Being Illegally Adopted and a Forced Reunion

Most people assume that our adoptions are all legal and legitimate. Most people assume that adoptees want to meet their first mothers. Aimee’s story highlights the harsh reality that not all adoptions are legal and that media involvement is not always helpful or kind to the adoptee who may not even want, nor be ready, to reunite.

The worst part of Aimee’s story which isn’t shared in this video, is that even though the Taiwanese government prosecuted the traffickers responsible for her illegal adoption, to date, nothing has been offered by either the Taiwanese nor Australian governments to help Aimee in any specific way in dealing with the ongoing impacts of being illegally adopted. There is a whole cohort of Taiwanese adoptees in Australia with Aimee who were a result of the Julie Chu trafficking ring in Taiwan that was prosecuted. No-one has followed up on these adoptees to check on them, to let them know of how their adoption came about, nor to make any specific supports be made known to them.

How is it ethical that Australia and Taiwan still be allowed to continue to facilitate intercountry adoptions today, without any recognition of the past wrongs nor an attempt to address the impacts on these victims? THIS is intercountry adoption with a complete lack of duty of care to the person impacted most, in the worst case scenario.

Click on Aimee’s picture to listen to her share.

Aimee

Resources

Lived Experience of Illegal and Illicit Adoption webinar which includes another of the Taiwanese trafficked adoptees, Kimbra Butterworth-Smith

Does Justice and Accountability Happen in Illegal Adoptions?

The Lived Experience of Illegal Intercountry Adoption

Voices Against Illegal Adoptions Speak at the United Nations

ICAVs Perspective Paper: Lived Experience Suggestions for Responses to Illegal and Illicit Adoptions in French & English

Governments Finally Recognising Illicit and Illegal Adoption Practices

Search and Reunion in Intercountry Adoption

Search & Reunion: Impacts & Outcomes

In 2016, ICAV compiled a world’s first resource of our lived experience voices sharing the ups and downs of searching and reunions, specific to intercountry adoption. No such resource existed like this before and yet, as adoptees, one of our hugest challenges across our lifespan, is contemplating if we want to search, what’s involved, and figuring out how to go about it. I wanted to provide a way to address these questions so I asked ICAV adoptees to share their experiences, focusing on lessons learnt after looking back in hindsight. I also asked them to share what could be done by authorities and organisations to better support us in our search and reunion process. I published our perspective paper in english and french and it ended up being a 101 page paper (book) covering the experiences of adoptees from 14 birth countries, adopted to 10 adoptive countries.

Given one of the core topics for discussion at the recent Hague Special Commission is Post Adoption Support, I felt that it was timely to re-share our paper and provide a summary of what it captures for those who don’t have time to read the 101 pages and for the benefit of Central Authorities and Post Adoption organisations to learn from our experiences.

Summary of key themes from ‘Search and Reunion: Impacts and Outcomes’ by InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) 2016

Issues and challenges faced using tracing services:

  • The need for specialised counselling is a recurring theme throughout most stories, particularly to prepare adoptees for the first meeting, delivered from someone who understood and specialises in intercountry adoption
  • Searches are often conducted through social network sites that can leave adoptees can vulnerable and not properly supported to engage with birth families
  • Privacy issues and barriers
  • The need for access to birth records to help with birth reconnection
  • Several cases mentioned issues with passport and visas
  • Adoption agency would not disclose identifying information about their birth family due to privacy
  • Transparency of services and where to access them
  • Assumption that birth records are accurate, despite corruption
  • The sense of ‘rebuilding your history’
  • Challenging to maintain a relationship with birth family due to language and cultural barriers
  • Need more standardised laws  and processes for adoption agencies to follow when adoptees are seeking their information
  • Laws passed to allow adoptees access to their files
  • More support is needed for adoptees in counselling, and translation when searching
  • Facilitated counselling service that assisted with the search and reunion process from beginning to end
  • Listing of adoptees as mentors who have been through the process
  • Stories of adoptee searches and their reconciliation of those searches would provide emotional support to other adoptees thinking of beginning their own search

Suggestions for improved support for adult adoptees when searching for birth families:

  • Documentation is the key and open adoption is the best way to lend support
  • The need for interactive support groups and to know where to find them
  • A comprehensive education for adoptive parents to help them manage the lifelong issues for adoptees, and affordable counselling for all parties in the adoption process, and particularly to have access to this support regardless of the stage of the adoption process
  • Having a social worker ‘check in’ on people who are adopted throughout their lives
  • Maintenance of a database to allow the search to be conducted with access into other databases such as births, adoptions, deaths and marriages in each country
  • Some adoptees want adoptive families to have mandatory training that helps them manage adoptee issues up to the age of 18 – education in language, culture history, the importance of having all the documents, the value in making regular visits together to the country of origin
  • Include adoptee DNA testing done, Y or N on the adoption file

Key quotations from adoptees about their experience of reunification:

“Adoption is a life long journey and even to this day I have fresh revelations of my adoption. The “general” impact has been one of profound empowerment which arose from great anguish.”

“Although I had a session with a very good psychologist before my reunion, I still feel there was so much more I should have been made aware of. I wish I had been directed to other adoptees willing to share their experience of their reunion with tips, advice and support.”

“It was devastating for me to realise my birth family are basically strangers and if I wanted a relationship with them, I would have to sacrifice the life I built after they rejected me and re-alter the identity I have struggled to develop, just to fit into their expectations.”

“The biggest obstacles for search and reunion in my experience have included:

Being a ‘tourist’ in my country of birth. I found it surprisingly confronting and difficult to have people of the same nationality assume I was one of them and then having to explain my adopted situation.

Post reunion i.e., working through the consequences of opening the door to the past – it is irreversible! I should have been better prepared and better supported for the post reunion aspects and consequences.”

“It took many years to properly come to terms and to get my head around my adoption after reunion. It has undoubtedly affected my identity and the course of my life for the best. My adoption has become something I have grown to appreciate and evolve with. Learning my life should have ended before I was even born, has made me incredibly grateful and motivated to do something with my life.”

“Primal wounding when separated from mothers is exacerbated by the mystery of unanswered questions.”

To read the full ICAV Perspective Paper: Search & Reunion – Impacts & Outcomes in English or French, see our collection of Perspective Papers.

What Happens After Reunion?

by Matthew Pellegrino, adopted from South Korea to the USA, composer, musician, oboist. You can follow Matthew at Youtube or Instagram @compotatoser.

My omma and I over the years at the place where we first met. We come back here every time.

If an adoptee birth search was a fairy-tale, then reunion would be the “happily ever after.” As far as adoptee birth searches go, I’m statistically very lucky. Probably less than 5% (and that’s a high estimate) of all adoption birth searches have a result as positive as mine. I’ve been reunited with my family for a full 3 years now and sometimes if I think about that for too long, it’s completely mind boggling because it still feels like just yesterday that I was seeing my mother’s face for the first time.

Adoption is a complex, multi-faceted experience. It extends so much further and so much deeper than just “you were adopted.” The number of people affected by adoption is not just limited to the adoptee. There’s the birth mother, the families, generations of relatives, and society outside of the family. In my case, it’s a silent pain that my mother had to keep to herself for 24 years, my grandmother who knew I had been sent away and cried every time she saw a story about family reunions on the news, my aunt who wept after meeting me because she “should have been there to take care of me.” It’s also all the hardships we have yet to face together after reuniting. How do we overcome a language barrier and manage the pressures and expectations of learning to communicate with one another? How do we navigate our cultural differences in the face of the shame we feel? And how to we try to move forward knowing that this relationship has been forged and will continue to evolve for the rest of our lives?

Grandma at the head of the table, as she should be. She’s definitely in charge.

This is my story, so I feel it’s my responsibility to present it candidly. Not just the beautiful, “happy ending,” but also the complicated, messy and at times painful “ever after” of reunion — learning to be mother and son, learning to be family, after 20+ years apart. It isn’t easy, it’s a lot of work, but at the end of the day I am very lucky.

Check out the recent Transracial Adoption Story told through music and dance, which Matthew composed the music for, titled Dear Mother:

English
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