Adopted from India to Belgium

by Annick Boosten, adopted from India to Belgium, co-founder of Adoptie Schakel.
Many thanks to Maureen Welscher & Jean Repplier for original text and translation.

About Me

Annick Boosten

I was adopted from India at the age of four. My parents already had a son David, who is four years older than me. There was another son but unfortunately he had a metabolic disease that killed him when he was eight months old. Due to the disease being hereditary (David appeared to have it too, only to a lesser extent) my parents decided to adopt a child. My parents are hardworking people who are always busy, the type who always say, “Don’t whine, just get on with it.” That’s how they raised me.

My mother worked furiously to teach me the Dutch language so that I could go to school as soon as possible because I came to them in December then by January, I had to go to school. When I used to object and say, “I’m sure they do that very differently in India,’ my mother replied, “You’re not in India, you’re in Belgium and that’s how we do it here.” I am very happy with my parents but sometimes I would have liked them to have known me a bit better, to have been a little more empathetic. As a child, I was overloaded with expensive clothes and all kinds of electronic toys as compensation because my parents worked so hard. During the holidays, I was sent to all kinds of camps so that my parents wouldn’t have to take off from work. I would have much preferred if we had been closely involved as a family and my parents made time for us to do fun things together. I’d have preferred a day at the beach than an X-box or Playstation.

Now that I have a son of my own, I give him a kiss every day and tell him how very happy I am with him. I do this even in those moments when I might be a bit angry because he doesn’t want to sleep. I missed that sort of interaction with my parents.

Annick & her son

Thoughts about being Adopted

When I came into our family, my parents had already been told by the children’s home, “You better be careful, she remembers a lot of things”. I told my mother whole stories about a blue house, about a lady who took care of me, that there were rooms with other small children. I told it in such detail that my mother decided to write it down. When I visited the children’s home in 2018, the walls turned out to be painted blue. The woman in my memories was probably my biological mother. The official statement is that both my biological parents had died and that I was therefore eligible for adoption.

At the age of twenty years old, all kinds of scandals became revealed about abuses in Indian adoptions. I had already heard these stories from other Indian adoptees, but my parents were annoyed if I started talking about that. They just could not believe that something as noble as adoption could be fraudulent. My parents are strict Catholics and had wanted to do something good by adopting. These stories did not fit into their view of things. When the adoption association responsible for bringing Indian children to Belgium, De Vreugdezaaiers, was dissolved, they could no longer close their eyes to the abuses within Indian adoptions. As a child, I always went to the family days they organised for Indian adoptive children and their parents. I then decided to establish the Adoption Link. Adoptie Schakel means connecting people and bringing them into contact with each other. In doing so, we mainly focus on the world of adoption in which we strive to strengthen the bond among adoptees and among birth parents. We also help adoptees who are looking for their biological parents by means of DNA research.

I had never been so preoccupied with my origins before. For years I had a relationship with a boy who was not at all open to it. He thought it was nonsense to go in search of my roots. I had to continue to build my life here and leave the past behind me, or so he thought. So I didn’t really feel supported. When that relationship ended, I became involved with Ionut. He is a Romanian adoptee, something I didn’t know at the beginning of our relationship. After two weeks I found out. I had already noticed that he tanned very quickly in the sun, while all Belgian men were still pale during the summer. Then he told me that this was because of his Romanian genes. I was jealous of the bond he had with his Romanian family. Every year he went on holiday there. At one point I thought, “That’s what I want too! Maybe I can also find new contacts within my biological family.”

Having a Family of My Own

That feeling really took hold of me when I wanted to start my own family. I did a DNA test, and to my great surprise a number of matches appeared. It seems that many of my biological family had been given up for adoption. My father’s grandfather had seven children and all of whom gave up children for adoption. I have contact with some of them in America through Facebook. It also turned out that my father had not died. Through his brother, I came in contact with him and decided to visit in 2018. It was a terrible experience. I was just three months pregnant and felt terribly sick. My father also turned out to be ill with some kind of contagious disease. He was in quarantine and I had contact with him through a hole in the wall. I was not allowed to come any closer. The Indian taxi driver translated my questions and my father’s answers, which took forever. I had written down many questions, but in the end I forgot to ask them. Anyway, I did ask the most important question, ”Why was I given up for adoption?” And the cold answer was, “When your mother died, I gave my brother money to take you to an orphanage. That way I could get on with my life and marry a new woman.” My father thought that he was not at all to be blamed. That’s just the way it was in India. I was astonished. He had no remorse at all and never went looking for me. He had just continued his life, involved with another woman with whom he conceived children. He dared to ask me if I would enjoy meeting them. I told him, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not at all interested in half-brothers or sisters.” I also said that I would rather commit suicide than give my child away, which he thought was very strange. When I said goodbye I told him that I didn’t want any further contact, and he seemed fine with that. He did, however, give me a name of my mother’s family. He told me that she came from Sri Lanka and that I should look for her family there. One day I will do that, but now I don’t feel like it. I will do it when James is old enough to realise what it means to me to look for biological family – perhaps when he is about eight or ten years old.

When adoptees asked me, “Should I search or not?” I would always answer, “Yes.” I still think it’s good to know where you come from. It’s not always easy to deal with a bad experience. I know people I have advised to do so and who, after returning home, were very upset because the meeting was not what they had hoped for. I feel guilty about that. I too had a bad meeting but I prefer to share my opinion and my experiences. The choice is then up to them. Luckily I can look at it and think, “That’s just how it is.” I would have liked it to have been different, but that’s just the way it goes. Fifty percent of my genes are his anyway. So any bad qualities I have, I can attribute to my father, haha. When I’m in a temper, I shout, “Sorry, it’s my father’s genes!”

Being in a Relationship with another Adoptee

Having a relationship with someone who’s also adopted is very nice. Ionut and I really understand each other. For example, understanding what it means to be away from one’s biological culture and parents, having to adapt in adoptive country, the feeling of being a stranger. The areas we don’t understand each other on can be a stumbling block because we both have very different adoption stories and our own ‘baggage’. In that respect, our adoption history is completely different.

Annick & Ionut

I had never realised how important it was for me to have my own biological child, something so closely connected to me who carries my DNA. I held James in my arms and saw how he looked like me and how happy that made me feel. James is clearly a product of myself and Ionut. I like to see similarities of myself in him, which I never expected would make me so happy. As parents, we both want to spend more time with our child than my parents did. The family bond is very important to both of us. I always say, “Your child is your heirloom, not your property.” We want to give him warmth, love, affection and trust and above all, he is allowed to be himself.

The Duality of being Disabled and Adopted

by Erin E. Andy (지현정), adopted from South Korea to the USA.

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month.

As someone who has lived with this condition all my life, I can say it’s a struggle. As someone who is a transracial intercountry adoptee on top of it, I have felt conflicted about my identity.

There are times my limbs do the opposite of what I want them to do. There have been times I’ve had difficulty getting out of bed when my body is too fatigued by the spasms. There have been times I’ve had to take extra doses of medication to calm myself so I can function in my daily life. There are more times than I would like to admit being stared at for the way my body acts. I’m fully aware of the judgemental looks I receive, which makes my body involuntarily tense up even further. I can never hide my excitement or nervousness as my Cerebral Palsy gives my emotions away.

When people joke about “maybe I should use a wheelchair instead of walking”, it comes across as insensitive. Yet those jokes persist. It can be tough at times to see people mock those of us who can’t control our bodies.

Growing up with Cerebral Palsy, it was difficult enough to fit in, constantly being reminded by my wheelchair and its restraints that I was different. However, on top of coming to terms with my disability, I had to face another aspect of my identity: being a transracial intercountry adoptee.

Within my adoptive family, I felt somewhat comforted knowing I was being raised with other Korean adoptee siblings as well as having a dad who is of Japanese descent. However, going out with my mom was a stark reminder that I was adopted. I don’t look anything like her, and seeing strangers looking at us curiously made it clear that this was different; that I was different. Only when our family attended campouts with other families with adopted kids did I feel comfortable. I wasn’t the only one who was disabled and adopted. I felt accepted. They normalised my existence.

With that said, it was difficult as I grew up to come to terms that my biological family relinquished me. I often wondered why. I was told they were trying to give me a better life, but the pain and rejection of being given up is difficult to reconcile with their good intent.

I never asked to be disabled. I was angry they gave me up so easily. I never understood the reason, at least not for quite some time. I was given up at the age of five, so I knew my biological family, but even so, they made the choice to relinquish me to Holt Adoption Services. I stayed in a foster home for a little while until the adoption agency found a family to adopt me.

Upon going back to Korea in 2014 for a reunion with my biological mother and seeing my homeland again, I came to an uncomfortable realisation: I hardly saw anyone in a wheelchair on the streets in Seoul. I didn’t see anyone else like me outside of my tour group who had a physical disability like Cerebral Palsy. It wasn’t until we went to an orphanage in Ilsan that I saw a few people with physical disabilities. I was confounded and ultimately disappointed. After coming back from Korea, I saw videos and articles over the years of how they viewed the disabled.

Would I have been here in the USA if I had been born head first and given the oxygen I needed to avoid having this disability? What would my life have been like if I stayed in Korea? Would I have been placed in an orphanage as I grew older, or would I have been sent to an institution to live the rest of my days hidden away from the outside world? To this day, I ponder what my fate would have been, had I not been adopted.

My adoption came about because of my Cerebral Palsy, but the struggle of each doesn’t deter from the other. While I still mourn the life which could have been had I never been disabled, I know this life is worth living, here in the USA.

I have a loving husband, many friends from various places, families who care about my well being, and perhaps the biggest thing, the ability to thrive.

I never asked to have Cerebral Palsy or be given up for adoption…

But, even so, I’m here. I exist. My condition is not who I am nor should it define me.

Working through the difficult process as an Adoptee

by JoYi Rhyss adopted from Korea to the USA who works as a therapist funded by the State of Hawaii to facilitate Mindful Forgiveness and Attitudinal Healing workshops & training.

This is the last picture of my intact family – soon my brother was sent away and eventually I ended up in an orphanage. I was adopted from Korea at age 9 to a white Lutheran family in Spring Grove, Minnesota – the biggest Norwegian community in the USA at that time. My adoptive family moved quite a bit making it even more difficult for me to find connections. I was a sad, angry, lonely, scared, fear-filled child and then woman and mother. I found my biological mother and brother in 2008 thinking that would heal me – it was a terrible reunion and my pain deepened. As I entered my 40s, I was exhausted, overwhelmed and my desire to live was close to 0 – like so many stories from adoptees, I thought about suicide all. the. time.

Simultaneously and definitely hypocritically, I was working in social services specifically with high risk youth talking them through the same difficult feelings I could not manage within me. I had several moments of reckoning which led me to seek out true healing and inner peace. It is no coincidence that I moved to Hawaii where the “Aloha Spirit” Law went into effect in 1986. Through that law and my focused seeking, I am now funded by the State to provide training to discuss trauma and reduce suffering through mindfulness, forgiveness and attitudinal healing. I have worked with folks in all sectors of life and these trainings have been helpful for many people including me.

Nothing really changed in my life except now I am able to feel more connected with myself and my community, I feel more ease and love in a way I never understood before – it’s definitely not a cure all but having concrete skills to manage my pain changed everything for me.

One of the biggest issue for me growing up was feeling like I didn’t have a voice, I didn’t have a right to feel anger or sadness about my situation – always having to be thankful with a plastered smile no matter how awful my adoptive family was. Sharing my story, working through the difficult process and fully feeling is what works for me and many people and this is what I provide for others.

If you would like to have a space to talk about your story, learn new skills to manage yourself better, grow in connection with yourself and others in order to heal, then reach out to me if you have questions please.

Free zoom workshop openings for January 2021, contact me if you are interested: https://forms.gle/stFXmtosY6ihFUMA6

Many adoptees like me are out here fighting with our last drops of energy for change – we need to remember to take a moment to recharge, rest, re-energize so we don’t implode. I hope to serve you in this way.

Adoptee Dualities

by Abby Hilty, born in Colombia adopted to the USA, currently living in Canada.
She wrote and shared this on her Facebook wall for National Adoption Awareness Month.

Adoptees are constantly grappling with a life full of complex dualities.

I am an only child, but I have at least 4 siblings.

I have a birth certificate from 2 different countries.

I had to lose my family so that another family could be created.

I grew up in a middle class family, but I lost my original family because I was born into poverty.

I am very attached to the name Abby, but I know I was named after someone else’s ancestor.

I am occasionally told I look like my mom, but we don’t share the same genetics, racial group, or ethnicity.

I love my adoptive family, but I needed to search for my original family.

I am reunited with mi mamá, but we are no longer legally related to each other.

I am my mother’s daughter, but I am mi mamá’s daughter too.

I loved and lost my dad, but I don’t know who my father is.

I am short in my receiving country, but I am tall in my sending country.

I am brown, but I grew up with internalized whiteness.

I am an immigrant in my receiving country, but I am a gringa in my homeland.

I have lived in the northern hemisphere since I was 3 months old, but my body still struggles in the cold.

I speak English fluently, but my body responds to Spanish viscerally.

I have always celebrated my birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but those have never been easy days for me.

I know how important it is for (transracial, intercountry) adoptees to share their lived experiences, but the emotional cost is high for every NAAM post, every panel, every podcast interview, and especially for every discussion in which my fellow adoptees or I personally get pushback from non-adopted people who want to challenge our lived experiences.

And, believe me, this happens DAILY in various adoption groups. So, if an adopted person that you know and love is slow to reply to your texts or emails or if they seem to sometimes be lost in a day dream or not paying attention, it may just be because so many of our daily decisions have to be run through multiple – and often competing – thoughts and even family systems.

Alone

by Debbie Nahid born in Iran, adopted to the UK.

Debbie as a child at the beach in Suffolk

I was born in 1968. My mother had concealed her pregnancy for eight months when she boarded a plane in the Middle East bound for London. On her arrival, she visited a doctor in a Harley Street clinic and asked for help to give birth secretly. The doctor contacted a private adoption agency who agreed to place me with an adopted family in England so she could return to her homeland and escape the threat of an honour killing. If her family discovered she was pregnant with me, we would have been killed to protect their honour and reputation.

We spent ten days together in hospital before I was removed and taken into temporary foster care. My mother had signed all the relevant documents but she had named a father on my birth certificate and it was this that prevented my adoption into a family. At two months, I was handed over to the care of another foster mother who had been deemed unsuitable by social services and desperately longed for a baby of her own.

I was taken on a train to Suffolk and raised in a rural community of white English people. My mother was a single woman who did not have any extended family or partner to support her. I did not look like her; I had thick black hair, dark brown eyes and a tan on my skin that never faded. I felt like an outcast not only in my town but in my own home too.

My mother refused to tell me the truth about my birth and I was raised to believe that she was my biological mother. She also claimed that my father had come from Iran and apparently died before I was born. She did not have a photograph of him or myself as a newborn. I can remember questioning her many times but she would not discuss how I came to be in this world.

I grew up feeling extremely lonely and isolated, not just by my physical difference but also by her inability to be open about my existence. Social workers used to visit our house regularly but I was never told that I was the reason for these visits; I thought they were just being friendly when they asked about racial abuse I was experiencing at school. My mother used to tell me that the social workers were bad people who wanted to destroy her life and I believed her.

When approaching sixteen I discovered the truth. My mother woke me one night to tell me I was not her real daughter but she would not explain how I got there to be with her. In that moment, my whole world froze before me. I felt empty and frightened. I did not know who I was and I needed to find out. She told me that the name I had been known by for sixteen years was not officially mine.

A social worker came round to explain that I had a different name all along, a foreign name and that I was ‘a foreigner’. I wasn’t given any counselling or support during this period and it has set me up for a lifetime of mental health issues. I don’t think you will ever understand how it feels to discover you are not the person you thought you were. Everyone and everything becomes a lie.

I began to run away from home and each time I did this I was picked up by the police and taken back to the place I was running from. I eventually made it to London where I found the adoption agency and met with the woman who helped my birth mother. However, she didn’t want to help me and insisted I should drop any idea of searching because I would put my mother’s life in danger as the threat of an honour killing was indeed real. She also said that my mother had ‘moved on’. I was bereft, with no one to turn to and nowhere to go.

There is no help for an intercountry adoptee, which is essentially what I was – no helpful social worker, no access to records and no intermediary. The only way I was able to trace my birth family was by travelling to go in search of them, which at the time was to an extremely dangerous region, as a war and then later an invasion all hampered my efforts but didn’t stop me from pursuing the truth.

I found my birth mother when I was twenty four years old. She was married and had four children. I was afraid that she would reject me all over again, but she didn’t. She wanted to meet me. I wasn’t aware that my arrival would trigger her shame and guilt for having a child out of wedlock in a Muslim society. At the time, I was overwhelmed by my own feelings and it felt like rejection when she insisted on pretending I was somebody else. It was deeply upsetting for me to have found my birth mother after years of searching to then have to pretend I was someone else. It felt like another lie.

For the first time in my life, I was in the same home as my biological mother and my half sibling. I saw likenesses and mannerisms; I saw a physical resemblance that connected us all and yet they were strangers who had a different upbringing to me. They were raised in a different culture to the one I had been brought up in. It wasn’t just about colour, it wasn’t just about race, it was about a cultural identity that I found difficult to partake in because it was so unfamiliar to me. I may have appeared the same as them but my mindset was completely alien to theirs. My birth mother was a woman who had grown up in a restrictive society and this prevented her from openly acknowledging me because she feared the consequences.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get long enough to know her because she died quite suddenly and by the time I received the news, it was too late – she had already been buried. I would spend the years that followed trying to build a relationship with my half-siblings and trying to reach out to my birth mother’s relatives who did not want to build any relationship with me. They wanted to keep my identity a secret to protect their family honour, which meant rejecting my existence.

Debbie at her mother’s grave

I think my life would have turned out differently if I had always known the truth about my adoption because it wouldn’t have been such a shock. I didn’t know then that I was led by trauma and living a traumatic existence. I was searching for honest people but I only found deceptive ones. I had a right to the truth because it is my history, my biology and my genetic code. From the moment I was born until now everyone who could give me information has tried their best to withhold it from me, using the threat of an honour killing as a justification.

Now I am a grown woman with children of my own and I am searching for the truth about my biological father’s identity, so my story continues….

This article was also published at How to be Adopted.