I’m like a Deer Caught in the Headlights

by Krem0076, an Korean intercountry adoptee raised in the USA.

Krem0076 as a toddler

I am an adoptee from a closed international adoption. I have paperwork but for many of us, our paperwork is often fraught with mistakes, lies and discrepancies. That is a challenge – is my information accurate? My birth name? My birthdate? My origin story if I even have one? Are any of the names in my paperwork real or accurate?

I have names for both my b-mom and b-dad and I decided in 2017 to try searching for my b-mom on Facebook. Here’s another challenge – because I am adopted from Korea and wasn’t raised reading or speaking my language, I had to figure out how to translate the English version of my b-mom’s name into Hangul and hope it was accurate. Thankfully I have a fellow Korean adoptee friend who could do that for me. I searched and found a woman who has physical features that are so similar to mine, it was like looking into a future mirror at myself around 50 years old.

The next challenge was – do I message her? And if I do, what the heck do I say? “Hi, you don’t really know me, but I may be your daughter whom you relinquished back in 1987. Did you relinquish a baby girl then? I promise I’m not crazy or going to cause trouble.” Yeah, I don’t see that going over well. Do I friend request her? How do I approach her without spooking her? What if she’s married and has other children? What if I’m a secret? What if she denies me?

This was back in 2017 when I first found my potential b-mom, and after weeks of agonising and being petrified but simultaneously excited, I sent her a message and a friend request. I waited days which turned into weeks, that turned into months and eventually, years. Nothing. I went from being excited and hopeful to being nervous and unsure. Eventually it turned into bitterness, frustration, rejection and loss all over again. In the end, I numbed myself to it and pushed it into the back of my brain and tried to forget.

Fast forward to March of 2021. I had recently fully come out of the adoption fog, started reconnecting with my Korean culture, language, foods and traditions and making more Korean adoptee friends. I decided to look her up again and see if there was anything new. From what I’ve gleamed as an outside observer, she looks to be married and has 2 adult daughters. It also looks like she runs a berry farm. I decided to message her again, this time in Hangul hoping she’d respond to that better. I’ve also updated my profile name to include my birth name in Hangul, hoping she’d see it. She never read the message and I don’t have the option to friend request her again.

I know I can go through other channels to find and contact my b-mom, but I am a mess. What if they can’t find her? What if they do and she rejects me? What if this woman is her and she rejects me? What if she’s passed away? That’s another challenge – the debilitating and paralysing onslaught of emotions that stop me from moving either way. I’m like a deer caught in the headlights.

For adoptive parents reading this, I encourage you to foster open adoptions if you can – not for your needs and wants, but for the future needs and wants of you adopted children. They will grow up knowing their origins, their medical history, their b-mom or parents. They will have a better sense of their identity. They will be able to ask questions and have them answered. There will still be trauma. There will still be tough days and emotions. But they will have a stronger foundation than I will never have. I’m 34 and drowning somedays. I struggle with being adopted and right now, quite frankly, I hate it.

Shape Shifting

by Marie, a daughter lost via adoption from her Chinese father who shared his story last week: The Sin of Love

I put the truth on a pedestal, but I also see how she’s a shape shifter, whose form changes depending on who holds her and their state of mind. In the few months since I found my father, I believe he’s understood my need for the truth and tried to offer it to me. But that truth keeps changing as my arrival in his life has been equal parts joyful and traumatic.

Confronted with me, the lost daughter he’s longed for, he’s also reliving the past. A past he’s suppressed because it was too painful, alone with memories in a society which erases birth parents and their grief, as if it is something they had agency to prevent. He had no wise mentor and no safety through which to process his pain and loss, not only of me but of his first love. I believe the woman he loved died to him when she signed the adoption papers. While acknowledging she probably had no choice, he couldn’t reconcile that woman with the one he loved eternally. So although he had clues as to where she was, he never looked for her because his love must surely be gone — the Agnes he loved couldn’t have given away their child; in doing so she compelled him into signing the adoption papers too. He tucked away that grief and entered a life in which loss unconsciously drove his decisions.

Years later he sleepwalked into a marriage. Another pregnancy would garner his commitment to his wife and to another child he couldn’t lose this time. But Agnes was a silent guest in his marriage and family – she would never leave, and neither would I.

Since I’ve returned, the truth evolves and shifts. Agnes has been unconsciously a perpetrator, a woman who gave up her flesh and blood and simultaneously a victim of a bigoted and controlling mother who altered the destiny of all three of us. As the months since our reunion have gone by, my father has been tormented by the past: guilt, anger, confusion and loss have plagued him with what he calls “sudden floating rubbish”. Neither of us can ask Agnes what happened from her perspective because she died in October 2016. 4 years before I found her obituary and 5 before I found my father and confirmed it was her. In her absence we both thrash about with what we know, attempting to piece together the puzzle which for me has even more missing pieces which are gradually leaking out of the memories my father accesses in flashbacks and increasing empathy for my mother. He stares, as I do at the one photo we have of her, posted on her obituary. She is young and smiling and though her features individually aren’t mine, somehow her face echoes mine. I saw myself in her, knowing who she was as soon as I saw the picture.

As he moves through the memories now with an altered lens of compassion, and perhaps conscious of how I would view my mother and how he wants me to feel about her, my father has revealed memories which again shift reality and truth. As my birthday approaches the revelations seem to be increasing. In his recollections, now she’s happy and smiling on the day I was born. They named me together and all seems fine when he leaves her that day. But a week later he’s called to sign adoption papers and compelled by a judge to do so when he refuses. He would never make sense of the decision and never talk to Agnes again to unpack what happened. His anger and confusion would hold her at a distance more successfully than her absence, until I arrived sending photos of myself in which she is ever present. In the last week he has seemed to need to share new puzzle pieces, as he puts it back together himself. He now believes he has wronged her.

In his own grief he couldn’t comprehend what a traumatic loss she endured. Yesterday he revealed another piece of the puzzle. When he finally searched for Agnes, he too found her obituary so he sought out her brother, his friend, to find out how she died. What he was told led him to believe she took her own life. This news has shifted reality again for me. While not knowing anything of her life, I can only assume losing me was a devastating event which forever impacted her state of mind and her family life.

I can’t help correlating the month of her death with its anniversary of my adoption. I suspect each year my August birthday would summon a silent grief and perhaps linger through to autumn when two months later, I went home with another family and within a few months unknown to my parents, to another country. I don’t know if she knew when I left the mother and baby home. It’s not clear to me if I was with her for those first two months of life or living in its adjacent orphanage under the care of nuns. Unrelenting in their views of what was best, the nuns lied to my father when he travelled the seven hours from Taiping to take me home, where his mother awaited, wanting to welcome me to their family.

What the Church told anyone is under question and with Agnes gone, perhaps only her siblings might know. It’s possible she shared something with her second daughter or husband. As I think of my maternal sister, I now wonder if my existence would unlock a mystery for her too. If she never knew about me, perhaps her loss also involved a traumatic secret lost in death and added to her grief. I remain stuck with what next in my search – for now just happy to be part of my paternal family and all the absorbing realities of getting to know the family and culture I lived without for almost 49 years.

Implications of China’s One Child Policy Expansion

by Hannah, adopted from China to Canada.

Guizhou province—”Humans have only one earth, we must control population growth!” (Adam Century)

Born in China

I was born in China. That’s it, end of origin story. That’s all I know. I was probably born in Jiangsu Province, but even that’s not certain. The earliest known record of my existence is a medical examination when I was estimated to be 20 days old. Many of my friends know where they were born, what hospital, what day, some even know the time down to the second as well as how long it took. I know none of that. They know who was present at the time they were born, what family members they met first. I know none of that. My legal birth date is estimated from when I was found, I have no original birth registration. My name was given to me by orphanage officials. I don’t know what my name was or if my biological parents had even bothered to give me a name. The record of where I was found and when have been lost or forgotten. My (adoptive) mother wrote in a scrapbook which county they were told I was found in. There are no records of it, I have no abandonment certificate like some Chinese adoptees do and I have no recorded finding ad. For many intents and purposes, my life began when I was adopted by a white Canadian couple when I was under a year old. I am one of thousands of Chinese children adopted by foreigners after China opened its doors to intercountry adoption in 1991.

Like most Chinese adoptees, I was adopted under the shadow of the One Child Policy, first introduced in 1979. The One Child Policy (the unofficial name for the birth restriction policy) dictated that couples were only allowed to have one child. There were exceptions for rural families and ethnic minorities, but the policy was implemented and unequally enforced across the country, with varying levels of violence. The cultural preference for sons is well-publicized and is believed to be the reason behind why the majority of Chinese adoptions under the One Child Policy were girls. It is widely known and accepted among the Chinese adoptee community, the majority of us who were born female, that we were relinquished (or stolen) because of our sex at birth.

China’s changing birth restrictions

On May 31, 2021, I checked the news and saw a CBC article that said China had eased its birth restrictions and would now allow couples to have up to three children, instead of the previous two, which was implemented in 2016. I remember reading a similar news article in 2015 when it was announced that China was relaxing the One Child Policy for the first time in decades to allow for two children per couple. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, I was happy that the restrictions were loosened and sad that they were still policing reproductive rights. And yet, this morning when seeing the news, I felt much more strongly. Perhaps it is because during the pandemic, I made an effort to connect to the adoptee community, through joining online Facebook groups, run by adoptees for adoptees. I started trying to (re)learn Mandarin, which I had long since forgotten, despite being put in Mandarin lessons when I was little. Maybe it’s because of the spotlight put on anti-Black and anti-Asian racism due to the multiple high-profile police killings of Black people, the surge in Asian hate crimes due to the racist rhetoric about the origin of the pandemic, that’s forced me to more closely examine my own racial and cultural identity as a Canadian, transracial, Chinese, intercountry adoptee. But perhaps most of all, it’s because I have two sisters, also adopted from China, something that wasn’t allowed in China for most families until now.  

Mixed Emotions

For many reasons, reading the news article on China’s new relaxed policy, gave me many more mixed feelings. Again, the happiness at a relaxed policy and the sadness and disappointment at the continued policing of women’s bodies and reproductive rights. But this time, it came with another feeling: anger. I am angry. It feels like a slap to the face for all Chinese adoptees and their biological families who were (forcefully) separated under the One Child Policy. It feels like it was for nothing, even more than before. What was the point of my biological parents relinquishing me (if that’s what happened) if they were just going to change the policy later? What was the point in creating the policy when the birth rate was already falling, as it does when women are given greater access to education, careers and contraceptives, and now they want to increase the birth rate again? What was the point of stripping me of my name, my birthday, my culture, when the driving force behind my abandonment has been (semi-)reversed? If Chinese couples are now allowed to have three children (the same number as my sisters and I), then what was the point of the policy which drove thousands of children, mostly girls, to be abandoned, aborted and trafficked?

Mixed Emotions by KwangHo Shin

Now the policy has been changed and so what? I’m still a Chinese adoptee, living thousands of kilometres from my birth country, with no easy way to connect to any living blood relatives, unless I want to attempt a search. I’m still a Chinese adoptee who doesn’t know my birth name, birthday or birthplace. South Korean adoptees fought for and successfully lobbied the South Korean government for recognition and (limited) reparations. They have been given a way to recover their South Korean citizenship and are now eligible to apply for the F-4 (Korean Heritage) Visa. During the pandemic, the South Korean government sent free face masks for Korean adoptees. China does not acknowledge dual citizenship, nor does it provide adoptees with a special visa that would allow them an easier way return to their birth country. China does not acknowledge intercountry adoptees or how the thousands of children who were adopted internationally were direct consequences of the One Child Policy. The policy has been loosened and now Chinese couples can have up to three children, like my family in Canada. The policy that likely drove my adoption has been loosened and yet nothing has changed for me, and the Chinese government moves on.

What If’s

I don’t like thinking of the what-ifs and what-could-be’s. I don’t like imagining what my life could have been if I was never relinquished (or stolen), if I was never adopted, if I was adopted by a Chinese couple instead etc. But this recent announcement has forced me to think about the what-ifs. Specifically, “What if my birth family had been able to keep me because they weren’t restricted by the One Child Policy?” I’m happy and satisfied with my current life. Despite the occasional hiccups, racist micro-aggressions and identity struggles, I wouldn’t change anything. That doesn’t mean I can’t and won’t mourn the life that was taken from me due to the One Child Policy. I mourn that I don’t know what my biological parents named me (if they did). I mourn that I don’t know the date, time and location where I was born. I mourn that I don’t know, and may never know, if I look like any of my biological relatives. I mourn that I will likely never know the full story behind my adoption. I mourn that as a Canadian, I will never feel fully comfortable in China and that as a Chinese adoptee, I will never be seen as fully Canadian. And I’m angry that for the Chinese government, they can change the One Child Policy and move on, while I and thousands of others will bear the consequences for the rest of our lives.

Coping with Loss from Adoption Suicide

by Lina Vanegas adopted from Colombia to the USA, MSW.

Artwork by Adriana Alvarez

I have lost two people in my life to suicide, the father of my children who was also my ex-husband and my mom. The father of my children was adopted and my mom was impacted by adoption because she lost me to adoption. Both of them sadly fit the statistics. Adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide. I would argue that moms (first mothers, original mothers, natural moms) also have high suicide attempt rates.

I am a transracial and intercountry adoptee who was adopted from Bogota, Colombia and have lived the majority of my life in Michigan in the United States. Suicide loss is a death like no other. It is not like a car accident, heart attack, or cancer where there is a clear explanation of how someone died. People who die by suicide are struggling immensely. There is no closure with this death. Suicide is also highly stigmatised, people do not want to talk about it, and many judge the death. Suicide loss for us as adoptees is further compounded and amplified with all of the loss and grief that we have already experienced and it can trigger many of the issues we suffer with related to adoption. 

If you are reading this and have lost someone to suicide, I want you to know that you are not alone and that I am so sorry you are experiencing this horrendously painful loss. I also want you to know that it is not your fault. There is nothing you could have done or should have done. The person who died was in so much pain. You may also be reading this and have been shocked by the person’s death because you had no idea that they were suffering and maybe they seemed happy and like everything was okay. It is still not your fault. Please do not blame yourself or hold onto any guilt. It is extremely painful to know or learn that our loved one was suffering so much.

One thing that I have learned is that some days are harder than others. It  has helped me to know that I can break up my days and I can take it moment to moment, minute to minute or hour to hour or one day at a time as the famous Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) slogan says. The first year for me was a complete blur. It seemed to drag on forever and I was in a hurry to put it all behind me because it was so painful and difficult. Honestly, I cannot remember much because I was in so much shock. Please be patient, kind and gentle with yourself if you have experienced a suicide loss. Suicide loss is such a painful and life changing loss. The first year of loss was really hard because everything becomes a first without them. 

Some of the hardest days for me are, the person’s birthday, anniversary of their death and the holidays. I have learned to sit with my emotions and feel them. I give myself permission to cry and mourn if that is what needs to happen.  If something was too hard, then I created a new tradition or decided not to do it. Then there are times where I just break down because something triggered me and I am back to feeling my grief. Grief is a journey, it ebbs and it flows. It is not linear and there is no expiration date. Please do not let anyone tell you differently or push you to get over it or heal in a certain amount of time. We all grieve differently and grief is not a one size fits all thing experience. 

Artwork by Nicholas Down

It has been a real journey for me to figure out ways to cope and begin to heal. Suicide loss has really changed the way that I have looked at life. I now see that life is short and fleeting and that each day is not promised. I have chosen to use the loss of my mother as momentum to help me live my life in honor of her. I strive to turn my pain into purpose, a path, and power. There have been many ways that I have found to help me cope which I want to share with you.

For me, sitting with my feelings and truly feeling them has been so helpful. Crying, bawling and literally losing my breath sobbing and having that deep soul cry have helped my grieve and mourn.  Therapy has also been instrumental for me. It is really helpful to have a safe and non judgemental space that is just for me.  It is important to find a therapist who works solely with trauma and ideally someone who is adoption competent. Many therapists honestly have not studied adoption so it is hard for them to truly understand us.

I am an avid reader and for me reading and researching gave me answers and helped me gain understanding.  I threw myself into reading and researching suicide. For me it was important to understand suicide so that I could make sense of things. I read a lot from other suicide loss survivors which was really essential because I could relate to what they were saying and I could learn how they coped and healed. The other group that was really important to read and listen to was, suicide attempt survivors. It helped me to be able to gain a deeper understanding of suicide and mental health struggles. It also gave me insight into how I can help people who are suffering from suicidal ideations.

 I joined a grief support group and a suicide survivor loss support group.  Both of these groups allowed me to connect with other people who were experiencing the same things as me and I did not need to explain myself.  I made friends, I cried, I laughed but most of all I realized that I was not alone and I felt seen, heard and validated. I also attend an adoption group which has been helpful because many adoptees are also dealing with suicide loss. It has been helpful to talk with other adoptees about suicide loss. You can look for a group online and accessibility should be easier now that most groups are being done virtually. 

Attending events such as walks that raise money for suicide prevention or attending International Suicide Survivor Loss Day which is in November have also very helpful.  Again, I was able to realise that I am not not alone and I felt like part of a bigger piece. It is inspiring to see money being raised to help prevent suicide, fund research, and also cathartic. 

Movement such as running, biking, walking, and yoga have also helped me cope because they are an outlet where I can release and channel my emotions. Meditation has been great because it has allowed me to slow down and be present in my body. Journaling and writing have been my creative outlet for processing and coping with suicide loss. Making sure that I am eating a balanced diet and getting sufficient sleep has also been really beneficial. The self care piece is really important and it will look different for everyone. Please do something for yourself that you enjoy doing. 

Social media is also a great way to connect with other survivors of suicide loss. There are many groups and organizations that one can join. There are also many blogs, podcasts and articles on mental health issues that discuss suicide which are great resources. 

It has been almost 7 years since my first suicide loss and just over 2 from the death of my mom so it has been a decent amount of time and not a long period of time. I am at a place where I want to share my story whether it be to one on one, to a group, or through writing. This is not something I could have done early on as it was so painful and I was still processing everything. I find now that sharing my story has really helped me cope and be able to help others.

I have made an effort to  incorporate the people that have been lost into my everyday life. I have purchased ornaments in honour of them for my Christmas tree, framed pictures of them for my house, I purchase flowers regularly in honour of my mom, I light candles, and make their favourite food on holidays or any other time. I am thinking about getting a tattoo in honour of my mom so that she is always symbolically there with me. It has been soothing for me to incorporate them into my daily life. Some other ideas I have thought of are, planting a tree or plant for the person, you can set a place for them at the table, you can buy or create some kind of art that can be in honour of them, you could buy or make a scarf or something to wear that symbolises them. 

I want you to remember that the suicide of your loved one is not your fault. You are not alone in losing someone to suicide.

Please take care of yourself and remember there are resources to help you cope. Be kind and gentle with yourself.

Other Resources on Adoptee Suicide

Dealing with Adoptee Suicide
ICAVs Memorial Page
Adoptee Remembrance Day
It’s a Black Week for Adoptees in Europe