by Jessica Davis, adoptive mother in the USA who adopted from Uganda and co-founded Kugatta, an organisation that re-connects Ugandan families to their children, removed via international adoption.
The lie we love. Adoption.
I’ve heard people say that adoption is one of the greatest acts of love, but is it? Maybe what adoption is and has been for the majority of people isn’t really as “great” of an act as it has been portrayed to be.
Instead of us focusing on the fairytale imagery of the new “forever family” that is created through adoption, we should be focusing on how adoption means the end of a family; the absolute devastation of a child’s world resulting in the separation from everyone and everything familiar to them. When the focus is misplaced, we aren’t able to truly help the child and as a result often place unrealistic expectations on them. Expectations of gratefulness, bonding, assimilation and even expecting them to “move on” from their histories.
So what reason is acceptable enough to permanently separate a family? Poverty? If a family is poor is it okay to take their child? OR wouldn’t it be more loving and more helpful to invest time and resources into economically empowering the family so they can stay together?
If a child has medical needs the family is struggling to meet is it then okay to take their child OR is it a greater act of love and human decency to assist that family so they can meet the needs of their child and remain together?
If a family has fallen on hard times is it then okay to take their child? OR should we rally around the family and help them through the difficult time so they can remain together?
What about a child that has lost both their parents? Is it then okay to adopt the child? OR would it be a greater act of love to first ensure the child gets to live with their biological relatives, their family? Why is it better to create a new family with strangers when there are extended biological relatives?
What if a child lives in a developing country? Is it then better to take a child from their family to give them access to more “things” and “opportunities”? To give them a “better life”? Is it even possible to live a “better life” separated from one’s family? OR would it be a greater act of love to support that family so their child can have access to more things and opportunities within their own country? To build up the future of that country, by investing in and supporting that child so they can become the best they can. How does it help a developing country if we keep needlessly taking away their future doctors, teachers, social workers, public service workers, etc.?
I don’t know much about domestic adoption but I know a lot about intercountry adoption and these are some of the many reasons I hear over and over as validation for the permanent separation of a child from their family, biological relatives and country of origin.
Parents and extended family were given no option (other than adoption) when seeking help/assistance. What choice is there when there is only one option given? Not only are the majority of these families not given any options they are often told their child will be “better off” without them and that keeping their child is preventing them from these “great opportunities”. This mentality is wrong and harmful to their child.
So much of the adoption narrative is constructed around a need to “rescue” an impoverished child by providing a “forever family” yet 70%-90% of children adopted abroad HAVE FAMILIES. What other things do we continue doing in adoption knowing 4 out 5 times we are doing wrong?
Some say the greatest act of love is adoption, I say the greatest act of love is doing everything in one’s power to keep families together.
I titled this post The Lie we Love because it seems that so many of us love ADOPTION (and the fairytale often perpetuated by it) more than we love THE CHILD themselves. This is demonstrated every time a child is needlessly stripped from their family and culture, all while we as a society cheer on and promote such a process. This happens when we aren’t first willing to do the hard task of asking the tough questions; when we would rather ignore the realities at hand and live the “fairytale” that some problem was solved by adopting a child who already had a loving family.
Someday, I hope things are different: that more and more people will come to realize there isn’t an orphan crisis but rather, there is a family separation crisis happening in our world and adoption is not the answer, in fact it’s part of the problem. Intercountry adoption has become a business with massive amounts of money to be made and little to no protections for those most vulnerable because most of us sit in our comfortable first worlds and are happy with the fairytale. Adoption is truly the lie we love!
by Andrea Pelaez Castro adopted from Colombia to Spain. Andrea has written a masters thesis that investigates adoptions in Spain with a focus on how to prevent adoption rupture/breakdowns. You can follow her blogspot Adoption Deconstruction.
INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION IN SPAIN: DECONSTRUCTION OF AN ANACHRONISM
Some might think how lucky I am because I didn’t lose my mother tongue, nor my biological sisters and the fact that we blended in with our parents. Along these years, a lot of people dared to tell me we should thank whoever is in charge of this world that we weren’t on the streets drugging or prostituting ourselves. It was my parents who put that idea in our soft brains in the first place. Those words marked my entire childhood, but I’ve always felt something was wrong. I didn’t felt grateful for all those things I was supposed to be. On the contrary, I kept asking myself why we were in country that wasn’t our own, why we were treated so different from others kids, and why we couldn’t claim our mother (something we stopped doing because of the punishment we received). This constant fight between what I was supposed to feel and what I felt turned out to be, was the longest period of hatred and low self-esteem that I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t bear the anger and loneliness that comes with what I was told: my mother abandoned us because she didn’t love us. Repeated word after word like a mantra, I embraced that idea in order to survive and be accepted. However, being conscious of the situation I was living, I eventually reached the turning point when I left the nest.
My life was about to change again thanks to my determination to know the truth, frightening as it might be. In 2015, I lived in London for a year, my first independent experience which allowed me to think about my origins and my mother. When I came back to Spain, my adoptive country, I decided to start my journey along with my professional career as a lawyer. As a way to understand why I hold myself back for so many years and why my parents didn’t want to speak about adoption, I began my studies on Family and Children Law in Barcelona. I devoured every book and article about adoption, emotional regulation, relinquishment, trauma, ADHD, attachment disorder and first families that landed on my hands. I became a sponge absorbing every bit of knowledge that could help me to comprehend this exchange of children happening all over the world. I named my final thesis “Adoption in Spain: assessment and support to prevent disruption”. Finally, a critical thinking about adoption emerged to answer all my questions related to my parents and the way I was educated.
When we arrived to Madrid, Spain, after the long trip from Colombia, I marvelled at the big city, our new home and the kindness of those strangers. What I never could have imagined was the solitude and lack of acceptance of the people that were supposed to care about us. What I am about to tell I’ve never shared before (besides my chosen family). Our first ten years with our parents can be summed up with one word: isolation. We only knew physical and emotional pain, treated as if we were savages or from ‘la guerrilla’ (FARC members), insults they used to call us. With constant threats of being relinquished again and reminding us about their regrets for adoption. The entire building heard our crying and screams. We told some adults, but everyone looked the other way. This abuse upon our bodies and minds left us hopeless and developed into an attachment disorder, afraid of physical contact but longing for any kind of sign of love.
We could only understand what was happening being young adults. We aimed for their recognition of the trauma they caused, trying to comprehend why they didn’t reach for help or psychological aid. Still, I made an effort after I finished and shared my thesis with them so they could understand about international adoption and the effects of the affective bond broken in the first place. But every attempt was in vain. In that moment I perceived the causes of their own distress and grief, such as their unfinished mourning of infertility or the absence of care and attachment from their own families. They were raised under violence and depriving circumstances, therefore that’s the only kind of love we knew from them. However, even being aware of this, I didn’t quite accept the current situation and I persisted in fixing my family, longing for a tie that never existed.
While I specialised in children, family law and adoption, I started to peel the first layer: looking for my origins and my mother. For this purpose, the main step was to educate myself and deconstruct why I ended up here. I was adopted in Spain where adoption is a legal construct that is meant to protect children who have no families or when their relatives cannot provide for them, but I figured out that instead, adoption is preserving others’ privileges and interests, inherited from favoured families thanks to colonialism and Catholicism. The first stirrings of adoption occurred after the civil war in 1936-1939, leaving the defeated side subjugated under a dictatorship, which ruled the country until 1975. We all know this period as the time of ‘bebes robados’ (stolen babies). The opposing families were diminished and punished by the government, sending men and women to prison and taking every child they could to place them in ‘suitable’ homes. This undertaking was possible due to the collaboration between the dictatorship itself and the Catholic Church. Hospital personnel and maternity residences (run by nuns) were connected and instructed to register and hand over the babies, previous payments were made by the priest of the village or the district.This vast network kept going until the 90s. Associations estimate 300,000 babies were abducted in 1940-1990 in Spain after Justice was served for the first time in 2018. Most of those adults and their mothers who claimed their rights weren’t able to know the truth considering those crimeswere historic and there was no one alive to take responsibility nor documents to prove it.
From this perspective and the generalised conception of nuclear family (one mother-one father), but also a restricted moral view that encourages sexism and undermines single motherhood, the adoption was and has been assimilated as the biological filiation. I’ve heard so many times one phrase from people who want to adopt: ‘Why must we get an assessment of our abilities as parents and yet a 17 year old girl doesn’t need it in order to be pregnant?’ There is another one that arises: ‘What if the child comes with issues?’ And the gold mine: ‘Shouldn’t international adoption be permitted without restrictions? Those children need to be saved’. These statements are from common people, well-educated, with economic and even emotional resources. Despite these sentiments, there is so much to be taught and learnt about adoption and adoptees. Our voices and stories must be heard so we are no longer represented as ‘forever a child’, which prevents us from acknowledging our experience as a life long journey.
I would like to address and comment on those phrases:
First of all, privileges from prosperous countries and poverty or lack of resources from first families are the reason why someone can afford to raise an adopted child. Therefore, if impoverished countries could receive those funds set aside for an adoption, children could be raised by their parents and would stay in their communities. In addition, when a child is born from others parents the affective bond doesn’t grow magically or in the same conditions as a biological one because his/her roots are stated, so prospective parents will always need to learn from scratch what is to grow without knowing our beginning.
Adoption comes from trauma, considering the emotional wound left and carried within ourselves, caused by deprivation from the primal protection, nourishment and affection of our mother and sometimes caretakers in orphanages/institutions or foster homes. Mainly, the issue is not the child, but the adult that wants to adopt thinking about himself, concerning how things or events would effect on one when the purpose is no other but the person separated from their origin. We are not meant to be suitable for adoptive families, it is meant to be the other way around.
Finally, but not less important, international adoption is a veiled and corrupt purchase and we do not need to be rescued from our birthplace. Our families could have less or be in a temporary crisis, but it shouldn’t mean these circumstances may be used as an advantage by privileged families. It is a widely-known vicious circle, where a child can be taken by authorities or abducted by organisations. There are stories where even a poor family could have received threats and/or money in order to give up their child so others can be fed. I insist, those resources could be exactly the required aid, but still white saviours and the colonialist debt find their way out. It is a burden our countries keep suffering. As well, international adoption creates a psychological shock and sorrow. It means our pain and grief are only moved to another place, which are not accepted because those feelings have been denied in our adoptive countries since ‘we have been saved and thus we must be eternally grateful’.
In Spain, and other countries, sometimes people who approach adoption as a way to form a family do not realise and/or aren’t even interested in deconstructing their own desires and the consequences. Yes, here we speak about adoption, there is news about it on TV, there are associations from adoptive parents and adoptees, but it is not enough. What needs to be care about is the critical view on this matter. We can no longer ignore that this system doesn’t protect children nor save them. Especially plenary adoption, which is the most outdated contract to ever exist. Yes, it is a contract where one signs and pays to give their name to a child and gain rights over another person so he or she can be raised by someone else and in another country. That being said:
WHY DO WE HAVE TO LOSE OUR FIRST FAMILY TO BE PROTECTED OR RAISED BY OTHERS? WHY MUST THE AFFECTIVE BOND BE BROKEN? WHAT IS THAT FEAR THAT PREVENTS US FROM BEING ABLE TO STAY CONNECTED WITH OUR ORIGINS?
THE AFFECTIVE BOND
International adoption is a success precisely because of this reason: people being afraid of losing someone that is not theirs to begin with. What an archaic concept! Back to the assimilation of adoption as a natural filiation. The affective bond cannot grow if our roots and our past are rejected. Still there exist a type of movie within the terror genre which speaks about this fear, where adoptive children rebel against their family or the first mother comes back to claim what is her own. Fear and rejection cannot be the seed of any family. This is the reason my thesis wasn’t quite appreciated at that time, because I addressed an important subject and pointed out a fear we were born with (not being accepted). This clean break concept within plenary adoption is outdated and must be removed from our communities. Society might not be ready to abolish this figure due to economic, fertility and mental health problems, but adoptees should not be the ones to suffer others’ choices. Adoption must come from a place of stability and acceptance of our own limitations, otherwise generations are wounded and anguish created over issues that are not our duty to fix or responsible for.
Now that I’ve found my family and I understand the circumstances that led me here, I can start my healing process, which doesn’t mean being static, but moving forward through sorrow and all kinds of grief. The next layer I’m trying to live with and didn’t accept at the end of my research is that there is no affective bond or a concept of family in my adoption. At some point I had to endure the pain that comes with it, but finally it set me free. In the words of Lynelle Long, my contract with them is over. Reading those words and relating to them at this time, is the beginning of a crucial period of my life. I highly recommend others to initiate the search of our origins, only new wisdom can be spread into ourselves, and also do not be afraid of sharing your story. Don’t deny yourself or your wounds. They are just a reminder that we are still alive and we can heal together.
THIS IS MY STORY
I’m 32 and I was adopted at age 7 years old, along my two little sisters (5 and 3 years old) by Spanish parents in 1995 in Colombia. Our Colombian mom was 20 when our Colombian father died in 1993. His death was related to a drug/paramilitary organisation. This event changed our whole life. I’ve been in these stages of grief, negation and hatred, but now I think I’m in the negotiation phase of the loss of my family, my mother and this whole different life I could have lived if things would have been distinct, even just one thing. Due to this violence, the male members of my father’s family were wiped out in case of a possible revenge. This way, my mother lost contact with his family, therefore she couldn’t take care of us while trying to provide for us. The ICBF (Colombian Central authority that protects children) found out about this situation and intervened. My Colombian mother didn’t have any economic or emotional support (at least, nobody cared enough to look for the rest of our family), so she had to make a decision with both hands tied.
Two years later, we were moved to Madrid, Spain. Our adoptive parents were old-fashioned not only in their thinking about education, but also in their emotional intelligence. They didn’t really empathise with us or accept our past and origins. As a result they wouldn’t speak about adoption. Until I flew the nest, I wasn’t able to think about my first mother or family. It was too painful and I wanted to be accepted by any means. I never felt close to my adoptive parents, but they took care of us three children and we never knew what is to be separated from each other. In 2016, I decided it was enough and I started this scary journey. My sisters never felt prepared to do it with me, but they have been by my side looking over my shoulder, and as they like to say: this is like a telenovela (soap show). However, I did my own research and became my own private investigator. I only needed our adoption file to get her ID number, and with a little help from contacts in Colombia, I found her in 2018. I wasn’t ready to make contact at the beginning, but I overcame this difficulty by writing a letter with my sisters. Then in December 2020, I got to find my father’s family on Facebook. One name was missing that my mother told me about, but it was the key to unlock what was holding me back from truly knowing my family.
I realize, especially reading other adoptees’ experiences, how lucky I am. I’m aware of the consequences of adoption, its trauma and wounds, the scars we have to learn to live with; the deconstruction of my origins and my own personality, the necessities and defences required in order to survive. This whole process has taught me something more valuable that I’ve could never imagine: accept myself and others. I have always had my sisters with me, who are learning from this growth with open minds, knowing it is not easy and they are not ready to go through the same phases as I am, but they are willing to listen and walk with me as far as they can. Recognising and understanding that this was not possible with our parents has been the most painful step, but we’ve managed to take control of our lives and choices. Now I’m preparing myself for this trip, physically and emotionally. At this moment I’m reading ‘Colombia: a concise contemporary history’ to finally know my country, which I ignored for so many years. Thanks to my Colombian mom, I’ve discovered that I was really born in Muzo, Boyaca.
I am not a Korean intercountry or domestic adoptee but I am an intercountry adoptee and this is not just a Korean adoption issue – it is a global issue for all who are impacted by adoption. I stand with the Korean adoptees who are demanding President Moon apologise and meet with them to discuss how to better protect vulnerable children.
I am against the murder and abuse of any child who gets placed into an adoptive family.
I am also against any rhetoric that minimises what has happened and attempts to push the responsibility onto the child – as if they were the cause, not good enough, and needed to be “swapped out” to better suit the needs of the adoptive family.
It is time the governments of the world, who participate in, promote and look to the current plenary adoption system be upfront and realistic about the downsides this system creates.
My first argument is that the current plenary system of adoption does not respect the child’s rights and too easily becomes a commodity in a market for adoptive families to pick and chose the child of their choice. President Moon’s poorly chosen words simply reflect this reality. His words tell us what we already know: children are a commodity in today’s economy – matched theoretically to suit the needs of prospective parents, and not the other way around! If there were any semblance of equality in this system, we children would be able to more easily rid ourselves of adoptive families when we deem them equally unsuitable! But the reality is, we are children when adoption happens and like little Jeong-In, have no power or say in what happens to us. We are adopted into the family for life, our rights to our birth origins irrevocably denied, our adoption as Pascal Huynh writes, “is like an arranged child marriage”. The majority of the world somehow understands how unethical an arranged child marriage is, yet we still talk about plenary adoption as if it’s a child’s saviour.
Thanks to the recent publicity of Netra Sommer’s case, the public around the world have recently become aware of how hard it is for us adoptees to revoke our adoptions. It took Netra over 10 years to be able to undo her adoption! As for any equal rights in the current system, the mothers and fathers of loss get even less than us adoptees. They are discouraged from changing their minds if they no longer wish to relinquish their child, yet President Moon is publicly encouraging a process that allows adoptive / prospective parents to change theirs. This is the one sided nature of the adoption system!
Jeong-In’s death highlights some other core issues I have with the plenary adoption system:
The lack of long term followup, research or statistics on adoptees after the adoption and post placement period.
The selection and assessment of prospective parents by the adoption agency and their lack of accountability in their role.
The blind belief within the child welfare system, that an adoptive parent would never harm a child. But with all the indicators shown in this video of the recount by child care workers who tried multiple times to flag that things weren’t right for this child, no action was taken to suspect the adoptive parents of harming this child. This reflects the one sided view of first families who are demonised and seen as the only perpetrators of violence or abuse against their children. In contrast, adoptive parents are seen as saviours/rescuers but yet many adoptees will give evidence of the abuse that happens too often within adoptive families.
One has to wonder how such leniency and almost apparent empathy for the adoptive parents as expressed in President Moon’s words could not be equally applied to first families in Korea. In the large majority of cases, Korean women have to relinquish their children due to single motherhood status and the lack of supports – not because of any dark, violent, drug filled history.
I get angry each and every time a vulnerable child like little Jeong In-Yi gets mistreated and hurt by the very system that is meant to protect and support them. Let’s use this anger to demand change that is long overdue but also, let’s not forget Jeong-In herself for although she only remained on this planet for a short 16 months, she has impacted many of us!
The mothers of KUMFA have stood up and rallied to demand the agency involved, Holt Korea, be held accountable for their role in this death. The Korean adoptees around the world have created this campaign #notathing to demand the President of Korea meet with them to hear their voices. We need government to invite us to the table to discuss options other than plenary adoption.
I and other members of ICAV have shared about alternatives to plenary adoption but I question if Jeong-In would still be alive today if she had not been placed into the adoption system. The irony is no doubt she would have been much safer with her single unwed mother!
The shame is on Korea for not doing more as a first world nation to support mothers and children to remain together! The same is applied to any country, especially first world nations who have the resources yet continue to have their children adopted out via the plenary adoption system. In the USA there has been a very similar child murdered within adoptive family that mirrors Korea.
This is not a system I aspire to for vulnerable children of the future!
I want to end by honouring Jeong-In for the massive impact and legacy she has left behind. I hope she has not died in vain. I hope the extreme pain she must have endured was not for nought! I hope that each time an adoptee dies at the hands of their adoptive family, the world community will stand up and demand the we adoptees are #NotAThing and that more needs to be done to make our system safer and more aligned to the needs and rights of us – for whom it is all meant to be about! We are that vulnerable child grown up, who could not speak for themselves and needs our protection and our action!
Please consider signing the petition #NotAThingand find ways in which you can take action, to demand governments and authorities do more to make changes away from the current plenary adoption system to something far more respectful of adoptee and first family rights and needs.