Perhaps to some, You are a dear friend and a faithful companion. To others, You are found in spurts and moments, and still to others, You are an elusive dream in their nightmares. To me, You are a far off figure standing still in the distance. Throughout the years, I have caught the sparkle in your eye on more than one occasion. And yet, I long for the day when I shall stand before You, face to face for more than a moment.
You are a whisper in the wind. You are the tiny speck of ash fleeing into the night sky. You are the warm blanket on a cold winter’s day.
Was it fate that tore us apart? Was it destiny that would strip me of my identity, family, ancestry and heritage? Was it life that would transport me to a new world, family and culture?
You are the sound of silence on a still lake. You are the leaf that tumbles during fall. You are the majestic mountain in the distance.
Are You merely a feeling inside of me or are You the people and circumstances around me? Are You the actions that I take?
Different than my family, different than my friends, different than my church, different than my culture, different than my place of birth: You are a foreigner to me. Are You and I even compatible?
You are the receding wave on the shore. You are the rare diamond in the sand. You are the seashell hidden in the caves.
Is the distance between us my own doing or has fate seen fit to keep us apart? Are You simply a word or are You always the emotion I feel towards You?
You are the dream that I chase. You are the comfort that I long for. You are the melody that I live for.
Are You the confidence I should have in myself despite my surroundings or are You the feeling of talking to a kindred soul on a midsummer afternoon? Are You simply the summation of both?
You are the mountain I gaze upon. You are the island I venture to see. You are the distant horizon I peer at.
Would I cry in your presence? Would I scream for joy at beholding your face? Would I fall to my knees before You?
You are the candle that flickers in the darkness. You are the lone star in the galaxy. You are the silver lining in the tunnel.
Every day the sun sets and I get one last chance to catch a glimpse of your face before the darkness invades and I lose sight of You once more.
And yet, each day the sun rises anew, shining on your beautiful features once more. Would that every day bring me one step closer to You.
Today I want to share a powerful life experience of an Indian intercountry adoptee raised in Belgium, a member of ICAV, willing to share about her desire to know the truth of her life before adoption.
Being adopted from India, it is usually very difficult to search and find one’s genetic family. This is for a variety of reasons such as the Indian intercountry adoption laws that do little to promote searching and reunion, coupled with the lack of documentation, and/or truth of the documentation from either the birth or adoptive country.
What Serafina’s story demonstrates is that because she was willing to question everything told to her, sometimes the outcome is unexpected.
Enjoy reading Serafina’s story to find out for yourself how her journey unfolded and the message she wishes to share!
Many adoptees were sent to orphanages before they were adopted and many do not remember the experiences they had before being sent to their forever homes. At one time, we adoptees may have begun the same journey in life as one of the millions of orphans placed in orphanages. However, a choice made by someone across the globe or down the street changed the course of our lives forever. What started as the same path in life bifurcated into contrasting lives.
Every year, millions of children worldwide remain in orphanages while 40,000 children are moved between more than 100 countries via intercountry adoption. As children, our lives are intertwined and as adults, our lives unravel into separate groups and we do not include the orphans who remain in orphanages when we talk about our journey. When we do talk about orphans who remain behind, we imagine the worst and assume we would have been far worse off than we are now, as adopted people. I hope to discuss the possibilities of being left behind versus the path our lives took as adoptees.
Bad Orphanages Exist
During the past 25 years, I have logged thousands of hours as a volunteer inside over a dozen orphanages located on 5 continents. Many of the places I saw were deplorable and evidence shows that many orphans will suffer from poor health, have underdeveloped brains and experience developmental delays and psychological disorders. The outcomes are bad for many of these children because they will have lower intellectual, behavioral and social abilities than children growing up within a family. These issues seem to be permanent after the age of three and almost every orphanage where I interviewed staff, the orphanage was overwhelmed and poorly equipped to give the one on one individual attention required to promote social and intellectual development for positive outcomes.
Bad Adoptions Exist
If you want to read cases of adoptee abuse, neglect, and murders all you have to do is take a look at the Pound Pup Legacy repository that contains nearly 1,000 horror stories on neglect and abuse. The US Government provides an estimate that 75% of children in foster care have been sexually abused, whereas only 8.4% of investigations of the general public conducted by US Child Protective Services were determined to have been a result of sexual abuse. Adoptee Facebook groups or attendance at adoptee events provides you a learning experience about multiple stories such as mine, of neglect and abuse in adoptive families.
Great Adoptions Can Result in Negative Outcomes
Even when adoptees have loving and nourishing families, they can still end up with negative outcomes. In a recent ten year study published in the online journal Pediatrics, their report stated that adoptees were 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than non-adopted children. Other studies state that adoptees have a higher incarceration rate and suffer from greater mental health issues than the general public. There are preliminary studies from Canada and Sweden showing the damage is done in-utero and pose lifelong consequences with poor health outcomes and even permanent changes to genes.
Despite the popularity of adoption, there is a persistent concern that adopted children may be at heightened risk for mental health or adjustment problems. Margaret A. Keyes, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Great Orphanages Exist
I have learned that one should never generalize any group and this holds true, even to orphanages. In my 2.5 year tour as a diplomat to Kenya and as the CFO for medical research labs, I ran across a modern saint by the name of Sister Placida. Sister Placida is a Scottish nun who has been working in the remote town called Kericho, in Western Kenya. She has lived in the area for over 40 years and was taking care of individuals dying from AIDS and giving them proper burials before the disease became identified.
The outcome of the disease left thousands of children as orphans and Sister Placida found a program that helped surviving family members take care of the orphans. Later after the United States had promised to provide billions of dollars worth of free retroviral medications, she started an orphanage to provide food, medicine, and a nurturing environment so those street children had the best chance of survival.
Sister Placida expanded the program and offered training programs to spur entrepreneurship in the local economy as well as educational opportunities through the Live with Hope Centre in Kericho.
Orphans Can have Positive Outcomes
Being adopted doesn’t necessarily mean our life was spared. I see many adoptees cling to this narrative even when they do not know if this is true or not. I think many Sth Korean adoptees would have had productive and meaningful lives if they had stayed in Sth Korea instead of being adopted. My point of view comes from my eight years of experience living on the peninsula as an adult and the lengthy conversations I had with one of Sth Korea’s premier economists while I was working with him in Afghanistan.
South Korea’s economy is ranked as the fourth largest in Asia and ranked as the 11th largest in the world. South Korea broke out into high-tech industries and has become a leading producer of ships, automobiles, cell phones and other consumer electronics. Currently, South Korea had the fastest average internet connection in the world and enjoys having one of the lowest levels of unemployment. This doesn’t apply only to South Korea. I learned about an orphan from Rwanda when I was working in Kenya by the name of Immanuel Simugomwa who became a millionaire in an impoverished country with the aid of an NGO. I have heard numerous stories all over the world where orphans were thriving within their own country, despite the bad hand life had dealt them.
Adoptees can have Positive Outcomes
One of the perks I have in working for the DNA testing NGO to match adoptees with their biological families is meeting thousands of adoptees all over the world. The adoptee community is as varied as the general public. Someone who works in my line of work is LTG Naja West. She is the current Army Surgeon General, a three-star general and the highest ranking officer in the US Army Medical Department. LTG Naja West is also an adoptee.
LTG West is one of the numerous successful adoptees whom I have met. Others are a professional musician, a prominent actor, globally renowned artisan and author, film producer and successful businessman that runs a multi-million dollar firm. Successful adoptees represent a varied cross-section of life and many are successful in their own rights by achieving their goals.
We shouldn’t drive ourselves crazy about what could have happened instead of being adopted. The simple answer is we don’t know and what we think of as truth may be far from reality. The possibilities could have been endless and I wanted to remind my fellow adoptees that we often overlook and exclude orphans out of the equation when we speak. We often gravitate towards relinquishment, adoption and major highlights of adoption.
Sharing: My question is, where were you placed before you were adopted? Do you remember the other children or have any memories of them? Do we forget the other half?
Within ICAV’s private group for adult intercountry adoptees I recently asked the question: “If we lived in an ideal world, given your adoption experience is as it is, what would you need to be at peace with it all?” I made it clear we could discuss and provide answers that were both realistic possibilities and idealistic fantasies.
The discussion that followed was powerful and I’d love to share some of the themed responses which highlight what’s still missing in intercountry adoption to make it really about “the needs of the child”. You’ll see from some of the replies to my question, we do grow up and continue to have ongoing needs that continue to be umet via intercountry adoption. Often times, it seems that intercountry adoption creates more needs than we began with as vulnerable children which makes me wonder what purpose did our intercountry adoption achieve for us, the adoptees?
Truth and Answers
Many of us have adoption documents which have details that are either totally incorrect or somewhat questionable and shades in between. The worst I can cite as an example of totally incorrect, is a Haitian intercountry adoptee who was given an already dead person’s identity, a false birth mother listed on adoption paperwork and subsequently found out the truth years later, that her biological mother never gave consent. An example of the questionable and changeable information provided is the experiences of countless South Korean adoptees who get given differing information each time they approach their Korean adoption agency asking for details, locked away in their agency files.
This lack of knowing the truth or having transparent access to our relinquishment and subsequent adoption information, can further traumatise us in recreating yet another event in which we are completely powerless to know our basic identity information and compounds our already fragile ability to trust others. As Christine shared,
“Having to doubt that what I thought all along was my story now may not be true, is difficult.”
Like others who shared on this theme, Chaitra listed finding the Truth as her first response, along with others:
Knowing the truth about the circumstances that led to my adoption.
Meeting and having a relationship with my birth family.
Being fully immersed in Indian culture as a child so that I would have had knowledge of food, language, holidays, traditions, etc. as well as racial mirrors.
Having adoptive parents who openly communicated with me about adoption and race.
Chaitra had none of these things in her life.
The Desire to Find Biological Family
For some who reunite, finally meeting biological family gave them a sense of understanding who they were at the level of physical attributes and personality which were always unlike those of their adoptive family. For example, Thomas shared it this way:
“Meeting my birth family has helped me a lot. I met my grandmother’s side of the family and they’re all like the same as me with huge eyes, light skin and curly hair. They’re also all really shy and tend not to say much unless spoken to, like me. It has really helped me to answer some questions about where I come from“.
For others, like Chaitra above who have not been successful yet in reuniting with biological family, there is still the desire and thinking that IF they could meet, it would help to put together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle which makes up who we fundamentally are. Dominic expressed it well, “Just to know I have relatives would give me a sense of peace. Surely they couldn’t have all perished in the Vietnam wars!”
When adoptees are impeded from knowing the answers and finding biological family, we are left with a lifetime of uncertainty. Our fundamental identity questions remain unanswered.
This was a recurring theme for some adoptees who expressed the wish that adoption not be a necessary and created social response to children who are vulnerable. As Parvathi wisely questions,
“Only if the child has got no parents and feel uncomfortable in his country, he should have the opportunity to move. Why a child who has lost his parents should also loose his country too?“
Sunitha also said, “I think the whole society system and humanity should have been different from the beginning of time! What is international adoption if not a new colonialist way? It just reflects the inequalities of the world through the cover of good will and humanitarian feelings. Another way to see it, is just rich people in need of kids, buying kids from poor countries and raising them in their culture which is supposed to be superior to their original one.”
Through our experience of being intercountry adopted, we inevitably end up questioning the system that created our reality. We are not naiive in believing that intercountry adoption is only about poverty because it’s clearly not, as sending countries like South Korea and the USA demonstrate. Kim explains it well:
“When intercountry is done both ways, it doesn’t seem in the best interest of children either. It only looks like a fair trade of children, a business of import-export, done both ways. The USA already export their children (mostly black children) to Europe, why aren’t those kids adopted in their country first before adopted to other countries?“
As Tamieka shared, the world needs to create more services that focus on first families and “helping them be able to maintain and keep their families and children.” If this happened with as large a revenue as what intercountry adoption generates worldwide, I question whether there would be a need for intercountry adoption.
Justice when Adoption is Done Wrong
For those who wonder whether their adoption was legitimate or not, we are all too aware of the harsh reality that there is little to mostly nothing that is done, or can be done, to prevent further injustices or to punish those who create these situations. Tamieka eloquently expressed this as, “The world needs to provide organisations that hold those who are responsible for the corruption in adoptions, responsible for tearing families and people’s lives apart, to be held accountable for their actions and to be brought to justice.”
Whether intercountry adoption continues to be practiced or not, there is the question of where is justice for those who are already impacted? Sadly, our desire for restorative justice for adoptees who are wronged via intercountry adoption is currently a utopia. This is the harsh reality but it won’t stop us from speaking out against this and highlighting how unethical the practice is without any mechanism for seeking justice.
An End to the Ongoing Pain
Sadly, for many the unspoken consequence of relinquishment on the vulnerable child, is a lifelong path of psychological pain in having been abandoned by our biological parents. Followed by intercountry adoption, our experience can become a secondary abandonment, this time by our birth country. Via intercountry adoption we lose our right to our birth family and country forever and are not given the choice to retain our identity, culture, heritage or citizenship. The pain of abandonment by biological parents and birth country have an ongoing effect which can last a lifetime. If this goes unsupported by the majority of adoptive countries who offer little to no post adoption support services, we can be left with an endless amount of internal psychological pain.
For adoptees who feel this pain intensely, they desire an end to their struggles and can at times, see death as the only way out. Little wonder that adoptees are reported in research as suffering higher rates of suicide, attempts at suicide, mental health issues and reflected in greater proportion compared to the non-adopted population, in prisons or drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. The pain of relinquishment is real and has to be acknowledged. Adoption is often portrayed as a win-win solution but it glosses over the real pain that adoptees can experience, whether openly shared or not.
Kim shared it very clearly:
“Death would give me peace. I think only death can make me stop remembering her, the Me before adoption. Only death can remove from me that kind of pain, loneliness and homesickness that adoption injected into my soul.”
Thankfully, within support groups like ICAV, we don’t minimise or diminish our sometimes painful realities. We openly speak and share, which is so important for healing.
Paul eloquently summed it up: “This is such a hard question. Honestly, I think about this with so much hyper-realism that it’s difficult to get to any perfect world state of mind for me, any wishes for what could be different. My birth father is dead. My adoptive mother is dead. My birth mother, who knows? And what does that mean? And yet I am here. And there are friends, family and strangers and _____. That beauty. But still there’s the Unknown, the tension, the contradiction; the complexity of history; our absurd global socio-political circumstances; etc.. What helps me through all of this? This. Our sharing. Our stories. The potential for moments of connection and understanding, even in all their imperfection. Our various bitter realities. Your question. Our voices. The realization of shared experience and circumstances, not sameness, but sharedness. This helps. Thank you.”
It’s amazing to see the power of peer group sharing and connecting and how it facilitates our journey of growth as adult intercountry adoptees. Read Stephanie’s expression of what she gained from the same group discussion.
Whilst studying for my undergraduate degree in History, I found the similarities of my childhood and reading the history of Nazi Germany opened up my old anxieties. The interrogation methods of the SS were like pages read out about my own childhood. My adopted mother acted like a Concentration Camp guard, always on the lookout to entrap my sister and me in some wrongdoings. She would face the label of the ice cream carton inside the freezer at a certain angle to see if it was ever moved. If it was, we were chastised for stealing food.
My sister stopped me one summer afternoon when I had a few bites due to my lifelong suffering from hypoglycemia and showed me how to angle or place the carton back into the freezer. I didn’t know it at the time but the low-blood sugar levels made me extremely hungry. I was forced to binge eat when I had my episodes and ate entire packets of cookies so I could immediately get rid of the evidence. I felt guilty wasting food and therefore crammed the cookies down in a couple of minutes. I did this because the first time I was caught, I endured hours of humiliation and punishment that didn’t fit the crime.
If my adoptive father was not in a good mood I was given a spanking with the belt or switch and this was followed by my adoptive mother’s tidal wave of rhetorical commentary and questions such as, “We don’t starve you, so why did you do this?” and “Your theft only indicates you will be a criminal when you grow up, do you want to go to jail?”
I wanted to reach out and talk to people about what I was going through but my family was firmly rooted as respected members of the church, work, and community. I felt the only option I had was to remain silent. They made up logical stories and explanations to family, colleagues, and acquaintances to explain their side of the story. It involved half-truths to paint the victim as the aggressor, evildoer, and villain. They did this protect themselves. They did this to remain in the good graces of the community they lived in, even though they were the ones doing harm.
They fabricated stories that the child was the one attacking them, stating the child was unruly, dangerous, on drugs, etc. This gave them an external reason to “protect themselves” and rationalize the altercations and find sympathy from individuals who were unfamiliar with the family issues and interactions. Whenever this happened, my sister and I were at greater risk because getting away with one incident of abuse allowed the perpetrators to continue or escalate the patterns.
Abuse comes in numerous forms:
Physical abuse is violent and uses intimidation, isolation, restraint, aggression, and endangerment as a form of control.
Mental abuse gets into your mind and uses gaslighting, silence, manipulation, and victimization as a form of control.
Verbal abuse goes from your ears to your mind via screaming, bullying, name calling, berating, and blaming.
Sexual abuse is about dominance and uses jealous rages, coercion, sexual withdraw, rape, and degrading acts as a form of control.
Emotional abuse forces you into situations that produce intense anxiety, guilt, confusion, shame, anger, hostility, rejection, and fear to be used as a form of control.
Economic abuse is about limiting resources and uses stealing, destroying assets, dependency, refusing access, falsifying records, and interfering with work environments as a means to control.
Spiritual abuse is using your beliefs such as dichotomous thinking, prejudice, elitist beliefs, demanding submission, excommunication, and estrangement as a means of control.
When adoptees finally confront their abusers at a time in life when they are no longer dependent upon them, they are often met with attacks from other people who may know the abuser at a distance and feel trust and admiration for them, not understanding what has really gone on.
I wrote several months ago on my Facebook page about some of the abuse and neglect that I faced as a child. My nephew shot several scathing messages asking why I was airing dirty laundry in public. I had an uncle who wrote to me and was very dismissive about the abuse stating, “he had it worse” and “corporal punishment was an accepted use of discipline”. I have long since blocked both individuals but realize these family members do not understand the full picture of what was going on.
Upon reflection, I realize they have been told years of misinformation about me from adults who were established in their community. I think this victim shaming and blaming occurs for the following reasons:
The abuse often takes place behind closed doors and cannot be validated by others.
Abusers deny their actions and when confronted individuals are met with conflicting stories, half-truths, and outright lies.
Abusers blame the victim when in reality they were the ones who were the aggressors.
Violence is oftentimes preceded by verbal abuse, this is a tactic used to keep the victim at bay.
The abuser needs to be right and in control, they may use their authority or moral standing to explain why they were forced to what they did.
The abuser is possessive and may try to isolate their child from friends and family as a means to protect themselves.
The abuser is often times hypersensitive and may react with rage. When they lash out – they blame you and act as if you are responsible for their anger.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting thousands of adoptees around the world and many of them have confided in me and shared their horror stories of abuse and neglect. One of the worst experiences is a young woman who remains connected to her adopted family even though her adoptive mother overlooks the fact her husband was sexually abusing her. I met a pair of sisters in the United States who had a father that made them feel guilty to take care of him in his elderly years, even though he was often missing from their lives. Even when he was home, he ignored them and was “terse” at best. Numerous other adoptees felt their adoptive families were not invested in them, they were not “bad people” but they were not connected to them nor had close relationships.
The issue may worsen when adoptees try to sever the relationship or move away. The parents may feign sickness to draw them back into the relationship or offer them promises they never intend to keep and play a game of catch and release with their heart. They may lash out and do things to make you feel guilty or ways to be part of your life. Some of the ways they may manipulate are:
The abusive individual may reach out, stating they have changed and then turn on you and lash out in anger as they did before.
They will make promises, with no intentions of changing to draw you back into the relationship.
They will leverage your actions, distancing you, keeping your children away to portray themselves as the victims.
They will change the story of what actually occurred, stating you have an overactive imagination, that what you say is a lie or back their story with the silence of their codependent spouse.
They may use money and resources to leverage themselves to make demands and “compromises”.
I was caught in this cycle of craziness for much of my adult years. What I found helpful was to speak to other adoptees who faced similar abuse. Some of the braver ones pointed out it was okay to sever the relationship to regain my sanity. They were the first to tell me that I was the victim. They were there to answer questions and their strength helped me to take the steps to separate myself from toxic relationships.
Years later I read an excellent book that went deeper into the issue called Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward. It took someone to tell me it was okay to leave my toxic adopted family. This is a personal choice, like other things that could be unhealthy in our lives – such as smoking, drinking or staying in bad relationships. I wish you peace and sanity. I hope this helps.
In both my work-in-progress and on my blog, I take a retrospective look at the paucity of adoption resources – both professional and general – to paint a bigger picture of what led people to adopt a child outside their race and country. Today’s article focuses on how Russia and China’s portrayals in the media affected an adoptive parent’s decision to adopt.
Prospective parents perform research during the adoption process, often based on articles released by popular news media outlets. Jacobson revealed prospective parents’ reactions to these articles and how news stories impacted their decision to adopt.
Russian mass-media stories are portrayed more negatively than Chinese ones
Russian adoption is reported on more frequently than Chinese
Negative Chinese adoption stories focused more on logistics than on the child’s potential mental health issues
Since the prospective parents interviewed for Jacobson’s study were coming to adoption after risky infertility situation, they showed a desire to avoid additional risk
A certain amount of skepticism is healthy when approaching the decision to adopt a child not your own; after all, it is a huge decision, one impacting the life of a child who had no choice. The author found that, regardless of each news article’s overall tone, the general conclusion she made was that adopting a child into a loving home is fine, but prospective parents may be treading on dangerous political ground.
When adoption becomes politicized, there’s a tendency to dehumanize the child. The child is not a political pawn, some poor waif smuggled out of a war-torn country into a loving home. When media articles portray adoption this way, the child’s developing identity is negatively impacted by these prejudices. Not only may the adoptive parents, despite their best efforts, absorb these damaging viewpoints, but inevitably people less emotionally invested in the adoptee will undoubtedly, without any other frame of reference, use these articles as a way to formulate opinions on the topic of adoption.
Adoptive parents reported being influenced by these articles, some mentioning reports that Russian babies have more attachment issues than Chinese led them to adopting a Chinese baby. This is disturbing, because many adoptees are noted to have attachment issues; it’s not a country-based phenomenon. As Jacobson points out, “the majority of adoptees from both China and Russia have experienced institutionalization that can have serious consequences for child outcomes.” Many of us adult intercountry adoptees reading this can attest to this reality.
Other intercountry adoptive parents used the articles they read, as justification against domestic adoption and in preference for intercountry adoption. They would read of stories featuring local biological parents looking for their child and wanting them back. As reported in the research, in their minds as adoptive parents, this would be intolerable as many experienced their own suffering via infertility or stillbirths.
The views expressed in Jacobson’s research reflect the adoptive parent-centric nature of adoption; the adoptive parents consume the media, the adoptive parents make the ultimate decision to adopt. Obviously adoptive parents need some way to inform their decisions, but slightly concerning is that racial features overrode Russian adoption risks. Adoptive parents persisted in Russian adoptions despite warnings, because they were eager to obtain a child bearing a closer racial resemblance to their own. We need to question that decision, because appearance cannot predict a child’s future outcome.
As transracial and intercountry adoptees, it’s our duty to remain alert to these news articles and ensure the mass media fairly portrays our struggles and political representation. If they don’t, it’s our responsibility to cut through the emotionally-driven bias toward adoption by producing articles that provide balanced accounts.
I was reared on a small dairy farm that rested on the edge of the Red River Valley on the Minnesota side. I grew up in a rural farming community that was filled with a lush green forest of corn, amber waves of grain and intermittent dots of farm homesteads covered with thick deciduous trees. On these vast plains lived a curious little bird, in scientific terms, called a Charadrius vociferous. These small insignificant brown birds with long thin spindly legs made their nests on the ground in the fields and shoreline all over North America. The locals, where I grew up, name this bird by the falsetto cry it makes … kill deer, kill deer. I am certain, if birds could speak, they would poke fun at the killdeer’s pencil-thin legs and scrawny body.
What makes this benign lusterless outward appearance memorable are the bird’s acting abilities. This bird pretends to have a broken wing to draw predators and trespassers such as a curious dog or small children away from their precious eggs. It’s amazing to observe these birds screaming around and flapping their wings and then dart away when you get near them. The birds deserve an Emmy Award for their dramatic performances. I have fond childhood memories of chasing these small feathered friends and was tricked into believing they needed medical attention. I never located the bird’s eggs but remember seeing fluffy plumed chicks darting about like a group of frolicking school children on the playgrounds.
In my studies I learned that the killdeer birds were aboriginal to North America, so I was dumbfounded to see similar antics during my travels to Korea. At first, I thought the kids waving at the soldiers were the average child as we passed in our armored track vehicles. Moments later, I realized these masqueraders were actually professionals pulling a scam. These acting children reminded me of the pretentious wounded Killdeers back home on the Minnesota prairies. Like the birds, they played wounded. Instead of broken wings, they acted out with alligator tears and pouting faces. The familiar killdeer, killdeer cries of distress were replaced with childish voices begging for items, “M.R.E., M.R.E.,” “GI gimme M.R.E.!” The children were asking for prepackaged Army food called Meals Ready to Eat or MRE’s for short. I eyed the children with caution and was disrupted from my stare by my friend.
“Hey, Hansen! I ate part of my lunch during our drive and I’m gonna give the rest of my meal. Watcha think?” “I don’t care,” I answered. I deliberated for a second and focused the children back into view. “Hmmm, to be honest, I really don’t think they want your leftovers.” Barrick jumped off the vehicle before I could finish my reply. Barrick seemed like a towering giant compared to the two little girls and it was comical to see him trying to speak Korean with them. I watched with amusement as the little girls refused his opened MRE package. They gestured that they wanted whole MRE packages that lay on top of my armored personnel carrier. Barrick insisted that the items inside the familiar brown plastic bag were indeed still good. “See,” he contended as he held the sealed crackers in the air and made facial gestures that the items were delicious.
I could tell that the eldest girl who was around 8 years old, was getting annoyed. She huffed several times and then blatantly refused the offer by waving her hands for him to get lost. As he made his final offer, the older girl stuck her fist in the air and gave Barrick the bird!
Barrick turned to me in shock and asked in disbelief, “Did you see that? She stuck up her middle finger!” Barrick took a few steps back toward the track vehicle and looked back once more to watch the little girl stick out her tongue at him. He shook his head in disbelief and said, “Just to think, I felt sorry for her!”
Another soldier walked up to the small children and handed the youngest some candy, she appeared to be about 5 years old. The tiny fingers clutched the pieces of hard candy and she began to place a piece inside her mouth. Then fast as lightning, the eldest child struck the littlest one with candy in the face. She landed a couple of hard blows to the small cheeks with her open palms. The eldest child’s face filled with rage. Then as punishment, the larger of the girls pulled the thinning mittens off the smaller one and stuffed them inside her coat pockets.
We all stared at the scene with horror and disbelief. I asked my KATUSA (Korean Augmentee to the US Army), a Korean National soldier who was attached to our unit, to come with me and translate for me. I kneeled in the snow and gingerly grasped the eldest girl by the shoulders and asked her why she was hitting her sister. The girl pulled away from me and put her back towards my face. I got up and walked in front of her and kneeled. This time I asked her if she loved her younger sister and if so why she had hit her in the face. The KATUSA again translated my message, and after a few minutes of questioning the eldest girl’s strong cold glare dissipated and she began to sob in my arms.
The crying girl blurted out a stream of words and left my hug to embrace her little sister. After a short conversation, I learned that the children were forced to stand outside in the twenty degrees below temperature to beg for MRE’s from the passing US Soldiers that trained near her home. Her parents were poor farmers and they supplemented their meager income by selling the Army rations on the black market. As I was listening to her story I started to see the telltale signs of neglect. I noticed that the exposed fingers were red and swollen from mild frostbite and the cheeks chapped from exposure. The hair was matted and dull flakes of dandruff were present in their hair and the horribly tight clothes barely kept them warm from the chilling mountainous winds of Korea.
So many questions fill my mind as I recount this story that happened so many years ago. I wonder what asshole would teach a little girl the meaning of the middle finger. I hope I made a better impact on her and that she has learned to cherish and love her sisters, despite the burden her parents placed on her shoulders as an 8 year old. I revisit this story from time to time and ponder on how this girl is doing. Would she have been better off adopted like me and suffer like I, or was she better off to have been kept with her poor family in Korea? The “once in a lifetime” trip to see my “homeland” taught me more about myself than I imagined possible. I hope this girl has grown up to be a strong, independent woman who has nothing but happiness.
For many of us adoption is a cross we must bear alone. The deep pangs of loneliness, emptiness and sorrow lingers – even amongst the perfect backdrop of life filled with success and wealth. Even in a crowd, I can still be alone.
Who am I is not a question but rather a reoccurring nightmare that haunts me on a daily basis. No matter where I run. No matter how I hide. No matter what I do. It still remains. No matter how I change .. it has a way of finding me. It reminds me that I do not fit in. It casts shadows of self-doubt. It also fills me with shame.
I am that odd jigsaw puzzle that was placed in the wrong box. I am misplaced. Misshaped. I do not belong to the world that I was forced into and a foreigner to the world I seek to find. People call it my home land but it doesn’t feel like home to me. Strangers look at me as oddly as the place were I was raised. I look like them but looks are not everything.
They know I am different. Different language. Different mannerisms. Different smells. They know I am .. unlike them. As I pass through their space, it’s as though I am wearing a scarlet letter. During my childhood that letter is in the shape of my almond eyes, yellow complexion, and shiny black hair. I am reminded of the shame of who I am each time I stare at my own reflection. A shame for being different. Like I said. Who am I? Who am I? WHO AM I!
Today I want to share with you Joey’s Journey. He is one of the few male Chinese intercountry adoptees adopted out of China who I hear from, due to the 1-child policy that has seen an unequal proportion of females being adopted out, rather than males.
Joey’s experience highlights the issue I wrote about in my LION review early this year; of trauma that occurs prior to adoption and how adoptive families cope (or not) with this. How it impacts everyone in the adoptive family and how our society turns a blind eye to this aspect of adoption.
Adoption agencies and governments (both sending and receiving) need to step-up and be accountable because after 60-plus generations of intercountry adoption worldwide, with all the blogs and forums now available where adult intercountry adoptees are actively speaking out, governments and agencies need to embrace what we who live it are saying and start to make changes in intercountry adoption policy and practice. Without this, we continue to repeat the same mistakes.
Change could include things such as:
family preservation and support first to be reunited if lost, support if a known disability exists, micro financing if poverty is the reason why families are placing their child in an orphanage to begin with.
extensive trauma training within our sending countries. It begins at the start. Carers of vulnerable children need to recognise the trauma a child goes through in being separated from their genetic family. Having multiple carers go through a child’s life while in an orphanage or foster care is not optimal. Look at ways to reduce this and ways to identify those children more at risk and develop early intervention pathways that flow into the transition a child undergoes when being adopted to a foreign country.
mandatory trauma training of social workers and professionals who are assessing prospective adoptive parents. How can we expect adoptive families to “get it” if those assessing them don’t even understand the depths of trauma that vulnerable children are living daily and will live with, forever?
mandatory trauma training of prospective parents who are deemed eligible not just in the early phases of considering adopting a child, but once they’ve been approved and when matches are made, this trauma training needs to continue long past picking up the child and bringing them home.
develop centralised portals of trauma specialists who adoptive parents can turn to from the beginning of their journey and through out, to ensure they are surrounded by the right professional supports.
adopting multiple children to one family at the same time should not happen if the adoptive parents have no experience in adopting/fostering or caring for vulnerable children. I’ve written before about the practice of separating biologically related children (twins) and keeping bio siblings together should be the only exception for allowing multiple children into one family at the same time – but with the requirement that a full support plan needs to be in place.
I’m not saying we adoptees have the answers or that any solutions will be easy, but at least we can start the conversations and bring these issues to the forefront!
I connected with Abby Forero-Hilty from a Colombian intercountry adoptee group on FaceBook. She has worked hard to put together a new anthology that shares 18 Colombian intercountry adoptee experiences. Most participants were raised in the USA except 4 who were raised in Europe (Germany, UK, Belgium & Switzerland). The anthology is titled Decoding Our Origins: The Lived Experiences Of Colombian Adopteesand it’s proceeds will be given to Colombian intercountry adoptees and their original families who struggle to afford DNA testing kits.
I read the book in two sittings. I loved the mix of literary styles .. prose, lyrics, narrative, photographs – it made for an interesting read! It is deeply emotional and contains very moving personal accounts of the struggles and achievements of those who contributed. It covers some profoundly sad experiences and includes many stories of reunion and beyond.
I felt very connected reading Decoding our Origins because it reflected much of what I’ve experienced and learnt from intercountry adoptee’s worldwide covering a variety of countries of origin. The issues and experiences reflect what I’ve always termed the “kaleidoscope of intercountry adoption journeys”.
One aspect that stood out was these experiences voiced by the USA based Colombian intercountry adoptees, appear to be largely the result of the USA’s privatised system of adoption. It has only been since 2008 that the USA became a signatory of The Hague Convention for Intercountry Adoption. Prior to becoming a signatory, independent adoption agencies facilitated intercountry adoptions for prospective parents. We read the results from these intercountry adoptees themselves, now grown up, with a voice of their own. They share the consequences of growing up with ill prepared parents due to a lack of mandatory and standardised education, lack of standardised screening, and a lack of education to adoption agencies from the kaleidoscope of intercountry adoptee experiences.
Decoding our Origins, being largely the voices of USA based Colombian intercountry adoptees, is a reflection on the USA who is the largest receiving country in the world … and a sender of it’s own children via intercountry adoption! Will the USA and countries in Europe work harder to listen to and include a wide range of voices from the adult intercountry adoptee community to improve standards and processes in intercountry adoptions to achieve better long term outcomes for the child (who inevitably grows up to become an adult)? Only time will tell.
We now see enmasse, generations of intercountry adoptees like these Colombians in the USA and around Europe, who have suffered in their adoptions. Suffered rehoming, trafficking, deportation, false documentation; who are searching for their true identities and place of belonging, who struggle to have their emotional journey validated, and essentially for whom they have been given inadequate pre & post adoption supports. Our receiving countries have an ethical obligation to ensure if they are going to continue to bring in children via intercountry adoption each year, they lift their standards to ensure these children have positive outcomes in the future and not continue to suffer as many in this Colombian anthology share.
Some suggestions to lift standards would be to provide fully funded resources specific to intercountry adoption, like:
Let’s not forget the role of the sending country, Colombia. One has to question why our sending countries including Colombia, continues to send so many of its children out. Why, after so many generations, does Colombia fail to create and implement family preservation systems especially given such a high proportion of these Colombian adoptees successfully reunite and find their families intact? Why also has there been such a long history of irregularities in identity documentation from orphanages and hospitals in sending countries? Decoding our Origins exemplifies the long term consequences for intercountry adoptees who are sent away to another country under such practices. Our governments becoming a signatory of The Hague for Intercountry Adoption does little to improve these aspects of intercountry adoption for us intercountry adoptees!
Decoding Our Origins: The Lived Experiences Of Colombian Adopteesis now available from their website.