Grief for Mother Lasts Forever

by Melanie Kleintz adopted from Peru to Germany.

Between 24 December 2020 and 1 January 2021, a total of 6 adoptees from Europe took their own lives, a Black Week in Europe for adoptees. The number of unreported cases is definitely higher. All could not clarify their origins, their pain was too strong, and they found no other way to make the pain bearable.

It is so infinitely sad, aching and unbearable to hear about it. I have been working with adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents for 10 years now and have given lectures on the subject. I also quite happily avoid the subject of how close adoptees are to death, although I know better.

How many times in the past few years have I heard that adoptees should be glad they were saved. In the last few months a little girl made me realise how important it is to work with adoptees, foster children and the system around them. On the outside everything looks so simple. The child has new parents and “is good“.

The pain of children is not permitted by the outside world for a lifetime. The grief for their first “mother” lasts a lifetime. Children who know their new mom cannot understand their pain. My little son explained it well yesterday. These children have an “emptiness in their hearts and even though they laugh, they are always sad”.

There is still a lot of educational work to be done with traumatised adoptees and foster children. Prevention work and post adoption services are the most important features for me!

If I had one wish, I would wish that every adoptee could clarify their origins and that no obstacles were put in their way. The adoption papers would be complete and the adoptive parents would always offer support in everything.

I am so infinitely sad that these 6 found no other way out and I just hope so much that adoptees, adoptive parents or other people close to adoptees, seek help and support at an early stage.

We adoptees can uphold this issue within our groups. The “dearest” in life was taken from us and anyone who does not understand how we miss our first mother, need a little more understanding of the desire of those who have been adopted.

We cannot prevent the adoptees from making their decisions. They planned it. It was their own decision, with the hope that their situation would be tolerable.

I know a German adoptee who took his own life at Christmas a few years ago. We were told that he died and no matter where it was told, everyone his age knew he had committed suicide. Everyone knew about his situation but no one could help because they didn’t know how.

I am so proud of the members in my groups. We exchange ideas, learn to talk about their own adoption, and support one another. In the last months of 2020, I felt a really nice togetherness in the group. Sensitive and careful! The online meetings went the same way. I would like to keep and maintain that.

Dear fellow adoptees, you are strong and brave people. I’m looking forward to the next meeting that we can spend together.

Letter to President Moon

by Michelle Y. K. Piper adopted from Sth Korea to Australia.

President Moon,

To you, I may be merely a statistic.

A Number.

Name: 86c-1335.

Born: “bastard”

Abandoned by: Bio Mother

These are the words inked into the brittle pages “cataloguing” my birth, 4 ½ months before I was separated from my mother, exiled from my motherland, sold, and sent overseas via the process of “adoption”.

For 34 years, I have carried the burden of shame and humiliation for decisions of which I had no control over, or voice.

For 34yrs, it has been expected of me by society and the world at large to be “grateful” for being adopted; for not being “aborted” or left to languish in poverty raised by a single mother and ostracised by a society that is unaccepting of such a dishonourable and disgraceful existence.

Expected to be “grateful” to have been “chosen” to go to a “better life”.

Tell me President Moon, how many Korean adoptees actually went to a “better life”, do you know?

How many of us were checked upon or followed up on in the years after our adoption?

Any..?

Have you ANY knowledge or understanding of the suffering and trauma so many of your nation’s children were exposed to after going to “better” lives?

Are you cognisant of the fact we are 4 times more at risk of suicide than the average person, due solely to the trauma of relinquishment? Are you aware of how many adoptees have since lost their lives to suicide?

If our own people, the people who govern our nation continue to portray us as disposable, products for export, how do you hypothesise the rest of the world to perceive us? To value us?

To know who we are and where we came from, to be treated with the SAME decency and respect as any other being, for OUR lives to count, to matter, to be valued for more than just the going price of the highest bidder; can you honestly argue this to be such an immense or unreasonable request?

Why do we as adoptee’s continue pay to the price for the mistakes and failures of the elites who governed generations before us?

Why do our nations children continue to pay the price for a deeply flawed and failed system? A system put in place to “protect” and “care”, to safeguard society’s most vulnerable and helpless, to protect those unable to defend themselves or make their suffering known.

A system which has catastrophically failed to fulfill its duty of care time and time again, a system that cataclysmically FAILED in its duty to protect 16 month old Jeong-In.

My status in Korea as a child born out of wedlock to a single mother without consent or approval from the elders of our family, without the approval of society, meant from the day I was born, my life was of no more value to our nation but for the monetary profit that could be gained from the sales transaction of my adoption.

To you, I am a faceless statistic.

Just another number on a piece of paper; a data entry in the government system, an easy money maker used by Korea in its resolve to rise to the advanced economic powerhouse it is today.

To you, I my be a nothing, a nobody, an abhorrent by-product of the highest betrayal to a nation who’s social, political, and legal structures continue to be governed by the principles of Confucianism.

To you, I may be but one number, but I am one that represents over 200,000 of your displaced children throughout the world.

You seal our records, deny us the very basics of human rights.

You have attempted to keep us faceless, to keep our voices from being heard.

You have watched in reticence as we have been sold, trafficked, abused, and murdered.

You have buried our truths and silenced our voices.

Attempted to censor the knowledge and proof of our existence as effortlessly as you have managed to erase our pasts.

You try to placate us with empty words and blanket apologies, yet time and time again Korea has CLEARLY established how little value it truly places upon the wellbeing and lives of its children.

Not only via the tens of thousands of adoptees scattered worldwide, but through the 250 students it left to die onboard the sinking Sewol Ferry.

250 children who could have been saved, weren’t.

Through the way in which obedience and perfection are EXPECTED and DEMANDED of every child; academically, socially, even physically, pushing Korean suicide rates into some of the highest in the world and the leading cause of death nationwide for ages 9 -24 yrs.

These are YOUR children!!!

Our nation’s future!

If it is to have a future.

You seem to show little to no regard for lives of the young, yet death rates now surpass birth rates, leaving the question how much longer will our people endure?

How much time until our race is no more?

The image of Korea that is so carefully projected onto the world stage, is nothing but a farce.

A nation consumed with pride, greed, and ambition revelling in its technological and economic advancements, whilst continuing its long and profound history of human rights abuse. Revelling in the global phenomenon of K-pop, K-dramas, and flawless plastic surgery turning citizens into life-like anime dolls all of which amounts to nothing but superficial, pretty, shiny, plastic distractions; band aids made for minor cuts, but with which Korea uses in attempt to conceal the extensive, critical, and ineffable wounds scarcely “hidden” beneath the surface.

Deliberately refashioning Korea’s image for the fulfilment and pacification for the global arena while remaining steadfast and loyal to a fundamentally flawed, corrupt, and broken system which continues to extort and profit from the separation, suffering and abuse of its people makes those ruling over the South no better than the tyrannical dictatorship oppressing our people in the North.

To you, we may merely be statistics.

But we are no longer voiceless, and we will no longer be silenced!

We are over 200,000 strong, each with a face, a name, and a story.

We had Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Grandparents, Aunties, Uncles, and Cousins.

No matter how hard you may try to dehumanise us, I can promise you, in this you shall not succeed.

I will no longer be silenced. I will remain faceless no more, for I am NOT a thing.

I was born in Haeundae, Busan.

Daughter of- Kim, Yeo Kyeong (Mother) and Jang, Hyeon Soo (Father).

I have endured racism, child sexual abuse and rape on two separate occasions in my “better” life so far.

I have fought with an Eating Disorder for 21 years, made countless attempts to end my life, all of which I have been brought back from.

My arms will forever bear the permanent, grotesque, disfiguring scars from which my life’s blood has so often freely flown, only to be replaced, time and time again in the desperate attempts to save a life that in your eyes, seems of little to no value, and not worth saving at all.

Tell me President Moon, what will you do when there is no longer a population to sustain our race?

When will you and the people who continue to govern our nation admit culpability, take responsibility for their duty to safeguard our people, to protect the vulnerable and the voiceless?

To guard, secure and preserve our nation’s future and the future of its children.

We are NOT objects!

We are NOT inconsequential!

WE are YOUR children!!!

We are NOT COMMODITIES!!!

We are NOT a product to be labelled and packaged for sale!

We are NOT replaceable, exchangeable, refundable goods for export no matter how hard you have tried to dehumanise us.

President Moon, We are NOT THINGS!!!

어머니 (Mother)

Eomeoni

by Michelle Y. K. Piper adopted from Sth Korea to Australia.

Artwork by Michelle Piper, 2021

Two years today, they told me you were dead.

15 years from the day I turned 18 until the day I officially began that dreaded, infuriating, dehumanising, grievous process of trying to trace you; 15 years of constant internal conflict, a fierce war raging within.

Remain loyal to the family, society, culture, and country I had been relinquished to; remain obedient to the process of forced assimilation, never questioning or asking why? (at least never out loud) and ALWAYS “grateful” for the privilege to be alive and living in one of the greatest countries in the world (Australia); continue to ignore the ever-deepening awareness of agonising turmoil and grief consuming my soul borne from the empty, rootlessness of my erased past.

Or…
Face what I have always so desperately avoided.

Questions…
All those questions.
So many, many questions.
Impossible to voice out loud even to myself in secrecy and solitude, yet impossible silence within the confined walls of my Psyche.

15 years to amass enough courage to search for you; I searched, and a year later I received “the call”. A call I’d been on constant edge waiting for, a year of repeatedly checking my emails and phone. It came from a stranger in a government office, who had only just been transferred to my case. A transfer I was neither asked nor informed about.

On the 2nd January 2019, a strange, unfamiliar voice explained who she was and why she was calling.
You were dead.
You died exactly 2 months after my 23rd Birthday.
You died on the 6th July 2009.
2009, I was 10 years too late.
My father could not or did not want to be found.
That was it.

For over 30 years, being adopted meant nothing, or at least I told myself it meant nothing. Just a word to explain away the inevitable whispers of confusion when people crossed us.
“Did they just call her mum?”, “Maybe the dad is Asian…? They don’t look like half/half’s though.”
I was used to these comments, my entire life’s been layered with racism, some out of ignorance, some without doubt intentional.
But being adopted was not something to be dwelled upon, simply a fact; accepted and acknowledged only when unavoidable.
But unavoidable became impossible.

That call, that damn call; no matter how fiercely I fought back would demolish the foundations of every wall I had established; a myriad of walls forming the incomprehensible and impenetrable maze of protection I had completely encompassed and lost myself within.

15 Years to find the courage to look for you, but a lifetime of wondering….

Was I ever in your thoughts?
Did you ever think of me?
On the day of my birth? When that inevitable date once again came full circle, a date that would forever mark each year we have spent apart.
Another year gone; another year of life missed. Another year of what has been a lifetime of separation.
Did you think of me at Christmas?
At times of family, cultural and traditional celebrations, when milestones should have been reached. When recipes, secrets, and the stories of our ancestors should have passed from Mother to Daughter.
Did you ever wonder as I do now if or how much we look and are alike?

Did the same irrevocable, emptiness, loneliness, grief, and self-loathing consume you as it has me?
…..Did I mean anything to you?

Did you, on the day you gave birth simply walk away and never look back? Erasing every memory, every moment, every emotion. Erasing me.
Did you reject me from the moment we ceased to be one, refusing to acknowledge the life you had so painfully bore into this world?
Did you even once, hold me in your arms?
Was my existence always a disgrace?
A corruption in the flow and purity of bloodlines. The product of the worst kind of offence one can commit against a culture and people whose social, ethical, political and legal systems are fundamentally embedded in the principles of Confucianism.
Was I always perceived as an abomination?
An ignominy, an abhorrent consequence of defying what is so vehemently indoctrinated in our people from birth, so fiercely prized and expected from each child from every generation.
Obedience. Respect.
Respect of your elder’s and absolute obedience in following directives. Know your place, in family, home, and society, in culture and country. Fail to comply; step outside the social norms and be condemned to a life forever tainted by shame, rejection, and dishonour.

Or, on the day you gave birth did your gaze fall upon me, desperate to memorise every detail that time would allow?
Did your arms find me, enfolding me close, tightening your embrace? Did you memorise my scent, that beautiful, sweet baby scent while your mind commenced an onslaught; vivid recollections of the 9 months passed?
The pain, terror, love, bewilderment, and confusion. The internal struggle of a decision impossible to make yet impossible to disregard.
Did your mind force upon you the memories of my first movements you felt within? Undeniable proof of the life growing inside?
Did you remember all the times you found yourself cursing me for the morning sickness, or when it became impossible to move around freely?

Did you recall all the times you had spoken to me, and soothed me? Patting your stomach and smiling with happiness and contentment when my restlessness ceased at the sound of your voice?
Did you recall all the one-sided conversations you had with me, admonishing me for your weight gain, bloated ankles, constant need to pee, and general discomfort?
Did you remember thinking none of those things mattered when you finally beheld the face of your newly born daughter in front of you?
Did you remember and retain these precious moments with as much desperation as I did the day my daughter was born?
Did I remain an only child? Or were there future children that were deemed “worthy” to keep?

You left endless questions with no definitive answers, not even in death.
The agency who sold me insist you are dead, while the government itself cannot seem to confirm this.

What am I meant to do with that? Please 어머니, tell me.

Do I hold onto hope that somehow you are still alive..?
Cling desperately to the childish, naïve dream that MAYBE, just maybe, you are?
That maybe you’re not dead, but looking for me, maybe I was one of those children never willingly relinquished.
Or take the word of the agency who trafficked me, sent me overseas and accept you are gone?

Will it ever be possible to heal if I tell myself you’re dead?
How am I supposed to mourn you?
How does one weep for a face it cannot remember?
How do I release myself of someone who, no matter how much time and distance was placed between us, is still everything I am, yet everything I don’t know?
How can I be free when your faceless form haunts my dreams? When each day I am struck by a renewed wave of painful understanding of all that has been stolen.  All that’s been lost. For all that has been erased.
For my parents who will forever remain faceless strangers, parents I will never have the opportunity to know or meet. For the brothers and sisters I will never know. For the Aunty and Uncles, the cousin’s, and grandparents.
For the history of my people, I remained so ignorant towards until now; for the heart-breaking and brutal history of our country; still at war after 70 years, divided, literally torn in two, poisoned by political corruption, military coups, and slavery. Of trafficked children, The Forgotten Generation; a generation who fought, died and rebuilt our country, now languishing in poverty pushed to the fringes of society living in isolation and squalor, afraid to ask for help for fear of “burdening” the country they fought and died to protect. For the enslaved comfort women abused, raped, tortured, and murdered by the Japanese. For the Sewol Ferry Tragedy, which began to sink on the morning of the 16th April 2014, where 304 of the 476 passengers on board, 250 of them students perished; trapped on a sinking ferry, while the captain and crew escaped, telling the passengers on board to stay where they were. Obeying their elders (that prized attribute ingrained from birth), the students placed their trust in the orders given, they remained where they were, waiting to be rescued. A rescue that was never attempted, a rescue that never came.
Parents, family, teachers, classmates and survivors alike hysterical, stranded on the shoreline, still receiving messages from the remaining students trapped inside that they were still alive in what was an almost completely submerged vessel. Parents helpless to do anything but watch as the last visible section of the ship sank in front of them.
And then nothing.
Silence, as the shock and magnitude of tragedy that had just unfolded before them set in.
A moment of disbelieving silence before the blood curdling, guttural cries only a parent who has just lost their child can make.
Footage later released, revealed to the world the last 20 minutes of some of the students trapped inside. The memories of which will haunt me forever, faces I won’t ever forget. Messages of love and apologies to loved ones, that still produce physical pain to hear.

To watch my people suffer, to die in the most horrifying ways, to feel the overwhelming outrage, and unbearable grief that has consumed our nation time and time again but to be unable to be there with them, to grieve with them; did you never consider how painful these moments would be?
Did you ever imagine how much agony it would cause just to observe my native language? When everything appears, sounds and feels so natural, until you remember, none of it makes sense to you. You can’t decipher it. You don’t understand it. You can’t speak it.
Did you ever consider just how high a price your baby girl would pay, for that “better” life you were so sure she was going to?
If you, my own Mother could not find it in yourself to raise me, whether from the shame, dishonour, or just for being a “bastard” (YES, my adoption papers actually use this word!), if you feared for me, for the prejudice, discrimination, and stigma I would have endured had we remained together in Korea, how could you think that throwing me into a world of white where I was one of maybe 5 Asians for over 18yrs of my life would be to my benefit? Did you honestly think that those of the western world wouldn’t reject me? Debase me, use my status as a Korean adoptee against me in the most humiliating and degrading ways conceivable? If you; my own mother, my own family, my people and country viewed me as nothing more than a product for export, why would anyone else?

If you did in fact die in 2009, you died at the age of 46.

I’m aware you never looked for me, never once tried to find out where I was.
And now you’re gone, (maybe), I don’t know.
The fact that I don’t know enrages me, consumes me with a desperate hopelessness and despair.
But, if you are gone…
How could you leave and never say goodbye?
How could you leave without ever reaching out, never once trying to find me?
Didn’t you care how I was or where I ended up?
How could you leave me with so many unanswered questions?
No photo for me to remember you, to study your face, to memorise.
No last parting words of wisdom or advice.
No letter of explanation.
Nothing.
Just an endless, hollow silence.

And so, inside the now grown adult, still remains, the frightened, confused, rejected, abandoned little girl, who will never grow up. Who will never know why you didn’t want her, why you didn’t keep her? What it was it you saw in her that repulsed you so much you cast her aside and across the seas; keeping the existence of the baby girl you once bore so many years ago a shameful secret, you literally took with you to your grave.

Michelle has published other articles about her experience as a Korean intercountry adoptee at Korean Quarterly.

It’s a Black Week for Adoptees in Europe

by Soorien Zeldenrust & Dong-Mi Engels who write this article on behalf of the Adoptee & Foster Coaching (AFC) team, Netherlands.

Image: Charlie Mackesy

Standing still with today, with life, surviving and giving up. You’re tired and you don’t want to feel anymore. You wish to find a path, away from the pain and sadness.

A day where 6 suicide reports of intercountry adoptees, which all took place on and around New Year’s Day, have now arrived to our Adoptee & Foster Coaching (AFC) colleagues. One from India, two from Korea, all 3 adopted to Netherlands; one from India, one from Chile, both adopted to Belgium; one from Chile adopted to Germany.

Making the unbearable bearable

Your body is broken the moment you were separated from your greatest commitment: your mother and your origins. Once in a new family and another country you will be obliged to attach yourself to this. Not only from the environment, but also from yourself to survive. As a child you can only stand with yourself by adjusting. When “problems” come later, it will be downplayed or your surroundings try to “fix it”. After all, you were so neatly adjusted (read: devastated).

You’re getting older, the unforgettable feeling and being different from your surroundings remains present deep inside and slowly rises to the surface. Soon it gets to the point that you can no longer ignore (recurring) relationship problems, workplace issues or health issues. Where should you look for it and who should you be with? Is there someone who can really understand what you’re going through and what you’re feeling? Usually not in your immediate vicinity and not from the regular professionals either. And yet you want an end to the intense pain, the unprocessed sadness and (the double) grief. You wish for an end to longing for a home or a place, that desire for hiraeth, a deep homesickness.

Some of us reach a point where they don’t want to feel all of this anymore and can’t handle confrontation anymore. They also feel guilty towards their adoptive parents because they can’t handle the pressure of being “happy”. They’re over it.

By sharing these hopeless looking thoughts and greatest fears with like-minded people, you can break through this and you will feel that you are no longer alone. It really does get better. You can handle this pain and learn to embrace it because you will understand it and never have to wear it alone again.

We as AFC coaches unfortunately can’t prevent what happened last New Year’s Day. There are adopted people who see no way out. All we can do is be there for you when you are ready to reach out and ask for support. By giving recognition and sharing, we want to let you know that you are not alone and there is a place to learn and be yourself, with all your questions, sadness, fears and thoughts. Make yourself known and be heard. We provide a listening ear, the correct aftercare and the necessary awareness in the outside world.

Contact us at AFC or any adoptee professional located around the world if you would like support.

You can help raise awareness of the increased risk of suicide amongst adoptees by sharing our post. Also see the ICAV Intercountry Adoptee Memorials page.

Worldwide, intercountry adoptees commit suicide 4-5 times more than the average non-adopted person. This occurs especially when adoptees can’t find their first parents and relatives and they are very vulnerable during the holiday season.

For the thousands of fellow adoptees who are no longer in our midst, we share Bach’s double concert in d minor 2nd movement in their honour.

Hilbrand Westra, AFC Founder

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.

Family thoughts during this time of Year

by Bina Mirjam de Boer adopted from India to the Netherlands and available at Bina Coaching.

December is a month all about fun and family. Many people won’t be able to celebrate Christmas with their family this year. For many adopted people, December is a difficult month every year because they are extra aware that they cannot be with their family on holidays. Some are literally not able to because they are out of contact with their adoptive family. Others haven’t been able to celebrate Christmas with their parents their whole life. Again others ask themselves on these days whether their parents are still alive or thinking about them. And some feel the sadness that they aren’t with the family this Christmas, unlike the siblings that weren’t adopted.

The days surround December are doubly difficult because you have your life that you are grateful or happy about while at the same time, the lack of your family is extra large. The weeks prior to and the holidays themselves make the shadowy side of adoption extra palpable for adopted people and for families of loss. Loneliness is even greater than in other months.

So if you know an adopted person or a family member of loss for whom holidays don’t bring the light, I hope you can be their “Piglet”.

♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

Pooh woke up that morning, and for reasons he didn’t quite understand, he couldn’t stop tears. He sat there in bed, his little body shook, and he cried and cried and cried. In his sobs, the phone rang. It was Piglet.

“Oh Piglet,” said Pooh, between sobbing, in response to his friend’s soft question how he was doing. “I feel so sad. So, so, sad, almost like I may never be happy again. And I know I shouldn’t feel like this. I know there are so many people who are worse than me, so I really have no right to cry, with my beautiful house, and my beautiful garden, and the beautiful forests around me. But oh, Piglet: I’m just so sad.”

Piglet was quiet for a while, because Pooh’s rocky sniffs filled up the space between them. When the sobs craved for breath, he kindly said, “You know, it’s not a competition.” “What is not a competition?” asked a confused sounding Pooh. “Sadness. Fear. Sadness,” Piglet said. “It’s a mistake we make often, all of us. To think that, because there are people who are worse off than us, that somehow deprives us of how we feel. But that’s just not true. You have as much right to feel unhappy as the next person; and, Pooh – and this is the most important thing – you also have as much right to get the help you need.”

“Help? What help?” asked Pooh. “I don’t need help, Piglet. “Do I even have that? Pooh and Piglet talked for a long time, and Piglet introduced Pooh to some people he might be able to call to talk, because if you feel sad, one of the most important things is to not let all the sad ones get stuck in you. In addition, Piglet reminded Pooh that this support is there for everyone, that there is no minimum level of Sadness that you must feel before you qualify to speak to someone. After all, Piglet asked Pooh to open his window and look at heaven, and Pooh did.

“See that sky?” Piglet asked his friend. “Do you see the blue and the gold and that big fluffy cloud that looks like a sheep that eats a root? Pooh looked, and he did see the blue and the gold pieces and the great fluffy cloud that looked like a sheep eating a root. “You and I,” continued Piglet, “we are both under that same sky. And so, when the Sad one comes, I want you to look at that sky, and know that no matter how far we are physically apart … we are also, at the same time, together. Maybe, more together than we’ve ever been before.”

“Do you think this will ever end?” asked Pooh with a little voice. “This will also pass by,” confirmed Piglet. “And I promise, you and I will one day be together again, close enough to touch each other, and share a little taste of something … underneath that blue, golden sky.”

We all need a Piglet in our lives!

If you are needing support from a professional, don’t forget to check out our Post Adoption Supports.

The Happy Adoptee

by Linzi Ibrahim born in Sri Lanka, adopted to Australia.

This year I had a long time adoptee friend make a comment along the lines of, “Where’s that happy little girl I remember when we were growing up?”

Me: The Happy Adoptee

Depression
Anxiety
OCD
Religious
Self harming
Overdosing
Promiscuous
Excessive drinking
Risk taking behaviour
Impulsive
Low self esteem
Smoking
Drugs
Body dysmorphia
Binging
Starving
Purging
Stealing
Using Laxatives
Learning disorder
Suicidal

Also me:

Happy
Loving
Caring
Thoughtful
Fun
Creative
Talented
Loved
Beautiful
Strong
Resilient

To the world, I’ve looked like the happiest person alive and yes, I was happy.  I was also, very lost and confused. Apparently because I talk about the “dark-side” of adoption, some people find it a bit too negative, and conclude therefore I must be unhappy and need to change, right? Wrong! It’s actually the complete opposite. I’ve never been happier and I’m finally becoming my true self! 

Talking about these important issues, makes me feel more alive, more myself and more positive. That is true healing. ADOPTION CHANGED ME, that’s a fact, it rewired my brain, adoption taught my brain trauma based thinking. But I didn’t know this until I was much older. I never understood the cause of my self sabotaging behaviour, after all, why would I think “beautiful, life saving adoption” could possibly be the cause.

One of the hardest silent battles I’ve been through, is with weight and eating. I’ve been on  diets and have been restrictive with how I’ve eaten for most of my life. I’m starting to now understand that just like the Adoption Industry, the Weight Loss Industry also preys heavily on the vulnerable. I’m learning to eat intuitively. My body, my mind, knows exactly what it needs. I’m not depriving myself of whole food groups. When I deprive, this leads to binging and spiralling downhill .. And inevitably starting a new diet. A cycle that constantly has my body and mind living in fear of eating and not eating.

I was recently on the Keto diet. It made me feel incredible, but I was cutting out all carbs, aside from what was in vegetables. I’ve slowly started introducing small amounts of the dreaded carbohydrates back into my diet, it’s been tough, I’ve felt the most intense guilt at even thinking about eating carbs, that’s not normal. But you know what? I feel AMAZING!! I’m now taking back the power. My body is my home, I will take care of it. That also means, spoiling myself sometimes and being happy about doing that for myself!! Having healthy eating habits will not only help me, it will help my children and teach them good habits too. Time to break the cycle!

What Needs to be Done about Abuse within Adoptive Families?

Part 3 of a 3 part series on Sexual Abuse within Adoption

In memory of Oscar André Ocampo Overn, adopted from Colombia into a family in Norway. He was murdered last year at the age of 15 years old, by his adoptive father after speaking out about the sexual abuse he endured at his adoptive father’s hands. Look at the price he paid for speaking out! Abuse in adoptive families happens. It is one of the most hushed up topics in adoption. Perhaps we fear the reality will shatter the illusions of the happy forever adoptive family marketing myth?

Sexual abuse within adoptive families needs to be talked about. I didn’t say “.. talked about more” because it currently just isn’t talked about at all! The only sexual abuse the adoption community openly talks about, is that which happens in orphanages which acts as a way to further demonise our origins and make our adoption fantasy seem even more like saviorism. I know intercountry adoptees who suicide where sexual abuse within the adoptive family was a known added layer in their traumas, yet adoptive families fail to understand why their child decided to end it all, or their role in this death. We need to help adoptive families reach out for help when they become aware of sexual abuse happening in their environment. We need more education on what are the signs and symptoms to look out for in adoptees who suffer sexual abuse, we need deeper psychological assessments of prospective parents to understand more how their own traumas can manifest in the lives of their prospective children, we need further resources to guide adoptive families on how to respond to sexual abuse. Silence should never be an option!

Due to my own life experience, I have a strong sense when other adoptees have lived a similar experience without saying so in absolute words. I know how to gently ask and it saddens me each time I meet another and they tell me what they’ve rarely or never told before. I hear all the scenarios – mother is abusive, father is abusive, grandparent is abusive, uncle is abusive, adopted sibling is abusive, parent’s biological sibling is abusive, close family friend is abusive. It is rarely a stranger! Adoptive parent preparation sessions and post adoption education sessions need to include more discussions on sexual abuse. Sometimes sexual abuse might be talked about in the context of children being removed from a family because of abuse and hence available for adoption or abuse that happens in the institution before arriving to adoptive home, but it is rarely considered that a child can be placed into an abusive adoptive home.

We need adoptive couples to be mindful of what healthy boundaries are so they can identify early on when things do not seem right. We need to create an environment that doesn’t result in hushing things up, burying the knowledge. I cannot say more loudly and strongly enough how damaging it is for an adoptive family to ignore any sexual abuse that occurs within the family dynamic. When left with no professional support, we develop coping strategies that are unhealthy for us and leaves an aftermath of destruction. Suicide is one path of that destruction, there are others like alcoholism, drugs, prostitution, perfectionism, over achieving, workaholism, eating disorders. As Bessel van der Kolk says, the body never forgets. Adoptees who have been sexually abused have to find one way or another to deal with the dis-ease that sits within us.

If your adopted child tells you of some form of sexual abuse, please believe them and seek professional help immediately. Report the issue to the police. Do the right thing even if it is your spouse, your other child, your family friend whom you have to report! I am told too often of adoptive families who treat the victim as if there’s something wrong with them, saying they’ve lied, made up stories, saying they have a mental illness and cause trouble in the family. Most children do not make up these stories and the child should never be made to feel it was their fault in any way!

We need the adoption community and professionals to talk more openly about these questions: how does sexual abuse within the adoptive family occur? How does demonising the birth family with a history of abuse set us up to heroise the adoptive family as if they are immune from being as abusive? How are adoptees more vulnerable to abuse than the non-adopted child? How can we better prevent sexual abuse in adoptive families? How can we better listen to adoptees who struggle with this type of trauma? How can we better record and capture data to reflect how often this occurs? How can we better assess prospective parents? How does sexual abuse impact the whole adoptive family? How does sexual abuse compound the relinquishment trauma already held by an adoptee? How can we help family members come to terms with the terrible deeds of the perpetrator(s)? How can an adoptive family heal and move forward from what has happened?

I’ve lived years of seeing exactly what happens when these questions aren’t discussed or addressed. It’s devastating for all family members and leaves generational impacts. We need to help shift the fear, shame and guilt that prevents adoptive families from openly acknowledging when sexual abuse happens so that adoptees and the family can find healing.

By not responding appropriately, the trauma of sexual abuse within the adoptive family is compounded with our relinquishment trauma.

Do not allow adoptive family shame to be more powerful than love and honesty.

For adoptees who’s adoptive family closes their eyes to your abuse, I hope you will one day find your voice and speak your truth. Your vulnerable child did not deserve abuse and it’s okay to walk away if your adoptive family are not capable of bearing their truth and giving you the support, love and protection you deserve. It’s taken me 27 years to be this open about this topic, being abused and adopted certainly is not an easy journey! The hardest part has been feeling so alone and wanting to belong to a family so desperately that even an abusive one will be okay. I share in the hopes of encouraging others who walk this path. Don’t give up on you. You do not have to feel alone. Find professional support, connect into your peers, don’t isolate yourself. Create a new sense of family for yourself. Find other “mother” or “father” figures in your life who CAN be nurturing and supportive. Fight to give yourself the healing you deserve! Speak up!

Resources
Possible Solutions

The Legacy and Impacts of Abuse in Adoption

Part 2 of a 3 part series on Sexual Abuse within Adoption

When abuse happens to a child from the very people who are supposed to protect it, a devastating legacy of impacts is created. I lived with my adoptive family for 19 years until they left to go overseas to be missionaries. Up until that point in my life, I had learnt to suppress my truths and bury it deep within my body.

How can one ever describe the impacts and legacy we are left with as a victim of sexual abuse within an adoptive family? Words feel inadequate.

The Worst Crime is Being Expected Not to Tell – Darrell Hammond

I watched Darryl Hammond’s Cracked Up life story on Netflix – it helped me find the words. I highly recommend watching it for those who seriously want to understand childhood trauma and the legacy it leaves. I related to his story on so many levels: the anger at self for having been so vulnerable, the conflicting emotions about these very people who are your parents who others only see as amazing and wonderful people, the memories of abuse where my body felt violated, disrespected and used for their own purposes, the coping mechanisms I developed to survive, the trail of devastation left behind in early relationships and choices because I knew no better until I got professional help, the attempts to take my life because the pain was so unbearable, the depression, the darkness that would consume me. So many parallels with the life I lived until I found help and healing. Thankfully it didn’t take me over 50 years, but it certainly consumed a large part of my prime adult life and I still continue to deal with the impacts to this day. I think this is the part most people don’t understand which Darryl’s documentary highlights – our trauma never leaves us – what can get better, is that we learn to forgive ourselves for our survival and coping mechanisms, and we can learn to reconnect with and care about ourselves. It is a lifetime journey of healing and coming to terms with what was taken from us – our innocence and potential to live life without those brutal scars.

Each day, each week, each year I struggle to comprehend my adoptive family. My childhood mind just can’t integrate that they could have been so cruel, nasty, neglectful, mean — but yet they were also my saviours, my lifeline to surviving a war, my rescuers. It is their unspoken expectation that I should just get on with life as if nothing has happened that continues to hurt the most. I did this for many years but it becomes harder the older I get and I can no longer accept this anymore. I can no longer deny the emotional impact I feel each time I interact with them. It’s been so hard to pretend that I don’t hurt, I can’t do it anymore. What they choose to see is a strong, resilient survivor who has overcome. Yes that is part of who I am, but what they don’t want to see, is the other half – the hurt, traumatised inner child me who wants to be protected, loved and nurtured. I have had to learn to give to myself because they have not been capable. Not one member of my adoptive family wants to know how I’m impacted or understand my struggle. This is because their shame is deeper than my pain. This is what no-one will talk about. It did not escape my notice that Darryl Hammond tells his story publicly after both his parents have deceased. I recognise we subconsciously protect our parents if they’ve abused us and it’s at our cost in mental health, to do so. This is the sad reality of childhood trauma inflicted upon us by our supposedly “loving” parents.

I’ve barely written about this topic in over 20 years – in places I refer to it briefly but rarely in-depth. It’s not a topic I love nor is it a topic I talk about to shame my family. I do so now, to encourage others who are tortured by the shame of what happened to them — to speak out, find their voice and empower themselves. The first article I wrote on this topic I kept anonymous out of my own shame and desire to protect my adoptive family. I look back at how ridiculous it is that I should have ever felt I had to protect them. As an adopted person, there is nothing worse than being relinquished by my first family then being unprotected by my second. My layers of loss and grief are multiplied!

We never forget what happens to us as survivors of sexual abuse, we can only simply move forward from the hate and anger that is so valid, to realising it only damages ourselves if we allow it to fester or hurt ourself. For my own survival, I have to live with it and move on – somehow I’ve learnt to remain true to my own needs and ensure my life is no longer controlled by the thoughtless actions of the perpetrators many years ago, or the shame and guilt that controls them now.

My sexual life is forever tarnished and damaged. I will never have a relationship with my partner that I might have had, had I not been sexually interfered with. Being abused in this manner has always compounded my ability to trust, to want to be close, to feel safe with people and figures in power, it destroys my belief in a greater power – my spirituality. It was not surprising that after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse, the documentary Revelation revealed that many children had suicided whom the investigators attributed directly to having been sexually abused. It is no secret that many of us who have been abused end up self intoxicating, destroying ourselves because our soul is so damaged and hurt. We just want the pain to end, we want someone to reach out and help us.

I cry for the child within me who was so vulnerable and trusting but was so misled and taken advantage of by the males in my adoptive family (extended and immediate). I cry for those all over the world who have to live with this horrendous crime to us as innocent children. Sexual abuse is a terrible reality for anyone but having it done to you from within an adoptive family adds so many more complex layers of trauma that become almost impossible to unravel and deal with. Relinquishment trauma in and of itself is terrible enough. Relinquishment and then abuse in adoptive family is just soul destroying. I hope one day people will stop talking about adoption as if it always saves us and awaken to the realisation that sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse is too prevalent in adoptive family environments. We need to change this!

I want to note that I have met many amazing adoptive parents and I am not that bitter and twisted to label them all with this brush stroke, but I do want to awaken our society to the biggest myth that adoption saves us. From a place of honesty – for those of us who live abuse in adoptive families, it is likely the biggest silent killer of adoptees!

I never spoke up while I was young because I was constantly told how lucky I was by friends and strangers. I never spoke up because I was made to feel like shit in my adoptive family, picked on, singled out, the family slave, called names like “tree trunks” or “monkey face”. I remember one young man Matthew, I never forgot him, he was a rare one who was kind to me and could sense what was going on. Matthew was employed as our new farm hand by my father to help out. He was blonde, blue eyed, respectful and strong. I remember he stood up to my adoptive father questioning why he was so tough on me, forcing me to do the labour a young man like himself could do, but yet I was pubescent girl. My father quickly got rid of him. I never heard or saw from Matthew again.

I wonder how Matthew is today and whether he found another job. I felt bad that it was because of me that he lost his job but to this day, I always remember him for being kind without sexual implications and very respectful of me. He had shown pure concern for me. I wish he’d reported my father and his ways. Little does he know how far my father went with the abuse and if he knew, he’d probably hate that he didn’t do something.

My friends at church and school sometimes saw how my father treated me but it seems no-one reported anything. Why would they? My mother was the school Principal, my parents both seen as strong Christians with a missionary background, active in the church and community, leading the youth groups, hosting the fire brigade. I wasn’t acting out. I was a school academic and high achiever. I wasn’t into drugs. But I retreated within myself. I always thought I was an introvert until my adoptive family left while I remained behind to start Year 12 while they went to live and work overseas as missionaries.

In reconnecting with some of my extended adoptive family in the past few years, it has confirmed that some had concerns about how I was being treated from as early as toddler years. Some have said to me they wish in hindsight, that they had done more, reported their suspicions. As an adopted person, I’ve just never experienced a protective or safe parent. I grieve that!

I have the resilience these days to watch things like Revelation and Cracked Up. I use to avoid because I’d be such a wreck watching anything that closely resembled my traumas. I have learnt to turn my emotional churning into something constructive. I write to share with the wider world about how we can better protect vulnerable children. I turn my childhood tragedy into an opportunity to speak out and empower others to do likewise. I advocate for those who are still struggling to find their voices. I talk about the hushed up topics that people don’t want to discuss. I speak out to give hope to other adoptees like me, with the message that your life doesn’t have to be destroyed. There is a way to heal and move forward. We don’t have to stay ashamed. We have nothing to be ashamed of! We can speak up even if we don’t get legal justice. We can help encourage our fellow sufferers to find their braveness and shed off their mantles of shame. It’s not ours to carry, it is the system and the adults who fail to protect the most vulnerable!

I speak out to bring light to this hidden tragedy of sexual abuse within adoptive families. We don’t even know what our rates of sexual abuse are because nobody captures it or researches whether we are more prone to sexual abuse in adoptive families than others. I can only refer to research in similar situations like foster care and if our statistics somewhat mirrored foster care, then we really are the silent victims because we don’t have any one monitoring us once we join our adoptive family. We have no avenues to call out for help. We are totally vulnerable within our adoptive family. We have to do better to protect vulnerable children and ensure we are placed in better environments than what we have already lost. Sexual abuse in adoption must be talked about for this change to happen!

Coming Next: Part 3 – What Needs to be Done about Abuse within Adoptive Families

Trauma Informed Resources