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.