“What’s that key around your neck?” – I get that question as much as I get questioned about where I’m from.
I wear a golden key around my neck. I’ve been wearing it that way for ten years.
It says, “Togetherness is love, 10.02.62” on one side and “M. T.” on the other.
My mom, being a rebel, decided to skip school with a childhood best friend. They wandered the streets of New York City. They found the key. They tried to find the owner/place it went to. However, it had been thrown into the middle of street, so they were unsuccessful. My mom and best friend always thought it was a lover’s quarrel. Key thrown away in anger.
Fast forward to when my mom adopted me.
When I was little, I had a fear my parents would not come home to me after a date night.
My mom would say, “Take this golden key from this tower, keep it with you. We’ll be home when you’re sleeping and you can personally give it to me in the morning.” It gave me a sense of security. Like my mom and dad were with me and would return.
When I graduated high school, I had chosen to attend college out of state. As a gift, my mom had the golden key strung and gave it to me as a gift, as a promise to always be with me, that my mom and dad would always be there, at home, waiting for me to come home, key in hand (or around neck, to be precise).
A little story about a key shaped like a heart in honour of Valentine’s Day.
Reckoning with the Primal Wound is an adoptee led film created by Rebecca Autumn Sansom and her natural mother Jill. Together they explore what the Primal Wound is and how it’s affected their lives.
This film is really about Rebecca’s journey of coming to terms with who she is; making sense of being adopted; understanding the deep pain and loss she’s felt in her life; exploring how it’s not just her journey but many other adoptees too; coming to terms with hearing her natural mother’s journey and understanding that this experience has universal themes.
I think it’s a fantastic exploration of the profound impacts created when separating a mother and child; hearing and seeing the lived experience from both ends – the adoptee and her natural mother. It’s also insightful in demonstrating the common reality of how adoptive parents struggle to understand the significance of, and coming to terms with, the trauma from which they’ve built their family upon.
Often in reunion we adoptees are caught in the middle of competing emotional issues and we can sometimes shoulder too much of the responsibility of holding the space for all. I personally felt Rebecca’s film is such an empowering way to hold the space for herself and tell her story, bravo!
I love the range of experts within this documentary, especially all the lived experience and how professionals are interwoven amongst the personal stories. It’s so important to understand the huge web of interconnected people in adoption, the roles they play, how we are all impacted. It was especially poignant to see the longitudinal journey of reconnection facilitated by Jill’s social worker, who clearly cared very much.
Ultimately this film resonated with me because of its truth and validation to all adoptees who cannot just “get on with it” and act as if being separated from our natural mothers has no impact on us. Overall, the message for me rings true: that for deep healing to happen in adoption, there needs to be a profound reckoning of the impacts caused by separating a mother from the child, and acknowledgment that these are lifelong.
To learn more about the documentary, you can visit Rebecca’s website.
ICAV is running adoptee online events this September where adoptees will have access to view the documentary and participate in an online group afterwards for a post film discussion.
by Mary Cardaras, adopted from Greece to the USA; Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at California State University East Bay.
This has been an incredible couple of years but, especially, in the very year of a global pandemic. It was in this year that I found my voice as an adoptee. Seemed like the stars aligned. Meant to be at this time, in this space. I have found people, or maybe it is they who found me, who have brought me out to my community of fellow adoptees, birth mothers, activists and supporters.
It all began after the death of my adoptive mother in 2018. (My father had died 18 years prior.) Her death was one of the saddest times of my life. Left again, I felt. She and I had grown so close over the years and spent much time together, but her leaving also provided the space I needed to consider life before her. And there was a life before her, however brief it may have been. Even my tiny self had a past. It was buried, though. Obscured. In many ways, erased.
What did it matter? How could it matter?
My adoption, which I had put to the side, had been front and center my entire growing up as a child and as a teenager. I didn’t put it there. Everyone else put it there. A label. A tag. My identity was imposed. Sometimes it stigmatized me. And it definitely made me an outsider looking in to a life that I lived, but one that I couldn’t really lay claim to. As mine. From where I actually came.
What brought me to this day and what is the reason that I can now write about it?
In 2018, I wanted to come closer to my roots as a Greek-born adoptee. I signed up for Greek language lessons at a church in Oakland, California. I went to class on my way home to Sonoma every Monday evening coming from the university where I taught. Those lessons re-connected me with my culture. It was an absolute joy to hear the language, learn to speak it, and revel in its complexity with my fellow students all, at least, partially Greek, but fully Greek in their love for it.
It was during this class that I was asked, από που είσαι? From where are you? Είμαι Ελληνίδα, I could proudly say with certainty. I am a Greek. Γεννήθηκα στην Αθήνα. I was born in Athens. Υιοθετήθηκα. I was adopted. I am adopted. Like the recitation of a mantra. Those two things identify me and they are the only two things I know for certain, as I have noted in my writing before.
My classmate, Kathy, mentioned, “I have a cousin who was adopted, Mary, who was also from Greece, too.” I was immediately intrigued. There was someone else who was from where I was and who was branded the same as me?!
“She has an incredible story, Mary,” Kathy said. “You need to meet her and, in fact, you will. She is coming to visit and I will bring her to class.” Kathy told me the story that day and with every sentence she uttered my eyes got wider and I kept repeating the words: No. Are you kidding? Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. What? That is incredible!
Within a week or two of Kathy telling me her implausible story, Dena Poulias came to class. A pretty, blond-haired, blue-eyed woman, shy and quiet, she came with her cousin to hear our lesson. Did she want to participate, the teacher asked her? No, she demurred. She was only there to listen and to meet us.
After class I introduced myself more fully and told her I had heard her story. I am a writer, I told Dena. I would be honored to write your story. She told me she had been wanting to write her own story for years, but she hadn’t gotten around to it. She wasn’t a writer, she said. I gave her my number and my email address. I think I reached out once, but she wasn’t ready. Hers was a heavy, painful story. It just couldn’t have happened I tried to convince myself.
Weeks later, Dena wrote and said she was ready to talk. She decided she wanted me to tell her story and so over the course of about a year, in intervals of two days here, one week there, the next month we would talk. Well, she would talk and there was so much she couldn’t remember exactly. But her husband was her memory. So was her cousin, Kathy. And her sister. And her mother and father. The story, unlike anything else I had ever written, flowed out of me. I am a journalist and so wrote news and documentaries. This was different. Literary nonfiction. I was recreating scenes and dialogues told to me by first person sources. It was visual in scope. Many who read previews said it was cinematic. Whatever it was, it was all true. Dena, finally, was telling her own story to someone and I was inspired by her finally getting it out there.
In the course of writing, I needed some important information. I was about to implicate a respected Greek organization in some scandalous adoption practices during the 1950’s. Even poking around on my own on social media and asking questions brought some pretty hateful online comments. When I contacted the organization itself, it predictably denied any wrong doing. The president literally said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” Come look through our files in Washington, D.C., he said. “We have nothing of the kind and no such history.”
Enter one Gonda Van Steen, one of the world’s preeminent scholars in modern Greek studies. In my research, I had come across her new book entitled Adoption, Memory and Cold War Greece: Kid Pro Quo?I wrote to her out of the blue, introduced myself, told her I was a reporter, and asked about this particular organization. Did she know it? Was it involved in the trade and, in some cases, in the “selling” of babies?
The organization was indeed involved in these unethical adoption practices. It was certainly part of Dena’s story. Gonda had said, in the course of our conversations, that the story I was writing sounded awfully familiar. In fact, Dena Poulias appears on pages 202 and 203 of her book and was one of the cases she had followed and chronicled. She said it had been one of the more “moving” stories that she had encountered. Gonda began to fill my head with history and put my own adoption in context.
I kept writing.
In early 2021, about the time I finished Dena’s story, I read another incredible book about adoption called American Baby, written by the brilliant, best-selling author, Gabrielle Glaser. I could not put it down and was transfixed by yet another incredible, unbelievable adoption story that was similar to Dena’s. This book is focused on domestic adoptions, which were just as horrific as what was happening on the international scene. Glaser’s writing both broke my heart and shook it awake somehow.
I decided, after consultation with Gonda, to collect stories from Greek born adoptees and put them into an anthology. This group of adoptees, “the lost children of Greece,” had never been heard from before! During conversations about approaching authors, Gonda suggested, you know, Mary, you should reach out to Gabrielle Glaser and ask her if she would write the Forward. On one hand, I thought that was a crazy idea. I mean, right. Gabrielle Glaser?! Really? Then I thought, well, why not? I wrote to her as I had written to Gonda. Cold. But she was there. She answered. She was lovely. And today we are friends. Her book also made me re-evaluate adoption itself. Including my own.
As I explained in a recent online forum about adoption, I felt like the Lion who found his courage, the Scarecrow, who found his brain, and the Tin Man who found his heart all at once. Dena gave me courage. Gonda made me think about what happened to me and thousands like me. And Gabrielle helped me to feel the beating of my own heart.
Through them I found my way to Greg Luce and Lynelle Long and Shawna Hodgson and so, so many others far too many to name. I stand now with them and our allies, talking and writing and advocating for adoptee rights.
That is how I came to this point. But why do I write here and now?
The sharing of my own adoption story has roused feelings and thoughts in others about me. They wonder. Why and how do I feel the way I do? Why didn’t I share before? My feelings make them sad. They thought I was happy. They simply don’t understand. And you know what? They may never. Understand. And that’s ok. I can’t and I won’t defend my feelings, which are real, however foreign and unreasonable they may seem to others.
I don’t have thoughts about whether or not I should have been adopted. I don’t have thoughts about whether my life in Greece would have been better. I don’t blame anyone for what happened to me and how it happened. I can’t go back and have a do-over with the people who were doing whatever they were doing. I do know they were making decisions that they thought, at the time, were in my best interests.
They didn’t realize that my birth mother was suffering. That she had a family, who had abandoned HER because she was a teenage, unwed mother. She was cast aside and she was relegated unimportant in the story of my life. How can that be? She and I were once one. She was promised by a proxy, that no one would “bother” her ever again. Has she ever recovered from the shame imposed on her? And from our separation? She needed support and love in order to make a sober decision about her baby, her own flesh and blood. I don’t care if she was 14 or 24. She needed help.
I have recently learned the number I was assigned when I was placed in the Athens Foundling Home on January 11, 1955. It is 44488. This means thousands of children came before me, all relegated to numbers. The number, cold as it is, can unlock some information I want and need. I checked some old letters back and forth from the social service agency that handled my case. One letter says there are two people listed on the papers when I entered that orphanage. A mother and a father. I have her name. I want his. Who am I? From where did I come? And what happened? Fundamental to every person’s wholeness is knowledge about their past.
Think of this. If you were not adopted, as you grew up you heard your own story, perhaps over and over again. It was sweet and sentimental as you listened to the story of your own birth and early days. You were conceived under a certain set of circumstances. You were born under a certain set of circumstances. Your parents remember that day. They tell you about that day, what you did, what they did, how you looked, what you weighed, what it was like when they brought you home, what kind of a baby you were. In sum, you had a story that people shared with you. My story started the minute I came into the arms of another family that was not my own. There was something, however brief, before, and I do not know it. That is the point.
I was placed with wonderful adoptive parents and into a large, loving Greek-American family. I did not lose my language or my culture. My parents were incredibly loving and I cannot describe the depth of my love for them and for my grandparents. I appreciate the life they gave me. I appreciate my family and my friends. I was a happy kid and an even happier adult. Those who know me would likely describe my love of life and laughter and my level of commitment to the things and people I care about.
BUT this has nothing, nothing whatsoever to do with what came before. These are two separate things. The adoptees I know strive to become complete human beings. That means they had a past and need to know fully about it. They deserve open adoption records, original birth certificates and citizenship of origin, if they want it. Adoptees are entitled to these and we are also entitled to our feelings and thoughts about our own lives. As one adoptee recently explained, meeting a birth parent enables you to cut the emotional umbilical cord. We invite others to ask questions because they care about understanding us, but please don’t put us on the defensive. We don’t have to explain. We are tired of explaining. We are just thinking through our own, personal experiences, which are all different.
I crave connection. Deep, unmistakable connection to others. You know it when you feel it with another human being. Maybe you feel it so completely that you feel like you have known them all your life or in another life. You know what I am talking about. For me, that connection is almost something divine. I run toward the light and hold that little flame like a precious, fragile flower. I take care of it. Nurture it. I love to feel like I belong and sometimes that feeling, so beautiful, is elusive in the mind and heart of an adoptee.
This adoptee is also gay. So, there are two points of difference that I have had to navigate.
I have been with the same woman for nearly 30 years. Fifteen years or so ago I adopted her sons from a previous marriage. There is no easy way to say this, but their father abandoned them when they were small. I was every bit a parent with her from the time the boys were 2 and 3 years old. They could not have been more “my children.” Our friends recognized my place in their lives, of course, but there were others who never could and never did.
My partner was the “real” parent. Those were “her” boys, not mine, never mine in the eyes of some. I was not a part of their family, but merely an outsider. This was incredibly painful. In fact, just recently the boys (now men) were introduced as her sons while I was standing right there.
What meaning does adoption hold? No, I am serious. Hell, I don’t even know and I was adopted and have adopted!
I was able to re-establish my Greek citizenship years ago and I am happy for it, grateful for it.
Being able to attain it has been the exception to the rule, I have learned. It was, in many ways, a humiliating experience trying to prove over and over again who I was, where I was born and to whom. There was the problem of an altered birth certificate, which never should have happened and it certainly didn’t help, but that’s another story.
My partner is fully Greek (American). The children are fully Greek (American). My partner got her Greek citizenship through her parents (who were born in Greece) and we wanted the boys, too, to also have their Greek citizenship in case, in the future, they someday wanted to work in Greece or within the EU. It was going to be an uphill battle to prove the Greek connection through their maternal grandparents and then also through their own Greek father and his parents, with whom they are no longer in contact. But wait! I was their legal parent and also born Greek. A citizen! They could get citizenship through me, a legal parent. Couldn’t they? Easy, no? But just hold on!
This was not to be. Because I was not a birth parent, lacking that biological connection, it was not allowed. People are getting Greek citizenship through parents and grandparents. Others are being granted Greek citizenship because they are famous scholars or actors or authors, having no biological connection to the people of the country. But me, a Greek-born adoptee, who happened to adopt two Greek-American boys, could not establish citizenship for my sons. Are they less my sons because we are not biologically related? Are they not my sons at all?
You see why we feel the way we do. It is complicated and it often means little in the eyes of some. There remains a stigma. There is discrimination. Still.
Blood is thicker than water. You enjoy the company of some families almost as an honored guest, but often not as a bona fide member. You’re out there of someone else, but not fully theirs.
I don’t blame anyone. I’m not angry. But this is my reality. I own it all and I’m ok with it. I have to be. But to all friends and family of adoptees, please understand that not only are we entitled to all our records. We are also entitled to our experiences and our feelings. They do not reflect on you. They’re not about you. Let us have them. Let us own our cause. And please try to listen first.
Mary holds a Ph.D. in Public and International Affairs and is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication where she teaches Political Communication, Journalism and Documentary Film at California State University, East Bay. Mary is currently compiling an anthology of Greek adoptee stories and has 13 contributors for the collection with the working title “Voices of the Lost Children of Greece”, to be published by Anthem Press in 2022. If you would like to participate, please contact Mary.
by Christina Soo Ja Massey, aka YooNett adopted from South Korea to the USA.
The Tears of Trauma I cry as a helpless Orphan, I cry as an Adult throughout my Life.
This piece of art deals primarily with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Trauma of being abandoned, left to fight for my Life, but being unable to do so … The fear, anxieties and hopelessness of the situation. I attempted to convey how this Trauma persists throughout my Life. I have come to my Adopters already deeply scared only to relive old Experience via new Scars.
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.