Hole in My Soul

Adoption is not a once-off transaction, an isolated event. It is a multi-faceted, multi-layered, lifelong journey. And by sharing our stories, our lived experiences, our truths – through books, and blogs, and wonderful initiatives like this ‘Stand Up & Speak Up’ campaign – I hope we are able to bring an end to the suffering of all those burdened by so many unnecessary secrets, and stigma, and shame.

You are not alone. There is help out there. And hope for healing.

I was relinquished as a newborn in 1974, under the highly secretive closed adoption system, which was a common practice for young, unwed mothers in South Africa at the time.

My adoptive parents were given no identifying details about my birth parents, and vice-versa.

My name was changed completely, and I was only allowed to access my file containing my birth parents’ names when I reached the age of majority (18 with my adoptive parents’ written permission, 21 without their permission).

My birth parents were never allowed to initiate contact.

Growing up, I always knew I was adopted. My parents introduced me to the concept from a very young age.

Although extended family and close friends all knew my younger brother and I were adopted (different biological parents), it wasn’t exactly something I went around advertising.

Unlike transracial adoptees that can’t hide the fact that they are not biologically related to their parents, I tried my best to keep my adoptee status a secret.

Kids are cruel, and I knew if they found out, I’d be a bully’s easy target.

I played my cards close to my chest until I was in my mid-to-late teens when I had grown a thick enough skin to deal with the kind of insensitive adoption ‘jokes’ and ignorant comments that are bandied about in everyday conversation, and sometimes even directed straight at adoptees.

For the most part, I had a happy, carefree childhood, but things changed quite dramatically when I was fourteen and my best friend’s mom committed suicide. It triggered in me a sense of urgency to find my birth mother before it was too late, and the answers to my burning questions were taken to the grave.

Knowing virtually nothing about my biological roots resulted in a crippling identity crisis during adolescence, manifesting in all forms of anti-social and self-destructive behavior, and ultimately a deeply dysfunctional relationship with my adoptive parents.

Although they tried to hide it, I knew they felt extremely threatened by the idea of me reuniting with my birth parents. I believe the fear of rejection runs through every thread of the adoption tapestry.

Deep down, everyone in the triad has a fear of it.

For adoptive parents, it is the fear of being replaced by their child’s birth parents.

For birth mothers, it is the fear of being rejected by their child – as punishment, for abandoning them, and not being able to provide for them like a parent should. And for adoptees, it is the fear of their birth mother not wanting to meet them, of being rejected by her a second time.

When I turned 21, I was granted access to my file at the welfare society, which had facilitated the adoption, and I met my birth mother shortly thereafter.

Looking into the face of the woman who had carried me for nine months and brought me into this world was an incredibly emotional and life-changing experience.

I met my birth father three years later. Most people say I am the spitting image of her, but I also see a resemblance to him. Talent and temperament wise, I am a blend of both.

Discovering more about my biological roots, the circumstances surrounding my relinquishment, and finding out I had three half-siblings gave me closure. I felt a wonderful sense of inner calm and peace. All those questions I had carried around inside me for so long were answered, the aching hole in my soul was filled. I felt liberated, and I began to heal.

I broke the news to my adoptive mother about my reunion with my birth mother two months after my first face-to-face meeting with the latter. It was a VERY awkward conversation. It felt like confessing to having an affair, telling a jilted lover about the ‘other woman’ in my life.

My adoptive parents only met my birth mother 15 years later, and my birth father the following year – both meetings at my request. I was tired of leading a double life.

In 2016, I released Umbilicus, an autobiographical novel focussing on my journey as an adoptee. For me, my belly button was the last point of contact with my birth mother, and growing up I always felt a spiritual connection to her, so the word umbilicus just fitted the ‘tie that binds’ thread of my work so perfectly. The main theme of the story is the search for identity. There is also a strong underlying theme of redemption.

Although my story deals with what is officially termed a closed, domestic, same-race adoption, and I do not claim to speak on behalf of all individuals adopted under this system, I do know that many of our unique challenges growing up as adoptees are universal.

I believe it is my duty, my calling, to be a voice for the voiceless.

To paint an accurate portrait of the challenges faced by many adopted kids the world over, particularly during the teen years, as we all strive to acquire a sense of self and forge our own identity.

To fast-forward a few years beyond the adoption agency’s picture-postcard image of a happy mom cuddling a chubby baby, and relay with authenticity and objectivity the raw dynamics between parents and teenagers in a not atypical adoption triad.

Like Frederick Douglass so wisely wrote: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” And having personally run the gauntlet over the past four decades, I hope to pass on what I have learned to adoptees, parents, and professionals working in the field so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

I was recently invited to sit on a four-author panel discussion, at one of our country’s most significant literary festivals. It was facilitated by an acclaimed cultural commentator, and was called 'Cut Off at the Roots'. We spoke about some of the many challenges faced by adopted and emigrant children when trying to build a sense of identity, and probed the concept of truly knowing who we are if we don’t know where we came from.

I am a firm proponent of open adoption. I believe it should be a basic civil and human right for every single adoptee to have access to their original birth certificate and adoption file whenever they feel ready. I encourage all adoptive parents and social workers to build life books for/with the adopted child. And I strongly advise all adoptive parents to seek out a professional for their child to speak to. Someone who specializes in dealing with adoptees, and the unique psychological and emotional challenges we face. Someone with a strong grasp of pre- and perinatal psychology, and how it relates to ensuing problems with attachment, bonding, and abandonment issues – as uniquely experienced by adoptees. Someone with proper training in treating the trauma associated with the primal wound, the ghost-kingdom, genealogical bewilderment, mirror loss, and identity issues – again, as uniquely experienced by adoptees. Unfortunately, normal family psychologists and school counselors and clergymen are not qualified to deal with these adoption-specific issues.

My advice to fellow adoptees who are considering, or have already embarked on the search and reunion process, just remember that ‘making contact’ with your birth mother (and/or other members of your biological family) doesn’t have to involve a face-to-face meeting. Perhaps you and/or your birth mother will only be comfortable exchanging info and photos via email initially. Maybe after a while, you’ll be open to chatting on the phone or via Skype. And eventually, you may be prepared to meet in person. Don’t rush it. Give each other the time and space needed to digest information and process feelings. Allow things to unfold and evolve organically. Set healthy boundaries. There will be ups, there will be downs. But ultimately you, the adoptee, will have a far better sense of who you are, and your place in this world. I firmly believe we are all here for a reason.

Although my birth parents and half-siblings have all been extremely supportive of my decision to share my story with the world, my adoptive family has been less than thrilled. I have been estranged from my adoptive mother since March 2015 (she cut me out of her life the day I sent her a copy of my manuscript, and has never explained why), and I only have sporadic contact with my adoptive father and brother.

But I have no regrets about my decision to forge ahead with the publishing process. This is my truth. And like author Anne Lamott so eloquently wrote: "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."

My Superpower

It was a hot summer day and we played hide and seek at the playground. When it came time to be “it”, I climbed up and over the wooden playground castle and tagged a neighborhood friend, Lisa.

“You’re it!” I said.

“No, I’m not, ” she said. “You didn’t tag me!” as she inched further into a shadowy corner just out of my reach.

“Yes, you are! I got you!” I yelled and my friends who saw the tag also chimed in.

“You’re it!” “You’re it” they screamed as they all began to point at her.

Her cheeks grew red in embarrassment.

“Well, you’re adopted!” she screamed as she pointed her finger at me.

The neighborhood kids turned their gaze on me as if Lisa had thrown a dagger.

“Yeah, so what?” I replied, unshaken by this familiar insult.

Her mouth lay agape speechless. She had nothing else to say as if she thought her words would hurt me so bad that I’d flee from the scene.

Instead, my confident response diffused her insult, and, as she continued to stare incredulously, another kid chimed in:

“Fine, I’ll be it”.

And the game continued.

You see, to me being adopted has never been an insult. Instead, it’s been my superpower.

I was adopted as an infant. I still somehow remember the soft feel of the white, blue, and pink blanket as my new mother held me in her arms.

About as soon as I started to wear underwear, my mother told me that I was adopted. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I do remember a sense of  “Yeah, I knew that” when she told me. It was old news by then, news bred into my DNA reminiscent of a conversation I had with my birth mother in the womb.

As I grew up, I soon learned that the rest of the world did not share my comfortability. They viewed my adoption as a strange phenomenon, like an alien baby discovered in a meteorite that crashed to the earth.

Even to this day, when someone finds out that I’m adopted, they have a litany of questions and stare at me, almost as if they want to poke my skin to see if I’m human.

“You didn’t tell me that,” they’ll say with an excited inquiry. as if telling someone you’re an adopted child should follow your name: “Hi, I’m Mark. I’m adopted.”

“Well, you’re welcome to ask me anything about it if you’d like,” I often add knowing now that people are incredibly curious about adoption and I’m more than happy to give them a sense of understanding.

Their favorite inquiry, of course, is the one made popular by adoption scenes in Hollywood productions: the birth-parent reunion.

“Do you know your birth parents?” they ask.

And when I say “Yes,” (I met my birth-mother in my early 20s) they expect to hear this Oprah story about me meeting them awash in emotion as if all of sudden my life makes sense to me, like I was wondering about the world my whole life looking for my birth parents in search of meaning.

Instead, they’re often disappointed when I respond that yes, it was great to meet my birth mother and she is an amazing woman, but our initial meeting was fewer fireworks, hugs, and tears, and more scientific curiosity to see what characteristics we share via blood (we’re both habitually late, for instance, and have a smile like “The Joker”).

Instead of an episode of Oprah, we stared at each other like that scene in Hook when the little boy rubs adult-Peter pan’s face: “There you are, Peter! It is you!”. Our meeting was fun and laughs wrapped in old child photos for comparison and wonderment.

As I grew older, I learned that many adopted children do not have a story like mine.

I know that looking like my mother made it easier. My Asian friends with white parents, for instance, did not have that luxury. And I know that being adopted at an early age made it easier.

Three months in foster care doesn’t really count.

My sister, who is also adopted from a different set of birth parents, has always struggled with being adopted:

“Why didn’t they want me?” she would say as tears flushed down her cheeks.

And even though she knew logically that her birth-mother could not take care of her properly, the emotional wound of being abandoned at birth -- known as The Primal Wound in the adoption world -- overwhelms her at times and makes it truly difficult for her to trust others.

“I can take care of myself!” is her thinking, a heroic plea most adopted children can relate to, even though we know it’s shrouded in incredible difficulty to securely trust another to help us.

I too certainly struggle to truly trust others to help me. And this is just one of the traits I’ve learned about myself.

My adoption kickstarted an incredible journey of self-inquiry.

I’ve studied ancient religions, philosophy, psychology… you name it and I’ve likely explored it.

I’ve spent my whole life looking at life as this magical opportunity and have stayed curious throughout the years.

I’ve learned to intimately understand my shadows, such as an overwhelming sense to please others in primal fear of being abandoned. And I’ve learned to love myself and calm the primal urge to do more in hopes that “more” will mean I’ve done enough to be loved.

By being adopted, I developed what Carol Dweck calls “The Growth Mindset”. Because I was not tied biologically to my parents, I did not know any limits.

I felt that since I could learn anything, I could be anything.

With this mindset, I’ve gone on to be the first in my family to graduate not only high school, but obtain a master’s degree, as well.

The self-actualization movement made popular by Abraham Maslow in the later 20th century made perfect sense to me.“Of course,” I’d think. “Why would anyone believe they couldn’t grow throughout their life to reach extraordinary heights?” To this day, I continue to thirst for new knowledge, a new experience, or a conversation that helps break apart even the most seemingly agreed-upon fundamentals of human existence.

At an early age, I learned that my birth mother was very young when she had me, so she put me up for adoption so older parents could take care of me. Even as a child, this made perfect sense. As a teenager, I remember sitting in 9th-grade math class knowing that this was the age my birth-mother had me. I looked around at my friends who were still children like me and thought, “Oh my goodness… imagine if one of these girls tried to raise a child!”

At 18, I received a letter. My adoption was a closed adoption, which means that no one had records of the birth parents. But a letter had been put in a safety-deposit box, to be opened when I was 18.

The letter was light blue like a robin’s egg and had big bubbly handwriting. It didn’t say much other than that she loved me and that she was 15 and that she knew this was for the best. Included was a poem (which I later found out to be the lyrics to the opening song of an 80’s soap opera!).

In sophomore year of college, the internet had finally grown to a more user-friendly platform, and so I wrote a quick blurb about my story on an adoption website in case my birth-mother would read it. I was happy to meet her if she wanted to, but wanted more-so to let her know that I was safe and life was good. I also wanted to thank her because she gave me life when she could have chosen to abort me.

A few hours later I walked with my friend Mike to the gym and my cell phone rang.

“Hello,” I answered.

A woman replied that she had read my post and that she thinks she found my birth-mother. My birth-mother had written a similar story on another website and this woman’s job in a non-profit was to help match adopted children up with birth-parents.

I stopped walking.

“Would you like for me to give her a call or would you like for me to call and check to make sure it’s your birth-mother?” she said.

I froze.

“Um, yes, can you please call her?” I asked.

She called back five minutes later.

“It looks like it's a match,” she said.

“She’d love to speak with you. Can she call you? If so, what time would be good?” she asked.

My birth-mother and I spoke on the phone later that night. Her name is Susan. She was 35 at the time of that call, about the same age as I am now writing this story. We spoke on the phone for about two hours and agreed to meet later that summer. She had moved down to Charlotte from Buffalo, NY and lived there with her husband.

Later that summer, I drove down to meet her. After the initial awkwardness, we had a great meeting. I met her husband, Michael. He’s not my birth-father, but I was so happy to see Susan with such a loving husband.

We’ve been close ever since. Medical issues made it impossible for Susan to birth another child of her own, but fate would have it that our adoption story came full circle. She adopted a daughter, Lindsay, and I’m happy to say that I now have two sisters.

I do know my birth father's name, but don’t plan to reach out to him. It’s not that I wouldn’t meet him. It’s more of an intuitive feeling that it doesn’t really matter. He didn’t carry me for nine months, so I never really developed a relationship with the guy. With Susan, my first nine months were spent with her, so when we met again as adults, it was like meeting up with an old friend twenty years later.

As I grow older and my wife and I start to grow our family, I feel even more blessed to have been adopted. It’s been a gift in my life that’s allowed me to begin a self-development journey that would never have happened without it.

Being adopted helped me step into my superpower.

My hope is that in sharing my story, I can help other adoptees step into their own.

I’m Choosing to Speak Up

Sharing my story is important because adoptees need to be heard and potential adoptive parents need to be educated.

Without these two things, all the regular horrors of adoption will continue.

I was adopted at four months old.

My adoptive parents raised me as their Caucasian-American daughter in the "safe" suburbs of Minnesota.

Unfortunately, the suburbs are only safe if everyone views you as white.

The relationship with my adoptive parents has been a rocky one.

Sometime between two and three years old, I stopped being close with my adoptive parents. It’s a relationship I’ve been working on and am glad to see evolving.

I never stopped missing my birth mother.

As a toddler, I cried myself to sleep, wanting her to come save me from America and take me back to Korea. Sometimes I still feel this way.

In addition, I grew being sexually abused by my classmates and boyfriends. It is the reason why I’m choosing to speak up.

As mentioned previously, I grew up in a white neighborhood, which made it difficult not to be "the Asian girl."

It was hard to overcome many of the negative experiences I had to endure, just for being in my own skin.

In fact, it is still something I am working on, balancing my race and culture, as well as everything else that makes me wonderful.

Pondering Fate

As a Romanian adoptee born in 1991, I escaped the chaotic aftermath of the fall of Ceausescu regime. I was born Katerina Charlotte Nicolae in the small town of Pucioasa, about two hours northwest of Bucharest. 

My adoption records state that upon identification as an adoptable infant, I was placed in the care of a babysitter. My American parents adopted me through the assistance of an adoption agency that was not yet certified, making my adoption private. 

My parents did not travel to Romania to find me or bring me home. In fact, my adoption was finalized in Romania before they even knew they were parents because they had signed papers in advance to adopt a boy or girl under the age of two. 

The agency thought my parents were somewhere in Japan for work, but my mom was home because she was pregnant with my brother, Stevie. She had not told the social workers that she was pregnant because she did not want to lose the opportunity to adopt. 

To my parent’s surprise, they had just a few days notice that I was on my way home to the States with a social worker from the agency. After years of infertility treatments and adoption attempts, my parents were happy to be blessed with a baby girl and a preemie boy six months later.

My mom humorously states that I was delivered at the main terminal of Washington National Airport. I arrived at five weeks old, bundled up in a blanket wearing a pink sleeper. A section of hair on the back of my head had been snipped and I had thrush in my mouth and a severe diaper rash, which my American parents were able to cure. I also received medication for having a positive Tuberculosis test. My parents are not sure whether I was actually exposed to TB or if I just had a false positive from a TB vaccination routinely given in Romania. Either way, I actually have a faint memory of being force-fed a tiny blue pill during the first year of my life.  My mom stayed at home to raise my brother and I. My dad, being a scientist, worked a lot to support our family.

As a baby, Stevie had peachy skin and straight, ash blonde hair while I had an olive complexion with dark, curly hair.  We grew up similar to twins being the same age and in the same grade in school. We were usually placed in separate classes when available per my mom’s request.  Stevie and I were so different in many ways. School came easy for him but his physical activity was sometimes hindered by asthma. I was a competitive gymnast for 13 years and had tutors all throughout grade school and continuing through college. My parents recognized our strengths and pushed us in those directions. Many of our classmates and teachers didn't know we were related until the conversation of adoption was brought up.

Some classmates tried to tease me when they knew that I was adopted. In third grade, a reading teacher asked my brother and I “who flunked?” in front of the whole class.  We were able to laugh it off. I was usually able to fend off the teasing because I loved being different and I loved being from Romania.

 

My mom was consistently asked questions by almost everyone because two babies six months apart was a curiosity to them.  My mom took it as an opportunity to educate people on the best way to talk about adoption. She explained that she is the “real” mom and that she has an adopted daughter and biological son.  When I was a toddler, I told people I was “a doctor”, confusing the word “adopted”. My parents explained adoption to me throughout my childhood at the level of my ability to understand. I am glad that they did because I was able to process my thoughts and feelings without feeling betrayed.

My mom encouraged me to learn about my Romanian heritage.  For many years my family enjoyed the Christmas parties for adoptees sponsored by the Romanian Embassy in Washington D.C.  I have a “Romania” file containing my adoption documents, court records, newspaper articles and a directory of fellow Romanian adoptees with their stories.  I greatly appreciate this effort to help me make sense of my own adoption story.

As a pre-teen and teenager, I remember thinking about my biological family a lot of the time.  When I was alone or laying in bed at night, especially on my birthday, I wondered if they were thinking of me.  And I always wanted a sister. During my teens, I had moments of irrational rage and did not get along well with Stevie or my parents.  I told them they're not my real family and that I wanted to live in Romania. Today, I would take those words back because I know what my life in Romania would have been like.

My adoption agency sent their annual pamphlet filled with the successful adoption stories of 2008.  Inside was a notification that assistance was available to locate birth parents through the Romanian Embassy in the U.S.  I was delighted to respond. The Government of Romania/ Romanian Office for Adoptions mailed me a translated document with my birth mother’s contact information after she had approved.  She and I exchanged photographs and handwritten letters in the Romanian language via FedEx. We spoke a few times on our landline phone but it was very difficult to communicate when they didn’t speak a lick of English.  I learned that I had two full blood biological siblings. My sister Alexandra is one year younger than I am and lived in Romania with my birth mother. My brother Anthony is two years older than I am and lives in Ireland.  I sent him a handwritten letter. He, too, was floored to find two biological siblings he never knew existed.

My family supported me during my search for my biological family.  I was 17 years old when we all traveled to Romania to meet my biological family in the Summer of 2008.  We met my birth mother and her new husband at the Bucharest airport. Then we rode in a hippie van to my biological family’s apartment in Pucioasa.  Alexandra, my biological sister, greeted us at the door and I got emotional upon laying eyes on her as my initial thought was she’s too beautiful to be my sister.  I also met two young half-brothers, cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. My biological family welcomed us with hugs and kisses and held our hands constantly. My birth mother cried a lot, showered us with any gifts she could find and to my mom’s shock, knelt down, took off her shoes and kissed her feet.  It was an eye-opening experience living with my biological family for the next two weeks.

Upon arriving in Romania, my parents discovered our credit cards were not accepted and we were not able to get much cash from the local ATM.  My family had planned to explore different parts of Romania but I chose not to go along with them because of the financial situation and I wanted to bond with my biological family alone.  My mom returned a week later.

During my stay, I experienced poverty first-hand.  There were no cars parked at the apartment or other residences because nobody owned a car.  However, they had to deal with speeding traffic because the town was the main thoroughfare to the foothills of the Carpathian mountains.  A few of the locals traveled by horse and buggy. It was quite an experience to see how my biological family lived on a daily basis. I attended a service at their Pentecostal church and walked through the local park almost every day.  Every night I could hear the large population of stray dogs howling through the open windows. It was a depressing sight to see dogs scrounging for food in the nearby dumpster and later seeing humans doing the same thing. For work, my birth mother pushed a cart up and down through town selling second-hand clothing.  I understood how hard her life in Romania was, not knowing if she’ll make enough money each day to eat.

I consumed my biological family's diet mostly consisting of bread, polenta, potatoes, and mushrooms.  A handful of green beans made a huge pot of soup and we boiled the milk from a cow. My biological relatives had a feast to celebrate our reunion.  It was uncommon for them to have chicken and they devoured every last bit of it.  A marble cake was proudly made by my birth mother and everyone took turns whipping the egg whites by hand.

Communication was a very difficult and draining process but my biological cousin was sometimes available for translation.  I relied mostly on my limited knowledge of the Romanian language, an English-Romanian dictionary, and pantomime. My birth mother told me she kept a chunk of my hair when I was relinquished, so I know she cared about me enough to save and cherish a part of me.  I asked her about my birth name, Katerina, because some of my documents had my name spelled with a “K” and others with a “C”. Confused, she told me she intended for my name to be “Carolina”. This was very shocking to realize that for seventeen years of my life, the name I thought was truly my birth name was just an act of negligence within the system.  I had always loved the name Katerina and it had become a part of me growing up. I also found out that my place of birth in my paperwork was wrong. I thought I was born in Tulcea but during one of our walks into town, my birth mother pointed to the hospital where I was born, right there in Pucioasa. It was during these moments I began to question everything about my adoption because it felt like I had been living a lie.

Some very intense conversations took place when my birth mother revealed her scars from my abusive biological father, who eventually ended up in prison.  She told me how she begged on the streets while pregnant with me and she couldn’t go home because my biological father would try to stab me inside of her belly.  This also happened with my biological siblings each time she got pregnant. Her dramatic reenactments were traumatizing to witness. My birth mother also told me she’s very sick and is afraid to die; that she wants me to move to Romania to live with her.  How could I tell her no? She also needs money for medications and operations at the Bucharest hospital. I believed her until my two half-brothers, ages 6 and 7, suddenly “caught diabetes” during my stay and needed money for treatment. I started to question the validity of her stories.  Alexandra, speaking in broken English, warned me that our birth mother lies for money. Her stories hold some truth but she exaggerates her pain and suffering. Despite our birth mother’s dishonesty, I would have felt guilty if something really happened to her, so I sent her a large sum of money.  Alexandra later showed me a picture of our birth mother’s new matching furniture. To this day my birth mother still asks for money but I can’t be assured that it will be used wisely.

When Alexandra and I were together we danced, laughed hysterically and held hands through everything.  We painted each other’s nails, compared body parts and beauty marks, and she taught me some of the Romanian language.  I must have learned over 200 words while staying with my biological family. One of my favorite memories with her was the time I swam in the local river.  Alexandra didn’t know how to swim so she watched me do gymnastics and flip off the rocks into the water. I was also able to bond with her boyfriend who is now her husband.

I had so many questions before taking the leap to meet my biological family.  I knew I had to keep a completely open mind. My reunion not only answered my deepest questions about my early life, it prompted many more. The more stories my biological family told me, the more questions I had and the more answers I yearned for.  Part of me also wondered if they were really telling me the truth and how much of it was lost in translation.  Meeting my biological family was just scratching the surface to find my truth that still has not yet been decoded.  One of these mysteries was learning of a full blood biological sister who is one year older than I am, Raluca. Her whereabouts remain secret.  Alexandra, Anthony and I have been searching for her but we cannot get enough information from our family.

I do not have a relationship with my biological father. A few years ago Alexandra visited him in Belgium in an attempt to get information about our missing sister.  During her visit, I was able to Skype with our biological father but he did not want to talk. He sat very far away from the camera drinking a beer and having a smoke.  Alexandra translated that he denies we are his children and will not speak of our sister because “it is none of our business”. With all of the secrecy from both of our biological parents, Alexandra is unsure if our sister is even alive. Romania has a terrible history of being one of the world’s leading providers of trafficked organs.  Who knows what our biological father would do to his unwanted baby, just to get money. I just hope our sister is alive and was adopted into a loving family.

After coming to the realization of what my life would have been like living in Romania and the dangers that I had faced, I had a newfound love for my adoptive family.  The first time Stevie and I truly bonded was on the trip back home from Romania. I was emotional and had just said my goodbyes to my biological family so my brother thought maybe food would cheer me up.  He convinced our dad to buy us a jar of Nutella at the airport because it’s “healthy and tastes like peanut butter”. We laughed as we took turns dipping our spoons straight out of the jar. We shared iPod earbuds on the plane and watched Disney movies the whole flight home.  My perception of Stevie had changed. I was thankful to end up with such a witty brother. Now that we are all grown up, Stevie and I have become very close. We love to hang out together because we share the same best friends. We love to be active and do extreme sports such as snowboarding, wakeboarding, water skiing, cliff diving, hiking, and biking. We enjoy each other’s gourmet cooking, tasting good craft beer and dancing at the clubs with our friends.  I also have a great relationship with my parents now that I’m more mature. I work with my dad sometimes helping him build his business by creating patent drawings, logos and promoting his social media. My mom and I are best friends and can talk on the phone for hours without noticing the time that has flown by. She has always believed in me and my every endeavor.

My records state at the time of my adoption my birth parents had “under their care another child”.  That child is my biological brother, Anthony. He was adopted at the age of two by a couple in Ireland.  He is two years older than I am. In 2012 Alexandra and I traveled to Dublin to meet Anthony for the first time.  The three of us were together for two weeks. It was the most amazingly indescribable feeling in the world to know so little about each other but have such a connection and so much love for each other in spite of our different languages and accents.  We held hands together walking through the streets where people passing by told us we looked like a beautiful family. I was able to experience the authentic Irish pubs, tour the Guinness brewery and dance at the Irish nightclubs. Together we road-tripped to Wexford and saw breathtaking views of the east coast and countryside.

Anthony’s adoptive parents were so welcoming during my stay.  We felt very comfortable discussing our adoption stories. Some very significant information was revealed about my adoption that had been kept secret by my biological family.  Anthony’s adoptive parents saw me as a newborn baby during his adoption process. His parents were planning to adopt both of us the next day when they went back for me but I was already on a plane to my parents in the United States.  In addition to this knowledge, I found out that I was adopted in exchange for a bag of cash. Anthony’s adoptive parents snapped a photo of this wad of cash that my biological parents were holding that replaced me. My parents were left aghast when I told them they had bought me.  They were lied to by the lawyers in Romania who claimed that money was owed to “babysitters” along with extra legal fees that had to be paid. My parents also did not know that my biological parents separated me from my biological brother. Today, I would be living in Ireland with Anthony and his adoptive family, had my American parents not adopted me only one day before.

I have always been pro-adoption and pro keeping siblings together, but when I reflect on my life living separated from my biological brother, I have conflicting views.  On one hand, I am so thankful to have such an amazing family who gave me unconditional love and so many opportunities in education and sports.  I know how lucky I am to have had such a wonderful childhood growing up in the diverse city of Miami.  I now know the impact of what one day can have on so many people’s lives and I can’t bear to think of how life would be to never have known my loving adoptive family.  At the same time, I feel great sorrow from never been able to experience growing up with my biological brother. I know that if I did, Anthony’s adoptive parents would have cared for me and loved me just as much.  It comforts me to know I would have had an amazing life with them in Ireland as well. Overall, I am overjoyed to have found my siblings and to have them in my life today. I would not change a thing in my past because I now have the best of all worlds. In this life, I found our sister Alexandra.  I keep in touch with my biological siblings mainly through Facebook, video chats, and with the help of Google Translate.  Over the past decade, Alexandra has learned enough English to almost speak it fluently.

As an adoptee there have been, and will be many struggles I have to overcome--one being I drank too much in college.  Reflecting back, I see how it was an outlet to avoid thinking about my situation. I am a stronger person than I used to be because I have matured and I channel my energy and emotions through my art.  My perception of fate plays a huge role in my life and in my art. When I am creating, I tend to dwell on my past and can recall many conversations and flashbacks of the times when I was with my biological family.  I think my emotions get in the way of my creative process because my work is so intrinsically personal.  As an artist, I want to work with members of the adoption community to disclose their empowering stories and give them a voice through my work.  While every adoptee’s story and experience is like no other, their voices are strong and their perspectives are real. As a whole, we have a stronger voice and I want to establish an environment where all voices can be heard and where the conversation is embraced.  Understanding the stories between adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents is one of my many interests. I want to encourage adult adoptees to search for their roots but to let them know it is your reaction and attitude that forms who you are, not the stories of your past.  I also want people within the adoption community to know that every adoption story, positive or negative, has traumatic qualities. No adoptee is alone.  Sharing multiple viewpoints and offering insight to prospective adoptive parents I believe is crucial for the development of future adoptees.

The adoptive family is in a position to support and respect the adoption-related needs of their child.  I believe adoptive parents need to put forth the effort in finding out as much information about their adoptive child’s biological family as possible.  Explaining adoption starting very young is the easiest way for a child to swallow the concept of adoption.  Waiting to tell a child about his or her adoption is, in my belief, one of the greatest forms of dishonesty and betrayal.  In order to have a genuine connection with your adoptive child, parents need to be open and honest in discussing anything and everything adoption related.  In today’s society, I promote the conversations surrounding adoption to normalize the idea of adoption. This will build awareness, which in turn can create a safer environment for future generations of adoptees.

I moved out of my parent’s house in 2014 upon getting my first job in the summer of my college graduation.  Today, I live in the mountains of Colorado. I love to live my life in a natural setting where I can go outdoors to paint, draw, hike, cycle, rock climb, snowboard and water ski.  I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from New World School of the Arts and the University of Florida. My husband makes custom drum sets from scratch and I love to collaborate with him on special woodworking projects.  We are focused on perfecting our crafts while building our businesses.

This year one of my goals is to showcase my artwork in at least one of the local Denver galleries.  I am looking forward to traveling this year--one perk of having family overseas. But being so far apart geographically is also one of the most unremitting and difficult aspects of my adoption.  It has been ten years since I’ve seen most of my biological family and I will finally reunite with them again this year. Alexandra and her husband are having their first baby and we will be celebrating his baptism with a reunion.  I will get to meet my four-year-old niece and one-month-old nephew. I can’t wait to be with Alexandra and Anthony, their significant others, Anthony’s mother, best friend, our birth mother and our two half-brothers.

In the next ten years, I want to reunite with my biological family more often so my niece and nephew can grow up knowing that they have an aunt in the U.S. who loves them.  I want to focus on my art practice and my processes to make my art career more successful. I am hoping that within the next ten years, society will have a greater understanding of the adoption community.  In today’s world, there are many nontraditional ways to create a family. My definition of family is broader than blood. My family is created with love, courage, and choice.

Adoption Made Me

Adoption made me strong. I’ve been given up on, I’ve been walked away from, I’ve been rejected, abandoned, and mistreated; my interactions with these are deeply intertwined into my experience with adoption.

 

Adoption made me resilient. There are a lot of ups and downs associated with adoption; adoptive family bonding, birth family questions and finding my own identity within the mess.

Adoption has given me a resiliency to face life challenges head on, knowing that every time I’m knocked down, I can get back up again.

Adoption made me empathetic. Throughout my experience with adoption, I have navigated through a multitude of emotions. This has helped develop a deep sense of understanding and empathy towards others’ journeys and given me the ability to listen, acknowledge and relate to so many different walks of life.

Adoption made me a victor. Many unfair, hurtful and painful events happened throughout my life
because of adoption. Instead of letting that knock me down, succumbing to the victim mentality, I’ve chosen to the do opposite, using my experiences to build up my character and encourage others to do the same.

Adoption made me, me. Without adoption, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I would lack the ability to walk through life with a strength and resiliency that could only come as a result of life experience. My sense of empathy and understanding would not run as deep into my being,
something that today, I hold onto so dearly. But most of all, I wouldn’t have the drive to encourage others to become victors, believing that we can overcome anything and use our stories to help others.

Adoption Made Me.

Everyone Matters

Sharing my story is important because it tells others that they are not alone.

For me, I am not outgoing at all, so sharing my story is a way for my voice to be heard.

I would never initiate this conversation, but if someone asked me about adoption, I would 100% give them all the information they wanted about it.

I think that being able to relate to people is important in knowing that you are not alone.

"People Need People," as Jamie Tworkowski once said.

As closed up as I am, I still need people. I need to know that I am not alone in my struggles, and if I can share my story and impound that to someone else, then let my story be shared with everyone.

If someone else can relate to my story and learn something from it, then that is really encouraging for me and I want to be able to help others in that way.

I feel empowered by telling my story because it tells me " Hey, your story is important, YOU are important". That is a great feeling personally because it makes me feel and know that I matter.

 

My story begins in China.

I was raised in a Christian home with two loving parents and a brother who is also adopted, but I am unfortunately not as close to him as I would like to be.

My childhood is one I would experience all over again. I was given so many opportunities to pursue any passion or interest I had. I played sports growing up and tried to participate in as many activities and clubs as possible. My family was and still is supportive of my decisions and the direction I am headed in.

At 3 ½ years old I was adopted.

Since being adopted, there were multiple challenges I had to overcome including struggles with adoption and learning more about myself when I was in middle and high school.

I wanted to know more about my birth mother and try to understand why I was given up.

At the time that I was given up, China had a law that families could only have one child due to the One Child Policy in order to try and control the population growth. With this in mind, there were many different conclusions that I could come up with as to why I was given up for adoption. The past is something that I do not try to dwell on too much because I know that God has a plan for me.

However, I still have my questions and I think it is healthy to face those questions even if they do not have answers.

As I got older, I have been connecting with more and more adoptees and it is something that will always be a close subject to me. It is good to know that I am not alone in the thoughts and struggles I face as an adoptee.

I do not like to consider myself being "different" from my family just because they are all who I have known my entire life.

I have been thinking about the people who try and do find their birth families, and I think that is such a courageous thing to do. I also imagine it is a difficult process and can be emotionally overwhelming for many. I would like to find my birth family, but I honestly would not know where to begin, so I do not think to do anything about it.

Adoption changed my life.

I was very sick when my mother came over to get me from China. I had abdominal problems and pneumonia when my mother came and the government almost did not allow me to leave with her. However, my mother fought with them and stood her ground saying that she would not leave without me. So in essence, she changed my life once I was adopted. If I stayed in China, there is a very good chance that I would not be here today.

I am proud of being more open to my adoption story and sharing it with other people.

Thankfully, I have not personally experienced any conflicts with other people on this topic of adoption, but maybe since people know I am adopted they are more sensitive toward me. I have really grown as a person, going from being a reserved person to sharing more about myself with others. Don't get me wrong, I still am cautious and don't open up to everyone I meet, but I have come a long way from 10 years ago. I am proud that I am adopted because I feel like my life is that much more meaningful in a sense of feeling like "this is your second chance at life, so take it with full stride". This does not mean I don't have doubts or setbacks because I certainly have my fair share of those.

But, I am just proud of the person I have become and am still a work in progress.

Obstacles to Overcome

 

I was born in Braila, Romania.

I only have one memory from the orphanage.

I remember when I was being forced to drink tea. The orphanage was too poor to afford milk, so we had watered down tea.

There was tons of abuse and neglect in Romanian orphanages.

At 15 months old, a couple from Michigan adopted me.

At the time of the adoption, I had rickets and anemia. Both were difficult conditions to deal with.

My adoptive parents and I had our problems, but what family doesn’t.

Despite all of the struggles, I knew that I was loved and taken care of.

To this day, I hate the taste and smell of tea.

Since being adopted, there were a lot of challenges I had to overcome. Many of them were due to the things I experienced in the orphanage.

In the orphanage, I developed a rock, which is a self-stimulating action due to being left alone too long.

When we were fed in the orphanage we were slapped if we touched our food, so my parents had to get me used to touching my food. I'd hold my hands up as if I was surrendering to the police. I used to store food in my cheeks overnight because in the orphanage I didn't know when my next meal was.

When asked what adoption means to me, I respond with, “mixed emotions.”

I was a baby. In Romania, an out of wedlock child was a shame to the whole family.

So, me being adopted meant the family would be able to live a normal life.

We All Have A Story to Tell

Adoption has always been a part of my life.

I was adopted when I was six months old.

Based on what I can recall, I was considered a high-risk adoption due to my extreme prematurity.

I always knew I was adopted. My parents always made sure I knew that part of my story, yet I was never treated that way.

As I grew older, I always had a curiosity about my biological family. My parents always did the best they could to answer my questions and tell me what they knew. 

In 2008, I had an unplanned pregnancy and after much thought, prayer, and research I choose to place my baby girl in an open adoption with family friends.

My curiosity grew considerably after placement and I felt a very strong urge to look for my biological family.

I had no idea where to begin. I never had any names or anything to began with.

My parents always kept my adoption papers in my baby book. So, I started there.

As I scanned through the documents, I found a name that I had never seen before. So, I decided to do a simple search online. Of course, there were a dozen names that popped up.

So, I just picked up the phone and called the first number on the list.

That very first phone call changed my entire life.

I called my biological grandparents house who live 45 minutes from where I grew up.

That very weekend, Mother’s Day of 2009, I hugged my biological mom, half brother, half sister, and grandparents for the first time in over 20 years. We now have a loving relationship and I look forward to every visit I get with them.

Adoption is a large part of who I am, but I am so much more than an adoptee and birth mother.

I am a mother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend. I believe adoption has come so far since the 80’s when there were very limited options.

But, even with the current progress, there is still more work to be done.

I believe that all of us have a story to tell.

 

I believe that no matter what the circumstances may be, we all can rise above them and find the silver lining in even our darkest moments.

I didn’t choose to be adopted but I am grateful for my life and the many blessings that have come from adoption.

Loss, Trauma and Grief

I believe sharing our experiences and stories is empowering.

Sharing our stories builds a community, and adoptees are a growing and vibrant community.

Our stories also help dispel the myths about adoption. It is not a fairytale experience.

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Parenting an adopted child who has suffered neglect, loss, and trauma is nothing like parenting a child with a normal developmental history.

Adoptive parents need training in trauma, attachment/bonding, grief, and loss.

My story begins in Bossier City, Louisiana, a small community with very little diversity.

My father was a Lt. Colonel in the United States Air Force, and my mother was a registered nurse.

As a child, I was extremely introverted and shy.

I suffered from separation anxiety and nightmares.

My adoptive parents did not understand why I struggled so much.

I had a hard time fitting in with my white peers and always felt a sense of differentness due to my outward appearance.

I learned later on in my life from my biological sisters that our father, who did not tell our birth mom or my siblings, relinquished me. I was placed in an orphanage in Taipei called, “The Family Planning Association of China.”

The orphanage no longer exists. I'm not sure at what age I was relinquished, but I was only months old.

At four months old, I was adopted.

Since being adopted, there were a lot of challenges I had to overcome.

The most challenging of all was growing up as an adoptee in a very non-diverse community, full of racial teasing and discrimination.

I despised my appearance and tried desperately to minimize my Asian features. I wanted to look like the white teen models in Seventeen Magazine.

The teasing caused low self-esteem, and I truly thought I was inferior to those around me.

It has taken me a long time to find my voice over the years and develop confidence in myself

Reuniting with my birth family helped greatly, as I finally appreciated and embraced my cultural heritage. Writing about my experiences and connecting with other adoptees have also brought a sense of empowerment.

Since being adopted, I am proud to have a different side to international adoption than most people know, understand, or expect.

Some people tend to minimize or are unaware of the loss, trauma, grief, guilt, shame, and identity issues experienced by adoptees.

By writing about international adoption and speaking out, I'm able to advocate for adoptees, as well as bring greater awareness to our struggles.

Foundlings & Irish Twins

They found me in a box.

The box was left in a vacant apartment building across the street from the ocean in Virginia Beach, and from what they could tell, it was only a few hours after my birth.

I spent most of my first week of life recovering in an incubator from being left out in the cold.  After I was released from the hospital, I was placed in a foster home to allow for any of my biological family members to come forward to claim me as well as to make sure I didn’t have any medical issues (physical and/or mental).

Back in the 70s, foster parents weren’t allowed to adopt children because they were supposed to only be a short-term placement for children. My first foster parents were forced, by a court order, to have me removed from their home because they were under the incorrect assumption that they could adopt me because I was a foundling. I was almost two months old when I was placed in another foster home.  A couple of weeks later, my future parents were notified by Virginia Social Services that if they met an employee at a motel in Virginia Beach, they could adopt me and take me back to Williamsburg, VA.   

The date was April 20th, 1974, exactly two months from the day I was found.

My adopted dad was a law and history professor at William & Mary for many years. When received a higher position at the University of South Carolina, our family moved to Columbia, SC where I spent the rest of my childhood. 

I have always been the extrovert of the family when compared with my adoptive parents and sister. And aside from the tragic death of my adoptive Mother from cancer when I was six years old, I had a great childhood thanks to my adoption. I always felt very lucky and very much a part of the family.

That said, I only knew one other adopted person while growing up, and the whole, ‘not being worthy to keep’ issue was hard. Finding out about the whole abandonment issue when I was 21 years old was even harder. But things have really come full circle over the past 10 months.

After receiving a DNA test for Christmas from my in-laws, I was interested in finding out what my ethnic makeup would be after many guesses over the years. My test results were processed March 15th, 2017, I was notified that I am 68% Irish (never would have guessed that before now) and that I had an immediate sibling match. Amazingly, I had a full sister, also abandoned at birth as a newborn, who was only 11 months older than me and truly my Irish twin. From the minute we first talked on the phone, it’s like we have known each other forever.

With the help of my sister’s genealogist, we have learned who our biological parents are, the fact that we have five half siblings, and have met many aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. We even had the opportunity to have lunch with our biological mother seven months after receiving my test results and two months later, we spent three nights in the ski resort neighborhood she lives in with her husband.  The journey to this point has been crazy, surreal, and amazing wrapped into one big package.

Now, I can look forward to sharing the rest of my life with my sister and her family after 43 years of not knowing of each other’s existence. In fact, it has made me want to help and support adoptees, especially foundlings like myself, as they go on their own DNA testing journey.

Life, Bit by Bit

My adoptive parents left me in a burning house when I was six years old.

I got myself out, and I knew I was alone.

I saw my adoptive parents simply as guardians, not real parents. My adoptive father gave up on me when I was four years old because he felt rejected by my lack of enthusiasm for him, but we lived in the same house until I turned 18 and moved out.

I was an only child. It was awkward.

I was adopted at six months of age because my mother physically abused me and left me alone in an apartment while she worked full time. Her psychiatrist, a good samaritan, had me removed from my mother by the police on three separate occasions. His interventions probably saved my life.

Twice I was placed with foster families, and then once in a county shelter.

I was born in San Jose, California and adopted in 1965. It was a closed county adoption, but I did manage to reconnect with my birth parents later on. My birth mother is mentally ill. She’s bipolar with many suicide attempts. My father’s wife and kids were very upset to learn about me, so I’m not in touch with either of my birth parents anymore.

Ultimately, I know I was better off being adopted due to the stability it offered, but of course, adoption brought its own unique set of problems.

I never connected with my adoptive family and was very angry during my whole childhood and beyond. I was completely shut down, especially during my infant years. I wouldn’t laugh or cry. I was silent as a stone. I felt half alive, half dead.

I came back to life bit by bit. What helped was good friendships, therapy, forming a family of my own, travel, and falling in love with the power of offering service to others. From the California AIDS Ride to working with destitute villages in Ethiopia, service is ultimately what helped me connect to a sense of belonging on our planet.

My life is full and joyful now. I’m 52 years old, married for 26 years, and have two grown up daughters. I work as a therapist and specialize in life-threatening illness and bereavement. I’m a growth-oriented person and strongly believe in our ability to heal and come back to life.

My adoptive parents died five years ago and I took care of them during their passing. Whenever I get triggered or slip back into a dark place, I know the territory well enough to know how to get myself out of it fairly quickly.

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At this point in my life, I feel joyful and free. I don’t feel defined by my story, but rather use it to help others and to appreciate the fullness of life. I wish I had known before I was adopted that I have this life force in me despite the abuse and neglect. The universe will support me, and I’m strong enough to stay alive and find my way to joyful living over time.

This year I’m leading a group of women on a healing journey in Spain, writing a book, and co- leading adoptee healing retreats with Anne Heffron in addition to taking care of myself, my family and my private practice.

I hope that in 10 years time, I will spend my time leading various local and international retreats, have written much more, find time to paint and create, and spend as much time as I possibly can with my family and enjoying our little beach house.

I want to share my story for the sake of helping others. That’s what is most important to me. I believe in the power of sharing stories to help us feel we are not alone or broken, particularly when the world underestimates the pain and trauma of being orphaned.

Belonging makes us stronger. And that’s why I share my story.

Learn to Give Before You Can Get

It was tough.

We didn’t have any food or clean water.

My mother was awful in her own way.

I never knew my real father.

Prior to being adopted, I was in two foster care homes.

The first home was small and crowded.

The second one was larger and inhabited by fewer children.

At the time, I spoke a different language than everyone else, so it was difficult to form relationships, but I do remember the caregivers.

They were very abusive.

My time in foster care ranged from four until six when a family from Germany adopted me.

Back then, I had no understanding of what adoption was nor what it would mean for me.

I couldn’t even speak the same language as my adopters.

Now, I consider it something to be grateful for, and a means to a much better future.

With that said, it’s not as though it has been a particularly easy experience.

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Having no one to talk to, is even harder.

I was always quite.

I’ve also never had a good relationship with my adoptive parents. We were never able to bond. It’s a problem I’ve always had.

But, this year, I’ve decided that my goal is to find out everything I can about myself and my adoption.

However, I can’t say that I’m not afraid to find out some of the answers to the questions I’m about to ask.

I hope that by asking these questions, it’ll give other people the strength and hope to share their stories, and maybe change their lives or perspectives for the better.

After I explore my adoption, finish school, and move out of my parents' place, I hope to combine my two strongest passions: cooking, and helping others.

I want to ultimately position myself as a helper to those less privileged and fortunate than myself.

Pain to Power

Sharing my story is important because I want others to know that they are not alone. I would also like to share the different challenges I went through as an adoptee, to help educate future adoptive parents.

An upper-middle class family adopted me.

Based on what I can recall, my childhood, after I was adopted, was of an average child with a special attribute to it.

At 13 months, I was placed in an orphanage.

According to some reports, I was found on the doorsteps of a police station.

To date, I wish I knew who my birth parents were and see our similarities if any.

I was born when China had the one-child policy.

I have a feeling that I have a sibling.

I also sense that my parents chose him to carry out the family name and to take care of them as they aged.

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I didn’t know much about my adoptive parents prior to being adopted, but that didn’t bother me.

Since being adopted, I had to overcome multiple challenges, including the feeling of not fitting in anywhere or not being part of the Asian or white culture.

I used to ask myself, “Where do I fit in this world?”

Relationships were also an area I struggled with, especially when it came to friends.

To date, I fear abandonment. I have trust issues.

I am continuously working on my weaknesses.

Since being adopted, I proud to say that I have two sets of parents who love me.

Not Ashamed or Embarrassed

I am sharing my story because there are other Chinese adoptees who are not being heard, and whose stories aren’t being shared.

I believe all stories need to be heard.

I would have loved to know that I wasn’t alone growing up.

I was born in China, in 1996. A year after my birth, an incredibly loving and caring family adopted me.

They have never made me feel as if I was not part of the family.

Prior to being adopted, I lived in an orphanage. Based on what I’ve been told, I was found on the doorstep of a factory that made kitchen supplies.

I wish I could go back and ask my parents why I ended up there.

Once I got adopted, there were multiple challenges I had to overcome, including my realizations that other Caucasian classmates and friends all looked, acted, and spoke differently.

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Despite all of the challenges, I am proud that I finally have pride in my heritage and can call myself a Chinese-American citizen, without feeling embarrassed or ashamed.

Reconnecting the Dots

Throughout my upbringing, I felt incredibly different from the people who surrounded me.

There were things about me that stood out. One of those things being my strawberry blonde hair. I loved to sing and dance. There are home videos of me singing in the lobby of Disney's Grand Floridian at the four years old.

I remember when my second-grade music teacher reached out to my mom and extended a personal invitation for me to attend a music program because she believed I would be incredibly successful.

But, my family did not accept the invitation.

In fifth grade, I showed strong interest in athletics. Despite my petite stature, I was pretty good at shooting hoops. But, this after-school activity was also forbidden.

In high school, I was invited to take Honors courses, followed by AP English. When I danced into my living room with enthusiasm, eager to share the news, I was met with an apathetic audience. They discouraged me from taking on the more challenging courses. I realized that one of our biggest differences was that I seemed to be an overachiever type, and my family was content with keeping a low profile.

Aside from this, I recall that growing up, comments were made regarding my appearance.

I was frequently called, "the blonde girl" and "the little American girl." I never made it known that it bothered me, but it did. According to my knowledge at this time, I was Cuban, just like the rest of my family. I knew how to cook the most traditional Cuban dishes, dance salsa, and I even had a quinceanera (Hispanic coming-of-age ceremony).

So, I felt uncomfortable when people told me that I didn't look Hispanic.

Before I turned two years old, my parents divorced. It turned out that prior to me being born, my dad began seeing a woman and started a relationship. By the time I was four months old, my mother had become pregnant with a son. I don't recall ever living with my father. My dad, and paternal family, for that matter, visited me sparingly. I lived and grew up with my mother and my grandparents. I shared a room with my mom until I could afford to move out at the age of 24.

Following the divorce, my mom became very depressed and developed a borderline personality disorder. She barely left her bed for an entire decade.

It was at that time that my aunt and uncle had unofficial custody of me. They made sure I had a childhood, while my mom was in deep suffering.

During the years 2008-09, we were in a dire financial situation. Had it not been for my grandparents buying their home in cash those fifty-some years ago, we would have been homeless. There were days when we searched the car for change, looking to see if we had enough money to share a six-piece chicken nugget from McDonald's.

During my teen years, I fell in love. I was head over heels for a sixteen-year-old boy who claimed he loved me too. When he broke up with me, I was devastated.

So was my mom.

Her first boyfriend was shot in a terrible accident and she carried that pain with her. She wanted to avoid that I would endure heartbreak and very much desired that I married him. So, she reached out for supernatural help. She met a man who practiced witchcraft and claimed that he would restore our teenage romance. In order to do so, he claimed that he needed to touch me inappropriately. I was frightened and I believed that he held real powers. I was molested at these visits. When I came forward to my mom, she refused to go to the police because she feared that my ex-boyfriend would find his pictures on the evening news. When I came forward and told my dad, he blamed me for the crime committed against me. It may also be valuable to add that my father is a high ranking law official. I wonder if he would say the same to any other victim or even to his other children.

At the age of eighteen, I got into a huge argument with mom following my high school graduation. As I grew older and became more independent, she wanted to become more controlling. I was fighting her to allow me to drive myself to the university. In the midst of an escalated argument, she told me that I was adopted. One day later, she told me that the social worker had given her the name of my birth mother. At this point, I did not have an interest in meeting any birth relatives. It was too much information all at once.

But, I was curious to see a photo. I simply wanted to see what she looked like. I searched her name, along with the city where I was born, St. Petersburg, Florida. What I found was more than what I had bargained for. There was an advertisement of her looking for me.

I found out that I was adopted in June 2009. My mom made arrangements to meet my birth family in November of 2009. Looking back, I was in no way ready for this. I had not fully digested the fact that I was adopted. Things were beginning to make sense to me, such as why I looked different and why my character and talents differed so vastly from those of my family members. But, this information was all incredibly new to me. Alongside, at the age of 18, I also had a lot of maturing to do. This monumental moment was something that I preferred to put on hold; however, my mom claimed that this had to be done, and I quote, "before she died."

So, I spent Thanksgiving with my birth mom, cousins, and birth-family.

As I have matured, I have initiated contact with other family members on my own, without the involvement of my adoptive family. I am close to my aunt and recently made contact with my father. I never realized how nervous I was to reach out until I finally did. As he was writing back to me in the chat-screen, my hands were shaking. I realized that I was longing for his acknowledgment and his love. I longed for a father's love and receiving that was something so monumental for me.

I have an older sister. We are nearly identical. Seeing her in person was as if finding a missing piece of my soul.

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My birth mother admitted that she had considered placing my sister in the same home. But, the agency did not accept her, as she was an, "older child." In the adoption-world, that means older than 15 months. Since the adoption was closed, both of my families had never met each other.

I spent the Christmas season crying because I missed my sister and I mourned for all the years that we did not spend together. I imagined that life with my sister would have been different.

For one, I would not have been singled out as the only person who looked different.

I would not have to carry the burden of being adopted on my own.

Growing up with a sibling would have liberated me from living on such a tight leash, even way into adulthood.

It was years later that I became involved with adoptee rights.

I started learning about how private adoptions are part of a multi-billion dollar industry. I started becoming more aware of how mothers are coerced to give up their children for adoption. Typically, the reasons why many mothers choose the permanent decision of adoption, is because of a temporary situation, like poverty. I was placed for adoption because I was born to a young, low-income, single mother. Despite being adopted, I was also raised by the low-income single mother. Despite our hardships, I have formed an attachment and a bond to this family.

I am especially grateful for my grandparents. I love them dearly. They salvaged my childhood and provided support in every aspect of my life. It is the only family I have ever known. But, this story is weaved with threads of inhumanity, nonetheless.

Today, I advocate for the following:

1) I frequently see posts on social media from couples asking women to consider them as potential parents for their unborn child. We will not solve the issue of a growing number of orphans by asking more women to orphan their children. I pray that we can empower more women and give them the tools to succeed in order for them to be able to raise their children

2) All adults should have access to birth records. If biological children have access, and adoptees do not, this is discrimination. Quite frankly, the legacy of Georgia Tann, the kidnapper and child seller, needs to end along with this practice, which she initiated

3) All adoptees suffer from trauma due to separation from their birth parents

4) The adoption industry needs to end. Children are not property, therefore, there should be no industry. Adoption needs to be regulated by unbiased parties, who haven't lost objectivity due to financial prospect

5) We need to stop stereotyping adoption triads. Adoptees are not always troubled or rebellious, birth parents are not typically villains, and adoptive parents are not always heroes. Let us celebrate parents for being great parents, not simply for the way that they became parents.

6) People will always be curious regarding their origins. Curiosity is not a reflection on the adoptive parents.

7) Adoption is PERMANENT. Please consider fostering to decide if it is right for you and for your potential child.

Dying Wish

I am sharing my story because I was not the only adoptee placed in an abusive household, nor am I the only adoptee who'd like to get rid of his/her adoptive parents

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I think it's also important for the society to hear, and hopefully understand, that adoption isn't always the best option, nor does it guarantee a happy ending.

I was born in San Francisco, CA. At the time of my birth, my parents already had one-year-old twins.

A year after I was born, my younger brother was born, and between those two events our father walked out, leaving my mother with four children ages, three and under. We were poor, as my father provided no support and my mother had limited employment opportunities.

Unable to adequately provide for our family, my mother allowed me to be adopted at the age of 16 months.

Unfortunately, I was "rehomed" at the age of 10, against my express wishes, when my adoptive mother passed away. 

When asked, “How did you get adopted?I respond with, “I was adopted first by my maternal grandparents, then by my maternal uncle. I wasn't taken in because anyone loved me, but from a misguided sense of family responsibility. I was my mother's ‘mistake’ as well as, initially, my mother's ‘replacement.’”

Once I was adopted, there were multiple challenges I had to overcome.

At first, I was angry due to the fact that I was taken away from my mother at a relatively late age. I had frequent tantrums and many episodes of violent behavior.

I met my mother and my siblings once when I was a child, but they were not allowed to acknowledge our relationship.  We reconnected when I was in my 20’s and, while I have ongoing relationships with my siblings, the losses arising from our forced separation mean that we’ll never really be close.

When told I was to be handed off after my adoptive mother's death, I was devastated. The man who'd promised to be my "forever father" was giving me away, and after he did so, went on to become a social butterfly and remarried soon after. I felt completely abandoned and unloved.

The woman who was to be my new adoptive "mother" didn't like me and didn’t want me to be part of her family. The feeling was mutual, and our relationship was strained the entire time I lived with her. She was an alcoholic and abusive, physically and emotionally, and she treated me horribly.

There were times when she told me that my birth mother didn't want me, and did her best to make my life miserable.

The most pressing challenge at this point is my attempt to have my adoption annulled. I've legally reclaimed my birth name, but want to also legally cut off all ties to the people who I was forced to live with.  As an adult, I firmly believe that I should have the right to break the “contract” that decided my fate, but to which I had no voice.

I do not want the adopters to be listed on my death certificate, so an additional challenge is making sure that my executor follows my stated wishes when I die.  The piece of paper that documents my birth may be falsified; the one that documents my death should tell the truth.

 

Be the Best Version of Yourself

I am sharing my story because adoptee voices need to be heard. The trauma that happens in being separated from your biological family is real and has so often been dismissed for a narrative that doesn't truly reflect the challenges that adoptees experience.

I was born in 1963, in Phoenix, Arizona. My mother was unmarried and relinquished me at birth.

At four weeks of age, I was placed with a childless couple.

I was raised as an only child in a middle-class home.

My parents were very active in their church community, which took priority over bonding as a family.

Looking back at my childhood, I struggled with loneliness and isolation.

I always knew I was adopted and did not look like my adoptive parents.  I always searched the faces of strangers, wondering if we could be related.

Being an adopted child, some of the biggest challenges I had to overcome were loneliness and isolation.

I never attached to my adoptive mother as she had a personality disorder, also known as narcissism. My adoptive father was good to me as a baby and younger self, but he, unfortunately, enabled my mother's problems.

My adoptive mother abused me, physically and emotionally. It caused me to seek affection and attention as a teenager.

I was vulnerable to male predators and made some choices I should not have made, all due to my nonexistent boundaries, as I was desperate to be loved.

Today, I am 54 years old and created my own family with my husband, children, and grandchildren.

Over time I have finally recognized and am working through with the trauma created when I was younger.

Accepting that I've been traumatized and that I need to work through it rather than avoid my pain is the only way through.

It is VERY hard work and some days I just don't want to do it.

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For all of the readers, continue working and taking responsibility for yourself. Be gentle with YOU and take things a day at a time.

To Be Loved Through The Pain

I was born in Pontiac, Michigan, but grew up primarily in Detroit where I spent my earliest and happiest days with my Grandma Lois. She was blind and suffered from severe arthritis, which caused her hands to curl inward. She would sit in her rocking chair while I sat in mine and she would tell me stories, lots of them about animals. I didn’t understand what her “Indian stories” meant, but they always made me smile and I always look back on those times very fondly. I remember the neighbors would come over to help arrange things in the house and nuns with whom I would spend time would visit as well. I ate way too much sugar back then. Between the orange slices from the guy with the candy cart and the mounds of sugar I would add to my cheerios, I know it was entirely too much for me. I also remember drawing pictures on the walls and playing with the little boy who lived down the street. These are my happiest memories.

After my adoptive father passed away, all of these pleasant memories fall away to a dark and shadowy time in my life.

At about five years old, my birth father came to take me to live with him and my stepmother. It was then that the abuse cycle started and what followed included every abuse imaginable. The girls I joined the house, my step-sisters, teased me relentlessly. I can still remember them telling me how ugly I was, and them putting their butts in my face. I was sent to the hospital for stitches so many times, I became desensitized. When I wasn’t sent to the hospital, I still endured smaller yet still painful indignities, like cigarette burns.

Then, there was my father. He was gone a lot, and even I knew he was on drugs. But, I didn’t know which was better: Him being at the house, or him being away. When he was away, the girls would abuse me emotionally and physically. When he was there, he would force me to perform oral sex on him in quiet places around the house.

The most memorable thing he did was sitting me on a stool and after some long talk, play a song for me, “Only The Strong Survive.” He later became my savior and the last person in my family I saw until after the adoption. He came home one day and saw how severely I had been burned all over my body from a scalding shower I had been forced to take. The skin that should have covered my left knee hung below where it should have and fresh skin was showing in places on my head from where I had fallen after slipping out of the tub. I remember it felt like days I was suffering in this state. They had put some bandages on some areas of my body. I remember riding in the car and being in the hospital long enough to think it was perhaps my new home. Then, I remember the social worker dropping me off at the house on Hartwell in Detroit. I asked her when she was coming back to pick me up again, and in some ways, I wish she had.

Fast forward to a few years later. The pattern of abuse was still fully present. All of the abuses. I left home at sixteen years old, knowing I would commit suicide otherwise. I’ve attempted it many times since then.

As for my birth parents, I never met my mother, and I never saw my father after the day he took me to the hospital. My case was moved from Oakland County to Wayne County, which I assume was because of the level of abuse. I remember knowing from the way everyone around me spoke about my mother that her permission was required whenever we went on vacation. To my knowledge, she always gave it because we always went. 

My grandma Lois found transportation to come and see me a few times after my adoption too before her family moved her back to Texas.

I also know my birth father died at the age of thirty-three. According to the death certificate my co-worker found, he died from a drug overdose. My co-worker took on the task of finding my family as an ongoing genealogy project but she has yet to find anything on my mother. I guess she’s just too good at hiding.

When I was adopted in 1972, I feel like it wasn’t from a place of love but rather of pity. I just wanted a family that loved me the way my Grandma Lois did.

As an adult, I can see that my “good behavior” and proclivity for alone coming from my childhood. When I went on adoption interviews I did all that I possibly could to present myself as a well-behaved child so they might want to adopt me. I was always the kid at home that did the right thing. To this day, I watch people in my life do bad or destructive things and all I can do is watch. My experiences gave me a tremendous ability to eliminate people from my life, emotionally and mentally. It’s strange, but even now I can deal with someone that I’ve known for years as though I’m speaking with a stranger. I can be genuinely cordial and converse just as though I’m dealing with a customer. It’s a coping mechanism resulting from my trauma but it has certainly served me well at the very least.

Other things I remember from my first few years of adopted life include the fact that my family was undereducated, and would tease me for speaking too little or for using proper English when I did. They also maintained the mentality that if a child misbehaved by say, forgetting their chores, they deserved a “whooping.” Using belts, switches, or extension cords, they would whoop me until I cried, or at least until I pretended to cry, because they would only stop when I did. 

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I even let my adopted mother know I forgave her before she died. I even spoke on behalf of her children at her funeral. I’m proud of my behavior in doing those things.

I’m proud of having raised my daughters to be strong, intelligent women with love in their lives and hearts. I surrounded them with activities, time, and attention. I made sure no one hurt them and that their days would be flooded with joy. I’ve learned how to love ME. And I’ve learned that it’s okay to make myself a priority and pursue my dreams selfishly.

All those things tell me that I am in fact living in victory.

I have since designed a nonprofit that provides a roadmap to victorious living to foster and at-risk children. My goal is to have it ready for relaunch by the end of this year.

I hope to eventually become a traveling speaker and advocate for foster, adopted, and at-risk children through Positive FACE, my nonprofit, so that people will see the good work being done. Within ten years, I want to be a strong voice in getting legislation passed that will strengthen protection for children and support initiatives that promote learning sustainable skills for a successful adulthood.

My barriers are money and energy. It’s a hard thing to stand alone, and even harder to get the right people on board. I have support, but only surface-level support. Many people believe in my vision, but not as many are willing to sacrifice to see it through to fruition.

I’m glad I get to share my story with you now because children need to know that life will not always be as bad as it might seem in the moment. They need to believe that they have a right to joy, success, and love. Additionally, I want to share my story because there needs to be a public dialogue around the gaps within the foster care and adoption systems. Neither of these should be a nightmare for a child. I hope I have encouraged some of you to open your homes and hearts to children in need: Forever homes.

People need to understand that just because a child has lived through trauma, it doesn’t mean they’re bad. They simply need to be loved through their pain.

 

For A Better World

I wish I had been aware of what adoption really meant for my life when I was younger. Knowing how it affected me and the reasons behind it would have made a huge difference in my understanding and perspective while growing up.

Two days after I was born in Yuba City, California I was placed into foster care. And a year later, I was adopted and raised by a middle-class family. My parents wound up getting a divorce, and I spent the majority of my childhood feeling very lonely and missing my family.

The way I was adopted was that my birth and adoptive mothers both went to the same gynecologist, who set up the adoption. The paperwork was all done by a neighbor who happened to also be a lawyer. Despite these close connections, my birth and adoptive mothers never even met face-to-face.

If I could remember being in my mother’s belly, I’m sure it would be my worst memory. I don’t know a lot about it, but what I do know is that she was not at all happy about my existence. My birth father has passed on, but my birth mother and I have been struggling to adjust to a relationship ever since being reunited. It takes quite a toll on me so I blog about it as a form of therapy.

Society needs to take a good look at the reasons for mothers abandoning their children. Those of us who’ve been affected by this, need to stand up and speak up about how their actions affected us in order to bring greater awareness to the emotional pain that follows a child who should have been a gift for their mother, but wound up being re-gifted instead.

Being adopted had been a challenge my entire life. It has affected my mental state, my physical health, and my relationships. When I least expect it, I get hit with a sucker punch of emotion that stems from deep-seeded feelings of abandonment and loneliness.

It shouldn’t be like this. The bond between a mother and her child is so strong for a reason and that reason is not to give up your child to someone else. I wish I just had a simple life where I could always look up to one mother, who raised and loved me from when I was born to when I became an adult and beyond.

Adoption definitely created a nurture-nature disconnect in my development.

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Even as a young child, I could feel the placidness of my relationship with my family. I could tell there was something missing and I always had an implicit urge to search for more as I grew up.

Now, I’m am a grown adult who is glad to have simply survived the whole ordeal. I’ve committed to speaking my truth and becoming a part of the positive and educational force for adoptee rights. Displaced children have many more needs that are currently tended to, and deserve to live in a safer, more comforting world. The right way is out there but so far the administration has gone in other directions.

Sharing my story as an adoptee is important because we all matter. Every story matters and they all add up to a cultural narrative that represents millions of people. Our voices must be heard in order to bring the change we know needs to happen for the sake of creating a more informed and accessible world for people like you and me.

Hear Me Now

I was born two weeks after the ‘67 riots in Detroit. I am biracial with a white mother and a black father and was adopted by a white minister and his wife who had 3 preexisting biological children. My childhood was a good one albeit one defined by race, which had a lot to do with the city's racial history and the fact that transracial adoption was very much in it's infancy.

Upon my birth, I was immediately placed in foster care, where I stayed until I was adopted at three months old after being passed around at a tea party held by Lutheran Social Services. This was a common thing for LSS to do in the hopes of matching potential adoptive parents with children in need of a family.

Adoption has created a lifelong struggle for me to restore the bond torn apart when I was given up by my mother. My biggest challenges have been with relationships, whether they’re with peers, girlfriends, family, or colleagues. Since writing my memoir and putting my experiences into words, I started to understand just how profoundly I was affected by my adoption.

I still find relationships extremely challenging.

Now that I have become more cognizant of my struggles and their implications, I have become able to stop unhealthy relationships before they begin. Many times I’ve had to walk away from relationships for my own safety and peace of mind.

Being adopted is really the only state in which I have ever lived my life. This coming year my wife and I will celebrate 25 years of marriage;  Although relationships have been and remain a challenge my marriage and familiy life is a source of joy for me now.

I’m very proud of the book I wrote and the commitment I have made to help adoptive families, professionals, and birth parents in their own journeys around adoption.

The next big step I have to take is to truly fulfill my professional potential. Due to the fact that I struggle with relationships, I feel like I’m behind in regard to the impact I would already have made had I not let my struggles with relationships hold me back.

Looking ahead ten years, I see myself as a very active speaker and trainer in the field of cultural intelligence. Nothing to speak of is holding me back. I simply need to take advantage of the opportunities I have in front of me to build my experience and reputation.

I wrote my memoir 8 years ago, and when asked why I wrote it, I would often say it was because I wanted to help other transracial adoptive families. In fact, I’ve said that for the past eight years. 

However last year, I partnered with a lifelong friend to do work in the field of diversity and Cultural Intelligence, and then he asked me why I wrote the book I gave my standard answer. And then he asked me why I wanted to help families. With every answer I gave he would ask why, and after about five rounds of this questions-and-answer exercise, I uncovered the true answer to his original questions, “Why did you write this book?” 

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