It was October 10, 1990. “Imagine” by John Lennon played on the radio. I heard my adoptive mom on the phone tell my sister that our father passed away….
14 years and orphaned again. My adoptive father suddenly died because of a medical mistake after a hernia surgery. As a result, our family would never be complete again.
As a child my surroundings often told me to be grateful for my new life with my new parents. No one told me adoption not only causes you to get new parents, but adoption also causes you to lose your parents twice.
The pain and sadness I felt as a 14 year old was immense and loneliness was unbearable. I didn’t understand then that I not only mourned the loss of my adoptive father, my safety and my new family, but that the loss triggered my old loss trauma.
Nowadays I know I’m not alone in this. A lot of adopted people have traumas that originated before they were adopted.
Traumas invisible and unpredictable and triggered by loss. Loss of a pet, home, friendship, health, job, divorce of adoptive parents or loss of a loved one or adoptive parent(s).
Sometimes the early child traumas are too large with all the consequences. But often knowledge of loss trauma can help with relinquishment and adoption, we need to declare this “abnormal” reaction to an apparent small event.
The circumstances surrounding my adoptive father’s death have helped me to make it my mission to create knowledgeable aftercare through and for adopted persons.
At AFC we notice that adoptees benefit from adoption coaches who specialise in relinquishment and adoption. This is because those adopted themselves have also suffered similar loss. Knowing the loneliness and the sadness, carrying their fate and surviving the pain.
And today I comfort myself with the thoughts that my adoptive father is proud of me, my passion and drive. And that this didn’t make his death entirely pointless….
On 13 Nov 2020, the US Department of State (the Central Authority for intercountry adoption in America) ran a first of it’s kind event – openly inviting intercountry adoptees in America to share what they would like policy makers to know about the lived experience of intercountry adoption. It is awesome that Dept of State actively consulted widely with the adult intercountry adoptee community!! I hope we will see more of this happening, despite their “jurisdictional” restrictions.
Pamela Kim, born in South Korea and adopted to America gave her impressions of this historic event.
Just left the Department of State adoptee Town Hall event. One of the more moving adoptee experiences I’ve had, surprisingly. I had no idea the government even cared about adoptees especially international ones. The facilitators were great. Each adoptee had two minutes to speak as there were almost one hundred adoptees on the call. Two minutes to say how adoption has impacted us and our lives, what we want them to know.
There were adoptees from Russia, Korea, China, India, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Peru, Iran and more. Domestic adoptees too. The stories were hard to hear. Everyone expressed trauma – around race and identity, loss of culture, abusive adoptive parents, abandonment, trafficking, mental health needs, school environments and bullying, failed birth searches, deportation risks.
The lifelong impact of adoption is clear whether one is adopted as a baby or a teen. I heard many stories of good loving adoptive parent families. I also heard those same people say, “I cannot support transracial intercountry adoption.”
Some people cried.
I shared that my adoption should have been successful because I was an infant, part of the model minority, adopted into a family with resources, went to “good” schools etc. I shared that I’ve struggled my whole life from trauma … with life threatening eating disorders, suicide attempts, relationship issues, fibromyalgia. That my family cut me off many times. That even now there are triggers that bring me back to a place of deep grief and fear.
by Elizabeth Jacobs, born in Cambodia and adopted to the USA.
I would like to share with you about my project in which I will be creating a documentary that will follow my first trip back to Cambodia since my adoption which occurred in year 2000. I am now twenty one years old and I am finding out who I really am as a person and what I want to make of myself. Before I continue to grow further into the adult I wish to be, I feel the need to come to terms with my past. After revisiting some documents and photos from my adoption, I discovered some inconsistencies that raise questions about my past. I’m hoping that by returning to Cambodia I might search for my original identity to better understand my life before it was Americanised.
At first, my plan for the documentary was to show the process of finding my Cambodian family roughly twenty one years later. My intent was to focus on a possible reunion with any biological family members I may have and to retrace the steps of my adoption, such as revisiting the orphanage from which I was relinquished and possibly visiting my foster mother and nanny. However, while investigating my adoption, I uncovered much more than what was previously known.
I feel emotionally ready and curious to learn about my adoption but in doing so, I’ve sifted through all of the documents and found some new information that leaves me questioning whether I have been stolen or not from my biological parents, perhaps not legally relinquished as I previously thought.
Not having any information about my biological family, I wonder whether or not I am a victim of Lauren Galindo, the infamous baby trafficker in Cambodia, and her network of recruiters. The Galindo scheme went as follows: a recruiter would befriend and garner the trust of impoverished parents by giving them small amounts of money and promising them that they would take their children to an orphanage where they would be well cared for while the family got back on their feet. Further they would assure the parents that their children, when grown up, would support them from America. That is how the process was played out in regard to many babies and small children whose parents were too impoverished to care for them. Instead of giving these children back to their parents, the liaison offered these children up for adoption mostly to American parents in return for “bogus adoption fees” in the amount of thousands of dollars. The fees were entirely made up by Galindo as the government did not require adoption fees.
My adoption was conducted just months after the adoption ban was put in place due to the Lauren Galindo child trafficking scandal. Galindo was charged with money laundering for which she was later incarcerated for 8 months and accused of setting up a baby/child trafficking ring where children were stolen from their loving families and sold for a profit.
Twenty one years later, I am now an adult ready to make my own choices and I want to visit my past and confront any unresolved issues that have remained hidden for so many years.
I feel this topic is important because it is about my past and how my life could have been drastically different if I had never been adopted. Now that I wonder if my adoption was part of a baby trafficking scandal in Cambodia, this documentary grew to being more than just a reunion with my home country. It has become a visual diary and real time investigation on the truth about my adoption. I am displaying my journey to the public so I can share this very important story of lost identity. There are hundreds of adoptees like me and I think it is important to spread awareness about this scandal because there might be others out there who believe they are legally adopted, when in actuality, they may have family in Cambodia who have wondered all these years where their child ended up.
I feel this topic is important and highly relevant because Cambodia still has a ban on international adoptions due to the sheer amount of corruption within the adoption industry. Today, the Cambodian government is working little by little to lift the ban, however, because the country is so poor, it could be so easy for things to go back to how they were where unscrupulous people try again to take advantage of parents who need help with their children.
I have always grown up wanting to adopt from Cambodia, but I cannot do that with this ban in place. It saddens me to know there are genuine orphans in Cambodia waiting to be adopted but cannot because there are too many who would take advantage of their abandonment in exchange for a profit.
As this documentary is very personal to me, I know I will find it challenging and it will be a very emotional but impactful journey to capture. It is also a possibility that I do not find any information on my biological parents and I end up with even more questions than I started. The goal is therefore, to get as much clarity about my past as I can. The outcome is uncertain but this only adds to the suspense that this documentary will capture.
If you would like to support me in my quest to create this documentary, please visit my fundraiser website.
I was born in 1968. My mother had concealed her pregnancy for eight months when she boarded a plane in the Middle East bound for London. On her arrival, she visited a doctor in a Harley Street clinic and asked for help to give birth secretly. The doctor contacted a private adoption agency who agreed to place me with an adopted family in England so she could return to her homeland and escape the threat of an honour killing. If her family discovered she was pregnant with me, we would have been killed to protect their honour and reputation.
We spent ten days together in hospital before I was removed and taken into temporary foster care. My mother had signed all the relevant documents but she had named a father on my birth certificate and it was this that prevented my adoption into a family. At two months, I was handed over to the care of another foster mother who had been deemed unsuitable by social services and desperately longed for a baby of her own.
I was taken on a train to Suffolk and raised in a rural community of white English people. My mother was a single woman who did not have any extended family or partner to support her. I did not look like her; I had thick black hair, dark brown eyes and a tan on my skin that never faded. I felt like an outcast not only in my town but in my own home too.
My mother refused to tell me the truth about my birth and I was raised to believe that she was my biological mother. She also claimed that my father had come from Iran and apparently died before I was born. She did not have a photograph of him or myself as a newborn. I can remember questioning her many times but she would not discuss how I came to be in this world.
I grew up feeling extremely lonely and isolated, not just by my physical difference but also by her inability to be open about my existence. Social workers used to visit our house regularly but I was never told that I was the reason for these visits; I thought they were just being friendly when they asked about racial abuse I was experiencing at school. My mother used to tell me that the social workers were bad people who wanted to destroy her life and I believed her.
When approaching sixteen I discovered the truth. My mother woke me one night to tell me I was not her real daughter but she would not explain how I got there to be with her. In that moment, my whole world froze before me. I felt empty and frightened. I did not know who I was and I needed to find out. She told me that the name I had been known by for sixteen years was not officially mine.
A social worker came round to explain that I had a different name all along, a foreign name and that I was ‘a foreigner’. I wasn’t given any counselling or support during this period and it has set me up for a lifetime of mental health issues. I don’t think you will ever understand how it feels to discover you are not the person you thought you were. Everyone and everything becomes a lie.
I began to run away from home and each time I did this I was picked up by the police and taken back to the place I was running from. I eventually made it to London where I found the adoption agency and met with the woman who helped my birth mother. However, she didn’t want to help me and insisted I should drop any idea of searching because I would put my mother’s life in danger as the threat of an honour killing was indeed real. She also said that my mother had ‘moved on’. I was bereft, with no one to turn to and nowhere to go.
There is no help for an intercountry adoptee, which is essentially what I was – no helpful social worker, no access to records and no intermediary. The only way I was able to trace my birth family was by travelling to go in search of them, which at the time was to an extremely dangerous region, as a war and then later an invasion all hampered my efforts but didn’t stop me from pursuing the truth.
I found my birth mother when I was twenty four years old. She was married and had four children. I was afraid that she would reject me all over again, but she didn’t. She wanted to meet me. I wasn’t aware that my arrival would trigger her shame and guilt for having a child out of wedlock in a Muslim society. At the time, I was overwhelmed by my own feelings and it felt like rejection when she insisted on pretending I was somebody else. It was deeply upsetting for me to have found my birth mother after years of searching to then have to pretend I was someone else. It felt like another lie.
For the first time in my life, I was in the same home as my biological mother and my half sibling. I saw likenesses and mannerisms; I saw a physical resemblance that connected us all and yet they were strangers who had a different upbringing to me. They were raised in a different culture to the one I had been brought up in. It wasn’t just about colour, it wasn’t just about race, it was about a cultural identity that I found difficult to partake in because it was so unfamiliar to me. I may have appeared the same as them but my mindset was completely alien to theirs. My birth mother was a woman who had grown up in a restrictive society and this prevented her from openly acknowledging me because she feared the consequences.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get long enough to know her because she died quite suddenly and by the time I received the news, it was too late – she had already been buried. I would spend the years that followed trying to build a relationship with my half-siblings and trying to reach out to my birth mother’s relatives who did not want to build any relationship with me. They wanted to keep my identity a secret to protect their family honour, which meant rejecting my existence.
I think my life would have turned out differently if I had always known the truth about my adoption because it wouldn’t have been such a shock. I didn’t know then that I was led by trauma and living a traumatic existence. I was searching for honest people but I only found deceptive ones. I had a right to the truth because it is my history, my biology and my genetic code. From the moment I was born until now everyone who could give me information has tried their best to withhold it from me, using the threat of an honour killing as a justification.
Now I am a grown woman with children of my own and I am searching for the truth about my biological father’s identity, so my story continues….
by Atamhi Cawayu, doctoral researcher at Ghent University (Belgium) and the Bolivian Catholic University ‘San Pablo’ (Bolivia). Together with Vicente Mollestad and Teresa Norman, they run Network of Bolivian Adoptees.
This blogpost was initially posted on Atamhi’s Facebook profile and Instagram-account @displaced.alteño
Searching for first family and adoptee activism: Some reflections
In 1993 I got displaced/adopted to Belgium when I was six-month-old. According to my papers, I was found as a new-born in the city of El Alto in Bolivia. Since my twenties, I started to return and reconnect with Bolivia. In the past two years I live more in Bolivia than in Belgium and I consider myself ‘based in Bolivia’. In all these years, I have attempted to search for information about my pre-adoptive past. Since June, together with a fellow Bolivian adoptee friend, we started our search here in Bolivia by starting a big campaign to make ourselves visible.
Reflection 1: Putting up posters in the city
In June 2020, my friend and I started to prepare our searches for our Bolivian relatives by designing posters and putting them in various streets and neighbourhoods in the cities of La Paz and El Alto. It’s not the first time I engage in searching for first families, in the past years I have completed searches for other Bolivian adoptees, which sometimes led to reunions. However, searching is challenging, especially when you don’t have names, places or anything that might lead to our families.
In Bolivia there is a central authority responsible for international adoption, yet there is no support from organisations or institutions who can really help us. In our cases, we have limited information, but other adoptees have the full name of their mother, or names of family members. Even in their cases it’s often a bureaucratic journey to obtain more information. In addition, most of us don’t know the language, are not familiar with the system, and do not always have the time to search.
When I started to do my PhD on this topic, my goal has always been to have not only a better insight into the adoption system in Bolivia but also to ‘crack’ the system and understand which clues are necessary in finding one’s family. Besides I think it’s important to document the stories of the first parents and take their experiences into account if we really want to make an honest evaluation of the system of adoption.
When preparing the posters, making the design, paying the prints, I could only think of one thing: we as adult adoptees have the resources to start this search and do it in an almost professional way. Our parents probably didn’t have the same amount of resources, and even if they did, their stories were regarded as less interesting than ours right now.
Reflection 2: Engaging with TV media
After our first round of posters, we received a message from a journalist from a Bolivian TV channel who was interested in our stories. A few days later they interviewed us, and it was broadcasted one day later. Since then our story was covered by national TV media in Bolivia and it received lots of attention. The media is a necessary evil. It helped a lot in having our cases visible, yet it’s hard to control the questions. They also have their own narrative they want to show.
These experiences made me reflect about several things. Our stories were largely framed as ‘abandoned babies’ returning to Bolivia, after being adopted internationally, however this narrative already makes a lot of assumptions of our mothers abandoning us. When reading the comment section (I know I should not do this) a big part of the viewers didn’t understand why we would search for someone ‘that doesn’t look for us’. However, it’s so much more complex…
In my case I was found, but I don’t know what really happened. It’s easy to assume I was ‘abandoned’ by one of my parents, but I don’t know. In my research on first parents, I have encountered several parents who never gave up their child to adoption, did it in vulnerable circumstances, or were even pressured by intermediaries (and I’m not even talking about kidnap and illegal adoption). Yet, in many cases they were interested to know what happened to their children, if they were still alive, if they ended up well, etc. Part of our activism is also to speak about this other side of adoption. It’s not always a fairy-tale as many people think. We are part of system that exploits global inequalities, displaces poor brown/indigenous bodies from South to North, and prefers parenthood from the Global North over parenthood of the Global South.
It is irritating people don’t understand the complexity and violence relinquishment and adoption can entail. Even if our parents wanted to look for us, they wouldn’t be able to find us as we have been relocated and displaced to other continents. When I search for my ‘family’, it is to make myself findable, so they know I am here in Bolivia and willing to be in touch with them.
Reflection 3: The violence of international adoption
In the days after our first interview, various Bolivian TV channels called us for an interview. Our story was spread nationwide by radio, TV, newspaper. We tried to take advantage of this moment to open the discussion on transnational adoption.
During the interviews we tried to mention that for us adoptees there is no assistance for adoptees to search. Not in our adoptive countries, nor in Bolivia. We have to do almost everything by ourselves, and then I am not even talking about learning the language, understanding the documents, being familiar with the city. As my friend mentioned in several interviews, “searching is something political”. For me searching is doing something you were not supposed to do. It’s opening up histories that were meant to be hidden, it’s doing something within a system that tried to erase everything of your being.
Moreover, another dominant idea is to be lucky and fortunate when being adopted transnationally. One of the journalists said to me “you must be very fortunate”, “many people here would love to be in your shoes”. Throughout the years I have met many people, especially here in Bolivia, who told me I must have been lucky to be have been saved from my ‘miserable future’ in Bolivia and to have a ‘wealthy’ life in Europe. It’s like people think we only ‘won’ by being adopted internationally, but they often forget we have lost many things. I consider all the opportunities I have because of growing up in Europe as compensation for everything I have lost, and I have lost everything.
From my personal perspective, the violence implicit in transnational adoption is to be involuntary transcontinentally displaced, completely severed from our genetic ancestors, disconnected from our community, culture, language, nation, continent, and without any possibility to find our families ever again. For most of us Bolivia will become a country we once lived in. In addition, all our former identities are erased so we can be reborn, renamed, Christianised and assimilated with our adoptive countries. We grow up with complete strangers we are expected to love and call family. We are being brought into a society that doesn’t want us, that racialises us and discriminates us, without any community that provides shelter or understanding. This so-called child protection system – mostly in the benefit of well-off Western adoptive parents who wants to fulfil their heteronormative parental dream – erases everything from us. It is not the first time in colonial history child welfare systems are used to shape, control and erase indigenous children’s identities, and most children adopted from Bolivia have an indigenous background, be it Aymara or Quechua. Transnational adoption is for me an ongoing colonial project of civilising, controlling and managing children from the Global South, transforming them from ‘savages’ to ’civilised’ citizens in the benefit of the capitalist machine of the North. Transnational adoption would not have been possible without a history of colonialism and its ongoing colonial gaze towards countries in the South such as Bolivia.
The adoptee experience is something very diverse. I know some adoptees might disagree on this and that’s fine. I also know other adoptees might recognise themselves in what I write. Every experience is valid. However, my fight and activism are structural against a system that has caused a lot of injustices and is not in the benefit of first parents and adult adoptees. As another adoptee once told me: our parents maybe didn’t have the resources to fight for their rights, but we have, and we will fight for them.
Hi. I’m Laney Allison, adopted from Ma’Anshan, Anhui Province, China in August of 1994 by a single mom. I was raised in Dallas, TX and I now live/work in Washington, DC, USA. I am a co-founder/co-president of China’s Children International.
You can reach me @Lane_Xue on instagram and follow the CCI instagram @cci_adoptees
It bothers me a lot less nowadays that people feel the need to judge where I or ICAV sits on adoption discussions as being only either “anti” or “pro” — as if adoption can be classified on some linear adoption spectrum!
Yes, I like to, and I encourage my peers, to call out and speak openly on the complexities and call an end to the unethical practices, the trafficking, the deportation, the rehoming, the abuse .. but the reality is, usually when adoptees talk about these issues from these angles, we can so easily get labeled and shut down!
Personally, I feel there are so many shades within the adoption arena. Like if I support simple adoption in theory over plenary adoption – does that make me “anti” or “pro”? If I prefer kinship care and guardianship to either of those, am I “anti “or “pro”? If I prefer children to be kept in their country of birth, am I “anti” or “pro”? If I prefer children to stay within their nuclear and extended family or community, am I “anti” or “pro”? If I want to prioritise a child’s safety, am I “anti” or “pro”? If I want a mother to retain a choice, am I “anti” or”pro?
Isn’t it a bit simplistic to overlay such a narrow linear spectrum on our views for such a complex topic? And what happens when we consider domestic adoption with intercountry adoption? Or transracial domestic adoption with transracial intercountry adoption? The discussions will always be so complex with so many differences but also, so many similarities!
At the end of the day, transracial adoption, local adoption, intercountry adoption, foster care, guardianship, kinship care are all options for complicated situations in child welfare. What should we do about children who are vulnerable and need care? How can we ensure they have long term stability within loving and supportive structures for their life long journey? The answers to these questions moves us way beyond a simple “anti” and “pro” discussion. Simplifying these discussions to that type of focus really doesn’t get us anywhere except to divide us.
When we oversimplify complex situations it dumbs down the mindscope and limits the possible solutions.
When considering intercountry adoption, I support safety of the child and respect for families, ethnicities and cultures . This should always be first and foremost in our priorities when considering solutions for the child. I’m not anti or pro – I’m all about encouraging open and healthy discussion on complex issues that have not ONE single solution for all, but should be discussed on a case by case basis! I would love if governments could put more money and focus into helping keep families together where possible! I also recognise, that not all families chose to stay together and women should have choices. So my point is, we cannot overlay ONE solution over a whole spectrum of complex situations. Each and every child with their parents and kin needs to have their situation considered by its own merits. And let’s not forget, we must acknowledge that the solution(s) might need to change over time.
The biggest impact plenary adoption creates, is that it is a permanent solution for what is often a temporary or shorter term crisis. For some, staying together will hopefully be the preference and governments need to offer enough social supports to make this possible. For others, if they insist on not parenting their children nor having kin take on guardianship, I would hope we could move to a better model like simple adoption which ensures original identity remains intact and connection to kin legally preserved. I strongly dislike the way plenary adoption has inadvertently layered on more trauma than it’s supposed to help. People are human, we change over time. Why do we continue to place permanent life altering legal changes onto children as solutions that are difficult to change when in fact, maybe a better way would be to take into account that situations and people change and allow more flexible solutions?
Using simplistic linear labels like “anti” and “pro” to discuss intercountry adoption can be counterproductive. How much do we miss when we limit ourselves to such linear discussions?
Attached is our latest Perspective Paper that provides our lived experience input on suggestions for How Authorities and Bodies could Respond to Illicit Adoptions in Englishand French.
Huge thanks to all our 60+ participating adoptees and adoptee organisations, 10 adoptive parents & adoptive parent organisations, and first family representation!
Extra special thanks and mention to two amazing people: Nicholas Beaufour who gave a huge amount of time to translate the entire English document into French! Coline Fanon who assisted our one and only first family member to contribute! We so need to hear more often from the voices of our first families!
by Ebony Hickey, born in Haiti, raised in Australia; currently studying a Master of Contemporary Art at Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia. Instagram ebony.hickey.7
Acrylic paint, texstas, hot glue, cardboard.
I am ME is a colourfully and expressive work that is a celebration of sexuality, queer visibility and acceptance.
Ebony is a Haitian born, Australian contemporary artist with an interest in interrogating concepts of individuality, adoption, sexuality, queerness and black identity. Ebony draws on her life experience to inform the creation of her expressive sculptural forms, employing a diverse assortment of materials to compose her work. Performance is also an important element of her creative practice. In 2000, Ebony created the drag personality Koko Mass. Koko loves to perform songs with soul and is a bit of a badass who always speaks up and is honest about issues they face in society. Koko challenges perceptions head on whilst also having fun with their audience. Ebony’s practice is bold and politically engaged, responding to issues that affect her communities with a strong visual language she continues to explore.