Sold via adoption on the Gypsy black market in Greece

by Roula Maria stolen from Greece and adopted to an Australian family.

Twin sisters, separated by black market adoption in Greece.

My name is Roula and I was born in Greece with my twin and sold separately on the black market in July 1981. I have only just found my twin in the recent years and hope to meet in person once COVID eases. This is my story.

About my parents

After migrating from Greece in the early 60’s they settled in a small country town outside of Adelaide, South Australia. There were other immigrants that also went to the same town after coming from Greece.

My parents were not able to have children after many attempts and eventually decided to make themselves known to a family who had adopted a little girl from Greece. It turns out that family did not actually adopt the little girl but purchased her from a doctor who was producing and selling gypsy children in an institute in the heart of Athens. They gave my mother the contact details for the midwife in Greece.

My parents made contact with the midwife in Greece and made an appointment to travel to Greece to speak to the doctor. Once they had arrived he told them that there were many babies available but they would need to wait. They agreed and travelled back to Australia.

About 6 months later, the phone rang with good news and they travelled to Greece within the week. My mother’s request was that she wanted a girl but at that time there were no girls available, so they remained in Greece until one was. She also wore a pillow under her belly to show she was pregnant – the lengths my parents went to was phenomenal.

Then I came along.

My adoption

My dad went to the town of Korinthos to sign the paper work. On my birth record my mother who bought me was written as my birth mother, so authorities would not pick up on the falsified documents, then my dad went back to the hospital in Greece and I was given to him. They payed $6000 euro in 1981, the equivalent of around $200,000 dollars Australian back then.

They stayed in Greece for around 40 days as the culture states a child needs to be blessed around their 40th day of birth. They took me to the Australian Embassy and registered me as a citizen of Australia under parental authority.

Then the fear of being caught played on their minds. They knew from the time at the airport ’till the time the plane took off that they were in grave danger of being caught. Once onboard and the plane got into the air, my mother breathed for the first time.

I was flown to Australia on the 24 August 1981.

I grew up with two sides. I was the happy little girl who loved life and everything in it but I was also the little girl who was traumatised by intense sexual abuse and a victim to domestic violence. My childhood was filled with sadness and also happy family moments, it was as though I lived in a time warp between two worlds, the real and the hidden.

Even the Greek kids that I grew up with would tease me about being adopted and when I confronted my mother, she denied all allegations. It was a part of my everyday life growing up with my mother being untruthful about it all. It was not until my teens that a cousin confirmed the truth to me in a state of anger, as the behaviours that I was displaying where the behaviours of a survivor of abuse.

No one knew the turmoil and the hurt I was facing as typical Greek families do not discuss issues and are taught to bottle them up and never spoken about it, especially with the older generation.

It was not until I had reached year 7 at primary school that I finally spoke out about my life but even then, it was dismissed and ignored.

My family sold their land and moved me to Adelaide thinking that it would help me move on with my life, but from what psychologists and counsellors say to me, running is not an option. My parents thought they were doing the right thing but it led me to destructive teenage years filled with drugs, homelessness, violence, jails, and institutions.

If only people could have been able to help me but by then, I had been hurt and lied to, too many times to even want anyone’s help.

At the age 15 in 1996, I started my search, homeless and in the library trying to find information about black-market adoption from Greece. I came across 100’s of articles about selling of babies within the gypsy community in Greece. I was shocked and intrigued at the information available. I put up posts in forums stating that I was searching for my birth mother. I had no idea what I was writing but I tried everything.

For some reason though I knew I was on the right track, something inside me knew what I was doing and where I was searching was real and leading me to where I belonged.

After years of trauma from living on the streets and being a complete drug addict, in 2003, I went into rehab. I got clean and my life started to get better. I still had some very damaging behaviours but in 2010, I moved back to that small country town and found a great psychologist who is today still a large part of my healing and journey.

I ended up marrying a man from that town and we moved away due to work reasons, then in 2015, I had a child through IVF. My son has a great childhood but he has also had some life challenges. Compared to what I had, I’m thankful I was able to change the mistakes that many Greek families have today and we communicate!

Why am I sharing my story?

I share my story because I participated in the early stages of ICAVs video resource project and I wanted to contribute.

Being a product of adoption and black market selling of babies is not an easy life. We children come from all different backgrounds with genetic disorders and family health systems. These need to be addressed and I disliked having to say to a doctor, “I don’t know, I am adopted,” whenever I was asked what my family health history is. I’m sure my feelings on this must be very common amongst adopted people . When a doctor knows you are not the biological product of the family you are in, more tests, more health records and more information should be assigned to the adoptee, to assist in finding out the health answers we deserve.

If it wasn’t for the technology of DNA testing, I would not have known my heritage or my health record. I am so glad I can now got to the doctors and say I genetically carry this, this, this, and this. It is extremely empowering.

With teachers and school counsellors, I believe adoptive parents need to take responsibility for ensuring information is provided to the school, disclosing that their child is adopted. There should be no judgment or repercussions in any way when parents disclose this.  Teachers also need to be aware that the child may be facing or feeling empty from not knowing their identity nor understanding why they may be feeling this way.

These days in schools, there are mindfulness clinics, self-esteem talks, anti-bullying days, and wellbeing classes and they have a different curriculum compared to what I had in the 80’s. Adding a box to identify at enrolment whether adopted or not, should start from early childhood care, all the way through to university. All enrolments should ask us to identify if we are adopted or not. If the student does not know, then parents should be asked discreetly with confidentiality maintained, as some parents chose to wait until their child is old enough, to be told.

I suggest support resources such as social media, jumping in online forums where other adoptees share the same voice. I run 2 groups. One is called Greek Born Adoptees with 450 members and the other is called Greek Sold Gypsy children with 179 members. This group is for sold children and for the gypsy parents to assist them in finding each other. We use DNA testing to match the parents and the sold adoptees.

Thank you for your time and I hope that more people will come forward about their adoptions. I speak for the Greek born sold children of Greece and I know there are 1000’s of us. Here in Australia, there are around 70 who I would like to make contact with when they are ready because we have gypsy parents who are wanting to meet their children for the first time and have given their permission to be found.

The Aloneness of Motherloss

by Mila Konomos, adopted from South Korea to the USA. Poet, artist, activist.

Mila with her child, embracing all that was lost to her as an infant, separated from her mother.

I have been processing the Aloneness of #MotherLoss a lot lately.

Intellectually, I know what self-talk to cultivate. I know I am not alone. I know that I have people in my life who care for me and value me.

But this aloneness is deeper than that.

This aloneness is the the aloneness of Mother Loss.

I feel so alone so often because I do not have a Mother.

I lost my First Mother at 5 days old.

I lost my Foster Mother at 6 months old.

I grew up with a Mother who could not see my trauma. Hence, she did not know how to love or comfort me through the loss, pain, and grief of my Adoptedness.

I feel alone because I was always alone in my pain and grief.

I feel alone because I have spent most of my life crying alone.

I feel alone because I have rarely known what it is to not be alone, not only physically but emotionally.

I feel so alone so often, because Mother Loss is a loss that remains for a lifetime.

There is no way to replace a Lost Mother.

No one else on earth can compensate for a Lost Mother.

Only One Mother bore me in her own body. Only One Mother’s heartbeat, breathing, and voice were what I heard for 9 months. Her scent, her face were as though my own.

I watched a documentary recently during which the narrator said, “Babies think they are a part of whomever they are within.”

This is profound in the context of Adoptees severed from our mothers as infants. We must have experienced separation from our mothers almost as though being ripped in two, torn away from ourselves. Split violently apart.

I have to allow myself to grieve this Mother Loss. It is eternal. Even 12 years post-reunion, Mother Loss remains. I can never get back the Mother I lost. I cannot retrieve the over three decades of my life that I was lost, compounded by the loss of language, culture, and geography.

There is a pain and loneliness that is hard to describe when you find what you had been looking for all of your life and yet it still slips through your fingers.

This pain of being so close yet still so far.

As though looking through a window but never actually getting to go in.

Mila with her son and a special Korean children’s book called, “Waiting for Mama”.

For more from Mila, follow her at her website, The Empress Han. Her newest poetry album Shrine is being released in May 2021.

#adoption #transracialadoptee #adoptionreunion #adoptee #adoptionistrauma #adoptionloss #adopteevoices

Finland’s adoptions are similar to the Dutch.

by Sabina Söderlund-Myllyharju, adopted from Taiwan to Finland.
Translation by Fiona Chow. Original post here in Swedish.

Recently my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with important news items from places such as The Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden. The Netherlands has suspended all adoptions from abroad after an investigation revealed systematic abuses as well as illegal adoptions. A similar investigation has begun in Switzerland. In Sweden, adult adoptees from Chile along with those from other nations, are fighting for a nation-wide investigation to be implemented as soon as possible. 

This build-up of steam in the adoption world started to stir up feelings inside of me. For a long time now, I have been observing strong opposition against adoption from adopted adults in the international circles I am involved in on social media. But to completely halt all adoptions? That sounded foreign to me. Many years ago, I thought likewise, but since then I have come to the realisation that such thinking is a little too radical. At least, not while there are children out there without parents.

The other night, I listened to a discussion in which a Swedish adoptive parent openly stood in the gap for the illegally adopted children who are now demanding Sweden to take responsibility. She supported them whole-heartedly, even though her engagement is likely to bring negative consequences into her own life. It warmed my heart that she as an adoptive parent is willing to do everything in her power so that her own children in the future would not need to question the adoption system in the same way as the stolen children of today.

My own adoption didn’t go as it should have, and this has been the source of a myriad of different emotions inside of me. These have ranged from the sadness of not having grown up with my biological family, to real anger over a system full of inadequacies. How is it even possible that I was transported from one continent to another with the help of falsified papers? That the offenders have now been tried and punished is of course just and right, but why was there never any attempt to re-unite me and dozens of other children with their original families?

At the same time, I have experienced huge feelings of guilt for even thinking this way, as I have had a good life here in Finland. Who am I really to complain? In fact, this isn’t a question of not being grateful. I am truly thankful for many things, not the least of which include my three children who are growing up in a fantastic country such as Finland. However, am I thankful that I was separated from my biological mother? Is it even possible for me to ever stop wondering why my identification documents were falsified at the time of adoption? Was I sold? Is this what my biological mother really wanted?

It has been many years since my own adoption and at that time, the arrangements were made privately, without the help of an adoption agency, nor the protection such an agency would have provided. I am happy that today’s Finland adoptions are regulated in a totally different way, so that we can be certain that things are done legally and correctly when we place children through international adoption. This is the way it is, isn’t it? Surely our focus is on what is best for the child, just as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) demands? Surely we choose to act without delay when suspicious activity arises on the adoption field?

My hope is that adoptees, adoptive parents and adopters can be assured that all those who work with adoption in Finland are, with good conscious, able to say that everything is working as it should. I sincerely hope that adoption agencies such as Interpedia, Save the Children and the City of Helsinki have been quiet for so long because they absolutely have nothing to hide. 

At the same time, I can hardly be the only person who thinks that an independent state investigation is long overdue, even in a country such as Finland.  

Broken

by Yolanda, a transracial adoptee (of Jamaican, black mixed with Chipawaue Indian origins) raised in the USA into a black American adoptive family.

Artwork by Yolanda

I was adopted at seven months old and my adoptee story isn’t a good one.

Basically I grew up in a religious family full of mental, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Because of that, I was taken away from my adopted mom and placed in the foster care system, where the mental and physical abuse continued.

Growing up was hard, I was always the black sheep of the family. Now that I’m older, my adoptive family act like I did something to them. They don’t accept me or my children. At family functions they won’t even speak to me or my kids. So I stopped going and cut them completely off, but it still hurts.

All I ever wanted was to be close to my family. But I guess I’ll never know what that feels like. Life sure does suck sometimes. I get sick and tired of not being accepted. I can’t seem to make sense of my life anymore. Why am I even here on earth? They tell me my life has purpose but I don’t see it.

My artwork above reflects how I’ve been broken. My music also helps provide me an outlet to express my journey.

Family and Xmas Times

This is the one time of year where I’m reminded I don’t have that childhood family with amazing memories and closeness. I’ve always yearned, as only some other adoptees can know, for that sense of family where I feel wanted, cherished, loved deeply. I know my family, like many others, are never perfect, but the older I get, the more I see my childhood in my adoptive family and can only remember the pain it created for me. Adoption is supposed to be happy isn’t it? It’s what gets portrayed. But I know I had spurts of moments of happiness in mine — it’s so hard to recall because as I grow older and relive it all again via children of my own, I realise the level of neglect and trauma my adoptive family caused, that could have been avoided.

How do I get past it? Should I? Or do I accept it will just always be … yes it hurts beneath the surface, oozing with pain every time I have to think about “adoptive family”. I’m old enough now to understand this pain is part of who I am. It’s not going away but I can hold and honour what I’ve had to do, to come past it —to be functional, stable, loving.

Healing doesn’t mean the pain stops and goes away. Healing means I’ve come to accept the truth. I no longer sit in it drowning or reacting. I’ve learned better ways to manage my emotions. I’ve learned how to have boundaries and not give past what I’m willing to. I’ve learned it’s ok to remain true to my own needs. I’ve learned to accept what can’t be changed but to change what I can. I can accept them as they are and know they’re not capable, even if they wanted. I have to give it to me, myself. Love, connection, acceptance, nurturing. 

Xmas, like Thanksgiving for Americans, is a time where as an adoptee, I feel those sad feelings for what I might have had but didn’t. I know the reality of reunions is that even bio family, if I ever find them, will most likely never be able to meet my emotional need for “family” either. So, this Xmas, I will bring my children and husband close and treasure every moment I have with them for they are the only true family I will ever have! I am thankful I was able to heal enough to have a loving relationship and become a mother myself and give to my children what I never got. This has been my life’s blessing and will be my focus this Xmas!

Bitten and Suffering

by Lily Valentino, Colombian adoptee raised in the USA.

We adoptees are absolute masters at compartmentalizing, I am no different. I can go on my way, not acknowledging, ignoring and stuffing my shit in the back of the closet. But it never fails that eventually something will trigger me into facing my feelings, and downward I usually go for a few days, and sometimes weeks and months.

Yesterday was one of those days, it was like walking through a field and getting bitten by a snake! It happened fast, yet while it was happening it was playing out in slow motion. But now it is nearly 24 hours later and I can quite sharply feel those words coursing through my veins like the poison of a snake.

“….they were brought to this country, were stripped of their names, language, culture, religion, god and taken totally away from the history of themselves”

These were words I heard in passing yesterday, that were the initial sting, bite, if you will, which left me literally stunned. These words came out of Luis Farrakhan, and as I was listening to him speak them, it hit me, he was talking about the slaves brought to America and I too, I too, was sold and brought to this country away from my birth land, for money.

As these words slipped down my throat, I thought of being minority, being Hispanic and how my white adoptive mother pushed and tried to get me to date white guys. How she often spoke about how she wanted me to marry an Italian man. This thought always makes me sick and the term, “whitewash” comes to mind as being her motive. Memories of how she spoke of Hispanics by referring to them using the racial slur, “spics” rush to the forefront of my mind.

It left me shrinking into my seat for the rest of the day. Choking on thoughts of all that I have lost and continue to lose, my culture, my language, my native food, my name, my family and mi tierra (my land). Thinking of how my world is literally cut in half (because I have my birth family that live in Colombia and my husband and kids here in the US), how true happiness of having my world combined will never be had, true belonging is a shadow that I’m forever chasing just like time lost.

I sit here uneasy, fighting the tears from filling my eyes. I’ve been in deep thought about this sudden cry for human rights that does not seem to include adoptees, yet we are walking a near similar path to the slaves of 300 years ago. The difference, we were not bought to fulfill physical labor but to fulfill an emotional position for many white families. Some of us were treated well, part of the family like nothing “less than” while others remained outsiders, forced to fit into a world not our own and punished emotionally and physically when we could not meet their needs. When we stood up for ourselves and decided that we no longer wanted to fulfill that emotional roll to another human for which we had been bought or withstand the abuse, we have been cast out and off of the plantation and told never to return.

The crazy thing is that it is 2020 and my basic human rights to know my name, to know my culture, to grow up in the land that I was born in, to speak my native language, though violated mean nothing, as nobody other than other adoptees are concerned, or have a sense of urgency about this violation.

Adoption, Abuse & Exclusion from the Royal Commission

Part 1 of a 3 part series on Sexual Abuse within Adoption

I write this in honour of the survivors who spoke out with much courage in both the Royal Commission and Revelation. They inspired me to no longer be afraid to speak up. Change is only going to happen if we shake off the mantle of shame and name the perpetrators and no longer allow them to hide!

Most people in the adoption community understand and accept that there is trauma and loss involved for us, the adopted person. The trauma we refer to in adoption is usually what I more correctly term “relinquishment trauma” – the trauma that comes from having connected in utero with our mothers and then ripped away for whatever reason, never to connect to her again, unless we are lucky enough to be reunited or have an open adoption (which is rare in intercountry adoption contexts). Many well known professionals like Dr Bessel van der Kolk and Gabor Maté have spoken at length about the childhood traumas involved in being relinquished or abandoned.

In this 3 part series, I want to talk about one of the traumas that occurs to some of us after our adoption – the trauma of sexual abuse within our adoptive families. This topic is too often hushed up in shame and guilt and we, the adoptees, are left to deal with the ramifications – alone, and unsupported.

During COVID-19 I’ve had extra time to be able to watch some documentaries. One of the most impactful was Revelation on ABC which is an investigative documentary by Sarah Ferguson following on from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse. I felt compelled to watch it because at the time, the media was covering the release of Cardinal George Pell, who reached one of the highest levels of office in the Catholic hierarchy, and was set free on legal technicalities after taking his case to the Supreme Court in Australia. He had previously been found guilty of child sexual assault by two separate courts but those decisions were overturned. Being a survivor of sexual abuse within my adoptive family, I was horrified and angry at this news like many other survivors! I was triggered and reminded of the lack of justice for people like me, whose perpetrators get away with their crimes! Triggered also because I understood intuitively how much courage it must have taken for the one brave soul and allies to stand up against the Catholic church and dare to take it on, speak his truth, and hope/pray that justice would prevail. Sadly it didn’t! Like me, that brave soul has to live knowing that no matter how hard we fight for our inner child who has been so badly wounded, there is sometimes no legal justice to ensure the perpetrator is punished for their crime. The other trigger was to watch the Pope shortly after, speak out in support of Cardinal Pell, likening his “suffering” to that which Jesus Christ suffered. Ughh for those of us who do believe the victims, this is like the ultimate twist and it sounded just like my adoptive father crying out when I confronted him a couple of times over the phone for his deeds from the past. He demanded that I stop “crucifying him”. Could there be any further twist to us victims being portrayed as the perpetrator, causing their suffering?!

I am compelled to speak out for adoptees like me, who suffer within our adoptive families from sexual abuse. I believe it’s one of the worst forms of trauma that is layered upon our already fragile bedrock of trauma from relinquishment. It has taken me decades to feel open and liberated enough to speak freely about how this has impacted me. I speak out because I tried to participate in the Royal Commission but in the end, I didn’t get to because by the time my lawyer confirmed I was indeed considered technically “under State care” whilst my abuse had occurred, I was too late – the Royal Commission had 1 week left to go and were no longer taking testimonies.

I was initially denied the opportunity to share my story in the Royal Commission because as soon as I said “I’m adopted” they automatically told me that abuse occurring within the “private domain” was not included. I should have said my abuse occurred technically while I had not been adopted. This point in itself highlights one of the areas in which we adoptees speak out about for what is wrong with adoption – and that is the lack of responsibility for us long term, by the State or Institution. The State/Institution takes us, places us, assesses our adoptive family, theoretically screens them, educates them, matches us to them, and deems them “eligible” to adopt. So if the institution that is so intricately involved with placing us “gets it wrong” (in hindsight), and it turns out we are abused by the people chosen by them to be our “parents” – how is it that they can escape having “no responsibility” for any part in our abuse? Remember – we are young children and never got a say. We are in the most powerless position. I argue that being adopted should not deem us as being outside “institutional care from a long term perspective” i.e., adoption is a long term form of State/Institutional care. The astute will understand that the prevailing “once-off transactional view of adoption” is one of the largest reasons why States/Institutes are happy to adopt children out and push adoption as a first solution. It enables them to wash their hands of us and not be held accountable for what happens after. In comparison to our peers who end up in other forms of alternative care that don’t sever the State/Institutional responsibility – e.g., foster care, guardianship, stewardship, or kinship care; they were allowed to participate in the Royal Commission and are followed up on long term.

I know in speaking with other adoptees around Australia how frustrating it was for us to have been excluded from the Royal Commission. While the Royal Commission is holding most institutions accountable for the lack of responses to sexual abuse, the very institutions who placed us into adoptive families where abuse happens, ends up never being accountable for their role.

The Royal Commission was just one way in which I would have liked to have helped create visibility to those of us who suffer sexual abuse whilst in adoptive families we are placed in, as a form of institutional care.

Another option I have, is to seek the services of a lawyer and take up my own personal case against the perpetrators and/or those who deemed my adoptive parents fit to adopt a child. This path in itself is a lengthy and emotionally taxing process. Not many of us end up doing this because being adopted, the mantra to be grateful weighs heavy. Our relinquishment trauma also usually means we have so much to deal with already. I have met only one intercountry adoptee who took legal action against their adoptive family for sexual abuse. To do so, has been a heavy price of further abandonment and unresolved family dynamics. It is a toxic mix of issues adoptees have to struggle through if they are to ever seek legal justice for this type of crime.

Over the past few years, I sought to find a lawyer who could pave a way to claim justice for me but the experience has been just awful! It is terribly re-triggering each time I speak to a lawyer who has no idea about intercountry adoption from the adoptee perspective and the impacts of abuse in the adoptive family. Too many adoptees in ICAVs network have experienced sexual abuse. For most, contemplating seeking justice is just too hard. To have the fortitude and emotional strength to get through the process is almost an unattainable goal, the financial cost prohibitive, finding a lawyer with the right expertise is difficult; most of us just want to move on and try to put it behind us. Each time I spoke to a new lawyer, I’d have to tell my experience all over again. It’s been one of the most invalidating experiences of my life! The last lawyer was the worst, telling me the initial consult would be free but then proceeding to bill me anyway. Lawyers can re-trigger us with their preying mentality that reminds us of our perpetrators! Out of six lawyers, I experienced only one who had any compassion, acted humanely and with empathy. The rest were all legalistic with no heart or soul. There’s something to be said for a profession who needs to be trained from a trauma and racially informed perspective to represent us. Every adoption lawyer I spoke to has never heard of representing us, the adoptee. Their services are all for the adoptive families! It’s taken me over 2 years to be strong enough to write about this experience or to consider trying again.

Coming Next: Part 2 – The Legacy and Impacts of Abuse in Adoption.

Resource

Listen to Kaomi Goetz’s Adapted Podcast in which she shares her story of Sexual abuse and the Institutional Response when she approached them.

Who am I now?

By Maria Diemar from her blog at I own my Story Maria Diemar

Who I am now, after my life story changed

I always thought that my mom gave me up for adoption
I was an abandoned child
I learnt to believe that adoption is something beautiful
Even though it hurt
Even though I felt abandoned
Even though I felt alone

I searched for my mom for so many years,
it was almost impossible to find her
until I got in contact with Ana Maria in Chile

When Ana Maria found my mom
I learnt the truth
I was stolen from my mom
at the hospital
right after she gave birth to me
My mom wasn’t allowed to see me or hold me
People at the hospital, a social assistant really tried to force her
to sign papers that she wanted to give me up for adoption
my mom refused to sign any papers

84 days went by,
from the day they separated me from my mom
in the small town on the country side in Chile
until I arrived in an airplane to Stockholm in Sweden.

I came to Sweden with documentation
it said I didn’t have any family that could care for me
it said my mom had left me for adoption
I never question that
But I felt abandoned and alone

Today I know the truth
I was stolen and
forcefully separated from my mom

Few people want to see the truth
as society has taught us that
adoption is something beautiful

I have learnt that adoption is filthy
business, and that
people make money
I have learnt that adoption
is an industry

And I am not sure,
who I am anymore
if I am not that abandoned child

I have been forced to go back
to face all my fears and
to look at my choices and experiences

Today when I see the picture of that little girl
in my Chilean passport
I see a sad girl,
all alone in the world
with no legal rights because
no-one took the time to make sure
I came from the situation
that was stated in the documents

After 6 moths I was adopted,
according to the law in Sweden
despite the law in Chile

What does adoption mean to you?

And please, before you answer that question,
Who are you?

Coming Out of the Adoptee Fog

By Mark Hagland, South Korean intercountry adoptee raised in the USA.

One of the topics that we adult transracial and intercountry adoptees talk about a lot–A LOT–is the “adoptee fog” and our coming out of it.

I have to tell you that it took me several decades to pull myself out of the transracial adoptee fog. I grew up in near-total whiteness, and intensely internalized racism towards myself, ending up with a massive complex about my own physical appearance that I’m still actively working on healing, even now, at 59.

Here’s the thing: growing up in near-total whiteness in the Midwest of the US in the 1960s and 1970s, even with wonderful, wonderfully loving parents, was incredibly devastating for me. It completely disabled my ability to navigate the racist society we all live in, and, as I say, I totally internalized racism towards myself. What society told me every single day was that it was an atrocious crime not to be white, but at the same time, I was at least undeluded enough to know that I couldn’t ever BECOME white–I just couldn’t. So basically, I felt like some kind of alien and criminal.

I instinctively knew that I had to get away from where I grew up (again, even with very loving and wonderful parents there), and had to find my way to the big city and somehow find an identity that I could live with. But, having grown up in near-total whiteness and having internalized both a white internal identity and racism into myself, it ended up being an incredibly long, complex path. Having had zero access to birth-country culture or to any significant number of people of color, I flailed at first.

I was incredibly, incredibly lucky in one respect: when I came to Chicago for graduate journalism school, I was admitted to a school that was run by deans, a significant number of whom were Black journalists, and who were committed to diversity and to the empowerment of young journalists of color. So for the first time, I actually found myself in an environment in which I wasn’t one of only a couple of or a few people of color, and I began to “get it.”

And, over time, I found friends of color who would accept me. I was lucky in that regard, too, being a young gay man, because it is easier in the gay male subculture to meet people of color and to socialize across races.

Through my 20s and 30s, I began to create for myself a social environment that worked for me, and then when I was 40, I was brought into the transracial adoptee community, and my head exploded, and my development accelerated dramatically. I was able to begin to truly embrace an identity as a person of color through interacting with fellow adult transracial adoptees, all of whom had also struggled as I had, to find our identities, given that we were all raised in significant whiteness, and had had to figure things out entirely by ourselves.

Over time, I was able to build my own social environment, and to learn how to interact successfully with fellow people of color. It took decades, but I managed to do it. And now, finally, in my 50s, I have a proud, relatively integrated sense of identity as a person of color in the world.

And I’m absolutely committed to mission, and that means supporting my fellow adult transracial adoptees on their journeys, and educating white adoptive parents, so that they can learn and can help their children of color to move forward successfully on their journeys.

And in that context, I am constantly, constantly urging and imploring white adoptive parents to move into diversity for the sake of their children. I do not want the littlest transracial and intercountry adoptees to experience what I’ve experienced. I do not want them to have to spend literally 40 years before they begin to feel comfortable in their identities as people of color.

Above all, I want everyone to understand that raising a child of color in total or near-total whiteness is profoundly devastating to that child. It means that that child will grow up inside an intense transracial adoptee fog, and will inevitably spend years struggling to begin to build a successful identity as a person of color. And that is tragic.

So I am absolutely committed to this mission. And I am glad to be fully out of the transracial adoptee fog. It only took me several decades to accomplish it–WOO-HOO! LOL. But seriously–no transracial and intercountry adoptee should have to struggle that long. And honestly, I know a significant number of adult transracial and intercountry adoptees who are still fully in the fog, and don’t even know it.

Please don’t let this be your child. Please.

Leadership in the Intercountry Adoptee Community

…Our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring well-being…we can change social conditions to create environments in which children and adults can feel safe and where they can thrive.
Van Der Kolk, B. (2014) The Body Keeps The Score. Viking, New York

“Though you may not have direct reports working under you, you are ALL leaders in your project teams,” we were told recently at a work-related strengths finding and building seminar. This got me thinking about what leadership looks like in our community of intercountry and transracial adoptees (ICA/TRAs). Every day I see fellow ICA/TRAs working to bring about change in areas such as the intersectionality of adoption, trauma, race, and loss; family preservation; family reunification; and garnering awareness and even funds for lifelong post-adoption services for adopted people (as well as others in the adoption constellation). If the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts, then our community will best be served if we can collaborate with each other, as united leaders. Therefore, I invite all ICA/TRAs to ask themselves a few fundamental questions about leadership: What are leaders? Who are they leading? Are they leading or are they serving? If they are serving, whom are they serving? How can leaders influence in the absence of direct authority?

As an adopted person, the leaders in my life who have resonated most with me are the ones who have listened, validated, felt all “the feels,” and who worked diligently and gently at helping others grow and learn, setting them on the path to becoming leaders themselves one day. I believe that we all are – or have the potential to be – caring, impactful, servant leaders in our family, professional, and community settings.

The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test is: do those served grow as persons: do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?
Greenleaf, R.K. (1977) Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. Paulist Press, New York

The concept of servant leadership, in which the main goal of the leader is to serve, was first outlined by Robert K. Greenleaf. Though an in-depth look at servant leadership is outside the scope of this blog, I hope that the short quote above will speak to many in the ICA/TRA community. It certainly speaks to me as someone who empathizes with those who are harmed by the power differential inherent to modern day adoption: vulnerable women and children.

Following in the footsteps of earlier generations of vocal adoptees, such as Betty Jean Lifton and Sherrie Eldridge, who advocated for adoption reform, some members of the ICA/TRA community who were born and adopted between the late 1960s and the early 1990s have published books, become adoptee-centric grief and trauma therapists, set up local support groups, and initiated DNA programs for adoptees and first families, amongst other noteworthy projects. However, unlike our pioneering predecessors, who were almost exclusively white, same-race domestic adoptees, we are the ones paving the way for critical thinking about intercountry and transracial adoption practices.

Furthermore, our community is in the very unique position of being the first generation of adult intercountry, transracially adopted people who have had time to think and heal AND who are connected globally, thanks to the internet, AND who have access to affordable DNA testing AND whose voices are starting to be heard by local and international governing bodies. Over the past few years we have begun to leverage all of these resources and opportunities, and in doing so, many members of the ICA/TRA community are now devoting their time and energy to serving adoptees and first family members. Whether we realize it or not, we are already practitioners of servant leadership.

The traditional business model of leadership has been about increasing power and profit margins by getting people to do what you want by wielding your authority. This model is not only waning in the business world, but it is wholly inappropriate in the ICA/TRA community: we have neither profit margins to increase nor authority to wield. Therefore, effective leadership in our community, namely leadership that educates, empowers, supports, and influences even without direct power or authority, I believe, will find its strengths in empathy, values of truth and justice, and the desire and ability to knowledge-share that many ICA/TRAs have developed as a result of their unique lived experiences.

We were powerless as babies and children when we were removed from our families and sent around the world to grow up in adoptive families, often with no connection to our original selves or families. As a result, many of us have struggled with our identity and sense of self worth. We paid a very high price for something we never gave our consent to in the first place. Yet, the flip side to all the pain many ICA/TRAs endured while growing up, and often continue to endure well into adulthood, is that we often have specialized knowledge acquired only through lived experience. Many of us also feel an intense desire to give back to our community by sharing that knowledge (with each other, with adoptive parents, and with policy makers) to help ensure that things are done better for current and future generations of vulnerable families and adopted people. To me, that is certainly a big part of leadership.

Finally, it is no stretch to see reflected in the ICA/TRA community most, if not all, of Larry C. Spears’s ten characteristics of effective, caring leaders (Character and Servant Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders. Journal of Virtues & Leadership, Vol. 1, Iss. 1, 2010, p. 25-30):

Listening
Empathy
Healing
Awareness
Persuasion
Conceptualization
Foresight
Stewardship
Commitment to the Growth of People
Building Community

Being a member of a group of individuals who exhibit such characteristics is very powerful, and very empowering indeed. If our ICA/TRA global community can harness the benefits of servant leadership by fully owning and exercising all of our inborn strengths as well as those characteristics we have acquired through our lived experiences, I believe we not only help each other heal but can also shape governmental policies in favor of family preservation and post-adoption support. As we move forward as a community and as leaders in the field of intercountry and transracial adoption, I hope we will continue to grow, to learn, and to hold each other accountable as leaders who serve with kindness, and no expectations of glory in return.