maintain a stronger sense of identity.” You attempted none of this because you knew that what you had done was against the law.

According to UNICEF, it ​supports intercountry adoption, when pursued in conformity with the standards and principles of the 1993 Hague ​Convention​ on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of intercountry Adoptions. These include ensuring that adoptions are authorised only by competent authorities, guided by informed consent of all concerned, that intercountry adoption enjoys the same safeguards and standards which apply in national adoptions, and that intercountry adoption does not result in improper financial gain for those involved in it. These provisions are meant first and foremost to protect children, but also have the positive effect of safeguarding the rights of their birth parents and providing assurance to prospective adoptive parents that their child has not been the subject of illegal practices.

In your home, I was a fraud and I was never good enough. But lucky you dad, you are not the only one. There are so many white adoptive parents who will go to any length to have a black baby. Of course in the moment they may really be taking that path to heaven with good intentions. But the intentions die fast and the path becomes uneven, rocky, scary, hurtful, abusive. That path continues for us. The impact is forever.

When white adoptive parents adopt, they are not cognizant of the long term impact it leaves on the adoptee….especially if the adoptee is of color.

A typical adoptee is ripped from their environment and forced to survive with new expectations, new rules, new laws that govern their immediacy. They are forced to adapt….not the other way around.

A typical adoptee of color is coming from a country that is deemed “poorer” and in need of saving. Poverty should NEVER be a good enough reason to take someone else’s child….and it should never be a reason to go the extra mile to falsify documents.

When it comes to illegal and illicit adoptions, Haiti should get a gold star. Though Haiti has never been a country that “sells” their kids, poverty and the promise of a “better” life is very tempting. So it happens more frequently than expected. Kathrine Joyce describes it perfectly in her book called The Child Catchers. She says “​Adoption has long been enmeshed in the politics of reproductive rights, pitched as a “win-win” compromise in the never-ending abortion debate. Adoption has lately become even more entangled in the conservative Christian agenda.​” In her book she describes how ​Child Catchers find a way to convince poor families to put their kids in an orphanage. Once the children are in an orphanage, they become the ward of the state and are now products to be sold.

We become props.

In their 40 page Write Up called Orphanage Entrepreneurs: ​The Trafficking of Haiti’s Invisible Children​, Georgette Mulheir with Mara Cavanagh and colleagues say​: The Government of Haiti should strengthen the child protection system and judicial approaches to trafficking in children, including: develop an independent inspection system; develop a system for tracking children in care; increase the number of social workers and improve their training; prioritise children trafficked in orphanages within the Anti-Trafficking Strategy.

I was your prop dad. I was the person you showed to others to prove that you were not racist, or prejudiced. I was that little girl who suffered on the inside but wore the big smile on the outside; because that is how daddy liked it. That is how most adopted parents like it. They expect us to be silent, happy, grateful, appreciative, and thankful. They expect us to remember the date they were “got”.

But you see clearly now dad, don’t you? You realize now that mom will never be able to explain what you both did. Out of greed, you took a life, and in the meantime, destroyed a family forever.

I will never be able to properly be a part of my birth family. “Tell them it was a closed adoption” I tell my sister to tell my mother while she is on the phone to IRs. I continue to protect those who trafficked me. I proceed to make sure my mother is not bombarded by inquiries and possible jail time.

When they ask her “what are you in for?, I could only hope she tells the truth.

“Trafficking. We thought we were doing good but we drank the Koolaid”. But she is not capable of admitting her wrong doing. This response is a dream only to be dreamt at night, not during the day.

There will be those dad who will say “this is a sad story but it is not OUR story.” And truly stories are unique. Unfortunately, when it comes to giving money for children, or receiving a tax deduction for adoption, you have decided to participate in a system that too often creates long-term trauma. You drank the Koolaid.

Dad, did you know that over 80% of children who are considered “orphans” are not really orphans? According to Unicef, children are put into orphanages on a temporary basis because the orphanages provide food, shelter, schooling and activities. So to assume that we are free to be taken is a huge miscarriage of justice.

According to the US Department of State, The Government of Haiti does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. They remain in Tier 2 because ​the government did not convict traffickers during the reporting year. The government did not allocate sufficient funding for its anti-trafficking efforts or victim services and did not implement its standard operating procedures for victim identification.

What say you? Now that you are observing us from heaven? (I believe you are there because I can’t believe in a God who would create a place for people to suffer more than they have already suffered on earth). You can see the pain and suffering can’t you dad? You can see the confusion. Do you see it?

I’m hoping you can see it now. But I know there are so many adoptive parents who can’t see it. They think their steps were led by God….God would never ask someone to remove a child who has an entire family who loves and cares for them. We are asked to take care of the Widow and the Orphan….but you just took the so-called orphan.

Imagine what kind of world we would live in today if people with more gave to those who had less. What would this world look like if to whom much is given, much is truly required? What form would this and could this take? What form should this take?

What if, instead of taking someone else’s child, we asked “How can I keep you together?” This monumental question, with heaps of adaptable solutions, would change the course of children growing up in poverty.

As an adoptee, I know I am not alone in believing that a lot of our pain and suffering could have been prevented had someone reached out to support our family who was poor in physical things but rich in spirit.

As an adoptee, having my name changed, given false papers, treated like a 2nd and 3rd class citizen should never have been allowed and especially not in the name of “being called.” God does not call people to do eternal damage to others. Adoption is trauma and almost 100% of the time, causes long term damage that even therapy fails to heal.

Adoptees are not props to prove a statement like “I am not racist.” We are humans who were, for the most part, purchased to fulfill a longing, an inability, a desire, a calling, an emptiness, and the list goes on and on.

But I’m here to say dad, adopting me and the others didn’t make you less racist. You remained racist in your own way. When we cried and told you about racism happening to us and you did nothing about it….you showed your racism. When I watched you treat other people who were of my same race and nationality….you showed your prejudice and your classism.

Your heart was pure though in many ways but unfortunately, adoption didn’t make it more or less pure. The calling didn’t bring you closer or further away from God. In fact, separating me created a cavernous hole in our relationship and destroyed what could have been a bridge to my birth family, culture, race and life.

Adoption is dangerous. Oftentimes we do it and we don’t even really know or understand why we are doing it. We do it because in the moment, it ​feels​ like the right thing. We do it because we think it is going to fix something in us. Maybe it does fix something in us…but it leaves the adoptee with scars, bruises and longing for what could have been.

Dear dad, now you are dead and can probably see and understand the pain you caused. If there is any way you can infiltrate the lives of others who have adopted or are hoping to adopt and warn them of the dangers; we adoptees will forever be grateful.

May you not rest in peace until you have saved other adoptees from the same pain.

Who Am I?

by TLB, adopted from Vietnam to Canada.

Do I look like my father or mother? What is my real name? When was I born? Who am I really? I have been going through these questions my whole life and not quite sure if I will ever find the answer.

I was born in Vietnam, adopted by a white family in Canada in the early 70’s. I am part African-American and Vietnamese but I look more African-American, and I’m also physically disabled which I contracted from polio and a gun shot wound (something I have been told as a child, but not sure if it’s true). I have always known I was different growing up, not because the colour of my skin but because I was disabled. When I arrived to Canada I had to go to the hospital for many surgeries to straighten my legs and back due to scoliosis. When I arrived home from the hospital, this is when I felt I didn’t belong in the family. As a young child I was stubborn and barely spoke because the effects of leaving Vietnam and being in a different environment, I was overwhelmed.

Being an African-American Asian disabled child, living in a white world, I knew I was different and I wanted so much to fit in. At an early age, I knew that my adoptive mother treated me different than my other siblings. They had two other biological children along with another adopted child from Children’s Aid Society, so I was the black sheep in the family and that was my nickname to other family members and neighbours. My adoptive mother wasn’t the perfect mother everyone thought she was behind closed doors. Using my wheelchair was forbidden in the house so I had to always crawl around on the floor and carpet, but leaving marks on the carpet didn’t look good and caused my adoptive mother to always vacuum, so I had to have my bedroom moved down in the basement – being isolated away from my siblings. Whenever my siblings would come down to play with me, they were sent back upstairs and told not to play with your “black sheep” sister. Being alone in the basement, I stopped talking and had to entertain myself as a child. From not talking, my vocal cords didn’t develop well so whenever I went to school, I had trouble interacting with other students and was bullied and labelled as being dumb.

My adoptive mother always told me I should be grateful to them for adopting me. I always kept my feelings inside because if I told them how I really felt, I would be beaten. I always had to thank her for saving my life every time I did anything wrong. The first time I said “I wish you’d never adopted me” my adoptive mother emotionally and physically abused me. Sometimes I wouldn’t care what she did to me, I was happier just to be in my own shell in the closet.

I was never involved in any of the family gatherings or family vacations. I would always eat alone after everyone else ate. The one memory I will never forget was when my adoptive family went away to Florida and I wasn’t allowed to go because my adoptive mother said “black and crippled children were not allowed”. I went to the mirror and looked at myself. I wanted so much to be white that I scrubbed my skin so hard but it just turned red. I pushed my wheelchair down the stairs and tried to push myself up to walk, instead I fell down and was left lying on the floor for days until a neighbour found me bleeding. Instead of being a good neighbour and help a young girl, he took advantage of me for days while my family was away having fun. When my family returned, I tried to tell my adoptive mother what happened. All she said was, “You were looking for attention and that’s what you deserved”.

I wanted so much to be a part of the family to the point that I would agree to clean the house. My adoptive mother would always introduce me to her friends as the “black maid of the third country”. My adoptive mother emotionally abused me by continuing saying she never wanted me because of my disability and skin colour. She didn’t think I would turn out to “be soo dark” and a troubled child needing therapy appointments. All I wanted was to make my adoptive mother proud of me, but nothing I did ever satisfied her. Whenever my siblings got into trouble, I would stand up for them and would lie and steal for them so they would play with me. There were times I would sneak food at night because I was so hungry but whenever I got caught, I was sent to the closet for days. Nothing I did was good enough for my adoptive mother.

When I was 11 years old, I was told that I was leaving the family and spending a few days somewhere else. I didn’t know what I did wrong. That night I stayed up all night rethinking the day – what did I do to displease my adoptive mother. All she told me was I would be going to a better place that can care for my “crippled-black” behaviour. I cried the whole way begging my adoptive mother that I would be a “good girl”. Four hours later I was dropped off to a big stone house with lots of stairs and other children running around the living room. My adoptive mother told me it was only for a few weeks and that the family will help me with my behaviour. For the next few days, all I did was sit by the window waiting for my adoptive mother to return. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. I had to eventually realise that I was staying in this house and no-one was coming back for me.

I was living in a house with 25 other children. I tried to fit in and be a part of the family but still felt like an outcast. Even though I was not the only disabled child, I felt that I didn’t belong. I found out that the foster mother of this home, was the woman who helped my adoptive parents adopt me from Vietnam. The foster mother had an organisation that helped Canadian and American families to adopt children from third world countries out of orphanages that she opened. I wasn’t the only child adopted and sent to the foster family. During the years, living at the foster family I became a reserved and quiet child and during my teen years I still wanted to know “who am I”? I asked the foster mother if she knew anything of my birth mother and every time I asked her, the answer was always, “Wait until you are eighteen”. From then I just left the question alone and tried to live my teen years in the home.

When I first went to the foster family, I was placed in a school with other disabled children but I felt it wasn’t for me. I wanted to be independent and be left alone so I became very stubborn especially during therapy sessions. Having therapists lift my legs and try to stretch them wasn’t working for me, they tried to get me to use braces and crutches, I definitely didn’t want that. So they finally agreed for me to use a sports wheelchair and what freedom I felt!! Using the wheelchair built up my teen arms and I became very strong, during recess time. While other children were at therapy, I could be found in the gym bouncing basketballs. This is when a sports coach saw me throw my first basket and she asked me, “Do you want to be an athlete and travel?” I quickly answered her, “Yes!” Little did she know that I didn’t just want to be an athlete but I wanted to travel so I could be out of my foster house as much as possible. My foster father was abusing me whenever we went to the family home in Montreal every summer, so whenever I found out that I would be travelling in the summer – I looked forward to the summer knowing I would be out of the country!

If it wasn’t for that sports coach, I wouldn’t have been able to be the Paralympian athlete I am today. I have travelled to many countries and won numerous medals, but a part of me felt that I didn’t deserve it. Whenever I was away, I still felt like an outsider to my team mates and other athletes. Deep down I believed they all knew who they were and they always talked about their family. With my timidness, I still had trouble interacting with my team mates. By the end of every trip, I dreaded going home because I knew what I was going home to.

My foster family didn’t really recognise my athletic achievements. There were times they didn’t even know I went away for a week because there were so many children in the house and the foster mother was busy with her work. I remember one time I arrived home from my first competition where I’d won my first 5 gold medals (being the youngest on the team) and when I arrived home, I just sat at the front door with my bags waiting for someone to greet me. When my sister came down the stairs to see me she just said, “Are you running away?” From that moment, my enthusiasm just dropped from my heart and I wished I could just run away. So from then on, I just continued on with my competitions with no feeling of accomplishment, feeling like a nobody.

I competed in two Paralympics, two PanAm games and many small competitions. When I won my first Paralympic 5 gold medals, I was interviewed by the paper but a lot of the words written were just not true. The story portrayed a young girl winning medals from a foster home that cared for her, but they really didn’t know the truth.

I am grateful for the foster family to let me stay with them, but behind closed doors they portrayed themselves as looking like the perfect couple helping many children. The house was not accessible, I continued to crawl up and down stairs to get to my bedroom, and I had to crawl up and down and bring my chair down stone stairs outside to get to my school bus.

My whole life living in the foster family, I wanted so much to be out and living on my own. When I turned 16 years old, I finished high school and left the foster home. I went to college and received a degree in Business Administration.

Throughout my life, I always felt unloved and not wanted by anyone. I thought of my biological mother not wanting me, my adoptive mother not wanting me and within the foster family, I was just “another child”. I have tried my best to do right things, never gotten involved on the wrong side of the law, etc. I always felt I didn’t fit in anywhere, had trouble with social gatherings and interacting with adults my age. To this day, a large part of me continues to feel isolated, not wanted and most of all not knowing who I really am.

Recently, I decided to register with 23&Me to know my background and I discovered I have many 2nd and 3rd cousins out there. I was surprised to know that I have some sort of distant family out there but disappointed to not have any information about my parents. I just want to have the feeling of belonging. Growing up, I never had that feeling.