1. (2.4.2. Raising awareness of post-adoption services)
Points to Consider:
The best way to ensure that adopted people are receiving relevant, targeted, and high-quality post-adoption services is by having trauma- and adoption-informed adult intercountry adoptees working with the adoptee community to compile a list of such services. These adult adoptees would be PAID for their services. Intercountry adoptees, especially those who are trauma- and adoption-informed, are the only true experts in the needs of intercountry adoptees. Their expertise must be recognised, financially compensated, and required in the provision of any and all post-adoption services. We recognise the paucity in the number of trained, licensed, and qualified intercountry adoptee providers and therefore acknowledge that qualified non-intercountry adoptee providers can also be beneficial (with significant trauma- and adoption-informed training).
All post-adoption services should be provided free of charge to the adopted person (and family of birth) throughout their lifetime, recognising that each adopted person is different and that some individuals may request/require support starting early in life, while others might only start on this journey decades after their adoption.
Adoptive families should be assigned a trained, trauma and adoption-informed intercountry adoptee who can serve as a single point of contact for the adopted person, to ensure they have confidential access to these services when they need them. – The State should ensure that the adopted person knows how to – and is able to – access this person
Access to full birth records and identifying information on the adopted person’s mother and father – Birth records must be easy and confidential for the adopted person to access at any point in their lifetime
Assistance in translating and understanding the birth records and other associated adoption paperwork (as each country is different, this must be country-specific assistance)
Preparation and education on race and racism (in cases of transracial adoption, the White adoptive parents cannot equitably provide the necessary social and cultural preparedness to adopted children of colour as they are not members of the adopted child’s racial and cultural community. White adoptive parents in White dominated spaces do not have lived experiences of being targets of micro-aggressions and racism.
Reculturation, or the process by which intercountry adoptees reclaim their original cultural heritage, should be supported through education and immersive experiences such as birth country trips to their country of origin.
DNA testing and databases are models of adoptee support in several countries with problematic adoption practices. DNA testing and country sponsored databases should be promoted, supported, and maintained at no cost to adoptees or first family members.
Citizenship (country of birth) re-acquisition support and processes should be offered to adoptees who desire to become dual or full citizens of their countries of birth.
Psychological, emotional, and mental health support via psychotherapy and counselling modality/modalities as chosen by the adopted person and offered by trauma and adoption-informed providers.
2. The right of the adoptee to obtain information about their origins is well established ininternational law, in particular in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, Arts 7 and 8) as well as in the 1993 Adoption Convention (Art. 30).
How is the collection of true and accurate information on the identities of the natural mother and father ensured?
When and by whom is that information checked and confirmed in both the sending and receiving countries?
What procedure is in place to absolutely ensure that that information is preserved and can be given directly to the adopted person – without having to go through the adoptive parents?
There should be no barriers in place (such as minimum age requirement, consent of birth and/or adoptive parents, etc.) in order for the adopted person to easily and confidentially access their own familial information. – Some central authorities require adoptees to provide a psychological referral and proof of ongoing counselling (presumably paid for by the adoptee) when the adoptee contacts the central authority for birth family information and search. This practice is unfair and must end.
The desire for confidentiality on the identity of the birth parents, either by the birth family or adoptive family, should never be a reason to deny the adopted person their identity. They have the right to their identity. That right should supersede any other party’s desire for secrecy. The secrecy in adoption must end.
Central Authority websites must have a clearly marked section for adoptees of all ages to access information on birth family search and reunion: – There must be a transparent and simple procedure for accessing this information that is clearly presented on the website; – This information must be presented not only in the language of the country of origin, which most transnational adoptees will not be able to read and understand, but also in a language the adoptees themselves can read and understand, e.g., English or German; – This information must be made accessible to adoptees with vision and/or hearing impairments
What is truly in the “best interest” of the adopted person must be prioritized. – Denying someone the truth of their identity is never in anyone’s best interest.
3. Regarding the professionals involved in the post-adoption services, some States arrange for the same professionals to prepare prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) and provide post-adoption services, 30 while in other States the professionals are different ones. 31 For other States, the professionals involved depend on the region and / or the case at hand
What qualifications do “professionals” have?
Who determines who a “professional” is?
There is a major conflict of interest when the “professional” is “preparing” the Prospective Adoptive Parents AND providing post-adoption services to those displaced by adoption. – How can the “professional” who is responsible for facilitation adoptions also be providing adoptees with post-adoption services? There is substantial mistrust in the adoptee community of “adoption professionals” who facilitate adoptions – and rightfully so.
In some instances, professionals who both facilitate adoptions and also provide post adoption services may be engaged in dual roles with adoptees and their adoptive families, creating an ethical dilemma. Hence post-adoption services should be provided by separate parties and entities than the adoption service providers.
Intercountry adoptees, who are often transracial as well, who have undergone training in the social service field and or are licensed mental health providers, are poised to be in the best position to lead and guide post-adoption services given their lived experiences and extensive training. Ideally, post adoption service providers will represent a broad array of birth/first countries to better serve adoptees from various sending countries.
Although we strongly recommend that qualified intercountry adoptees are at the frontlines of facilitating and providing direct post-adoption services, we recognise the need for quality post-adoption services exceeds the potential numbers of professionally trained intercountry adoptees available. Therefore, we would be supportive of non-intercountry adoptee post-adoption service providers if they are licensed mental health providers, have evidence of adoption-informed training to include significant education and understanding of culturally responsive strategies as they apply to intercountry adoptees.
Next week on 4-8 July, the 104 signatory countries of the Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption will gather online together at the Special Commission meeting to discuss Post Adoption and Illicit / Illegal Adoption matters. It is a significant event that happens usually every 5 years and this marks the first time there will be broad representation of intercountry adoptees attending as Observers. Historically since 2005, International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA), the network representing Korean adoptee interests has been the only adoptee organisation to attend. In 2015, Brazil Baby Affair (BBA) was the second adoptee led organisation to attend with IKAA. Due to COVID, this current Special Commission meeting was postponed and over the past years, I can proudly say I have helped to spread the knowledge amongst adoptee led organisations of HOW to apply and encouraged lived experience organisations like KUMFA (the Korean mothers organisation) to represent themselves. This year, we proudly have 6 adoptee led organisations representing themselves and their communities. We have progressed!
Back in 2015, I wrote the blog titled Why is it Important to have Intercountry Adoptee Voices on this website. Many times over the years I have advocated about the importance of our voices being included at the highest levels of government discussions. So I say again, our voices are immensely important at these highest levels of adoption policy, practice and legislation discussions.
Some critics might say we change nothing in intercountry adoption by attending these meetings, however, I would like to suggest that merely seeing us represent our adult selves in numbers, helps governments and authorities realise a few key points:
We grow up! We don’t remain perpetual children.
We want to have a say in what happens to future children like ourselves.
We help keep them focused on “who” we really are! We are not nameless numbers and statistics. We are alive people with real feelings, thoughts and a myriad of experiences. Their decisions MATTER and impact us for life and our future generations!
We help them learn the lessons from the past to make things better for the future and remedy the historic wrongs.
We are the experts of our lived experience and they can leverage from our input to gain insights to do their roles better and improve the way vulnerable children are looked after.
One of the advantages of the framework of the Hague Convention, is that it creates opportunities like the upcoming Special Commission where adoptees can have visibility and access to the power structures and authorities who define and create intercountry adoption. Domestic adoptees lack this framework at a global scale and are disadvantaged in having opportunities that bring them together to access information and people which is important in advocacy work.
I’m really proud of our team of 8 who are representing ICAV at this year’s meeting. I have ensured we cover a range of adoptive and birth countries because it’s so important to have this diversity in experiences. Yes, there’s still room for improvement, but I’ve been limited by people’s availability and other commitments given we all do this work as volunteers. We are not paid as government or most NGO participants at this upcoming meeting. We get involved because we are passionate about trying to improve things for our communities! Equipping ourselves with knowledge on the power structures that define our experience is essential.
Huge thanks to these adoptees who are volunteering 5 days/nights of their time and effort to represent our global community!
Abby Forero-Hilty (adopted to the USA, currently in Canada, born in Colombia; Author of Colombian adoptee anthology Decoding Our Origins, Co-founder of Colombian Raíces; ICAV International Representative)
I’m not expecting great changes or monumental happenings at this upcoming meeting, but it’s the connections we make that matter whether that be between ourselves as adoptees and/or with the various government and NGO organisations represented. Change in this space takes decades but I hope for the small connections that grow over time that accumulate and become a positive influence.
The next few posts will be sharing some of the key messages some of our team put together in preparation for this Hague Special Commission meeting on Post Adoption Support and what the community via these leaders, wish to share. Stay tuned!
As one of the earliest cohorts of intercountry adoptees, the Greek intercountry adoptee community is represented by the amazing work that Linda Carrol Forrest Trotter does under her organisation The Eftychia Project. I’ve been connecting with Linda over the past 5 years and I love what she has done in advocacy to bring her community to the attention of the Greek government. It’s wonderful when adoptees advocate for themselves!
This was one of the meetings Linda had with the Greek government late last year. Apologies for posting so late but it’s helpful for other adoptee groups and leaders to see what some adoptee leaders are doing around the world to advocate for their community.
Here is Linda’s formal letter which she provided to the Greek government at her meeting. Thanks for sharing Linda!
Excellent work and let’s hope the Greek government steps up and provides much needed supports, services, and rights to the Greek adoptee community which are requested in Linda’s letter. These right and requests need to be recognised as basic essentials to be provided from every country that we are adopted from.
For more on Adoptee Advocacy, see ICAVs extensive list of blogs on some of the work we’ve done around the world.
I am proud to launch our new adoptee led educationalvideo resource for professionals designed to help doctors, teachers, and mental health professionals better understand our lived experience as intercountry adoptees.
This project has been a huge effort over the past 6 months in Australia to gather adult intercountry adoptee voices and share what we would like education and health professionals to know, so they can better support us on our complex life path.
Overall our project included a production team of 6, direct input into the film scripts from 18 adoptees who auditioned, filming of 8 adoptees, provision of music from 5 adoptees, a feedback/review team of 10 professionals, translation support from 3 adoptees, and emotional support throughout the project to the film participants from Relationships Matters – Gianna Mazzone. This has truly been a community collaboration!
I look forward to hearing feedback on what you think after you have a look. I would also appreciate you sharing the resource link to any doctors, teachers and mental health professionals whom you feel would benefit from this resource.
Huge thanks to our project funders:
Relationship Matters who for the past 5 years ending June 2021, did an incredible job of providing for our community a free mental health psychology based counselling service to intercountry adoptees and our families under the federally funded ICAFSS service (currently awarded to Relationships Australia for the next 5 years);
NSW Committee on Adoption and Permanent Care which brings together government and non-government agencies, support groups and individuals interested in, involved in, or affected by adoption and permanent care or related aspects of Out of Home Care within New South Wales (NSW);
I’m very excited and feeling hopeful after hearing Belgium’s recent news, that their Minister has announced his intention to ask Parliament to suspend all adoptions for the next 2 years as a result of their investigation into intercountry adoptions.
Surrounded by incredible adoptee leaders around the world, I know how much effort has gone into getting intercountry adoptee rights to where we are today. News like this does not in any way solve or fix the issues we face but it is at least the beginning of having recognition of the wrongs done — with governments and authorities stepping up to confront the truth that we’ve been talking about for decades. Acknowledgement is the first step of many!
Belgium isn’t the first adoptive country to do so. The Netherlands announced their moratorium on all intercountry adoptions earlier this year in February and published their report. Switzerland announced their report from investigating past practices relating to Sri Lankan adoptions and they are being urged to provide reparation to the victims. Sweden also announced their intention to investigate their illegal intercountry adoptions. And yesterday, the Belgium Minister announced his recommendations to be considered by Parliament. You can read here the full Expert Panel report.
But for some countries we still have work to do
It seems that finally some governments are listening to our lived experience and have decided to no longer turn a blind eye. But even though these 4 have listened, I want to also remind you that there has been much work and years of effort gone into other countries who still haven’t come to the “acknowledgement table”. In France, the adoptees there have had huge support in their petition to have the French Parliament conduct an investigation into their historic intercountry adoptions. In Denmark, the adoptees from Chile have been working with the government to have their adoptions investigated.
In my adoptive country Australia, I have been speaking out and advocating for supports for impacted adoptees and families and for recognition of the abuses in Australia for many years. In fact, it’s been over a decade already and I remember in my early years representing adoptees at NICAAG where Julia Rollings (adoptive mum) and I tabled this issue at the beginning in 2008 and asked that the issue be addressed. More recently, I have also presented a small group of 8 impacted adoptees to meet with our Central Authority, DSS in 2017 asking for very specific supports. However, to this day, those adoptees have still been ignored and dismissed. Despite having very clear cases of illegal activity where perpetrators have been criminally convicted and jailed (e.g., the Julie Chu cohort in image below from Taiwan), nothing has been offered for the adoptees or their families to help them deal with the extra complexities of their illegal adoptions. It’s as if these impacted adoptees don’t exist and Australia hopes the problem will fade away while they face far more important issues, like COVID-19 or an upcoming election.
It is time authorities around the world step up and take responsibility for the processes and structures that ruptured our lives via adoption – for good and for bad.
Intercountry adoption has followed the path of domestic adoption
In intercountry adoption, we are seeing the same pattern where country after country the governments are acknowledging the wrongs in their domestic adoptions. Canada leads the way by providing financial compensation to their victims of the Sixties Scoop. Australia has already provided a formal apology for the women and babies who were impacted under the Forced Adoption era — but are still as yet to be offered any form of compensation. Australia also just announced their compensation for the Indigenous Aboriginals who were forcibly removed and placed into white families under the Stolen Generation. It is interesting that the Australian government can acknowledge these past practices but doesn’t recognise the very close similarities with our historic intercountry adoptions. Ireland as a government has only this year recognised the wrongs and provided a formal apology to the mothers and children who suffered in Babies Homes from forced adoptions. Ireland is also baulking at offering compensation.
What about our birth countries?
Very few of our birth countries involved in our illicit and illegal adoptions have taken any action either. Guatemala, Ethiopia and Russia are the main ones that come to my memory where they stopped all intercountry adoptions because of irregularities — but they too have failed to provide impacted adoptees with services or compensation to recognise the wrongs done to them. Some of them have sentenced perpetrators but their sentence rarely ever matches the depths of their crime.
Let’s have a quick overview at how perpetrators have been sentenced to date:
That the majority of perpetrators in intercountry adoption get away with mild convictions demonstrates the lack of legal framework to protect us. And despite the fact that very few perpetrators in intercountry adoption are ever caught, let alone sentenced, one still has to ask, where is the support for the victims?
The American Samoan Adoptees Restitution Trust is the ONLY restorative justice program I’ve come across, establishing a fund provided by the perpetrators to facilitate connection to birth family and country. But the funds provided have been extremely limiting considering how many people are impacted and out of those impacted adoptees, only 1 was enabled to return to their natural family. Have governments even considered whether intercountry adoptees wish to be repatriated back to their birth country?
What level of responsibility should governments bear?
Many articles have been written about the problems in intercountry adoption via the irregularities in processing us for intercountry adoption, but the most critical issue that governments need to respond to, is our right to identity.
“Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) notes that a child has a right to identity including a name, a nationality and family relations. Whenever a child is deprived of one of these elements, States have an obligation to restore the child’s identity speedily. At the heart of any intercountry adoption (ICA) is the modification of a child’s identity given at birth.” — CHIP
In summary our report explains what the majority of us want. We each independently submitted our thoughts without knowing what the other was submitting. Here are the top 3 suggestions we raised :
A change to intercountry adoption laws to ensure a legal framework exists for which illicit practices can be prosecuted against. Currently there is none.
An independent investigative body so we aren’t expecting the governments and adoption authorities to “investigate” themselves. Currently that’s what happens.
Fully funded support services for victims. Currently there are huge gaps in general post adoption supports let alone supports specific to being trafficked. Not one country in the world currently provides any sort of trafficking support for adoptees or their families — both adoptive and natural, but especially for natural families who rarely have a voice on the global arena.
I observe the Netherlands who are still working on their National Centre of Expertise might be including support services specific to trafficking victims, so too it appears from the Belgium report they are trying. But supports for trafficking victims needs to be comprehensive not just a DNA or a general counselling service. In our report, we list in full what this support needs to include: legal aid; counselling; financial aid; funded lived experience support groups; family tracing; DNA testing and professional genealogy services; travel support; language classes; translation services; mediation services; culture and heritage supports.
Why can’t adoption be a “happily ever after” story?
People mistakenly think that intercountry adoptees have to be unhappy in their adoption to want to fight for justice. It is not true.
We can be happy in our adoptive life and country but also be unhappy with how our adoptions were conducted and rightfully expect that everything be done to restore our original identities and help us to reconnect with our natural families who have lost us via intercountry adoption.
Our voices have been fighting for decades for our right to origins, to make amends for our lost identity, to have the illicit and illegal intercountry adoptions recognised for what they are – the commodification of children. We need this crazy system to stop, it’s been going on for too long. We are not a small number, estimates vary but we definitely are in the hundreds of thousands globally and possibly a few million.
It’s time for the truth and hopefully long term, we might see some reparative and restorative justice for us and our families. In the meantime, myself and fellow adoptee leaders continue to work hard for our communities globally! Onward and upward! I hope one day to be able to write about our “happily ever after” story, once we get justice and recognition for the wrongs done.
The day I learned I was adopted, both my families died. The ones that raised me, turned out to be a sham. The ones that did not, turned out to be an enigma.
In June of 2019 at 34 years of age, I learned I was adopted after taking a DNA test for fun. There were definitely a lot of emotions I went through when I made this discovery. From having my identity shattered, to questioning everything about my past.
For 34 years, I believed I was the biological kin of the parents who raised me, because that’s what they told me. And yes, I always felt something was odd, I just didn’t have the conscious knowledge to know what it was.
In the early days of discovering my adoption, I came across April Dinwoodie’s Podcast. In one of her podcasts she interviews Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC, who as it turns out, is also a late discovery adoptee and learned of his adoption at 35. Darryl said something that really stuck with me. “I can use my story not only to make my life better, but I can help so many other people who are in the same situation as me to understand their lives better.”
What he said inspired me to start sharing my story. I then started to blog about my experience. I created an Instagram page and I share my thoughts on Twitter. It has allowed me to process what it means to be adopted. For my entire life up until that point, I was raised as an adoptee, without ever consciously knowing I was adopted.
Documenting my thoughts, emotions and experience is a way for me to work through them and heal.
Since that time, I have learned a lot. But in no way, shape or form does that make me an expert in adoption. I still have a lot to learn, and more importantly a lot of healing.
We live in a world where sharing is so easy to do now. My thoughts have reached out to people from all over the globe. And so have many others. In that regard, it’s interesting to read all the different views adoptees have on adoption. Some are for it, some against it. Some in between, and there are those that just don’t have an opinion at all.
When I think about where I stand, I feel like there’s no definite answer. I am not for adoption. I am not against adoption. As of today, it feels more like I am anti-bullshit about the whole thing.
I do not believe that adoption is going away in my lifetime. I don’t see how. It’s more than just giving a child a home. In many cases it’s about giving a person the opportunity to have a life. It doesn’t guarantee a better life, just a different one.
I’d love to see more movement in family preservation but as an intercountry adoptee, I understand that the idea of family preservation is going to take a lot more work. How do we change entire societies mindsets? In many places adoption is still deeply stigmatised. I was adopted from India to the USA and even though people do adopt in India domestically, I get the sense that it is still a taboo topic. My paperwork from India states that I was abandoned because my mother was unmarried. It’s as if the only option for a pregnant unmarried woman is to abandon her child.
Everyone affected by adoption has their own opinions and as a person that has entered this space less than two years ago, I’m tired of seeing division. We’re all entitled to an opinion. We are all allowed to speak our minds. By the same token, others are allowed to disagree.
I know not everything I say or share is agreeable to some people and that’s fine with me. But how do we take this issue and change it to an agreeable approach?
I personally think the definition of adoption needs to change. It’s not just about taking a child and placing them in a new family where they lose everything they once had. I see it all the time where people talk about what is best for the children, all the while forgetting that these children are going to grow up, form opinions of their own along the way, and become adults. I certainly did.
These adults are not adopted children anymore. They are not children period. And these adults already have families. They already have roots.
I was somebody before adoption changed me. It is not all sunshine and rainbows, but it is still there. As someone who doesn’t know his origin story, I want mine. Even if it’s doom and gloom.
When we talk about adoption, I believe words matter. The English language is not complex enough to help us define the relationships in adoption.
The way I see it, my parents are the people that raised me. They are not my mother and father. My adopters are mother and father figures, not replacements. My mother and father, the ones I already have, are not my parents because they did not raise me. However it is viewed, or defined, I can still accept both sets of people as my family.
I get to make that decision even though it feels like society wants me to separate the two and say I belong to the ones that spent time and resources on me. Spending time and resources doesn’t matter if the relationship is conditional, and in my case, when it’s full of deception. Anybody could have fed and sheltered me but it takes more than that to give somebody a life.
That being said, I choose who I belong to. And right now, it’s none of them. Why? Because I can’t appreciate the fact that other people made choices for me. Choices that led to my relinquishment and then my adoption.
Both sets have been brainwashed in some shape or form. The adopters were probably told and felt that the adopted children would be theirs. They took that a step too far, and as such they never told me I was adopted. And I can only speculate what my birth mother went through. Being told that children of unwed mothers are not worthy to be kept. Reading up on India’s history of adoption and how unwed women are treated when it comes to being pregnant has not been very positive.
My past is beyond my control and I have to accept it. Now I am the one who has to spend time and resources to process all this for myself.
I do know there are decent adoptive parents out there, raising other people’s kids and actually supporting them as adoptees. I know some of them. I know and have read about couples that take their adoptees back to their birth countries. They actually want to help them find their families. It is shockingly eye-opening and heart-breaking to me because I know that was an option I never have gotten to experience. Instead, this has now become a process and a journey I do alone.
I don’t know where I was going with this. It just is. I’ve known about my adoption for 20 months now. I’ve been full steam ahead trying to learn and absorb all that I can and everyday my perspective changes. I try to learn from all sides before I form an opinion. And there are many sides to this.
Adoption is a complicated and traumatic experience.
This is why I say I’m anti-bullshit. I’m tired of the crap that doesn’t matter. There has got to be some way to make this better.
Better for adoptees because it’s our lives and well-being that is at stake here!
A Trauma-Focused Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy Experience
Yesterday, I met with Linda for another equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) session. I had not planned on requesting a session, but Alice, who has been “helping” me learn and practice with Mateo, is out of town this week, and I felt the need to process my last practice session with Mateo, which Alice video recorded for my Natural Lifemanship (NL) Intensive training video assignment. Mateo is a 20-year-old Mustang who was rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and for the first 10 years of his life, had a variety of training experiences. He was then adopted but didn’t get much human interaction. As a result, he returned to a somewhat feral state and became very untrusting of humans. He was then adopted by another individual who provided guidance, patience, and lots of positive reinforcement, and he is enjoying life more in relationship with his herd of horses and humans. Alice is a trained equine specialist, and Linda is an equine-facilitated psychotherapist. Linda is also trained in NL. Equine-assisted therapists and equine specialists, or equine professionals as they are called in NL, partner to facilitate therapy, and both have unique skill sets. One brings a clinical perspective and the other, a horse perspective to the therapy process. The Intensive training I’m currently in is Level Two of NL certification. It’s quite different from the Level One Fundamentals training I just completed, which I greatly enjoyed and learned so much from.
It’s so good to come into this morning’s therapy session with Linda knowing that there is no expectation, except for the one to just let go and have absolutely no agenda with the horse. I don’t need to do anything but just be. It is a warm day, but not as hot as my previous practice session with Mateo and Alice when it was 91 degrees out, unseasonably warm for southern California and even warmer in the direct sun. My phone overheated for Pete’s sake as we were recording. Before my therapy session begins, I tune into the birds singing, the pitch of their song fluctuates ever so slightly. I try my best to attune to my body and my surroundings. I feel grounded and present in this moment. I feel warmth in my gut and chest, and this warmth extends to my extremities. As suggested by one of my NL trainers, I purposely expand my visual circumference as a way to stay connected to my body…to be present and to engage my whole brain. I take in the trees around me, all of the different horses as I walk past their stalls, their color and markings, the sound of soft nickers and neighs, the sweet smell of hay mixed with horsey smells, which I can almost taste. I enjoy the calm, gentle breeze that caresses my face and arms. I bring to mind that I am the client today, not the therapist in this moment. What transpires in therapy is important for me to capture and recall not only in my mind, but body.
It’s good to see Linda. Our last session was about a month ago. We have built a great therapeutic rapport, and today, I feel more comfortable and at ease in her presence. I think fleetingly of my own trauma history, how I lived primarily in the lower regions of my brain, the survival part, for some time, hyper-vigilant, fearful. The neural pathways here have been “muscled up” over the years, causing disconnect between the upper and lower regions of my brain. The result: fear, alarm, insecurity, shame, difficulty regulating my body at times. I have become increasingly aware of this during my NL training. I recognize that I can be easily triggered at the hint of stress or anxiety, no matter the situation, as the brain and body remember, but in particular during situations of interpersonal conflict.
I share with Linda the deep disappointment I felt after video recording my assignment with Mateo. I recall to her how I had come into the session feeling anxious, worried, and pressured about shooting the video, as I only had an hour to “get what I needed” for my assignment. Truly, that wasn’t enough time. The heat was suffocating that afternoon, and Mateo was spooked by a very large, silver trailer parked to the right of the round pen, an unfamiliar object that caused his arousal system to amp up. This caused my arousal system to go up, too. I have not particularly liked working in the larger pen. I prefer the smaller round pen, which offers a bit of privacy and feels more intimate, but it was under construction. In a nutshell, internally, I was all over the place, and Mateo, who is quite sensitive to pressure and expectation, picked up on it immediately. Horses, because they are prey animals, are extremely attuned to their environment, hyper-vigilant. They’re wired this way for safety. They rely upon their herd mates for safety and connection. They’re social animals and can build deep, connected relationships with their herd mates, much like human relationships. They’re extremely sensitive to what comes up in humans internally, one of the reasons why they are such wonderful therapy partners.
Alice continued to instruct me as she recorded my video. “Turn around this way and see if he follows you…,” etc. I felt stiff and awkward. When someone is dysregulated, there is a disconnect between their brain and body occurring. Giving verbal instructions or cues may cause the individual to attempt to stay in their neocortex (thinking/upper part of brain); however, it only causes further disconnect and dysregulation. The brain has trouble processing all of the stimuli. We need to communicate with the part of the brain that will help that person calm down. I needed bottom-up regulation, or movement and sensory input that would address the lower regions of my brain (primitive brain). No matter what I tried, I couldn’t regulate myself, and though she was only trying to help, Alice unknowingly increased the disconnect between my brain and body with her verbal cues. When I reviewed my video later, I was amazed at how arhythmic my movements appeared as I worked with Mateo. I was having a hard time taking in instruction while trying to regulate my body and connect with Mateo.
I explain to Linda that Mateo spent most of the practice session resisting my requests for connection. He was not to blame him. I would not have wanted to be around me either. Alice informs me later than when a horse picks up on all that messy internal stuff, humans can actually appear fuzzy to them, which to a horse is unsafe and unpredictable. Some horses avoid us when this occurs. This is vital information for a therapist to be aware of during a therapy session, as the horse is picking up on what’s happening in the client’s body. Sometimes, the client is so disconnected from their body that body sensations are outside of their conscious awareness, particularly when in a dissociative state. Each horse responds differently based on their own history, personality, window of tolerance, etc. Looking back, shooting that first video assignment was such a rich learning experience, as the feelings of frustration, helplessness, dysregulation, and anxiety I felt will certainly be experienced by clients I work with in the future. It’s part of the therapist’s role to help the client process how the horse responds to her and to begin to attune to her body sensations. I’m so glad that Mateo had the opportunity to resist…he had a choice. In this approach, we do not want to force a horse to do something he does not want to. Rather, we work on building trust and connection through attachment and detachment work. We want consent from the horse, not compliance or submission. Although it was quite frustrating in the moment, I’m grateful that I learned more about myself and Mateo and recognize how much anxiety I carry internally.
At the end of the session as I was talking to Alice, Mateo walked right over to me and touched my shoulder with his nose until I acknowledged him. I rubbed under his lower lip for several minutes, that soft, velvety area I love, which he typically doesn’t really like. Those moments were so tender, but rather than zoning in on that, I was so preoccupied with my own sense of “failure.” Alice said, He sees your “authentic self” now, not the one with expectation. I love that about horses. Yet, this was a lot to process.
Today, my therapy session begins in Mateo’s stall. I check in with myself prior to going in, placing a hand over my heart. “Breathe in, breathe out. Listen to the birds singing. Observe other horses in stalls next door in my peripheral vision.” I walk into Mateo’s stall and check in with him. I stand there for a few minutes just watching him eat hay from his hay bag. I’m wondering how much repair I may have to do with him because of the stress he experienced in our last practice session. Linda then walks over. She is standing just outside his stall. I move closer into Mateo and begin gently stroking his neck, attuning to my body sensations. “Stay calm, Mj. Breathe in, breathe out.” I observe Mateo chew, rhythmically. He loves his food. It feels good to stroke Mateo’s neck. I move to halter him, showing him the halter first, then gently drape the lead rope over his very tall neck. He puts his nose down to allow for the halter. Oh good! I was worried he would try to avoid me. After haltering Mateo and walking outside his stall, he almost trips over his feet. Linda and I notice that he has a limp, and as I walk him out and then around the stalls, it becomes more noticeable. Poor guy!!! I lead him back to his stall, as we don’t want to worsen whatever is going on. I hope it’s nothing serious. Linda asks me if I’d like to work with another horse, and I choose Journey. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to work with Journey! Linda asks what differences I notice between Mateo and Journey as I introduce myself in his stall, stroking his nose and face. I notice immediately that Journey has a more mellow, maybe even more tolerant, temperament. We spend a few minutes together as I continue to stroke his neck and muzzle. He allows me to halter him, lowering his head as I bring the halter toward his nose. As we walk down the middle of the stalls to the round pen, he doesn’t try to eat the hay laying on the ground as Mateo always does. He stops at the large round pen, the one I don’t like working in, because this is where he’s usually turned out. But then, when I ask him to come with me, he eventually follows. The clip-clop of his hooves on the pavement is soothing. We enter the newly renovated round pen The pen feels smaller than before, and the dirt on the ground is different, more sandy. I feel slightly bothered by this, but try to be more curious.
We give Journey several minutes to settle in. He finally takes a roll, his front legs folding as he lowers himself to the ground. For horses to do this, they have to feel safe, so that’s a good sign! I love the sound horses make when they roll and how they shake themselves off afterwards. Linda and I commence with some EMDR at the beginning of the session. I feel vibration in my hands as I hold the buzzers. The buzzing alternates from one hand to the other. I honestly can’t remember fully what the focus was initially…I think it was on the anxiety I was feeling with Mateo and then what I was feeling in the present with Journey, but it usually shifts based on what comes up. Journey is standing at a slight distance from us as I’m processing, but my gaze is softly on him. At times, I look away, to take pressure off him – this is a thing for me, not wanting to put excessive pressure on the horse. Linda asks me several times what is coming up for me in my body. Mostly, I feel calm, perhaps slightly in and out of some anxiety related to how Journey feels about being with me. There it is…overthinking… Journey is a veteran at being with clients while they are doing EMDR, Linda tells me. What I notice the most is that I feel calmer and safer with Journey. He just seems more friendly and open than Mateo, and I am drawn to this. He feels like a friend and my co-regulator. I note this to Linda. It’s like, “I’m here for you.” In comparison, Mateo avoids me when I am experiencing increased anxiety.
As the session is nearing the end, Linda asks if there is anything more I’d like from Journey, like to move closer to him. I’m hesitant because I’m concerned how he might respond. I take some deep breaths and inch my way closer. Then I slowly reach out my hand, and he touches it with his nose. I begin stroking the side of Journey’s head and inch even closer until I’m so close that I could give him a hug. Unlike Mateo, Journey seems okay with touch and doesn’t jerk his head away.
Then I get brave and ask if I can work on attachment with connection with Journey. Linda moves outside of the pen. As I begin, I experience “butterflies,” as I remember how difficult it was with Mateo in my last practice session. I take some more deep breaths. I move my body around to put pressure on his back hip, focusing my body energy there, and start making clicking sounds. Journey doesn’t cooperate right away. He’s standing, looking away, or grazing the ground. I increase the pressure because he’s ignoring me by snapping my fingers, calling Journey’s name, clapping my hands, moving my arms up and down, making more clicking sounds while maintaining the pressure on his back hip. “I think I’m feeling gun shy in asking Journey for connection,” I say. After a couple more minutes, Linda aks, “What do you think might be preventing you from really making the request?” It suddenly dawns on me that I’m not committed to the request. I’m curious, why is that? I don’t believe I can ask! I muster more intention, and then Journey cooperates! He turns into me, and as I move, he follows, and we walk together, side by side, around the pen, calmly, rhythmically. When Journey sighs, I sigh. When he lets out a little raspberry sound, I do too. He gets a little distracted, so I ask to re-connect, and he again turns into me to follow. Our session soon ends. In processing with Linda, I realize that it’s very difficult for me to ask for what I need from others. I am afraid of being rejected. I do things myself to avoid asking. We discuss how it takes vulnerability to ask for our needs to be met. I can easily help others, submit to others or comply, but rarely do I ask for what I need.
Linda tells me that she saw the exact moment when something in me shifted as I asked for connection from Journey, and that’s when he turned and noticed me, then cooperated. A subtle, yet intentional shift in my body energy – I committed to the ask, internally. I asked for what I needed. I needed connection. Linda also noticed that when Journey got distracted and I asked for re-connection, Journey cooperated much quicker. So, something I’m observing in my work with both Mateo and Journey is that both horses get distracted and disconnect. I’m curious if it’s something in me that’s causing this…am I disconnecting, perhaps shifting into my neocortex and disconnecting from my body? Overthinking? Very likely. I think I get worried that the horse will disconnect instead of trusting that my horse will stay with me. Disconnection from the horse is akin to rejection (for me). I’m worried the horse will reject me, just like in human relationships. And rejection hurts…abandonment hurts. Something to explore as I continue my own personal work and practice.
That moment of connection with Journey was so sweet and memorable, as it was with Mateo. Because I have experienced that connection with Mateo previously, it was tough when he avoided me during my last practice session. And that my video assignment appeared so erratic to others when I know I have it in me to connect with a horse was hard. I must remind myself that it’s about the process, not perfection. I just began working with horses for the first time in March during the Fundamentals training, which was 10-weeks long. I literally had no horse experience prior. I will learn from these moments.
I truly long to own or lease my own horse so that I have access to practice more freely and without cost. I pay Alice weekly for her time with any one of the horses. I’ve had to get creative in finding ways to make this happen. It’s quite expensive to own and care for a horse properly, and things could happen at any moment regarding their health. Large vet bills are a concern. Despite these obstacles, my hope and dream is to have a private practice facilitating trauma-focused equine-assisted psychotherapy (TF-EAP) and to work specifically with adoptees. How this could bring such healing, connection, and growth. My personal work in equine-facilitated therapy has been healing in a much different way than traditional therapy. It has provided increased self-awareness and insight into my own body sensations, increased connection to self, an understanding of how working with equines helps build better human relationships, and it’s brought profound joy, feelings of safety, and connection with horses. I’m learning ways to better self-regulate, and this work is helping to building new neural pathways in my brain. It all takes time. My healing journey continues.
Although gaining access to work and practice with a horse is challenging, I keep on. It isn’t easy. When I begin to doubt myself, my former clinical supervisor, who is also trained in NL and practices TF-EAP, encourages me to not give up. She reminds me that I was drawn to this work for a reason. Perhaps it is a calling. This is not the end of the story.
*Names of humans have been changed to protect privacy.
ICAV (c) 2021. This article cannot be copied or shared without direct permission from Marijane.
by Christina Soo Ja Massey, aka YooNett adopted from South Korea to the USA.
I shaved my Hair because of two Reasons: The upcoming Scottish Mental Health and Arts Festival in May 2021. My current state of declining Mental Health.
The Tears of Trauma I cried as a helpless Orphan in the past, I cry as an Adult throughout my entire Life.
I am an Overseas Korean Adoptee. Adoption is Not a Happy Ever After that some may try to make believe.
A homeless Overseas Korean Adoptee, telling of an Adoptive Family that does not discuss anything to do with his Adoption and previous Background. Loosing another Overseas Korean Adoptee through Suicide. Many Overseas Korean Adoptees who have been lied to about their past, present and Future. Many Suffering further Neglect or more Abuse of all Forms at the Hands of their Adopters. Just consider we have already experienced Traumas by loosing Birthparents in the first place.
In the 1970s and 80s Korea has been accused of child trafficking because of the increasing number of Korean Children sent Overseas for Adoption.
The Picture my Adopters received from Korea was of a Toddler with the Hair shaved off. I suffered from a rash on my head caused by Atopic Eczema. Atopic Eczema stays through out life retelling the story of every aspect of stress experienced by the Body. So does Post Traumatic Stress.
You may think of other people famous or not who shaved their head in a state of Mental Distress. Sinead O’connor, Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse … what ever their motive.
Shaving the head is recognised as a symptoms that can occur in connection to Mental illness, but not to any specific Form of Mental Illness. Sufferers often have gone on experiencing a mental breakdown soon After, maybe in a state of Mania … An attempt to regain control or a sign of loosing control.
There are numerous social media contributions online of people shaving their Hair off during the Lockdown of this Covid-19 Pandemic.
We urgently need to address shortcomings in the Mental Health Services. We need a safe and well resourced Environment in which Mental Health Professionals can continue Working. Better access to advanced Technologies and Social Media. More Diversity. More Holistic and individual tailored Therapies. Just to list a few.
As long as Mental Health Issues are continued to be unheard and unseen, there is little hope for more resources.
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.
One Child Nationa documentary by Nanfu Wang was deeply emotional but very educational for me as an intercountry adoptee! I learnt of the painful and traumatic collective history that China has undergone in an attempt to keep their population under control. I understand that as a whole country, keeping them all living to a healthy standard is necessary but at the same time, implementing a policy so harshly, disregarding individual emotions to the extent shown in the documentary, seemed to go too far in my opinion. I do acknowledge I view this from a white lens as that is all I know, having been raised in a white wealthy country.
I connect closely with many intercountry adoptees around the world who have experienced illicit and illegal adoptions. I found it illuminating to watch and hear the view points of so many different people in various roles (mothers, grandmothers, fathers, brother, traffickers, health professionals, government workers, creatives), all impacted by China’s children being murdered, given up for adoption, or their mother’s forcibly sterilised. Watching this documentary made me question whether the word “relinquishment” is even applicable legally for the thousands of adoptees sent abroad from China during the one child policy timeframe. I think the word “forced abandonment” would be more appropriate, just as the many abortions and sterilisations were very much “forced” upon the women. Relinquishment in intercountry adoption contexts, idealistically refers to a well thought out decision of consent by genetic parents – but after watching One Child Nation, I think the only ones really giving consent in this case, was the government party. The phrase repeated many times by people interviewed said, “What could I do?” None of them felt they had autonomy or power to make a real informed decision. The consequences of not doing so, were so harsh that it took away any sense of choice.
Watching how Chinese babies became efficiently funnelled into the orphanage system to be given to foreign parents makes me question why it was only the traffickers who were sent to prison. In reality, the Chinese government party leaders and ministers should have also been sent to prison for their roles. It was their crime to force this policy upon families in such a harsh way. Why hold only the middle men responsible when actually it was the whole government party creating the environment, the incentives, and demanding forced abandonment and then an overwhelming number of children for which adoption seemed like a great solution? The government forced families to give up their children, the orphanages gave the babies away to foreign families for huge sums of money! If we assume a majority of the children went to the USA alone and calculate the total amount of money gained in the trade, it’s a US$10.4b business (US $40,000 per child on average for approx 260,000 children). On more conservative estimates, if all the children were adopted to Australia, the Chinese government gained AUS$780M (AUS $3000 per child). Somebody, somewhere gained a ton of money from adopting Chinese babies! How much of that money has been given back to the families and the community to help ease their suffering in forms of support services? To date, it appears there has been no recognition of the people’s loss and grief let alone any recognition of the lifelong losses of culture, people, race, place, families, heritage and language for the thousands of adoptees sent away. It’s as if Chinese intercountry adoptees are invisible to the Chinese government. In being sent away, these adopted children (many of them now adults) have disappeared and the Chinese consider their slate wiped clean. We who live it, know it doesn’t work this simple. We grow up to have questions and we have to somehow make sense of why our country has chosen to send us away and forget us, acting as if we never existed.
I also question how China can consider themselves to be following the guidelines outlined as a signatory to the Hague Convention for intercountry adoption. Understanding the Hague Convention guidelines, so many aspects of China’s intercountry adoption program from this era are questionable. For example, where was the informed consent and legal relinquishment of children, where are the truthful identity documents, and how can they justify the financial gains but with little to no provision of post adoption services?
I hope all Chinese adoptees will watch this documentary as they age and mature. It will help them come to terms with how their life has become so radically displaced. It is very normal for us intercountry adoptees to question how we came to live in a country not of our birth. This documentary is a powerful capture of what really went on in the larger social, political, economic arena, together with a glimpse into the many individual stories which many Chinese intercountry adoptees can mirror on the other end.
I do ponder whether China will one day be like Australia and Canada – the two countries who have acknowledged their history of forced adoptions – except theirs were domestic. Both of these countries have since recognised the historical wrongs in terms of individual rights and impact and they have now issued an apology but only Canada has provided financial reparation. Will the Chinese government one day apologise to the thousands of Chinese intercountry adoptees for purposively sending them abroad? And what would an apology mean in action? I believe it should be a supply of well funded services to help them deal with the lifelong consequences. I was left with a strong impression of the heartbreak the grieving, sad families in China experience. They deserve to know what has happened to the children they birthed and had to abandon. For the adoptees themselves, so many of them are growing up in countries like America, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada and the UK. They might be happy and have no desire to find their families. Or they might be like Johanne Zhangjia adopted to Norway and murdered by her racist step-brother. Some intercountry adoptions work out, others don’t. Between these two extremes are all the in-betweens. These are real individuals, thousands of them, each with their own questions and thoughts. All Chinese intercountry adoptees and their original families deserve to know the truth and be supported to reconnect should they ever wish.
I wonder how China is implementing their newer two child policy. Is it as harsh? Have any lessons been learnt? Are the leftover children still being forcibly abandoned and given up for intercountry adoption? How can receiving governments or prospective parents consider this supply of children as ethical, in terms of Hague standards for adoption?
There have not been too many reviews yet of One Child Nation documentary from adult Chinese adoptees because most are still busy growing up and finding their voice. One of the few to start to voice her opinions is André-Anne – she is asking exactly the same question as I, in her article.
*Added in Aug 2021 with Shelley Rottenberg’s thoughts on the documentary, with thanks to CCI Projects.
When is the Chinese government going to recognise the thousands of Chinese intercountry adoptees around the world and provide them with much needed post adoption support services? How long can the government remain wilfully closed off from their responsibility to their forcibly abandoned children?
The images above of the children reportedly “lost/abandoned” are a symbol of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese intercountry adoptees growing up around the world – being raised with a democratic mentality. One day they will be a force to reckon with!
I hope the Chinese government will be prepared to answer their questions and be honest about what happened to cause them to lose their identity, their culture, their people, and homes. Maybe they hope these children will remain invisible and quiet forever like the people living in China are, but the Chinese government hasn’t seen the patterns of intercountry adoptees around the world. We adoptees don’t all sit quietly and disappear. Many of us grow up enmasse and find our voices. I look forward to the day when we hear very loudly what Chinese intercountry adoptees think of the One Child Policy and it’s impacts.