25 Years in the Netherlands

by Jowan Kooijman, adopted from South Korea to the Netherlands. Jowan’s website provides other poems and writings about being adopted.

Jowan

A day with double feelings of loss and loneliness

25 years in the Netherlands

Korea vs Netherlands
Twenty-five years ago I came into this world nine weeks early.
I have take a long time to grow up.
I had to survive, so I could live and breathe.
It was the cocoon that was nice, but it was broken early.
It’s my base that was disturbed early on and what couldn’t be.
Twenty-five years ago I got a new home, but there I never felt at home.
It was my identity that I no longer knew.
Suddenly I was a Dutchman and my name was no longer Joon-Hwan, but Jowan.
It was nurture that replaced nature and everything I didn’t know, I had to learn.

The Change (Adjusting)
The relocation that happened in the past has systematically changed a lot.
Even now, years later, that is still tangible but especially visible.
It’s my younger me who struggled to assimilate because I had to leave my place early and struggle to take my place.
Because if you adjust, you lose things.
Losing something says something about distance and adaptation, that it isn’t always safe. Loss is about letting go of what you love and who you love.

Twenty-five
Twenty-five years ago just before Christmas, I came to the Netherlands.
Embraced with love and received as a valuable gift.
Now twenty-five years later I can grant myself life because I also know the other side and it hasn’t always been easy.
Hard work and discipline were the fundamental principles of moving forward.
I’ve also learned to value the little things, because the little things can make a big difference.

A Vigil for Christian Hall, 1 Year On

On 30 December 2021, 7-9pm CST we gathered in social media application, Clubhouse to participate in an online vigil, created and led by Vietnamese adoptee Adam Chau. The event was organised in conjunction with Christian Hall’s family who created the physical in-person vigils at various cities around the USA. The purpose of the vigils was to honour Christian’s life, raise awareness about and bring the impacted communities together in solidarity to seek Justice for Christian Hall. You can read their latest articles here and here.

A number of adoptee guests were invited to share our thoughts for the online vigil: Kev Minh Allen (Vietnamese American adoptee), Lynelle Long (Vietnamese Australian adoptee), Kayla Zheng (Chinese American adoptee), Lee Herrick (Korean American adoptee).

I share with you what I spoke about in honour of Christian Hall.

My name is Lynelle Long, I’m the founder of Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV). I’d like to thank you Adam Chau for organising this online event today in honour of Christian. Thankyou Nicole, Christian’s cousin who is on our call, for allowing us to join in with this vigil. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss! It’s a privilege to be able to speak. I am a person with lived experience of intercountry adoption and like Christian Hall, I am of Chinese descent … except I was born in Vietnam and adopted to Australia, whereas he was born in China and adopted to the USA.

The common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced abandonment as an infant. No matter what age we are, for an adoptee, loss of our first family as abandonment/relinquishment is a raw and painfully traumatic experience. It stays with us throughout life in the form of bodily sensations and gets easily triggered. When this happens, these sensations flood our body as fear, panic, anxiety.

Worse still is that when our abandonment occurs as an infant, we have not developed a language as a way to understand our experience. We are simply left with pre-verbal feelings (bodily sensations). It took me over 20 years until I read the first book, The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier which changed my life in terms of coming to understand how abandonment and adoption had impacted me. That book was the first to help give words to the experience I felt up until then, as an entirely somatic experience, as uncomfortable sensations in my body, that I hadn’t understood, which I’d spent my life running away from every time they re-emerged.

The other common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced suicidal ideation and attempts. For him, it tragically meant the end of his life by police officers who did not understand his traumas. For me, after numerous failed attempts and ending up in ER, it meant a long process of awakening to the trauma I had lived. 20+ years later, I have spent most of this time helping to awaken our society to what adoption is really about for us, the adopted person.

Being adopted never leaves us. We might try to escape and pretend that it has no impact but deep down to our core, our abandonment wires almost every aspect of our being – most importantly, how we connect or not to others around us and to ourselves. At its core, intercountry adoptees experience loss of identity, race and culture. Unless we have supports around us that understand and help us to overcome the trauma of abandonment early on, we stumble in the dark, completely unaware of how our abandonment impacts us. Many adoptees call it “being in the fog” until we become awakened. Today, decades after Nancy Verrier first wrote her amazing book, we now have many, many books written by adoptees who are THE experts of our own lived experience. These books are a written testament to the complexities we live through adoption and how this impact us.

In the past 2 months, I have worked with others to speak out about the impacts of abandonment and adoption trauma and the direct connection to risk of suicide. I acknowledge that Christian’s family do not relate his tragic death to suicide, but I suspect his feelings of abandonment were triggered as key events led to him being on the bridge that day. I hope that more adoptive families will educate themselves about the complexities we live as people who get disconnected from our origins via intercountry adoption. There are almost 2 million of us worldwide and we are speaking out en-masse to help the world understand it is not a rainbows and unicorns experience. We require lifelong supports from professionals who are trauma and adoption trained. In America alone, there are hundreds of thousands of intercountry adoptees – America remains the biggest receiving country in the world. Too many are struggling emotionally every day, yet in the USA, there is still no free national counselling service for intercountry adoptees and their families. There is also NO national post adoption support centre in the USA funded to help intercountry adoptees grow into adulthood and beyond. Isn’t it a huge shortcoming that the largest importer of children in the world has no lifelong supports fully funded, equitable, freely accessible – how can America expect positive outcomes for children who are amongst the most vulnerable if we don’t fund what we know they need?

I never knew Christian personally. I only discovered him through his death. I wish I had known him. From the many intercountry adoptees I connect to, I know we gain so much emotionally from being connected to others just like us. Being connected to our peers helps reduce those feelings of isolation, helps us understand we aren’t the only ones to experience life this way, helps connect us to sources of support and validation that we know has worked. I wish Christian had met our community. I’ll never know if it would have made the difference so that he wasn’t there that day on that bridge. As an adoptee, I suspect Christian most likely wanted help that day, help to ease his hurting soul, not death. 

Also, let’s take a moment to remember his biological family in China. Whether they ever truly had a choice in his relinquishment, we’ll probably never know but from my knowledge in this field, it’s most likely not. Christian’s adoption was likely the result of the 1-Child Policy era in China where thousands of families were forced to relinquish their children, many of them ending up intercountry adopted like Christian. Please take a moment to consider that through adoption, his biological family don’t even have the right to know that he has passed away. 

The travesty in adoption is that trauma is experienced by all in the triad (the adoptee, the adoptive family, the biological family) yet the traumas continue to go largely unrecognised and unsupported in both our adoptive and birth countries. We must do better to prevent the unnecessary separation of families, and where adoption is needed, ensure that families undertake adoption education, learning about its complexities in full and having free equitable access for life to the professional supports needed.

My huge thanks to his extended and immediate family for being brave and opening themselves up thru all this trauma and allow these vigils where his life and death can be honoured for the greater good. I honour the pain and loss they’ve lived and thank them immensely for allowing our intercountry adoptee community to join in with them in support.

Thank you.

If you would like to support Christian’s family and their push for justice, please sign the petition here.

If you would like to better understand the complexities involved in intercountry adoption as experienced by adoptees, our Video Resource is a great place to start. Wouldn’t it be amazing to create a resource like this to help educate first responders to better understand the mental health crises that adoptees experience.

Adoption: Not a Default Setting

by Mary Cardaras, adopted from Greece to the USA.

The legal right to an abortion in the United States tilts once again precariously on the precipice toward the great dark abyss. And once again, because these debates intersect and often are paired, adoption is back to the point of a rolling boil in social media circles, in newspapers and on television. This is because U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, mother of seven, two of whom are adopted from Haiti, sashayed her way into the question of adoption while hearing a case from Mississippi about abortion. She asked whether “adoption rather than abortion would ‘relieve the burden of parenting.’” In this question she seems to have fully revealed her hand. She has also managed to stir great passions among the adoptee community, far and wide, about adoption itself and our regard for it.

Abortion is a legal option for women and should remain so. But adoption is not a default setting to abortion. Neither should it be regarded as an automatic, fail-safe, fix-all alternative to any question about how to assume responsibility for a child. We need to permanently adjust what ails the practice and narrative of adoption, which happens to be a lot.

The reality is adoption has actually harmed millions of children over decades because children have been treated as commodities and experiments. We infantilized birth parents. We’ve villainized them in some cases. And we’ve decided that the white establishment, who work in and manage the lives of children in organizations and institutional settings all over the world, affecting numerous ethnic, racial and indigenous communities, know better. They don’t.

We know; we, the great, vast diaspora of adoptees, me included, know that the lives of children and their futures are still being compromised and mishandled without a thought for both the child and the birth mother. The mother is often rendered “incapable.” The children lack agency. And as for those who believe that adoption is always a selfless gesture, a love-induced solution to a problem, they have no clear understanding about the repercussions and consequences of the decision to give up a baby. Thank you to writer Gabrielle Glaser and her groundbreaking book, American Baby, for bringing the nefarious side of adoption, through one gut wrenching story, from the darkness and shame, to the light of day. That book and that author have changed the conversation and we need to keep talking. 

“Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today.” This iconic quote by Ernest Hemingway from For Whom the Bell Tolls cuts me to the quick as I consider my own teenage birth mother at the very moment, at that very second when she made the decision that would forever alter her young life and mine. With hand to pen and paper, she signed me away, whether by encouragement or force or emotional surrender and sheer exhaustion, she never was given the chance nor any honest and open conversation about her choice and what the unintended consequences of her decision might be.

Adoptees have, over and over, heard both the “you had a good life” argument and the cheery “you were so lucky” rote sentiment. Both of these may be true for many of us, but they have nothing, whatsoever, to do with a mother who makes the profound and painful decision to hand over her flesh and blood to strangers. And they have nothing to do with an adopted child who grows to be an adopted adult and feels in varying degrees, for different reasons, and at different times, severed from their past, however brief it may have been, and about which they deserve to know fully. Who we come from and why is vitally important and necessary for our growth, development, and psychological well-being in the long term.

I was one of 4,000 Greek-born adoptees who were exported from our country of origin between 1948 and 1970. Some of us were politically-motivated adoptions. Some were legal adoptions. Many were done by proxy. Some of us were stolen babies. Some of us were sold and commodified by doctors and lawyers and priests who acted as intermediaries. Some were separated from siblings. Some of us were ripped from twins and identical twins. All of us were taken from our mothers. Some of us were taken from both parents.

No one ever thought about us, until now; about what happened to us, why it happened to us, and what we feel and think about it. Thank you to Gonda Van Steen and her book Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece: Kid pro Quo? for bringing us out of the shadows. This book is creating ripples that will turn into waves for change in Greece and maybe for all international adoptions. 

Compared to adoptee communities from China, South Korea, Viet Nam, Guatemala, and other countries around the world, we were among the first (likely even the very first) and oldest ethnic communities that provided children, en masse, to childless couples; to Jews after the war, who could not find Jewish children after the Holocaust, to Greeks who wanted Greek babies and to non-Greeks, who knew that there was a glut of children in Greece, after two wars, for the taking.

We are a small group, but now a mighty group that is aging and becoming more vocal and mobilized about what happened to us. In most of our cases, our adoptive parents have died. And now time is running out for us; for reunions, to meet birth parents and family who remembered us, who loved us, who missed us, who remembered what happened, and can recount our stories. We seek restorative justice in all matters of identity, which means easy and open access to our birth certificates, all our records, our personal histories, and we want our citizenship, in our case, to Greece, restored because it was stripped from us.

We were stripped, too, from our mothers, from their embrace after emerging from the very well of their beings, underneath their hearts, completely dependent on them for life itself. And in an act of cruelty, we were quite literally stripped from their breasts, often immediately after birth, which were filled with the warm, sweet milk that was individually meant and created for each of us. We were weaned too soon. Should we have been weaned at all? And if so, how so?

After weeks of speaking publicly about adoption, and on television and in print interviews, writing about it, too, in Greece, I got to thinking about CJ, my beautiful, loving, and troubled golden retriever. I “get” her. I understand her to my core. She is one of my best friends and a constant companion. She was and is emotional, she was difficult to understand, and it was a struggle to raise up my puppy into the calmer and more peaceful adult dog she is today.

I chose her from a litter of nine. When I met her, she was tiny, adorable, and pudgy, the way golden babies tend to be. A ball of fur, just weeks old, she tumbled around on stubby, tiny legs, fighting like her brothers and sisters to get to Mama’s nipples. They needed their mother. They needed her for sustenance. They needed her to teach them right from wrong as she carried them around by the scruff of the neck, a low-pitched rumbling growl when they got out of line, a snap at them to pipe down when there was too much whining and yelping and crying. She was there for them until she wasn’t anymore, taken from her pups after just five weeks.

CJ was weaned too soon and it took months to get her right. She was incorrigible. Difficult. Obstinate. Ask anyone who tried to work with her. When was this puppy weaned, one of the best trainers in northern California asked me? At five weeks, I answered. Way, way too soon he said, shaking his head. It was no wonder she struggled. Our previous golden, Sedona, was weaned after three months. What a difference in disposition and confidence!

Further, it occurs to me how we treat puppies. For those who adopt purebred dogs, we get their papers. We know who their mother and father are. We know their dispositions and whether they were “champions.” We know the kennel they came from and the condition of the kennel. We know the breeder. In fact, there is a long interview and discussion with them. They interview you about the home and then there’s a questionnaire about whether you will be suitable. For a dog. The same is true for those animals that come from shelters. There is a lengthy process and sometimes the dog comes to “test” the home and other animals they may be cohabitating with. If it doesn’t work, there is no placement. The point is there is an awful lot of consideration for the animal.

Don’t you see that we handle the separation of animals from their mothers better than we do with human babies and their human mothers?  Infants tend to be immediately ferreted off from the person who created them, from the person who carried them, nourished them before they even laid eyes on them, held them? How cruel it is to take a tiny human being from the mother who could feed and tenderly cuddle their offspring until and unless there is an informed uncoerced solution, that comes from the mother herself, who may realize she has to do something else. And then to prepare for it, to prepare the baby for it and to counsel that child as it grows about where they came from, how they came to be, and why they were placed with new parents. And wouldn’t it be great if birth parents were fully involved in that process in order to give the child the best chance at life and at growing to understand why their life was altered? This needn’t be confusing and we must take more time than we do to solve the problem, stigma, and often heartbreak caused by adoption.

I have explained, over and over again, that my adoptive family (which was wonderful by the way) and my birth family are not mutually exclusive. They are separate, but the continuum of one to another has comprised my identity, which is still not fully formed, and I am in my 60’s. Will I ever know? Further, I just learned that my birth mother died last year after I searched for her my whole life, wanting a reunion of some kind, mostly just to talk, to get answers, to see for the first time who I came from, and to finally know someone who looks like me. My sadness about that is real and cannot be overstated.

She, my birth mother deserves my attention and care, even though she can’t see me or hear me. Never will. Why? Because in her name I have to advocate for those other mothers who will come after her. Abortion couldn’t have been an option for her. Adoption was her only alternative and since it was, she needed care. She needed love. She needed support and a place for she and her baby to figure it out. In the end, she may have made the same decision, but her decision could have involved the strangers her baby was going to. She did not deserve to be shooed away from her offspring at a critical time when her offspring needed her most and in every way.

In the case of my mother, she was shamed to the point of changing her name and her identity. And when I was born, no one could stomach dealing with a teenage mother and her child who was “exogamo,” born outside of marriage. She wouldn’t be able to handle it, they told her, and so the state would, except that it didn’t.

The answer for so many adoptions, like mine, was to marginalize the birth mother for life, and to ship the children off; stripped of their culture, their language, their religion, their identities, and in thousands of cases, their race. This happened to millions of us. And birth mothers and their children, are not necessarily better off for it.

When it comes to adoption, social workers and lawyers and doctors and those who run agencies that care for mothers and children need to take direction from those who have lived the experience and have managed the consequences. It is not fair that pronouncements about adoption come from on high and down to us, the great unwashed. We’ve had enough of those “well meaning” people who want to make decisions for us because it makes them feel better about “solving a problem,” which they know absolutely nothing about. Adoption still carries a stigma. We need to both adjust the narrative around adoption and speak about the people who are, differently.  

Why?

Because that day will be just one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come depends on what we do on that one day. The lives of so many mothers and their children deserve the wisdom of that sentiment and the respect of a fighting chance to make decisions that do no harm.

Mary Cardaras is a documentary film producer, a writer and an Associate Professor in Communication at California State University, East Bay. She is a proud Greek, an adoptee and adoptee advocate fighting for universal restorative identity justice for all adoptees around the world and for those children born through anonymous sperm donation. She is the author of Ripped at the Root. Her forthcoming book, Voices of the Lost Children of Greece: Oral Histories of International Adoption, 1948-1964 will be published by Anthem Press in 2022.   

A Journey in Re-defining My Identity

by Maya Fleischmann, a transracial adoptee born in Hong Kong, adopted into a Jewish Russian adoptive family. Author of the fictional book Finding Ching Ha, A Novel.

“The more you know yourself, the more clarity there is. Self-knowledge has no end – you don’t come to an achievement, you don’t come to a conclusion. It is an endless river.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

The journey of self-discovery

This quest to discover who we really are is the stuff that novels and movies are made of. Though our self-perception transforms with time, events, social, and physical settings that alter our connectedness with different people, groups, and places, the foundation upon which we build our identity remains the same (although the perception of historical events can change). As an intercultural adoptee, my unknown beginnings have been an unstable bedrock in the explorations of my identity.

Who am I? In 1972, I was adopted by a Russian Jewish expat couple living in Hong Kong. I was three, or maybe four years old (my adoptive parents had told me both ages, so I am going by my fake birth certificate that was issued four years after my date of birth, also listed on the same certificate). I was raised in a household that observed Jewish traditions as well as Chinese and Russian holidays, such as Chinese New Year, and Russian Easter and Christmas. We also celebrated holidays, such as Boxing Day and the Queen’s birthday, that were observed by my British school and the-then-British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. Memories of my years before four are a blur of nightmares and dreams, memories and fantasies. I am not sure which is which anymore, which is why I wrote Finding Ching Ha, my novel about a Chinese girl who is adopted by a Russian Jewish couple, as fiction. 

Where am I from?

I remember asking my parents this question once, maybe twice, in their lifetime. I remember the way they looked at me, eyes large, teeth digging into lips, fingers fidgeting with imaginary dirt under nails, and them looking away. It conjured an awkwardness and angst, as though I had caught them having sex, that I didn’t broach the topic of my Chinese ancestry with them again. I didn’t ask, and they never did tell me, what, or if, they knew of my past. 

Although my multi-cultural background was a conversation starter for as long as I can remember; my lack of foundation, and my insecurities about my unknown origins, made it difficult for me to respond to the questions and comments that I encountered. I was always flummoxed by perceptions and judgements people made that negated my beginnings, my history, my life. “Oh, you’re not Jewish if you haven’t been bat mitzvahed.” “You’re not really Chinese if you don’t speak Chinese.” “Your adoptive parents’ Russian history isn’t your heritage, because they’re not your real parents.” “Aren’t you a lucky little girl to have been adopted?” “Who knows what your background is?” And each remark about my identity was made as nonchalantly to me as if they were recommending a menu item, “Oh, don’t order the soup. You won’t like it.”

Growing up with all these pronouncements made me wonder about my identity – or lack thereof. If I wasn’t entitled to my Chinese heritage because I had been adopted out of it, and I wasn’t entitled to partake in any ownership of my parents’ history because I wasn’t born into it, then who exactly was I? Where did I belong? Even the British (albeit Hong Kong British) identity I embraced the most as a child, disappeared in 1997 during the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China. 

At an early age, the answer was for me to disown my Chinese background. More and more I noticed my Chinese face in the synagogue, and social circles filled with Westerners, or at the parties where everyone who looked like me was serving food or washing dishes. And, with this awareness, came annoyance and shame about being Chinese, not fitting into the country of my birth, nor into the home of my new family. Even as an adult, I shied away from organizations that were based on my ethnicity, lest I be asked, “how can you be born and raised in Hong Kong, be Chinese, and not speak Cantonese?” Instead, I joined groups and made friends based on common interests like reading, writing, or parenthood. 

As the base of experience in life grew, I became more comfortable in my sense of self, as well as the subject of my missing self. With Finding Ching Ha, I struggled to convey how Ching Ha assimilated into the different cultures of her new life. Writing this made me realize that my own childhood shame and self doubt, the triggers to unidentifiable emotions, and my angst in eking out an identity in the mosaic of cultures, were real and challenging. Writing the novel helped me make sense of my own emotions growing up and come to terms with some of these complexities. 

Who am I today?

I’m in my fifties now. The sense of being ungrounded has faded. I have created a family history with my own husband and children. My feng-shui’d household is infused with traditions and stories from Russian and Chinese cultures, the Jewish traditions, and a sprinkle of Buddhist and Stoic insights for good measure. Still, in a culture filled with contentious conversations about race, where boundaries are so clearly defined, even when there are many people of mixed race, I find myself still wondering about my past — especially when I fill out medical forms inquiring about family history. So, a week ago, I decided to take a DNA test. Perhaps I can learn about my genetic makeup, and glean insight into current and future medical conditions, or get confirmation that I am 100% Chinese. Ultimately, my deep desire is to find someone, or something, that will quell the dream and voice that wonders if there is someone looking for me.

If in two weeks the DNA results reveal nothing new, I won’t be too disappointed because I have found familiarity in the unanswered questions. Though there will be no one to tell me the tale of my origins, my journey of self discovery will continue, for I am the writer for the rest of my story. 

Since the writing of this article, Maya has received her DNA results. Click here to read her blog post and find out what she discovered: https://findingchingha.com/blog/finding-family/

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Maya Fleischmann is a freelance writer and the author of Finding Ching Ha and If You Give a Mum a Minute. Her book reviews are published in book industry trade journals, such as Foreword Magazine, Publishers Weekly, BookPage, and Audiofile Magazine. Her stories and articles have appeared in travel and cultural magazines and books, to include Peril and Chicken Soup for the Working Mom’s Soul. You can find out more about Maya at mayafleischmann.com and findingchingha.com. Finding Ching Ha: A Novel, is available in paperback and ebook on Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and Kobo and other leading bookstores.

To Know Your Origins is a Privilege!

To know your parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and grandparents …

To know your medical history; whether your mother died of cancer, your father suffered heart problems, whether your grandmother had diabetes …

To know who you look like, where your traits come from, whether your face in the mirror is a reflection of someone else ..

To know your birth story, date, time, season of the year, what hospital you were born in …

To know your country of birth, culture, heritage, language, customs, religion …

To be surrounded by people who look like you racially …

To know your origins is a privilege!

These are the things I don’t take for granted because I didn’t have any of these whilst growing up. I was born in one country, adopted to another, by a family of different race. I’m a transracial intercountry adoptee. I’ve spent a huge portion of my life wondering, searching, trying to learn about my origins.

In my community of intercountry adoptees – to know your origins is definitely a privilege!

Lifelong Impacts of Identity Loss

On 1 July, I was asked to speak as part of a webinar panel for the Transforming Children’s Care Webinar Series #4: Child’s Right to Identity in Alternative Care. We had an amazing panel of experts, moderated by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, President of Child Identity Protection (CHIP), and hosted by the Better Care Network in partnership with CHIP.

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.

My Story

 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.

You can watch the complete webinar here.

Dualities

by Dilsah de Rham adopted from Sri Lanka to Switzerland.

Dual Face

Ink, Watercolours, Pastel

This is also about the dilemma of the dualities in life faced by adoptees in general. The feeling of the blind unconsciousness – the sad, overwhelmed feelings when we are not aware, the awareness about our identity, feeling in-between the white and biological cultures we belong to as intercountry adoptees.

#artworkfeatures
#adopteeartist
#artist
#artforsalebyartist
#artworkstudio
#indigenousartist
#ink#pastel#watercolour
#duality#face
#paintingprocess
#paintinganddecorating
#paint
#emotion#cry#eye#close
#painting
#queerart
#dilsahthesolution

In Memory of Seid Visin

By Mark Hagland, South Korean intercountry adoptee raised in the USA, co-founder of Transracial Adoption Perspectives (a group for adoptive parents to learn from lived experience), and author of Extraordinary Journey: The Lifelong Path of the Transracial Adoptee

What We’re Learning

In the past few days, since the news broke on June 4 that 20-year-old Seid Visin had ended his life through suicide, the Italian and European press have published articles and broadcast segments on his death, with a fair amount of disbelief and confusion involved. There are a number of reasons for the confusion, some of them journalistic—questions over the statement he had apparently made a couple of years ago to his therapist, versus what might have been going on in his life most recently—but most of all, because of statements made by his parents Walter and Maddalena.

Walter and Maddalena adopted Seid at the age of seven; he grew up in their home in Nocera Inferiore, a suburb of Naples. I can understand that they are deeply confused by what’s happened; but it’s also clear to me that, despite their good intentions, that they have no understanding whatsoever of his distress over the racism that he continued to experience. I’ve just viewed an interview with an Italian broadcast program called “Approfondimento Focus,” in which they kept reiterating how happy he was, how his recent psychological issues were related to the COVID lockdown, which they blamed for his recent depression, and how he had no interest whatsoever in his Ethiopian background. They also repeatedly denied that racism had anything to do with their son’s emotional distress.

That last set of statements on the part of Seid’s parents really struck me in a number of different ways, particularly given the excerpts of the text of that letter to his therapist of (apparently) a couple of years ago, that have been released. Per that, Corriere della Sera obtained a letter that Seid Visin wrote to his therapist two years ago, and Rolling Stone Italia has published it. In it, Seid wrote that, “Wherever I go, wherever I am, I feel the weight of people’s skeptical, prejudiced, disgusted and frightened looks on my shoulders like a boulder.” He wrote that he was ashamed “to be black, as if I was afraid of being mistaken for an immigrant, as if I had to prove to people, who didn’t know me, that I was like them, that I was Italian, white.” This feeling led him to make “jokes in bad taste about blacks and immigrants (…) as if to emphasize that I was not one of them. But it was fear. The fear of the hatred I saw in people’s eyes towards immigrants.”

As a sports journalist wrote in Le Parisien, “His death caused great emotion in Italy. In 2019, the young man pointed out the racism he was subjected to, writing a post on social media in which he expressed his discomfort. ‘A few months ago, I managed to find a job, which I had to quit because too many people, mostly older people, refused to be served by me,’ he said. They also accused me of the fact that many young Italians could not find work. The adoptive parents of the victim, however, wanted to provide details. ‘Seid’s gesture does not stem from episodes of racism,’ they told the Italian press.”

Here is the text of the letter; its exact date is not certain, and there is confusion as to when it was written—either very recently, or about two years ago—but in any case, here it is:

“I am not an immigrant, but I was adopted as a child. I remember that everyone loved me. Wherever I went, everyone addressed me with joy, respect and curiosity. Now, that atmosphere of idyllic peace seems very far away. It seems mystically. everything was reversed. Now, wherever I go, I feel the weight of skeptical, disgusted and scared looks on my shoulders. I had managed to find a job that I had to leave because too many people, especially the elderly, refused to be cared for by me. And as if it were not enough for me, they accused me of being responsible for many young Italians (white) not finding work. After this experience, something changed within me. As if I was ashamed to be black, as if I was afraid that someone would mistake me for an immigrant. As if he had to prove to people he did not know that he was like them, that he was Italian.

I have even made distasteful jokes about blacks and immigrants, as if to emphasize that I was not one of them. The only thing that explained my behavior was fear. The fear of hatred he saw in people’s eyes towards immigrants. The fear of contempt that I felt at the mouth of people, even my relatives, who wistfully invoked Mussolini and ‘Captain Salvini’. I don’t want to beg for compassion or pity. I just want to remind myself of the discomfort and suffering that I am experiencing. I am a drop of water next to the ocean of suffering that is living who prefers to die to continue living in misery and hell. Those people who risk their lives, and those who have already lost it, just to snoop around, to savor what we simply call ‘life.’”

A couple of very important notes here. First, it is quite significant that Seid explicitly references not on Mussolini, but also Matteo Salvini, the former Deputy Prime Minister, and still current Senator in the Italian Parliament, who is Secretary of the Lega Nord, or Northern League, which is a right-wing racist, xenophobic political party, whose supporters are pretty much the equivalent of the supporters of Donald Trump in the United States. There has been a massive surge in the expression of overt racism and xenophobia in Italy in the past decade and a half, and the racist xenophobia has exploded in the last several years, particularly as many thousands of Black Africans have entered Italy as refugees from war, conflict, and poverty in Africa. Second, in the letter above, he made it extremely clear that he was deeply distressed by the racism he had been experiencing.

Interestingly, his mother Maddalena, in that interview broadcast on the “Approfondimento Focus” program, kept emphasizing that Seid had recently been depressed because of the isolation imposed on him and others during the lockdown this spring. Obviously, there is rarely simply one single cause for suicidality. Seid could certainly have been depressed during the nationwide lockdown in Italy this spring. But that absolutely does not negate his extreme distress over his lived experience of racism.

Reflecting on all this, I see a tragically classic situation for a young adult transracial, intercountry adoptee, a young person who was racially and socially isolated, who was experiencing ongoing racism, and whose parents, from what we can tell, were in denial about the racism he was experiencing and the distress he was experiencing because of it.

Another tragic loss of yet another transracial intercountry adoptee life.

I’m sharing a post from La Repubblica, with a link to a selfie-video (which has since been taken down so I post this one instead) in which Seid is enjoying dancing.

May the memory of Seid and his life be a blessing.

Related Resources

ICAVs Memorial Page

Read Mark Hagland’s contribution to ICAVs other post: Can we Ignore or Deny that Racism Exists for Adoptees of Colour?

We Need to Talk about Adoptee Suicide, Now

From Tokenism to Social Justice

by Marie Gardom, adopted from Malaysia to the UK.

It’s become increasingly clear to me that not only is diversity alone not working but in fact it’s a tactic being used to immunise organisations against the charge of racism or marginalisation.  Here in the UK, the Conservative politicians who lead the most anti-immigration policies are people of colour.  They don’t represent the groups from which they came from instead they snuggle up to power by reciting the tired old Tory tropes, perhaps pining to belong to the in-group they’ve always been outside of, and always will be because they chose an intolerant in-group. 

We see this time and time again, a single minority group is represented and held up to be an example of why there isn’t racism/ablism/sexism etc.  Conveniently they proselytise the voice of the status quo with  passion and heady conviction.  When the dominant group is accused of inequity they wheel out one or two of the said minority group as a way of denying the charge and go back to making decisions to the disadvantage of minorities.
Over the decades an increasing awareness and demand for representation has led organisations, Hollywood and governments to create an illusion of diversity without inclusion, without meaningfully addressing power dynamics of majority groups and social hierarchies so power remains firmly in the same hands.  We’re often represented as a homogenous group if there’s one person of colour, or a gay white man, a box may have been ticked but meaningful representation hasn’t been achieved.

I see this in how we as adoptees are working as advocates.  There’s an awareness in society but a lack of comfort with the idea that adoptees are the experts.  As such there’s a performance of inclusion, adoptees are often at the forefront of adoption promo campaigns if they espouse how beautiful it is.  Even if they talk to the complexity of our experiences they remain comforting voices to those who see adoption as doing good and the only way to resolve family crisis in which a child needs support.

I’ve noticed that I’m rarely invited to give my opinion in policy or best practice within organisations who could reform it.  And when I am, the comfort of the majority group has been significantly favoured. Representation doesn’t give us power if we’re outnumbered, on someone else’s territory and way down the hierarchy.  I believe this to be largely unconscious, but always leveraged.  Those in the majority rarely have to consider the factors that create equity of power or more regularly inequity.  

Adoptees have very little representation across the world. In the UK alone, there’s not a single adoptee led group, which covers the wide range of experiences of adoptees here.  Instead  we’re disparate unfunded mutual aid groups trying to help each other and ourselves however we can.   I’ve observed the frequent ways in which many adoptees burn out from advocating.  Having been invited to conferences and policy events many have disappeared from view because of the traumatic nature of those events.  They’re traumatic because as a minority our voices are discounted, denied, argued with and often aggressively silenced.  This group is largely there at those tables because we’re so vulnerable, and so in need of change, our community has high levels of suicide, depression, addiction and more. 

If I’m going to continue my work as an advocate I need to set myself and fellow adoptees up for success in these spaces where we can find ourselves enduring dangerous levels of stress. So I think it’s important to name the power dynamics in play so that we can ensure we can address those problems in how we set up our boundaries, and have the language to name issues when they occur.  So I’ve created a simple infographic  which names the power dynamics and offers solutions for those genuinely interested in social justice.

See Marie’s other recent post in ICAV: From Charity to Justice

Coping with Loss from Adoption Suicide

by Lina Vanegas adopted from Colombia to the USA, MSW.

Artwork by Adriana Alvarez

I have lost two people in my life to suicide, the father of my children who was also my ex-husband and my mom. The father of my children was adopted and my mom was impacted by adoption because she lost me to adoption. Both of them sadly fit the statistics. Adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide. I would argue that moms (first mothers, original mothers, natural moms) also have high suicide attempt rates.

I am a transracial and intercountry adoptee who was adopted from Bogota, Colombia and have lived the majority of my life in Michigan in the United States. Suicide loss is a death like no other. It is not like a car accident, heart attack, or cancer where there is a clear explanation of how someone died. People who die by suicide are struggling immensely. There is no closure with this death. Suicide is also highly stigmatised, people do not want to talk about it, and many judge the death. Suicide loss for us as adoptees is further compounded and amplified with all of the loss and grief that we have already experienced and it can trigger many of the issues we suffer with related to adoption. 

If you are reading this and have lost someone to suicide, I want you to know that you are not alone and that I am so sorry you are experiencing this horrendously painful loss. I also want you to know that it is not your fault. There is nothing you could have done or should have done. The person who died was in so much pain. You may also be reading this and have been shocked by the person’s death because you had no idea that they were suffering and maybe they seemed happy and like everything was okay. It is still not your fault. Please do not blame yourself or hold onto any guilt. It is extremely painful to know or learn that our loved one was suffering so much.

One thing that I have learned is that some days are harder than others. It  has helped me to know that I can break up my days and I can take it moment to moment, minute to minute or hour to hour or one day at a time as the famous Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) slogan says. The first year for me was a complete blur. It seemed to drag on forever and I was in a hurry to put it all behind me because it was so painful and difficult. Honestly, I cannot remember much because I was in so much shock. Please be patient, kind and gentle with yourself if you have experienced a suicide loss. Suicide loss is such a painful and life changing loss. The first year of loss was really hard because everything becomes a first without them. 

Some of the hardest days for me are, the person’s birthday, anniversary of their death and the holidays. I have learned to sit with my emotions and feel them. I give myself permission to cry and mourn if that is what needs to happen.  If something was too hard, then I created a new tradition or decided not to do it. Then there are times where I just break down because something triggered me and I am back to feeling my grief. Grief is a journey, it ebbs and it flows. It is not linear and there is no expiration date. Please do not let anyone tell you differently or push you to get over it or heal in a certain amount of time. We all grieve differently and grief is not a one size fits all thing experience. 

Artwork by Nicholas Down

It has been a real journey for me to figure out ways to cope and begin to heal. Suicide loss has really changed the way that I have looked at life. I now see that life is short and fleeting and that each day is not promised. I have chosen to use the loss of my mother as momentum to help me live my life in honor of her. I strive to turn my pain into purpose, a path, and power. There have been many ways that I have found to help me cope which I want to share with you.

For me, sitting with my feelings and truly feeling them has been so helpful. Crying, bawling and literally losing my breath sobbing and having that deep soul cry have helped my grieve and mourn.  Therapy has also been instrumental for me. It is really helpful to have a safe and non judgemental space that is just for me.  It is important to find a therapist who works solely with trauma and ideally someone who is adoption competent. Many therapists honestly have not studied adoption so it is hard for them to truly understand us.

I am an avid reader and for me reading and researching gave me answers and helped me gain understanding.  I threw myself into reading and researching suicide. For me it was important to understand suicide so that I could make sense of things. I read a lot from other suicide loss survivors which was really essential because I could relate to what they were saying and I could learn how they coped and healed. The other group that was really important to read and listen to was, suicide attempt survivors. It helped me to be able to gain a deeper understanding of suicide and mental health struggles. It also gave me insight into how I can help people who are suffering from suicidal ideations.

 I joined a grief support group and a suicide survivor loss support group.  Both of these groups allowed me to connect with other people who were experiencing the same things as me and I did not need to explain myself.  I made friends, I cried, I laughed but most of all I realized that I was not alone and I felt seen, heard and validated. I also attend an adoption group which has been helpful because many adoptees are also dealing with suicide loss. It has been helpful to talk with other adoptees about suicide loss. You can look for a group online and accessibility should be easier now that most groups are being done virtually. 

Attending events such as walks that raise money for suicide prevention or attending International Suicide Survivor Loss Day which is in November have also very helpful.  Again, I was able to realise that I am not not alone and I felt like part of a bigger piece. It is inspiring to see money being raised to help prevent suicide, fund research, and also cathartic. 

Movement such as running, biking, walking, and yoga have also helped me cope because they are an outlet where I can release and channel my emotions. Meditation has been great because it has allowed me to slow down and be present in my body. Journaling and writing have been my creative outlet for processing and coping with suicide loss. Making sure that I am eating a balanced diet and getting sufficient sleep has also been really beneficial. The self care piece is really important and it will look different for everyone. Please do something for yourself that you enjoy doing. 

Social media is also a great way to connect with other survivors of suicide loss. There are many groups and organizations that one can join. There are also many blogs, podcasts and articles on mental health issues that discuss suicide which are great resources. 

It has been almost 7 years since my first suicide loss and just over 2 from the death of my mom so it has been a decent amount of time and not a long period of time. I am at a place where I want to share my story whether it be to one on one, to a group, or through writing. This is not something I could have done early on as it was so painful and I was still processing everything. I find now that sharing my story has really helped me cope and be able to help others.

I have made an effort to  incorporate the people that have been lost into my everyday life. I have purchased ornaments in honour of them for my Christmas tree, framed pictures of them for my house, I purchase flowers regularly in honour of my mom, I light candles, and make their favourite food on holidays or any other time. I am thinking about getting a tattoo in honour of my mom so that she is always symbolically there with me. It has been soothing for me to incorporate them into my daily life. Some other ideas I have thought of are, planting a tree or plant for the person, you can set a place for them at the table, you can buy or create some kind of art that can be in honour of them, you could buy or make a scarf or something to wear that symbolises them. 

I want you to remember that the suicide of your loved one is not your fault. You are not alone in losing someone to suicide.

Please take care of yourself and remember there are resources to help you cope. Be kind and gentle with yourself.

Other Resources on Adoptee Suicide

Dealing with Adoptee Suicide
ICAVs Memorial Page
Adoptee Remembrance Day
It’s a Black Week for Adoptees in Europe

Posting....
English
%%footer%%