What is in our “Best Interests” as Intercountry Adopted People?

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.

Celebrating Secrets and Sadness

sad birthday

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.

birthday mysteries.png

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.

Finding the Right Therapy as an Adoptee

Over the past 20 years, I’ve probably seen at least 10 different therapists in my life. I’m an intercountry adoptee from Vietnam to Australia, prior to the end of the Vietnam war. If you met me now, you might question my claim to seeing so many therapists. I am not the same person as I was 20 years ago. Back then, I was in the fog – I had no real idea of how being adopted impacted my life. I was raw, reactive, highly volatile, emotionally dead, a real go-getter with drive that most of my peers couldn’t fathom. Now, 20 years on, I’m more mellow and I’ve found my peace! Not that one ever arrives at some destination but I am certainly no longer living the inner turmoil I use to try and ignore. The journey to finding my real self, my identity in-between Australia and Vietnam, hasn’t been smooth or easy but it was certainly enabled by having the courage to see some amazing professionals and ask for their help and support.

I’ve seen these counsellors on and off over the years, depending on what the issues were. I’ve covered major life issues of relinquishment/abandonment, abuse and negative family dynamics that impacted my ability in intimate relationships. I’ve also had therapy to help me be a better parent and become aware of how my history impacts my style of parenting .

I certainly wasn’t raised in an adoptive family who saw “therapy” as a means of seeking help. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen my parents reach out for professional help – they will only go to a medical doctor if they are seriously seriously ill but often deal with health issues on their own, seeking natural remedies where possible. So in my adoptive family, seeking help was not the done thing. Perhaps that is a reflection of the era in which they were born? And perhaps my psychology training at university influenced my perspective – but I will say I learnt nothing about trauma in my psychology training! Not one subject on the impacts of childhood trauma in the 4 years of my undergraduate degree! I didn’t realise I had any “issues” until I noticed relationship difficulties and patterns, depression and self harm. I only saw the surface symptoms I exhibited with no clue as to what was underlying.

The therapists I have seen, range in qualifications from counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist to psychiatrist and what I’ve learnt, I’d like to share because I know in speaking to other intercountry adoptees, it’s not easy to find one that works for you! Some adoptees might wonder what therapy is all about and have no faith it will actually help them. Some might have been once and found it so uncomfortable they don’t want to go again. So here are the things I’ve learnt along the way that might help in case you’re considering therapy for the first time or again.

The first thing I had to learn was to ask myself: Do I need help? Am I going around in circles repeating the same cycles? Do I feel like my reactions are outside my control? Am I overreacting to things (being triggered) and not understanding why? If so, a professional trained in the area of my difficulty might be a great idea.

After some years of undergoing therapy, I realised I should approach therapists a bit like a job interview. I found there is value in “first assessing the therapist” (preferably over the phone or face to face) to see whether they have the right skill set and personality to fit with me and the issues I want to deal with. Don’t just see the first therapist you stumble upon. There is no point seeing a therapist for relationship issues if they have no speciality training in relationships — and there is much to be said for seeing a female “mother-figure” therapist for abandonment mother issues. I learnt to ask whether my therapist had speciality training in “trauma”, have a chat to them over the phone for free first to get a feel for whether I’d be comfortable sharing with them. If so, I would then usually try for one or two sessions first and see whether there is a good “fit”.

After going to a few therapists, I learnt not to blindly continue seeing them just because they are considered an “expert”. I learnt over time to check my gut feeling on whether there was a good “connection” with my therapist. The therapeutic relationship works because we learn to develop a trusting relationship with them – they become the other significant person whom we work out our complex issues on. We transfer our issues onto them instead of playing out these issues in real life with unsuspecting and untrained people. The therapy won’t be effective if we have no trust or connection with the therapist. So like with any other “professional” whom you seek expert help from, check their credentials, check that they act professionally towards you at all times, check that they have safe and appropriate boundaries, and ask around from people you trust (your adoptee peer group) as to whom they found as good and effective therapists.

Unfortunately, if you are like me, my most turbulent years were also at the time when I was not financially stable. That meant, I usually couldn’t afford the high fees. Therapy is not cheap (rarely free) and excellent therapists usually have long wait lists and higher fees. I did learn to ask for a fee based on a sliding scale of income. This meant I could afford the same therapist as someone earning a full professional income.

I also learnt there are different methods of therapy. In the beginning I knew only of the traditional “talking” or “cognitive” therapy: commonly we think of Freudian days, sitting on a couch speaking about what we have going on in our heads. But over time, I came to realise talking therapy was limited and didn’t really help me to change the patterns I was living. Yes, I could now identify the issues and patterns, but changing them was something else. I eventually stumbled upon “body” therapy modalities and found this to be much more effective in changing persisent patterns and helping me to reconnect within myself. Once I did this type of therapy, I was no longer split between my mind/head and my body/feelings. I was able to re-integrate my sense of self and I felt a sense of harmony within.

The final point I will make, is I learnt that the type of “qualification” of the therapist was almost irrelevant as long as they had qualifications, training and experience. What I mean is, don’t assume a psychiatrist is going to be better than a psychologist or counsellor. They each have their own area of speciality training – a psychiatrist is medically focused so very essential if you also suffer from a mental illness and need prescription drugs. A psychologist also has years of academic training and a psychotherapist and counsellor has various routes to become trained so often I found this attracts more “mature aged” people with lived experience compared to those who enter university and come straight out with little life experience but loads of academic knowledge. My point is, don’t get hung up on what “qualifications” they have but more importantly, ask at the beginning what their approach, style and experience is and give it a try for a couple of sessions. You’ll quickly know whether this is the right fit for you or not.

I’ve recently shared at ICAVs private facebook group (for intercountry & transracial adoptees only) and our ICAV Newsboard (open for the public), a great link that lists adoptee therapists in the USA from one of our intercountry adoptee therapists. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see that replicated around the world! Nobody knows best what our journey is like and how to support it, than those who walk it!

In ICAV and amongst adoptee led groups, part of the benefit of connecting together is that we can share via word of mouth about who the awesome therapists are and the many other amazing modes of healing. I’d love to hear from you as to what works. Please feel free to comment!

Dear Belonging,

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Perhaps to some, You are a dear friend and a faithful companion. To others, You are found in spurts and moments, and still to others, You are an elusive dream in their nightmares. To me, You are a far off figure standing still in the distance. Throughout the years, I have caught the sparkle in your eye on more than one occasion. And yet, I long for the day when I shall stand before You, face to face for more than a moment.

You are a whisper in the wind. You are the tiny speck of ash fleeing into the night sky. You are the warm blanket on a cold winter’s day.

Was it fate that tore us apart? Was it destiny that would strip me of my identity, family, ancestry and heritage? Was it life that would transport me to a new world, family and culture?

still lake.jpg

You are the sound of silence on a still lake. You are the leaf that tumbles during fall. You are the majestic mountain in the distance.

Are You merely a feeling inside of me or are You the people and circumstances around me? Are You the actions that I take?

Different than my family, different than my friends, different than my church, different than my culture, different than my place of birth: You are a foreigner to me. Are You and I even compatible?

You are the receding wave on the shore. You are the rare diamond in the sand. You are the seashell hidden in the caves.

Is the distance between us my own doing or has fate seen fit to keep us apart? Are You simply a word or are You always the emotion I feel towards You?

You are the dream that I chase. You are the comfort that I long for. You are the melody that I live for.

Are You the confidence I should have in myself despite my surroundings or are You the feeling of talking to a kindred soul on a midsummer afternoon? Are You simply the summation of both?

You are the mountain I gaze upon. You are the island I venture to see. You are the distant horizon I peer at.

Would I cry in your presence? Would I scream for joy at beholding your face? Would I fall to my knees before You?

You are the candle that flickers in the darkness. You are the lone star in the galaxy. You are the silver lining in the tunnel.

sunset

Every day the sun sets and I get one last chance to catch a glimpse of your face before the darkness invades and I lose sight of You once more.

And yet, each day the sun rises anew, shining on your beautiful features once more. Would that every day bring me one step closer to You.

by  Joey Beyer