On 30 July, I ran our Reunion and Beyond webinar, part 2 of this series in searching and reunion in intercountry adoption. I couldn’t be more proud of our 8 panelists who did an incredible job of sharing some of the nuances and complexities involved! Thank you to each of them!
Ae Ra (born in Sth Korea, raised in Belgium), Alex (born in Romania, raised in Germany and New Zealand), Jonas (born in Haiti, raised in Australia), Sam (born in the Philippines, raised in the Philippines and the USA), Maria (born in Greece, raised in the USA), Ben (born in Guatemala, raised in the USA), James (born in Colombia, raised in Australia), and Raya (born in Russia, raised in Canada).
For those who are time poor, I’ve provided a time code so you can flick to the relevant parts. For those who want a summary of our key messages, they are also included as a pdf.
00:00:00 Intro – Lynelle 00:01:32 Why this webinar 00:07:16 Introduction of panelists 00:07:22 Ae Ra 00:09:17 Jonas 00:10:33 Maria 00:11:25 Raya 00:13:10 Ben 00:15:42 Alex 00:16:52 Sam 00:20:40 James 00:23:05 Questions 00:23:15 What do you recommend in preparation for reunion? 00:23:30 Maria 00:28:33 Ben 00:32:20 Raya 00:35:25 What challenges have you faced in reunion? 00:35:42 James 00:40:22 Jonas 00:43:19 Raya 00:45:48 Ae Ra 00:49:35 Tips for a media facilitated reunion 00:50:05 Alex 00:51:34 How to deal with differences in language and culture? 00:51:51 Ben 00:55:38 James 01:01:04 What role do I want for adoptive family in / after reunion? 01:01:26 Alex 01:03:10 Jonas 01:06:34 Ae Ra 01:09:47 How do I support myself in reunion? 01:09:53 Jonas 1:11:14 Maria 1:16:12 Sam 1:21:19 How do we manage the financial requests? 1:21:42 Sam 1:23:58 Alex 1:26:12 Ben 1:29:30 What’s it been like to find answers to your questions? 1:29:41 James 1:31:58 Raya 1:34:39 Sam 1:36:52 What role should government and adoption agencies have in reunion? 1:37:12 Ben 1:39:18 Maria 1:42:49 Ae Ra 1:45:56 Closing remarks and thanks
In 2016, ICAV compiled a world’s first resource of our lived experience voices sharing the ups and downs of searching and reunions, specific to intercountry adoption. No such resource existed like this before and yet, as adoptees, one of our hugest challenges across our lifespan, is contemplating if we want to search, what’s involved, and figuring out how to go about it. I wanted to provide a way to address these questions so I asked ICAV adoptees to share their experiences, focusing on lessons learnt after looking back in hindsight. I also asked them to share what could be done by authorities and organisations to better support us in our search and reunion process. I published our perspective paper in english and french and it ended up being a 101 page paper (book) covering the experiences of adoptees from 14 birth countries, adopted to 10 adoptive countries.
Given one of the core topics for discussion at the recent Hague Special Commission is Post Adoption Support, I felt that it was timely to re-share our paper and provide a summary of what it captures for those who don’t have time to read the 101 pages and for the benefit of Central Authorities and Post Adoption organisations to learn from our experiences.
Summary of key themes from ‘Search and Reunion: Impacts and Outcomes’ by InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV) 2016
Issues and challenges faced using tracing services:
The need for specialised counselling is a recurring theme throughout most stories, particularly to prepare adoptees for the first meeting, delivered from someone who understood and specialises in intercountry adoption
Searches are often conducted through social network sites that can leave adoptees can vulnerable and not properly supported to engage with birth families
Privacy issues and barriers
The need for access to birth records to help with birth reconnection
Several cases mentioned issues with passport and visas
Adoption agency would not disclose identifying information about their birth family due to privacy
Transparency of services and where to access them
Assumption that birth records are accurate, despite corruption
The sense of ‘rebuilding your history’
Challenging to maintain a relationship with birth family due to language and cultural barriers
Need more standardised laws and processes for adoption agencies to follow when adoptees are seeking their information
Laws passed to allow adoptees access to their files
More support is needed for adoptees in counselling, and translation when searching
Facilitated counselling service that assisted with the search and reunion process from beginning to end
Listing of adoptees as mentors who have been through the process
Stories of adoptee searches and their reconciliation of those searches would provide emotional support to other adoptees thinking of beginning their own search
Suggestions for improved support for adult adoptees when searching for birth families:
Documentation is the key and open adoption is the best way to lend support
The need for interactive support groups and to know where to find them
A comprehensive education for adoptive parents to help them manage the lifelong issues for adoptees, and affordable counselling for all parties in the adoption process, and particularly to have access to this support regardless of the stage of the adoption process
Having a social worker ‘check in’ on people who are adopted throughout their lives
Maintenance of a database to allow the search to be conducted with access into other databases such as births, adoptions, deaths and marriages in each country
Some adoptees want adoptive families to have mandatory training that helps them manage adoptee issues up to the age of 18 – education in language, culture history, the importance of having all the documents, the value in making regular visits together to the country of origin
Include adoptee DNA testing done, Y or N on the adoption file
Key quotations from adoptees about their experience of reunification:
“Adoption is a life long journey and even to this day I have fresh revelations of my adoption. The “general” impact has been one of profound empowerment which arose from great anguish.”
“Although I had a session with a very good psychologist before my reunion, I still feel there was so much more I should have been made aware of. I wish I had been directed to other adoptees willing to share their experience of their reunion with tips, advice and support.”
“It was devastating for me to realise my birth family are basically strangers and if I wanted a relationship with them, I would have to sacrifice the life I built after they rejected me and re-alter the identity I have struggled to develop, just to fit into their expectations.”
“The biggest obstacles for search and reunion in my experience have included:
Being a ‘tourist’ in my country of birth. I found it surprisingly confronting and difficult to have people of the same nationality assume I was one of them and then having to explain my adopted situation.
Post reunion i.e., working through the consequences of opening the door to the past – it is irreversible! I should have been better prepared and better supported for the post reunion aspects and consequences.”
“It took many years to properly come to terms and to get my head around my adoption after reunion. It has undoubtedly affected my identity and the course of my life for the best. My adoption has become something I have grown to appreciate and evolve with. Learning my life should have ended before I was even born, has made me incredibly grateful and motivated to do something with my life.”
“Primal wounding when separated from mothers is exacerbated by the mystery of unanswered questions.”
To read the full ICAV Perspective Paper: Search & Reunion – Impacts & Outcomes in English or French, see our collection of Perspective Papers.
by Matthew Pellegrino, adopted from South Korea to the USA, composer, musician, oboist. You can follow Matthew at Youtube or Instagram @compotatoser.
If an adoptee birth search was a fairy-tale, then reunion would be the “happily ever after.” As far as adoptee birth searches go, I’m statistically very lucky. Probably less than 5% (and that’s a high estimate) of all adoption birth searches have a result as positive as mine. I’ve been reunited with my family for a full 3 years now and sometimes if I think about that for too long, it’s completely mind boggling because it still feels like just yesterday that I was seeing my mother’s face for the first time.
Adoption is a complex, multi-faceted experience. It extends so much further and so much deeper than just “you were adopted.” The number of people affected by adoption is not just limited to the adoptee. There’s the birth mother, the families, generations of relatives, and society outside of the family. In my case, it’s a silent pain that my mother had to keep to herself for 24 years, my grandmother who knew I had been sent away and cried every time she saw a story about family reunions on the news, my aunt who wept after meeting me because she “should have been there to take care of me.” It’s also all the hardships we have yet to face together after reuniting. How do we overcome a language barrier and manage the pressures and expectations of learning to communicate with one another? How do we navigate our cultural differences in the face of the shame we feel? And how to we try to move forward knowing that this relationship has been forged and will continue to evolve for the rest of our lives?
This is my story, so I feel it’s my responsibility to present it candidly. Not just the beautiful, “happy ending,” but also the complicated, messy and at times painful “ever after” of reunion — learning to be mother and son, learning to be family, after 20+ years apart. It isn’t easy, it’s a lot of work, but at the end of the day I am very lucky.
Check out the recent Transracial Adoption Story told through music and dance, which Matthew composed the music for, titled Dear Mother:
by Sara Jones/Yoon Hyun Kyung, adopted from South Korea to the USA.
I have no photos of myself before I was 3 years old. I have a few photos after that age taken at the orphanage. Staff members took photos of children to send to sponsors or potential adoptive parents. In one of the photos, I am wearing a Korean hanbok but I am not smiling in any of the photos at the orphanage.
A few months ago, I came across a photo (not one of mine) that literally made me feel like I had been thrown back in time. The photo was taken in 1954 at a well. The well has high cement walls and a pulley system. Rusted metal drums sit nearby. Two young boys are drawing water while a little girl stands near them. The 1954 photo helped me visualize what life might have been like for me in Jeonju, South Korea.
Here’s what I see when I looked at that 1954 photo: I see an older brother, about 8 years old, a younger brother almost 6 years old, and their little sister who is 2 years old. They are poor, but don’t really know anything different. They live with their grandmother and father in a rural village in South Korea. Their father is the oldest of several children and some of their aunts and uncles are still quite young. They are all struggling through the economic disruption that has happened in their country. Their father worked in manual labor and was injured. So the boys help their father and keep watch of their little sister. The little sister is used to staying near her brothers. Sometimes the children go to day care and the boys sneak the little sister extra corn snacks. Her brothers are her protectors.
The children don’t know that their father is making an excruciating decision. Their father can no longer provide for them and thinks his only choice is to send them to the children’s welfare center. The little girl has no idea that she will be separated from her father or even from her brothers. The children also don’t know that their father will soon take them to a well and give them each a tattoo on their arm, using a needle, ink and thread. He is worried he will never see his children again. In the 1954 photo, the children are just siblings, sent to the well for the day’s water.
The children might have wondered why their father was taking them to the well the day he gave them their tattoos. The oldest son cries as his father gives him the tattoo. As the father gives his oldest son his tattoo, he says to him, “I will come back for you.” Before the father gives his little baby daughter her tattoo, he hugged her.
It’s been a long 3 years since I met my Korean birth family. The distance from the U.S. to South Korea feels longer and harder with the pandemic. The language barrier weighs on me constantly. How will I ever communicate with them?
Some things need no words. Like this moment 3 years ago of my Korean family and I at the well in Jeonju, where my father gave us our tattoos. Watch the video here.
I started the quest for the truth of my life when I was a teenager. Despite being told my mother had died, I sent a letter to an address in Vietnam when I was 16 and amazingly, I received a reply. She told me about my childhood and gave me information on who my father was.
In 1989, I searched for this man who had been an Australian soldier in Vietnam, but sadly he had already died. I did a DNA test with potential siblings, but it wasn’t conclusive as DNA testing 30 years ago didn’t have the accuracy that it does today. Nonetheless, I accepted them as being family and over the years I got to know them well and love them dearly.
In 2004, I returned to Vietnam. Having long lost written contact, I searched for my mother and was reunited with her. 14 years later, I received a text message giving details of another woman to be my birth mother. This was to unravel everything I had believed and sent me on an emotional roller coaster.
That following day, was the first time in 47 years that I embraced my true mother. She stroked my hair and through tears in her eyes told me all she ever wanted was to see me before she died.
That same day, when I showed my mother a photo of who I thought was my father, she said it wasn’t. It turns out that as my mother lay unconscious after having a severe haemorrhage after giving birth to me, two friends from the city came to visit. One of them told my grandmother she would take me to Can Tho and care for me while my mother was sick. My grandmother had my two half siblings at home, two of her own children and with my mother seriously ill, she agreed. Six weeks after my mother recovered, she went to Can Tho to see her friend to bring me home, but this lady had vanished. My mother then spent years in vain searching for me.
The fake woman stole me, telling her boyfriend that he was the father, to convince him to remain with her. She had me taken to her hometown to be cared for by her parents, with everyone believing that she had given birth to me in the city. Nobody was none the wiser. How somebody can be that cruel and deceiving, plotting such an evil scheme is incomprehensible.
Having new information from my mother, I set out to search for my birth father. In October 2019 through doing a DNA Ancestry test, I had several close matches with relatives and learnt that my father had already died. Given that he was 20 years older than my mother I wasn’t surprised. What is tragic is that 6 siblings had also died. My eldest sister died four months prior to me finding the family and the remaining died too young. I am fortunate that one sister, Joy, is still alive.
I am very blessed to now be in contact with cousins, nieces, nephews and their children. A week ago, I got to speak to my Aunt Gloria. What she said touched me deeply and afterwards I was filled with a lot of emotion and cried tears of joy and grief.
I could question, why, why, why forever, but what good would that do. The fake women’s web of lies has caused deep wounds. All she ever wanted was financial gain. I always forgave and supported her, believing she was my mother, but she is nothing but a master liar, deceiver and manipulator and has no remorse or regard for anybody. As a result of her actions, I have been robbed of so much time that could have been spent with my true mother and I could have found my father’s side of the family sooner.
I know though I must now focus on the present and am daily thankful to God. He has moved mountains in my life, revealed the truth, and above all my sweet mother is living with me. I am surrounded by a large loving family in Vietnam and I am building relationship with family in the USA who have all been so accepting of me. I hope next year it will be possible to travel there to meet them in person.
Anyway, my Aunt Gloria is 89 and is the only remaining sibling of my father’s. Through all my new found relatives I am learning about those I never got to meet, my father, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I have been given many photos and articles which are priceless gifts.
My father comes from an exceptional family of 11 children. 9 boys and 2 girls. My grandmother in 1947 was voted “Mother of the Year” by the Naval Air Station as all her 9 sons served in the military at some point. My father joined the navy in 1941 and was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. He served 5 years in the navy then enlisted in the Army. My father served in WW 11, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
According to my mother, my father was a very kind and handsome man. More than anything, he gave her the greatest gift, that of a daughter. Today at my mother’s insistence and according to Vietnamese culture we celebrated his death anniversary. In Vietnamese this is known as đám giỗ.
I have always tried to live a life that is pleasing to God and that would honour my parents.
Today I honour my father on his 30th death anniversary. I also said a special prayer for my siblings.
by Allison Young adopted from South Korea to the USA.
And on those days when we walked to the sea and found Mi-ja waiting at her usual spot in the olle, Grandmother recited common sayings in hopes of comforting us two motherless girls. “The ocean is better than your natural mother,” she said. The sea is forever.”
~ The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
One year ago on September 11, after a lifetime of waiting (and one devastating almost-encounter in 2003), I finally met the woman who carried me for 9 months and gave birth to me.
I would like to say it was a happily-ever-after situation, that it was cathartic and I’m so thankful for the meeting but due to her circumstances, I was told we could never have a relationship or even further contact.
Although I have compassion, this hurt more than I could allow myself to feel. At the time I allowed myself one day to fall apart and then I put those feelings away. I had 3 kids in a tiny apartment in a different country and was soon going to adopt my son. I knew it would probably come back for me later — because that’s how trauma and grief work.
To be rejected by one mother figure broke my heart and then a few months later, to be scorned by my other mother nearly broke me.
Sometimes it takes a life-altering event to realize what love is, to see who is actually loving you and who is kicking you down, while calling it love. I have learned so much in this past year, by far the hardest year of my life. I am learning the meaning of self-love, self-care and boundaries. I am mothering myself, decolonizing my mind and body and allowing the ocean to heal me.
I did seek professional help and am working with a therapist. I am making changes to my life for the better, for my own future and so I can break the cycle for my kids.
When I look at my 4 beautiful children, I hope they know that while I’m far from perfect, I will try so hard to be a good listener — to learn, grow and change; to value what matters most to them and see them for who they are.
백절불굴 (baekjeol bulgul) is a saying which means “indomitable spirit.”
My birthname,수은 (Soo Eun), means “grace of water.”
I will be okay. And I am ever grateful to those who helped to keep me afloat this past year.
Reckoning with the Primal Wound is an adoptee led film created by Rebecca Autumn Sansom and her natural mother Jill. Together they explore what the Primal Wound is and how it’s affected their lives.
This film is really about Rebecca’s journey of coming to terms with who she is; making sense of being adopted; understanding the deep pain and loss she’s felt in her life; exploring how it’s not just her journey but many other adoptees too; coming to terms with hearing her natural mother’s journey and understanding that this experience has universal themes.
I think it’s a fantastic exploration of the profound impacts created when separating a mother and child; hearing and seeing the lived experience from both ends – the adoptee and her natural mother. It’s also insightful in demonstrating the common reality of how adoptive parents struggle to understand the significance of, and coming to terms with, the trauma from which they’ve built their family upon.
Often in reunion we adoptees are caught in the middle of competing emotional issues and we can sometimes shoulder too much of the responsibility of holding the space for all. I personally felt Rebecca’s film is such an empowering way to hold the space for herself and tell her story, bravo!
I love the range of experts within this documentary, especially all the lived experience and how professionals are interwoven amongst the personal stories. It’s so important to understand the huge web of interconnected people in adoption, the roles they play, how we are all impacted. It was especially poignant to see the longitudinal journey of reconnection facilitated by Jill’s social worker, who clearly cared very much.
Ultimately this film resonated with me because of its truth and validation to all adoptees who cannot just “get on with it” and act as if being separated from our natural mothers has no impact on us. Overall, the message for me rings true: that for deep healing to happen in adoption, there needs to be a profound reckoning of the impacts caused by separating a mother from the child, and acknowledgment that these are lifelong.
To learn more about the documentary, you can visit Rebecca’s website.
ICAV is running adoptee online events this September where adoptees will have access to view the documentary and participate in an online group afterwards for a post film discussion.
by Roula Maria stolen from Greece and adopted to an Australian family.
My name is Roula and I was born in Greece with my twin and sold separately on the black market in July 1981. I have only just found my twin in the recent years and hope to meet in person once COVID eases. This is my story.
About my parents
After migrating from Greece in the early 60’s they settled in a small country town outside of Adelaide, South Australia. There were other immigrants that also went to the same town after coming from Greece.
My parents were not able to have children after many attempts and eventually decided to make themselves known to a family who had adopted a little girl from Greece. It turns out that family did not actually adopt the little girl but purchased her from a doctor who was producing and selling gypsy children in an institute in the heart of Athens. They gave my mother the contact details for the midwife in Greece.
My parents made contact with the midwife in Greece and made an appointment to travel to Greece to speak to the doctor. Once they had arrived he told them that there were many babies available but they would need to wait. They agreed and travelled back to Australia.
About 6 months later, the phone rang with good news and they travelled to Greece within the week. My mother’s request was that she wanted a girl but at that time there were no girls available, so they remained in Greece until one was. She also wore a pillow under her belly to show she was pregnant – the lengths my parents went to was phenomenal.
Then I came along.
My dad went to the town of Korinthos to sign the paper work. On my birth record my mother who bought me was written as my birth mother, so authorities would not pick up on the falsified documents, then my dad went back to the hospital in Greece and I was given to him. They payed $6000 euro in 1981, the equivalent of around $200,000 dollars Australian back then.
They stayed in Greece for around 40 days as the culture states a child needs to be blessed around their 40th day of birth. They took me to the Australian Embassy and registered me as a citizen of Australia under parental authority.
Then the fear of being caught played on their minds. They knew from the time at the airport ’till the time the plane took off that they were in grave danger of being caught. Once onboard and the plane got into the air, my mother breathed for the first time.
I was flown to Australia on the 24 August 1981.
I grew up with two sides. I was the happy little girl who loved life and everything in it but I was also the little girl who was traumatised by intense sexual abuse and a victim to domestic violence. My childhood was filled with sadness and also happy family moments, it was as though I lived in a time warp between two worlds, the real and the hidden.
Even the Greek kids that I grew up with would tease me about being adopted and when I confronted my mother, she denied all allegations. It was a part of my everyday life growing up with my mother being untruthful about it all. It was not until my teens that a cousin confirmed the truth to me in a state of anger, as the behaviours that I was displaying where the behaviours of a survivor of abuse.
No one knew the turmoil and the hurt I was facing as typical Greek families do not discuss issues and are taught to bottle them up and never spoken about it, especially with the older generation.
It was not until I had reached year 7 at primary school that I finally spoke out about my life but even then, it was dismissed and ignored.
My family sold their land and moved me to Adelaide thinking that it would help me move on with my life, but from what psychologists and counsellors say to me, running is not an option. My parents thought they were doing the right thing but it led me to destructive teenage years filled with drugs, homelessness, violence, jails, and institutions.
If only people could have been able to help me but by then, I had been hurt and lied to, too many times to even want anyone’s help.
At the age 15 in 1996, I started my search, homeless and in the library trying to find information about black-market adoption from Greece. I came across 100’s of articles about selling of babies within the gypsy community in Greece. I was shocked and intrigued at the information available. I put up posts in forums stating that I was searching for my birth mother. I had no idea what I was writing but I tried everything.
For some reason though I knew I was on the right track, something inside me knew what I was doing and where I was searching was real and leading me to where I belonged.
After years of trauma from living on the streets and being a complete drug addict, in 2003, I went into rehab. I got clean and my life started to get better. I still had some very damaging behaviours but in 2010, I moved back to that small country town and found a great psychologist who is today still a large part of my healing and journey.
I ended up marrying a man from that town and we moved away due to work reasons, then in 2015, I had a child through IVF. My son has a great childhood but he has also had some life challenges. Compared to what I had, I’m thankful I was able to change the mistakes that many Greek families have today and we communicate!
Being a product of adoption and black market selling of babies is not an easy life. We children come from all different backgrounds with genetic disorders and family health systems. These need to be addressed and I disliked having to say to a doctor, “I don’t know, I am adopted,” whenever I was asked what my family health history is. I’m sure my feelings on this must be very common amongst adopted people . When a doctor knows you are not the biological product of the family you are in, more tests, more health records and more information should be assigned to the adoptee, to assist in finding out the health answers we deserve.
If it wasn’t for the technology of DNA testing, I would not have known my heritage or my health record. I am so glad I can now got to the doctors and say I genetically carry this, this, this, and this. It is extremely empowering.
With teachers and school counsellors, I believe adoptive parents need to take responsibility for ensuring information is provided to the school, disclosing that their child is adopted. There should be no judgment or repercussions in any way when parents disclose this. Teachers also need to be aware that the child may be facing or feeling empty from not knowing their identity nor understanding why they may be feeling this way.
These days in schools, there are mindfulness clinics, self-esteem talks, anti-bullying days, and wellbeing classes and they have a different curriculum compared to what I had in the 80’s. Adding a box to identify at enrolment whether adopted or not, should start from early childhood care, all the way through to university. All enrolments should ask us to identify if we are adopted or not. If the student does not know, then parents should be asked discreetly with confidentiality maintained, as some parents chose to wait until their child is old enough, to be told.
I suggest support resources such as social media, jumping in online forums where other adoptees share the same voice. I run 2 groups. One is called Greek Born Adoptees with 450 members and the other is called Greek Sold Gypsy children with 179 members. This group is for sold children and for the gypsy parents to assist them in finding each other. We use DNA testing to match the parents and the sold adoptees.
Thank you for your time and I hope that more people will come forward about their adoptions. I speak for the Greek born sold children of Greece and I know there are 1000’s of us. Here in Australia, there are around 70 who I would like to make contact with when they are ready because we have gypsy parents who are wanting to meet their children for the first time and have given their permission to be found.
by a Chinese father who lost his daughter Marie via intercountry adoption.
Tossing High and Low
Longing for Understanding
Living with a Dim Hope
There was a notification on my Facebook that Marie is following me. Normally I don’t accept follower or friend requests, but the name was Marie, so I accepted and left it, not paying much attention. The next day as I was walking with my daughter to go Tesco to get some groceries for cooking that day, I received a message from Marie. “Hello, I am trying trace a Clement who knew Agnes in 1972, please let know if that is you?” I was totally shocked. I immediately answered back, “Yes” and asked who she is. She answered, “I am her daughter.” In my heart I knew it was her, the one I missed all these years. I have been living with a very dim hope of finding her all these years. I replied, “I hope I am not dreaming!” She replied, “I think you are my father”.
The next thing I asked her was about the day that I can never forget. “Is your date of birth 9 August?” She answered with a YES. Never had I imagined this day would come. My daughter Denise saw my expression and she asked me what was wrong. I told her my daughter that was given away through adoption has found me. “Ayoi, you give me goosebumps,” Denise said. I don’t hide my past from my children, only my private life. Time didn’t permit us to talk more over Facebook as I had to finish our shopping then rush back to cook and deliver the food, but I promised to stay in contact.
The whole episode of finding my daughter Marie was supposed to be a happy moment and it still is. But it was more than happiness. After sharing my part of signing her adoption papers and finding out about her life with some photos, she shared two photos which brought back all the memories of my time with Agnes, her mother. When I saw the photo of Marie and her husband, it was like looking at Agnes. She’s so much like her. Another photo of Agnes standing alone reminded me of the only photo both of us had taken as a couple, in a photo studio. She also wore a saree at that photo session.
My daughter Denise wants me to video call Marie. I told her with my bad hearing problem and Marie’s English slang it might be hard to communicate. But the truth is looking at Marie is like looking at Agnes. I am not yet ready. With all these memories coming back, I realise I have not forgotten or ever stopped loving her. I still miss her for all these years. Unknowingly, my love for Agnes has caused my marriage to fail. There was always a third person in our bed. My injustice to my children. I was once involved in Marriage Ministry and I realise I have created so much rubbish in my life.
I have lived a life of denial.
I knew Agnes in 1970 through her brother Bernard. We were close friends as we worked in the same school. He was a temporary teacher and I was the office boy in the school office. I spent most night at his house as my house was nearby. Bernard had three other brothers and three sisters. Agnes was the elder of the three sisters. Agnes always had a smile on her face and was a very gentle and genuine person. She had long ponytail hair. I got along well with the family and had Christmas with them. I started to have feelings for her and asked to go for a dance date on New years eve. She said yes but I had to ask Bernard for permission as he was more or less the head of the family. I asked him and he had no objection, so we went for our first date.
We enjoyed ourselves that night and I knew I was in love with her. Even though I had been with a few other girls previously, I had never experienced this feeling before. I realised that she was my first love. By the time we reached her house it was already 1am and New Years Day. After spending some time with the family and wishing everyone Happy New Year it was time for me to go home. Agnes walked me out of the house. I was alone with her and I expressed my feelings to her and asked her to be my girlfriend. She said yes but we would have a problem telling Bernard. I told her I would talk to him and we ended with our first kiss.
A few days later, I did speak to Bernard about my relationship with his sister but to my surprise, he did not object so I started to spend more time at her house. Bernard was good with his guitar and Agnes liked to sing. I can’t sing but I often jammed with them. I have many happy memories of that time. Agnes and Bernard were often invited to be guest singers at the Singing Talent time contest show. At one of the shows where they had invited Agnes to sing, just as she was about to go on stage she said to me, “This song is for you “. Looking at me she started to sing. She sang “Let it be me”. Can I ever forget that night with that song? NO, never in my life will I ever forget that night.
We were together for two years. As time went by, we became more intimate and one day she found out she was pregnant. We wanted to get married but we had a problem of getting her mothers’ approval. So we decided to go and see the Priest for advice and ask her parents approval. What we didn’t expect was that her mother not only didn’t approve of our marriage but also arranged with the priest for Agnes to go to the Centre for Unwed Mothers. I went to her house to plead with her mother but they chased me out of the house. The family knew all along about our relationship but they went against me. I went to see the Priest but he told me that Agnes would be leaving Taiping in two days time. My mother even went to her house to plead with their family but they said no. They didn’t even allow me to see Agnes before she left.
After two months I couldn’t stand it anymore, I missed Agnes and I worried about her. I went to see the Priest to find out her whereabouts, but he didn’t want to give me information about her. I pleaded with him crying in his office for a long time. In the end, he told me and even arranged for me to meet Agnes with the nun. She was taken to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Batu Arang, near Kuala Lumpur. That very night I took a train to Kuala Lumpur and went by bus to Batu Arang, quite a distance from Kuala Lumpur. I managed to see Agnes after two months. The nun was good enough to give us time together alone. Before I left that place the nun told me that I could only visit her once a month. During her stay there, I visited her four times. The last time I visited her was a few weeks before her delivery. During the last visit we talked about naming the baby. During her stay there, she was close to a nun by the name of Sister Marie. So, we decided to name her Marie if we had a daughter, or if we had a son, Mario. We even talked about working in Kuala Lumpur after her delivery. She was not keen to go back to Taiping. As for the baby, we would let my mother take care of her.
A few weeks later, I was at the church for early morning service and the Priest informed me that Agnes had been admitted for delivery the night before. I rushed to Kuala Lumpur by taxi. By the time I reached her, she had already delivered. When I saw her, she just out of the delivery room but I didn’t see the baby. She told me the nurse was washing her. When the nurse came out with the baby, she asked me if I was the father, I nodded, and she handed me the baby. I carried her for some time until Agnes asked what to give her as a second name. I suggested Geraldine and she agreed. She gave me her identity card to register the birth certificate. I handed over the baby to her and she smiled, saying to the baby “You are Marie Geraldine L__.” I was with her until after visiting hours. Before I left, I told Agnes that I would see her in three weeks time because I could only take the birth certificate in three weeks time. I did not know that this would be the last time I would ever see them both.
Two weeks later the priest informed me that I was summoned to court to sign Marie up for adoption. I panicked and told my mother about it and she asked me to bring Marie back. I went with a heavy heart. When I reached there, they gave me some documents to sign. I refused to sign and told them that I wanted to keep the baby. The person in charge told me that whether I signed or not, the adoption would be processed because the mother had full rights. I said I wanted to adopt Marie under my mother’s name. What he answered surprised me. A father cannot adopt a female child but if it had been a boy, there would have been a possibility. In one day, I lost everything. I had no choice but to sign the document and rush to Batu Arang. But the nun refused to see me and would not allow me past the gate. Two months later I went again. This time one of the nuns came out to meet me but would not allow me to go in. She told me that Agnes had left the place and the baby had been sent to the government welfare home. There was nothing I could do anymore but to leave with a heavy and angry heart.
For forty-eight years, every year I wished Happy Birthday to the daughter I have never seen but was just a shadow in my heart. I only knew she was somewhere on the planet. I wished her Happy Birthday and said a prayer for her. This is where I have done injustice to my other children. I have not wished a Happy Birthday to any of my own children who are with me. My children have not celebrated birthdays growing up. As time went by, to the time when I realised Marie should be reaching young adult age, I took opportunities to come to Kuala Lumpur shopping mall. I would sit in a corner watching as the girls went by, wondering if any of them could be Marie. It was just a dim glimmer of hope. I might have seen her without even knowing. It gave me some small comfort.
Thankfully this year on her 49th birthday, I can personally wish her happy birthday! All these years, it’s a moment I have waited for with a dim glimmer of hope. Thank you Marie for finding me!
Agnes there is always a place for you in my heart. May you rest in peace as our daughter has found us.
Next Week: Marie’s thoughts from reunion with her Chinese father.
by Annick Boosten, adopted from India to Belgium, co-founder of Adoptie Schakel. Many thanks to Maureen Welscher & Jean Repplier for original text and translation.
I was adopted from India at the age of four. My parents already had a son David, who is four years older than me. There was another son but unfortunately he had a metabolic disease that killed him when he was eight months old. Due to the disease being hereditary (David appeared to have it too, only to a lesser extent) my parents decided to adopt a child. My parents are hardworking people who are always busy, the type who always say, “Don’t whine, just get on with it.” That’s how they raised me.
My mother worked furiously to teach me the Dutch language so that I could go to school as soon as possible because I came to them in December then by January, I had to go to school. When I used to object and say, “I’m sure they do that very differently in India,’ my mother replied, “You’re not in India, you’re in Belgium and that’s how we do it here.” I am very happy with my parents but sometimes I would have liked them to have known me a bit better, to have been a little more empathetic. As a child, I was overloaded with expensive clothes and all kinds of electronic toys as compensation because my parents worked so hard. During the holidays, I was sent to all kinds of camps so that my parents wouldn’t have to take off from work. I would have much preferred if we had been closely involved as a family and my parents made time for us to do fun things together. I’d have preferred a day at the beach than an X-box or Playstation.
Now that I have a son of my own, I give him a kiss every day and tell him how very happy I am with him. I do this even in those moments when I might be a bit angry because he doesn’t want to sleep. I missed that sort of interaction with my parents.
Thoughts about being Adopted
When I came into our family, my parents had already been told by the children’s home, “You better be careful, she remembers a lot of things”. I told my mother whole stories about a blue house, about a lady who took care of me, that there were rooms with other small children. I told it in such detail that my mother decided to write it down. When I visited the children’s home in 2018, the walls turned out to be painted blue. The woman in my memories was probably my biological mother. The official statement is that both my biological parents had died and that I was therefore eligible for adoption.
At the age of twenty years old, all kinds of scandals became revealed about abuses in Indian adoptions. I had already heard these stories from other Indian adoptees, but my parents were annoyed if I started talking about that. They just could not believe that something as noble as adoption could be fraudulent. My parents are strict Catholics and had wanted to do something good by adopting. These stories did not fit into their view of things. When the adoption association responsible for bringing Indian children to Belgium, De Vreugdezaaiers, was dissolved, they could no longer close their eyes to the abuses within Indian adoptions. As a child, I always went to the family days they organised for Indian adoptive children and their parents. I then decided to establish the Adoption Link. Adoptie Schakel means connecting people and bringing them into contact with each other. In doing so, we mainly focus on the world of adoption in which we strive to strengthen the bond among adoptees and among birth parents. We also help adoptees who are looking for their biological parents by means of DNA research.
I had never been so preoccupied with my origins before. For years I had a relationship with a boy who was not at all open to it. He thought it was nonsense to go in search of my roots. I had to continue to build my life here and leave the past behind me, or so he thought. So I didn’t really feel supported. When that relationship ended, I became involved with Ionut. He is a Romanian adoptee, something I didn’t know at the beginning of our relationship. After two weeks I found out. I had already noticed that he tanned very quickly in the sun, while all Belgian men were still pale during the summer. Then he told me that this was because of his Romanian genes. I was jealous of the bond he had with his Romanian family. Every year he went on holiday there. At one point I thought, “That’s what I want too! Maybe I can also find new contacts within my biological family.”
Having a Family of My Own
That feeling really took hold of me when I wanted to start my own family. I did a DNA test, and to my great surprise a number of matches appeared. It seems that many of my biological family had been given up for adoption. My father’s grandfather had seven children and all of whom gave up children for adoption. I have contact with some of them in America through Facebook. It also turned out that my father had not died. Through his brother, I came in contact with him and decided to visit in 2018. It was a terrible experience. I was just three months pregnant and felt terribly sick. My father also turned out to be ill with some kind of contagious disease. He was in quarantine and I had contact with him through a hole in the wall. I was not allowed to come any closer. The Indian taxi driver translated my questions and my father’s answers, which took forever. I had written down many questions, but in the end I forgot to ask them. Anyway, I did ask the most important question, ”Why was I given up for adoption?” And the cold answer was, “When your mother died, I gave my brother money to take you to an orphanage. That way I could get on with my life and marry a new woman.” My father thought that he was not at all to be blamed. That’s just the way it was in India. I was astonished. He had no remorse at all and never went looking for me. He had just continued his life, involved with another woman with whom he conceived children. He dared to ask me if I would enjoy meeting them. I told him, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not at all interested in half-brothers or sisters.” I also said that I would rather commit suicide than give my child away, which he thought was very strange. When I said goodbye I told him that I didn’t want any further contact, and he seemed fine with that. He did, however, give me a name of my mother’s family. He told me that she came from Sri Lanka and that I should look for her family there. One day I will do that, but now I don’t feel like it. I will do it when James is old enough to realise what it means to me to look for biological family – perhaps when he is about eight or ten years old.
When adoptees asked me, “Should I search or not?” I would always answer, “Yes.” I still think it’s good to know where you come from. It’s not always easy to deal with a bad experience. I know people I have advised to do so and who, after returning home, were very upset because the meeting was not what they had hoped for. I feel guilty about that. I too had a bad meeting but I prefer to share my opinion and my experiences. The choice is then up to them. Luckily I can look at it and think, “That’s just how it is.” I would have liked it to have been different, but that’s just the way it goes. Fifty percent of my genes are his anyway. So any bad qualities I have, I can attribute to my father, haha. When I’m in a temper, I shout, “Sorry, it’s my father’s genes!”
Being in a Relationship with another Adoptee
Having a relationship with someone who’s also adopted is very nice. Ionut and I really understand each other. For example, understanding what it means to be away from one’s biological culture and parents, having to adapt in adoptive country, the feeling of being a stranger. The areas we don’t understand each other on can be a stumbling block because we both have very different adoption stories and our own ‘baggage’. In that respect, our adoption history is completely different.
I had never realised how important it was for me to have my own biological child, something so closely connected to me who carries my DNA. I held James in my arms and saw how he looked like me and how happy that made me feel. James is clearly a product of myself and Ionut. I like to see similarities of myself in him, which I never expected would make me so happy. As parents, we both want to spend more time with our child than my parents did. The family bond is very important to both of us. I always say, “Your child is your heirloom, not your property.” We want to give him warmth, love, affection and trust and above all, he is allowed to be himself.