Between 24 December 2020 and 1 January 2021, a total of 6 adoptees from Europe took their own lives, a Black Week in Europe for adoptees. The number of unreported cases is definitely higher. All could not clarify their origins, their pain was too strong, and they found no other way to make the pain bearable.
It is so infinitely sad, aching and unbearable to hear about it. I have been working with adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents for 10 years now and have given lectures on the subject. I also quite happily avoid the subject of how close adoptees are to death, although I know better.
How many times in the past few years have I heard that adoptees should be glad they were saved. In the last few months a little girl made me realise how important it is to work with adoptees, foster children and the system around them. On the outside everything looks so simple. The child has new parents and “is good“.
The pain of children is not permitted by the outside world for a lifetime. The grief for their first “mother” lasts a lifetime. Children who know their new mom cannot understand their pain. My little son explained it well yesterday. These children have an “emptiness in their hearts and even though they laugh, they are always sad”.
There is still a lot of educational work to be done with traumatised adoptees and foster children. Prevention work and post adoption services are the most important features for me!
If I had one wish, I would wish that every adoptee could clarify their origins and that no obstacles were put in their way. The adoption papers would be complete and the adoptive parents would always offer support in everything.
I am so infinitely sad that these 6 found no other way out and I just hope so much that adoptees, adoptive parents or other people close to adoptees, seek help and support at an early stage.
We adoptees can uphold this issue within our groups. The “dearest” in life was taken from us and anyone who does not understand how we miss our first mother, need a little more understanding of the desire of those who have been adopted.
We cannot prevent the adoptees from making their decisions. They planned it. It was their own decision, with the hope that their situation would be tolerable.
I know a German adoptee who took his own life at Christmas a few years ago. We were told that he died and no matter where it was told, everyone his age knew he had committed suicide. Everyone knew about his situation but no one could help because they didn’t know how.
I am so proud of the members in my groups. We exchange ideas, learn to talk about their own adoption, and support one another. In the last months of 2020, I felt a really nice togetherness in the group. Sensitive and careful! The online meetings went the same way. I would like to keep and maintain that.
Dear fellow adoptees, you are strong and brave people. I’m looking forward to the next meeting that we can spend together.
by Michelle Y. K. Piper adopted from Sth Korea to Australia.
Two years today, they told me you were dead.
15 years from the day I turned 18 until the day I officially began that dreaded, infuriating, dehumanising, grievous process of trying to trace you; 15 years of constant internal conflict, a fierce war raging within.
Remain loyal to the family, society, culture, and country I had been relinquished to; remain obedient to the process of forced assimilation, never questioning or asking why? (at least never out loud) and ALWAYS “grateful” for the privilege to be alive and living in one of the greatest countries in the world (Australia); continue to ignore the ever-deepening awareness of agonising turmoil and grief consuming my soul borne from the empty, rootlessness of my erased past.
Or… Face what I have always so desperately avoided.
Questions… All those questions. So many, many questions. Impossible to voice out loud even to myself in secrecy and solitude, yet impossible silence within the confined walls of my Psyche.
15 years to amass enough courage to search for you; I searched, and a year later I received “the call”. A call I’d been on constant edge waiting for, a year of repeatedly checking my emails and phone. It came from a stranger in a government office, who had only just been transferred to my case. A transfer I was neither asked nor informed about.
On the 2nd January 2019, a strange, unfamiliar voice explained who she was and why she was calling. You were dead. You died exactly 2 months after my 23rd Birthday. You died on the 6th July 2009. 2009, I was 10 years too late. My father could not or did not want to be found. That was it.
For over 30 years, being adopted meant nothing, or at least I told myself it meant nothing. Just a word to explain away the inevitable whispers of confusion when people crossed us. “Did they just call her mum?”, “Maybe the dad is Asian…? They don’t look like half/half’s though.” I was used to these comments, my entire life’s been layered with racism, some out of ignorance, some without doubt intentional. But being adopted was not something to be dwelled upon, simply a fact; accepted and acknowledged only when unavoidable. But unavoidable became impossible.
That call, that damn call; no matter how fiercely I fought back would demolish the foundations of every wall I had established; a myriad of walls forming the incomprehensible and impenetrable maze of protection I had completely encompassed and lost myself within.
15 Years to find the courage to look for you, but a lifetime of wondering….
Was I ever in your thoughts? Did you ever think of me? On the day of my birth? When that inevitable date once again came full circle, a date that would forever mark each year we have spent apart. Another year gone; another year of life missed. Another year of what has been a lifetime of separation. Did you think of me at Christmas? At times of family, cultural and traditional celebrations, when milestones should have been reached. When recipes, secrets, and the stories of our ancestors should have passed from Mother to Daughter. Did you ever wonder as I do now if or how much we look and are alike?
Did the same irrevocable, emptiness, loneliness, grief, and self-loathing consume you as it has me? …..Did I mean anything to you?
Did you, on the day you gave birth simply walk away and never look back? Erasing every memory, every moment, every emotion. Erasing me. Did you reject me from the moment we ceased to be one, refusing to acknowledge the life you had so painfully bore into this world? Did you even once, hold me in your arms? Was my existence always a disgrace? A corruption in the flow and purity of bloodlines. The product of the worst kind of offence one can commit against a culture and people whose social, ethical, political and legal systems are fundamentally embedded in the principles of Confucianism. Was I always perceived as an abomination? An ignominy, an abhorrent consequence of defying what is so vehemently indoctrinated in our people from birth, so fiercely prized and expected from each child from every generation. Obedience. Respect. Respect of your elder’s and absolute obedience in following directives. Know your place, in family, home, and society, in culture and country. Fail to comply; step outside the social norms and be condemned to a life forever tainted by shame, rejection, and dishonour.
Or, on the day you gave birth did your gaze fall upon me, desperate to memorise every detail that time would allow? Did your arms find me, enfolding me close, tightening your embrace? Did you memorise my scent, that beautiful, sweet baby scent while your mind commenced an onslaught; vivid recollections of the 9 months passed? The pain, terror, love, bewilderment, and confusion. The internal struggle of a decision impossible to make yet impossible to disregard. Did your mind force upon you the memories of my first movements you felt within? Undeniable proof of the life growing inside? Did you remember all the times you found yourself cursing me for the morning sickness, or when it became impossible to move around freely?
Did you recall all the times you had spoken to me, and soothed me? Patting your stomach and smiling with happiness and contentment when my restlessness ceased at the sound of your voice? Did you recall all the one-sided conversations you had with me, admonishing me for your weight gain, bloated ankles, constant need to pee, and general discomfort? Did you remember thinking none of those things mattered when you finally beheld the face of your newly born daughter in front of you? Did you remember and retain these precious moments with as much desperation as I did the day my daughter was born? Did I remain an only child? Or were there future children that were deemed “worthy” to keep?
You left endless questions with no definitive answers, not even in death. The agency who sold me insist you are dead, while the government itself cannot seem to confirm this.
What am I meant to do with that? Please 어머니, tell me.
Do I hold onto hope that somehow you are still alive..? Cling desperately to the childish, naïve dream that MAYBE, just maybe, you are? That maybe you’re not dead, but looking for me, maybe I was one of those children never willingly relinquished. Or take the word of the agency who trafficked me, sent me overseas and accept you are gone?
Will it ever be possible to heal if I tell myself you’re dead? How am I supposed to mourn you? How does one weep for a face it cannot remember? How do I release myself of someone who, no matter how much time and distance was placed between us, is still everything I am, yet everything I don’t know? How can I be free when your faceless form haunts my dreams? When each day I am struck by a renewed wave of painful understanding of all that has been stolen. All that’s been lost. For all that has been erased. For my parents who will forever remain faceless strangers, parents I will never have the opportunity to know or meet. For the brothers and sisters I will never know. For the Aunty and Uncles, the cousin’s, and grandparents. For the history of my people, I remained so ignorant towards until now; for the heart-breaking and brutal history of our country; still at war after 70 years, divided, literally torn in two, poisoned by political corruption, military coups, and slavery. Of trafficked children, The Forgotten Generation; a generation who fought, died and rebuilt our country, now languishing in poverty pushed to the fringes of society living in isolation and squalor, afraid to ask for help for fear of “burdening” the country they fought and died to protect. For the enslaved comfort women abused, raped, tortured, and murdered by the Japanese. For the Sewol Ferry Tragedy, which began to sink on the morning of the 16th April 2014, where 304 of the 476 passengers on board, 250 of them students perished; trapped on a sinking ferry, while the captain and crew escaped, telling the passengers on board to stay where they were. Obeying their elders (that prized attribute ingrained from birth), the students placed their trust in the orders given, they remained where they were, waiting to be rescued. A rescue that was never attempted, a rescue that never came. Parents, family, teachers, classmates and survivors alike hysterical, stranded on the shoreline, still receiving messages from the remaining students trapped inside that they were still alive in what was an almost completely submerged vessel. Parents helpless to do anything but watch as the last visible section of the ship sank in front of them. And then nothing. Silence, as the shock and magnitude of tragedy that had just unfolded before them set in. A moment of disbelieving silence before the blood curdling, guttural cries only a parent who has just lost their child can make. Footage later released, revealed to the world the last 20 minutes of some of the students trapped inside. The memories of which will haunt me forever, faces I won’t ever forget. Messages of love and apologies to loved ones, that still produce physical pain to hear.
To watch my people suffer, to die in the most horrifying ways, to feel the overwhelming outrage, and unbearable grief that has consumed our nation time and time again but to be unable to be there with them, to grieve with them; did you never consider how painful these moments would be? Did you ever imagine how much agony it would cause just to observe my native language? When everything appears, sounds and feels so natural, until you remember, none of it makes sense to you. You can’t decipher it. You don’t understand it. You can’t speak it. Did you ever consider just how high a price your baby girl would pay, for that “better” life you were so sure she was going to? If you, my own Mother could not find it in yourself to raise me, whether from the shame, dishonour, or just for being a “bastard” (YES, my adoption papers actually use this word!), if you feared for me, for the prejudice, discrimination, and stigma I would have endured had we remained together in Korea, how could you think that throwing me into a world of white where I was one of maybe 5 Asians for over 18yrs of my life would be to my benefit? Did you honestly think that those of the western world wouldn’t reject me? Debase me, use my status as a Korean adoptee against me in the most humiliating and degrading ways conceivable? If you; my own mother, my own family, my people and country viewed me as nothing more than a product for export, why would anyone else?
If you did in fact die in 2009, you died at the age of 46.
I’m aware you never looked for me, never once tried to find out where I was. And now you’re gone, (maybe), I don’t know. The fact that I don’t know enrages me, consumes me with a desperate hopelessness and despair. But, if you are gone… How could you leave and never say goodbye? How could you leave without ever reaching out, never once trying to find me? Didn’t you care how I was or where I ended up? How could you leave me with so many unanswered questions? No photo for me to remember you, to study your face, to memorise. No last parting words of wisdom or advice. No letter of explanation. Nothing. Just an endless, hollow silence.
And so, inside the now grown adult, still remains, the frightened, confused, rejected, abandoned little girl, who will never grow up. Who will never know why you didn’t want her, why you didn’t keep her? What it was it you saw in her that repulsed you so much you cast her aside and across the seas; keeping the existence of the baby girl you once bore so many years ago a shameful secret, you literally took with you to your grave.
Michelle has published other articles about her experience as a Korean intercountry adoptee at Korean Quarterly.
Note: ICAV does not condone the use of illegal substances. This post is shared in the spirit of highlighting how everyone finds different pathways to healing and the depths of the trauma in relinquishment.
Annotating my immediate thoughts following that first psilocybin experience were purely to adhere to the same process developed for the clinical trials at John Hopkins. There were indeed things I experienced during that trip that were revelatory, and articulating those experiences on paper were an important part of the integration process.
I guess they were the proverbial shovel that unearthed some deep truths that, had I not written them down, could have easily lost their profundity over time. At that time though there was no intention for others read about my psychedelic experience, though I understand it may have use for others exploring treatment options for similar situations, so I write these additional thoughts bearing in mind others may read this also.
The period of months following the first trip were of immense contrast to life before that day. But as some years have now past, I can see that the level of contrast was relative to that particular point in time.
My first trip revealed pain, pain caused by separation, and how the weight of that pain created its own undertow of suffering for decades. Looking back over the years, and through discussion with health professionals, I can see thought patterns, behaviours and feelings going all the way back to my teenage years that exhibit signs of depression, post trauma stress, loneliness and grief.
Having these things revealed to me, was the first corner turned that gave me some clarity about my “issues”. When you first turn a corner, it’s when the contrast is so apparent because it’s still just behind you while the new line of sight reveals a different perspective. There is some relief in seeing a different viewpoint for the very first time.
I was under no illusions a shroom trip was to be the only silver bullet I needed. As a health professional of many years myself, I had no expectations further progress would be consistent and linear, despite this seemingly momentous kick start. I tried to apply some faith in the process of healing, and hoped that this corner turned was the first step in that process. I knew I had to be patient. I knew I had no choice but to be patient, but the choice to feel hope for the first time seemed like something I actually had a little control over for the first time.
Immensely helpful to that process was sharing this first experience with selected friends and family who showed curiosity, care and support. Decades of relationships with these people, watching the evolution of my life and its flaws unfold, was the perfect exposition that allowed them to comprehend the significance of a psychedelic ego death experience and proclamations.
However, contrasted to this was my adoptive mother. Having suffered the loss of her husband of fifty years to Alzheimer’s a few years earlier, and still what seemed to be living a life of mourning, I was still extremely disappointed and hurt by her lack of curiosity, open mindedness and sympathy. Perhaps my expectation was too optimistic for a grieving widow, lifelong Christian fundamentalist and conservative anti-drug pundit. Many attempted conversations to be open and share myself with her about my mental health and the efficacy of psychedelics generally resulted in silence or a perfunctory and benign remark such as, “Well, so long as it helped you and you are feeling better now.” Such trivial framing. It could well have been a remark in relation to having a headache and taking some Panadol.
This made me realise some hard truths about her. Yes, I have all the thanks and gratitude for the life she gave me. But now she has nothing more to give me, whether due to limited emotional and mental capacity, religious virtue, or simple lack of obligation. I have to accept that. She tells me she loves me as her son. But it feels like a sentimental love for someone that no longer exists. It was a fictitious person anyway. She never really knew me all those years before. Now she will never know me, damn it. She may still love me in her own way, but not the love you have with someone that comes from sharing one of life’s paths together where you will argue and fight, laugh and cry, or miss each other. My mother and I do not share any paths anymore. It really feels like a rejection. A second rejection by the second mother. My conversations with her now are as superficial as with the barista at the local coffee shop. If she asks me how I am, I don’t tell her the truth. She’s not interested. Talking through this with a psychologist, and unpacking my mother’s pre-adoption history, we deducted I was a sort of replacement child for a first birth child lost to post-partum complications. If you then throw in some fundamentalist religious framing, such as being rescued from a war-torn country was all God’s plan, then one can realise how de-validating this is and how it delayed unpacking and processing the whole adoption experience.
The following months since the first shroom trip sensitised me a lot more to emotional situations. My previous years of working in emergency health, had developed a capacity to disengage emotionally from difficult situations which was a common protective mechanism a lot of paramedics develop. But now, I saw and felt everything, particularly suffering and grief. Watching things like a woman on the news cry about the death of her child, or a soldier grimace in pain, struggling with rehab exercises became unwatchable for me. That genuine deep pain and anguish instantly connected me to the pain that now lived inside me. I started to feel sorry for the world and myself. I saw so much pain and suffering in the world. It seemed to be what the world was made of. I always found children beautiful and fascinating, but even now there was something sad about being around them. Maybe it was seeing them with their own parents. Seeing that connecting gaze they make with their mothers and it being returned in kind. That primal non-verbal connection and communication. Seeing loving mothers and children do this, crushes me inside.
For the first time I felt anger towards my birth mother and later my adoptive mother. Over the years there had been attempts to locate my birth mother through search programs and personal connections. I had watched plenty of documentaries on parents and children reuniting after many years of searching and often it was not a fairy tale ending. Intellectually I could empathise with a young desperate mother in a third world or war-torn country, giving up her child for adoption. But things were different now. I often thought how things would be if we found each other now, what sort of relationship would we have, or want to have. I know culture and family tradition usually dictate how a child parent relationship operates. But things are different now and would be different. I can almost feel the aggression inside me as I kick back against the expectations of a person and situation that may never come to pass. A future relationship would be on my terms, no one else’s. Certainly not someone who left me with nothing. But it’s all hypothetical. I’m older now, so she is probably dead anyway. I think I can let it go. But it will take time.
As for my adoptive mother, her indifference and judgements still stick in my neck every time we engage in polite and perfunctory conversation. I know the suffering she has gone through nursing her only life partner, my father, through the long goodbye, but that is the cycle of life. Her textbook life. She had everything I will never have. The life I will never have. For one who professes to live in the hope of religious promises and myths, it makes little sense to me the self-centred world view she now holds, the lack of joy in her life, and distancing from her own family.
I think I’ve always been a disciplined person when it comes to doing things I need to do. I knew things like exercise, sleep, eating well, all contribute to good mental health. Reading James Gordon’s “The Transformation: Healing Trauma to Become Whole Again” encouraged me to add meditation to my self-maintenance routine. Coupled with reading Sam Harris’s “Spirituality without Religion” I was able to approach meditation as a self-authoring and awareness tool without any useless religious or esoteric fillers. Here I discovered how to find the pleasure in just breathing. We breath constantly yet we never take notice of how this simple automatic function can just feel good at. Meditation also allowed me to descend deep back into the sub-conscious on numerous occasions like a mini-psychedelic trip. With the right breathing patterns and environment, I could reach that place and further explore the depths of my own consciousness. It often brought me more tears, and pain, and new insights about myself, but also allowed me to isolate my pain to a physically definable space. Prior to the shroom trip, it was diffuse, below the surface, always dragging me down. Like treading ocean waters with the black expanse just below your feet, waiting for you to weary and sink down into in the dark depths. Since then, with more meditation, it’s now much more apparent and explicit, like a heavy brick lodged in my chest whenever I recall the space that mediation or psychedelics allow me go to. It no longer grasps at me from below. It’s here with me now, carried close in my chest – heavy.
I continue to be patient. Putting faith in the healing powers of the body and mind. But things seem to take forever. It’s like being in a flight holding pattern. I know where I want to go but I can’t land so I keep circling, hoping the fuel doesn’t run out.
I started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu martial arts which proved to be a great source of distraction and mental therapy, plus it’s more therapeutic trying to strangle someone than talking to a psychologist about my feelings for an hour. Being so tired and sore after training means I collapse into sleep with utter exhaustion, with no energy for the mind to start stupid conversations with itself. But as my aching joints and limbs attest, age is starting to take its toll. It seems the body cannot always cash the cheques the mind wants to write.
Before the mushroom trip, my relief was the thought of having the control to end things whenever I chose to. Whether I did or not wasn’t the point, it was the feeling that I could. After the trip, I couldn’t locate that feeling. It felt like that capacity within me had gone. It seemed like a good thing at the time. But now some days I’m not so sure. Thinking I don’t have the capacity to free myself, means I’m trapped here. The one hope I had before, the idea that gave me relief, is gone. I’m in two minds some days about whether I regret the trip or not, as it took away the one hope I had that carried me through these last decades.
Would I do shrooms again or recommend them? Definitely. It gave me a diagnosis. It got to the core of my problem. But after a few years, I needed to re-evaluate my position. I needed a prognosis of the situation because it seemed things had stalled, or possibly regressed a bit from the contrast I first saw.
I planned another day for a psilocybin trip. But after twenty minutes of looking at the dried ground up dose on my kitchen bench, I couldn’t bring myself to do it again. Last time was so heartbreaking.
I had a small tab of LSD in the freezer, as I do, and decided to take half a tab and do some meditation. LSD has the same effect on the mind as psilocybin. I only took half as I didn’t want a heavy trip like last time. Just enough to shut down the default mode network and let me evaluate things.
I think I’d forgotten the concentration of the tabs as the effect came on the same as the mushrooms, stronger than I was prepared for. Perhaps the equivalent of about ¾ of the original dose. I could feel myself slipping into my own mind like before, not as deep, but enough to see myself.
This time, there was a house and I was sitting in it alone in the dark. There was no feeling of angst, urgency of escape. Only resignation. This house was me. A representation of myself and my life, but it was off kilter and unsafe. I had to build this house by myself with no help and without the right tools. I still managed to put something together that looked like a house. But I knew it was incomplete and had missing foundations. From a distance it appeared okay, but when I got up close and inside, I could see it wasn’t right. No one would want to stay here. It’s too late to tear everything down and start again.
What a disappointing prognosis. Perhaps I’ve been overestimating myself and expected too much too soon, so it’s back to business as usual. Keep doing the things the experts say I need to do. I have no choice really. I can suck it up for a while longer, even though it feels like I just want to go home. That’s how it feels now, like I’m waiting to get home wherever that is, this life or the next. I just want to go home. I can’t wait to go home.
The past 2 weeks it is as if we were on a roller coaster within the adoption community in which all the themes that have passed by in recent years were under a magnifying glass.
The loss of our fellow adoptees hit like a bomb, mainly because it touched parts of ourselves – because in the end, we have all lost a part of ourselves through relinquishment and adoption.
By accepting and acknowledging that we know death is something we usually stay away from, we need a hero and we have to become our own. Normally loss has no place, we only have an eye for surviving but when we recognise our loss, we also recognise the lost parts within us.
In the past week, we have experienced that we can no longer ignore death and we motivate each other to share and acknowledge our pain, fear and sorrow. By jointly expressing the wish that we want to remove the taboo about death and loss, a space has been created in which both sides of the adoption are starting to have a place.
We no longer just survive but also openly mourn and honour the lost parts within us. Let the tears we had as a child flow, and our child part is finally liberated.
And with this, the realisation is also born that we can embrace death and life because then fear disappears and we can live from love …
De afgelopen 2 week is het of we binnen het adoptieveld in een achtbaan zaten waarin alle thema’s die in de afgelopen jaren voorbij zijn gekomen onder een vergrootglas lagen.
Het verlies van onze mede geadopteerden sloeg in als een bom. Voornamelijk omdat deze delen van onszelf raakte. Want uiteindelijk hebben wij allen een stukje van onszelf verloren door afstand en adoptie.
Maar het accepteren en erkennen dat ook wij de dood kennen, is iets waarvan we wegblijven. We hadden een held nodig en we zijn onze eigen held geworden. Verlies had geen plaats we hadden alleen oog voor het winnen, overleven. Want als we ons verlies erkenden, erkende we ook de gestorven delen in ons.
De afgelopen week hebben we ervaren dat we er nu niet meer om heen kunnen en motiveren elkaar om onze pijn, angst en verdriet te delen, te erkennen. Door gezamenlijk de wens uit te spreken dat we het taboe er af willen halen, is er een ruimte ontstaan waarin beide zijdes van de adoptie medaille een plaats beginnen te krijgen.
Waar we niet meer alleen overleven maar ook openlijk rouwen en de gestorven delen in ons eren. De tranen die we als kind hadden, laten we stromen en ons kindsdeel wordt eindelijk bevrijd.
En hiermee is ook het besef geboren dat we de dood en het leven mogen omarmen. Want dan verdwijnt angst en kunnen we vanuit liefde verder leven…
by Erika Fonticoli, born in Colombia adopted to Italy.
What are brothers and sisters? For me, they are small or big allies of all or no battle. In the course of my life I realised that a brother or a sister can be the winning weapon against every obstacle that presents itself and, at the same time, that comforting closeness that we feel even when there is no battle to fight. A parent can do a lot for their children: give love, support, protection, but there are things we would never tell a parent. And… what about a brother? There are things in my life I’ve never been able to tell anyone, and although I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my sister since childhood, there’s nothing of me that she doesn’t know about.
At the worst moment of my life, when I was so hurt and I started to be afraid to trust the world, she was the hand I grabbed among a thousand others. We are two totally different people, maybe we have only playfulness and DNA in common, but she still remains the person from whom I feel more understood and supported. I love my adoptive parents, I love my friends, but she, she’s the other part of me. Sometimes we are convinced that the power of a relationship depends on the duration of it or the amount of experiences lived together. Yeah, well.. I did not share many moments with my sister, it was not an easy relationship ours, but every time I needed it she was always at my side. I didn’t have to say anything or ask for help, she heard it and ran to me.
And the brothers found as adults? Can we say that they are worth less? I was adopted at the age of 5, with my sister who was 7 yo. For 24 years I believed I had only one other version of myself, her. Then, during the search of my origins, I discovered that I had two other brothers, little younger than me. My first reaction was shock, confusion, denial. Emotion, surprise and joy followed. Finally, to these emotions were added bewilderment and fear of being rejected by them. After all, they didn’t even know we existed, my big sister and I were strangers for them. So… how could I possibly introduce myself? I asked myself that question at least a hundred times until, immersed in a rich soup of emotions, I decided to jump. I felt within myself the irrepressible need to know them, to see them, to speak to them. It was perhaps the most absurd thing I’ve ever experienced. “Hello, nice to meet you, I’m your sister!”, I wrote to them.
Thinking about it now makes me laugh, and yet at the time I thought it was such a nice way to know each other. My younger sister, just as I feared, rejected me, or perhaps rejected the idea of having two more sisters that she had never heard of. The first few months with her were terrible, hard and full of swinging emotions, driven both by her desire to have other sisters and by her distrust of believing that it was real. It wasn’t easy, for her I was a complete stranger and yet she had the inexplicable feeling of being tied to me, the feeling of wanting me in her life without even knowing who I was. She was rejecting me and yet she wasn’t be able to not look for me, she’d look at me like I was something to study, because she was shocked that she looked so much like someone else she had never seen for 23 years.
With my brother it was totally different, he called me “sister” right away. We talked incessantly from the start, sleepless nights to tell each other, discovering little by little to be two drops of water. He was my brother from the first moment. But how is possible? I don’t know. When I set off to meet them, headed to the other side of the world, it all seemed so crazy to me. I kept telling myself: “What if they don’t like me?”, and I wondered what it would feel like to find myself face to face with them. The answer? For me, it was not a knowing each other for the first time, it was a seeing them again. Like when you move away and you don’t see your family for a long time, then when you come home to see them again you feel moved and run to hug them. This was my first moment with them! A moment of tears, an endless embrace, followed by a quick return playful and affectionate as if life had never separated us even for a day.
So… are they worth less? Is my relationship with them less intense and authentic than that with my sister, with whom I grew up? No. I thought I had another half of me, now I feel like I have three. I see one of them every day, I constantly hear the other two for messages or video calls. There are things in my life that I can’t tell anyone, things that only my three brothers know, and in the hardest moments of my life now I have three hands that I would grab without thinking about it. I love my family, my adoptive parents and my biological mom, but my siblings are the part of my heart I couldn’t live without. Having them in my life fills me with joy, but having two of them so far from me digs a chasm inside me that often turns into a cry of lack and nostalgia. Tears behind which lie the desire to share with them all the years that have been taken from us, experiences and fraternal moments that I have lived with them for only twenty days in Colombia.
As I said earlier, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter the duration of a relationship nor the amount of experiences lived together but the quality… that said, even those rare moments to us seem a dream still unrealisable. In the most important and delicate periods of our lives we often feel overwhelmed by helplessness and the impossibility of supporting each other, because unfortunately a word of comfort is not always enough. We can write to each other, call each other, but nothing will ever replace the warmth of a hug when you feel that your heart is suffering.
In the most painful and traumatic phase of my younger sister’s life, when she started to be afraid of the world, when she thought she deserved only kicks and insults, when she thought she had no one, I wrote to her. I wrote to her every day, worried and sorrowful, and as much as I tried to pass on my love and closeness to her, I felt I couldn’t do enough. I felt helpless and useless, I felt that there was nothing I could do for her, because when I felt crushed by life it was my older sister’s embrace that made me feel protected. And that’s what my little sister wanted at that moment, a hug from me, something so small and simple that I couldn’t give it to her because the distance prevented me from do it. And neither could our brother because he also grew up far away, in another family. I didn’t know what to do, how I could help her, she was scared and hurt. I wanted her to come live with me, her and my little nephew, so I could take care of them and help them in the most difficult moment of their lives. I’ve been looking into it for months, search after search, and then finding out that despite the DNA test recognised that we’re sisters, the world didn’t.
Legally, we were still a complete strangers, just like when we first spoke.
I would like the law to give the possibility to siblings separated from adoption to be reunited if this is the desire of both, that the law allows us to enjoy those rights that only a familial bond offers. We didn’t decide to split up, it was chosen for us, but we don’t want to blame anyone for it. We just wish we had a chance to spend the rest of our lives as a family, a sentimental and legal family for all intents and purposes. It must not be an obligation for everyone, but an opportunity for those biological brothers whose bond has survived. A chance for us perfect strangers who, in spite of everything, call ourselves family. Maybe someone will find themselves in what I felt and I’m still feeling, maybe someone else won’t, but precisely because every story is different I think there should be a chance of a happy ending for everyone. Mine would be to have my brothers back.
I’m an intercountry adoptee born during the Vietnam War in the early 70s, adopted prior to the war ending, to a white Australian family who had their own biological children. My childhood adoption experience was one where I never really understood that I was impacted by being adopted – I absorbed the mantra of the era that I would just “assimilate and fit in” with my new country and family. I spent a lot of energy trying to do just that, but as I reached my teens, I started to become aware that things weren’t quite the same for me as for my Australian peers. I seemed to struggle more in relationships, I definitely felt alone all my life even amongst a so-called “loving adoptive family”. It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I became acutely aware of how much I had absorbed the racism towards my own ethnicity, my Asianness. It took me a decade to explore how being adopted impacted me and I grew through this journey because of the many other adoptees who I met online and face to face in the community I built up. It was the isolation of my childhood that drove me to create this community, that is now one of the largest intercountry adoptee networks around the world that includes adoptees of any birth country and it is this community, that enabled me to grow, learn and find my voice. Today, this network is one of the largest online communities that encourages adult intercountry adoptees to speak out at government level (nationally and internationally) and seek involvement with policy discussions.
Why be involved in policy discussions? And what is so important about being involved? Let’s first clarify what is meant by policy. Referring to Wikipedia’s content on “policy”, we consider it to be: a deliberate system of principles to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes; a statement of intent that assists in decision making; different to rules or law where policy guides actions towards the desired outcome whereas law compels or prohibits behaviours; should include looking at the alternatives and choosing among them on the basis of the impact they will have; and is about trying to maximise the intended effects while aiming to minimise the unintended effects.
When it comes to intercountry adoption and how it is conducted in each birth and adoptive country, we all know that regardless of being a signatory of The Hague Convention or the Childs Rights Convention, laws and policies vary from one country to another because of the ways in which intercountry adoption is understood and implemented, both in theory and in practice.
At the heart of all this, WE are the children who grow up to become adults and it is us whom intercountry adoption is all about. In theory, intercountry adoption exists because it supposedly provides for us due to our vulnerable situations in which we are not able, for whatever reason, to be looked after by our first parents. Many of us are the recipients of past and current intercountry adoption policies or a lack thereof, and in ICAV we talk openly about the known pitfalls and issues that being intercountry adopted creates. Many of our birth countries view adoption as a once off transaction that involves legally handing us over to our new forever families and countries. However, we know from our lived experience, that adoption is not a once-off transaction — it is a psychological journey that lasts our lifetime – for which we are forever impacted, for good, bad, and every other shade of experience in between.
At ICAV, we speak openly about the many complexities of intercountry adoption that impact us. For instance, our right to original identity is ignored because most adoptive countries issue us with a new “as if born to” birth certificate upon adoption. Most countries also completely sever our legal right to our family of origin through the use of plenary adoption (as compared to simple adoption which would maintain kin connections). Most of us have very limited to no access to our adoption paperwork which once provided (until DNA technology) our only ability to find our first families and our origins. Our paperwork can vary from being outright falsified to containing some elements of truth but in too many cases, it’s modified to make us seem more marketable for prospective families, hiding our truths including fundamentally important medical information and history. For those adoptees who ended up in intercountry adoption via illegal or illicit means, there is a lifetime of injustice that we are expected to live with, with little to no supports. For those who end up in an adoptive family that isn’t a good match, we end up suffering further layers of trauma. Too often people and governments forget, that our foundation is relinquishment / in utero trauma from being separated from our biological mother.
In ICAV, we encourage our members and leaders to seek out ways in which adoptees can be heard at government level where policy is created that constructs the future of our lives. We believe it’s important for government to understand the ways in which policy impacts our lives. Without this understanding, how can policy be in our “best interests”? How can adults who have never lived our experience possibly know what is best for us? Having adoptee voices involved in policy means inviting us to the table, really listening to our points of view, incorporating what we say into policy, and recognising we are the experts of our own experience.
The fundamental premise of intercountry adoption is to give a vulnerable child a “family” and “country” to belong with. Why attempt to do good for vulnerable people if you aren’t going to listen to how effective or not the policy and practice is? Governments can only truly understand the real impacts (positive and negative) of their policies by listening to those whom it involves. In intercountry adoption, this is the adoptee, first families, and adoptive families, not the adoption agencies, the lawyers, nor any other intermediary. Without listening to our voices, governments run the risk of continuing to make the same mistakes they’ve made from the beginning.
One of the worst mistakes that has been made in modern intercountry adoption since it’s beginnings in the 1950s and 60s (beginning with the Greek, German and South Korean adoptees), is to not do enough to curb the monetary incentives in intercountry adoption that allow intermediaries to take advantage of the lack of, or to bypass, policies and laws allowing them to facilitate and participate in illegal and illicit practices. We have generation upon generation of impacted adoptees who’s adoptions were illicit or outright illegal. They have nowhere to turn and certainly have very little justice. Today governments around the world today should be concerned at the growing momentum of groups of first families and adult intercountry adoptees who have already sought legal pathways to take actions for the failures of the past.
For example, Chilean mothers of loss are working together with Chilean Adoptees Worldwide (CAW) and have demanded an investigation into their adoptions from the 70s and 80s. The investigation in Chile has found that a large number of the children who left Chile during that era were not voluntarily relinquished for adoption and they are seeking justice.
Similarly, Guatemalan adoptees have banded together from around the world and are demanding an investigation by the Guatemalan and Belgium governments. A most recent well known legal case is of a biological father who won at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and sentenced the State of Guatemala for irregular adoption and use of illegal procedures. View video here .
Another example is Brazilian adoptee Patrick Noordoven who became the first in the Netherlands to win a legal case for his Right to Original Identity. With this win, the Dutch Ministry of Justice is now investigating the role of the Dutch Government in illegal adoptions from Brazil, Columbia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Indonesia! See article here.
When governments fail to respond responsibly for their roles or for the roles individual facilitators played, in historic adoptions, it leaves those impacted no other choice but to find legal pathways to seek justice. We now have over 70 years of modern intercountry adoption around the world with our adoptee numbers in the hundreds of thousands from many different birth countries. Asia is by far the the largest sending continent of children (Peter Selman, HCCH Statistics). Adoptees en-masse have reached maturity where they question their identity, how they came to be raised in another country often with parents of dissimilar race, and to think critically of why they have been sent away from their countries of birth. Our adoptee movement is growing and gaining momentum. ICAV often speaks about the lack of an international body to hold governments accountable for their roles played in facilitating or turning a blind eye to the historic illegal and illicit practices.
Could there could be another pathway? If governments would be willing to listen to those impacted – to learn from the lessons of the past and ensure we don’t continue to repeat the same mistakes?
Part of the ICAV Vision is: A world where existing intercountry adoptees are not isolated or ignored, but supported by community, government, organisations and family throughout their entire adoption journey.
This can only be achieved if those in power in government value and engage us. When our voices are ignored, government acts contrary to their goal of acting in our “best interests”, instead they set up adoptive, first families and adoptees for failure at worst, or more preventable trauma at minimum.
Another of the largest areas of policy failure in intercountry adoption around the world for any government, is the lack of freely funded, equitable, lifelong comprehensive post adoption supports that are trauma and resilience informed, with inclusion in service delivery from those who know the journey best – adoptees, adoptive and first families.
Anyone who has lived intercountry adoption knows intimately that our journey is one of multiple losses that exhibits as trauma and must be supported throughout our life. By inviting adoptees, first families, and adoptive families to share the lessons learnt from lived experience, government will better ensure they decrease the risks of unintended consequences and become more responsive in their policy making.
Inviting us to participate, listening to us with genuine openness and respect, hearing our experiences and heeding our lessons learnt — this is how governments can strengthen their outcomes and become more innovative and balanced. It is not agencies or intermediaries that government should be engaging and listening to the most, it is adoptees, first and adoptive families! I hope to see the day when we will be equally represented and invited to be involved in government policy and legislative forums for intercountry adoption!
This article was initially written in response to a request for a Korean publication but was subsequently unpublished. The request asked me to write about the importance of including the voices of adoptees in policy forums.
Documentary Film by Sun Hee Engelstoft (Korean adoptee to Denmark).
What an emotional and powerful documentary! Very much aligned with the research I read and wrote a review for about the birth mothers of South Korea in 2016. I shed tears through many parts of this film because Sun Hee manages to ask and answer the two most prevalent questions we adoptees have of our mothers: “How could you have given me up?” and “Why?” This is Sun Hee’s journey to understand her mothers decision and situation.
For those not adopted, if you want to get a glimpse into the grief we adoptees carry, this film will do that. It accurately portrays what sits in the deepest parts of our soul (often buried and unknown for many years) and shared in the film. As Sun Hee learned and portrays, this grief and sadness is what binds us to our mothers.
It was heartbreaking to watch. I felt this could so easily be mine and my mother’s journey. I know now why my grief is so deep — because I carry her grief too. No doubt she held it within herself while I was in utero. It wired me. And I remembered it when watching this. I’m sure my mother would have been as powerless as these women — living in situations where there is no support, no empowerment, no voice, no real choice. Not for her, and often not for him either – our fathers, often unspoken about, invisible. He, she, us adoptees — we are all just pawns of circumstance and choices made by others.
This is what adoption is all about but rarely gets talked about. I doubt there would be any adoptee who could watch this film and not be emotionally affected.
What struck me is the entrenched thinking of the grandparents. It was so eye opening to see the various scenarios. Only one out of all those covered, would keep the baby BUT only on their terms and at a price I believe is just as emotionally high as demanding she send her baby away via an agency like Holt. I personally find Asian culture such a contradiction – supposedly they value family first and foremost, but I just can’t fathom how they can send away their grandchild? The individuals at the centre of these situations – mother and baby – are treated like they don’t matter. But watching this film, I realise it’s not family that’s valued at all – it’s all about how everything appears on the surface, saving face, reputation. South Korean culture, like others around the world and how they deal with single motherhood, puts reputation ahead of our souls. Its painful and confronting to watch it unfold so clearly.
I love how Sun Hee weaves her own search and struggles into this honest look at the adoption industry as a whole. This film highlights the overwhelming lack of support, understanding and infrastructure. If only these young mothers could rebel and survive on their own without their families! I can’t wait for South Korea to evolve out from under the patriarchal structures that allow intercountry adoption to continue.
I have no doubt these mothers go on to suffer endlessly with their mental health and depression! The impact on their life is forever. It’s a fantasy of their parents to think the daughter will go on with her life as if nothing happened. The lives of adoptees demonstrate that we often live a lifetime of inner pain, some of us manage to mask it, others not so well. Our mothers are no different.
What would be interesting is to continue following these mothers and babies. How do their lives turn out? Allow the rest of the life journey, the impacts of relinquishment, to become as visible as this beginning, so beautifully captured by Sun Hee. When I speak with mothers who relinquished, as with many adoptees, the grief never ends. Even if we reunite it can’t make up for the life we never had together.
I find it interesting to ponder why the concept Best Interests of the Child in intercountry adoption is discussed and decisions made without substantial research on the long term outcomes in intercountry adoption. When I say long term, I mean decades to show how intercountry adoption impacts us through the various stages of life. Most of the existing research focuses on a short window of time at adolescence to early adulthood, but not much beyond that. Having lived my life now to later-middle adulthood, and reflecting on the changes I went through as a younger adoptee coming to terms with my life, my identity, where I fit, having children of my own, there is no doubt in my mind that the way adoptees view adoption and its impacts, changes over time as we age and experience life.
There is also little input at professional forums on Best Interest of the Child from those who are experts of the lived journey — intercountry adoptees! Intercountry adoption has been happening as a modern phenomenon for more than 70 years if you consider the waves of German, Greek, then Korean intercountry adoptees and beyond. It remains an assumption couched within international adoption conventions and laws, that it is in our best interest to place us with strangers — racially, culturally, spiritually, emotionally and biologically but yet no longitudinal evidence exists to confirm that intercountry adoption IS a positive solution for the children themselves, nor input from those who live it across a wide spectrum of experiences.
At the recent US Department of State Intercountry Adoption Symposium, one of the 5 issues I raised for consideration as an improvement for policy discussion, was the Best Interest of the Child concept to be discussed from the perspective of those who live it. JaeRan Kim also recently wrote a fantastic article asking the pertinent question of why American adult intercountry adoptees until last month, had not been proactively approached to attend policy discussion forums. My guess is, maybe it’s inconvenient to hear our truths? It might mean the industry needs to listen and change!
So given we are rarely invited to the tables to discuss this important concept, I decided to bring to you what some mature age, critical thinking intercountry adoptees believe is in our best interests. Hear for yourself what those who live it, consider is in our best interest. I hope this helps you think more deeply about intercountry adoption as an industry — how it’s being conducted and the changes required to include our lived perspectives.
The Question:What do you think “In the Child’s Best Interest” SHOULD mean in intercountry adoption contexts .. in the context of your own adoption? If you could speak up for your “child” self when the decision to intercountry adopt you was being made, what would you have wanted to say? What was in your best interest — with the benefit of hindsight?
Answers shared, in order of permissions given:
“If my sister/cousin had a baby and there was no consideration for family’s involvement in raising the child, I’d be so irritated. Being connected to family, I would be so much more suitable to raise the child. There’s no way in hell, the baby would get past all of us who’d honour its mother’s presence and guide it with the baby and mother’s actual best intentions. Kinship connection is VITAL.” (Anonymous, Indian adoptee)
“Best interest is not be forced out of our families and countries simply to be taken care of.” (Georgiana-A. Macavei, Romanian adoptee)
“Don’t take away my original citizenship or right to live and learn about my culture while in my country of birth.” (Linzi Ibrahim, Sri Lankan adoptee)
“For me, “in the child’s best interest” is welfare in action, where adults determine what is best — in terms of health, housing, family stability, nurturing care, economic stability, etc. So I, as an orphan via adoption gained this. Or put in another way gain a degree of white privilege. Under the UNCRC (United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child) the ideal is continuity of culture, family connection, stability, health, etc. But the “right of the child” is different from the “best interest of the child”.
The best interest is also Adoptive Parent (AP) best interest. That is, the AP by caring for a relinquished adoptee/orphan is providing for the best interest of the child and themselves as a couple becoming a family unit. A child taken from third world impoverishment / institutionalisation to first world-loving home i.e., family separation within the embedded narrative of adoption is in “the best interest of the child” as it fits the modern Western family goal. Thus, in turn, adoptees need to be grateful.
The “best interest of the child” is also a turn of the last century concept of childhood. As industrialised West moved from colonial labour and care of the child via nannies/ or families having lots of children to post WW2 concepts of child play, development and education/childcare. With white women as drivers within the colonial establishment determining what is in the “best interest of the child” (stolen generation, residential schools, adoption, wardship homes, to what we now call foster care and permanent care arrangements) ideas. So adoption needs to be seen as a natural social progression which benefits the child i.e., adoption in the best interests of the child.
My main concern is the best interest of the child is limited by the word “child”. Adoption of children and the act of adoption via childhood agencies/church and family government departments is not about children’s rights, especially as he/she develops into a teenage/adult. When concepts of belonging, community and difference start playing on the psychology of the individual. For a child to be free and loved in a nuclear household and able to be a child under adoption is all well-intended, but the child has no agency as an individual hence the discussions on identity and “who is my family before I came here?”
But the best interest of the child neglects and dismisses the right of a person to know their biological parents and to have continued connection to culture and language.
Adoption in the push of “best interest of the child” actually acts to sever “the rights of the child”.” (Dominic Golding, Vietnamese adoptee)
“I think in context of my own adoption it was absolutely not in my best interest to legally cut ties to my roots and identity and to lose my country, culture, mother and family. The child’s best interest for me would mean either find ways that enable a mother to keep her child and if not possible, then with extended family, friends or a safe children’s home in their country of origin.” (Sagarika Abeysinghe, Sri Lankan adoptee)
“After my recent experience (post traumatic stress symptoms and shock) I believe that the best interest of the child in adoption should be avoided by all means. It would be better in my opinion to support the birth family and to see what the real root causes are behind adoption (from birth family and adoptive family). I believe as long as adoption is allowed, child trafficking will exist as well and it has huge consequences for the child.” (Lidya Booster, Indonesian/Chinese adoptee)
“My best interest is to know that my family and friends are okay. I need not come to a country where I am the one who has to adjust to everyone around me. I have experienced loss of both family and country. Why strip me of my language and memories? For my best interest, I would need to be able to feel I’m not punished for being without parents. I need to be able to love and miss my mom. I need to be able to have a connection to my country that is not whitewashed.” (Angelica Bråten, Colombian adoptee)
“Is this really the last option? That I’m going to grow up so far from my own culture? I don’t know the answer on what was best but I don’t believe in the part ‘in the child’s best interest’ when there was money making involved”. (Dilani Butink, Sri Lankan adoptee)
“Bring me and my siblings back to my mother. I am not an orphan. I am stolen!! And lock these people up who earn money from us by selling me to a pedophile! This would have been in my best interest! Being taken away from my family was the first crime. All children who have been put up for adoption without consent from the families should not have taken place. This is the case for a very big group”. (Maria Quevedo, Colombian adoptee)
“Best interest should mean preserving the child’s birth culture. Denying language, name, ancestral heritage, and so forth denies a huge spiritual and connective component to one’s life. In the Native Indigenous people’s plight to claim justice and an understanding of the impacts on so many levels, this has also happened to many of us intercountry adoptees.” (Kelly Foston, South Korean adoptee)
“The child needs to be immersed and exposed to their birth culture from the start so that by the time they reach a young adult age (20), they are able to decide for themselves whether they want to be involved or not.” (Marc Conrad, Bolivian adoptee)
“The child’s best interest cannot start with adults who are looking for a child because they believe it’s their innate right to raise a child. Once you have adults looking for a child to raise, the child’s best interests are already compromised. A child’s best interest is inextricably linked to that child’s genetic place in their family. Though it’s true that some parents or even families are unable to raise their child for various reasons, I find it nearly impossible to believe that absolutely no-one within that child’s cultural / racial / ethnic / local community can help to raise that child. If this is the case, maybe we need to look at the society that doesn’t value preserving and nurturing its children.
I also find it impossible to believe that a child’s best interest can be protected by erasing a child’s identity and purposefully and permanently cutting that child off from her ancestry. No child’s best interest can be ethically preserved when money exchanges hands for that child, when fundamental papers such as original birth certificates or are falsified or in any way withheld from that child. Though it may hurt and be hard to take, the age-appropriate truth is always in a child’s best interest. Lies and falsifications never are.” (Abby Forero Hilty, Colombian adoptee)
“There never could or would be “in the child’s best interest” when you’re taking them away from the culture they are born to, or family they stand to lose.” (Kim Yang Ai, Sth Korean adoptee)
“Why do you think it is in the best interest to adopt a little girl out of her country to another one with a completely different language, culture, etc? It is not in the best interest to falsify documents to make the child more desirable to the new adoptive family … marketing tactic.” (Ashley Thomas, Colombian adoptee)
“My first thought would be if immediate / extended family is available, then perhaps that would be in child’s best interest. If in an orphanage, is any family in the best interest, or an institution? I consider age a factor (e.g. the older the child, the better ability to make their own decisions, etc)?” (Farnad Darnell, Iranian adoptee)
“It is never in the best interest of a child to remove them from their country of origin, drop them into a different one, and then task them as adults with the job of trying to prove why they “deserve” to stay i.e., I have no citizenship because of how my adoption was done. Beyond the dysfunction and abuse I sustained as a child, and deal with as an adult, for no reason other than being adopted into abuse, to also toss in the knowledge that my adoptive government considers me an inconvenience they would like to be rid of, adds literal insult to actual injury.” (C, Canadian adoptee)
“If the assumption is that an international adoption will take place, then “in the child’s best interest” means to me that placement would involve thoroughly educating prospective adoptive families on evidence-based best practices with lots of support long-term. Prospective families would be questioned about their current relationship with people of the race and culture they are adopting from, and helping them see areas where they hold bias. Prospective families would also be questioned about their expectations in raising a child, and how they would cope if that child does not meet their expectations. Being an adoptee and in the process to adopt, I think there should be less emphasis on income and fees, and more emphasis on parenting skills and cultural understanding. Of course, guaranteeing citizenship and maybe even dual citizenship, if desired by the adoptee, should be a given.” (Anonymous, Sth Korean adoptee)
Of course, this post does not dare to presume to speak for all intercountry adoptees at all stages of life nor views, but is a collection of responses from those who participated in discussions at ICAV as a means to begin the conversation and stimulate thought.
What are your thoughts after reading through this collection of answers from intercountry adoptees? We welcome your comments below.
It’s early morning, I’ve only the birds for company for a few more hours. Until my favourite person wakes up. Across the world in the place I was born it’s already early afternoon on my birthday.
Birthdays are a strange, strange day for adoptees. The days preceding it are pensive and sad for completely different reasons to those who perhaps see only more candles on cake. It’s an odd day to celebrate given the anniversary of loss eclipsing that day.
My birthday is one of normalised secrets and mysteries, unspoken questions unanswered. Who was the woman to whom I was born on this day? How was my birth? Did she hold me at all, for how long, minutes, days, weeks, months? How was she feeling? Sad, relieved, resentful, frightened. Decisive?
Who were the other women who cared for me and brokered my adoption? Nuns convinced they were doing a God’s work. While from my perspective it seems more like a Handmaids Tale.
I know my mothers name, her age and that she was Indian and I have her ID number, assuming my birth certificate wasn’t falsified as many were in other parts of Asia. That’s all, except perhaps that she was likely Catholic. You would think a name and an ID card number might be enough to find her. But it’s another continent, another culture. One in which I have no sources, no allies or relationships and no sense of the unwritten rules and expectations.
Her name now brings up an obituary listed in late 2016. A woman with this name died leaving behind a husband and a daughter. More mysteries, could it be my mother, and if so, is the daughter me, or a sister? Is her name common in Malaysia? Are those whom Google uncovers with this name, no more likely to be relatives than a Brown or a Smith? Or is it more rare? The first search reveals a young man, a journalist in Malaysia, a crime reporter. He’s on Twitter but he has only a handful of followers and very few tweets showing me who he is. Should I follow him, and see if he follows the clues back to me? Am I a random stranger whose profile of a Chindian Malaysian adoptee is only of passing interest or could it resonate with the possibilities of a shameful family secret? How does an adoptee reach out to people in these circumstances knowing the possible weight of consequences?
I could hire a detective – perhaps with this information it wouldn’t take a well connected expert long to find people and information. But I’m told it’s common practice to expect to bribe people for information. For my information. I’m resentful about how much it might cost me to find out what everyone else takes for granted. A history they’ve never even had to consider a human right. It just exists. Perhaps it’s even a little boring, the story of the day you were born, told again and again.
If I take my search to another level, there’ll be no going back once a certain line has been crossed. So much can unravel once it does in a family across the world, and in one here.
Only adoptees will really understand this, perhaps they will always mean more to me than family. They are mostly strangers across the world, they know intimate details about my adoption story and almost none about my day-to-day life. A kind of Adoptees Anonymous.
Today a call with my British adoptive parents will be unavoidable. There will be pseudo jollity. They’ll wish me a happy birthday, ask me about my day and presents, and no one will mention the secrets and mysteries of this day in 1972 in Malaysia.