An Accounting from One Adoptee

by Mary Cardaras, adopted from Greece to the USA; Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at California State University East Bay.

This has been an incredible couple of years but, especially, in the very year of a global pandemic. It was in this year that I found my voice as an adoptee. Seemed like the stars aligned. Meant to be at this time, in this space. I have found people, or maybe it is they who found me, who have brought me out to my community of fellow adoptees, birth mothers, activists and supporters.

It all began after the death of my adoptive mother in 2018. (My father had died 18 years prior.) Her death was one of the saddest times of my life. Left again, I felt. She and I had grown so close over the years and spent much time together, but her leaving also provided the space I needed to consider life before her. And there was a life before her, however brief it may have been. Even my tiny self had a past. It was buried, though. Obscured. In many ways, erased.

What did it matter? How could it matter?

My adoption, which I had put to the side, had been front and center my entire growing up as a child and as a teenager. I didn’t put it there. Everyone else put it there. A label. A tag. My identity was imposed. Sometimes it stigmatized me. And it definitely made me an outsider looking in to a life that I lived, but one that I couldn’t really lay claim to. As mine. From where I actually came.

What brought me to this day and what is the reason that I can now write about it?

In 2018, I wanted to come closer to my roots as a Greek-born adoptee. I signed up for Greek language lessons at a church in Oakland, California. I went to class on my way home to Sonoma every Monday evening coming from the university where I taught. Those lessons re-connected me with my culture. It was an absolute joy to hear the language, learn to speak it, and revel in its complexity with my fellow students all, at least, partially Greek, but fully Greek in their love for it.

It was during this class that I was asked, από που είσαι? From where are you? Είμαι Ελληνίδα, I could proudly say with certainty. I am a Greek. Γεννήθηκα στην Αθήνα. I was born in Athens. Υιοθετήθηκα. I was adopted. I am adopted. Like the recitation of a mantra. Those two things identify me and they are the only two things I know for certain, as I have noted in my writing before.

My classmate, Kathy, mentioned, “I have a cousin who was adopted, Mary, who was also from Greece, too.” I was immediately intrigued. There was someone else who was from where I was and who was branded the same as me?!

Adopted.

“She has an incredible story, Mary,” Kathy said. “You need to meet her and, in fact, you will. She is coming to visit and I will bring her to class.” Kathy told me the story that day and with every sentence she uttered my eyes got wider and I kept repeating the words: No. Are you kidding? Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. What? That is incredible!

Within a week or two of Kathy telling me her implausible story, Dena Poulias came to class. A pretty, blond-haired, blue-eyed woman, shy and quiet, she came with her cousin to hear our lesson. Did she want to participate, the teacher asked her? No, she demurred. She was only there to listen and to meet us.  

After class I introduced myself more fully and told her I had heard her story. I am a writer, I told Dena. I would be honored to write your story. She told me she had been wanting to write her own story for years, but she hadn’t gotten around to it. She wasn’t a writer, she said. I gave her my number and my email address. I think I reached out once, but she wasn’t ready. Hers was a heavy, painful story. It just couldn’t have happened I tried to convince myself.

Weeks later, Dena wrote and said she was ready to talk. She decided she wanted me to tell her story and so over the course of about a year, in intervals of two days here, one week there, the next month we would talk. Well, she would talk and there was so much she couldn’t remember exactly. But her husband was her memory. So was her cousin, Kathy. And her sister. And her mother and father. The story, unlike anything else I had ever written, flowed out of me. I am a journalist and so wrote news and documentaries. This was different. Literary nonfiction. I was recreating scenes and dialogues told to me by first person sources. It was visual in scope. Many who read previews said it was cinematic. Whatever it was, it was all true. Dena, finally, was telling her own story to someone and I was inspired by her finally getting it out there.

In the course of writing, I needed some important information. I was about to implicate a respected Greek organization in some scandalous adoption practices during the 1950’s. Even poking around on my own on social media and asking questions brought some pretty hateful online comments. When I contacted the organization itself, it predictably denied any wrong doing. The president literally said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” Come look through our files in Washington, D.C., he said. “We have nothing of the kind and no such history.”

Enter one Gonda Van Steen, one of the world’s preeminent scholars in modern Greek studies. In my research, I had come across her new book entitled Adoption, Memory and Cold War Greece: Kid Pro Quo? I wrote to her out of the blue, introduced myself, told her I was a reporter, and asked about this particular organization. Did she know it? Was it involved in the trade and, in some cases, in the “selling” of babies?

The organization was indeed involved in these unethical adoption practices. It was certainly part of Dena’s story. Gonda had said, in the course of our conversations, that the story I was writing sounded awfully familiar. In fact, Dena Poulias appears on pages 202 and 203 of her book and was one of the cases she had followed and chronicled. She said it had been one of the more “moving” stories that she had encountered. Gonda began to fill my head with history and put my own adoption in context.

I kept writing.

In early 2021, about the time I finished Dena’s story, I read another incredible book about adoption called American Baby, written by the brilliant, best-selling author, Gabrielle Glaser. I could not put it down and was transfixed by yet another incredible, unbelievable adoption story that was similar to Dena’s. This book is focused on domestic adoptions, which were just as horrific as what was happening on the international scene. Glaser’s writing both broke my heart and shook it awake somehow.

I decided, after consultation with Gonda, to collect stories from Greek born adoptees and put them into an anthology. This group of adoptees, “the lost children of Greece,” had never been heard from before! During conversations about approaching authors, Gonda suggested, you know, Mary, you should reach out to Gabrielle Glaser and ask her if she would write the Forward. On one hand, I thought that was a crazy idea. I mean, right. Gabrielle Glaser?! Really? Then I thought, well, why not? I wrote to her as I had written to Gonda. Cold. But she was there. She answered. She was lovely. And today we are friends. Her book also made me re-evaluate adoption itself. Including my own.

As I explained in a recent online forum about adoption, I felt like the Lion who found his courage, the Scarecrow, who found his brain, and the Tin Man who found his heart all at once. Dena gave me courage. Gonda made me think about what happened to me and thousands like me. And Gabrielle helped me to feel the beating of my own heart.

Through them I found my way to Greg Luce and Lynelle Long and Shawna Hodgson and so, so many others far too many to name. I stand now with them and our allies, talking and writing and advocating for adoptee rights.

That is how I came to this point. But why do I write here and now?

The sharing of my own adoption story has roused feelings and thoughts in others about me. They wonder. Why and how do I feel the way I do? Why didn’t I share before? My feelings make them sad. They thought I was happy. They simply don’t understand. And you know what? They may never. Understand. And that’s ok. I can’t and I won’t defend my feelings, which are real, however foreign and unreasonable they may seem to others.

I don’t have thoughts about whether or not I should have been adopted. I don’t have thoughts about whether my life in Greece would have been better. I don’t blame anyone for what happened to me and how it happened. I can’t go back and have a do-over with the people who were doing whatever they were doing. I do know they were making decisions that they thought, at the time, were in my best interests.

They didn’t realize that my birth mother was suffering. That she had a family, who had abandoned HER because she was a teenage, unwed mother. She was cast aside and she was relegated unimportant in the story of my life. How can that be? She and I were once one. She was promised by a proxy, that no one would “bother” her ever again. Has she ever recovered from the shame imposed on her? And from our separation? She needed support and love in order to make a sober decision about her baby, her own flesh and blood. I don’t care if she was 14 or 24. She needed help.  

Queen Frederika of Greece started a foundling home in Athens 1955

I have recently learned the number I was assigned when I was placed in the Athens Foundling Home on January 11, 1955. It is 44488. This means thousands of children came before me, all relegated to numbers. The number, cold as it is, can unlock some information I want and need. I checked some old letters back and forth from the social service agency that handled my case. One letter says there are two people listed on the papers when I entered that orphanage. A mother and a father. I have her name. I want his. Who am I? From where did I come? And what happened? Fundamental to every person’s wholeness is knowledge about their past.

Think of this. If you were not adopted, as you grew up you heard your own story, perhaps over and over again. It was sweet and sentimental as you listened to the story of your own birth and early days. You were conceived under a certain set of circumstances. You were born under a certain set of circumstances. Your parents remember that day. They tell you about that day, what you did, what they did, how you looked, what you weighed, what it was like when they brought you home, what kind of a baby you were. In sum, you had a story that people shared with you. My story started the minute I came into the arms of another family that was not my own. There was something, however brief, before, and I do not know it. That is the point.           

I was placed with wonderful adoptive parents and into a large, loving Greek-American family. I did not lose my language or my culture. My parents were incredibly loving and I cannot describe the depth of my love for them and for my grandparents. I appreciate the life they gave me. I appreciate my family and my friends. I was a happy kid and an even happier adult. Those who know me would likely describe my love of life and laughter and my level of commitment to the things and people I care about.

BUT this has nothing, nothing whatsoever to do with what came before. These are two separate things. The adoptees I know strive to become complete human beings. That means they had a past and need to know fully about it. They deserve open adoption records, original birth certificates and citizenship of origin, if they want it. Adoptees are entitled to these and we are also entitled to our feelings and thoughts about our own lives. As one adoptee recently explained, meeting a birth parent enables you to cut the emotional umbilical cord. We invite others to ask questions because they care about understanding us, but please don’t put us on the defensive. We don’t have to explain. We are tired of explaining. We are just thinking through our own, personal experiences, which are all different.  

I crave connection. Deep, unmistakable connection to others. You know it when you feel it with another human being. Maybe you feel it so completely that you feel like you have known them all your life or in another life. You know what I am talking about. For me, that connection is almost something divine. I run toward the light and hold that little flame like a precious, fragile flower. I take care of it. Nurture it. I love to feel like I belong and sometimes that feeling, so beautiful, is elusive in the mind and heart of an adoptee.

This adoptee is also gay. So, there are two points of difference that I have had to navigate.

I have been with the same woman for nearly 30 years. Fifteen years or so ago I adopted her sons from a previous marriage. There is no easy way to say this, but their father abandoned them when they were small. I was every bit a parent with her from the time the boys were 2 and 3 years old. They could not have been more “my children.” Our friends recognized my place in their lives, of course, but there were others who never could and never did.

My partner was the “real” parent. Those were “her” boys, not mine, never mine in the eyes of some. I was not a part of their family, but merely an outsider. This was incredibly painful. In fact, just recently the boys (now men) were introduced as her sons while I was standing right there.

What meaning does adoption hold? No, I am serious. Hell, I don’t even know and I was adopted and have adopted!

I was able to re-establish my Greek citizenship years ago and I am happy for it, grateful for it.

Being able to attain it has been the exception to the rule, I have learned. It was, in many ways, a humiliating experience trying to prove over and over again who I was, where I was born and to whom. There was the problem of an altered birth certificate, which never should have happened and it certainly didn’t help, but that’s another story.

My partner is fully Greek (American). The children are fully Greek (American). My partner got her Greek citizenship through her parents (who were born in Greece) and we wanted the boys, too, to also have their Greek citizenship in case, in the future, they someday wanted to work in Greece or within the EU. It was going to be an uphill battle to prove the Greek connection through their maternal grandparents and then also through their own Greek father and his parents, with whom they are no longer in contact. But wait! I was their legal parent and also born Greek. A citizen! They could get citizenship through me, a legal parent. Couldn’t they? Easy, no? But just hold on!

This was not to be. Because I was not a birth parent, lacking that biological connection, it was not allowed. People are getting Greek citizenship through parents and grandparents. Others are being granted Greek citizenship because they are famous scholars or actors or authors, having no biological connection to the people of the country. But me, a Greek-born adoptee, who happened to adopt two Greek-American boys, could not establish citizenship for my sons. Are they less my sons because we are not biologically related? Are they not my sons at all?

Adoption.

You see why we feel the way we do. It is complicated and it often means little in the eyes of some. There remains a stigma. There is discrimination. Still.

Blood is thicker than water. You enjoy the company of some families almost as an honored guest, but often not as a bona fide member. You’re out there of someone else, but not fully theirs.

I don’t blame anyone. I’m not angry. But this is my reality. I own it all and I’m ok with it. I have to be. But to all friends and family of adoptees, please understand that not only are we entitled to all our records. We are also entitled to our experiences and our feelings. They do not reflect on you. They’re not about you. Let us have them. Let us own our cause. And please try to listen first. 

About Mary

Mary holds a Ph.D. in Public and International Affairs and is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication where she teaches Political Communication, Journalism and Documentary Film at California State University, East Bay. Mary is currently compiling an anthology of Greek adoptee stories and has 13 contributors for the collection with the working title “Voices of the Lost Children of Greece”, to be published by Anthem Press in 2022. If you would like to participate, please contact Mary.

For more of Mary’s articles, read Bring them Back and Demanding What Belongs to Us: Our Greek Identity.

Loss, Longing and Grief

by Soorien Zeldenrust adopted from Sth Korea to the Netherlands, Adoptee & Foster Coach (AFC).

Loss, Desire & Grief

A little while ago I had a conversation with my adopted coach about my pregnancy. After the conversation I realised that during my first pregnancy and maternity period I actually printed away all my feelings and sadness.

LOSS

During my first pregnancy and maternity period I felt a void, loss and a huge desire for my own mother in Korea. What I didn’t and couldn’t feel and receive during the first weeks of my existence, I now had to live up to and take on with my own daughter.

I am aware of the feelings and consequences of my own trauma in the meantime. And motherhood. But what about my mom? Is it something that was taken from her? Or what she chose then? It keeps gnawing at me, now stronger than ever. With the delivery at the door, I am increasingly wondering: “Will the loss be present again at that moment?”

RECEIVE

It hits me that a new life is emerging within me and that I pass on my own DNA which literally becomes visible. My own family line starts here for me. I suddenly realise that it is the pain, lack and desire that is so palpable. It’s taking shape and literally a face, because I see it in my kids again. But what exactly am I longing for? Towards equality and a mirror image? Does my role as a mother get a desire for a parent that looks like me? Can anyone tell me that I inherited it from him or her? That it’s “normal” in our culture and someone taking me to show me how she would have done it? Is this the desire that sometimes makes pregnancy and maternity for an adopted person so difficult and a lonely one?

FEAR

The fear of childbirth itself falls into thin air with the fear I feel for after childbirth. How will the outside world react if I’m not just me? How will I personally respond to this? Because the baby is here now, so I am now “healthy”.

From whom do I even need approval to be allowed to show these feelings? I know I can keep my own time and pace for my process. So also for all my feelings and emotions during this period. As a friend said:

“Don’t forget 9 months on and 9 months off. And what if you are of yourself purely you. Can that be yours?”

ROUGH

The feelings and emotions I am experiencing for the second time now are similar to ‘grief’. For my feeling it’s deeper than grief. Deeper than I can explain and maybe handle. It’s mourning and lack of my parents whom I don’t know. Desire for a love that I never received myself in those moments of a newborn. So how can I give my own children that?

The desire that I was as desired as my own children, that my parents saw a future with me and would have me forever in their lives. That desire hurts because I don’t know the answer.

SHAMEFUL

Now the load of guilt and shame is heavier for my feeling. Again grief and lacking a place that didn’t actually have to be there. That place should be filled with love. And I am also fulfilled with that. Lots of love all my life. Love for connection.

This piece is so elusive to the outside world. Because how do you explain this and why do we want to get the other person back into the “okay” zone? Is it too painful to see the other person suffer like this and can’t you deal with the powerlessness you feel? May my pain and sorrow be there? For a while or for longer?

I need it to be able to grow further and to process it. Eventually it will be part of me that I can live with and be with.

That same girlfriend I was just talking about called it “living loss”. It’s there and it will never go away completely. Is that bad? And will you allow that?

No it’s ok and I allow it. If it is there later, I hug the fear so firmly that it is smothered in love. Then I know, this is possible and we can handle this.

IS IT A DEPRESSION THEN?

This too feels deeper. Deeper than depression. It is an overworked desire and loss that accompanies grief. Mourning the (un)known. Because in my body my parents feel familiar. I just can’t always reach that feeling. It’s not depression, it’s mourning my beginning and at the same time losing my original existence.

My wish is that everything can be there. That the feeling of love and pride in my body will prevail. That our family is strong enough to handle anything. That I am the mother I have longed for myself. No! No! No!

I’m not her, but carry a piece of her and also my dad. I honour them by passing on their genes and their existence. In love, in feeling and with my own and our shared experiences.

Original Dutch

Verlies, Verlangen & Rouw

Afgelopen week had ik een gesprek met mijn adoptiecoach over mijn zwangerschap. Na het gesprek realiseerde ik mij dat ik tijdens mijn eerste zwangerschap en kraamperiode al mijn gevoelens en verdriet eigenlijk heb weggedrukt.

VERLIES

Tijdens mijn eerste zwangerschap en kraamperiode voelde ik een leegte, gemis en een enorm verlangen naar mijn eigen moeder in Korea. Wat ik zelf niet heb kunnen en mogen voelen en ontvangen tijdens de eerste weken van mijn bestaan, moest ik nu waarmaken en aangaan bij mijn en eigen dochter.

Ik ben mij ondertussen bewust van de gevoelens en gevolgen van mijn eigen trauma. En van het moederschap. Maar hoe zit het bij mijn moeder? Is het iets wat haar is ontnomen? Of waar ze toen voor heeft gekozen? Het blijft aan me knagen, nu sterker dan ooit. Met de bevalling voor de deur vraag ik me steeds meer af: “Zal het verlies op dat moment weer aanwezig zijn?”

VERLANGEN

Het raakt mij dat er een nieuw leven in mij ontstaat en dat ik mijn eigen DNA doorgeef wat letterlijk zichtbaar wordt. Mijn eigen familielijn start hier voor mij. Ik besef me ineens dat het de pijn, het gemis en verlangen is wat zo voelbaar is. Het krijgt vorm en letterlijk een gezicht, want ik zie het in mijn kinderen terug. Maar waar verlang ik precies naar? Naar een gelijkheid en een spiegelbeeld? Krijgt mijn rol als moeder een verlangen naar een ouder die op mij lijkt? Die kan vertellen dat ik het heb geërfd van hem of van haar? Dat het “normaal” is in onze cultuur en dat iemand mij aan de hand neemt en laat zien hoe zij het zou hebben gedaan? Is dit het verlangen wat de zwangerschap en kraamperiode voor een geadopteerde soms zo moeilijk een eenzaam maakt?

ANGST

De angst voor de bevalling zelf valt in het niets met de angst die ik voel voor ná de bevalling. Hoe zal de buitenwereld reageren als ik toch niet gelijk mijzelf ben? Hoe zal ik zelf reageren hierop? Want de baby is er nu, dus ben ik nu weer “gezond”. 

Van wie heb ik überhaupt goedkeuring nodig om deze gevoelens te mogen tonen? Ik weet dat ik mijn eigen tijd en tempo mag aanhouden voor mijn proces. Dus ook voor al mijn gevoelens en emoties tijdens deze periode. Zoals een vriendin zei:

“Vergeet niet 9 maanden op en 9 maanden af. En wat als je van jezelf puur jij bent. Mag dat van jou?”

ROUW

De gevoelens en emoties die ik nu voor de tweede keer ervaar zijn vergelijkbaar met ‘rouw’. Voor mijn gevoel is het dieper dan rouw. Dieper dan ik kan uitleggen en misschien aankan. Het is rouw en gemis van mijn ouders die ik niet ken. Verlangen naar een liefde die ik zelf nooit heb gekregen in die momenten van een pasgeborene. Dus hoe kan ik mijn eigen kinderen dat dan wel geven? 

Het verlangen dat ik net zo gewenst was als mijn eigen kinderen, dat mijn ouders een toekomst mét mij zagen en voor altijd mij in hun leven wouden hebben. Dat verlangen doet pijn, want ik weet het antwoord niet.

SCHAAMTE

Nu is de lading van schuld en schaamte zwaarder voor mijn gevoel. Krijgen verdriet en gemis een plek die er eigenlijk niet hoefden te zijn. Die plek zou gevuld moeten zijn met liefde. En ook daar ben ik vervuld mee. Heel veel liefde, mijn hele leven lang. Liefde voor verbinding. 

Dit stuk is zo ongrijpbaar voor de buitenwereld. Want hoe leg je dit uit en waarom willen wij de ander zo graag weer in de “oké zone” krijgen? Is het te pijnlijk om de ander zo te zien lijden en kun je niet omgaan met de machteloosheid die je dan voelt? Mag mijn pijn en verdriet er zijn? Voor even of voor langer? 

Ik heb het nodig om verder te kunnen groeien en om het te verwerken. Uiteindelijk zal is het een onderdeel van mij waar ik zelf mee kan leven en mee kan zijn.

Diezelfde vriendin waar ik het net over had noemde het “levend verlies”. Het is er en het zal nooit volledig weggaan. Is dat erg? En sta je dat toe?

Nee het is niet erg en ik sta het toe. Als het straks er wel is, dan omhels ik de angst zo stevig dat het smoort in liefde. Dan weet ik, dit kan en dit kunnen wij aan. 

IS HET DAN EEN DEPRESSIE? 

Ook dit voelt dieper. Dieper dan een depressie. Het is een overwerkt verlangen en verlies wat gepaard gaat met rouw. Rouwen om het (on)bekende. Want in mijn lichaam voelen mijn ouders als bekend. Ik kan er alleen niet altijd bij, bij dat gevoel. Het is geen depressie, het is rouwen om mijn begin en tegelijk om mijn verlies van mijn originele bestaan.

Mijn wens is dat alles er mag en kan zijn. Dat het gevoel van liefde en trots in mijn lichaam zal overheersen. Dat ons gezin sterk genoeg is om alles aan te kunnen. Dat ik de moeder ben waar ik zelf naar heb verlangd. Nee…

Ik ben haar niet, maar draag een stuk van haar en ook mijn vader mee. Ik eer ze door hun genen en hun bestaan door te geven. In liefde, op gevoel en met eigen en gezamenlijke ervaringen.

Soorien Zeldenrust 

We Need To Talk About Adoptee Suicide, Now

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

It is imperative that we start talking openly and honestly about adoptee suicide. Adoptees are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide. This is an alarming number and most people are not even aware of this fact. Too many adoptees are dead and dying. Adoptees are not seen as a marginalised group. Our lived experience of vulnerabilities and being exposed to complex trauma is unacknowledged by society. Adoptees are thought of as “lucky”, “saved/rescued”, having been given a “better life” and many expect us to be grateful which is really the narrative we need to dismantle for society to see us, validate us, support us and create an inclusive, safe and affirming world for adoptees.

Suicide is such an uncomfortable and tough topic to discuss. Society tends to avoid  conversations when they are uncomfortable. Change and growth happen from discomfort. The community needs to lean into these conversations quickly because adoptees are dying. The discomfort that community members feel is nothing compared to the immense pain, loneliness, sadness that people who contemplate suicide, attempt suicide and die by suicide feel. People who have lost a loved one to suicide are also in a lot of pain.

Our conversations around adoptee suicide needs to be framed for community members around the fact that being separated from our mothers is trauma which can predispose us to mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, suicide and also addiction, eating disorders, self harm, and toxic relationships. Once people are able to grasp the trauma from separation, I think they will be able to understand how it predisposes adoptees to mental health struggles. There is a conflict between what people hear about adoption and believe to be true and the reality of adoption. Once people learn the reality of adoption, I think it will be easier for them to grasp the mental health crisis adoptees are experiencing.

In order to support adoptees, we need to have community members that understand adoptees. Community members need to understand that the symptoms they see in adoptees that are mental health related are most often a result of our trauma. If people can understand this, I think that empathy and understanding around adoptee suicide will be much greater. Adoptees also need to be understood in every system and institution so that they can be seen and helped. For an example, if an adoptee goes to a psychiatric hospital or emergency room because they attempted suicide or have a plan of suicide and the providers there do not understand adoption trauma, then there is no way they can help the adoptee with their trauma. The provider will most likely diagnose and prescribe medication to the adoptee. This will do nothing to help the adoptee deal with their trauma and begin to heal.

It would be beneficial if there were adoptee support groups that were readily available and advertised. Many of us are a part of these groups but they generally function through word of mouth. It would be great if the mental health field professionals would do more research on adoptees. We need the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention to do research specifically on adoptees. The research would then be able to inform awareness, education, prevention and support around adoptee suicide.  It is important that the barriers for adoptees seeking medical, mental, therapeutic or psychiatric help are evaluated and then solutions are made to make things more affirming, inclusive and safe for adoptees. If adoptees are not seeking help, then they will not be able to receive help and we want to make sure they are seeking help when needed and that it is easily accessible. For example, it is very triggering and scary to go to the doctor without a medical history and it is a huge trigger to be asked each time -”Do you have any updates on your family medical history?” or “What is your family history?.”  It is also triggering to hear providers commentary on adoption when we tell providers we are adopted. I have spoken to many adoptees who have told me they avoid the doctor because of these reasons. I too have avoided appointments because it can be very triggering and taxing to continually explain myself and be in the place of having to feel like I need to educate the provider. Sometimes providers are receptive and other times they are very patronising which adds a lot to an already triggering situation. This kind of negative interaction can be a deterrent for any adoptee seeking further care.

Photos: Queensland Council

 It would be amazing if there was a crisis line for adoptees. A crisis line would be very validating because the adoptee would not need to explain themselves or adoption. Adoptees need resources and support that are safe, inclusive and affirming. Sometimes people feel more comfortable texting or picking up the phone than going in-person or on a zoom virtual call. It would also be really beneficial if when suicide deaths are recorded, that the adoption status of the person is included in the data. The information could be further broken down to include race, transracial domestic or intercountry adoption, or foster care experience. This would  give us an idea of how to better shape awareness, education, support and prevention. It will also give us more accurate statistics on adoptee suicide.

One of the ways that the community can support adoptees living with suicide loss would be to first understand adoption and trauma and how suicide attempts and deaths are high in the community. That would be a huge step for adoptees to feel seen and heard. It is so painful to go through a suicide loss and it would be extremly validating to be understood. Experiencing suicide loss as an adoptee can bring up a lot of similar topics that one may struggle with around adoption such as abandonment, not being worthy or good enough, grief, trauma, loss, feeling alone, and many other things.

For families that have lost an adoptee to suicide, it would also be helpful for the community to understand adoption and trauma and the alarmingly high rates of suicide. Families should also have support services available to them which should include trauma informed and adoption competent mental health providers and support groups. We all need and deserve support dealing with suicide loss.

It would be great to have community members that can support adoptees and family members who are living with suicide loss by listening to them without judgement. Suicide loss for an adoptee is super complicated because we have already experienced so much loss and this is another trauma that can be very triggering. As a suicide loss survivor, I really appreciate anyone who can listen without judgement. It is essential to not ask questions like, why did they die, how did they die, did you know they were depressed, did they leave a suicide note. Again, listening is really the most validating and important thing that people can do for each other. If we do not understand suicide, then we should do our part to educate ourselves by reading, listening to blogs and attending events. We should not ask someone who has just lost someone to suicide to do the emotional labor of educating us. They are grieving and need our support.

We need to start talking about adoptee suicide now. It is not going away and the numbers are alarming. If we create awareness and education in our community, it will lead to a more inclusive, affirming and safe world for adoptees. Too many of us are dying or are dead.  If we are feeling safe and comfortable, I encourage people to have these conversations with others when the time arises.  Every conversation can be beneficial and is an opportunity to plant seeds, create change, educate, create awareness, talk about prevention and begin to address the issue of adoptee suicide which will lead to saving lives. I would love to live in a world where the suicide statistics for adoptees are greatly reduced and ideally non-existent. 

Read Part 1 of Lina’s Adoptee Suicide Series: Coping with Loss from Adoption Suicide

Other Resources on Adoptee Suicide

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