As a child in Romania, I didn’t understand the concept of poverty.
I didn’t worry about making food or money like my parents and older siblings. I was content with my role within the family. I was looked after by everybody. At times I remember being hungry and cold, but I don’t remember being unhappy. I didn't worry about getting water from a well instead of getting instant city water from the tap. I didn't worry about the outhouse in our backyard.
My name is Georgiana and I was born in Bucharest, Romania. I always felt safe there. It will always be home for me. Two major events took place when I was only three years old: my parent’s divorce and Romania’s 1989 bloody and televised revolution.
Shortly after the divorce, my mother moved out of the house and I stayed in the custody of my father, who had parental rights over us. My mother paid child support to him. My parents had nine children together, and my mother had one more son after the divorce. Even though I was closer with my father, I knew that both my parents loved me. Even after my mother moved out and I rarely saw her, I never questioned it.
My oldest sister ended up taking on a more authoritarian role within the family and started making more decisions around the house. I remember going to church with her often. I was being raised as a Roman Catholic, and I wholly embraced the songs of her church. My father didn’t attend the Catholic church because he was Orthodox; Orthodox and Catholics celebrate different traditions and beliefs.
I was not raised in an orphanage. The priest of my sister’s church was in contact with many orphanages, and he attempted to assist several families financially, including my own family. He also helped the families create "adoptable children."
I will not use the term “orphan” in my writing without the use of quotations because, otherwise, it breeds the incorrect impression I’m trying to make and contributes to the "paper orphans" the adoption industry creates today in order to prey on vulnerable families. The definition of “orphan” was recently changed by UNICEF to include children who have at least one living parent; aka: single parents who struggle financially.
Furthermore, I will not be using any qualifiers in front of my family—I won’t be using words such as birth, biological, natural, or first—because my family was the only family I knew before adoption came unexpectedly into my life. I will be calling the people who adopted me, "the people who adopted me.” I will also refer to the people who adopted me as "the woman who adopted me" or "the man who adopted me." Today, I prefer to use their first names when discussing them but because I want to keep their identities as anonymous as possible, I can't in this piece of writing.
I don't call them "my adoptive parents" because I could have been any child, and they could have been anyone’s “adoptive parents.”
My story is not special or unique when I see the same scenarios appear again and again between myself and almost every adopted person I encounter.
Before I turned five years old, I was adopted. The idea first came to my oldest sister from her priest, and she told my father about the American women who were looking for "adoptable children." The women came to our house with a translator. The priest told them that my family had been praying for somebody to adopt their children because of the social stigma of poverty.
Communism had suppressed many people, and although my family struggled like most Romanian families during that time, we were more "well off" compared to other families who had placed their children in institutions. Most of the time, the institutions were not used for adoption purposes; instead, the institutions were used during the colder months of the years for the child to be cared for, much Americans would use daycare facilities. The intent was to bring the children home after the cold months were over. Things changed dramatically after the end of communism.
Roelie Post, European Civil Servant and author of Romania for Export Only has documented the changes that have occurred in Romania's adoption history. Before 1989, adoption was uncommon in Romania; they were personally and privately approved by President Ceausescu. Not many laws were in place for adoptions in Romania after the revolution. That’s why, in mid-1991, Romania closed international adoption for a few months because of child trafficking happening under the guise of “adoption.” Many adoption agencies and "do it yourself adoptive parents" still found loopholes within the law, and organizations used this to promote their own agendas. After Romania's revolution, many North Americans and Westernized Europeans came to Romania to adopt the children they had seen on 20/20 and other news documentaries that had filmed the worst institutions in Romania. The women who visited my family had seen these images and visited several orphanages and institutions looking for children to adopt. Only after five weeks of first meeting the women, I left Romania with them.
My mother was opposed to adoption because she had heard about children who were sold to black markets for child trafficking or the removal of their body parts. My mother didn’t want that happening to us. She was correct in her assumption that, in the hands of strangers, anything could have happened to us. She went to court to express her concerns but her rights as my mother were permanently terminated.
My father thought adoption could be a great opportunity to have an American education; and after achieving this, he believed I'd return to Romania to be with him and the family.
My father’s dream for my life didn't turn out how he imagined.
Although he agreed to the adoption, it was only my mother's loss of parental rights that was necessary to complete the adoption during that time. The women then proved my siblings and I were "orphans" even though we still had living parents by claiming that my parents had been abusive and couldn’t financially care for us.
Before leaving for the United States, my oldest sister asked me if I wanted to be adopted and to go live in America. It appealed to my imagination. I had been told stories about having everything I could desire. I “agreed” to her question without a full understanding of what it really meant.
If I had known the consequences and permanence that adoption would have over the rest of my life, I never would have agreed.
I went to America with two sisters. The older of the two was adopted into the same family as me while my other sister was adopted by a separate family in the United States.
My siblings in Romania told me everything would be “better,” and for a while, everything was. Everything was new and bright. There were different smells and sounds. I was definitely a foreign child, and I’d often be punished for my mistakes of not understanding my surroundings and the new rules that applied.
The first house I lived in was in Oregon State.
I remember taking an apple from the kitchen—a nice, bright, beautiful, and smooth-looking apple. I took a bite out of it and realized that there was no flavor like I was used to in Romania.
I instantly disliked this apple.
I didn’t know how to articulate my dislike for it, but I knew I didn’t want to eat it. I didn’t know what to do. My new surroundings confused me, so I took the apple with the bite-mark and threw it down the toilet. We didn’t have a flushing toilet in my house in Romania. I had never experienced one before. The swiveling water looked amazing, but also terrifying. Where did that water come from exactly, and where did it go to? I watched the apple go down the toilet, and water fill up to the rim of the toilet edge. I had never seen a clog before, and I left the room without saying a word, thinking everything was fine.
Everything was not fine.
When I was beat for clogging the toilet, I vowed to be better. I vowed to not make so many stupid mistakes again.
I remember at dinner time, having to eat everything on our plates. If we didn’t, then we couldn’t leave the table. We were told to eat it or we would be sent back to Romania to starve. These types of statements were made often when the people who adopted me talked about Romania. The country of my roots was frowned upon. I was made to feel like it was a disgusting place to go to or, worse, to be from. I was made to feel that I should never return to it. That my life of privilege should be embraced because, if I chose to ignore the life that was thrust upon me, I was disposable. I was a girl ripped up by her roots and everything she used to know. Nobody realized that I was grieving the only life I longed to return to.
I learned quickly that speaking Romanian in our new house was not allowed and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself any more than necessary. We weren’t allowed to talk about Romania unless it was to a news reporter about how we were "rescued from our life of impoverishment." My sister and I were given attention because both of us were “new” to the family. The people who adopted us already had children of their own, and I now had two American brothers close to my age and two American sisters who had moved out already. My sister and I didn’t get along with our new brothers.
I became tired of people touching me. Doctors poked at me, and strangers picked me up when I didn’t want to be. Reporters came, took pictures of us, and asked us silly questions. I didn’t understand any of these things, but I wanted to. I wanted to be a good girl for my father. I wanted to feel accepted and safe. I didn’t want to let my parents down, and I was starting to become confused as to who my parents were anymore. Were they the people I had spent the first years of my life with, or were they the people I was now forced to call "mom and dad?" Were they the people who were physically taking care of me by supplying me with food, shelter, and clothing, or were they the people I missed so ardently that I had left behind in my country of origin?
I felt abandoned by my Romanian family. I wanted to go home, but I couldn’t. Because I wasn’t allowed to talk about Romania, I would hide in my room.
I was striving for perfection. I became the perfect child that hid in the background, never complaining and never causing trouble. I became secretive. The people who adopted me didn’t know how to console me, and I don’t think that they understood my depression, even if they noticed it. They no longer cared about my origins. They told me on several occasions that it didn’t matter. I was "saved," and I should feel grateful to be in the United States.
As I became older, I wondered why I was "chosen" for adoption instead of a child already in an institution. I not only had a family but I lived with them. I still fail to understand this.
I maintained my charade of perfection for years. I kept it up when letters arrived from Romania from my oldest sister and my father. When I responded to the letters, I always stated how fine everything was. I never said how I really felt. I never stated how much I missed them and didn’t understand why I couldn’t be with them. I also apologized to my father for no longer knowing the Romanian language.
When I was seven years old, my brother came to the United States. I was happy he came to live with us. He was 15, a year older than my sister, but he quickly learned the rules, too. He helped me translate the letters from my family that I didn’t understand, but always in private. My siblings and I became US citizens before I turned nine years old.
I remained a good girl through everything: my name change, getting a new Russian brother, continually moving from house to house, my older siblings moving out, my father's death, and my changing body. The woman who adopted me always stated how disgusting my body was and picked at my skin until it bled.
The people who adopted me then divorced. I was unwanted by either of them but they fought over their sons.
The people who adopted me moved into separate places. I decided to go to friend’s houses more often because I dreaded returning to my uncertain future with the house of the people who adopted me. I stayed with the man who adopted me when I wasn’t at friends’ houses only because he had custody of me. He didn’t have a house of his own and, because he was a car salesman, we often stayed the night at the dealership. He’d lie and tell his coworkers that he arrived early. I of course, said nothing. I was always the good girl.
A year later, I moved in with the woman who adopted me because she now had custody over me. I sold my horse and left the farmland I lived at for more than 5 years, which is the closest place in America that I have considered calling my "hometown;" I don't because it's a town full of dead ends and bad memories. We stayed at the farm longer than a year, which was a record. I felt extremely sad at selling my horse, who I considered my best friend since he didn’t—and couldn’t—judge me. I felt sad at leaving my school friends behind, but I did it all anyways.
I went to my new school and made new friends. I had extremely high marks and was doing excellent in my classes. I believed that education could really be the key to my salvation.
Everything was going well, until a package arrived at the house of the woman who adopted me.
Inside was a suicide note from my brother. All extended family arrived, search and rescue was called, and within the week they found my brother in the mountains with a bullet hole through his chest.
I was 15 when my brother died and that’s when everything changed. I stopped caring about my classes or homework, or anything of material value. His death made me realize how precious our time with people we care about is. His death made me realize how the material things didn't make up for the emotional support I had been craving and lacking for a great extent of my life. I started to smoke cigarettes and dabbled in drugs and drinking. I started to talk back to the woman who adopted me when she verbally attacked me. A chord inside of me snapped, and I didn’t care anymore.
The only person I looked up to had killed himself, and I wanted to join him.
The woman who adopted me couldn’t take my wild behavior anymore and told me that I was moving out. She stated that she didn’t care where I lived, that I could be homeless, as long as I no longer lived with her. She brought me boxes and I packed my things. I took a train to Washington State and moved in with the man who adopted me and his new Russian wife.
My behavior didn’t change much until close to my senior year of high school. I fought with the man who adopted me and his wife constantly. I fought with everyone. When I turned 18, the man who adopted me sold his house, moved, and left me to graduate high school on my own. I suddenly found myself with no real friends and no real safe place to go to. I had a job and, thankfully, I had bought a car in order to make it to work and school. I stayed with some guys who violated me, and eventually found myself a boyfriend who invited me to live with him.
I thought life with my boyfriend couldn’t get any better. Things seemed good, but they weren’t. He was more than 15 years older than me, but he told me he was “divorcing his wife.”
When I realized he had no intention of leaving her, I felt trapped in the world I had created. My first home with the first person I really cared about stopped being a home. Again, I felt rejected, which only fueled my depression. When our relationship ended, I found a place where I had my own room. I vowed that I would concentrate on fixing myself and I would stay out of relationships since my first real relationship had ended disastrously.
I was extremely depressed when my housemate introduced me to a guy and persuaded me to go on a date with him. He was two years older than my ex but with many more problems. The relationship was violent from the start. I moved in with him because I still didn’t have anybody and I was finding it even more difficult to leave the unhealthy relationship that I didn’t want.
One week before turning 21, the violent man and I were married. Things only continued to get worse, but then he committed a serious crime and was arrested. He was charged with attempted homicide, his second felony of the same nature. Part of the agreement in his plea bargain was to take medication to help him level out his severe bipolar disorder.
Things improved tremendously. When I felt safe enough, I asked for a divorce and moved out. He didn’t stalk me and he didn’t fight me. He signed the papers and allowed me to divorce him. I was 23 when my divorce was finalized and I took back my original name.
The first moment I held up my new ID with my Romanian name on it was the first moment I felt true freedom.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I will never forget it; it was the first step to accepting who I was, and who I am.
Emotionally I was also in a better place. I was learning how to set boundaries and learning how to state how I felt. I had become homeless not long after my divorce and to this day I’m still homeless. I lost my job and didn’t have enough money to afford my own place.
Finding my own way in this brutal and abrasive world has caused me to absolutely accept and trust myself; it has caused my sense of self to grow.
I’ve accepted my temporary life as a homeless person. One day, I won’t be homeless. One day, I will find my true home, and can feel safe staying in one place for a while. Being homeless has taught me a lot of things, but mostly it has taught me that, in a way, I have always been homeless. I was an imposter in the family that adopted me. I was abandoned by all who have claimed to have loved me. Homelessness has taught me patience and resilience. When I found a job that could have allowed me to save enough money to find a place, that job went away. I decided college could be my way out of the mess I had found myself in. I graduated with my Associate’s Degree in pre-law in June 2016. I enjoyed college and hope to attend another university to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree, though I have no idea when that will happen. I have been having difficulties with the transfer process, but I know my resilience will eventually win out or I will find a steady job that will allow me the security I deserve. Either way, I am proud of the degree I now have because I am the first person in my Romanian family to have a college education; I worked hard for my grades and scholarships paid for my classes. Strangers believed in me and that helped me to believe in myself.
College helped me grow. It helped me to learn about Romania because I could study and write about Romanian history, culture, or politics for my class papers. College helped me to get the courage to accept my sister’s invitation to visit our family in Romania together. I spent just over two weeks there. My visit was too short to say the least. I wish I could have communicated better with my family but since visiting, I have been studying the language and I know I will be able to communicate better next time.
I wish I could have had a heart-to-heart with my mother and told her not to blame herself for my adoption since ultimately she had no say in what happened to us. I had no say in what had happened to me either.
I wish I could have told her that adoption meant nothing to me until it happened to me. It was the one life-altering event that keeps on giving me grief, heartache, misunderstandings, language barriers, cultural barriers, family disconnections, and identity issues.
Adoption has also given me strength to fight for myself and to fight for others who are less fortunate than I am. It has given me resilience and a lust for fighting injustices worldwide. This injustice has caused me to open "Romanian Adoptees Worldwide - RAW" on Facebook. This site helps connect adopted people and expose the hidden side of adoption practices. Adoption has forced me out of my comfort zone, but it has caused me to search for what I find comfortable. It has caused me to not settle for anything less than I deserve. I wish I could have learned this prior to being adopted, but I know the effect of my learning wouldn’t have been as successful unless I went through the emotions myself.
I decided to share my story because I know it will help others come to terms with their past. I know my story will help shed light on adoption practices and the corruption that exists within the adoption world. When I tell my story, it ends up having less power over me, and I can then end up owning it.
It’s important to me that I be looked at as the 30-year-old adult I am today instead of that 4-year-old "orphan" created by adoption.
I want to show the world that there is hope and strength in accepting oneself. I want the world to know that I am one of approximately 30,000 children who were adopted from Romania between 1989 and 2007 before Romania closed international adoption to apply the same laws and standards as the rest of the European Union. Romania is working towards meeting all EU standards per their membership.
My story could be anybody's story. I want the world to know that my voice should be valued more than somebody else speaking on my behalf. I deserve to tell my truth, instead of an agency, an adoptive parent, or an illegal photograph of an institutionalized child. Every adult deserves to share their truth regardless of what their origins and history are.
My history continues to write itself, and my story doesn’t end here. It doesn’t end with me in homelessness. My goal is to achieve something greater with my life. I don’t know where my life will take me, but I am willing to take chances if I see opportunities that will help me to improve my life.
The only thing holding me back are my own destructive demons I have yet to conquer.