As one of the earliest cohorts of intercountry adoptees, the Greek intercountry adoptee community is represented by the amazing work that Linda Carrol Forrest Trotter does under her organisation The Eftychia Project. I’ve been connecting with Linda over the past 5 years and I love what she has done in advocacy to bring her community to the attention of the Greek government. It’s wonderful when adoptees advocate for themselves!
This was one of the meetings Linda had with the Greek government late last year. Apologies for posting so late but it’s helpful for other adoptee groups and leaders to see what some adoptee leaders are doing around the world to advocate for their community.
Here is Linda’s formal letter which she provided to the Greek government at her meeting. Thanks for sharing Linda!
Excellent work and let’s hope the Greek government steps up and provides much needed supports, services, and rights to the Greek adoptee community which are requested in Linda’s letter. These right and requests need to be recognised as basic essentials to be provided from every country that we are adopted from.
For more on Adoptee Advocacy, see ICAVs extensive list of blogs on some of the work we’ve done around the world.
by Kris Rao, adopted from India to the USA, recently discovered their adoption as a Late Discovery adoptee.
I came across an Indian based podcast called The Filter Koffee Podcast hosted by Karthik Nagarajan. He sits with a guest and as he describes it, has a conversation. “The kind that leaves you richer. The kind that only coffee can bring out.”
Most recently in January of 2022, he sat down with Poulomi Pavini Shukla, a supreme court lawyer, and spoke about orphans in India. This particular episode was titled Why India’s orphans are twice abandoned?
Without getting into too many details of the podcast, here are a few key topics they went over:
The different schemes that have been put in place for children in need of care. (Government Schemes in India are launched by the government to address the social and economic welfare of its citizens)
The money/budget put towards orphans. Which equates to less than 1 rupee per day per child.
The estimated number of orphans in India as reported by UNICEF.
How orphanages are run and how many should be set up in each district.
What happens to abandoned children and their lives as orphans.
The differences between female and male orphans.
One of the things that struck me was the estimated number of orphans in India. According to UNICEF, there are 29.6 million orphans in India, approximately 30 million.
And as an adoptee, as one of these so-called social orphans, all I could think of while listening to this podcast was:
Why does India have 30 million orphans in the first place?
What is my country doing that is creating this problem?
What is my country doing to prevent this?
To me, it seems the biggest problem isn’t just that we have 30 million orphans in need of care, it’s that we have 60 million parents that gave up and abandoned their children. And it’s still happening. These numbers are still growing.
Where’s that conversation?
Is it because of religion, caste? What other factors are in play here?
What about reproductive justice?
I am one of the millions of social orphans to have come out of India. And it leads me to ask, is it because my existence brings “shame” upon my family the reason I am an orphan? Does my existence sully the family name?
Was my conception so problematic in the eyes of India’s society and culture that my mother felt compelled to abandon me?
I once wrote the only reason I was adopted is because society somehow failed my mother and forced her to make a decision she shouldn’t have had to in the first place.
What are we doing to change that?
From listening to the podcast, I understand helping orphans in India is vital and needs attention. Having lived in India for 11 years myself, and visited orphanages, yes, I get it.
I think it’s important that every child is taken care of. But why does that include separating them from their families? Why should a child lose all legal ties to their first and biological parents and families (including extended kin) in order to simply be taken care of?
And most importantly, what are we doing for the “social orphans” who are now adults that wish to know their true roots? Access to our ancestry, history, etc.
How can we remove this stigma and taboo I keep hearing about adoption in India?
As indicated by the title, Poulomi says that orphans from India are orphaned twice. “Once by being orphans of their parents and once by being orphans of the state or orphans of the law.”
For international adoptees like myself, it feels as though India abandoned me a third time when it sent me off to be another country’s problem.
The unfortunate and unwarranted circumstances that made me one of India’s “social orphans” put me on a path of being adopted.
And by being adopted not only did it take away my choices but it also took away my chances of finding my roots.
At the moment when adoptees experience that they have lost part of themselves due to relinquishment and / or adoption, they suddenly come into a grieving process. A kind of mourning that they themselves, but also their surroundings, often cannot comprehend or contain.
A special event such as a pregnancy, the birth of a (grand) child or a wedding can suddenly lose its colour or shine. A demise, loss of work, or a move can suddenly become the most dramatic and prevailing event of an adoptee’s life.
The previous loss that hitherto sat dormant in the unconscious is triggered. Suddenly the unconscious wakes up in the conscious and throws back the adopted one into the previous loss trauma with the corresponding behavioural change. The emotions that come with this seem to absorb everything, structures and controls disappear and chaos prevails.
Often adoptees who previously considered themselves “fortunately adopted” suddenly feel the emptiness and try to fill it up by looking for their self, their identity and / or their mother. But the emptiness, sadness and fear does not dissolve during this quest or in reunification. There often remains the history, the secrets, the guilt and the shame between both.
Because of the fact that this form of loss and mourning is not recognised in our society, adopted people do not have the option (e.g. leave period) to mourn, give meaning to their loss or experience a farewell ritual like a funeral of their adoptive parents. And often they have no memories of their first parents with whom they can comfort themselves. Because of this, it will often remain a never ending story and the wound will remain open.
A mother and child separation causes lifelong loss, which we carry in our body until the end of our life and is also transferred to the next generations.
That’s why it’s important to raise awareness for the loss and trauma during relinquishment and adoption and the impact of missing our descendants data. Adoptees should experience as much entitlement to support in their grieving process as those not adopted.
Some people wonder why I have such a vague answer to “What’s your sign?” Here’s why. I was born somewhere in South Korea, likely near Jecheon around 1972. I was in an orphanage in Jecheon for about 1 year and adopted in 1977 to a loving family in Longmont, Colorado in the United States. Like many orphans and adoptees, I have no idea when my birthday is, hence any Zodiac sign will do. But regarding the Chinese zodiac year, I’m either a rat, pig or an ox.
My Music Journey
My earliest musical memories, lovingly captured by my family on cassette tape (kids go ahead and DuckDuckGo), include a recording of songs I learned at the orphanage. Around the age of 6 or 7, I was regularly singing in my church where my father was the pastor and I did so up until high school. I learned some classical piano (pretty much the extent of my formal training) around the age of 8 and began to compose some simple original work around the age of 10 or 11. Around 12 or 13 years old, I was given a synthesizer by a family friend and within a couple of years was able to upgrade to a real synth (the Ensoniq SQ80) with my paper route job money. I tried to impress girls but with limited success (actually, not so much though as I couldn’t overcome my insecurities and pretty serious acne). Those days I produced some amateurish creations of 80’s synthpop (better known as “music” during the actual 80’s). Speaking of, I’ve got to bring some of those songs back one of these days!
A pivotal moment in my music life came in the mid 80’s when I entered a talent competition and won based on a fairly simple composition. I beat out an extremely talented musician who played Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” This sparked insight that new and created music is quite different from some of the most complex played/covered music. It was after this that I committed to making my own music — but it would be many years before I would have the maturity to listen to others, judge myself properly and have a learning mentality to be able to fashion an adequate song.
I joined the jazz choir in high school and ended up writing the baccalaureate song. It was called “Changes” and it was about as cheesy as it sounds, but continue reading and you’ll see why! Anyhow, for my prom date in my senior year, out came my trusted SQ80 with candles and fancy pants cake, and I sang my heart out. My date declined when I asked her out again after that, so I’ll let you decide how it went or what it meant :).
When I graduated high school I went to a small Christian College in Lincoln, Illinois, where I joined a music group and also formed a Christian band named “Going 2 Rock U.” And just like that, the cheese increases! There were some proud song creation moments, but no finished or polished production of anything for the public. I do remember I had one song that had Christian lyrics with a Babyface vibe. Honestly, I didn’t know how to craft decent songs, but I thought I was much better than I was, so I did not take any guidance or criticism well, however well-intended.
Nevertheless, in 1996 as a CU-Boulder student, I auditioned for Dave Grusin’s “A Westside Story” with the CU jazz band where I got a taste of world-class performers and saw possibilities in music. [record screech] However, I promptly chose the safety of a Technology Consulting career and put off this music dream for another 17 years. In 2013, I moved to Korea to search for my birth family and also decided to give music a try. As a student, I took a couple of Berklee Online classes in orchestration and jazz improvisation to hone my chops and then began performing in Seoul in various bands, formed my own band, and finally ended up as a solo artist. All along, I was learning how to play live and write a ton of songs, some of which will be on my record this November. To make ends meet, I worked various music company jobs and was given other opportunities to perform my music. A big opportunity came in 2020, when I became an artist in an independent entertainment company in Seoul. It’s true when they say “you can’t make it alone.” So I humbly take steps forward, with a lot of help from friends, musicians, fans and industry professionals, to build a lasting career as a solo artist.
What inspired Longing (Someday)?
Although I’ve been making music since I was in middle school, I haven’t had any songs I was ready to proudly say “this is my song.” But finally in 2013, after visiting Korea for the first time, I decided to write a song about the desire to find my birth family, specifically my birth mother. I have no memories of Korea as a child, so I imagined wandering the streets as a child and feeling the lost feeling of wanting to go home. I tapped into my own mid-life crisis where I felt my life was crippled and falling apart in so many ways–in my relationships and work, and so the feeling of escaping that and longing for the unknown helped to create lyrics. I tried variations of melodic “oohs,” deciding on the current chorus and the song was born.
A Quick Therapy Sesh
As an adoptee, I have been a combination of a chameleon, charmer, escape artist and an under-the-rug-ifier. As a child, I was decent at trying to get people to laugh and often trying to be funny, which I believe was to try and hide or deflect from my insecurity and desperate need for acceptance. Any negative feeling was avoided, unaddressed and lay dormant for many years until suddenly during mid-life, my shielding/protection from my unknown past and unprocessed feelings came back, and there was no way to hide from them anymore. I have also seen how by not addressing these issues, my self-sabotage and critical nature was eating away any opportunity and chance to succeed in music. I was certainly a mess which influenced many decisions, being in wrong relationships, and making many poor decisions for my life. Also, I have had perpetual blindness to my selfish nature, a mark of the immaturity of my character. Luckily, however, with true friends, my loving family, and by the grace of God, I have come out of all of this milieu a stronger and more confident human being. And with the realization of my selfish nature, I am able to better find the path of compassion, kindness and peace from my true loving nature. Although it will continually be a journey of learning, I believe I am more resilient than ever and now I am ready to live again, even during these challenging times of viruses, fear and lockdowns.
Has my perspective of the song changed since writing it?
Since the original writing of the song in 2013, the main thing that’s changed is my perspective on the substance of the longing. Before, I thought it was only my birth family I longed for, but now I realize it was an even deeper longing that I felt. And in 2019, this desire to connect was only truly met when I reconnected with the ultimate birth parent, God, when I became a follower of Jesus again.
Feedback I’ve received for Longing (Someday)
In general, I’ve only had positive feedback, but just like the varied experience of adoptees, it’s likely more complex… for many that have not searched for their birth family, the song may stir up emotions they have locked up for many years. For those who’ve found birth families, the longing can still exist, as unrealistic expectations are not met or worse. In general, I’ve only had positive feedback, however I would completely understand an aversion to Longing (Someday) for some adoptees who are completely avoidant of adoption-related topics. I have heard from those outside the adoption experience that this song reminds them of loved ones that have passed or whom they may be alienated from. I am blessed to have been able to produce the song and have many in your audience hear it. I hope the lyrics and music will touch their hearts as much as it touches mine.
Any new music relating to my adoption experience?
Longing (Someday) is the only truly adoptee-related song I’ve written. I do have a duet I co-wrote with another adoptee who is a wonderful poet and it’s called “The Other Side.” I may release it as a single in the future but it’s not yet production ready. I also had some music featured in an unreleased documentary called “My Umma” but I am not sure I will release the music for that. I do, however, have a song that will be on my debut album in November called “Disappearing” which I wrote from the perspective of a birth family hoping their adoptive child will return home, but with the passing of time, the very real prospect of a reunion diminishes. Now that I write this, this certainly sounds depressing. Hmm, maybe that’s why I have so many happy fun songs to offset and balance these songs!
I currently have a 5-song EP released, and will be releasing my 12-song debut album on 23 November 2021. If you’re interested, please check out my music, which is a mix of poppy fun, groovy and soulful tunes along with ballads like Longing (Someday).
So maybe I don’t have a specific “sign” I can give you, but instead I’ll give you a “song.” I hope you enjoy Longing (Someday).
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 Krem0076, an Korean intercountry adoptee raised in the USA.
I am an adoptee from a closed international adoption. I have paperwork but for many of us, our paperwork is often fraught with mistakes, lies and discrepancies. That is a challenge – is my information accurate? My birth name? My birthdate? My origin story if I even have one? Are any of the names in my paperwork real or accurate?
I have names for both my b-mom and b-dad and I decided in 2017 to try searching for my b-mom on Facebook. Here’s another challenge – because I am adopted from Korea and wasn’t raised reading or speaking my language, I had to figure out how to translate the English version of my b-mom’s name into Hangul and hope it was accurate. Thankfully I have a fellow Korean adoptee friend who could do that for me. I searched and found a woman who has physical features that are so similar to mine, it was like looking into a future mirror at myself around 50 years old.
The next challenge was – do I message her? And if I do, what the heck do I say? “Hi, you don’t really know me, but I may be your daughter whom you relinquished back in 1987. Did you relinquish a baby girl then? I promise I’m not crazy or going to cause trouble.” Yeah, I don’t see that going over well. Do I friend request her? How do I approach her without spooking her? What if she’s married and has other children? What if I’m a secret? What if she denies me?
This was back in 2017 when I first found my potential b-mom, and after weeks of agonising and being petrified but simultaneously excited, I sent her a message and a friend request. I waited days which turned into weeks, that turned into months and eventually, years. Nothing. I went from being excited and hopeful to being nervous and unsure. Eventually it turned into bitterness, frustration, rejection and loss all over again. In the end, I numbed myself to it and pushed it into the back of my brain and tried to forget.
Fast forward to March of 2021. I had recently fully come out of the adoption fog, started reconnecting with my Korean culture, language, foods and traditions and making more Korean adoptee friends. I decided to look her up again and see if there was anything new. From what I’ve gleamed as an outside observer, she looks to be married and has 2 adult daughters. It also looks like she runs a berry farm. I decided to message her again, this time in Hangul hoping she’d respond to that better. I’ve also updated my profile name to include my birth name in Hangul, hoping she’d see it. She never read the message and I don’t have the option to friend request her again.
I know I can go through other channels to find and contact my b-mom, but I am a mess. What if they can’t find her? What if they do and she rejects me? What if this woman is her and she rejects me? What if she’s passed away? That’s another challenge – the debilitating and paralysing onslaught of emotions that stop me from moving either way. I’m like a deer caught in the headlights.
For adoptive parents reading this, I encourage you to foster open adoptions if you can – not for your needs and wants, but for the future needs and wants of you adopted children. They will grow up knowing their origins, their medical history, their b-mom or parents. They will have a better sense of their identity. They will be able to ask questions and have them answered. There will still be trauma. There will still be tough days and emotions. But they will have a stronger foundation than I will never have. I’m 34 and drowning somedays. I struggle with being adopted and right now, quite frankly, I hate it.
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.
I was asked to speak about the lifelong impacts of identity loss. So I shared my story and some statements from fellow adoptees to highlight our experience.
I am one of these children who has not had my identity protected. Children like me, grow up. We don’t stay children forever – and we can have opinions and thoughts about the structures, processes, policy and legislations that impact us and create our lives. I am honoured to be asked to represent just one small group of us with lived experience, that the forum represents as “children from alternative care options”.
I was adopted from Vietnam during the war in 1973. The war ended in April 1975. My adoptive father flew into the country while it was still at war and flew me out as a 5 month old baby. My papers were supposed to follow but they never arrived and my adoption was not finalised.
I lived for almost 17 years in Australia without an identity. It was the family joke that I made the perfect spy because I didn’t exist. I was keenly aware of not existing and having no paperwork – it made me feel insecure, insignificant, unseen.
The practical impacts of not having any identity papers for 17 years were that I could not apply for a passport and travel outside Australia, I could not get my drivers licence, I could not apply for anything like a bank account and, more importantly, I was not followed up on since arriving in the country by any child welfare authority nor the adoption agency.
Finally when I was 16 years old, I wanted to get my drivers licence so my adoptive parents were finally propelled to take action. They went though the adoption process again, this time through the State not a private agency, and my adoption was formalised just before I turned 17 years old.
I was given a brand new Australian identity. It does not state my Vietnamese identity only recognises the country that I was born in, Vietnam.
Via this 17-year-late process of intercountry adoption, was there an official check for any of my identity documents in Vietnam? Or a check to confirm my adoptability or relinquishment? These questions remain unanswered for me. I was certainly never offered other options like having help to look for my origins in Vietnam .. I was only ever told that being adopted was THE solution so I’d be able to exist and have some sort of identity.
In my mid 20s – 30s, I spent over a decade trying to obtain my identity and adoption papers from Vietnam. Via my ICAV network, I came across an ex-policeman who had helped a few other Vietnamese adoptees. He somehow found what appears to be a Vietnamese birth certificate, and he took a blurry photo and sent it to me.
When I traveled to Vietnam in 2019, I went to the place where that document was said to be kept, only to be told the usual story – a flood or natural disaster destroyed ALL paperwork from that whole year. They have nothing for me. I visited the hospital where I was apparently born, only to be told I could not access my mother’s file without her permission – what a vicious cycle! I visited the police station precinct where the stamp on the birth certificate identifies it is held, only to be also told they wouldn’t help me. I asked for help during my visit to the central authority of Vietnam and was told to fill out a form via the website — which is in Vietnamese, which I can’t read or write in. There are so many barriers to being able to access my identity. Language is a HUGE one!
I have since done a few DNA tests and had genealogists help me, but that hasn’t been too successful either.
This struggle to find our identity, is very common for an intercountry adoptee like myself and is definitely worse for those of us who have been adopted out of a war torn or crisis filled country. In the rush to help “rescue” children like myself, processes are bypassed or sped up and vital information gets lost.
Our ICAV Community
Feeling isolated for most of my childhood, in my mid 20s I founded our international network ICAV that provides peer support to intercountry adoptees like myself who struggle just like I did. But I am only one voice amongst hundreds of thousands globally, so it’s important you hear more than just my voice!
I asked the ICAV community to share with you what their lifelong impacts of identity loss are. I’m going to share with you just 8 out of the 50 responses to highlight some of their experiences:
Many thanks to those adoptees who were willing to share!
Within our ICAV community, we could write a few books about the lifelong impacts of identity loss, many have already. There are so many more complexities that I haven’t talked about such as twins being purposively separated for adoption (not being told they’re a twin and the extra layers of impact for them of identity loss); 2nd generation adoptees (children of adoptees) and their lack of access in legislation to their inherited identity; etc. I hope my short talk helped expand your mind from the theoretical to the lived experience which speaks so loudly about the importance of identity rights for communities such as mine.
Between 24 December 2020 and 1 January 2021, a total of 6 adoptees from Europe took their own lives, a Black Week in Europe for adoptees. The number of unreported cases is definitely higher. All could not clarify their origins, their pain was too strong, and they found no other way to make the pain bearable.
It is so infinitely sad, aching and unbearable to hear about it. I have been working with adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents for 10 years now and have given lectures on the subject. I also quite happily avoid the subject of how close adoptees are to death, although I know better.
How many times in the past few years have I heard that adoptees should be glad they were saved. In the last few months a little girl made me realise how important it is to work with adoptees, foster children and the system around them. On the outside everything looks so simple. The child has new parents and “is good“.
The pain of children is not permitted by the outside world for a lifetime. The grief for their first “mother” lasts a lifetime. Children who know their new mom cannot understand their pain. My little son explained it well yesterday. These children have an “emptiness in their hearts and even though they laugh, they are always sad”.
There is still a lot of educational work to be done with traumatised adoptees and foster children. Prevention work and post adoption services are the most important features for me!
If I had one wish, I would wish that every adoptee could clarify their origins and that no obstacles were put in their way. The adoption papers would be complete and the adoptive parents would always offer support in everything.
I am so infinitely sad that these 6 found no other way out and I just hope so much that adoptees, adoptive parents or other people close to adoptees, seek help and support at an early stage.
We adoptees can uphold this issue within our groups. The “dearest” in life was taken from us and anyone who does not understand how we miss our first mother, need a little more understanding of the desire of those who have been adopted.
We cannot prevent the adoptees from making their decisions. They planned it. It was their own decision, with the hope that their situation would be tolerable.
I know a German adoptee who took his own life at Christmas a few years ago. We were told that he died and no matter where it was told, everyone his age knew he had committed suicide. Everyone knew about his situation but no one could help because they didn’t know how.
I am so proud of the members in my groups. We exchange ideas, learn to talk about their own adoption, and support one another. In the last months of 2020, I felt a really nice togetherness in the group. Sensitive and careful! The online meetings went the same way. I would like to keep and maintain that.
Dear fellow adoptees, you are strong and brave people. I’m looking forward to the next meeting that we can spend together.
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.