Search and Reunion in Intercountry Adoption

Search & Reunion: Impacts & Outcomes

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

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

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

Issues and challenges faced using tracing services:

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

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

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

Key quotations from adoptees about their experience of reunification:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m like a Deer Caught in the Headlights

by Krem0076, an Korean intercountry adoptee raised in the USA.

Krem0076 as a toddler

I am an adoptee from a closed international adoption. I have paperwork but for many of us, our paperwork is often fraught with mistakes, lies and discrepancies. That is a challenge – is my information accurate? My birth name? My birthdate? My origin story if I even have one? Are any of the names in my paperwork real or accurate?

I have names for both my b-mom and b-dad and I decided in 2017 to try searching for my b-mom on Facebook. Here’s another challenge – because I am adopted from Korea and wasn’t raised reading or speaking my language, I had to figure out how to translate the English version of my b-mom’s name into Hangul and hope it was accurate. Thankfully I have a fellow Korean adoptee friend who could do that for me. I searched and found a woman who has physical features that are so similar to mine, it was like looking into a future mirror at myself around 50 years old.

The next challenge was – do I message her? And if I do, what the heck do I say? “Hi, you don’t really know me, but I may be your daughter whom you relinquished back in 1987. Did you relinquish a baby girl then? I promise I’m not crazy or going to cause trouble.” Yeah, I don’t see that going over well. Do I friend request her? How do I approach her without spooking her? What if she’s married and has other children? What if I’m a secret? What if she denies me?

This was back in 2017 when I first found my potential b-mom, and after weeks of agonising and being petrified but simultaneously excited, I sent her a message and a friend request. I waited days which turned into weeks, that turned into months and eventually, years. Nothing. I went from being excited and hopeful to being nervous and unsure. Eventually it turned into bitterness, frustration, rejection and loss all over again. In the end, I numbed myself to it and pushed it into the back of my brain and tried to forget.

Fast forward to March of 2021. I had recently fully come out of the adoption fog, started reconnecting with my Korean culture, language, foods and traditions and making more Korean adoptee friends. I decided to look her up again and see if there was anything new. From what I’ve gleamed as an outside observer, she looks to be married and has 2 adult daughters. It also looks like she runs a berry farm. I decided to message her again, this time in Hangul hoping she’d respond to that better. I’ve also updated my profile name to include my birth name in Hangul, hoping she’d see it. She never read the message and I don’t have the option to friend request her again.

I know I can go through other channels to find and contact my b-mom, but I am a mess. What if they can’t find her? What if they do and she rejects me? What if this woman is her and she rejects me? What if she’s passed away? That’s another challenge – the debilitating and paralysing onslaught of emotions that stop me from moving either way. I’m like a deer caught in the headlights.

For adoptive parents reading this, I encourage you to foster open adoptions if you can – not for your needs and wants, but for the future needs and wants of you adopted children. They will grow up knowing their origins, their medical history, their b-mom or parents. They will have a better sense of their identity. They will be able to ask questions and have them answered. There will still be trauma. There will still be tough days and emotions. But they will have a stronger foundation than I will never have. I’m 34 and drowning somedays. I struggle with being adopted and right now, quite frankly, I hate it.

Why do Intercountry Adoptees want to know their Origins?

The desire to know my origins is an innate and fundamental human need (and right).

My need to know my origins is akin to your need to breath air that keeps you alive.

Breath of Air by Tim Kakandar

We only know our origins are important when we don’t have it, or access to it. For people like me, this is our daily lived experience!

As an intercountry adoptee, I live my whole life trying to find who I come from and why I was given up / stolen.

It’s really hard to know how to go forward in life if I don’t know how and why I came to be in this unnatural situation. 

My life did not start at adoption! I have a genetic history, generations of people before me who contributed to who I am.

We cannot pretend in this world of adoption and family formation that genetics does not matter, it does – significantly; I am not a blank slate to be imprinted upon; there are consequences to this pretence and it shows in the statistics of our higher rates of adoptee youth suicide!

One of most shared experiences amongst adoptees whom I connect with, is the topic of “feeling all alone”, “like an alien” and yet human beings are not meant to be isolated. We are social beings desiring connection.

Separation from my natural origins and the knowledge of these, left me disconnected and lost in a fundamental way.

My life has been spent trying to reconnect – firstly with my inner self, then with the outer self, and with those around me, searching for a sense of belonging.

As an adoptee, I can be given all the material things in the world but it did not fix the hole that my soul feels, when it has nowhere and no-one to belong to, naturally.

My substitute family did not equate to a natural sense of belonging.

I searched for my origins because my innate feelings and experience of isolation and loss drove me to find where I came from and to make sense of how I got to be here.

This was shared by Lynelle Long at the 1 July Webinar: Child’s Right to Identity in Alternative Care.

her name was maité, su nombre era maité

blossoming almond branch in glass by vincent van gogh

i have been told
of a sister
i have never met
she died at sixteen
in an accident
her name was maité

i dreamed of her
last night
soft, gentle
everything it seems
a sister might be
she was to me
through the night

i felt the feeling
one must feel
when they have such a one
as her
the not alone feeling
perfumey girl presence
it was a beautiful dream

she stayed with me today
in my waking hours
i smelled her
through the two thousand pesetas of
super
i pumped into my car

and when i worried about money
she reassured me
it will all work out
dear brother
she said

i stopped by the side of the road
on the way home
and picked her
a wildflower
that i know she’ll love
i’ll give it to her
tonight

her name was maité, su nombre era maité
mi boreal interior collection
j. alonso el pocico, españa
(c) j.alonso 2019

Poems by j.alonso may not be reproduced, copied or distributed without the written consent of the author.

 

Excerpt: First Letter to my Iranian Father

Return visit to my homeland – Iran, Mashhad

In Sweden where I grew up, people like me are called adopted. It’s easy to spot an adopted. We look like we are from somewhere far away but we don’t know our native language or culture. This creates confusion wherever we go. It also creates confusion within ourselves.

Who are we? Who am I?

We grieve our traumas in silence because as soon as we share our sadness, we are told that we should be grateful: to our new amazing country and our kind adoptive parents.

This is something a Swedish biological child never has to hear: that they should be grateful to live in Sweden! This creates a sense of being worth less compared to everyone else; that we exist in Sweden on other terms compared to our peers; that it’s conditional. In many cases, our adoptive parents didn’t take good care of us. They disregarded our traumas. And they didn’t understand the racism all of us had to endure, both as children and adults. We were unprotected. We were fair game.

When you are adopted you sometimes grieve and think about your mother. For some reason you don’t think very much about your dad. I think this is because we are under the impression that our mothers were clueless and young, perhaps drug addicts, perhaps prostitutes. And that our dad was just some dude. The part with the prostitution, by the way, is part of the narrative that adopted girls are handed when they are young. “If you stayed in your country you would have been a prostitute, so why aren’t you grateful?!” Can you imagine what this message does to us?!

Daddy, like most of the other adoptees, I have spent time wondering about my mother, but I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about you in the past. Now, I think about you all the time.

About Sarah

First gift from my Iranian father

Adoptee desire to know the Truth

Today I want to share a powerful life experience of an Indian intercountry adoptee raised in Belgium, a member of ICAV, willing to share about her desire to know the truth of her life before adoption.

Being adopted from India, it is usually very difficult to search and find one’s genetic family. This is for a variety of reasons such as the Indian intercountry adoption laws that do little to promote searching and reunion, coupled with the lack of documentation, and/or truth of the documentation from either the birth or adoptive country.

What Serafina’s story demonstrates is that because she was willing to question everything told to her, sometimes the outcome is unexpected.

Enjoy reading Serafina’s story to find out for yourself how her journey unfolded and the message she wishes to share!

The Colour of Time

A new book, The Colour of Time: A Longitudinal Exploration of the Impact of Intercountry Adoption in Australia is to be released in June this year.


This is the sequel to The Colour of Difference: Journeys in Transracial Adoption by Federation Press, 2001 (no longer available in print but can be purchased as an ebook at Google Play).

The Colour of Time follows the journeys of 13 of the original 27 contributors from The Colour of Difference. Reading about their experiences 15 years on, you will gain a greater understanding of how the adoption journey is navigated over time as adoptees mature and age. The book looks at whether things change, and if so, how?

Included in The Colour of Time is a new younger generation of 15 intercountry adoptees, some as  young as 18 through to others in their early 30s. They shed light on whether the issues they’ve experienced mirror the complexities raised by the older generation in The Colour of Difference. Has the mandatory education for prospective parents made a difference? Has racism been an issue compared to those raised in the 70s and 80s, post White Australia Policy era? Has greater awareness of the complexities highlighted in The Colour of Difference made any impact?

Overall, the book The Colour of Time includes 28 intercountry adoptees raised in Australia and adopted from 13 birth countries. The book provides a snapshot of some issues faced over the life long journey of being adopted, specific to intercountry adoption. These range from being young adults finishing high school wrestling with identity issues, searching and reuniting, navigating dating relationships, becoming parents, chosing to remain single, navigating post reunion relationships, losing adoptive or biological parents through age, resolving or learning to manage traumas and mental health issues long term, and much, much more …

The Colour of Time is a must read for those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the life long journey of intercountry adoption, whether an adoptive parent, an adoptee, an adoption professional, or anyone interested in adoption.

Many of the book participants aim to attend and it will be a great way to celebrate this amazing milestone in recognising and recording Australia’s history in intercountry adoption. The book will be available with limited print copies and unlimited as an ebook.  Details as to how to obtain a copy will be provided in the next few months.

This project is a joint initiative between International Social Service (ISS) Australia, The Benevolent Society – Post Adoption Resource Centre (PARC), and InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV).

Special thanks to the Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS) who funded the project.

Search and Reunion for Intercountry Adoptees

I was recently contacted by a researcher who wanted to know if we could share our experiences of how searching and reunification impacts us. I decided it was a good reason to put together a long overdue Perspective Paper.

I didn’t realise this paper would end up being a book as it includes over 40 intercountry adoptees, contributing 100 pages!

Questions asked to stimulate the kind of responses I was seeking were:

  • What country of origin are you from? What country of origin were you adopted to and at what age?
  • What do you think it was that made you search? Was it something you always wanted to do or did you reach a point in your life that instigated the desire?  What were your expectations?
  • How did you go about conducting your search? What resources did you utilise?  What obstacles did you encounter?
  • What outcome did you have? What impact has that had upon you? How has that impacted your relationship with your adoptive family?
  • What has the experience been like of maintaining a relationship with your biological family?  What obstacles have you encountered? What has been useful in navigating this part of your life?
  • How have you integrated your search and/or reunion in your sense of who you are? Has it changed anything? In what ways?
  • What could be done by professionals, governments and agencies to help assist in Search & Reunions for intercountry adoptees like yourself?

These questions were guidelines only and adoptees were encouraged to provide any further insight to the topic.

All types of outcomes were included, whether searches were successful or not.

This resource will provide adoptees with a wide range of perspectives to consider when contemplating the issues involved in searching for original family. The paper will also provide the wider public and those involved in intercountry adoption a deeper understanding of how an adoptee experiences the search. Governments, agencies, and professional search organisations have direct feedback on what they can do to improve the process for intercountry adoptees.

Search & Reunion: Impacts & Outcomes Perspective Paper

English
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