by Maria Diemar, born in Chile raised in Sweden. You can access her blog at I Own My Story Maria Diemar where she published this on Aug 23.
The right to one’s identity, is it a human right? Is it a human right for everyone?
Where you belong, the circumstances you come from, is this important to know?
Is it possible to delete a person’s background? Would you consider deleting another person’s background?
What is illegal? What is unethical? What are irregularities?
In last few years, I have discovered more and more of my history. From discovering that I am Ingegerd Maria Olsson in the registers in Chile, to realise that I can vote, and renew my passport from 1975, to understanding that it seems like I never left Chile the country where I was born.
According to my Chilean passport, I live on a street in a business district in Rancagua. According to other documents, I live with a social assistant in Santiago. We are probably more than 400 children living at that address: Monseñor Müller 38.
I “live” in Chile, and I live in the United States. I am in the electoral register in Chile, and in Sweden I have a Swedish passport and can pick up a Chilean passport when I like.
My birth was never registered at the hospital where I was born. I’m a child of no-one. Instead of a birth certificate, a protocol was written in which strangers testified that I was born on my birthday.
In Chile, I am registered as an orphan because a Swedish woman, Anna Maria Elmgren, arranged and enrolled me in the register in Chile. I have a Swedish name in the Chilean register. I’m Ingegerd Maria Olsson in Chile.
I am a orphan but I have a mother in the documents from the court in Temuco. In the documents from the court, I have a mother. A mother who gives me away.
I was 44 years old when I did a DNA test, then I realised that I’m Mapuche. I’m from an indigenous people.
To be a child of Indigenous people, this detail is something that someone forgot to mention. A detail that isn’t too important. Or is it?
Is the right to one’s identity a right for everyone? Who decides this?
by Atamhi Cawayu, doctoral researcher at Ghent University (Belgium) and the Bolivian Catholic University ‘San Pablo’ (Bolivia). Together with Vicente Mollestad and Teresa Norman, they run Network of Bolivian Adoptees.
This blogpost was initially posted on Atamhi’s Facebook profile and Instagram-account @displaced.alteño
Searching for first family and adoptee activism: Some reflections
In 1993 I got displaced/adopted to Belgium when I was six-month-old. According to my papers, I was found as a new-born in the city of El Alto in Bolivia. Since my twenties, I started to return and reconnect with Bolivia. In the past two years I live more in Bolivia than in Belgium and I consider myself ‘based in Bolivia’. In all these years, I have attempted to search for information about my pre-adoptive past. Since June, together with a fellow Bolivian adoptee friend, we started our search here in Bolivia by starting a big campaign to make ourselves visible.
Reflection 1: Putting up posters in the city
In June 2020, my friend and I started to prepare our searches for our Bolivian relatives by designing posters and putting them in various streets and neighbourhoods in the cities of La Paz and El Alto. It’s not the first time I engage in searching for first families, in the past years I have completed searches for other Bolivian adoptees, which sometimes led to reunions. However, searching is challenging, especially when you don’t have names, places or anything that might lead to our families.
In Bolivia there is a central authority responsible for international adoption, yet there is no support from organisations or institutions who can really help us. In our cases, we have limited information, but other adoptees have the full name of their mother, or names of family members. Even in their cases it’s often a bureaucratic journey to obtain more information. In addition, most of us don’t know the language, are not familiar with the system, and do not always have the time to search.
When I started to do my PhD on this topic, my goal has always been to have not only a better insight into the adoption system in Bolivia but also to ‘crack’ the system and understand which clues are necessary in finding one’s family. Besides I think it’s important to document the stories of the first parents and take their experiences into account if we really want to make an honest evaluation of the system of adoption.
When preparing the posters, making the design, paying the prints, I could only think of one thing: we as adult adoptees have the resources to start this search and do it in an almost professional way. Our parents probably didn’t have the same amount of resources, and even if they did, their stories were regarded as less interesting than ours right now.
Reflection 2: Engaging with TV media
After our first round of posters, we received a message from a journalist from a Bolivian TV channel who was interested in our stories. A few days later they interviewed us, and it was broadcasted one day later. Since then our story was covered by national TV media in Bolivia and it received lots of attention. The media is a necessary evil. It helped a lot in having our cases visible, yet it’s hard to control the questions. They also have their own narrative they want to show.
These experiences made me reflect about several things. Our stories were largely framed as ‘abandoned babies’ returning to Bolivia, after being adopted internationally, however this narrative already makes a lot of assumptions of our mothers abandoning us. When reading the comment section (I know I should not do this) a big part of the viewers didn’t understand why we would search for someone ‘that doesn’t look for us’. However, it’s so much more complex…
In my case I was found, but I don’t know what really happened. It’s easy to assume I was ‘abandoned’ by one of my parents, but I don’t know. In my research on first parents, I have encountered several parents who never gave up their child to adoption, did it in vulnerable circumstances, or were even pressured by intermediaries (and I’m not even talking about kidnap and illegal adoption). Yet, in many cases they were interested to know what happened to their children, if they were still alive, if they ended up well, etc. Part of our activism is also to speak about this other side of adoption. It’s not always a fairy-tale as many people think. We are part of system that exploits global inequalities, displaces poor brown/indigenous bodies from South to North, and prefers parenthood from the Global North over parenthood of the Global South.
It is irritating people don’t understand the complexity and violence relinquishment and adoption can entail. Even if our parents wanted to look for us, they wouldn’t be able to find us as we have been relocated and displaced to other continents. When I search for my ‘family’, it is to make myself findable, so they know I am here in Bolivia and willing to be in touch with them.
Reflection 3: The violence of international adoption
In the days after our first interview, various Bolivian TV channels called us for an interview. Our story was spread nationwide by radio, TV, newspaper. We tried to take advantage of this moment to open the discussion on transnational adoption.
During the interviews we tried to mention that for us adoptees there is no assistance for adoptees to search. Not in our adoptive countries, nor in Bolivia. We have to do almost everything by ourselves, and then I am not even talking about learning the language, understanding the documents, being familiar with the city. As my friend mentioned in several interviews, “searching is something political”. For me searching is doing something you were not supposed to do. It’s opening up histories that were meant to be hidden, it’s doing something within a system that tried to erase everything of your being.
Moreover, another dominant idea is to be lucky and fortunate when being adopted transnationally. One of the journalists said to me “you must be very fortunate”, “many people here would love to be in your shoes”. Throughout the years I have met many people, especially here in Bolivia, who told me I must have been lucky to be have been saved from my ‘miserable future’ in Bolivia and to have a ‘wealthy’ life in Europe. It’s like people think we only ‘won’ by being adopted internationally, but they often forget we have lost many things. I consider all the opportunities I have because of growing up in Europe as compensation for everything I have lost, and I have lost everything.
From my personal perspective, the violence implicit in transnational adoption is to be involuntary transcontinentally displaced, completely severed from our genetic ancestors, disconnected from our community, culture, language, nation, continent, and without any possibility to find our families ever again. For most of us Bolivia will become a country we once lived in. In addition, all our former identities are erased so we can be reborn, renamed, Christianised and assimilated with our adoptive countries. We grow up with complete strangers we are expected to love and call family. We are being brought into a society that doesn’t want us, that racialises us and discriminates us, without any community that provides shelter or understanding. This so-called child protection system – mostly in the benefit of well-off Western adoptive parents who wants to fulfil their heteronormative parental dream – erases everything from us. It is not the first time in colonial history child welfare systems are used to shape, control and erase indigenous children’s identities, and most children adopted from Bolivia have an indigenous background, be it Aymara or Quechua. Transnational adoption is for me an ongoing colonial project of civilising, controlling and managing children from the Global South, transforming them from ‘savages’ to ’civilised’ citizens in the benefit of the capitalist machine of the North. Transnational adoption would not have been possible without a history of colonialism and its ongoing colonial gaze towards countries in the South such as Bolivia.
The adoptee experience is something very diverse. I know some adoptees might disagree on this and that’s fine. I also know other adoptees might recognise themselves in what I write. Every experience is valid. However, my fight and activism are structural against a system that has caused a lot of injustices and is not in the benefit of first parents and adult adoptees. As another adoptee once told me: our parents maybe didn’t have the resources to fight for their rights, but we have, and we will fight for them.
Recently it was announced there is a surrogate company in Ukraine which will remain with hundreds of ordered but undelivered babies due to the coronavirus. They can’t be picked up during the lockdown by their foreign parents. In RTL 4 news post we see upset nurses and hear the lawyer of the adoption company talking about the importance of these babies going to their foreign parents as soon as possible.
The bizarre thing is that by commissioning the surrogacy and / or the adoption company, these babies are taken from their mother, their origins and their birth country and end up in a family in which one, or none, of the parents are genetically their parent.
On Monday 18 May, the lawsuit by adoptee from Sri Lanka, Dilani Butink was aired whereby she is suing the adoption organization / permit provider Stichting Kind en Future and the Dutch State. Her case shall hold both parties liable for her fraudulent adoption. This is because the Dutch state and adoption organisations and / or licensing holders, have known about the fraudulent practices and trafficking of children from the sending countries for many years. Nevertheless, thousands of children have been legally adopted (and without agreement) from their motherland to the Netherlands after discovering the trafficking. Yet we are still focusing on putting the wish for a child first.
Currently, the Dutch government is working on adjusting the law for surrogacy. Under its guise and around the wild growth of baby farms, the surrogate and child need to be provided protection from surrogacy abroad, but Ukraine does not offer this. It is pretty weird because the cause of this law ie., creating children in a “non-natural” way affects this child’s right to exist. Whoever reads this bill soon sees that the child’s rights and safety of the mother is not sufficiently protected and / or respected. The reason for this law is that we still have international adoption and conception of children through a donor surrogate mother and it is not a fairy tale or an altruistic thought.
Thinking about what my adoptive parents used to say when asked if I was grateful to them for my new life, namely they answered that I didn’t have to be thankful. This is because they wanted a child so badly and were so selfish, they let me come from abroad.
In most cases, the wish for a child is not a wish to make a child part of your life but a biologically driven desire to reproduce or to have a child of your own. If it were really only about the child, the thousands of forgotten children who live in children’s homes would be collected by childless couples. That we live in a world where the wish of having our “own made” child is exalted above the child’s wishes and health, ensures the financially driven market continues to function that dominates the adoption, donor and surrogacy world.
To realize this wish for a child at all costs, ways are being used that cannot be done without medical or legal surgery. Overseas mothers are helped to give up their child instead of breaking taboos or helping the mother raise the child herself, or leaving the legal family ties intact, which is best for the child. The influence of distance (legal parenting to be elevated above genetic parenting) on a human life is still compartmentalised, denied and ignored, with all the consequences.
Despite all the stories of adult adoptees and adult donor children about the influence of distance and a (partly) hidden past or the low performance rates of composite families, the wish for a child remains elevated above the child’s wishes.
In 2020, we are apparently still not aware that these actions not only relieve wishful parents of the unbearable fate of a childless existence, but also dismiss them from their responsibility to carry their own destiny. At the same time, we ensure that these children are burdened unsolicited, with an unbearable fate. Namely, a life with a hidden and a made identity. I don’t want to say that a childless couple has no right to a child in their lives but there are other ways to let a child be part of their lives without giving a mother and child an unbearable fate.
Adoptees often don’t know who they are, when they were born, what their age or birth name is, which family systems they originated from or what their operative story is. They are raised with the idea that they belong to a different family from which they originated genetically. However, this legal disinheritance does not cut the adopted from his original family system (that is impossible) but they have to discover in their adult lives that the foundation on which their lives was built is not the right one. Donor children are looking for the father and find out that they have dozens of (half) sisters and brothers or that they are twins but come from different donor fathers. Both times, it’s a question of demand for a child and making it available.
Many adopted people come to the discovery at some point in their lives that they live with an unbearable fate, they live in a surreal story that they missed the essence of but experience their emotions in their bodies. This also makes you hear adoptees often say they feel like they have to survive instead of thriving.
I hope that the legal trial of Sri Lankan adoptee Dilani Butink will contribute to an increasing awareness and cessation of child trafficking in any way and that we leave fate and responsibility where it belongs. As a Korean adoptee once said, “Do you prefer to die of hunger, or death from sadness?” .. a sentence that I still regularly observe during group meetings with adoptees.
I am aware that not being able to have children is an unbearable fate while at the same time I notice and work daily with the effects of the consequences of distance and adoption. And this is also unbearable for many, unfortunately we adoptees and donor children cannot put away our fate and the responsibilities we have received and this is a burden that we must bear unwanted as a life sentence.
I also hope that the legal trial will contribute to getting assistance. In 2020, governments still do not take full responsibility for looking away from these forms of child trafficking in intercountry adoption and its consequences. In the end, in my opinion, the question remains: do you dare to take responsibility and carry the fate you received? It is a choice to live without “homemade” children or you charge another person with the fate to live without his or her original identity, family and culture.
Please let’s learn from history and not use children as enlightenment of fate but carry our own destiny.
This editioned set of 50 silkscreened prints by Benjamin Lundberg Torres Sánchez responds to the UN’s Resolution on the Rights of The Child (12/18/19) by remixing the Little Orphan Annie comics with transnational adoptee self-portraiture. Inspired by commentary by Patricia Fronek (@triciafronek) and others on Twitter, it celebrates the UN’s call for the end of orphanages, while expressing skepticism towards what such a resolution will look like in practice. How might systems of adoption and foster-care (evoked here by “Señora Hannigan”) morph as we strive towards abolition?
Signed, dated, and numbered prints cost $7 (USD) and can be ordered by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Funds will support future adoption abolition art and agitprop. For more of my work, visit jointhebenjam.org
There was an interesting post going around an adoptive family facebook group during National Adoption Awareness Month that I haven’t seen before. It got me inspired to share from the intercountry adoptee perspective what I would change IF we could.
The question was: “If you had the power to change any adoption laws, what would you change?” As you can imagine in an adoptive parent forum, many of the answers were adoptive and prospective parent centric. I did share a few of my initial thoughts, which unsurprisingly, in that group, not very popular. So let’s share my thoughts here as essentially this is the crux of what ICAV tries to do – we speak out to help policy makers and implementors think about what their processes and practices do to the child, the adoptees for whom it’s meant to be about. Some of the responses from ICAV members are incorporated as we did have quite an active discussion in our facebook group for adult intercountry adoptees.
If I could change adoption laws as an intercountry adoptee, in no particular order, I would:
make it illegal to traffic children via intercountry adoption and ensure a legal pathway for reparative & restorative justice — such as allowing us to return to our homeland and/or original family, if and when we desire;
make it illegal to rehome or return us;
make it illegal to change or falsify our original identity that includes DNA testing the relinquishing parents to confirm their parentage of us;
make it illegal to abuse us;
create a legal pathway to prosecute the agency for failing to adequately psychologically assess our parents to ensure no further harm is done via the adoptive family environment;
make it a legal requirement for all the actors who participate in the facilitation of adoption to provide lifelong post adoption supports that are free, equitable, and comprehensive, arising from a trauma informed model. It needs to be itemised what Post Adoption encompasses e.g., full search and reunion services, translation of documents, language courses, cultural activities, psychological counselling, return to homeland services, open access to our identity documents, etc.,
make it illegal to trick birth parents, to ensure they fully understand what relinquishment and adoption means;
make it illegal to adopt a child until it is proven beyond doubt that no immediate family, kin or local community can support and raise the child; this must include proof that the provision of a range of financial and social welfare supports have been offered;
create a legal pathway for orphanages, agencies, lawyers and judges to be prosecuted by birth families who are prevented access to their child, especially in situations where they change their minds;
create a legal pathway to prosecute countries who fail to give citizenship or deport intercountry adoptees; this includes removing these countries who accept or send deportees from any international convention;
make it illegal to separate twins;
centralise adoption, bring back full accountability of adoption to the State and remove the privatised model of intercountry adoption agencies to remove the conflict of interest and the blame shifting;
remove money and fees;
make it illegal for private lawyers to facilitate intercountry adoptions;
make expatriate adoptions go through the same process as intercountry adoptions in the adopting country rather than being able to by-pass the tougher requirements.
make all plenary adoptions illegal;
legalise a new form of care internationally that incorporates the concepts of simple adoption, kinship care, stewardship, permanent care, and guardianship models that provides for our care but not at our cost in identity and removal of connection to ALL kin;
create a law that allows adoptees the right to decline their adoptive parents as an adult if they wish;
create a pathway to ensure Dual citizenship for all intercountry adoptees that includes citizenship for our generational offspring, should they wish.
This is just a starting list for thinking about what laws would need creating or changing in order to protect the rights of adoptees! I haven’t even started to discuss what laws would be needed from our original family perspectives. It would be interesting to hear their perspective. One has to question the current bias of existing laws that are skewed and mainly protect the interests of the adopters instead of a balance between all three and prevent intermediaries taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of each of the triad members.
There will always be vulnerable children who need care but today’s existing Plenary adoption laws are archaic and outdated. We adoptees know from living the experience that there are many gaps and pitfalls in the current plenary adoption laws used in intercountry adoption today.
Adoptee advocacy and activism for me, is about adoptee healing and claiming back our power.
This week has been so powerful but raw on so many levels. I have travelled to America to attend the Dept of State’s Intercountry Adoption Symposium (Sept 17 & 18) which brought together all the government bodies and NGOs related to, and fulfilling, intercountry adoption processes, the accredited entities which include IAAME and the adoption agencies, and for the first time, representation from the adoption triad. After this ended, some of our American intercountry adoptee leaders and individuals who wished to be involved at government policy and practice level, met with the Dept of State (Sept 19) and had a chat about how we might interact/liaise together in the future and what our goals are and issues of concern.
The following are my thoughts after attending these past three days.
Hearing the same chants for “more adoption” that I’ve read about across the waters but got to experience for real, has been nothing short of gut wrenching.
Getting to personally understand the life experiences of some of my fellow activists has been an honor.
The question was asked to our adoptee group why few American intercountry adoptees in recent years, had until now, not risen to involve themselves at policy level.
After being in America for a week, seeing the level of anger for those who dare to voice any truth that doesn’t match the “we want more children” chant has been a massive reality check. America the land of the free! Well, I see it’s more the land of the free for those who share the dominant discourse — but it can also be unkind and lacking compassion to those who express a different story.
The scale and depth at which intercountry adoption has been conducted in America, that adds avoidable emotional damage to some adoptees, has finally helped me understand why their voices have not been at the table. The ability to rise above one’s terrible reality of adoption is a massive ask. What struck me in coming to personally understand these journeys en-masse over the years I’ve been connecting to fellow adoptees, is how much worse it is here in terms of size and scale. It is not just the historic adoptions from the 50s to 80s. I’m meeting adoptees from the 90s to 2010s and hear the same terrible experiences! I’m also not denying there are probably a ton of intercountry adoptees who have little motivation to make things better because they already had it wonderful. Their reality is not dismissed and neither should the other range of experiences across the spectrum.
Some of the audience responses were so dismissive of our struggles citing that we were just a “moment in time”, or unlucky enough to be a consequence of “a few bad apples”. As I said on day 1 in response to Laura Ingraham’s speech, one terrible adoptee experience is one too many! So please, if you really want to hear what we have to say as adoptees, believe me when I say – “these bad apple adoptions are still happening since the past 20 years”.
Hearing calls and support for “unregulation” and “streamlining” is not the answer in the face of the huge reality. What do we need governments and stakeholders to do differently that hasn’t been done, either at all, or enough? We need them to acknowledge the wrongs of the past to the present. We need full acknowledgement that the decisions made FOR us as vulnerable children, have been terribly painful, terribly damaging for too many .. we need to hear it not just once, but over and over many times so that we know you do not forget the mistakes of the past and those who have been a victim, can feel safe knowing we have learnt the lessons, or at least are trying to.
From my own personal journey of healing, I know how incredibly important it is to hear, “I’m sorry it has been a terribly hurtful experience” from a heartfelt place. Not only do we need to hear that you’ve heard and acknowledged our pain, we need you to give us time to then process that acknowledgement, allow us to move further in our journey — and then ask us to focus and work together on how we prevent it from ever happening again.
For adoptees it is terribly triggering to be dismissed, our reality denied, and our concerns brushed over with “it’s not like that now”. Yes things have changed … drastically, but they need to change more! Support services for the duration of our lifetime, need to be implemented that help us move past the damage. We need reparation that allows out of the box solutions for individual journeys of healing. We need to see that sending children back AS SOON AS WE KNOW something isn’t looking right, is totally a first option that will be supported by all the players who facilitated the adoption. Keeping the child as the only option adds further complications that we adoptees are eventually left to sift through.
People and countries make mistakes .. we are only human. What’s currently missing is the acknowledgement and the sensitivity across the SPECTRUM of players to recognise the trauma from decades (yes, 70 years!) of intercountry adoptions done poorly. The reality that the current and previous American administrations have failed to address intercountry adoptee citizenship, the basic cornerstone of permanence, continuity, and family— clearly demonstrates how little understanding and support exists for the displaced adoptee. This is brushing the wrongs of the past under the carpet on a massive scale!
I realise why adoptees have not been at the table pushing their way in. The depths of pain can be too raw and the risk of receiving further trauma by those who invalidate our experiences, is incredibly high. For a country as religious as America, it sure has little understanding of the need for the power of healing and the acknowledgement of wrong doing. All Americans should be praying not for adoptions to be increased but for the ones who are here already, to be given the right support in order for them to find healing. For the ones deported to be given the supports they need along with their broken up families.
Only once we are fully supported to heal as those who have already suffered, can we truly contemplate ethically adopting more — at least then, we can be confident that despite mistakes being made, the great America has the maturity to help the victims overcome.
My heart breaks for my American brothers and sisters who struggle to rise from out of their ashes. I found it fascinating to see the 9/11 section of the Newseum and the way in which so much compassion is portrayed for those victims, yet in intercountry adoption – I ask where is that same compassion? Is there any recognition of the collective suffering that too many generations of intercountry adoptees have been experiencing in America?!
No! They remain a blip on the radar screen, barely seen, largely misunderstood because they are cloaked with, “You should be grateful to be in this amazing country” banner which denies the tragic realities of so many!
I am compelled to lead by example and demonstrate that adoptees can find their power. My path is but one way to rise above the ashes. I have learned for myself how incredibly healing it is to turn my pains into triumphs and to attempt to make this world a better place and I always wonder what I would have achieved had I been left in Vietnam (my adoptee sliding door/ parallel universe musing). This path of adoptee advocacy is my way to make sense of my adoption and life . Perhaps I was saved to give this message — to be this voice, to truly represent the “child’s best interest” and make sure it is not shoved away?
I hope that this week has been the beginning of the start, that momentum will flow because …
it only takes one to take a stand for truth, for another to find their courage.
What a week of learning, what a week of connecting! I hope America will come to embrace the mistakes of its past in intercountry adoption and provide a safe space for the many intercountry adoptees who need healing and be given many places at the table, not just one place filled by an Australian/Vietnamese.
I also want to acknowledge the many true supporters of adoptees who came from so many stakeholders groups. It is incorrect to assume all government workers, all agencies, all adoptive parents are against us speaking our truths. Despite the intense and sometimes times painful challenging moments, I was uplifted by the volume of supporters who told us they were so happy to see us and hear our voices. I hope I live to see the day when they will become the majority AND the loudest voice we hear from.
I was told that supportive adoptive parents have sat back from the table, out of respect to allow us adoptees to take the platform, to make space for us — but I want to tell those parents and advocates, please don’t be silent in your support. We are at a critical point where intercountry adoptee leadership is emerging and we need ALL the support we can muster.
What I deeply respected was my fellow panelist, the birth mother representative who demonstrated no fear in telling her truth, nor the consequences for doing so. Whether we agreed with her views or not, I imagine her journey of overcoming the stigma, fear and trauma throughout her life has helped her realise there is little to lose, in having the courage to speak her truth. As two representatives of the adoption triad, we both know “the cost of remaining silent”.
Her ending sentence was so respectful and she said, “It should be the adoptees who you listen to the most”. I can only say how much that meant to us. This is the message we need our supporters to uphold – it will encourage us to rise above our pain and fears. Please don’t be silent — it is too open to interpretation!
Huge thanks and respect to the adoptee leaders who gave of their time, money, and energy to be at these forums.
Joy Alessi – adopted from South Korea, co-director of Adoptee Rights Campaign.
Cherish Bolton – adopted from India, co-director of PEAR, academic.
Trista Goldberg – adopted from Vietnam, founder of Operation Reunite, educator.
Marijane Huang – adopted from Taiwan, social worker in adoption and foster care, educator.
JaeRan Kim – adopted from South Korea, social worker and PhD research academic.
Kristopher Larsen – adopted from Vietnam, co-director of Adoptees4Justice.
Monica Lindgren – adopted from Colombia, barrister in family law.
Reshma McClintock – adopted from India, founder of Dear Adoption, co-founder Family Preservation365.
Patricia Motley – adopted from Peru, member of Peruvian Adoptees Worldwide.
Diego Vitelli – adopted from Colombia, founder of Adopted from Colombia, studying masters in counselling.
Hello everyone. My name is Jessica Davis. My husband and I adopted from Uganda in 2015. I would like to share my thoughts regarding a memory that appeared on my facebook timeline.
If you are at all familiar with timehop on facebook you know that almost daily either a photo, video or post from your past will show up on your timeline giving you the opportunity to reflect and share. Well, today this is the photo that popped up for me.
Four years ago today, we found out Namata’s visa was approved to come to America with us. As westerners, we tend to love pictures like this when it comes to adoption and in some ways that is understandable. If Namata had actually needed to be adopted, it would’ve definitely been a photo worth getting excited over!
The problem is that all too often, we want things to be just like this picture. Everyone smiling and things wrapped up neat and tidy. But real life, even in this moment pictured here, things aren’t always as they seem. Adam and I were definitely happy in this moment and ready to be home and begin our life together, and on the outside Namata was too. But on the inside, she was about to leave everything and everyone familiar to her, for reasons she was too overwhelmed by to even question. Thankfully, over the next year she was able to express to Adam and I her questions about how she ended up being adopted. Thankfully, Adam and I didn’t go looking for the answers we wanted to hear. We chose a road that was definitely filled with uncertainty, but one we hoped would lead us to the truth. Namata deserved that!
Intercountry adoption should never be about doing a good deed in the world or becoming a mom or dad. Yes, those reasons are normal and usually are the basis for beginning the process, but at the point when one begins the process to adopt, we need to recognize that those feelings are all about the adoptive parents and not the child or children we are hoping to adopt. Adoption for them stems from a complete loss of everything and everyone familiar to them. Recognizing this is vital to a healthy adoption process. I’m convinced we, as a society, have made adoption all about becoming a family. When we do this we tend to see adoption in this happy light that doesn’t allow the adoptee the freedom to express what adoption actually is for them — loss. There should be absolutely no focus on becoming “mom” or “dad”. While I do believe it can become a natural outcome through a healthy adoption scenario, I believe it needs to come when, and only if, the child feels that connection.
I often get asked how Adam and I did what we did when we chose to reunite Namata with her family in Uganda. While there are several factors that contributed to being able to do this, the main reason was that Adam and I had both committed to meeting the needs of Namata. Finding out that she had a loving mother and family that she was unlawfully taken from, made the decision for us. As a parent I could never have lived with myself knowing I was contributing to the Ugandan sized hole in Namata’s heart. Her family and culture should never have been taken away from her in the first place. I’m eternally grateful now looking back that even in the midst of our heartache in losing one of the most amazing little girls I’ve ever met, we were given the opportunity to make things right!
Currently, there is no legal precedent for situations like ours. There are kids here in America that have been kidnapped, their families lied to, and their adoptions produced from bribes and manipulation. There are families in Uganda, and all over the world that hope daily, just see their children, siblings, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.One way to address this madness is by fighting for intercountry adoption laws to be reformed. Another way is to help change the narrative behind intercountry adoption. Within our churches, social circles and places of business, we need to recognize that intercountry adoption has become infiltrated with money and greed. When we read the statistics that say 80-90% of children in orphanages overseas have families, we need to be doing more to ensure we aren’t contributing to a system that is actually tearing families apart. There are many Facebook groups and websites that delve into the intricacies behind intercountry adoption. Join these groups and visit these pages to learn. Appeal to legislators for change and become a person that stands up against these horrible miscarriages of justice.
Adoption is not heroism. It does not fight poverty, disease nor the root causes of inequality.
Adoption doesn’t even raise awareness about the real causes of poverty, inequality, parent-child separations, disease or social immobility. Instead it creates idolatry of those who look to adoption in a world which stigmatises infertility, disease, poverty and poor access to education.
Celebrity adoption doesn’t give adoptees a much-needed voice – rather it silences them, trapping adoptees in a pernicious web of gratitude in which life with their rich, famous and predominantly white culture, is normalised as better than the one they’d have had with their (implied inferior) families.
Celebrity adoption harms all adoptees. They’re the most highly-publicised way in which most people come into contact with adoption, and yet are least likely to highlight the voice of adoptees. Celebrity adoptions come with a literal team of agents, publicity experts, legal minds and brand managers whose job, in part, will be to keep any dissenting adoptee voices about their famous families out of the media.
In the everyday life of an adoptee minus celebrity, the media is highly effective in idolising the role of gratitude towards adoptive parents. So much so, that adoptees speaking out on social media come with a high risk of trolling and death wishes. Imagine the extra risks and isolation for a celebrity poster child of adoption.
Celebrity adoptions exacerbate a climate of silence and create an inadvertent marketing campaign for child trafficking. The outcome of showcasing only (false) saviourism in adoption is to make adoption fashionable and highly desirable to the upper and middle classes and wannabe saviours. To make intercountry adoption fashionable, with anonymising family history at its centre, this creates a commercial market for baby farms, coercion and kidnapping and provides a kind of diplomatic immunity and witness protection for all agencies and families under the magic umbrella of adoption.
Adoption is the look over there strategy of distraction from what by other names catalyses police searches, support groups, societal outrage, concern and campaigns for separated (and trafficked?) children. But in the name of adoption, society is sure that some kind of mystic lottery ticket win has been exchanged for riches and happy ever afters.
As if to prove the effectiveness of adoption mythology – I know the above will seem like shocking hyperbole to the average non-adoptee, to anyone who hasn’t spent time listening to the stories of adult adoptees who has seen adoption only through this beautiful adopter lens, and the seemingly happy adoptees in their own community (who are actually committing suicide at an alarming rate and are over-represented in addiction and depression).
But it will come as no surprise to any adult adoptees who have listened to a community sharing their experiences. It is a support circle that is part activism and part healing in response to our own search for answers and the need to shake off the mythology of adoption stories.
I’ve yet to see a celebrity adoptive parent raise the voices of adoptees. Even Hollywood writers, skilled in empathy for their character inventions (and surely now alert to the need for representation), present adoptees as one-dimensional ghosts. For some reason (alluded to herein!) the adoptees in dramas are extremely grateful for their superior adoptive parents. Searches are presented as a simple, in-the-moment decision with results in minutes and dramatic reunions which quickly morph into happy blended families. They barely touch the reality for adoptees, or the reasons adoptees hide their feelings, nor the emotional or geographical and language barriers to intimacy in family relationships. Instead adoptees’ stories are presented as a bump in the road of an otherwise pain-free life growing up in their amazing adoptive families, only slightly inconvenienced by the literal absence of medical data and not the complexity of identity in a family of strangers and belonging in biological, perhaps even racial, isolation.
In this fictional world, nurture is presented as having the power to defy nature, where every desirable trait and strength is credited to adoption.
This half-truth or just plain false story of adoption as saving children also disguises the reality of parenting adopted children. Children who’ve experienced body held trauma of separation from their most primal relationship cannot replace the never-had biological children of infertile people. The failure to address this grief in all parties and to instead speed towards wishing for the separation of babies from families, helps no-one but instead leaves everyone having to repress forbidden feelings. Something which never ends well for anyone.
The cost of supporting a family in crisis, particularly in Africa, is a fraction of the cost of adoption and lifelong parenting costs in the west. So is adoption really about saving babies?
The cost is not only financial and parent-centred, it is biological in its impact on adoptees. In the context of adoption, people frequently confuse being preverbal with being pre-feeling and pre-memory, the myth of the blank slate. In truth there are many things you learn as a baby which you don’t remember consciously — walking, talking, or laughing for example. Babies comprehend without words, a sense of safety and primal connection lays a foundation in which to form strong attachments, robust relationships and resilient immune systems. All our lives we rely heavily on unconscious memory as much as we rely on conscious memory to make decisions, learn, build relationships and sense threat.
If celebrities and royals truly want to help – they could instead work to raise the voices of adoptees. Seek answers instead of trusting in the ones entrenched in a legacy of bias. Look for the reasons behind poverty cycles, mortality rates and family struggle leading to adoption, find the best and brightest minds and put them to work. Look past discomfort to explore and educate about colonialism, identify ways to undo harm, to allow others to reclaim cultural identities and heal broken families.
Those in positions of high status and power could explore how to avoid separating a child from its family and community.
Create foundations and charities dedicated to keeping children in their culture and with biological relatives. Find ways to make intercountry search and reunion easier for adoptees, fundraise for therapy and research into the experiences of adoptees. There is still so much that adoptees and science are only beginning to understand as we gather data and experiences and we are only just beginning to be heard – this is where you can help!
I wrote this a couple of weeks after I returned from The Hague. I’d had some time to recover from jetlag and collect my thoughts and impressions after being involved at the HCCH Working Group for Preventing and Addressing Illicit Practices in Intercountry Adoption.
I feel privileged to have been invited to represent adoptees and I acknowledge I am but one adoptee, and it’s impossible to capture everyone’s varying views on such an emotional topic. I do not represent all adoptees but I did my best to ensure that the views I shared were not just my own individually, but represented the years of conversations and discussions I have had with many intercountry adoptees and adoptee leaders who have connected into the ICAV network since it’s beginnings in 1998.
One of the biggest insights I had in participating, was of the mammoth task it is to try and bring together various countries and get them to “agree and co-operate” on such a complex topic, including all the nuances within. Before attending, I had a utopian idea of what happens at The Hague level. Sitting in the reality and hearing the various views of country representatives, sometimes vastly different, I realised the important role the Permanent Bureau team plays in being the “facilitator”! Their role is to remind countries of the underpinning frameworks (the UNCRC and the Hague Convention for Intercountry Adoption), make proposals aligned with these frameworks, and ensure government representatives can speak and be heard, equally and fairly.
There can be no denying that the UNCRC and the Hague Convention for ICA are far from perfect tools, but at least they create a forum like this – where the cooperating countries get together to discuss major issues. It also became clear there are differences, country to country, on interpretation about how to implement the framework, the resources available to do so, and the limitations of existing legislation. The thought that really hit home for me was: how do we adoptees address illicit adoptions from countries that haven’t signed up to the Hague Convention? Where is the forum for that? Who do we go to in order to be heard? The answer is, there is none. We have to approach each non Hague country separately through their government. They might not have a government department that has authority in this area or there could be multiple departments.
I now understand the Hague Convention for ICA evolved with the UNCRC. They were both negotiated around the same time by almost the same countries. Together they historically reflect the journey of understanding in intercountry adoption at government levels. Back then, in it’s infancy, The Hague Convention for ICA was the minimum that could be agreed upon. Since then and through forums like the Working Group, the States are encouraged to increase their safeguards where they can. We are left with the reality that this Working Group on Illicit Practices is bound by the limitations included in The Hague Convention for ICA.
I believe it’s positive to understand the differences between the UNCRC and The Hague Convention for ICA but not to waste our energies fighting over which is better or worse. I’m pragmatic and the way I view it is, they are not going away any day soon. We have to live with what we have. There is no other international government agreed upon forum that allows these specific issues in intercountry adoption to be discussed. Wouldn’t we rather be involved discussing these things then not be there at all? In attending this meeting, it does not say I condone the pitfalls of either frameworks but says I commit to gaining a better understanding, build relationships where I can, and try to influence in whatever way I can, to improve things for my fellow adoptees.
Governments vary in their experience of implementing intercountry adoption policy and practice. Some countries signed up very early to the Hague Convention, others have just joined, and others still are still in the process. I wonder what it would take for the Hague Convention in ICA to be able to “mature” i.e., change or be superceded to ensure better monitoring and implementation? Is it possible? Does it happen in other Conventions? From what I understand, it has never happened before. All countries would have to agree and it would take a special process called a Diplomatic Session created to negotiate a new convention to supersede the existing one. Expecting most of the 101 convention countries in today’s political climate to agree to further refine the existing Convention is utopia! Historically, conventions and treaties of this nature only change when the world goes through a major war. State parties to the Convention meet every 5 years (it is called a Special Commission) to discuss the practical operation of the Convention. However, although States are encouraged to apply the decisions made during these meetings, they are not binding because only the text of the Convention is binding. So I’m not saying it’s impossible but pointing out how much more work we have to do if this is what we want to achieve.
The reality of how difficult it really is to expect governments to tackle the topic of illicit practices in adoption became crystal clear during this trip. Firstly, at this level, to get every signatory country to acknowledge that illicit practices exists is a huge task and with this working group, we are already part way there. Then to get them to agree on how to respond, even if it’s only in theory and for Hague adoptions only, is a massive undertaking. The politics involved, the legislations that bind, the limitations .. I can see why it will take some time for change to happen and it is never “fast enough” for adoptees and families who live it! But at the same time, I was encouraged to see that there were 20+ countries committed to attend the meeting and give the topic well considered time, money, thought and effort. In adopteeland, it’s easy for us to portray governments in a stereotypical way — “uninterested”, “not wanting to help”, or jump to conclusions because it’s not the answer we want/need to hear!
I believe we need to do more relationship building with our governments where it matches i.e., if legal action is not being made against them and where they show a willingness to truly understand our perspective. We can try to understand the barriers they face, be open to understanding that they may want to do something about the past historic illicit practices in adoption, but understand it’s not a simple task – legislation and politics can often be their barriers. They are but one arm in the massive government machine of each country. I hope adoptee leaders around the world will, if you haven’t already, give your Central Authorities a call – try and build a relationship with them and help them learn from your lived experience about the challenges and issues you face.
I came away from the meeting with a harsh stack of reality for how big the task is to have illicit practices in adoption addressed and acknowledged, especially historical adoptions prior to the UNCRC and The Hague Convention on ICA. But I remain positive. Many of the attendees spoke to me about how much they gained from hearing an adoptee perspective. I communicated that some of us are willing to be involved to help them understand the nuances from our perspective and talking with the participants reminded me of how important it is, to not only build commonalities amongst adoptees, but amongst all the players who have a key role in effecting change.
Dear Intercountry Adoption Board (ICAB) of the Philippines,
I’m a 33-year-old Filipino American adoptee and I refuse to be erased. I refuse to be ignored. I was born in the Philippines and it was not my choice to leave. But it is my choice to return as an adult and to regain my citizenship. Because, ICAB, I am still here. And I am a human being with civil rights and I deserve this choice.
To date, I’ve been requesting your assistance for dual citizenship and to also retrieve my Filipino birth certificate, but I haven’t heard back from you nor received support for my requests.
Why you, you ask? Why do I keep reaching out and consulting you? And, why is this important, you wonder?
I seek you out, ICAB, because you have been the keeper of my biological records. You have been the storehouse of my Filipino history and the last remains of my Filipino identity. You are the legal witness to my orphaned situation. You have been the writer and transcriber of my last remaining Filipino past. You have been the watcher, overseeing my welfare as I’d lived in an orphanage in the Philippines from infancy until I was two years old. You have been the manager of my international adoption process from the Philippines to the United States. You have been the selector, approving my very adoptive parents and sole caretakers.
You have been the landlord switching over my vacant Filipino estate to another country, transferring me to Holt International’s adoption process in the United States, for me to be naturalized. You are now my living treasury of the last of me, holding my human files, history, heritage and remaining rights of my birth country. So, please don’t ignore me now, when I need you most, to help me recover my history. You are the one that knows best, of what was lost. Please, don’t abandon me now.
I know I am just one adoptee, sharing a plea to not be erased. But one adoptee is vital to the Philippines, because one erasure, is an entire lineage of Filipino heritage and descent. One adoptee, represents all Filipino adoptees because neglecting one, is allowing a different administrative direction to take shape, and human values will be lost with this attitude and transaction of erasure. Neglecting one Filipino adoptee’s needs–will be lowering the bar for others. This action will degrade the virtues that all our adoption agencies, global humanities and civil rights reflect.
Please, grant me access to my Filipino birth certificate. Please, allow my information to be retrievable in an expedited manner, please don’t give me obstacles in my requests. Please, endorse me for citizenship since you are the only one who can prove my Filipino heritage. Please, support me. Please, listen to my needs today, and tomorrow. Please, assist me in trying to make a new pathway to citizenship and a better relation with immigration in the Philippines, because of what this action stands for. For, I am not just one Filipino adoptee, but all Filipino adoptees. And you are the last remaining world and glue holding all of our remains, together.
You, ICAB, are the keeper of all of our futures in the Philippines, and nobody else can govern our past and future citizenship but you.
Thus, today, I push for another step in reunion. Today, I push for more recognition of my human history. Today, I push for regulated acknowledgement of my civil rights. And today, I push for a pathway back to citizenship in my homeland, my motherland, my birth country from where I was born, in the Philippines.
This to date, is a vital goal as to why keeping all Filipino adoptee birth records and information legitimate, accessible and retrievable at all times is important. As in this collective, positively goal-minded action, we, together, keep ICAB erected with the intrinsic values that our global community and sense of Philippine Kapwa is built off of.
Dear ICAB, we will need to work together now, to be able to knit identity back together in the Philippines because the goal of adoption is not to give away, nor to erase, but to restructure, and to rebuild. Adoption is a positive solution, and so is this request, which aligns with the goal of all international adoptions.
The very nature of all adoption efforts combined, is compassion.
On a positive note, I can imagine Filipino adoptees able to give back what we’ve learned on our journey abroad. We are not entirely lost to the Philippines. We can relearn what it is we forgot having lived away from our birth country for so long. We can build new connections and relations with the culture of the Philippines, and regain a new sense of repurposed identity to help the Philippines become a stronger leader in diversity. We can help the Philippine and global economy. We can learn from each other. We can heal the past and that painful separation, with hope.
So please ICAB, don’t erase me. Please, don’t ignore me. Please, see me as still a part of our country, the Philippines, the homeland that had shaped my fate and the country I had been born into as a citizen, long ago. I implore you. Please, don’t forget what it is you’ve been responsible for, taking me in all those years ago. Please, don’t see my requests and questions today, as trivial. Please, don’t ignore my emails. Please, don’t ignore my heart’s calling to reinstate my civil rights to my birth country. I know I’ve been away for quite some time, but I’m still here, and I haven’t forgotten where I come from. Please, don’t give up on me, Philippines.
Because I refuse to give up on you.
Birth name: Desiree Maru
Birth country: The Philippines
Relinquishment: Day of birth in Cebu, Philippines
Orphanage circa 1985: Asilo de la Milagrosa
U.S. Adoption Agency used circa 1987: Holt International