Deep Truths

by Anonymous, a followup from My Game Changer.

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, is 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, contrast 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 though 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 being rescued from a war-torn country was all gods 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 of 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 all 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 would 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 and 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 though with more meditation, it’s now much more apparent and explicit, like a heavy brick lodged in my chest whenever I recall the space mediation or psychedelics allow to go to. It no longer grasp 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 seemed to take forever. It’s like being in a flight holding pattern. You know where you want to go but you can’t land so you 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 you 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 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 you 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 OK, but when you got up close and inside, you could see it want 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.

Fifty Shades …

I bet that got your interest!

… of Yellow.

And now, it looks like a rating scale for cowardice …

by Claire Martin, adopted from Hong Kong to England.

I was found on the staircase of 61 Berwick Street in Hong Kong on about 23 December 1960. They reckoned I was approximately 2 days old. My birth was registered by the matron of Po Leung Kuk, an orphanage and refuge for mothers. My parents always believed that I was eventually in Fanling Babies’ Home. Sally Rigby’s (name changed for privacy) parents believed, to the contrary, that I was in St Christopher’s. It irritates me profoundly that I don’t know as none of the paperwork I’ve uncovered so far confirms where I was. I arrived at London Airport (now Heathrow) with 8 other adoptees on 20th December 1962. My parents had been put in touch with the Rigbys, also from the Wirral (between Chester and Liverpool), and they travelled in my father’s car to collect Sally and me from the airport. The name on my birth certificate is Lam Ling Chi. I also had a bracelet with this name on. I don’t know where the name came from. I had thought it was my original name but many adoptees were given their names by the director of the children’s home they were in.

My dad was 2nd generation Chinese, born in Cardiff in 1922. His parents were so poor, he was adopted by a man called Chin (surname), in exchange for a laundry. During WW2, he met up again with his birth family in Liverpool. He married my mum in 1951 in an era when mixed marriages were extremely rare and very much frowned upon. They met as lab assistants at Shell’s Stanlow Oil Refinery in Ellesmere Port on the Wirral. They couldn’t have any children so they adopted me. They thought “Ling Chi” would be unpronounceable (in Mandarin, it’s Ling Zhi) so I became Claire Ling Chi Chin.

Dad’s blood relatives took an enormous interest in this adoption and were extremely supportive. Like dad, they were born here and couldn’t speak Chinese at all. His sisters, however, had both married Cantonese speaking Chinese men, and they tried to communicate with me. There were 2 small problems. One was that I was extremely traumatised and would scream my head off in the presence of men. Poor dad couldn’t go anywhere near me for the first couple of days back in Little Sutton village where I grew up.  The second was that I either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak. A somewhat alarming report on my adoption file assesses me as “extremely under developed”.

My mother died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage when I was 12. I was never close to the few relatives she had, so imagine my surprise, when playing in the village, some English kids approached me claiming to be my cousins. The family was rather tight lipped about the whole affair and I’m not really sure how much her side of the family viewed our rather unusual situation. Mum’s father refused to attend the wedding when she married dad, so who knows…

Of the 100 or so of us who were adopted by British families as part of the Hong Kong Project, I was pretty unique in having exposure to Chinese relatives and Chinese culture.  But just how Chinese were we really? Dad and his family were BBCs, British Born Chinese.  The food we ate was what we could cobble together from the village shops and the odd trip to Chinatown in Liverpool for soya sauce. Supermarkets didn’t exist in the 60s as they do now – at least not on the Wirral. An English school friend invited me to tea and was delighted to serve me Vesta Chicken Chow Mein. I’d never heard of it. It didn’t resemble anything my family had ever encountered.

Even more excruciating was the occasional visit to Chinese restaurants. My poor father once had to withstand a tirade from a waiter who claimed dad wasn’t Chinese at all. “You don’t talk Chinese, you don’t walk Chinese, you don’t even look Chinese.” Imagine what they made of me, with my English mother. What’s worse, I actually look Japanese. When I visited dad’s younger brother, who’d escaped all this abuse and emigrated to Singapore, I met enormous hostility in Malaysia because I was mistaken for being Japanese. The conversation went something like:

“She’s Chinese, she’s our cousin.”

“She doesn’t look like you.”

“She’s adopted.”

“How do you know she’s Chinese, then?”

So clearly there are shades of yellow and, in the eyes of “proper Chinese,” I’m patently at the pale end of the scale. In fact, they call us bananas in the light of the controversy over Ashley Cole (famous black British footballer) being accused of being a choc ice, I’ll leave you to ponder that one.

I was determined to counter this by dressing Chinese (jackets only: you have to be thin as a toothpick to wear a cheong sam) and learning Chinese. I went to Durham University and studied Mandarin. I was supposed to study in China for a year but extensive medical tests led to discovering I was a carrier of Hepatitis B. It took 18 years before something vile came out of the woodwork relating to my dodgy origins, and this was it. It meant I had to go to Taiwan instead (China wouldn’t let me in).

There were no direct flights in 1980, so I went via Hong Kong, on my own with food poisoning (don’t ask) and only half my luggage (Cathay Pacific sent the other half to Los Angeles). Oh, and I’d learned Mandarin, not Cantonese (which is what they speak in Hong Kong). So I ended up in even more complicated explanations for my inability to communicate in my own tongue. Which brings me to how I’m perceived by Brits. One of my bolt holes in Hong Kong was an English school friend’s mother. I arranged to meet her on Victoria Peak where she lived. She was shocked when she saw me. Hence another somewhat surreal but oft encountered conversation:

“You’re Chinese!”

“Yes.  Didn’t Anne tell you?”

“But you sounded just like a girl from Liverpool over the phone.”

“I am a girl from Liverpool.”

And that’s what I am. A Scouser. What I discovered in Taiwan was that I wasn’t nearly as Chinese as I thought I was. I’d learned to talk Chinese, even dress Chinese, but, in the end, I couldn’t act Chinese. It was a huge disappointment to the family of course. Being the first of my generation to learn Chinese and go back out to the Far East, they expected me to meet and marry someone Chinese.

I came back to Durham speaking far better Chinese and promptly had a nervous breakdown. I didn’t actually know that I was having one. Everyone put it down to the Hep B at first but after being tested for everything under the sun including glandular fever, we were all very non-plussed. Eventually the university psychologist got wind of this from my prof who was worried I was falling asleep in his lectures. Hence another one of these weird conversations:

“Is she Chinese?”

“Yes”

“Chinese don’t recognise Depression.  They just get ill instead.”

This was all a mystery to dad and me given neither of us had indulged in anything so exotic as Depression with a capital “D.” We both resolutely smiled through our trauma – poor dad lost his eldest brother, his mother and his wife within a short space of time and claimed he couldn’t remember the 70s at all. So when I asked him if this assertion still applied to Chinese brought up here, he said the most extraordinary thing:

“You were always more Chinese than I was.”

My 50 shades just got yellower…until I started dating. I’d had mild interest from a Chinese lad in Taiwan, who being very Chinese or very shy, took so long to declare his intentions that I was due to go home before he’d said anything. I went out with a batty American from LA who kept telling me to “mellow out” whenever I got ratty and complained that I was too English and two timed me with a local Chinese girl (Miss Saigon re-enacted). Back in Durham, there was a chap from Malaysia who was interested but went about it as slowly as the Chinese lad in Taiwan. And then I met David Martin. He didn’t give a sausage about how Chinese I was, the Hep B or the nervous breakdown. Not being Chinese, he didn’t hang around either. I remembered how my landlady in Taiwan had been treated by her husband and mother-in-law. I realised that I couldn’t bow and scrape to a Chinese man – which is why I’m not married to one. I finally recognised how British I was.

In the year 2000, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Despite their best efforts, my parents and the Rigby’s didn’t get Sally and me together that often. Jasmine (we Hong Kong adoptees have agreed only to use first names publicly) and her journalist mum organised the first re-union but I had to miss it due to a family wedding. But Sally and I got together that year for the first time since we were 7 and Jasmine and I met in London. I also Googled the Fanling website and found a whole bunch of American adoptees from Hong Kong. Kim, who runs the site, put me in touch with Debbie who has been very active in organising UK reunions. I met Sue at the Birmingham one, ironically, since we both live near each other, then we met up again in London. Julia Feast, a British social worker, launched the British Chinese adoption study which brought even more of us together. Imagine the joy of meeting some of the other babies in the Heathrow picture.

It’s extraordinary to meet others who have been through the same experience. We have an uncanny bond. It’s a novelty to share anecdotes and we can giggle at those weird conversations I’ve quoted because we’ve all had them. I’ve met about 50 of us now – and we’re like a family. Some of us have tried to be Chinese and some of us haven’t. Some of us flew into a tailspin trying to complete the recent census forms – anything that puts us into boxes is a nightmare because we just don’t fit anywhere. Then Lucy, another adoptee, came to the rescue. Her advice:  Tick “Other”, insert “British Chinese”.

So here I am, Claire Ling Chi Martin, British Chinese and 50 shades of yellow.

Family and Xmas Times

This is the one time of year where I’m reminded I don’t have that childhood family with amazing memories and closeness. I’ve always yearned, as only some other adoptees can know, for that sense of family where I feel wanted, cherished, loved deeply. I know my family, like many others, are never perfect, but the older I get, the more I see my childhood in my adoptive family and can only remember the pain it created for me. Adoption is supposed to be happy isn’t it? It’s what gets portrayed. But I know I had spurts of moments of happiness in mine — it’s so hard to recall because as I grow older and relive it all again via children of my own, I realise the level of neglect and trauma my adoptive family caused, that could have been avoided.

How do I get past it? Should I? Or do I accept it will just always be … yes it hurts beneath the surface, oozing with pain every time I have to think about “adoptive family”. I’m old enough now to understand this pain is part of who I am. It’s not going away but I can hold and honour what I’ve had to do, to come past it —to be functional, stable, loving.

Healing doesn’t mean the pain stops and goes away. Healing means I’ve come to accept the truth. I no longer sit in it drowning or reacting. I’ve learned better ways to manage my emotions. I’ve learned how to have boundaries and not give past what I’m willing to. I’ve learned it’s ok to remain true to my own needs. I’ve learned to accept what can’t be changed but to change what I can. I can accept them as they are and know they’re not capable, even if they wanted. I have to give it to me, myself. Love, connection, acceptance, nurturing. 

Xmas, like Thanksgiving for Americans, is a time where as an adoptee, I feel those sad feelings for what I might have had but didn’t. I know the reality of reunions is that even bio family, if I ever find them, will most likely never be able to meet my emotional need for “family” either. So, this Xmas, I will bring my children and husband close and treasure every moment I have with them for they are the only true family I will ever have! I am thankful I was able to heal enough to have a loving relationship and become a mother myself and give to my children what I never got. This has been my life’s blessing and will be my focus this Xmas!

Battle Scars in Adoption

by Mike, adopted from Hong Kong to New Zealand.

These are my battle scars from when I was around 12-13 years of age, done around these holiday times. I would get really depressed looking at all those loving families with parents who look like them, spoke like them, etc. It didn’t help I was a Chinese male with white parents.

Whenever I look at my wrists I am thankful I made it through those times. It took me till the age of 30 before I really dealt with my PTSD and depression due to my inter-racial and intercountry adoption. Now and then I have moments where I go back into my past and think about “was it all worth it”, living my life and getting to where I am today – am I better off or should I just have ended my life back then?

I guess a lesson to be learnt from this, is no matter what you do as an adoptive parent – there are some things that a child needs to learn the answers to questions themselves. It’s not up to you as parents to give them the answer that you want them to believe in and hear.

Mike’s other guest post at ICAV.

Cancelling My Adoption

by Netra Sommer born in India, adopted to Denmark; officially no longer “adopted”.
Netra’s story aired in Denmark on TV and in print media, Nov 2020.

From as early as I could remember, as a child I was not happy. This was not my place. These were not my parents. I couldn’t look like them. I was always different.

They never talked about India, were never interested in my origins whereas I was always very curious about my identity. I had so many questions. Why was I here? I am not Danish. I could never be what they wanted me to be.

As I grew older, I realised there was one thing wrong with my life – it was my adoption. All I could think about was this adoption and how unhappy I was. I grew up with a lot of violence. I was always told I wasn’t white enough; I had to be this or that to be Danish. The message I always got was I had to be something else that wasn’t me. My personality was so different from theirs – I loved colours, I loved music. They did not want any of this for me. So many things reminded me that I was always so different and not my parents’ child.

I moved out of home at a very young age. When I was a young adult at age 18, I found out I could cancel my adoption – except in Denmark, the problem was I needed the signature of my adoptive parents and they didn’t want to give it. I told them it was the one thing I wanted and then I’d never ask for anything else. They said, “No, we have done so much to get you, we want to be a family. We think you are sick in the head, so no.” Each year I asked. I pushed and pushed. They always said no. “Mum and I are tired of you. We can’t live like this anymore. We can’t deal with this. You are a psychopath who has no thought for us and how it impacts us to have you cancel this adoption”. All this was communicated via texts and emails as I refused to ever see them.

Two years ago I met a journalist. She was very interested in my life. She knew I’d been talking in my community about adoption. I told her I wanted to cancel the adoption to be my mother’s child again. These Danish people were not my parents – there is no love or understanding, nothing for me to hold onto. When she learnt more about my experience she realised it was a difficult problem without my parents consent and wondered how this could be resolved.

I tried and texted my parents again. This time they told me what they wanted in return. I was to pack all my childhood things from the home – which meant I had to go there. They also had a list of questions they wanted me to answer. I replied that no, I’m not coming back. I offered for a friend of mine to pick up my boxes of childhood belongings. They tried to involve her but she refused. They sent a letter full of questions they wanted me to answer. They wanted an explanation for things like how do I think this impacts my sister, why I wasn’t considering them, whether the things in my childhood had been that bad, etc. I didn’t feel I had to justify what I wanted. I didn’t hear from them for a long time – they were angry I wouldn’t answer their questions so they were refusing to cooperate with my request.

The journalist wanted to help with my story. With the help of her production company, the story of my life was filmed and how I wanted to cancel my adoption. We could not predict what would happen next. My adoptive parents created a lot of drama and at many points we wondered if things would ever happen.

Suddenly they sent a message. “We have seen you don’t want to answer our questions but we want to cancel. Send us the papers with your signature and date”. So I went and got the papers, signed and filmed them and sent them. I was next contacted by a lawyer via the mail who told me I hadn’t signed the papers. Everyone else knew I’d signed them. I was so exhausted fighting this. Each time there was something new they do to play their game. I was so tired of them. I found out they would only communicate to me via the lawyer so I found out what she wanted, did exactly as she said, signed and sent the papers again. They were playing a power game to show me who was in control.

Suddenly one hot summer day, my uncle called. He said, “There is a letter for you”. I had instructed them to send the signed papers to him. Now I had to wait because he was away on holiday but returning soon.

The day of his return, I sat and waited in the sweltering sun. The TV film crew were with me to film what would happen. We all sat waiting. My uncle opened the letter. I was so quiet and the film crew asked me how I was feeling, could I explain? But I could not. I had no words. Then my uncle pulled out the 2 papers and said, “Now you are free!” Finally, after more than 10 years of asking! All I could think of was to return to my home, my boat. I don’t know the words to describe how I felt.

The next day I sent the papers off to the government who told me to wait another month until the cancelation is official. I planned a big party to celebrate. The day before my big party, a lady called me. She was the lawyer from the government. She said, “I just want to be sure that you want to cancel your adoption”. After I answered she pressed the button on her computer and said, “It is now cancelled”.

The official cancelation came to me as an email. I showed the tv crew. I was just so overjoyed! I told them, “I’m not adopted anymore! I have my Indian name back!” Then we got to party. I think that was when I realised for the first time I was finally free. But I did realise too that now I have no one who is my relative. If I die, no-one will be notified. According to my Indian papers, I have no relatives, no parents, no sisters. It was the first time I felt a little scared if something were to happen to me; what if I wanted someone to take over my boat? I would need to organise a Will and ensure my things are looked after.

According to my Indian papers, I was found by a policeman on the streets of Bombay, so I have no true identifying information. It was estimated on two different pieces of paperwork that I was 1 year or 3 months old when I was found. My adoption was done via a Danish adoption agency that doesn’t exist anymore. There are so many things I want to find out. I haven’t been back to India but I want to as soon as possible. I need to know what happened, what the truth is about my origins. I want to make another documentary about my return back to India when COVID is over.

The only words of experience I can offer to fellow adoptees is that if you are wanting to cancel your adoption, be sure that this is what you truly want. There is no going back. There are a lot of hurdles to make it happen. Most parents won’t want to agree because it is a loss of a child for them. But I really believe it’s important adoptees have the choice. I wish that in Denmark or any other country, that adoptees could cancel adoptions without needing adoptive parent permission. They purchased us as a child – why should they always decide our fate?

Many people judge and think that I am not thankful for being in Denmark. It bothers me that so many continue to participate and buy a child. I think most mothers want their child if they had other options. The end result of canceling my adoption is to be left with no relatives, no inheritance, to be very alone, and of course, to have an adoptive family who are very sad and angry. They did mistreat me but the law in Denmark was difficult and didn’t support my wishes due to the statute of limitations which meant for historic cases of abuse, I was not able to press charges. I have done everything I could to be free. Thankfully it didn’t cost me financially to get my adoption cancelled – I didn’t need a lawyer and the media company were an amazing support, along with my friends and own “family” who are there for me.

Good intentions gone wrong

The dark side of Voluntourism and Adoption

by Kristopher Hinz adopted from Sri Lanka to Australia.

In the five year period between 2008 and 2013, struggling Peruvian and Bolivian farmers were plunged even deeper into poverty. Western demand for the world’s latest “superfood” meant that the median price of their staple food, quinoa, skyrocketed dramatically, and suddenly it was even harder for these subsistence farmers to put food on the table (1,2).

Wealthy, middle class and vegan, it was well intentioned white hipsters (who often think of themselves as the most ethical consumers in the market) that were the main drivers of this catastrophe with their insatiable taste for the healthy grain.

This, it seems, was a case of supply and demand gone wrong- a wealthy segment of the market having a disproportionate share of control over capitalism’s puppet strings, which they then unwittingly used to widen the disparity between the developed and developing world.

This is not a new phenomenon, however. The “Quinoa crisis” was merely the latest Western craze to shake the foundations of the third world. Another industry full to the brim of young people’s good intentions has also recently been the cause of much disruption in the poorer corners of the world.

Voluntourism provides the opportunity for university students or high school leavers on their gap year to travel abroad and volunteer at orphanages in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They fly home with smiles on their faces and happy hearts, but there is a dark side to their activism.

Those children they think are so gorgeous on their numerous selfies, who are already vulnerable and emotionally volatile, are left with even greater attachment issues as they watch yet another role model walk in and out of their life after a few weeks of cuddles and a couple of extra toys.

It has been demonstrably shown that many of these children are not indeed orphans at all, and are merely products of “baby farms” that exist solely for voluntourists and prospective white adoptive parents (3,4, 5, 6).

Young mothers mired deep into poverty and desperate for a way out, send their children away to orphanages for a chance at an institutionalised education. This heartbreaking decision is made all the more tantilising by the offer of a much-needed financial incentive. 

What of the lucky ones then? Whose bright smiles and eager hugs are enough to sway their altruistic and lonely white guests to become their adoptive parents?

There are many who are indeed fortunate when they finally make their way to their shiny new developed nation, with it’s big skyscrapers (or neat suburban lawns) and fridges full of foods they’d never dreamed of.

But like the quinoa trade, there simply isn’t enough protection for those where the original point of sale was made. As a result of being able to simply “buy” a child without being checked for their ability to be fit parents (as is the case in the West with a stringent foster care system) many of these adoptive parents make mistakes that cause long term identity issues for their beloved children.

Swept up in the joy of having the family they wanted at last, they neglect to allow their children to fully express all of their feelings about their adoption, requiring only to hear positive thoughts such as gratitude. Many adoptions end in tears for the child, their new family or both. Many abusive adoptive parents are grossly unfit to adopt and do so for intentions related to social status, or simply are not the type of people who should have been parents to begin with.

But even in the best cases, no adoption, no matter how idyllic, is ever perfect for a child’s mental state. The best of parents will still chastise their adoptive children or feel hurt when they express feelings of loneliness or disconnection with their new culture and longing for understanding of their birth culture. Adoptive parents (including in my own experience) will also take it as a personal affront when their child expresses frustration with racist elements of their adopted culture.

Of course, like the vegans, these good parents made a “purchase” in good faith and most of them were full of nothing but positive intentions. But also much like the vegans, the fact the market was skewed so heavily in their favour meant that they were able to do what they wanted without needing to consider how their actions may impact those who are less fortunate.

Across both East and West, prospective white parents’ demands for an adoptive child is seen as an unquestioned right, while parents of colour who have adopted white children are regularly and rudely accosted when in public with them (7).

The skewed market must be balanced back in favour of the developing world. This will allow for greater scrutiny to be placed on prospective adoptive parents seeking children from the third world and will ensure that such parents are adequately informed about the challenges that their child will face as an interracial, intercountry adoptee.

References:

  1. Blythman, Joanna“Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?”, The Guardian, 2013: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans-stomach-unpalatable-truth-quinoa
  1. Long, Yu. “Superfoods Dark Side: Increasing Vulnerability of Quinoa Farmers in Bolivia” 2018:http://web.colby.edu/st297-global18/2019/01/22/superfoods-dark-side-increasing-vulnerability-of-quinoa-farmers-in-bolivia/#:~:text=The%20rise%20in%20quinoa’s%20market,2011%3B%20Hall%2C%202016)
  1. Journeyman Pictures: “Paper Orphans”, 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhIMw0ZT8mc
  1.  Al Jazeera: “Cambodia’s Orphan Business: People and Power”, 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hf_snNO9X8
  1. Winkler, Tara. Why We Need To End The Era of Orphanages”,  TedXTalks,2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3nPMWkhbMI&t=2s
  1. Zembla, “Adoption Fraud at Baby Farms” 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSsbRcobbUA
  1. BBC World Service, “I was accused of kidnapping my adopted son” 2020:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOL9MAsx8lM

Adoptee Dualities

by Abby Hilty, born in Colombia adopted to the USA, currently living in Canada.
She wrote and shared this on her Facebook wall for National Adoption Awareness Month.

Adoptees are constantly grappling with a life full of complex dualities.

I am an only child, but I have at least 4 siblings.

I have a birth certificate from 2 different countries.

I had to lose my family so that another family could be created.

I grew up in a middle class family, but I lost my original family because I was born into poverty.

I am very attached to the name Abby, but I know I was named after someone else’s ancestor.

I am occasionally told I look like my mom, but we don’t share the same genetics, racial group, or ethnicity.

I love my adoptive family, but I needed to search for my original family.

I am reunited with mi mamá, but we are no longer legally related to each other.

I am my mother’s daughter, but I am mi mamá’s daughter too.

I loved and lost my dad, but I don’t know who my father is.

I am short in my receiving country, but I am tall in my sending country.

I am brown, but I grew up with internalized whiteness.

I am an immigrant in my receiving country, but I am a gringa in my homeland.

I have lived in the northern hemisphere since I was 3 months old, but my body still struggles in the cold.

I speak English fluently, but my body responds to Spanish viscerally.

I have always celebrated my birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but those have never been easy days for me.

I know how important it is for (transracial, intercountry) adoptees to share their lived experiences, but the emotional cost is high for every NAAM post, every panel, every podcast interview, and especially for every discussion in which my fellow adoptees or I personally get pushback from non-adopted people who want to challenge our lived experiences.

And, believe me, this happens DAILY in various adoption groups. So, if an adopted person that you know and love is slow to reply to your texts or emails or if they seem to sometimes be lost in a day dream or not paying attention, it may just be because so many of our daily decisions have to be run through multiple – and often competing – thoughts and even family systems.

US Adoptee Town Hall Event Thoughts

by Kara Bos adopted from South Korea to the USA.

US Office of Children’s Issues: Virtual Town Hall Event for Adopt Intercountry Adoptees

I was notified of this event due to ICAV urging adoptees to represent our voices in this invitation for dialogue from the US State Department regarding adoptee lived experiences. It was my first time participating in such an event as I don’t think of myself as an activist and would imagine these types of invitations reserved only for established groups that speak for the collective. However, I was given the opportunity to join for the first time, a collaborative event with State Department officials and intercountry adoptees. It was a thrilling experience to see a diverse set of adoptees from all parts of the USA sharing their personal stories.

There were at least 60 intercountry adoptees and 15 Department of State team members on this virtual town hall call. 46 of us were given two minutes to respond to the question, “What do you, as an adoptee, want US policy-makers to know about the lived experiences of adoptees?” Naturally 2 minutes per adoptee was not enough time to cover this heavily weighted question, but we all did our best to respect each other’s time and stay within these limits. Topics shared were very personal and emotional and involved issues such as mental health support, citizenship for adoptees to be retroactive and inclusive, connection and resources for connections made readily available for inter-country adopted children independent of adoptive parents who may not support sharing these resources with their child, and post adoption services such as birth family search/right to origin, proper investigation and regulation of adoptive parents/adoption and random post adoption checks occurring long-term and not only within the first 3 years of adoption to mention a few.

The State Department was led by Marisa Light who moderated and provided a listening ear, only jumping in on the occasion to clarify when certain issues such as citizenship for adoptees being “outside their jurisdiction”. However, they did at least mention that they know the people who are responsible for this jurisdiction and promised to bring this to their attention.

Something to also note, is that there isn’t a single intercountry adoptee working in the State Department that holds oversight of intercountry adoption into the USA. When asked this question, they could only emphasise that Marisa’s boss who is apparently higher up in the ‘chain’ is a domestic adoptee and “holds all of our concerns very dear to his heart.” Naturally any adoptee would question, “How accurately can a department who oversees the adoption process truly understand the complexities involved with intercountry adoption if not a single member is an intercountry adoptee?” Furthermore, if intercountry adoption has been functioning since the 1950’s, since when have they started asking for dialogue with intercountry adoptees? Why isn’t there a single intercountry adoptee as part of this oversight division?

Stephanie Eye a Senior Advisor in the State Department replied with the following email, when I asked how they were planning on following up with the issues we had raised:

“We are in the process of reviewing all of the issues, concerns, and questions raised during the call and plan to follow up with adoptee participants to provide clarifying information, including specific areas where we have jurisdiction and where other entities may be more helpful.  That will be disseminated to the adoptee listserv that we are creating and to which all town hall participants will be subscribed.  We hope to get that out to everyone very soon.”

I can only hope that this isn’t just checking the box in regards to listening to our voices. I can only hope that real effective change will be put in place when listening to our voices. I can only hope that the truth of our lived experiences will be used to not only protect future adoptees but to also retroactively help the adoptees that are still suffering. All we can do is keep the dialogue open, and continue to voice our truths. I urge all adoptees to do so, even if it seems like no one is truly listening.

As Ghandi once said, “Many people, especially, ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologise for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”

US Dept of State Adoptee Town Hall Event

It has been over a year since the US Department of State actively sought interaction with intercountry adoptees in America.

On 13 Nov 2020, the US Department of State (the Central Authority for intercountry adoption in America) ran a first of it’s kind event – openly inviting intercountry adoptees in America to share what they would like policy makers to know about the lived experience of intercountry adoption. It is awesome that Dept of State actively consulted widely with the adult intercountry adoptee community!! I hope we will see more of this happening, despite their “jurisdictional” restrictions.

Pamela Kim, born in South Korea and adopted to America gave her impressions of this historic event.

Just left the Department of State adoptee Town Hall event. One of the more moving adoptee experiences I’ve had, surprisingly. I had no idea the government even cared about adoptees especially international ones. The facilitators were great. Each adoptee had two minutes to speak as there were almost one hundred adoptees on the call. Two minutes to say how adoption has impacted us and our lives, what we want them to know.

There were adoptees from Russia, Korea, China, India, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Peru, Iran and more. Domestic adoptees too. The stories were hard to hear. Everyone expressed trauma – around race and identity, loss of culture, abusive adoptive parents, abandonment, trafficking, mental health needs, school environments and bullying, failed birth searches, deportation risks.

The lifelong impact of adoption is clear whether one is adopted as a baby or a teen. I heard many stories of good loving adoptive parent families. I also heard those same people say, “I cannot support transracial intercountry adoption.”

Some people cried.

I shared that my adoption should have been successful because I was an infant, part of the model minority, adopted into a family with resources, went to “good” schools etc. I shared that I’ve struggled my whole life from trauma … with life threatening eating disorders, suicide attempts, relationship issues, fibromyalgia. That my family cut me off many times. That even now there are triggers that bring me back to a place of deep grief and fear.

I talked about my friend who may be deported to Thailand. I shared her GoFundMe. I also shared the petition for the single mothers of Korea, KUMFA.

The Dept of State says there will be future conversations and events to hear our voices. I’m wiped out emotionally but so glad this happened.

It’s like after 39 years of feeling invisible and forgotten we actually matter! We actually have a voice.

We can change the culture around adoption all we want but until the laws change around adoption, we continue to clean up the messes that are our lives.

“There have been a lot of failures…” ~Adult Adoptee

Thank you to the US Department of State for Listening to the Voices of Adult Intercountry Adoptees!!

Thank you Pamela Kim for sharing your thoughts after this event!