Grief in Adoption

by Cosette Eisenhauer adopted from China to the USA, Co-Founder of Navigating Adoption

Grief is a weird concept. I expect myself to grieve people that I know, family and friends that have passed. Those times it makes sense to grieve the loss of a loved one. I know them and I’ve loved them. I am able to grieve a person that I’ve met, a person who impacted my life for one reason or another. People also grieve when there are tragic events, a lot of times this come with knowing their names and faces.

Grieving my biological parents and the life I might have had in China is a weird type of grief. Grieving people that I’ve never met and a life I never had is a confusing type of grief. There is no person to look at, there is no name that goes with the grief. Then there is the grief and numbness when it comes to grieving the information I don’t know. Grief overall as an intercountry adoptee is a weird concept, it’s a weird word.

There has always been a void in my heart for my biological family. A dream of mine was to have my biological family at my wedding and as the day gets closer, it’s become more real understanding I probably won’t have that dream come true. The grief has been so real, it’s been overtaking. Sometimes the grief I have comes and I don’t even realise it’s grief until I’m struggling at the time. It’s the same concept of grieving someone that I know personally yet, there is no name, no face for this person(s). I never knew their voice or their lifestyle. It is grieving someone I’ve never met.

I’ve learned it’s okay to grieve, I am a human. Every single person has lost someone they know and they’ve gone through the grief process. People grieve in different ways. I don’t compare the way I grieve with the way someone else grieves. There is no timeline on when I should stop grieving. I might think I’m done, and then it starts up again.

You can follow Cosette at:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/_c.eisenhauer_/ Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cosette-e-76a352185/ Navigating Adoption Website: https://www.navigatingadoption.org/home

Suicide Amongst Adoptees

by Hilbrand Westra, born in South Korea and adopted to the Netherlands, founder of Adoptee & Foster Care (AFC) Netherlands

ATTENTION TO SUICIDE AMONGST ADOPTEES

Five times higher than average

Hardly anyone really wants to know, and people don’t talk about it easily, let alone the adoptees’ attention when it happens. Usually the attention goes to the #adoptiveparents and the adoptees are often alone in the rain.

Last week was the book launch of adoptive mother Rini van Dam’s book #donderdagen in Sneek. Speakers’ introductions rightly focused on the author, of course, but one of the topics why the book was created was Sannison’s death. A fellow Korean adoptee who ended her life before she was 17 and her funeral service was on November five, my birthday. She had just broken up with a fellow adoptee shortly before. It was 1991, the year when association for adopted Koreans, Arierang, held its first major national meeting. The year where loves both blossomed and burst apart. The year I became aware of what and pain and sorrow lurked beneath us all.

Two years later, Julia, a Korean adoptee from Belgium who left life just before she turned 21, died and her funeral service was on 5 November, my birthday. Her adoptive parents, however, did not want adoptees at the funeral service.

A few years later, I would lose my own sister, Joo Min, while stationed as a UN soldier in Bosnia. We don’t really know why she chose to save two boys in their fall in the French Italian Alps when she must have known it would be fatal for her herself.

Yesterday, I was reminded of the above. A painful but perhaps the most necessary confrontation with my personal history to learn through this hard road that I could no longer look away from my inner development. Since then, I have been working hard for the suffering of adoptees around the world. But instead of praise and support, I received threats and angry adoptive parents in my path. Some even threatened to want to kill me. But angry adoptees and #scientists, especially from the Netherlands, also tried to take my message off the air. Until the Swedish research by Anders Hjern, Frank Lindblad, Bo Vinnerljung came out in 2002 and substantiated my experiences and suspicions.

Existential trauma to suicide shows a relationship with the tearing process created by relinquishment and #adoption. Since then, such outcomes have surfaced all over the world except in the Netherlands. The Netherlands still likes to indulge in the Walt Disney story and any contrary noise about this phenomenon is conveniently dismissed by statistical research, which, although Evidence Based accredited, manages to conveniently dismiss this issue.

Science prefers to leave the suffering of many adoptees to themselves because what doesn’t show up in the statistics doesn’t exist according to the government and adoption agencies.

Original in Dutch

AANDACHT VOOR #ZELFDODING ONDER #GEADOPTEERDEN

Vijf keer hoger dan gemiddeld

Bijna niemand wil het echt weten, en men spreekt er niet makkelijk over, laat staan dat de geadopteerden de aandacht krijgen als het gebeurt. Meestal gaat de aandacht naar de #adoptieouders en staan de geadopteerden vaak alleen in de regen.

Gisteren was de boekuitreiking van het boek #donderdagen van adoptiemoeder Rini van Dam in Sneek. De inleidingen van sprekers waren natuurlijk terecht gericht op de schrijfster, maar een van de onderwerpen waarom het boek is ontstaan is de dood van Sannison. Een mede Koreaanse geadopteerde die voor haar 17e een eind maakte aan haar leven en haar rouwdienst was op vijf november, mijn verjaardag. Ze had kort daarvoor net de prille verkering met een medegeadopteerde uitgemaakt. Het was 1991, het jaar dat vereniging voor geadopteerde Koreanen, Arierang, haar eerste grote landelijke bijeenkomst achter de rug had. Het jaar waar zowel liefdes opbloeiden, maar ook uit elkaar spatten. Het jaar dat ik mij gewaar werd welk en pijn en verdriet onder ons allen schuil ging.

Twee jaar later, overleed Julia, een Koreaanse geadopteerde uit België die net voor haar 21e het leven verliet en haar rouwdienst was op vijf november, mijn verjaardag. Haar adoptieouders echter wilden geen geadopteerden bij de rouwdienst.

Enkele jaren later zou ik mijn eigen zus, Joo Min, verliezen terwijl ik gestationeerd was als VN soldaat in Bosnië. We weten niet echt waarom ze verkoos om twee jongens in hun val in de Frans Italiaanse Alpen te redden terwijl ze geweten moet hebben dat het haar zelf noodlottig zou worden.

Gisteren werd ik aan het bovenstaande herinnerd. Een pijnlijke, maar wellicht de meest noodzakelijke confrontatie met mijn persoonlijke historie om via deze harde weg te leren dat ik niet langer weg kon kijken van mijn innerlijke ontwikkeling. Sindsdien heb ik mij hard gemaakt voor het leed van geadopteerden over de hele wereld. Maar inplaats van lof en ondersteuning ontving ik bedreigingen en boze adoptieouders op mijn pad. Sommigen dreigden mij zelfs om te willen brengen. Maar ook boze geadopteerden en #wetenschappers, vooral uit Nederland, probeerden mijn boodschap uit de lucht te halen. Totdat het Zweedse onderzoek van Anders Hjern, Frank Lindblad, Bo Vinnerljung in 2002 uitkwam en mijn ervaringen en vermoedens staafde.

Het existentiële trauma tot zelfdoding laat een relatie zien met het verscheurende proces dat ontstaat door afstand en #adoptie. Sindsdien zijn over de hele wereld dergelijke uitkomsten opgedoken behalve in Nederland. Nederland laaft zich nog graag aan het Walt Disney verhaal en elk tegengesteld geluid over dit fenomeen wordt handig weggewerkt door statistisch onderzoek, dat weliswaar Evidence Based geaccrediteerd is, maar dit onderwerp handig weet weg te werken.

De wetenschap laat het lijden van veel geadopteerden liever aan henzelf over want wat niet in de statistieken opduikt bestaat niet volgens de overheid en de hulpverlening.

Resources

ICAVs Memorial Page with Suicide Awareness links and other resources on this topic

Adoptee Review of Ra Chapman’s K-Box Play

by Kayla Curtis, Korean adoptee raised in Australia, social worker and counsellor specialising in adoption.

I want to share some reflections from going along to the K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night at the Malthouse and seeing Ra Chapman’s K-Box play in Melbourne, Australia on 9 September.

Personally, I am feeling an excitement from seeing K-Box because it captured so much of my personal adoption experience with confronting and emotional clarity. My comments to Ra afterwards were: “They could have been my parents on that stage, the set was my family home and the script was very close to the conversations I have navigated with my family over the years. Thank you for shining a light on some of what we have to navigate and including some of the uncomfortable and confronting issues that are so covert and invisible to others, especially our families”.  

K-Box is written and directed by Ra Chapman, a South Australian Korean adoptee, currently Melbourne based. This play is one of a kind and is the first to shine a bright light on the complexities and nuances of the intercountry adoptee experience in Australia and to have an intercountry adoptee as the leading protagonist. Ra wrote the play based on hers and other adoptees lived experiences of adoption. Feedback from adoptees who saw the play on Friday night was that the portrayal of the adoptee’s experience was not only relatable but a provoking and truthful representation of their own adoption experiences.

The play was about a 30+ year old Korean adoptee navigating relationships with her adoptive mother and father and was also about her journey of coming to understand the impact adoption has had in her life: how it has influenced her identity, her internal working model and sense of self and connection with her adoptive parents. It touched on many of the core themes of adoption including identity, belonging, loss and grief, race, the life-long impacts of adoption, racism, stereotypes, attachment, belonging, white privilege/white washing, ‘dangers of single stories’, family as well as how we talk about adoption issues and navigate these difficult discussions with our families. What the play did well is to explore the impacts on the adoptee and family relationships when these core issues are not understood, validated, explored, or supported. As is normal for many adoptees who begin to explore and pay attention to these issues, there can be a destabilising effect on the family relationships as the adoption ‘fairy-tale’ or ‘happy adoption’ narrative begins to come apart. 

L to R: Jeffrey Liu, Ra Chapman, Susanna Qian

For any professionals working in the area of adoption, this play is a great resource, providing a deep and valuable insight to the dynamics, relationships, interracial experiences, and challenges intercountry adoptees have to navigate within their adoption experience and adoptive families. Of course, this was delivered extremely cleverly with the play using comedy/satire as well as emotionally intense and beautiful monologues and symbolism complimented by outstanding acting from an intimate cast of four performers. 

It was powerfully delivered and received, leaving many adoptees who attended feeling emotional and unsteady but also connected, seen, and supported. Likewise, it may also leave adoptive parents feeling unsure, confronted, and curious about their role in their child’s adoption. In the end, I think it brings everyone together: adoptees and parents, opening up possibilities of how we can partner up around the adoption experience and do better for the journey of the adoptee.

Following the play, I valued the emotive speeches and other performances by adoptee’s sharing their creative work and projects. In addition the evening mentioned some other exciting adoptee led projects and creative works in development that I will be following closely with anticipation.  

The main takeaway for me from the evening was the amazing way adoptees were able to come together through this event, which I think highlights the collective healing power for adoptees when surrounded by community, elevating the adoptee voice in a safe and supported way and feeling a sense of strong belonging by being seen and heard. It is great knowing that the Australian adoptee community is going strong!

I hope that we can continue having open and welcomed discussions together as a community so we all can benefit in learning from those with lived experiences especially from adoptees.

Dearest Ra, please know the powerful impact you have had and how your creative work is helping to shape all of our learning and better capacitate the adoption community in Australia.

I encourage all to see Ra Chapman’s play K-Box showing only until 18 September; adoptive parents, adoptees, adoption professionals and the broader community.

Check out our Photo Album from the evening.

The 9 September K-Box Adoptee Takeover Night at the Malthouse event was proudly presented to us by Malthouse Theatre, supported by Relationships Australia Intercountry Adoptee and Family Support Services (ICAFSS) small grants, InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV), International Social Services (ISS) Australia, and hosted by our wonderful adoptee led organisations and community-based groups – ICAV led by Lynelle Long and Ra Chapman from Korean Adoptees In Australia Network (KAIAN).

Coming Next at ICAVs blog is some of the Adoptee Artist performances from our Take Over of the Malthouse Night and artwork from the ZINE magazine which was handed out at the event.

Ra Chapman and some of the Korean adoptees who attended the evening
Photos by Lynelle Long

Resources

Deep Regret or Great Love? Adoptee play showcases desire for connection

K-Box: Questioning middle class Australia with blitzing comedic flair

Being Illegally Adopted and a Forced Reunion

Most people assume that our adoptions are all legal and legitimate. Most people assume that adoptees want to meet their first mothers. Aimee’s story highlights the harsh reality that not all adoptions are legal and that media involvement is not always helpful or kind to the adoptee who may not even want, nor be ready, to reunite.

The worst part of Aimee’s story which isn’t shared in this video, is that even though the Taiwanese government prosecuted the traffickers responsible for her illegal adoption, to date, nothing has been offered by either the Taiwanese nor Australian governments to help Aimee in any specific way in dealing with the ongoing impacts of being illegally adopted. There is a whole cohort of Taiwanese adoptees in Australia with Aimee who were a result of the Julie Chu trafficking ring in Taiwan that was prosecuted. No-one has followed up on these adoptees to check on them, to let them know of how their adoption came about, nor to make any specific supports be made known to them.

How is it ethical that Australia and Taiwan still be allowed to continue to facilitate intercountry adoptions today, without any recognition of the past wrongs nor an attempt to address the impacts on these victims? THIS is intercountry adoption with a complete lack of duty of care to the person impacted most, in the worst case scenario.

Click on Aimee’s picture to listen to her share.

Aimee

Resources

Lived Experience of Illegal and Illicit Adoption webinar which includes another of the Taiwanese trafficked adoptees, Kimbra Butterworth-Smith

Does Justice and Accountability Happen in Illegal Adoptions?

The Lived Experience of Illegal Intercountry Adoption

Voices Against Illegal Adoptions Speak at the United Nations

ICAVs Perspective Paper: Lived Experience Suggestions for Responses to Illegal and Illicit Adoptions in French & English

Governments Finally Recognising Illicit and Illegal Adoption Practices

The Feeling of Not Belonging Anywhere

Michelle is one of our most eloquent adoptees in the video series. She is so open and honest about the challenges and I love her courage to speak up about the topics most hidden in adoption – eating disorders and suicide attempts and what underlies these; and the struggle to find a place to belong and need to know the truth of our origins.

Click on Michelle’s image to listen to her video.

Michelle

Resources

Read Michelle’s other blogs: Mother and Letter to President Moon.

Adopted Families and Eating Disorder Recovery

Risk of eating disorders in international adoptees: a cohort study using Swedish national population registers

Eating Disorders in Adopted Children

Do I have an Eating Disorder?

Behavioral symptoms of eating disorders among adopted adolescents and young adults in the United States: Findings from the Add Health survey

The Link between Childhood Trauma and Eating Disorders

Adoption and Eating Disorders: A High-Risk Group?

Issues in Attachment that may contribute to Eating Disorders

Identifying with our Genetic Mirrors

People who aren’t adopted too easily forget that biology does matter – seeing our biology mirrored around us, grounds us in the formation of our identity and our sense of self.

In this short talk from our video series, I love Ben’s comments about looking into his baby’s eyes and seeing himself reflected for the first time and the impact that had on him. I can certainly relate to this too as it wasn’t until I had my own children that I felt a deeper sense of security within myself – a sense of belonging that I’d never had before.

Click on the image of Ben to see his video.

Benjamin

Resources that speak about the importance of Genetic Mirrors:

Thoughts for Adoptive Parents
Free as a Bird

Video: Genetic Mirroring – What it is, How it Affects Adopted People, and What you can Do about it (by Colombian intercountry adoptee Jeanette Yoffe)

You can follow Ben @ Insta on the_quiet_adoptee

A Life has been Lived Before Adoption

I really love the message Meseret shares as another older aged intercountry adoptee in our video series. It provides a message for prospective parents to be respectful of the experiences and life prior to a child coming home to their new adoptive family and country. It reminds us of how difficult it is to expect an adoptee to “trust” their new family, especially when language is a barrier. It helps us be realistic about what supports a family needs when undertaking older age adoptions.

Click on the image of Meseret to listen to her share.

Meseret

Resources

Trauma of Transition for Older Aged Adoptees

The Walk: A true story of Meseret Cohen

Finding Peace after Adoption

I can’t believe it’s been just over a year since I filmed 8 amazing people who openly shared their experience and views of life as intercountry adoptees. In the next few weeks, I want to highlight the individual videos from our video series, that help to share about the complexities of being an adoptee.

Here is Jonas who shares about his journey to find his inner peace, coming to terms with the losses, struggles, and gains from being adopted at an older age out of Haiti to Australia. It’s worth sharing especially for younger male adoptees of colour who often struggle in silence with very few role models or racial mirrors. Being adopted doesn’t always mean an endless struggle. Jonas talks about no matter how tough the journey is, it is possible to reach a place of acceptance and peace when one puts in the hard work to explore our beginnings, come to terms with our realities and find a way through.

Have a listen to Jonas share in the video by clicking on the image below.

Jonas

Resources

Race and Trauma resources specific to intercountry adoption

Haitian of the Month: Jonas Désir

Hope for Haiti: Journey of Hope

Embracing Therapy as an Adoptee

by Oleg Lougheed, adopted from Russia to the USA. Founder of Overcoming Odds.

I remember the first time I went to therapy.

I was ashamed of it.

I disliked every aspect of it.

I saw it as a sign of weakness.

Out of all of the things I looked forward to, this was at the very bottom of my list.

I remember the drive over.

“Why do I have to go here?”

“I don’t need this.”

“This is stupid.”

With each remark, I became more and more angry.

I remember exiting the car.

Not a single word, arms folded together, sprinting ahead of my parents in frustration.

“Welcome!” said the receptionist.

I didn’t respond.

“Through the double doors to the right, please.”

As I opened the double doors, my eyes immediately met them.

A room full of kids who were much younger than me.

I scanned the entire room.

Everybody was doing something.

Some were putting together puzzles.

Others were drawing.

“This is not for me,” I whispered.

I made my way toward the spot.

The spot I became far too familiar with throughout my life.

The corner of the room.

I sat there in silence, waiting for the clock to strike 8 PM.

“How are you doing?” asked the therapist on duty.

No response.

It took weeks before I said my first words.

I remember sitting in the corner of the room when the therapist approached me.

I couldn’t hold it anymore. I broke down.

Fighting back tears, I told her everything.

I told her how much I missed my birth family.

I told her that I was being bullied at school.

I told her about the struggles back home.

I felt a huge relief with each spoken word.

Unfortunately, this was one of the last sessions.

I turned back to what I knew best, silence.

It wasn’t until 10 years ago, I spoke the word, “therapy” out loud.

I was a freshman in college.

I needed someone to talk to.

The past was on the back of my mind.

I went straight to the counselling/mental health department.

I wasn’t ashamed of it anymore.

I remember the walk over.

The feeling of empowerment with every step I took.

I accepted therapy into my life, on my own terms.

Going to sessions helped me tremendously.

They helped me process and reframe many of my past traumatic experiences.

They helped me get curious about the subject and the stories I chose to believe in.

The stories of it being seen as a sign of weakness, not a strength.

The stories of therapy as something I should be ashamed of.

Curiosity helped me change many of these narratives.

Curiosity helped me embrace therapy as a part of my identity, part of my life.

For more from Oleg, read his last blog Adoptee Fear and Vulnerability
Follow him at Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn @overcomingodds

Money never makes up for what I’ve lost as a First Nations Canadian

by Jen Etherington, born as a First Nations Canadian and adopted into an Australian family.

It looks like the final payments for the sixties scoop has started going out. I get mixed feelings about it and the process.

I feel a sense of loss of culture, family and country. I’m not saying I’m not grateful for my adoptive parents and all that life has given me here in Australia but it also doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the sense of loss for everything else.

My bio parents died when I was 9 years old and that hope of meeting them was gone forever. My partner and I are currently listening to Harry Potter and I cry because I can relate to the loss of his parents and how he feels, as well as the pining to know about them. People from home in Canada tell me stories about them and I get so happy and so sad at the same time.

I see posts from bio cousins about different cultural events and traditions and I feel sad that I don’t know my culture. People here in Australia get excited when I tell them I’m First Nations Canadian and ask about my culture and I don’t have anything for them.

My bio parents didn’t have any more children because they didn’t want them to be taken away (or so I believe). I always hoped I’d have a long lost sibling out there.

I feel a big sense of loss about my last miscarriage because that was my last chance at experiencing a biological connection.

Anyway, the payment was $25,000 and I know there are people out there where this amount of money will help and make a difference but I also feel like it’s kind of hush money. I don’t feel like it is much for what happened to so many of us.

Further Reading

$25,000 settlement for Sixties Scoop Survivors, a “Slap in the Face”

English
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