by Niels Ernest Lam, transracially adopted in the Netherlands with African and Dutch heritage; adoption / lgbti / life coach at Simply Niels and with AFC.
At the end of March, I attended the first edition of Men Only Online. This was created by Adoptee & Foster Coaching (AFC) because more and more adopted men are open to deepening in terms of relinquishment and adoption. Olv. Hilbrand Westra (정운석) and Sandor Penninga met with a number of domestic and foreign adoptees.
I must confess that I was quite tense beforehand because until recently I have not previously talked to only men about my relinquishment and adoption. Previously, I always participated in groups that mainly include women. And I also found it exciting because because of my homosexuality I didn’t know how the group would react to it. My assumption is that women accept this easier than “real” men. However, the tension, created by myself, soon disappeared like snow through the sun. The openness and vulnerability of all the men present made me feel no less or different from the rest. My sexual orientation didn’t matter at all.
The morning flew by, a lot was discussed. There was recognition in everyone’s story. That made for the connection.
Once again, I would like to thank the men who were there for who they are. And for what they contributed to this morning.
Original post in Dutch
Door, Niels Ernest Lam
Afgelopen zaterdag was de eerste editie van Men Only Online. Dit is in het leven geroepen omdat steeds meer geadopteerde mannen openstaan voor verdieping op het gebied van afstand en adoptie. olv. Hilbrand Westra (정운석) en Sandor Penninga ging een aantal binnen- en buitenlands geadopteerde met elkaar in gesprek.
Ik moet bekennen dat ik van tevoren best gespannen was omdat ik tot voor kort niet eerder met alleen maar mannen over mijn afstand en adoptie heb gepraat. Voorheen nam ik altijd deel aan groepen waar voornamelijk vrouwen bij zitten. En ook vond ik het spannend omdat ik vanwege mijn homoseksualiteit niet wist hoe de groep erop zou reageren. Mijn aanname is dat vrouwen dit makkelijke accepteren dan ‘echte’ mannen. De spanning, door mijzelf gecreëerd, verdween echter al gauw als sneeuw door de zon. De openheid en kwetsbaarheid van alle aanwezige mannen maakten dat ik mij niet minder of anders dan de rest voelde. Mijn seksuele geaardheid speelde helemaal geen rol.
De ochtend voorbijvloog, is er veel besproken. Er was herkenning in een ieders verhaal. Dat zorgde voor de verbinding.
Ik wil nogmaals de mannen, die erbij waren, bedanken voor wie ze zijn. En voor wat ze hebben bijgedragen aan deze ochtend.
This is the last picture of my intact family – soon my brother was sent away and eventually I ended up in an orphanage. I was adopted from Korea at age 9 to a white Lutheran family in Spring Grove, Minnesota – the biggest Norwegian community in the USA at that time. My adoptive family moved quite a bit making it even more difficult for me to find connections. I was a sad, angry, lonely, scared, fear-filled child and then woman and mother. I found my biological mother and brother in 2008 thinking that would heal me – it was a terrible reunion and my pain deepened. As I entered my 40s, I was exhausted, overwhelmed and my desire to live was close to 0 – like so many stories from adoptees, I thought about suicide all. the. time.
Simultaneously and definitely hypocritically, I was working in social services specifically with high risk youth talking them through the same difficult feelings I could not manage within me. I had several moments of reckoning which led me to seek out true healing and inner peace. It is no coincidence that I moved to Hawaii where the “Aloha Spirit” Law went into effect in 1986. Through that law and my focused seeking, I am now funded by the State to provide training to discuss trauma and reduce suffering through mindfulness, forgiveness and attitudinal healing. I have worked with folks in all sectors of life and these trainings have been helpful for many people including me.
Nothing really changed in my life except now I am able to feel more connected with myself and my community, I feel more ease and love in a way I never understood before – it’s definitely not a cure all but having concrete skills to manage my pain changed everything for me.
One of the biggest issue for me growing up was feeling like I didn’t have a voice, I didn’t have a right to feel anger or sadness about my situation – always having to be thankful with a plastered smile no matter how awful my adoptive family was. Sharing my story, working through the difficult process and fully feeling is what works for me and many people and this is what I provide for others.
If you would like to have a space to talk about your story, learn new skills to manage yourself better, grow in connection with yourself and others in order to heal, then reach out to me if you have questions please.
Many adoptees like me are out here fighting with our last drops of energy for change – we need to remember to take a moment to recharge, rest, re-energize so we don’t implode. I hope to serve you in this way.
These past few weeks since easter has been reflective and sad for me. Whenever an adoptee friend commits suicide, it brings on many emotions:
Raw sadness that we’ve failed another person impacted by adoption!
Helplessness that the powers-to-be (sending and receiving governments, agencies, lawyers, social workers) who control and continue to facilitate intercountry adoption, don’t do enough to prevent this type of outcome. We know after 70 years of intercountry adoption, that the trauma involved in intercountry adoption HAS to be supported for LIFE!
Anger that it is documented and well understood that we continue to suffer much higher rates of suicide than non-adopted people and yet – the powers-to-be still continue to facilitate intercountry adoption with very little commitment to adequate post adoption supports, nor any consequences to being held accountable for their role in facilitating the adoption.
Grief for the people left behind, who are suddenly made intensely aware of the feelings of powerlessness that led the person to leave this world in this manner.
Frustration that for the majority of adoptees, we can get to this space without reaching out for help because we are often surrounded by public ignorance and media misrepresentation that adoption is only “wonderful” and provides a “forever family”; or of “a moment-in-time-reunion” that creates an illusion that this will fix the internal pain of needing to know where we belong. The damage these fake messages create when not balanced or listening to those who live it from a broad spectrum across time, is that this message can act to negate and amplify the struggles adoptees often feel.
And where are the supports for those left behind? How does our peer community deal with the ripple effect when this happens? I have not seen many resources to equip us with this. We struggle along, wandering in the dark.
What this does to me is put me on high alert for any adoptees I know who share about being in this dark space. You would be surprised by how many there are – often the ones whom nobody suspects! All I can do is reach out, offer to listen, tell them I am here when they need it most and encourage them to reach out for professional help. This is because the pain is often our deep trauma from relinquishment and possibly complicated if the adoption wasn’t supportive and positive. It’s an awful feeling to wonder who’s going to be next. I’m only one person and there are thousands of us intercountry adoptees. It feels like a ticking time bomb! Yet I also totally know how they feel because I was there during my most painful years. I know how easily life becomes that dark space where you truly believe no-one cares but even if they do … it feels like the pain is never ending.
For those who don’t understand and want to, for me when I was in that space, I just wanted the pain to end! I just wanted to feel some peace! I was tired of crying, tired of being so sad, so angry, exhausted trying to pretend I was “normal”. But suicide is a temporary solution and often when in that space, we aren’t looking at the reality of not being here in life and all the things we will miss out on, or the impact on the people who we leave behind – we just become consumed with wanting to end the pain!
Somehow, we must create a space that helps adoptees deal with this pain in a safe way.
Adoptee suicide drives me to continue to reach out to my peers, to try and create a safe space where their emotions and confusions can exist without judgement. ICAV is about providing resources and connecting peers to enable the journey of finding their truths, encouraging them to find healing, and offering some hope.
I can only wish that adoptee suicide stimulates more of us to reach out regularly to our adoptee peers; check in, show an interest, be a listening ear and help encourage them to reach out to spaces/places where they will be uplifted and supported.
ICAV created the Intercountry Adoptee Memorial Facebook page 2 years ago. Sadly, we have over 30 intercountry and transracial adoptees memorialised there in just this short period of time — but what about those we don’t know of because they never tapped into support networks? They are the ones whom I worry about the most!
This is why I spend my energy advocating to stop or change the way intercountry adoption is done to ensure better post adoption supports (such as free search and reunion and DNA testing, free counselling, free mental health assessments and support), better assessment and education of adoptive families, find ways to enable justice for those who have been dealt the worst hands (deportation, abuse in adoptive families, illegal and illicit adoptions, rehoming). There are so many complicating issues in intercountry adoption and adoptees should not be left to navigate these alone without the right support systems in place. Sending and receiving countries should be held accountable on whether their intercountry adoptions are a success or not. This implies there should be long term follow up on those whom government, agencies and lawyers place — including followup with the families on both sides (adoptive and birth).
Adoptee suicide tells me we still haven’t done enough to prevent and minimise harm caused by the structures that facilitate and support intercountry adoption.
If you are an adoptee impacted by the loss of your adoptee friend via suicide, or you are contemplating suicide, please consider reaching out for professional crisis support and to your local Post Adoption supports.
Peer support can also be useful as we can sometimes advise where to find these professional post adoption and crisis supports. A list of adoptee-led post intercountry adoption supports can be found here; but unless professionally trained, peer support is informal and not provided 24×7.
At ICAV we often post and publish about the not so talked about aspects of intercountry adoption from the adoptee perspective. Some could label us as “anti” adoption because it’s all too easy to put us into a box and ignore our voices because the things we talk about can be hard to hear. During the summer vacation, I was asked by a fellow adoptee why I do what I do at ICAV and how have I remained involved for so long without burning out. Today I want to share what it is that keeps me inspired and why I love being connected to my fellow adoptees. It is afterall, almost Valentines Day!
Whilst growing up in regional Australia, I was always the only non-white person, except for some Aboriginals, in my communities at school, church and interest groups. I experienced a very isolating childhood. I had no peers, mentors or roles models who could help me understand my journey. I had no concept of what my issues were but remember feeling out of place and alone.
Fast forward to today and I no longer feel this way. I have met thousands of fellow adoptees like myself around the world and it is these friendships and connection with other intercountry adoptees that I love in ICAV. We have become and created our own place / space, our own sense of “family” where we understand and talk freely about the complexities that impact us. We not only share our journeys but now enmasse, we are turning our lived experiences into positive action on a global scale.
On the weekend, I caught up with some of my close adoptee friends in Sydney and this small group reflects what I love in ICAV. We all come from completely different birth countries and have massively different experiences of adoption – but the bond we share is just awesome!
Rafael is departing in two weeks to return and live in his birth country Colombia for the next 6 months after reuniting with his Colombian mother last year. It will be his first experience of living in his own country with his Colombian family for an extended period of time. It was because of Rafael leaving that we got together to wish him well. I am looking forward to hearing how this part of his journey goes and via the adoptee network, he will have plenty of support from fellow adoptees! Whilst in Colombia, he will also work with Plan Angel to help provide DNA kits to families of loss.
JD also found his Filippino mother last year despite great odds because he had been a “lost child” with no documentation and information about his identity. This year he is working on a documentary, utilising his multimedia skills and passion to create a greater awareness of intercountry adoptees and their desire to search for biological family.
Gabby is a Chinese adoptee and she is travelling to Hong Kong shortly to showcase her watercolour artwork in which she unveils the complexities of transracial adoption in a subtle and more mainstream way. I love how she has the courage to share how her journey as an intercountry adoptee influences her work. Adoption artwork can sometimes be confronting but Gabby has found a powerful way to reach the mass audiences in a subtle, non-threatening manner. This year she will also continue to provide art classes as a peer mentor to younger Chinese adoptees in Sydney.
As a Vietnamese adoptee who has very little paperwork, I returned to Vietnam last year for the second time and am still trying to find my family of origin. Maybe one day I’ll find them but until then, alot of questions about my original identity and family remain unanswered. I live with this and it is the only way I know. I listen to my adoptee friends who have found their families and the issues they face and I always ponder what it might be like, when and if it happens to me. So many complexities, so many challenges, so many times we as adoptees have to juggle difficult circumstances and issues.
Each of us is driven by our own journey in adoption to help make this world a better place for our fellow adoptees. When we get together, there is a bond between us. Our journeys are so uniquely individual but yet we share so much in common. Only amongst fellow intercountry adoptees do I find true understanding and empathy, true connection and a shared resilience. And what I love even more is that we all have a passion to give back to our intercountry adoptee community to try and make the path easier, better, and somewhat smoother. THIS is what I’ve always meant ICAV to be .. a place where we can turn our journeys (whether they were harsh or amazingly positive and anything in between), into something more than our individual experience and it creates momentum to build something amazing, as a collective.
Like my small group catchup in Sydney on the weekend, the connection and support between fellow intercountry adoptees is replicated around the world in each of our adoptive countries and across our many birth countries. I love that since founding ICAV, when almost nothing existed worldwide except for a few KAD groups, there are now literally so many adoptee led groups around the world. They all do something in their unique way to support fellow adoptees. This is truly inspirational when we see that out of each journey, so much can flourish and thrive. Being witness to this growth and seeing what we can achieve as a community worldwide, is what motivates me to continue ICAV. What we achieve together as a collective remains open and time will show the fruits of our labours.
I was recently reminded when providing the history of how ICAV came into being that we originally started as a support network for intercountry adoptees by intercountry adoptees. We began because I experienced nowhere to turn when wanting to connect in with others like me. Since then, I’ve learnt many times over about the power of peer support and that it cannot be underestimated!
I constantly hear from adoptees about the lack of post adoption supports that could improve the complex journey of being an intercountry adoptee. Wherever we are adopted to and from, the lack of accessible and known post adoption support is the common theme across our sending and receiving countries.
Today, I share Stephanie’s experience, a Filippino adoptee from the mid 1980s. Her story highlights the extent in which some intercountry adoptees can feel alone. I use the word “some” because I don’t want to over generalise but instead point out that no-one in our governments actually faciliate surveys to assess how we as adult adoptees fare once our adoption is transacted.
It is peer support groups like ICAV that become the melting pots for en masse experiences of intercountry adoptees around the world.
Our governments should not underestimate the power of our peer support and the positive impacts this can have in helping reduce the sense of isolation many can feel. I hope one day we will see our governments who facilitated our adoptions, provide the much needed funding to financially support peer group support organisations (formal or informal) like ICAV and those associated with ICAV.
We provide an immense amount of support around the world that is currently either not provided at all by our governments, and/or some supports that cannot be provided by professionals who do not understand the lived experience.
The power of peer support comes from providing true empathy, removing the sense of isolation derived from a/some situation(s) and giving someone (figuratively speaking) a hand to hold onto; from those who have travelled before and intuitively understand the challenges.
Some examples of current peer group support within ICAV’s wider informal network:
Search & Reunification, including DNA Testing
(Australia currently provides a free service via ISS Australia funded by our Federal Government but in most other sending & receiving countries, no such government funded service exists).
Some adoptee led groups providing this: Brazil Baby Affair (BBA), Born in Lebanon, Plan Angel Colombia, 325Kamra.
Return to Homeland
Some adoptees setup home stay places for other adoptees
Knowledge is shared in FaceBook groups from adoptees who have returned before
For those returning to live for an extended period, knowing how to navigate visas, finding work, or where to go for translation services
Some adoptee led groups providing this: International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA) and their large network for Korean adoptees, Adopted Vietnamese International (AVI), The Voice of Adoptees (La Voix Des Adoptes – French), some individuals for Sri Lanka & Vietnam.
Informal Mentoring for the every day experience of being an intercountry adoptee
Being available via social media 24×7 (which can be exhausting and difficult with little stated boundaries and all support provided by volunteers).
All Adoptee Led groups listed by ICAV.
Books, Artwork, Films, Multi Media of the lived experience
Some adoptee led groups providing this: Decoding Origins (Colombia), Adoptionland, ICAV, Lost Sarees, Out of the Fog, The Rambler, L’Hybride.
Face to Face Contact
Informal social events that facilitate friendships and networking
Formal events like conferences, gatherings, meetings,
Some adoptee led groups providing this: AdoptionPolitiksForum, ICAV, Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC), The Voice of Adoptees, Asian Adult Adoptees of British Columbia (AAABC), I’m Adopted, Chinese Children International (CCI), Also Known As (AKA).
Advocacy to improve our situations and educate the wider public of the complexities we face.
Some adoptee led groups providing this: AdoptionsPolitiksForum, Adoptionland, ICAV, ARC, The Voice of Adoptees, Adoption Museum Project, CCI.
Research completed by fellow intercountry adoptee academics specific to intercountry adoption from around the world.
Hopefully this gives you some insight into the immense amount of work being provided by adoptee led organisations and individuals who provide for free, peer support to our fellow intercountry adoptees. We want to reduce the number of experiences like Stephanie’s and ensure that for those already adopted, they are provided the support they deserve.