In Indianapolis, I recently started practicing Zen meditation with a sangha in the lineage of Mahayana Buddhism from the Kwan Um school of Zen, started by Zen Master Seung Sahn. I started my studies with sitting with a community of practitioners at the Indianapolis Zen Center. Practices consist of sitting and walking meditation, listening to Zen dharma readings and participating in light-hearted dharma discussions in the waiting room.
What has been a game changer in meditation practice has been meditating with my eyes open. I decided to try and have been struck by its functions and usefulness. I’m fully alert rather than traversing in various sleeping, subtle stages of meditation that I usually find inner peace with. I’m awake in the mindfulness I gain with my eyes closed, and what advances my meditations, is that I develop a mindfulness in my waking life instantly rather than closing my eyes, doing all this work in the dark, and later integrating it with the world.
What’s come up since my recent move in this new city is the living grief that I’m immersed in when I close my eyes. I feel it as a ferocious, all-consuming ocean in my mediations. And from it, there is a heaviness in my mind. And I look through that heaviness like fog or dirt on a window. But it does clear, which I’ve achieved in split seconds of temporary clarity. And then I feel exact vividness in the present moment, and I have no mind at all. I’m just awake in the room I’m sitting in.
During a Zen retreat I had yesterday, I was able to have an Interview with a teacher. I brought up my grief in mediation and my experience when it clears.
“Where does it go?” The teacher asked.
“It disappears,” I said.
“Then you have a choice,” he said, smiling.
I described the grief and the heaviness, the way it can pull at me and makes me sleepy, and how the feelings of sadness and this heaviness can obscure my clarity, seeking Zen advisement on meditating with these difficult sensations revolving almost like a circle. I described that I have a strong attachment to it, that I might have been making it even bigger by focusing on it in my mediations throughout the years, unknowingly concentrating my mind in it and feeding it, but now see how it lingers in me with eyes open, and I can only imagine how it could also influence my waking life unconsciously. So, I was troubled because all of this is like taking on my lifelong karma as an adoptee, which the teacher knows a little about thankfully.
“Learn from it,” he said, “And when I experienced it, I would thank it. I thanked it for the lesson.” He described his own life experiences in grief, mentioned a book titled, How to Be Friends With Your Demons, and said it did go away for him.
I felt a sudden burst of hope in this conversation.
“So I can try appreciating its presence and continue with practicing,” I confirm to him.
“You have to feel it,” the teacher said to me towards the end of my Zen interview. “You have to own it.” I stared at him, now understanding that there is a way to practice Zen even with grief. And that there is a way to own it and to not let it have control over my life.
In my new apartment in Indianapolis, I’m seeing the grief in my life as it is today and the heaviness that it creates, with eyes open, and I’m journaling about what it teaches me. I’m asking critical questions in myself from what I observe even though it’s hard. Instead of focusing entirely on my grief, I’m giving space to thank it and appreciate its presence in my life and waking world, and all that it teaches me. From my experience with grief, it’s a wounded, intoxicating companion to me especially with the death of my Filipino American brother last year. But I also realized that I am not abandoning my grief by appreciating it and connecting it back to the love inside me.
Hardly anyone really wants to know, and people don’t talk about it easily, let alone the adoptees’ attention when it happens. Usually the attention goes to the #adoptiveparents and the adoptees are often alone in the rain.
Last week was the book launch of adoptive mother Rini van Dam’s book #donderdagen in Sneek. Speakers’ introductions rightly focused on the author, of course, but one of the topics why the book was created was Sannison’s death. A fellow Korean adoptee who ended her life before she was 17 and her funeral service was on November five, my birthday. She had just broken up with a fellow adoptee shortly before. It was 1991, the year when association for adopted Koreans, Arierang, held its first major national meeting. The year where loves both blossomed and burst apart. The year I became aware of what and pain and sorrow lurked beneath us all.
Two years later, Julia, a Korean adoptee from Belgium who left life just before she turned 21, died and her funeral service was on 5 November, my birthday. Her adoptive parents, however, did not want adoptees at the funeral service.
A few years later, I would lose my own sister, Joo Min, while stationed as a UN soldier in Bosnia. We don’t really know why she chose to save two boys in their fall in the French Italian Alps when she must have known it would be fatal for her herself.
Yesterday, I was reminded of the above. A painful but perhaps the most necessary confrontation with my personal history to learn through this hard road that I could no longer look away from my inner development. Since then, I have been working hard for the suffering of adoptees around the world. But instead of praise and support, I received threats and angry adoptive parents in my path. Some even threatened to want to kill me. But angry adoptees and #scientists, especially from the Netherlands, also tried to take my message off the air. Until the Swedish research by Anders Hjern, Frank Lindblad, Bo Vinnerljung came out in 2002 and substantiated my experiences and suspicions.
Existential trauma to suicide shows a relationship with the tearing process created by relinquishment and #adoption. Since then, such outcomes have surfaced all over the world except in the Netherlands. The Netherlands still likes to indulge in the Walt Disney story and any contrary noise about this phenomenon is conveniently dismissed by statistical research, which, although Evidence Based accredited, manages to conveniently dismiss this issue.
Science prefers to leave the suffering of many adoptees to themselves because what doesn’t show up in the statistics doesn’t exist according to the government and adoption agencies.
Bijna niemand wil het echt weten, en men spreekt er niet makkelijk over, laat staan dat de geadopteerden de aandacht krijgen als het gebeurt. Meestal gaat de aandacht naar de #adoptieouders en staan de geadopteerden vaak alleen in de regen.
Gisteren was de boekuitreiking van het boek #donderdagen van adoptiemoeder Rini van Dam in Sneek. De inleidingen van sprekers waren natuurlijk terecht gericht op de schrijfster, maar een van de onderwerpen waarom het boek is ontstaan is de dood van Sannison. Een mede Koreaanse geadopteerde die voor haar 17e een eind maakte aan haar leven en haar rouwdienst was op vijf november, mijn verjaardag. Ze had kort daarvoor net de prille verkering met een medegeadopteerde uitgemaakt. Het was 1991, het jaar dat vereniging voor geadopteerde Koreanen, Arierang, haar eerste grote landelijke bijeenkomst achter de rug had. Het jaar waar zowel liefdes opbloeiden, maar ook uit elkaar spatten. Het jaar dat ik mij gewaar werd welk en pijn en verdriet onder ons allen schuil ging.
Twee jaar later, overleed Julia, een Koreaanse geadopteerde uit België die net voor haar 21e het leven verliet en haar rouwdienst was op vijf november, mijn verjaardag. Haar adoptieouders echter wilden geen geadopteerden bij de rouwdienst.
Enkele jaren later zou ik mijn eigen zus, Joo Min, verliezen terwijl ik gestationeerd was als VN soldaat in Bosnië. We weten niet echt waarom ze verkoos om twee jongens in hun val in de Frans Italiaanse Alpen te redden terwijl ze geweten moet hebben dat het haar zelf noodlottig zou worden.
Gisteren werd ik aan het bovenstaande herinnerd. Een pijnlijke, maar wellicht de meest noodzakelijke confrontatie met mijn persoonlijke historie om via deze harde weg te leren dat ik niet langer weg kon kijken van mijn innerlijke ontwikkeling. Sindsdien heb ik mij hard gemaakt voor het leed van geadopteerden over de hele wereld. Maar inplaats van lof en ondersteuning ontving ik bedreigingen en boze adoptieouders op mijn pad. Sommigen dreigden mij zelfs om te willen brengen. Maar ook boze geadopteerden en #wetenschappers, vooral uit Nederland, probeerden mijn boodschap uit de lucht te halen. Totdat het Zweedse onderzoek van Anders Hjern, Frank Lindblad, Bo Vinnerljung in 2002 uitkwam en mijn ervaringen en vermoedens staafde.
Het existentiële trauma tot zelfdoding laat een relatie zien met het verscheurende proces dat ontstaat door afstand en #adoptie. Sindsdien zijn over de hele wereld dergelijke uitkomsten opgedoken behalve in Nederland. Nederland laaft zich nog graag aan het Walt Disney verhaal en elk tegengesteld geluid over dit fenomeen wordt handig weggewerkt door statistisch onderzoek, dat weliswaar Evidence Based geaccrediteerd is, maar dit onderwerp handig weet weg te werken.
De wetenschap laat het lijden van veel geadopteerden liever aan henzelf over want wat niet in de statistieken opduikt bestaat niet volgens de overheid en de hulpverlening.
ICAVs Memorial Page with Suicide Awareness links and other resources on this topic
by Aselefech Evans, adopted from Ethiopia to the USA.
I’m so excited to share with y’all the cover of our book, “Lions Roaring far From Home,” an anthology by Ethiopian adoptees of the diaspora, raised in the US, Canada, Australia, Belgium, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands. The cover art is by renowned Ethiopian artist, Nahosenay Negussie.
This is book is a labor of love that took us six years to produce. These stories are sacred, and they challenge the traditional narrative around adoption.
Before going into anti-racist work, my work engaged with the intersections of child welfare and transnational adoptions. I started this work at 17, talking to psychologists and social workers, pushing agencies to understand the complexities of removing children from their first families.
The National Association of Black Social Workers deemed transracial adoption as a form of cultural genocide—and we all must understand the importance of family preservation.
I consider myself a politicized family preservationist, who radically believes that transracial adoption is rooted in loss, racial trauma, and grief. I did work in Ethiopia around family preservation, demanding system accountability which would entail access to birth records and family search. It was and is life-altering work, because justice doesn’t feel tangible. So much damage was done.
Many of us are stolen children, who lost so much. While I’ll refrain from adding my political views on transracial and intercountry adoption here (you can read my views when you get the book), like indigenous people, we adoptees are stripped of our culture, language, and history, and forced to assimilate into white-dominated culture.
Ethiopians are not homogenous people. There are 86 ethnic groups with different histories, cultures, and ancestral lineages, though colonialism will tell you otherwise. “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” .
This book is powerful for many reasons, and it beautifully integrates the perspectives of Ethiopian adoptees, ranging from ages 8 to over 50.
I pay my deepest gratitude to Korean adoptees, whose shoulders I lean on, as they were the first group of activists, calling out intercountry adoption for its imperialism, domination and corruption.
“Lions Roaring Far From Home” will challenge you in the best way possible. Stay tuned for the release date, and meanwhile enjoy this beautiful cover.
I also want to thank my co-editors Kassaye and Maureen—this book would not have been possible without you. Thank you for believing in this book and for staying committed to our vision.
My brother, adopted 2 years before I arrived in our adoptive home, died homeless and mentally ill in the Philippines last week. He was an intercountry Filipino American adoptee, just like me.
We don’t know what happened. He was involved with bad company. I have a feeling that the death was assisted. Neglect was involved. It was in Mindanao, in a rural area, where it’s dangerous for Americans to travel into, I hear. Real kidnappings happen there if they find out you’re American. I couldn’t go to see if this was real. The only person informing was a lady who was bad news from the start. She always asked him for money. Hounding my brother to get a hold of my adoptive mother. And she was a part of this death, taking photos of my brother days before he died homeless of suspected alcohol poisoning.
The news hit me and the grief process has been real and harrowing. I had trouble giving the news to my co-workers. The first day back at work, I cried in the last hour.
What I want to write is what I’ve learned from my life and world as a Filipino American adoptee. This life has never been easy. It hasn’t been fun. I was never comfortable with my white, adoptive family. And I had a mentally ill brother who was from my birth country, brown like me, and only two years older than me, and I loved him with all my heart.
However, he was never healthy. He was abusive to me growing up. He was mentally ill and his abuse grew to where he inflicted it on himself. And he tried to involve me with that too, so I had to have boundaries. I waited for him to get better. I thought he would, but he only got worse. And it made me feel worse as the years went on, carrying this pain. Not knowing where to put it, who to blame, why it was there.
After everything, I want to say that there comes a time when you just need to choose. Where instead of reacting as you had before, you look up and take a new breath because it’s all just gotten to be too much. You notice new details in the clouds and realize that you’re still kicking and you can’t keep having the same thoughts, or the same habits. You feel a shift. You see the need to face the adversity and want to grin in its ugly face instead. You see the need to give yourself the space to be the real you. Because there’s no going back.
I spent so many years hiding in the grief and trauma of my past and I guess I’m writing this because those times are over.
All I know, is that from here, I am going to be strong.
I honor my experience as a Filipino American adoptee with reverence. I will never be ashamed of what I’ve gone through. I will not be embarrassed of my suffering, which I caught myself feeling today, around my co-workers. I will not carry the burdens of my brother’s pain anymore either, which I had. I will love myself. I will forgive myself. I will be gentle on myself. I will no longer be so hard on myself, as before.
All this time, I’ve been carrying around the burdens of a life I never had. I held on to the pain of a love I never got to hold.
Of a family I never got to know.
But my brother died, the only person in the world that I probably ever loved. The only person in whom I ever saw to be real family. And something changed in me.
I breathe, writing this. I am alive, writing this.
I am here in the present. I have survived all of this messed up shit. Being orphaned as a baby in the Philippines. Having to traverse the American life I was given, because that’s how the cookie crumbles. We are given what we’re dealt with and you have to deal with it. You have to adjust. And sometime in adulthood, you learn the importance of being kind to yourself and others in the process because wellbeing is a part of one’s survival.
After all of this, I feel a sense of palpable resolution in the bones of my being. It is to be strong. It is to love what I have in this world today. And it is to not give up.
My resolution is to keep working. To live a healthy life. To be authentic. To live true. I am still here in this world. And I am alone, but I made it out with my faculties in tact.
I haven’t made a lot of friends on this path but I was stern in working hard, turning to a world of art, libraries and schools for an outlet.
I lead a life of reserved strength. I developed my own expression of creative media, wild in my own intellect and undertakings.
And I am just starting out in this world even at 36-years-old.
I don’t know if anyone will relate to this blog but if someone does, just know that I am never going to give up and I don’t want you to ever give up either. Because I’ve been blessed with hearing the stories of just a few of you, and having met a few of you on Christmas, and it has been something to treasure. And you are so vital in this world, you truly are.
I will believe in you and in love as I did when I was younger and I will never stop. Just the way I believed in God as I did when I was younger and I never stopped either. I won’t stop believing in the human race. I won’t stop working towards a higher purpose because that is what gets me up in the morning.
I am here today to say, that the pain and the trials and the struggles will serve a purpose in time.
There is a reason for living and you will find it.
by Lina Vanegas adopted from Colombia to the USA.You can follow Lina on Instagram @linaleadswithlove or on Twitter @LinaLeadsWLove
When we talk about adoption it’s important that we are honest and transparent and avoid sugar coating things or inserting toxic positivity or adoption propaganda.
The reality is that many people do not truly understand adoption, what it it entails, what it is and the impacts, trauma, grief and loss.
To break it down, I was bought and sold in 1976. I lost everything and my identity was erased. This is heartbreaking and devastating to me. It’s hard to wrap my head around it. I can’t honestly fathom how this could have happened. The tragic thing is that I am one of millions. Yes M I L L I O N S. There are an estimated 7 million adopted and displaced people and the number is growing. 2 million of us are intercountry adopted.
I just saw a comment on Facebook last night that was commending a white adoptive parent for sharing a positive adoptive story and they also stated we need more positive adoption stories. If positive is what you want then adoption is not the topic to equate with it. There is always trauma, grief and loss with adoption no matter the circumstances. This is a given and guarantee. When we talk about adoption, we must be honest about what it entails. It’s not beautiful, a fairytale, rainbows, sprinkles and unicorns.
I was bought and sold in 1976. This is my lived experience.
During 2020 COVID lockdown, I had a chance to play around with creating a resource via video conferencing. Click on this link for my interview with Milagros Forrester, a Peruvian adoptee raised in the UK. She kindly shared her adoption journey detailing how her adoptive family supported her to reconnect with her origins and return to her birth country.
Many thanks to Milagros as she has waited patiently for me to complete the hours of video editing, to get this into a finished state.
“In very cynical terms, an American told me: “But don’t you understand, buddy, that this is the last reservoir of Caucasian children in the world?”
Last year I decided make an appointment with your agency to read my adoption file. I arrived on the day of the appointment, and everybody seemed surprised to see me. When I explained why I was there, they called you Carol because you didn’t show up. That evening, you wrote an e-mail that you were “sorry” you “forgot” my appointment. Your colleague Amelia took care of it. Amelia was nice, she was young, she had never worked with my birth country. Amelia didn’t explain how adoptions work for the adopters, for the children, or for your beautiful agency. Like I was supposed to know. She read out loud the few documents that she saw in my file. She made a copy of those I wanted to take with me. There’s one paper I didn’t ask for and I wish I had. Amelia was unable to tell me what was a “judicial abandonment” nor how the living conditions were at the orphanage, how long I stayed, or why I was put there in the first place. Amelia decided to read me the social investigation your agency did on my adoptive parents, probably because she felt sorry for me. She also pointed out that my adoptive father was, “Tolerant and open-minded, he liked meditating, it’s written right here”. From my previous life, there was nothing. “You should ask your adoptive parents”, she said. “At the time, we weren’t as thorough when we were filing the papers”. How many children are affected by filing methods that weren’t as “thorough” as they are now? When I left, I was bitter, frustrated and angry. I thought, “Those people are responsible for the process that changed my life forever and they know nothing”.
This year, I contacted you again Carol, to ask you how to get in touch with the intermediary who brought the children from Romania to France. I had clear memories of him since he went on vacations with my family in France for several years. You gave me two e-mail addresses and you sent me the link of an association of Romanian adoptees. They could help me find possible brothers or sisters, you said. I thought your beautiful agency helped adoptees “find their roots”. Wasn’t it a “central theme” for adoption agencies? You “invest[ed] more and more on […] the quest for one’s origins” and “your competence in this particular regard [was] well-known”… right? I even found an article about this with beautiful, colourful graphs in one of your magazines. The adoptee association you introduced me to later told me you called them to enquire on the searching process in my birth country because you had no idea how to proceed yourself. The only thing your beautiful agency did, was give me a copy of my file – which is the bare minimum. In some cases, you gave adoptees a file that had nothing or almost nothing in it, or with pictures of another child. As we saw last year (not you, since you didn’t show up), the psychologist who was supposed to give me “support” simply read out loud the papers that I was able to read myself, gave a compliment about my adoptive father without knowing him and told me, “Sorry, there’s nothing more we can tell you.”
Thank you for introducing me to the Romanian adoptee association though because their website truly is a gem. You should go check it out. I selected a few sections for you. “Since the 1980s, the number of people from rich countries who want to adopt a child has been ten times higher than the number of children adoptable in poor countries.” “Between 1990 and 2000: over 30 000 Romanian children are adopted abroad.” “The “casa de copii” (literally “children’s homes”) were State institutions were day-care, housing, food and medical treatments were offered to children whose mothers or parents weren’t financially and/or psychologically capable of doing so, for the amount of time necessary for the parents to get better and take them back.” Interesting. Did you know that a “casa de copii” (the institution I went through) wasn’t an orphanage? “The “Romanian orphans” weren’t all orphans, far from it! It might have been convenient to think so, but 97% of children had a mother who was very much alive and whose identity was known and some children also had a father. More than 50% of mothers came to see their children. Some on a regular basis, others less frequently, and others only on religious holidays.” In 1993, the Romanian government passes a law that says a child who hasn’t been visited by his or her parents for six months can be declared “abandoned” by the court and thus become adoptable. Mothers usually didn’t have any means of transportation and the trick was to move the child to an orphanage which was over 50 km away (30 miles) and there you had it. This is the law that was used in my case.
I was curious about this law from 1993 so I looked it up. I found out that in order to regulate the adoption chaos after the fall of the communist regime, a law demanded that adopters work with an agency authorised to process adoptions by the French, as well as the Romanian authorities. In 1993, the US Congress was discussing Romania’s right to get the Most Favoured Nation Clause (a trade agreement). “The US had made improvement of the situation of the Romanian children a condition for this trade agreement, and it was in that context that Romania adopted the so-called “abandonment law”. […] In 1991, an incredible number of intercountry adoptions took place, estimates were more than 10,000. Many children were not adopted from orphanages, but directly bought from poor families. In 1991, a new law was adopted, limiting intercountry adoptions to children in children’s homes and orphanages. But the children’s homes’ directors would not give those children because they were not legally adoptable, more often, the children’s parents would be known and visit their children. As a result of this limitation, adoptions dropped enormously in 1992. And thus, under the disguise of wanting to improve the living condition of institutionalised and disabled children, the US congress pushed for an abandonment law, a law that rendered children adoptable.”
These two laws, “Law 11/1990 and Law 47/1993 on child abandonment set up the legal framework for the emergence of a Romanian international adoption market after 1994. These two laws create[d] the offer – children legally declared as abandoned and prepared for adoption. In order to have an operating market, the demand need[ed] to be created and the prices established.”
When a child was abandoned, which was not as systematic that you would like me to believe, under which circumstances did the parents give their consent? When you’re living in extreme poverty, when you’re fragile, isolated, when you’re facing social and familial pressures that are sometimes overwhelming, can you really make an informed decision? When everybody wants you to believe that the only way to make sure your child survives, is to give him or her away forever, can you really make an informed decision? When nobody tells you that you’ll never see your child again, when you are asked to sign a paper you can’t even read, when nobody tells you how new laws might affect you and your child, when nobody, not even the authorities of your own country, offers you any support, even temporarily, can you make an informed decision? When you’ve just given birth to a baby and you have no idea how you’ll make it until tomorrow, can you make an informed decision?
In 2007, Roelie Post described how Holt, an American agency, was mandated by Unicef Romania to help prevent abandonments. Here is how those charming people were pressuring young mothers from poor backgrounds to give up their baby: “We discuss with the mother the possibility to consent to adoption right after birth. We wait for the obligatory 45 days to pass and then she signs. We wait another 30 days, during which she may change her mind, and then, the adoption file goes to the DCP [Department of Child Protection]”. What a lovely way to prevent abandonments, indeed. If the tactics used in poor countries to get children for adoption were used in richer countries, people would be outraged. We would all be denouncing the violation of basic human rights, of children’s rights, of women’s rights. When you know that the vast majority of children used to be sent for adoption for economic reasons, it makes you wonder, Carol. With just a little bit of help, how many parents would have been able to keep their children? It was only in 2009, that poverty was no longer deemed a legitimate reason to remove a child from his/her family. For how many decades was this the one and only reason that was used to remove a child from his/her family? I’m one of those children who were told, “Your parents were too poor to raise you, that’s why you were adopted.”
I read your nice magazine, Carol, the one from your website. I noticed you wrote an article about the search for one’s origins. I was excited to read what you had to say on the subject. It turns out you actually have very short experience working on that side of adoptions, and up to now, you have mostly been helping adopters. But there was one section I found particularly appalling. “What do they want? What are they looking for? They allow themselves, in our offices, which is a symbolic place, to go back to being the little boy or girl they once were and who was left on the side of the road.” Is this what you see in front of you, Carol? Children? People who are still the age they were when they “went through” your agency? You think I came all the way to Paris to “allow myself to be the little girl who was left on the side of the road”?
Your problem Carol, and the problem of all those people who want us to believe that adoption is a fairy tale (adopters, psychologists, “adoption specialists”, or even the old uncle you meet at your best friend’s wedding), is that you refuse to see the people most affected by adoption are no longer children, and that they have the intellectual capacities to demand explanations, to question the processes, the practices, and the whole system. You also refuse to see that we are absolutely legitimate in doing so, because in order to become someone else’s child (for international adoptions), we have to lose our natural family (parents, brothers, sisters, and the whole extended family), we have to lose our country, our language, our culture, our religion, and most of all, lose our identity. Since we were the object of the transaction at the time (a passive object, which didn’t at any moment agree to it), we understand better than anyone else how it feels, to lose all those things and how it feels to be adopted. You can keep your sympathy.
This year, your beautiful agency made headlines because adoptees from another country, very far from mine, accused you of having deceived their natural families in order to get them adopted in France. “It’s not us, we know nothing”, you claimed. How could an agency who seems to never know anything get the French authorities’ blessing to bring children from all over the world into the country for over 40 years? This encouraged me to keep digging. Remember there’s a paper I forgot to ask for last year? Big mistake, but I had no idea what kind of people I was dealing with at the time.
You were hard to reach Carol, I had to wait over two months for you to get my file. You scheduled a phone appointment. When I asked if you thought it was normal that my file had so little information about the Romanian part of the process, you came up with pretty shitty excuse. “You know, we don’t know in what conditions the files were created in the birth countries.” “Maybe the birth countries didn’t ask the parents anything, maybe nobody asked anything when the child was left at the orphanage, maybe they weren’t very thorough”. There it is again, Carol, your motto: “It’s not us, we know nothing.” With a new little addition: “It’s the birth country’s fault.”
If you didn’t know, if you weren’t really sure, why process adoptions from Romania? The European Union asked Romania to halt adoptions long enough to create a child protection system because of all the past malpractices. And you think this happened because the adoption system in Romania wasn’t fraudulent? You think Carol, that Romania was referred to as a “baby bazaar” or an “ex-supermarket for adoptions” for no reason? Theodora Bertzi, former director of the Romania Committee for Adoptions used this term to refer to adoptions in Romania, adding: “Children were sent abroad like packages. There was a lot of money involved. They were white and healthy, and adoptions were processed very quickly. Children had become objects used to address adults’ emotional needs.” According to Yves Denechères, a French professor of contemporary history, and Béatrice Scutaru, “Between January 1990 and July 1991, […] orphanages open[ed] their door but the number of adoptable children prove[d] insufficient in front of the exploding demand in rich countries. Many candidates to adoption “tr[ied] their luck in Romania”. “Thus, the rules of a post-war paucity market set in: everything was for sale and everything could be bought” (Trillat, 1993, p.20).
The report addressed in March 2002 to Prime Minister Adrian Năstase when the moratorium on adoptions was decided (quoted previously), clearly states that adoptions up to that date were a market. The words “adoption market” are used 6 times in this report. And you’re going to tell me Carol, that your beautiful agency had no idea? Well, one thing is sure, you guys kept shopping there for over ten years!
Back to the phone call. I asked you how come your agency didn’t know more about the adoptions you processed in Romania. You were feeling helpless, you told me. “Try to understand”. “The intermediary isn’t answering”. If he was the only one who knew what was going on, isn’t it a bit concerning? “The people working on Romania at the time are dead, or are old ladies now.” And, “If I knew more, I’d tell you but I can’t. Try to understand how helpless I feel”. You weren’t transported into another country, you weren’t told “those people are now to be called “mom” and “dad”, you didn’t have to re-learn your native language to understand what a bunch of undecipherable papers are saying, you didn’t have to look up laws about family, child protection and abandonment to figure out what happened to you, and yet, from your comfortable little office, you were telling me to understand how helpless you felt. I don’t claim to be a psychologist but weren’t you reversing roles there?
You then asked me in an irritated voice what I wanted to talk about exactly: my abandonment? I know you’re really attached to the concept of “abandonment” because it gives a legal base and a moral justification to the removal of children from their birth countries, and to the irrevocable legal and emotional severing of the family ties with their natural parents (in the case of closed adoptions, which are the majority in France). Your beautiful agency makes a living thanks to abandonments, after all. The word “abandonment” itself is placing the entire responsibility for what happened on the natural mothers who aren’t there to defend themselves. Like they had a choice. That way, their children don’t want to look for them later because they think they were “abandoned” by a mother who didn’t love them and didn’t want them in her life. But we don’t know that. There’s no way to prove it. It just happens to be really convenient to justify adoptions. If we were a bit more honest, we’d talk about “separation” because there were one or several separations, chosen, or not.
There weren’t actually that many truly abandoned children. When there was an abandonment, coercion, manipulation, lies, blackmail and other appalling tactics were often used to get the desired commodity: a child, as young as possible. I’ve already told you all this. Adoption agencies that held office directly in maternities, nurses that refused to let the young mother leave with her child or to give her her child back after birth, children who were declared dead right after birth to be then exported for adoption, directors of orphanages – or children’s homes- who refused to let the families see their children (who were placed there, not abandoned), social services that moved children to prevent their families from seeing them, and the authorities which kept orphanages open and filled with children specifically for international adoption were all realities, Carol. In an article published in the Irish Times in 2002, Serban Mihailescu, the Romanian minister for children, said: “The effect of foreign adoptions was “extremely negative” and encouraged officials to keep the institutions full of children.” The number of children in institutions increased because more and more foreigners wanted to adopt Romanian children and more and more of the personnel in the institutions worked as dealers and they pushed the children for the intercountry adoption. It’s like a business, a $100 million business”.
Blaming Romania only would be too easy. Without such a high demand, there wouldn’t have been such a high artificially-created offer of “orphans” to “rescue”. The pressure faced by Romanian authorities from the biggest importing countries (the US, France, Spain, Italy, Israel) was huge and the lobbying response to any attempt at regulating adoptions was ferocious. In 2002, after the moratorium on international adoptions was decided, adoption agencies from those countries still accepted files from potential adopters and requests were still being sent to the Romanian Committee for Adoptions, hoping they’d be forced to grant them. When negotiations for Romania’s integration into NATO started, “US officials […] warned the Romanian government that a continuing ban could jeopardise acceptance of Romania for NATO membership.” You know what I call that? Adoption blackmail.
You see, Carol, during the almost three months that you asked me to wait in order get my file back, I educated myself on adoptions from Romania in the 1990s. And I only have more questions now. I want to know how the six months without a visit from the family of a child were counted. Who counted the days? Was there a register? Was there a written trace of those visits? Did somebody sign a paper to prove the visit had taken place? Was the visitors’ identity controlled? Where are those papers Carol? I want clear explanations on that “abandonment” because right now, I have nothing that proves it. And you’ll understand I don’t really trust you or your agency given how much you had and still have to gain from all those so-called “abandonments”.
A few weeks later, after another useless phone call, another e-mail, you ended up agreeing to send me the papers I didn’t get the first time. By e-mail. Finally. Welcome to the 21st century. I found more inconsistencies that once again, you couldn’t explain. “It’s not us, we don’t know.” In the meantime, I kept working on the file sent to me by the French authorities (which contains papers you claimed you didn’t have) and I realised there were abandonment papers from the court of my birth region. I managed to read my natural parents’ address at the time. I found a few dates. Maybe these details aren’t true, or maybe I’m not interpreting them well. But they were right there from the beginning, in a document that neither your agency nor my parents ever bothered to decipher and have translated because the truth is, you didn’t care. What mattered to your beautiful agency and to my parents was to get a child, to erase his/her identity, to bury his/her past. And they lived happily ever after, with the poor, abandoned orphan that they saved from a life of misery.
You see Carol, nobody told me that having to deal with you would be the most challenging and nerve-racking part of the whole process. Imagine what it’s like for people who don’t have enough support, time, energy, or mental space to do all this. I can’t help but think that you and your agency are treating adoptees that way on purpose because if it was easier, maybe more people would start asking questions. In your agency’s magazine you write that you have a “symbolically important role as the intermediary between the original and adoptive families, as the guardian of the adoptee’s pre-adoptive and adoptive histories.” This sums up beautifully all the lies your agency has been writing about of its “help” in adoptees’ search for their roots. You are indeed the intermediary. But the original family isn’t even named. It is erased, made invisible, as if they had never existed. You claim you know nothing, which either proves that you were incompetent, that you were looking the other way, or that you didn’t bother to check what was going on and in every case, it’s extremely alarming. You don’t investigate on the pre-adoption history before the adoption, and certainly not afterwards once the adoptee is an adult. You make promises that you can’t and won’t keep to give legitimacy to your actions and polish your reputation as an agency that is respectful of law as well as people. What I learnt from this experience is that you respect everyone except those you claim to be saving.
 Bogdan Baltazar, spokesman for the Romanian government, in an interview with the TV channel CBS.
 Law on adoptions 11/1990 modified July 8th, 1991.
 Roelie Post, Romania For Export Only: the untold story of the Romanian “orphans”, p. 66
 Re-organising the International Adoption and Child Protection System, March 2002, IGIAA (Independent Group for International Adoption Analysis).
 Roelie Post, Romania For Export Only: the untold story of the Romanian “orphans”, p. 200
 “The directives on alternative child protection measures, which were approved by the UN in 2009, forbid to place a child in care simply because his/her parents are poor. It is preferable to offer appropriate support to the family instead.” Intervention by Nigel Cantwell, during an MAI conference, 16th October 2018
 New York Times article from March, 24th 1991, by Kathleen Hunt:
« One young gynecologist in a major hospital in Bucharest says he was approached by three separate lawyers to keep them informed of any babies abandoned at birth. “They offered me $100 for every baby I could produce, and $200 if I presented it already with the mother’s consent to put it up for adoption.””
 International adoption of Romanian children and Romania’s admission to the European Union (1990-2007), Yves Denechere, Béatrice Scutaru, Eastern Journal of European Studies, Volume 1, Issue 1, June 2010
 Roelie Post, Romania For Export Only: the untold story of the Romanian “orphans”, p. 200 « After the maternity tour, Unicef Romania guided Mariela to Holt, one of the biggest US adoption agencies, which held office in the maternity clinic”.
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.
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.
Do I look like my father or mother? What is my real name? When was I born? Who am I really? I have been going through these questions my whole life and not quite sure if I will ever find the answer.
I was born in Vietnam, adopted by a white family in Canada in the early 70’s. I am part African-American and Vietnamese but I look more African-American, and I’m also physically disabled which I contracted from polio and a gun shot wound (something I have been told as a child, but not sure if it’s true). I have always known I was different growing up, not because the colour of my skin but because I was disabled. When I arrived to Canada I had to go to the hospital for many surgeries to straighten my legs and back due to scoliosis. When I arrived home from the hospital, this is when I felt I didn’t belong in the family. As a young child I was stubborn and barely spoke because the effects of leaving Vietnam and being in a different environment, I was overwhelmed.
Being an African-American Asian disabled child, living in a white world, I knew I was different and I wanted so much to fit in. At an early age, I knew that my adoptive mother treated me different than my other siblings. They had two other biological children along with another adopted child from Children’s Aid Society, so I was the black sheep in the family and that was my nickname to other family members and neighbours. My adoptive mother wasn’t the perfect mother everyone thought she was behind closed doors. Using my wheelchair was forbidden in the house so I had to always crawl around on the floor and carpet, but leaving marks on the carpet didn’t look good and caused my adoptive mother to always vacuum, so I had to have my bedroom moved down in the basement – being isolated away from my siblings. Whenever my siblings would come down to play with me, they were sent back upstairs and told not to play with your “black sheep” sister. Being alone in the basement, I stopped talking and had to entertain myself as a child. From not talking, my vocal cords didn’t develop well so whenever I went to school, I had trouble interacting with other students and was bullied and labelled as being dumb.
My adoptive mother always told me I should be grateful to them for adopting me. I always kept my feelings inside because if I told them how I really felt, I would be beaten. I always had to thank her for saving my life every time I did anything wrong. The first time I said “I wish you’d never adopted me” my adoptive mother emotionally and physically abused me. Sometimes I wouldn’t care what she did to me, I was happier just to be in my own shell in the closet.
I was never involved in any of the family gatherings or family vacations. I would always eat alone after everyone else ate. The one memory I will never forget was when my adoptive family went away to Florida and I wasn’t allowed to go because my adoptive mother said “black and crippled children were not allowed”. I went to the mirror and looked at myself. I wanted so much to be white that I scrubbed my skin so hard but it just turned red. I pushed my wheelchair down the stairs and tried to push myself up to walk, instead I fell down and was left lying on the floor for days until a neighbour found me bleeding. Instead of being a good neighbour and help a young girl, he took advantage of me for days while my family was away having fun. When my family returned, I tried to tell my adoptive mother what happened. All she said was, “You were looking for attention and that’s what you deserved”.
I wanted so much to be a part of the family to the point that I would agree to clean the house. My adoptive mother would always introduce me to her friends as the “black maid of the third country”. My adoptive mother emotionally abused me by continuing saying she never wanted me because of my disability and skin colour. She didn’t think I would turn out to “be soo dark” and a troubled child needing therapy appointments. All I wanted was to make my adoptive mother proud of me, but nothing I did ever satisfied her. Whenever my siblings got into trouble, I would stand up for them and would lie and steal for them so they would play with me. There were times I would sneak food at night because I was so hungry but whenever I got caught, I was sent to the closet for days. Nothing I did was good enough for my adoptive mother.
When I was 11 years old, I was told that I was leaving the family and spending a few days somewhere else. I didn’t know what I did wrong. That night I stayed up all night rethinking the day – what did I do to displease my adoptive mother. All she told me was I would be going to a better place that can care for my “crippled-black” behaviour. I cried the whole way begging my adoptive mother that I would be a “good girl”. Four hours later I was dropped off to a big stone house with lots of stairs and other children running around the living room. My adoptive mother told me it was only for a few weeks and that the family will help me with my behaviour. For the next few days, all I did was sit by the window waiting for my adoptive mother to return. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. I had to eventually realise that I was staying in this house and no-one was coming back for me.
I was living in a house with 25 other children. I tried to fit in and be a part of the family but still felt like an outcast. Even though I was not the only disabled child, I felt that I didn’t belong. I found out that the foster mother of this home, was the woman who helped my adoptive parents adopt me from Vietnam. The foster mother had an organisation that helped Canadian and American families to adopt children from third world countries out of orphanages that she opened. I wasn’t the only child adopted and sent to the foster family. During the years, living at the foster family I became a reserved and quiet child and during my teen years I still wanted to know “who am I”? I asked the foster mother if she knew anything of my birth mother and every time I asked her, the answer was always, “Wait until you are eighteen”. From then I just left the question alone and tried to live my teen years in the home.
When I first went to the foster family, I was placed in a school with other disabled children but I felt it wasn’t for me. I wanted to be independent and be left alone so I became very stubborn especially during therapy sessions. Having therapists lift my legs and try to stretch them wasn’t working for me, they tried to get me to use braces and crutches, I definitely didn’t want that. So they finally agreed for me to use a sports wheelchair and what freedom I felt!! Using the wheelchair built up my teen arms and I became very strong, during recess time. While other children were at therapy, I could be found in the gym bouncing basketballs. This is when a sports coach saw me throw my first basket and she asked me, “Do you want to be an athlete and travel?” I quickly answered her, “Yes!” Little did she know that I didn’t just want to be an athlete but I wanted to travel so I could be out of my foster house as much as possible. My foster father was abusing me whenever we went to the family home in Montreal every summer, so whenever I found out that I would be travelling in the summer – I looked forward to the summer knowing I would be out of the country!
If it wasn’t for that sports coach, I wouldn’t have been able to be the Paralympian athlete I am today. I have travelled to many countries and won numerous medals, but a part of me felt that I didn’t deserve it. Whenever I was away, I still felt like an outsider to my team mates and other athletes. Deep down I believed they all knew who they were and they always talked about their family. With my timidness, I still had trouble interacting with my team mates. By the end of every trip, I dreaded going home because I knew what I was going home to.
My foster family didn’t really recognise my athletic achievements. There were times they didn’t even know I went away for a week because there were so many children in the house and the foster mother was busy with her work. I remember one time I arrived home from my first competition where I’d won my first 5 gold medals (being the youngest on the team) and when I arrived home, I just sat at the front door with my bags waiting for someone to greet me. When my sister came down the stairs to see me she just said, “Are you running away?” From that moment, my enthusiasm just dropped from my heart and I wished I could just run away. So from then on, I just continued on with my competitions with no feeling of accomplishment, feeling like a nobody.
I competed in two Paralympics, two PanAm games and many small competitions. When I won my first Paralympic 5 gold medals, I was interviewed by the paper but a lot of the words written were just not true. The story portrayed a young girl winning medals from a foster home that cared for her, but they really didn’t know the truth.
I am grateful for the foster family to let me stay with them, but behind closed doors they portrayed themselves as looking like the perfect couple helping many children. The house was not accessible, I continued to crawl up and down stairs to get to my bedroom, and I had to crawl up and down and bring my chair down stone stairs outside to get to my school bus.
My whole life living in the foster family, I wanted so much to be out and living on my own. When I turned 16 years old, I finished high school and left the foster home. I went to college and received a degree in Business Administration.
Throughout my life, I always felt unloved and not wanted by anyone. I thought of my biological mother not wanting me, my adoptive mother not wanting me and within the foster family, I was just “another child”. I have tried my best to do right things, never gotten involved on the wrong side of the law, etc. I always felt I didn’t fit in anywhere, had trouble with social gatherings and interacting with adults my age. To this day, a large part of me continues to feel isolated, not wanted and most of all not knowing who I really am.
Recently, I decided to register with 23&Me to know my background and I discovered I have many 2nd and 3rd cousins out there. I was surprised to know that I have some sort of distant family out there but disappointed to not have any information about my parents. I just want to have the feeling of belonging. Growing up, I never had that feeling.