A Vigil for Christian Hall, 1 Year On

On 30 December 2021, 7-9pm CST we gathered in social media application, Clubhouse to participate in an online vigil, created and led by Vietnamese adoptee Adam Chau. The event was organised in conjunction with Christian Hall’s family who created the physical in-person vigils at various cities around the USA. The purpose of the vigils was to honour Christian’s life, raise awareness about and bring the impacted communities together in solidarity to seek Justice for Christian Hall. You can read their latest articles here and here.

A number of adoptee guests were invited to share our thoughts for the online vigil: Kev Minh Allen (Vietnamese American adoptee), Lynelle Long (Vietnamese Australian adoptee), Kayla Zheng (Chinese American adoptee), Lee Herrick (Korean American adoptee).

I share with you what I spoke about in honour of Christian Hall.

My name is Lynelle Long, I’m the founder of Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV). I’d like to thank you Adam Chau for organising this online event today in honour of Christian. Thankyou Nicole, Christian’s cousin who is on our call, for allowing us to join in with this vigil. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss! It’s a privilege to be able to speak. I am a person with lived experience of intercountry adoption and like Christian Hall, I am of Chinese descent … except I was born in Vietnam and adopted to Australia, whereas he was born in China and adopted to the USA.

The common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced abandonment as an infant. No matter what age we are, for an adoptee, loss of our first family as abandonment/relinquishment is a raw and painfully traumatic experience. It stays with us throughout life in the form of bodily sensations and gets easily triggered. When this happens, these sensations flood our body as fear, panic, anxiety.

Worse still is that when our abandonment occurs as an infant, we have not developed a language as a way to understand our experience. We are simply left with pre-verbal feelings (bodily sensations). It took me over 20 years until I read the first book, The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier which changed my life in terms of coming to understand how abandonment and adoption had impacted me. That book was the first to help give words to the experience I felt up until then, as an entirely somatic experience, as uncomfortable sensations in my body, that I hadn’t understood, which I’d spent my life running away from every time they re-emerged.

The other common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced suicidal ideation and attempts. For him, it tragically meant the end of his life by police officers who did not understand his traumas. For me, after numerous failed attempts and ending up in ER, it meant a long process of awakening to the trauma I had lived. 20+ years later, I have spent most of this time helping to awaken our society to what adoption is really about for us, the adopted person.

Being adopted never leaves us. We might try to escape and pretend that it has no impact but deep down to our core, our abandonment wires almost every aspect of our being – most importantly, how we connect or not to others around us and to ourselves. At its core, intercountry adoptees experience loss of identity, race and culture. Unless we have supports around us that understand and help us to overcome the trauma of abandonment early on, we stumble in the dark, completely unaware of how our abandonment impacts us. Many adoptees call it “being in the fog” until we become awakened. Today, decades after Nancy Verrier first wrote her amazing book, we now have many, many books written by adoptees who are THE experts of our own lived experience. These books are a written testament to the complexities we live through adoption and how this impact us.

In the past 2 months, I have worked with others to speak out about the impacts of abandonment and adoption trauma and the direct connection to risk of suicide. I acknowledge that Christian’s family do not relate his tragic death to suicide, but I suspect his feelings of abandonment were triggered as key events led to him being on the bridge that day. I hope that more adoptive families will educate themselves about the complexities we live as people who get disconnected from our origins via intercountry adoption. There are almost 2 million of us worldwide and we are speaking out en-masse to help the world understand it is not a rainbows and unicorns experience. We require lifelong supports from professionals who are trauma and adoption trained. In America alone, there are hundreds of thousands of intercountry adoptees – America remains the biggest receiving country in the world. Too many are struggling emotionally every day, yet in the USA, there is still no free national counselling service for intercountry adoptees and their families. There is also NO national post adoption support centre in the USA funded to help intercountry adoptees grow into adulthood and beyond. Isn’t it a huge shortcoming that the largest importer of children in the world has no lifelong supports fully funded, equitable, freely accessible – how can America expect positive outcomes for children who are amongst the most vulnerable if we don’t fund what we know they need?

I never knew Christian personally. I only discovered him through his death. I wish I had known him. From the many intercountry adoptees I connect to, I know we gain so much emotionally from being connected to others just like us. Being connected to our peers helps reduce those feelings of isolation, helps us understand we aren’t the only ones to experience life this way, helps connect us to sources of support and validation that we know has worked. I wish Christian had met our community. I’ll never know if it would have made the difference so that he wasn’t there that day on that bridge. As an adoptee, I suspect Christian most likely wanted help that day, help to ease his hurting soul, not death. 

Also, let’s take a moment to remember his biological family in China. Whether they ever truly had a choice in his relinquishment, we’ll probably never know but from my knowledge in this field, it’s most likely not. Christian’s adoption was likely the result of the 1-Child Policy era in China where thousands of families were forced to relinquish their children, many of them ending up intercountry adopted like Christian. Please take a moment to consider that through adoption, his biological family don’t even have the right to know that he has passed away. 

The travesty in adoption is that trauma is experienced by all in the triad (the adoptee, the adoptive family, the biological family) yet the traumas continue to go largely unrecognised and unsupported in both our adoptive and birth countries. We must do better to prevent the unnecessary separation of families, and where adoption is needed, ensure that families undertake adoption education, learning about its complexities in full and having free equitable access for life to the professional supports needed.

My huge thanks to his extended and immediate family for being brave and opening themselves up thru all this trauma and allow these vigils where his life and death can be honoured for the greater good. I honour the pain and loss they’ve lived and thank them immensely for allowing our intercountry adoptee community to join in with them in support.

Thank you.

If you would like to support Christian’s family and their push for justice, please sign the petition here.

If you would like to better understand the complexities involved in intercountry adoption as experienced by adoptees, our Video Resource is a great place to start. Wouldn’t it be amazing to create a resource like this to help educate first responders to better understand the mental health crises that adoptees experience.

We Need To Talk About Adoptee Suicide, Now

by Lina Vanegas adopted from Colombia to the USA, MSW.

It is imperative that we start talking openly and honestly about adoptee suicide. Adoptees are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide. This is an alarming number and most people are not even aware of this fact. Too many adoptees are dead and dying. Adoptees are not seen as a marginalised group. Our lived experience of vulnerabilities and being exposed to complex trauma is unacknowledged by society. Adoptees are thought of as “lucky”, “saved/rescued”, having been given a “better life” and many expect us to be grateful which is really the narrative we need to dismantle for society to see us, validate us, support us and create an inclusive, safe and affirming world for adoptees.

Suicide is such an uncomfortable and tough topic to discuss. Society tends to avoid  conversations when they are uncomfortable. Change and growth happen from discomfort. The community needs to lean into these conversations quickly because adoptees are dying. The discomfort that community members feel is nothing compared to the immense pain, loneliness, sadness that people who contemplate suicide, attempt suicide and die by suicide feel. People who have lost a loved one to suicide are also in a lot of pain.

Our conversations around adoptee suicide needs to be framed for community members around the fact that being separated from our mothers is trauma which can predispose us to mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, suicide and also addiction, eating disorders, self harm, and toxic relationships. Once people are able to grasp the trauma from separation, I think they will be able to understand how it predisposes adoptees to mental health struggles. There is a conflict between what people hear about adoption and believe to be true and the reality of adoption. Once people learn the reality of adoption, I think it will be easier for them to grasp the mental health crisis adoptees are experiencing.

In order to support adoptees, we need to have community members that understand adoptees. Community members need to understand that the symptoms they see in adoptees that are mental health related are most often a result of our trauma. If people can understand this, I think that empathy and understanding around adoptee suicide will be much greater. Adoptees also need to be understood in every system and institution so that they can be seen and helped. For an example, if an adoptee goes to a psychiatric hospital or emergency room because they attempted suicide or have a plan of suicide and the providers there do not understand adoption trauma, then there is no way they can help the adoptee with their trauma. The provider will most likely diagnose and prescribe medication to the adoptee. This will do nothing to help the adoptee deal with their trauma and begin to heal.

It would be beneficial if there were adoptee support groups that were readily available and advertised. Many of us are a part of these groups but they generally function through word of mouth. It would be great if the mental health field professionals would do more research on adoptees. We need the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention to do research specifically on adoptees. The research would then be able to inform awareness, education, prevention and support around adoptee suicide.  It is important that the barriers for adoptees seeking medical, mental, therapeutic or psychiatric help are evaluated and then solutions are made to make things more affirming, inclusive and safe for adoptees. If adoptees are not seeking help, then they will not be able to receive help and we want to make sure they are seeking help when needed and that it is easily accessible. For example, it is very triggering and scary to go to the doctor without a medical history and it is a huge trigger to be asked each time -”Do you have any updates on your family medical history?” or “What is your family history?.”  It is also triggering to hear providers commentary on adoption when we tell providers we are adopted. I have spoken to many adoptees who have told me they avoid the doctor because of these reasons. I too have avoided appointments because it can be very triggering and taxing to continually explain myself and be in the place of having to feel like I need to educate the provider. Sometimes providers are receptive and other times they are very patronising which adds a lot to an already triggering situation. This kind of negative interaction can be a deterrent for any adoptee seeking further care.

Photos: Queensland Council

 It would be amazing if there was a crisis line for adoptees. A crisis line would be very validating because the adoptee would not need to explain themselves or adoption. Adoptees need resources and support that are safe, inclusive and affirming. Sometimes people feel more comfortable texting or picking up the phone than going in-person or on a zoom virtual call. It would also be really beneficial if when suicide deaths are recorded, that the adoption status of the person is included in the data. The information could be further broken down to include race, transracial domestic or intercountry adoption, or foster care experience. This would  give us an idea of how to better shape awareness, education, support and prevention. It will also give us more accurate statistics on adoptee suicide.

One of the ways that the community can support adoptees living with suicide loss would be to first understand adoption and trauma and how suicide attempts and deaths are high in the community. That would be a huge step for adoptees to feel seen and heard. It is so painful to go through a suicide loss and it would be extremly validating to be understood. Experiencing suicide loss as an adoptee can bring up a lot of similar topics that one may struggle with around adoption such as abandonment, not being worthy or good enough, grief, trauma, loss, feeling alone, and many other things.

For families that have lost an adoptee to suicide, it would also be helpful for the community to understand adoption and trauma and the alarmingly high rates of suicide. Families should also have support services available to them which should include trauma informed and adoption competent mental health providers and support groups. We all need and deserve support dealing with suicide loss.

It would be great to have community members that can support adoptees and family members who are living with suicide loss by listening to them without judgement. Suicide loss for an adoptee is super complicated because we have already experienced so much loss and this is another trauma that can be very triggering. As a suicide loss survivor, I really appreciate anyone who can listen without judgement. It is essential to not ask questions like, why did they die, how did they die, did you know they were depressed, did they leave a suicide note. Again, listening is really the most validating and important thing that people can do for each other. If we do not understand suicide, then we should do our part to educate ourselves by reading, listening to blogs and attending events. We should not ask someone who has just lost someone to suicide to do the emotional labor of educating us. They are grieving and need our support.

We need to start talking about adoptee suicide now. It is not going away and the numbers are alarming. If we create awareness and education in our community, it will lead to a more inclusive, affirming and safe world for adoptees. Too many of us are dying or are dead.  If we are feeling safe and comfortable, I encourage people to have these conversations with others when the time arises.  Every conversation can be beneficial and is an opportunity to plant seeds, create change, educate, create awareness, talk about prevention and begin to address the issue of adoptee suicide which will lead to saving lives. I would love to live in a world where the suicide statistics for adoptees are greatly reduced and ideally non-existent. 

Read Part 1 of Lina’s Adoptee Suicide Series: Coping with Loss from Adoption Suicide

Other Resources on Adoptee Suicide

Dealing with Adoptee Suicide
ICAVs Memorial Page
Adoptee Remembrance Day
It’s a Black Week for Adoptees in Europe

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