Caught in the Middle

by Katya Reach, adopted from Ukraine to the USA.

“All over social media, I see people posting either the Ukrainian or Russian flag. I honestly couldn’t bring myself to share either one.

There are no clear words to convey my deep sorrow and grief over this crisis. My heart goes out to the citizens of Ukraine and citizens of Russia because all are paying a price, and for many, this is something they never asked for. I have connections with people from Ukraine, people in the separatist regions, and people from Russia. The pendulum of understanding from all sides swings drastically, meanwhile, daily I try to process new information and be of support and encouragement to others.

All my life, as a Ukrainian adoptee, I grew up believing I was Ukrainian and I was proud of these roots. After reuniting with my birth family nearly three years ago, I learned that my birth family has strong Russian roots. The Ukrainian soil I walked on as a child became a pro-Russian separatist held region of Ukraine.

I look to my left and mourn the suffering of the internally displaced Ukrainian people who I have personal connections with. Yet I’m amazed at the support and generosity of neighboring countries to welcome so many Ukrainian refugees and bring humanitarian relief.

I look to my right and see my very own birth family also suffering and hiding for dear life in bomb shelters and basements, remaining in the land they call home; a land that has suffered 8 years of conflict up to this point. They are clinging to hope that this will be the final breakthrough.

Meanwhile, I also have friends who are Russian citizens and are feeling ashamed of their roots. This crisis in Ukraine is utterly devistating and sickening just to witness, let alone live through.

I have moments of feeling so overwhelmed and emotions cycle. I try not to let every new detail alter my perspective. My family is so patient with me as I process and seek clarity. Daily life continues on through this imbalance. And while this is a major aspect of my life, it is still only one of many other aspects. It’s been crucial for me to make space for myself and even space for laughter and enjoyment in these heavy times.

While my deepest connection to this crisis is my birth family living in it, I also understand there is a much bigger picture that impacts our world and the ramifications of this crisis will last far longer than any news highlight.

I know my role in this is so much more than just a spectator. I am praying for the world to see miracles of God through all this. In the midst of the chaos all around me, I’m reminded of the Lord’s faithfulness in an abundance of peace within my soul that is beyond understanding as I learn to trust God with what is out of my control. His grace is sufficient. I pray for this same peace to Indwell in the distressed hearts of many others. While there is great division in our world, crises like these have a unique way of unifying individuals as well. Very meaningful conversations have come about as people have been so kind to reach out in support. Continued prayers and support for all who are impacted.”

What Would My Utopia in Intercountry Adoption Be?

This was presented by Lynelle Long at the Child Identity Protection (CHIP) Webinar on Friday 18 Feb, 2022, the topic of the webinar was: Respecting the Child’s Right to Identity in Intercountry Adoption (at 2:58:01 on the video recording).

What I hope for the future is possibly just utopia, but sometimes in speaking the words out loud, our words can find an energy with others who share the same desire, which can start the small wave of thoughts that become an activity, then a movement that has ripple effects, that eventually turn and flow into a tsunami. I know there are so many in our adoptee community who are working so hard for these changes to happen. Each of our efforts can seem small in isolation, but together, en-masse, we will eventually effect that change we are working towards.

My utopia would love to see an end all intercountry adoption as it is currently practiced today: obliterate it or as a minimum, redesign The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption to ensure that it respects our right to identity, culture and family relations … and ensure legislation exists that supports our rights as adoptees and for our biological families.

When we do this, we need to also:

  • Remove money from being an incentive for profit and gain.
  • Remove the use of private agencies, centralise adoption and directly hold the responsibility and the risk with the Government / State.
  • Ensure adoptees have the right to annul their adoption and without a cost.
  • Ensure the generational rights to adoptee records i.e., our children and their children need to be given access to our adoption and birth records should we not do so in our lifetime.
  • Improve pre and post adoption supports, make it mandatory that this be free, trauma informed, lifelong and comprehensive; most importantly, in its design, to actively consult with lived experience expertise.
  • Make it mandatory to educate support professionals so they understand the heightened risk of suicide and trauma for adoptees, the inherent racism we face, the identity conflicts, etc .. so many issues we live that need trained and informed support.
  • Stop adoptions that are private/expatriate and from non Hague countries.
  • Create and fund a legal centre of expertise in intercountry adoption to help victims hold agencies and countries accountable where their rights have not been upheld.
  • Create and fund an independent body to monitor and punish Hague signatories who don’t uphold their responsibilities — to deal with issues like deportation by adoptive country, abuse and murder of child by adoptive family. There needs to be accountability for those responsible in placing us into families or countries that are more traumatic than where we came from.
  • Create and fund an international organisation that is setup up to empower and help support bio families search for their children. I meet so many of these bio parents who are disempowered and have nowhere to turn.

But before we even talk about adoption as a solution for a child, we need to ensure the focus and funds prioritises family preservation above all else. If this happened, we should not need intercountry adoption. To accomplish this, we need to help our birth countries implement social welfare alternatives like foster care, guardianship, group homes, simple adoption; and ensure that these are well resourced.

Regardless of whether we have intercountry adoption or not in the future, we need to deal with the past for those who are impacted. This means a historic investigation by an independent body must be conducted into past practices; learn from the lessons, ensure restorative justice for victims, including compensation. Only then when this is done, should we move forward to looking at re-implementing a new model of intercountry adoption.

And let’s not forget, we must make sure we cross pollinate the learnings from intercountry adoption into other family formation methods such as surrogacy – to prevent the further commodification of children and robbing them of their identities too.

These are the things I spend my life working on, creating and joining into the groundswell of people / community working to push for these much needed changes. 

For this to happen, we need to challenge governments and stakeholders around the world to ask the tough question, is intercountry adoption the ethically and morally right thing to do when we know other solutions can exist for vulnerable children that better respect our right to identity, culture and family relations.

Sadly, utopia doesn’t exist and so I can only conclude that until we have a system that upholds our adoptee rights, I don’t believe we should be conducting intercountry adoption in its current form. It is NOT in the best interests of the child to add on layers of trauma that could be prevented when we know better. Yes there will always be children who need support and alternatives .. but, we can’t keep repeating the mistakes of the past and turning a blind eye to what we are doing to so many en-masse. We must do better and challenge ourselves to be honest, truthful, listen to the voices of those it impacts most, and heed the lessons we can learn.

My Adoption Day Is An Anniversary of Loss

by Mary Choi Robinson, adopted from South Korea to the USA.

This is Choi Soon Kyu.

She is about 4 years old in this picture and recently orphaned and sick from the ravages of poverty.

Before this picture was taken she had a prior life and was someone’s child, someone’s daughter with most likely a different name.

About 8 months after this picture on February 18, she will be delivered to the US, be given a new identity and family; a new life that is foreign, scary, and imposed upon her. Her name will be changed and she will lose her language and culture to new ones.

Her three identities, her three lives, are borne of trauma and loss. She is now me and I survive every day from all she lost.

Don’t tell me to be thankful or grateful, or that every child deserves a safe, loving family and home.

Instead try to understand that I carry this unbearable grief and loss every day. A grief that is not worse but unlike other grief that cannot always be easily expressed. A grief I’m not certain how to mourn and will most likely never recover from, that may have generational consequences.

Some days I struggle more than others, especially when unexpectedly blindsided by adoption.

So today is not just the anniversary of my adoption/arrival to the US, but also an anniversary of loss. But I’m still here and doing the best I can making the most of this life, so I’ll celebrate that.

If you’d like to read more from Mary, her Masters thesis is included at ICAVs Research page – Living a Parallel Life: Memoirs and Research of a Transnational Korean Adoptee.

Kris shares about Adoptee Anger

This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.

by Kris Rao, adopted from India to the USA, recently discovered their adoption as a Late Discovery adoptee.

In 2019 at the age of 34, I learned that I was adopted. Since then, I have become insanely familiar with the grief cycle. In a non-linear fashion, I have been relentlessly experiencing all the emotions associated with grief. Of all the emotions, anger, however, has become the one constant emotion when I think about adoption.

In the case of my experience, as a late discovery adoptee, I am angry for being lied to for 34 years. I feel deceived. Conned. Duped. Whatever words I can think of to describe it, ultimately for 34 years I was manipulated into believing I was someone that I’m not. Manipulated into believing strangers where my biological and genetic kin. The identity I was given never seemed to fit with the person I knew myself to be, and I was gaslit into feeling like the crazy one for my thoughts.

The thing about anger though, is that it is perceived as a negative emotion. All my life growing up, I have been taught to control it. To not let it get the best of me. Even now, as I write to share my experience and express my opinions on adoption today, there are those that tell me to not be so angry. That anger is not a good thing.

For quite a while after discovering the truth, I struggled with the anger. In a group for late discovery adoptees, I once posed a question about anger. More than 90% said that they still are angry, or struggle with anger. The most helpful responses were the ones that said it was okay to be angry. One adoptee even responded to something I wrote and said that it was a “righteous anger”. And they were right. My anger is righteous and justified for my experience. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to feel it.

As Faith G. Harper wrote in her book Unfuck Your Anger: Using Science to Understand Frustration, Rage, and Forgiveness:

“If feeling anger is OK, you can be angry and still be OK.”

Looking back, I think I struggled with anger because I confused my thoughts about anger with how we manage and act upon it. There is nothing wrong with the emotion itself. Anger is a normal reaction to any negative situation, and it’s how we deal with it that determines a positive or negative reaction. And that’s the key thing, “Anger is a response to a deeper emotion. It’s a secondary emotion, meaning it’s reactive. Not just to situations we encounter but to other emotions.”

Negative emotions are okay as long as we express them in a healthy manner.

I was always frustrated growing up with how I was raised. Frustrated that I couldn’t understand why I always felt different. That frustration turned into anger soon after discovering I was adopted. I’m angry about being lied to. I’m angry about all the abuse I experienced and for being gaslit into believing that it was for my own good. And I grieve because of it. It’s a lot of negativity to deal with all at once. When I learned I was adopted, I was hurt. There was sorrow from what felt like a huge act of betrayal. That hurt would also become anger. The more I tried not to feel all these “negative emotions”, the more “negative” I felt I was becoming.

Mark Manson wrote the following about negative emotions in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:

“The desire for a more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”

“This is a total mind-fuck. So I’ll give you a minute to unpretzel your brain and maybe read that again: Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience. It’s what the philosopher Alan Watts used to refer to as “the backwards law”—the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place.”

It’s been a lot of work, but I’m learning to reframe myself and how I view my anger. I am learning to simply accept what it is, and use that to process my grief, my trauma. Accepting the negative experiences of my adoption. Allowing myself to feel my anger, and not be it.

I came across this quote a while ago, and it stuck with me regarding my grief.
“No one notices your sadness until it turns into anger, and then you’re the bad person.”

I don’t know its origins, but it feels accurate. If anything, I want people to know that my anger is not about who I am as an adoptee. It’s not even about who I am as a late discovery adoptee. It’s about what I feel as an adoptee.

More importantly, I see my anger as a tool, because it not only has allowed me to establish and keep necessary boundaries to protect myself, but it is what drives me to write for change, share my experience, and restore all that was taken away from me. I’ve learned to use my anger to advocate for change, for sharing my experience and my unapologetic truth. I share the realities of adoption by writing just exactly what I feel and how I’m dealing with it.

My anger is about calling for accountability from those that don’t want to be held accountable. It’s about reclamation.

In an essay about anger, Brian Wong wrote the following:
“While anger might not be the most practically useful emotion to have in all cases, its epistemic and motivational productivity makes it the ideal candidate in steering victims towards making appropriate claims to compensation or reparation. It is the anger towards losing what matters that enables victims to pinpoint the most important components of their restorative process – of course, we might not think that restoration is intrinsically most valuable, but this critique misses the point. Anger can play a crucial role in recovering lost goods.”

Quite simply, that’s what anger is. What it can be. 

Healing from my past traumas for me isn’t about letting go of my pain, or my anger. It’s how I manage it and how I utilize that anger. It’s about using my anger for a positive experience.

Anger as a reaction to a negative experience can provide us with the energy for change. It can be used to help keep ourselves safe and give us the courage to take back what we’ve lost. And that’s a good thing!

For more from Kris, follow at:
Kris-404:RootsNotFound
Twitter @adoptedindian
Instagram @indianlatediscoveryadoptee

Anonymous shares about Adoptee Anger

This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.

by Anonymous, adopted from China to the USA.

I have experienced anger as an adoptee. For me it occurred in my late teens and early 20s in that transition time between high school and college. I was angry at my parents for adopting me and not putting in effort to learn or share my birth culture, I was angry at my birth parents for putting me up for adoption and having a baby they could not care for. I was angry at larger systems of poverty and inequality that put people in difficult situations. I was so angry at people telling me I was Chinese or Asian but I had no idea what that meant.

I was angry at Chinese people I met that were disappointed I wasn’t more “Chinese.” I lashed out at my parents and said very hurtful things to them about adoption. I also unfortunately turned much of this anger and toxicity onto myself and it negatively affected the way I viewed myself. For me, the anger was about being confronted with the understanding that adoption didn’t just give me a family, but also meant that I had one in the periphery that I might never know. I felt like a foreigner in my own body, constantly being judged for my race but not claiming that identity. I couldn’t process how to come to terms with the effects of poverty and the larger systems that led to me being placed for adoption.

I really felt anger as the onset of grief.

Now the anger has faded, and I do feel a deep, complicated sadness when I think about these topics. What helped me the most was reaching out and connecting with other adoptees. It helped me to channel and validate my feelings about adoption, see more nuances in the process, and regain a lot of self-confidence and self-worth.

As I have gotten involved with adoptee organizations, I’ve found solace, healing, and joy. My parents, while we’ll always have differences, love me and they never retaliated when I said mean things about the adoption process or them. From close friends and family, I was treated with compassion, love, understanding, and community. I think that’s what every person needs when working through these big, unexplainable things.

JD shares about Adoptee Anger

This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.

by JD Glienna, adopted from the Philippines to the USA. JD is co-founder of Adopteekwentokwento, a Youtube channel that shares Filipino adoptee voices.

I do become angry from time to time. I’m angry about all the lies I have to sift through to get to the truth. I’m angry that the system gave me to abusive parents. I’m angry that there was no process to help protect me or educate them for improvements. I’m angry that I have to constantly work through the bad memories. I’m angry that I listen to the lies of how great a mom I had, or comments like, “This is my baby” when it damn well was lies. I’m angry that a child had to be the pummel bag for someone else’s insecurities.

I may not always be angry, but it bubbles from time to time. I’m angry that some want a storyline versus taking responsibility. I’m angry that adoptees are the last part of the triad to be considered behind the adopting parents agenda, the government system, and then the birth mother. I’m angry at the lack of support for adoptees in post adoption. I’m angry for those who experience that they are a lie for someone and that they have to remain a lie. I am angry for all adoptees who want to be part of a family, adopted or biological and are constantly rejected.

You can follow JD
@lakad.co
@Adopteekwentokwento

Ofir shares about Adoptee Anger

This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.

by Ofir Alzate, adopted from Colombia to the USA.

I am an adoptee with anger. Does this get passed down to our children because I have three angry boys . Now as an adult, I do feel like I can handle anger a lot better – I’ll walk away from confrontation before it gets bad.

It pisses me off now because I remember a few times the adopted couple used to say to me, “You’re always so angry and that’s all you do, is want to be in your room with the door closed”, and I had to open it. How does somebody not see a problem when it’s right there in their face, like what the f*** did you expect? That I was going to be jumping up and down happy because I got my family taken away, my country, and nobody looks like me and nobody is the same colour as me? Not to mention I didn’t even know what they were saying for the longest time.

I wanted to go home! I wanted my mom! I hated it here! I don’t belong here. I was given the wrong family.

I love my 3 boys and my 7 grandchildren but I am ready to leave it all behind. I’m currently waiting to hear about my passport. Even though it was just a copy, I received my birth certificate that my mom sent me along with my baptism certificate from Colombia. I cried for almost a good hour in my room. I touched something that my mom touched!

I’ve been feeling really down ever since Christmas and I also received my high school report card – my 9th and 10th grade report cards. It broke my heart that my grades were so bad. I only had an A in gym. I was getting Ds and Fs in Spanish. I remember struggling throughout my school years. Along with everything else, I know I have ADD. That definitely was the worst mistake of my whole life was quitting school, but then again, I didn’t have the support.

I just wanted out of that house, so I left when I was 16 and never went back.

God bless us all!

Ande shares about Adoptee Anger

by Ande Stanley, born in the UK and adopted to the USA.

This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.

Was I ever an angry adoptee? Yes. I still am. My therapist says anger is a normal response to being lied to and manipulated. But I am a late discovery adoptee. I can’t say how I would feel if I had known all along. I think there would still have been some anger because of all of the lies I discovered had been told about my adoption by my families of origin.

I also kind of believe that there is a righteous anger that is appropriate when it comes to adoption. I wish my families were willing to at least try to look at my feelings through my lens, instead of fighting so hard to maintain their own narratives. I am expected to see theirs, yet they refuse to even try to see mine.

You can read more from Ande at The Adoption Files blog and Spotify podcast.

Andrea shares about Adoptee Anger

This is a series on Adoptee Anger from lived experience, to help people understand what is beneath the surface and why adoptees can sometimes seem angry.

by Andrea Johnstone, adopted from Canada to England.

I used to be angry as a teenager! I so desperately wanted my adopted mum and dad to see me for who I was and for them to meet my emotional needs. It never happened. I was the school bully as I had to learn to protect myself from all the racial comments.

My school teachers used to say to me, “You are nothing but a nigger!” Yes, that’s right f**ing school teachers. I was pulled up by my jumper and hit against the wall from a PE teacher who said to me, “I hate you Andrea Johnstone!” Wtf!! So yes, I was f**ing angry. The kids never got punished for their racial behaviour. The teachers had no idea that I was living in a very dysfunctional household – mother narcissistic with a depressive, passive father. So hell yes, I was angry!

However, the tides turned and I went into deep therapy after a suicide attempt. It was a long journey back to self. And I’m here now supporting many adoptees in the UK. So it was all meant to be, as I know that pain, I know that anger within. I know the primal wounding because I have been there.

That anger still continues at times to bubble within. But I know now how to soothe her xx and no regrets. All my life experiences are who I am today. I’m a bloody amazing, wise woman who has learnt to truly love herself and to remember I was the one I have been waiting for. To give to myself what I was needing.

All the looking outside myself, the love I looked for with men, nagh … I can only have a healthy relationship with someone when I get one with myself first. And let me tell you it’s taken decades to work that one out.

You have to dig deep ladies and gents because this journey as an adoptee is no walk in the park. xx

For fellow adoptees needing professional support, Andrea is a psychotherapist in the Bournemouth UK area, you can connect with her at Psychology Today UK.

What Happens After Reunion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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