Governments Finally Recognising Illicit and Illegal Intercountry Adoption Practices

This is one common scenario, it doesn’t cover children overtly stolen from hospitals and many other ways

I’m an adoptee remaining hopeful

I’m very excited and feeling hopeful after hearing Belgium’s recent news, that their Minister has announced his intention to ask Parliament to suspend all adoptions for the next 2 years as a result of their investigation into intercountry adoptions.

Surrounded by incredible adoptee leaders around the world, I know how much effort has gone into getting intercountry adoptee rights to where we are today. News like this does not in any way solve or fix the issues we face but it is at least the beginning of having recognition of the wrongs done — with governments and authorities stepping up to confront the truth that we’ve been talking about for decades. Acknowledgement is the first step of many!

Belgium isn’t the first adoptive country to do so. The Netherlands announced their moratorium on all intercountry adoptions earlier this year in February and published their report. Switzerland announced their report from investigating past practices relating to Sri Lankan adoptions and they are being urged to provide reparation to the victims. Sweden also announced their intention to investigate their illegal intercountry adoptions. And yesterday, the Belgium Minister announced his recommendations to be considered by Parliament. You can read here the full Expert Panel report.

But for some countries we still have work to do

It seems that finally some governments are listening to our lived experience and have decided to no longer turn a blind eye. But even though these 4 have listened, I want to also remind you that there has been much work and years of effort gone into other countries who still haven’t come to the “acknowledgement table”. In France, the adoptees there have had huge support in their petition to have the French Parliament conduct an investigation into their historic intercountry adoptions. In Denmark, the adoptees from Chile have been working with the government to have their adoptions investigated.

In my adoptive country Australia, I have been speaking out and advocating for supports for impacted adoptees and families and for recognition of the abuses in Australia for many years. In fact, it’s been over a decade already and I remember in my early years representing adoptees at NICAAG where Julia Rollings (adoptive mum) and I tabled this issue at the beginning in 2008 and asked that the issue be addressed. More recently, I have also presented a small group of 8 impacted adoptees to meet with our Central Authority, DSS in 2017 asking for very specific supports. However, to this day, those adoptees have still been ignored and dismissed. Despite having very clear cases of illegal activity where perpetrators have been criminally convicted and jailed (e.g., the Julie Chu cohort in image below from Taiwan), nothing has been offered for the adoptees or their families to help them deal with the extra complexities of their illegal adoptions. It’s as if these impacted adoptees don’t exist and Australia hopes the problem will fade away while they face far more important issues, like COVID-19 or an upcoming election.

It is time authorities around the world step up and take responsibility for the processes and structures that ruptured our lives via adoption – for good and for bad. 

Intercountry adoption has followed the path of domestic adoption

In intercountry adoption, we are seeing the same pattern where country after country the governments are acknowledging the wrongs in their domestic adoptions. Canada leads the way by providing financial compensation to their victims of the Sixties Scoop. Australia has already provided a formal apology for the women and babies who were impacted under the Forced Adoption era — but are still as yet to be offered any form of compensation. Australia also just announced their compensation for the Indigenous Aboriginals who were forcibly removed and placed into white families under the Stolen Generation. It is interesting that the Australian government can acknowledge these past practices but doesn’t recognise the very close similarities with our historic intercountry adoptions. Ireland as a government has only this year recognised the wrongs and provided a formal apology to the mothers and children who suffered in Babies Homes from forced adoptions. Ireland is also baulking at offering compensation.

What about our birth countries?

Very few of our birth countries involved in our illicit and illegal adoptions have taken any action either. Guatemala, Ethiopia and Russia are the main ones that come to my memory where they stopped all intercountry adoptions because of irregularities — but they too have failed to provide impacted adoptees with services or compensation to recognise the wrongs done to them. Some of them have sentenced perpetrators but their sentence rarely ever matches the depths of their crime.

Let’s have a quick overview at how perpetrators have been sentenced to date:

The more recent is the first sentence for the American local politician involved with the Marshall Island women who received only 6 years imprisonment. Cambodian adoption ring leader Lauryn Galindo got 18 months in prison, her crime was only visa fraud and laundering money. The Samoan adoption scam perpetrators were sentenced a mere 5 years on probation, for aiding and abetting improper entry of an alien. We are still awaiting sentencing of the perpetrators involved with the Ugandan and Polish schemes for arranging adoptions through bribery and fraud.

In Vietnam, the ring leader received a 4.5 yr sentence for falsifying documents. Taiwan sentenced Julie Chu and her cohorts to a life time imprisonment for masterminding a baby exporting syndicate but she got off lightly after appealing and only served a mere 6 years. In China, child traffickers who abduct and sell children are executed. This response remains the harshest I’ve seen but life imprisonment seems reasonable given their actions impact us for our lifetime.

That the majority of perpetrators in intercountry adoption get away with mild convictions demonstrates the lack of legal framework to protect us. And despite the fact that very few perpetrators in intercountry adoption are ever caught, let alone sentenced, one still has to ask, where is the support for the victims?

The American Samoan Adoptees Restitution Trust is the ONLY restorative justice program I’ve come across, establishing a fund provided by the perpetrators to facilitate connection to birth family and country. But the funds provided have been extremely limiting considering how many people are impacted and out of those impacted adoptees, only 1 was enabled to return to their natural family. Have governments even considered whether intercountry adoptees wish to be repatriated back to their birth country?

What level of responsibility should governments bear?

Many articles have been written about the problems in intercountry adoption via the irregularities in processing us for intercountry adoption, but the most critical issue that governments need to respond to, is our right to identity.

A recent report (see Section 4) by Child Identity Protection (CHIP), highlights the level of responsibility States should play in helping us find our original identities and seek redress.

“Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) notes that a child has a right to identity including a name, a nationality and family relations. Whenever a child is deprived of one of these elements, States have an obligation to restore the child’s identity speedily. At the heart of any intercountry adoption (ICA) is the modification of a child’s identity given at birth.” — CHIP

I’d like to ask every government who is a signatory of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, just what are they doing to “speedily restore our original identity”? All these investigations in European countries are a necessary part of the process to review and look in-depth at what has gone on. But .. the steps taken to halt adoptions does not provide any sweetness for us victims. There are hundreds and thousands of us around the world. What do we want? All you have to do is have a read of our collation of responses which I distributed at The Hague Working Group on Preventing and Addressing Illicit Practices in Adoption, a little over 1 year ago.

In summary our report explains what the majority of us want. We each independently submitted our thoughts without knowing what the other was submitting. Here are the top 3 suggestions we raised :

  • A change to intercountry adoption laws to ensure a legal framework exists for which illicit practices can be prosecuted against. Currently there is none.
  • An independent investigative body so we aren’t expecting the governments and adoption authorities to “investigate” themselves. Currently that’s what happens.
  • Fully funded support services for victims. Currently there are huge gaps in general post adoption supports let alone supports specific to being trafficked. Not one country in the world currently provides any sort of trafficking support for adoptees or their families — both adoptive and natural, but especially for natural families who rarely have a voice on the global arena.

I observe the Netherlands who are still working on their National Centre of Expertise might be including support services specific to trafficking victims, so too it appears from the Belgium report they are trying. But supports for trafficking victims needs to be comprehensive not just a DNA or a general counselling service. In our report, we list in full what this support needs to include: legal aid; counselling; financial aid; funded lived experience support groups; family tracing; DNA testing and professional genealogy services; travel support; language classes; translation services; mediation services; culture and heritage supports.

Why can’t adoption be a “happily ever after” story?

People mistakenly think that intercountry adoptees have to be unhappy in their adoption to want to fight for justice. It is not true.

We can be happy in our adoptive life and country but also be unhappy with how our adoptions were conducted and rightfully expect that everything be done to restore our original identities and help us to reconnect with our natural families who have lost us via intercountry adoption.

Our voices have been fighting for decades for our right to origins, to make amends for our lost identity, to have the illicit and illegal intercountry adoptions recognised for what they are – the commodification of children. We need this crazy system to stop, it’s been going on for too long. We are not a small number, estimates vary but we definitely are in the hundreds of thousands globally and possibly a few million.

It’s time for the truth and hopefully long term, we might see some reparative and restorative justice for us and our families. In the meantime, myself and fellow adoptee leaders continue to work hard for our communities globally! Onward and upward! I hope one day to be able to write about our “happily ever after” story, once we get justice and recognition for the wrongs done.

Other Resources

Impact Awareness Campaign (video) led by Critical Adoptees From Europe (CAFE), Belgium

Finding Humanity podcast Separated: The Ethics of Adoption

Patrick Noordoven: Intercountry Adoption and the Right to Identity

David Smolin: The Case for Moratoria on Intercountry Adoption

To auto translate any of the following resources, open in Google Chrome browser.

Netherlands

No New Adoptions from Abroad for the Time Being
Netherlands Halts all Adoptions Abroad with Immediate Affect
Minister Dekker Suspends Intercountry Adoption with Immediate Effect
Dutch Freeze International Adoptions after Abuses Uncovered
Dutch Report (English)

Switzerland

International Adoptions Report (French, German, Italian)
Adoptions from Sri Lanka: the Federal Council Regrets the Negligence of the Authorities
Press Conference by the Minister (German)
Press release by Sri Lankan adoptee org Back to the Roots (English) in French
Abducted Sri Lankan Children Adopted in Switzerland

Belgium

Wouter Beke Argues for a General Adoption Break, but immediately receives Criticism
Minister Beke wants Adoption Break to Thoroughly Review the Sector
Minister Beke wants a General Adoption Break due to “Mistakes” and “Malpractice”: What is Going on?
Flanders Plans “at least 2 Years Break” from International Adoptions
Expert Panel Report is Ready
Expert Panel Final Report

Lifelong Impacts of Identity Loss

On 1 July, I was asked to speak as part of a webinar panel for the Transforming Children’s Care Webinar Series #4: Child’s Right to Identity in Alternative Care. We had an amazing panel of experts, moderated by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, President of Child Identity Protection (CHIP), and hosted by the Better Care Network in partnership with CHIP.

I was asked to speak about the lifelong impacts of identity loss. So I shared my story and some statements from fellow adoptees to highlight our experience.

My Story

 I am one of these children who has not had my identity protected. Children like me, grow up. We don’t stay children forever – and we can have opinions and thoughts about the structures, processes, policy and legislations that impact us and create our lives. I am honoured to be asked to represent just one small group of us with lived experience, that the forum represents as “children from alternative care options”.

I was adopted from Vietnam during the war in 1973. The war ended in April 1975. My adoptive father flew into the country while it was still at war and flew me out as a 5 month old baby. My papers were supposed to follow but they never arrived and my adoption was not finalised.

I lived for almost 17 years in Australia without an identity. It was the family joke that I made the perfect spy because I didn’t exist. I was keenly aware of not existing and having no paperwork – it made me feel insecure, insignificant, unseen.

The practical impacts of not having any identity papers for 17 years were that I could not apply for a passport and travel outside Australia, I could not get my drivers licence, I could not apply for anything like a bank account and, more importantly, I was not followed up on since arriving in the country by any child welfare authority nor the adoption agency. 

Finally when I was 16 years old, I wanted to get my drivers licence so my adoptive parents were finally propelled to take action. They went though the adoption process again, this time through the State not a private agency, and my adoption was formalised just before I turned 17 years old.

I was given a brand new Australian identity. It does not state my Vietnamese identity only recognises the country that I was born in, Vietnam.

Via this 17-year-late process of intercountry adoption, was there an official check for any of my identity documents in Vietnam? Or a check to confirm my adoptability or relinquishment? These questions remain unanswered for me. I was certainly never offered other options like having help to look for my origins in Vietnam .. I was only ever told that being adopted was THE solution so I’d be able to exist and have some sort of identity. 

In my mid 20s – 30s, I spent over a decade trying to obtain my identity and adoption papers from Vietnam. Via my ICAV network, I came across an ex-policeman who had helped a few other Vietnamese adoptees. He somehow found what appears to be a Vietnamese birth certificate, and he took a blurry photo and sent it to me.

When I traveled to Vietnam in 2019, I went to the place where that document was said to be kept, only to be told the usual story – a flood or natural disaster destroyed ALL paperwork from that whole year. They have nothing for me. I visited the hospital where I was apparently born, only to be told I could not access my mother’s file without her permission – what a vicious cycle! I visited the police station precinct where the stamp on the birth certificate identifies it is held, only to be also told they wouldn’t help me. I asked for help during my visit to the central authority of Vietnam and was told to fill out a form via the website — which is in Vietnamese, which I can’t read or write in. There are so many barriers to being able to access my identity. Language is a HUGE one!

I have since done a few DNA tests and had genealogists help me, but that hasn’t been too successful either. 

This struggle to find our identity, is very common for an intercountry adoptee like myself and is definitely worse for those of us who have been adopted out of a war torn or crisis filled country. In the rush to help “rescue” children like myself, processes are bypassed or sped up and vital information gets lost.

Our ICAV Community

Feeling isolated for most of my childhood, in my mid 20s I founded our international network ICAV that provides peer support to intercountry adoptees like myself who struggle just like I did. But I am only one voice amongst hundreds of thousands globally, so it’s important you hear more than just my voice! 

I asked the ICAV community to share with you what their lifelong impacts of identity loss are. I’m going to share with you just 8 out of the 50 responses to highlight some of their experiences:

Many thanks to those adoptees who were willing to share!

Within our ICAV community, we could write a few books about the lifelong impacts of identity loss, many have already. There are so many more complexities that I haven’t talked about such as twins being purposively separated for adoption (not being told they’re a twin and the extra layers of impact for them of identity loss); 2nd generation adoptees (children of adoptees) and their lack of access in legislation to their inherited identity; etc. I hope my short talk helped expand your mind from the theoretical to the lived experience which speaks so loudly about the importance of identity rights for communities such as mine.

You can watch the complete webinar here.

Asian female adoptee review of Crazy Rich Asians

In August, Joey posted his review here about Crazy Rich Asians. I re-read his thoughts and felt compelled to add to them from an Asian female adoptee perspective.

Like Joey, I also watched the film twice and loved it each time! I saw it the first time by myself to absorb what I could as an Asian intercountry adoptee. I went again with my hubby and 8yr old daughter who is half Chinese half Vietnamese. I loved the awesome casting and role modeling in the film and wanted my daughter to see it! I wish mainstream media had shown that kind of glitz and positive take on Asian people and culture when I was growing up. It might have helped me feel more positive about being Asian during those critical self esteem development years.

I was born in Vietnam and adopted into a white Caucasian family during the early 70s. I have married a 3rd generation Australian Chinese man. I watched the film from a different angle to Joey – mine is that of “marrying into” a Chinese family. I could totally relate to the lead female role because I have been raised in white mentality because of my adoptive family and I had to learn the cultural and social ways in which authentic Asian families operate.

I related to feeling like the “invader” aka the “banana” (white on the inside, yellow on the out) entering into an authentic and traditional Chinese family, “taking away” the first born son from what he “should do” according to Asian family and cultural expectations. I struggled for the first few years of marriage to understand my mother-in-law and I certainly wasn’t familiar with the level of closeness and assumed “control” an Asian mother wants to have over her first born son. This was clearly demonstrated in Crazy Rich Asians.

I also understood the portrayal of the Asian family system where there are high levels of “respect” for the mother figures and the older generations. Compared to white caucasian family systems where we lock away our older generations into retirement homes, Asian families assume greater degrees of respect the older they age. The mothers in Asian families are also the matriarchs. Children fear losing their approval and there is definitely more expectations of the first son to anchor the family, take the lead, be financially committed/savvy and work hard. It was interesting how the Chinese father was portrayed as being a totally absent workaholic. This matches my perception of marrying into an Asian family where there are very clear traditional roles – the man is the provider and the wife’s role is to be the heart and soul of the family. She is to nurture and raise the children and keep the home. It took me some years to understand and embrace these cultural differences because I grew up with an adoptive mother who was the “career woman” and my adoptive father, the “work at home” parent.

In marrying into an Asian family, the struggle between each Asian generation to maintain traditions vs become modern and keep in touch with the rest of the world, is definitely a real dilemma. I see the benefits and viewpoints of each generation. Like one of the lines quoted during the film, “China builds things that last” (eg Great Wall of China) whereas white western mindset, as epitomised in America, thinks only of the here and now and is very much about prioritising what the individual wants. Chinese culture has a longitudinal group mentality that is very different from white society. I was raised in white mentality where we are taught to live for the moment and be independent. Upon marriage, one leaves the family unit and starts their own. In comparison, in Chinese families, ha hah .. I have learnt that when one marries in, we marry the WHOLE family – extended included! For me, marrying into an Asian family I constantly see the difference between the two cultures: white vs Asian; independence vs group. In Chinese families, it’s definitely the group that is prioritised over individual needs, whereas in white families, it’s about the individual leaving home as soon as possible and making your own path in life, fending for oneself.

There was one critical moment in the film that pulled on my adoptee heartstrings. The part where the female lead isolates herself in her friend’s room for days after devastating news – until her mother walks in to comfort her. My adoptee soul cried out at that scene for how much I would have loved my Asian mother be there for me, to comfort me during my hardest moments in life. That part of the film connected with my sadness that I didn’t have my Asian mother to mirror me or understand me inituitively, and provide me with wisdom. I have always missed having my Asian mother even though I have never met her! The film brought home the loss and sadness for my Asian mother buried deep within myself. As I age and watch my own children grow, I realise even more what I missed out on by not being raised within my Asian family.

I also loved how the film portrayed all the mother figures as “strong” Asian women. It was contrasted against the stereotype I received during my life, growing up in white Australia, receiving the message that Asian women are submissive, weak and in need of help/rescuing. Seeing Crazy Rich Asians during my young adulthood would have helped me overcome my “shame” of being an Asian female to understand that Asian mothers are actually like tigers – fierce, protective, assertive, not to be fooled around with and very loving of their children. It is such a contrast to what I got told about my mother that portrayed her as not being able to help herself or being in a shameful position.

Crazy Rich Asians enabled me to embrace my Asian mother in a more positive way. Through this film, I could visually imagine to some degree how my relationship with my Vietnamese mother might have been if we’d not been separated. I’m not referring to the material/economic wealth perspective but about the emotional connection and relationships that are obvious throughout the film.

The film ended beautifully and demonstrated on yet another layer just how much Asian mothers love their children. Too often as an adoptee I hear the typical response to those who have been adopted as, “She loved you so much she gave you up!” But it was nice to see on-screen the Asian mother who loved her child so much that she was able to find a way to overcome what looked like insurmountable difficulties.

Can’t wait to see the sequel! I wonder if we’ll see something about Asian fathers, who were notably absent in this film .. another parallel in intercountry adoption!

Stephanie’s Column, Filipino Intercountry Adoptee

My First Blog Post

I’m in the shuttle, sitting in the back seat with my headphones on listening to Krishna Das. It’s 6:49 a.m. and the sun is rising above the horizon. As the van turns to leave the bus barn near the mall, I can see the sky lightening. Pink, yellow, and purple, with low streams of clouds. The train passes by as we stop and turn left, soaring down the access road to the freeway. As I write, the sky transforms into dusty, baby blue and lavender. Green ponderosa pines pass my window as we make our way to the elementary school I work at.

My name is Stephanie and I’m a 32-year-old adoptee living in Northern Arizona. I was born in the Philippines in 1985 and relinquished to an orphanage at birth, where I was taken care of by Catholic nuns. My birth name was Desiree Maru but it changed to Stephanie Flood when I was adopted at the age of two. 

I’m starting this regular column, Stephanie’s Column, Filipino Intercountry Adoptee because I want to start voicing myself as a past orphan, adult adoptee, and a woman who carries past traumatic wounds no matter where I go. As I heal, I write in hopes to raise awareness on critical subjects and bring new dialogue to a space where many can’t tread unless they’ve been there.

I’m here to fill this space with needed perspective. With humanity. My humanity. So overall this blog will contain my whereabouts, thoughts, actions, insights, memories of my past and hopes of my unseen future.

I think it’ll be an adventure having this column.

I am writing this first entry on my way to a school out in Leupp, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation. I work at a school library as a library media assistant/librarian and I run the library by myself. This school is about 45 minutes from Flagstaff where I’ve been living for the past ten years, attending college at Northern Arizona University and now I’m an online student with San Jose State University studying Library and Information Science.

The atmosphere in the van today feels thick with tension.

I always have music playing in my ears on these shuttles to work and back in an attempt to make these daily trips a pleasant, contemplative voyage.

There is so much gorgeous scenery that passes by.

Land you can’t fully fathom unless you’re here and you have a reason to traverse this well-preserved part of the world.

Rolling hills in the distance. Once we hit Leupp Road, the ponderosas change into thickets of juniper pines that are as large as trees. They’re these bristly, round, green pines that smell so sweet. You can burn the dead branches for incense or prayers, and they make good kindling for wood stove fires.

Now the light is awake. It’s golden and raw, raking the Earth, sweeping over this high desert landscape with honesty. Finally, it is warmer in the vehicle. I can take my sweatshirt off since I have a sweater underneath. It’s been cold in the mornings in Flagstaff, especially at 5:30 a.m. when I wake up.

The land looks so beautiful when it’s aflame with sunrise.

As we drive, I can hear the teachers in the front get louder but I focus on the music blaring in my ears. The light glares in my eyes. I keep writing. I breathe and focus on my breathing, because what I’ve come to recognize is that I get anxious easily, especially around hostile or fast changing environments. 

At this school, the students can suddenly be aggressive with each other without warning. I’ve been yelled at by two teachers while I’ve been just doing my job too since I’d been hired here in August. To keep my composure here and my job, I keep my distance. I enforce strict, professional boundaries because I work better in positive, enforcing environments.

I like uninterrupted, positive and focused work flow too.

Although here at this elementary school, it’s like I’m at times bulldozing unseen walls just to do the work needed at this school library.

I fight to keep focused on the library’s needs and the Navajo children, as I’m pulled with other requests and stresses. As this library is grossly under national standards, every day is a fight to keep what I care about afloat.

I pass three crows sitting on a wire fence.

Tiny, little houses sparsely speckle the open, wild but barren landscape that spreads out for miles out here.

Hogans. Grassland. Trailers. Open range.

In the distance there are mesas now and the horizon is shrouded in blue hues. The junipers are gone. Groups of cows pass by. Then more open land.

I can hear the teachers in the front of the van raise their voices again. They get louder. I look down at my necklace that I’m wearing.

It’s the Tree of Life hanging on my pendant from a red, leather band.

I wore it this morning to remind myself of my own values that I’ve cultivated since I was young, growing up in Wisconsin, mostly on my own since my other adopted older brother had severe post-traumatic issues and my parents were often working. Since childhood, I’ve cultivated my own value system that has been rooted in personal growth and spiritual philosophies.

Faith was my support system. Although this faith has changed over time.

It now appears like we’re looming closer to the school.

I secretly fear the secretary here but I know it’s mostly all in my head.

I realize, I am at times prone to a casual victim mentality—having grown up accustomed to being so extremely affected by my external environment and not having enough resources to support me as an adoptee.

Now an adult, I’m understanding the issues that had arisen from my extreme upbringing. And, I see that it is more important than ever to break away from certain bad patterns that have prevented me from moving on, and reinforce my obstacles into opportunities to learn and change for the better.

I go to the morning meeting circle and it looks like Peta is bothered by something. She is in 2nd grade and very quiet. She chooses to stand next to me for a bit.

I ask her a few questions while everyone is gathering:

What animal is that on your shirt?

An elephant.

What did you do this weekend?

Mumbled something.

I like your glitter nail polish.

And still, there is trouble in her eyes.

Peta has shiny almond brown eyes and dark silky hair. She is a soft talker like me and lately she’s shown other aspects that remind me of me. She likes being helpful in the library and often asks to assist me. I see that she does fit in, but at times, she doesn’t due to her offbeat behavior, like me.

Peta is standing next to me as the circle started to congregate.

A girl walks up to her, one of her peers, Taima, another 2nd grader in her class who is often really confident, happy and social.

Taima stands boldly in front of Peta. She stares directly in Peta’s eyes, and they gaze at each other silently, face to face, like quiet warriors.

Taima asks what is wrong.

Peta stares back at her unflinchingly and doesn’t respond.

Taima looks up at me, questioningly.

She’s thinking, I say to Taima.

Taima walks away, and later, Peta goes to her class. For a few minutes, I wonder about Peta and all of these children on the Navajo Reservation.

In the school library, I have melodic music playing on Pandora at my desk computer. It eases my deep, mysterious soul and the feelings of isolation out here since I’m not friends with anyone at work either.

At my desk, I have a sticky pad of call numbers and book titles about adoption.

I also just wrote:

NOVEMBER

National Adoption Awareness Month

on the dry erase board in green marker that is in front of room.

On this particular day, I had started collecting adoption books from this library and other district libraries, displaying them at the dry erase board.

This is a step for me to start including new and diverse perspectives to this school library. I had originally imagined adoption in the Navajo community too but mainly, this was a step for me to start bringing myself out a little more.

Adoption is not just people and family members, I had told the students when I introduced these books on check-out day the next day.

You can adopt creeks, nature, animals, dogs, even hamsters!

Who Am I?

For many of us adoption is a cross we must bear alone. The deep pangs of loneliness, emptiness and sorrow lingers – even amongst the perfect backdrop of life filled with success and wealth. Even in a crowd, I can still be alone.

Who am I is not a question but rather a reoccurring nightmare that haunts me on a daily basis. No matter where I run. No matter how I hide. No matter what I do. It still remains. No matter how I change .. it has a way of finding me. It reminds me that I do not fit in. It casts shadows of self-doubt. It also fills me with shame.

I am that odd jigsaw puzzle that was placed in the wrong box. I am misplaced. Misshaped. I do not belong to the world that I was forced into and a foreigner to the world I seek to find. People call it my home land but it doesn’t feel like home to me. Strangers look at me as oddly as the place were I was raised. I look like them but looks are not everything.

They know I am different. Different language. Different mannerisms. Different smells. They know I am .. unlike them. As I pass through their space, it’s as though I am wearing a scarlet letter. During my childhood that letter is in the shape of my almond eyes, yellow complexion, and shiny black hair. I am reminded of the shame of who I am each time I stare at my own reflection. A shame for being different. Like I said. Who am I? Who am I? WHO AM I!

No Mother, No Child

Rarely do we hear or see intercountry adoption from our biological family point of view but without our mothers, there would be no us! Adult intercountry adoptees are gradually becoming aware of how we can collaborate with our biological families and encourage them to become more visible.

I would like to introduce you to one such adoptee, Yennifer Villa who was adopted to Germany and born in Colombia. She is about to fly to her birth country where she will undertake a 6-9 month project entitled No Mother, No Child to capture mothers and their stories of relinquishment via the art of photography. She plans to showcase the end result of her work as a pop up photo exhibition to be held in Cologne (and possibly throughout Europe) towards the end of next year.

Yennifer is currently 29 years old and was adopted at approximately 2 years of age. Her age is estimated because she does not have official birth information about herself. From some paperwork provided through the German consulate and orphanage in Colombia, it appears she may have been with her mother for the first 3 months of life until she was placed in her orphanage. At some point, her mother’s visits stopped and Yennifer has never known why her mother never returned.

Intercountry adopted and raised in a small German town with an adoptive family who never talked about adoption to “try and make things easier”, Yennifer grew up hearing a comment said about her biological mother – “she was probably a drug addict and now dead”.

What a harsh reality for a young adopted person to have to grapple with! I can relate to the damage this has on our psyche growing up for I was told a similar thing about my biological mother – “she was probably a prostitute”.

As adults now, Yennifer and I know our adoptive parents didn’t tell us things like this about our mothers to be mean – it was the propaganda adoption agencies/lawyers/governments told to justify not knowing the nuances of why we were needing to be adopted.

Understanding the good intentions of her adoptive family and not wanting to be rude or disrespectful, Yennifer feels compelled to see for herself the truths of mothers in Colombia. She suspects mother’s stories are more complex and nuanced and via her project, aims to open the door to a greater understanding of why mothers in Colombia give up their children.

Yennifer is currently studying Sustainability & Design at Akademie für Gestaltung (Academy for Design) and it is through this, that the funding she collects will enable her to complete her project. She has not travelled to Colombia since being adopted to Germany as an infant so this trip will be momentous and memorable. Yennifer has peer adoptee contacts who will support her during her year in Colombia taking time to locate the mothers, spend time with them, and photograph them after learning about their experiences. Yennifer has been planning this project No Mother, No Child for the past 2 years and is feeling very positive and excited. The importance of her project is to change the narrative of “she was just a drug addict” to bring the realities and nuances of each mother who has had to relinquish to light via her photography.

This is not the first adoption project Yennifer has been involved with. Decoding Origins, the first Colombian anthology of adult adoptees was completed last year and Yennifer utilised her art skills as the lead graphic designer for the book’s website. Proceeds from the sale of the book have been collected to fund DNA test kits for Colombian biological families, some of which Yennifer is taking with her for distribution to mothers who contribute to her photography project.

Read my review of Decoding Origins.

Yennifer flies to Colombia on 10 November this year. Her goal is to raise $5.500EUR to provide funding for her equipment, travel and living expenses. She is ready to go and has a vision of what the photos might be but wants to meet the mothers, talk with them, engage them, and allow them to contribute to define the project so that it is truly about them.

We look forward to seeing some of Yennifer’s work on this project in the next year and hope it inspires other intercountry adoptees to consider how we might collaborate with our biological families and encourage them to become more visible in the intercountry adoption arena.

Trauma of Transition for Older Aged Adoptees

I hear from more and more adult intercountry adoptees, adopted at older ages, about some of their traumatic experiences in transition from their homeland to their adoptive country. I acknowledge this is not the only layer of trauma we experience in our adoption or relinquishment and that transition for younger age adoptees can be just as traumatic. The key difference for younger aged adoptees is they may grow up not being able to verbalise the experience due to a lack of language development at the time of transition.

I question why adoption agencies and governments are not putting more resources into ensuring these major transitions are done better, especially considering it is older age adoptions that are the majority of intercountry adoptions done today around the world.

Children who are older aged and have language skills need to be given clearer understandings of what being adopted to another country and family means, apart from the “heaps of toys and food” examples that are the obvious material benefits.  Perhaps the orphanages themselves have little idea of the impacts and complications experienced in intercountry adoption, so how would they know to better prepare children emotionally? Sending and receiving governments who licence adoption agencies to facilitate adoptions should hold the responsibility to better prepare children and lessen the trauma of transition!

Some suggestions:

  • Adoptive parents could be required to visit the orphanage and the child in it’s birth country more times, before the child is flown overseas. Have some experiences to bond and connect together in the child’s country before being flown out.
  • Adoptive parents could be required to live for x months in the town of the child after the adoption before bringing the child home to ensure not too many changes are occuring at once and to allow the child some continuity to stay in contact with the other children or carers from the orphanage. The parents would then get to know the other children who were of importance to their newly adopted child.
  • A carer of the child, someone the child knows and trusts, could travel with the child and remain with the family for the first few months to lessen the trauma. This would help the orphanage staff become more aware of the realities of the transition for the child upon entering their new adopted country, and feedback into better preparing future children.
  • Education could be given to orphanages about the trauma the transition creates, from adult adoptees themselves.
  • Adoptive parents could be required to become fluent in the child’s language before receiving the child. This would ensure one element of the transition which can potentially create trauma due to not being able to communicate, doesn’t unnecessarily add to the overall whole of being an overwhelming experience.
  • Both sending and receiving governments could listen to adult intercountry adoptees more about the experience of transition and learn from our views.
  • The child could be assessed psychologically, from an emotional well-being point of view, to establish how additional trauma of transition and uprooting them from everything they know, might impact them – and then develop a plan with a timeframe that is reasonable for the child’s well being.

Isn’t adoption supposed to be in the ‘interests of the child’? We need to move towards a model of incorporating a ‘whole journey’ view about the interests of the child who grows up – not just the immediate life or death survival extremist position that seems to justify intercountry adoption and how it is still conducted today.

I want to share Jayme’s experience to highlight my points above.  Jayme is a Korean intercountry adoptee, raised in the USA from the age of 4.5 years old. His experience tells us just how strong the memories and trauma is of his transition from Korea to the USA.

I did previously share another from Thai adoptee Min and she briefly mentioned the trauma she remembered in her transition.

I hope in sharing these experiences, it will serve to remind us of how intercountry adoption is experienced by the child. We do grow up and our experiences need to be acknowledged. Intercountry adoption policy and processes by governments and agencies around the world would do well to ensure better outcomes for those who follow by learning from us who live it.

Search and Reunion for Intercountry Adoptees

I was recently contacted by a researcher who wanted to know if we could share our experiences of how searching and reunification impacts us. I decided it was a good reason to put together a long overdue Perspective Paper.

I didn’t realise this paper would end up being a book as it includes over 40 intercountry adoptees, contributing 100 pages!

Questions asked to stimulate the kind of responses I was seeking were:

  • What country of origin are you from? What country of origin were you adopted to and at what age?
  • What do you think it was that made you search? Was it something you always wanted to do or did you reach a point in your life that instigated the desire?  What were your expectations?
  • How did you go about conducting your search? What resources did you utilise?  What obstacles did you encounter?
  • What outcome did you have? What impact has that had upon you? How has that impacted your relationship with your adoptive family?
  • What has the experience been like of maintaining a relationship with your biological family?  What obstacles have you encountered? What has been useful in navigating this part of your life?
  • How have you integrated your search and/or reunion in your sense of who you are? Has it changed anything? In what ways?
  • What could be done by professionals, governments and agencies to help assist in Search & Reunions for intercountry adoptees like yourself?

These questions were guidelines only and adoptees were encouraged to provide any further insight to the topic.

All types of outcomes were included, whether searches were successful or not.

This resource will provide adoptees with a wide range of perspectives to consider when contemplating the issues involved in searching for original family. The paper will also provide the wider public and those involved in intercountry adoption a deeper understanding of how an adoptee experiences the search. Governments, agencies, and professional search organisations have direct feedback on what they can do to improve the process for intercountry adoptees.

Search & Reunion: Impacts & Outcomes Perspective Paper

What Questions are Normal?

Is it Normal to Question when we have a Positive experience of Adoption?

I interviewed Fiona for a couple of reasons, the first being I have been connected to Fiona for many years because she and I ended up being adopted into families with the same surname that isn’t a common last name. Naturally I had a curiosity about her life and her experience because as adoptees we are aware of how easily we could have been adopted into a totally different family, country, culture, life than what we otherwise have had. As an adoptee and the older I get, the more I see it for what it is – a random lottery whereby an adoption agency or facilitator had the power to allocate us to whichever family had been successful when they submitted a request to adopt.

Secondly, I knew Fiona had been adopted from Hong Kong and I haven’t had many adoptees share on our website who’s origins were from Hong Kong (apart from my previous post on Lucy Sheen). Thirdly, Fiona is seemingly “well adjusted and happy” in her adopted land and family but one point I’d like to highlight from Fiona’s experience was pretty much summed up in her own words – when we spoke, she asked “Is it normal for an adoptee at my age to wonder about my origins?” My answer was “absolutely!” We adoptees seem to always get to some point in our lives where we have a natural curiosity for where we came from and who we were born to. It could be as early as 6 or 7, in our teenage years, in our mid 20s when we are busy establishing ourselves and forming our own identity outside our immediate families, and sometimes even later in our 30s, 40s or beyond. Sometimes the birth of our first child, or the birth of a child to someone close to us like a brother or sister – this event can trigger our curiosity and feelings that may have laid buried up until then.

Many adoptees like Fiona who have lived what they term “a pretty good life” get a bit shocked to have this rude “awakening” especially when they’ve had wonderfully supportive adoptive families and almost feel like they’ve been a bit “disloyal” or ungrateful for their “wonderful life”.

I’d like to suggest that it is completely natural to wonder at some and many points in our life about our origins and the questions of why, who, how, and when we were given up.

Thank you Fiona for sharing your experience with us!  Read Fiona’s story here.

Experiences of Adoption are all Different but Share much

A friend, who is a Korean adoptee, recently shared her experience of life which she is happy to post. When I talk to intercountry adoptees there are always so many elements that we share and can relate to – yet each journey is so individually different.  I’m priviledged to meet and talk to many intercountry adoptees who share with me their  ups and downs and in-betweens. What is incredible is how much we have in common despite being adopted into different countries, different families, different cultures, and originating from different continents.

Here is our latest Korean adoptee story to share with you.