December is a month all about fun and family. Many people won’t be able to celebrate Christmas with their family this year. For many adopted people, December is a difficult month every year because they are extra aware that they cannot be with their family on holidays. Some are literally not able to because they are out of contact with their adoptive family. Others haven’t been able to celebrate Christmas with their parents their whole life. Again others ask themselves on these days whether their parents are still alive or thinking about them. And some feel the sadness that they aren’t with the family this Christmas, unlike the siblings that weren’t adopted.
The days surround December are doubly difficult because you have your life that you are grateful or happy about while at the same time, the lack of your family is extra large. The weeks prior to and the holidays themselves make the shadowy side of adoption extra palpable for adopted people and for families of loss. Loneliness is even greater than in other months.
So if you know an adopted person or a family member of loss for whom holidays don’t bring the light, I hope you can be their “Piglet”.
Pooh woke up that morning, and for reasons he didn’t quite understand, he couldn’t stop tears. He sat there in bed, his little body shook, and he cried and cried and cried. In his sobs, the phone rang. It was Piglet.
“Oh Piglet,” said Pooh, between sobbing, in response to his friend’s soft question how he was doing. “I feel so sad. So, so, sad, almost like I may never be happy again. And I know I shouldn’t feel like this. I know there are so many people who are worse than me, so I really have no right to cry, with my beautiful house, and my beautiful garden, and the beautiful forests around me. But oh, Piglet: I’m just so sad.”
Piglet was quiet for a while, because Pooh’s rocky sniffs filled up the space between them. When the sobs craved for breath, he kindly said, “You know, it’s not a competition.” “What is not a competition?” asked a confused sounding Pooh. “Sadness. Fear. Sadness,” Piglet said. “It’s a mistake we make often, all of us. To think that, because there are people who are worse off than us, that somehow deprives us of how we feel. But that’s just not true. You have as much right to feel unhappy as the next person; and, Pooh – and this is the most important thing – you also have as much right to get the help you need.”
“Help? What help?” asked Pooh. “I don’t need help, Piglet. “Do I even have that? Pooh and Piglet talked for a long time, and Piglet introduced Pooh to some people he might be able to call to talk, because if you feel sad, one of the most important things is to not let all the sad ones get stuck in you. In addition, Piglet reminded Pooh that this support is there for everyone, that there is no minimum level of Sadness that you must feel before you qualify to speak to someone. After all, Piglet asked Pooh to open his window and look at heaven, and Pooh did.
“See that sky?” Piglet asked his friend. “Do you see the blue and the gold and that big fluffy cloud that looks like a sheep that eats a root? Pooh looked, and he did see the blue and the gold pieces and the great fluffy cloud that looked like a sheep eating a root. “You and I,” continued Piglet, “we are both under that same sky. And so, when the Sad one comes, I want you to look at that sky, and know that no matter how far we are physically apart … we are also, at the same time, together. Maybe, more together than we’ve ever been before.”
“Do you think this will ever end?” asked Pooh with a little voice. “This will also pass by,” confirmed Piglet. “And I promise, you and I will one day be together again, close enough to touch each other, and share a little taste of something … underneath that blue, golden sky.”
by Judith Alexis Augustine Craig adopted from Haiti to Canada.
Since the announcement of Judge Amy Coney Barrett as the new nominee for the Supreme Court there has been intense scrutiny of her politics, religious views and her family. As a Haitian adoptee myself I took great interest in the discussions around her adopted children from Haiti. There were many questions about legitimacy of her adoptions, particularly her son who was adopted following the Haitian earthquake. This particularly struck a cord with me, because following the Earthquake there was a lot of questionable removals of Haitian children.
I was interviewed by several media outlets following the Earthquake and this question was raised continuously. At the time my response was direct. I was aware that many children had been legally adopted but were waiting for the government to approve the process so they could join their adoptive families abroad. I felt in light of the situation it was appropriate for those children to be allowed to join their families immediately. The challenge became for those children who were ‘presumed’ to be orphans following the earthquake and were ‘rescued’ by many international agencies who scooped them up and removed them from Haiti without verify if they were truly orphans or if there were alternative family members for the children to live with. We watched in horror as children were flown out of Haiti within a week following the Earthquake and then learnt that they were not orphans, nor were they apart of an adoption process and worse still had families. In addition, we saw members of a religious group try and illegally cross the border to Dominican Republic with Haitian children none of whom were orphans. These are merely a few examples of illegal child abductions which occurred directly following the Earthquake.
Many people felt these international religious organizations or NGO’s were doing right by removing these children from this horrific natural disaster, instead the opposite was true. These children had just experienced extreme trauma and now faced another trauma being removed without warning, consent or preparation. The International Social Services (ISS, 2010) stated that intercountry adoption should not take place in a situation of war or natural disaster when it was impossible to verify the personal and family situations of children.1
The sad reality is that black market international illegal adoptions continue to thrive worldwide, with children either being kidnapped from their parents or parents being coerced into relinquishing their children. They are persuaded to do this amid false promises that they will be educated abroad and then returned to their family or that their families will be able to join them in the future. This has resulted in many countries either closing their borders to international adoption all together or implementing stricter regulations.
Haiti followed suit and introduced stricter measures banning private adoptions, limiting the number of international adoptions per year, closing substandard orphanages and rewriting the adoption code. Additional measures included more support for families in Haiti prior to them agreeing for their child to be adopted and a mandatory period of time for families to change their mind.2
While some fear these new restrictions will mean that the 50,000 children in orphanages will languish in care, reform is absolutely necessary to protect children and their families’. During my trip to Haiti while I was searching for my biological family, I met dozens of families who had relinquished their children years earlier many under false pretences and never heard or saw them again. It was heart-wrenching to see these families in such pain and anguish over their lost children. Many of the ‘orphans’ in Haiti are placed in orphanages due to economic hardships their families are experiencing. Leaving their children at an orphanage is intended for a short period of time while they stabilise their lives. Many parents have every intention to return to resume caring for their children. Imagine the horror when they found their child was adopted abroad. So, what is the solution?
As a social worker for the past 15 years I have worked in developed countries with intricate child welfare systems that support children and their families who experience a wide range of challenges. Foster care systems do not exist in Haiti in this same manner and this is an area that could provide much needed temporary support for families. While this approach will require further education for the Haitian community and a financial and practical commitment from the government it will keep families together and prevent unnecessary and illegal adoption.
While I can’t speak to the specific circumstances surrounding Judge Barnett’s adoptions, I am hopeful that they were legal and above aboard. My greater hope is that further transformation within the international adoption system will continue to occur so that families can remain together wherever safely possible and reforms will continue to protect the rights of children and their families. Adoption should be a last resort, when all other avenues to keep children within their family is fully exhausted and supported.
by Atamhi Cawayu, doctoral researcher at Ghent University (Belgium) and the Bolivian Catholic University ‘San Pablo’ (Bolivia). Together with Vicente Mollestad and Teresa Norman, they run Network of Bolivian Adoptees.
This blogpost was initially posted on Atamhi’s Facebook profile and Instagram-account @displaced.alteño
Searching for first family and adoptee activism: Some reflections
In 1993 I got displaced/adopted to Belgium when I was six-month-old. According to my papers, I was found as a new-born in the city of El Alto in Bolivia. Since my twenties, I started to return and reconnect with Bolivia. In the past two years I live more in Bolivia than in Belgium and I consider myself ‘based in Bolivia’. In all these years, I have attempted to search for information about my pre-adoptive past. Since June, together with a fellow Bolivian adoptee friend, we started our search here in Bolivia by starting a big campaign to make ourselves visible.
Reflection 1: Putting up posters in the city
In June 2020, my friend and I started to prepare our searches for our Bolivian relatives by designing posters and putting them in various streets and neighbourhoods in the cities of La Paz and El Alto. It’s not the first time I engage in searching for first families, in the past years I have completed searches for other Bolivian adoptees, which sometimes led to reunions. However, searching is challenging, especially when you don’t have names, places or anything that might lead to our families.
In Bolivia there is a central authority responsible for international adoption, yet there is no support from organisations or institutions who can really help us. In our cases, we have limited information, but other adoptees have the full name of their mother, or names of family members. Even in their cases it’s often a bureaucratic journey to obtain more information. In addition, most of us don’t know the language, are not familiar with the system, and do not always have the time to search.
When I started to do my PhD on this topic, my goal has always been to have not only a better insight into the adoption system in Bolivia but also to ‘crack’ the system and understand which clues are necessary in finding one’s family. Besides I think it’s important to document the stories of the first parents and take their experiences into account if we really want to make an honest evaluation of the system of adoption.
When preparing the posters, making the design, paying the prints, I could only think of one thing: we as adult adoptees have the resources to start this search and do it in an almost professional way. Our parents probably didn’t have the same amount of resources, and even if they did, their stories were regarded as less interesting than ours right now.
Reflection 2: Engaging with TV media
After our first round of posters, we received a message from a journalist from a Bolivian TV channel who was interested in our stories. A few days later they interviewed us, and it was broadcasted one day later. Since then our story was covered by national TV media in Bolivia and it received lots of attention. The media is a necessary evil. It helped a lot in having our cases visible, yet it’s hard to control the questions. They also have their own narrative they want to show.
These experiences made me reflect about several things. Our stories were largely framed as ‘abandoned babies’ returning to Bolivia, after being adopted internationally, however this narrative already makes a lot of assumptions of our mothers abandoning us. When reading the comment section (I know I should not do this) a big part of the viewers didn’t understand why we would search for someone ‘that doesn’t look for us’. However, it’s so much more complex…
In my case I was found, but I don’t know what really happened. It’s easy to assume I was ‘abandoned’ by one of my parents, but I don’t know. In my research on first parents, I have encountered several parents who never gave up their child to adoption, did it in vulnerable circumstances, or were even pressured by intermediaries (and I’m not even talking about kidnap and illegal adoption). Yet, in many cases they were interested to know what happened to their children, if they were still alive, if they ended up well, etc. Part of our activism is also to speak about this other side of adoption. It’s not always a fairy-tale as many people think. We are part of system that exploits global inequalities, displaces poor brown/indigenous bodies from South to North, and prefers parenthood from the Global North over parenthood of the Global South.
It is irritating people don’t understand the complexity and violence relinquishment and adoption can entail. Even if our parents wanted to look for us, they wouldn’t be able to find us as we have been relocated and displaced to other continents. When I search for my ‘family’, it is to make myself findable, so they know I am here in Bolivia and willing to be in touch with them.
Reflection 3: The violence of international adoption
In the days after our first interview, various Bolivian TV channels called us for an interview. Our story was spread nationwide by radio, TV, newspaper. We tried to take advantage of this moment to open the discussion on transnational adoption.
During the interviews we tried to mention that for us adoptees there is no assistance for adoptees to search. Not in our adoptive countries, nor in Bolivia. We have to do almost everything by ourselves, and then I am not even talking about learning the language, understanding the documents, being familiar with the city. As my friend mentioned in several interviews, “searching is something political”. For me searching is doing something you were not supposed to do. It’s opening up histories that were meant to be hidden, it’s doing something within a system that tried to erase everything of your being.
Moreover, another dominant idea is to be lucky and fortunate when being adopted transnationally. One of the journalists said to me “you must be very fortunate”, “many people here would love to be in your shoes”. Throughout the years I have met many people, especially here in Bolivia, who told me I must have been lucky to be have been saved from my ‘miserable future’ in Bolivia and to have a ‘wealthy’ life in Europe. It’s like people think we only ‘won’ by being adopted internationally, but they often forget we have lost many things. I consider all the opportunities I have because of growing up in Europe as compensation for everything I have lost, and I have lost everything.
From my personal perspective, the violence implicit in transnational adoption is to be involuntary transcontinentally displaced, completely severed from our genetic ancestors, disconnected from our community, culture, language, nation, continent, and without any possibility to find our families ever again. For most of us Bolivia will become a country we once lived in. In addition, all our former identities are erased so we can be reborn, renamed, Christianised and assimilated with our adoptive countries. We grow up with complete strangers we are expected to love and call family. We are being brought into a society that doesn’t want us, that racialises us and discriminates us, without any community that provides shelter or understanding. This so-called child protection system – mostly in the benefit of well-off Western adoptive parents who wants to fulfil their heteronormative parental dream – erases everything from us. It is not the first time in colonial history child welfare systems are used to shape, control and erase indigenous children’s identities, and most children adopted from Bolivia have an indigenous background, be it Aymara or Quechua. Transnational adoption is for me an ongoing colonial project of civilising, controlling and managing children from the Global South, transforming them from ‘savages’ to ’civilised’ citizens in the benefit of the capitalist machine of the North. Transnational adoption would not have been possible without a history of colonialism and its ongoing colonial gaze towards countries in the South such as Bolivia.
The adoptee experience is something very diverse. I know some adoptees might disagree on this and that’s fine. I also know other adoptees might recognise themselves in what I write. Every experience is valid. However, my fight and activism are structural against a system that has caused a lot of injustices and is not in the benefit of first parents and adult adoptees. As another adoptee once told me: our parents maybe didn’t have the resources to fight for their rights, but we have, and we will fight for them.
Hi. I’m Laney Allison, adopted from Ma’Anshan, Anhui Province, China in August of 1994 by a single mom. I was raised in Dallas, TX and I now live/work in Washington, DC, USA. I am a co-founder/co-president of China’s Children International.
You can reach me @Lane_Xue on instagram and follow the CCI instagram @cci_adoptees
by Mark Erickson, adopted from Vietnam to the USA.
Sharing this to process feelings about my birth family, trying to write down some difficult things.
I have a confession to make: I killed my Vietnamese parents. I don’t know when I did it or how I did it, but I did. Actually, what I did was worse. In order to kill them, I would have actually had to know them, acknowledge their existence, and forget them. Instead, I fully erased them: no names, no memories, no feelings.
No one specifically told me to do it, but the message was loud and clear. Let’s play pretend. Your Vietnamese parents are never to be acknowledged or mentioned. We are your real parents. You were born in our hearts.
If there was a part of my young self that ever believed that my Vietnamese parents were still alive, then the burden of carrying that hope was too much for me. So I stopped. I was not Oliver Twist. I was not Little Orphan Annie. Instead, I became a twisted three-headed Scarecrow-Tin Man-Lion: unable to question my experience, disconnected from my feelings, and non-confrontational to a fault.
What I didn’t count on was that this matricide-patricide was actually a double homicide-suicide. In order to erase them, I also had to erase a part of myself. I self-medicated. But instead of self-medicating with substances like others in my immediate circle, I became a compulsive over-achiever.
This worked for many years. But my Vietnamese parents wouldn’t play along and stay erased. Instead, they haunted my nightmares and later my day dreams. When I looked in the mirror, was I looking at the image of my creators?
ANZAC Day for people from Australia and New Zealand is a time of reflection that connects us through the generations. For me as an orphan from the Vietnam war, it gives me a time and place, admist all the beautiful gifts of everyday life, to acknowledge the undeniable tragedy I carry in my heart.
To have my whole family and identity lost through war is often something too painful to talk about. For those who know me well, self pity is not my song but in respect to my biological family, I can’t pretend the loss of not knowing them is not a deep wound to carry.
As I have grown older and possibly wiser, the symbols of rememberance have gained in personal significance. As I sit next to the eternal flame at the shrine, in my heart I see the flame as a beacon of light that I pray draws me closer to those I have loved or have loved me, whether we know each other’s names or not. I feel we share our hearts. The warmth of the eternal flame comforts me, as it reflects the love I am praying to send out to the world, like a portal to those I have lost and yet to find.
Please don’t feel unnerved by my sharing. My sharing is a chance to say thank you for allowing me this day, this moment in space to lay down my grief without question or judgement. It is only because I am loved and I can love those around me that I can share these thoughts.
And now, as I do for every other day in the year I will embrace the beautiful life I have and the adventures of the unknown future.
By Aaron Dechter, adopted from Colombia to America.
45 years ago today, I was adopted and arrived in Boston, USA. This day is hard: three sides to the coin. Deep sadness for Mamá and my Colombian family for the son who was stolen and taken from them. Happiness for my mom and dad and my American family for what was the most important day for them. So that leaves me.
Like many other adoptees who are torn internally into a million pieces, at my age now, I’ve come to accept the ups and downs, the happy and sadness as the pendulum swings each day.
My younger sister tells me, “The pain and suffering of Mamá and the entire family will never heal”. My older sister tells me, “Take it as a gift of life for having two families that love me, for caring for me and allowing my to return home”. Brenna and Gabriella say, “This was a happy day, now knowing that truth it’s different. It’s tough, it’s still a special day but it feels tainted”. All opinions are justified.
So here I am, representing the triad of adoption. I represent Mamá and Colombia family. I represent my parents and American family. I represent Brenna and Gabriella and myself. I can’t wash the adoption off but it made me who I am today.
The path to healing continues but I’m still here fighting the cause for Mamá, my parents and me.