' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Adoptionland: Brutal essays by adult adoptees expose the truth of intercountry adoption

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Adoptionland: Brutal essays by adult adoptees expose the truth of intercountry adoption

The Vance Twins--Jenette on left and Janine 
With news that Vietnam is once again going to allow their children to be adopted out of country, reading a collection of essays by people who were uprooted and transplanted into new cultures is ice water on all those squishy ideals of what intercountry (or international adoption) does. The writers whose essays come together in Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists portray the dislocation as wrenching and brutal, an experience that leaves a scar neither time nor distance can temper.

Though I am no fan of adoption in general I recognize that sometimes adoption is the best solution to a bad situation. But I have read enough about intercountry adoption to see it as
a form of child-trafficking, often carried on by unscrupulous officials and just plain scumbags in order to line their pockets. We've written about the dark and ugly side of adoption from Guatemala, Ethiopia, China, Haiti and poor nations in general (links below), nations from where children have been used as a commodity to enrich themselves and in turn, their country, but even I was not prepared for the fierce writing in this remarkable collection.

The Vance Twins, Janine and Jenette, adopted together from South Korea and raised near Seattle, compiled the essays after their awareness was awakened at the 2004 Korean Adoptee Conference in Seoul they attended together. What is revealed in the writings is how adoptees were treated like chattel and scattered from their native culture hither and yon. In essay after essay, the rush of anger sizzles on the page.

At first, Janine was very pro adoption, but "after learning about the myriad human rights violations involved," she became a staunch advocate of revealing the hard truths of intercountry adoption. In the opening essay, she writes:
"The trouble with painting all adoptions as good--which is the North American presumption--is that those who have been obtained fraudulently (namely, trafficked), are ignored and, therefore, refused due consideration and reconciliation. Someone needed to admit that adoption is not always a 'win-win' on both sides of the equation....Adult adopted people must be cautious of the way facilitators will, finally, invite us into the adoption industry arena by tempting us with a salary to promote 'better' practices.We might be so elated at the invitation that our emotions will not allow us to see the toxic buffet. Years of adoption propaganda have fueled the seemingly insatiable demand for children. To the exploited families and their missing children--now adults--still without answers and access to health history and ancestry, adoption can no longer be considered 'in the best interest of the child.' Not when adoption means children are being legally trafficked for profit."
Tinan Leroy, born in Haiti in 1979, adopted by a single French woman in 1984, learned the truth of his adoption in 2002 and later found his Haitian family. By then he is too changed to be a part of that family, but his conflicts with his adoptive mother are so great that he cuts all ties with her. He changes his name, breaks off from his girl friend, moves, changes his phone number. He leaves a fake address behind so that his adoptive mother cannot find him. Although he understands that his original mother was deceived into signing a "abandonment for adoption" paper, he still does not forgive her:
"I hold enormous grudges against my two mothers....[His first mother had] a responsibility to look after her son and to not be manipulated. Ignorance might have been a mitigating factor but it was, by not means, an excuse....[Those] who adopt [do so] for themselves because they cannot have child, because they need someone to inherit their hopes and frustrations, or because they want to brag that they've saved a little dark-skinned child from certain death. I was adopted by a French woman for these three reasons and, for these three reasons, I can never forgive her." 
Lucy Sheen, "made in Hong Kong, exported to the United Kingdom in the 1960s as a transracial 
adoptee," writes of not being accepted in the U.K., adding that the situation is different today:
"I am neither pro-, nor anti-, transracial adoption, but I would say that transracial adoption should be the absolute last resort....Identity is a strange beast, completely overlooked and taken for granted by those who do not have to question who, or what, they are in society. But for those of us who cannot benefit from the reflection of society's mirror re-enforcing our physiognomy it is elusive, making us wander a no man's land between two cultures, two lineages, and two distinct 'what might have beens.'"
Our friend Jeff Hancock and fellow activist in New York shares a letter he wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (just reelected). Jeff focuses on the difficulty a great many adoptees have in getting a passport as a result of new regulations passed after 9/11. Some of the amended birth certificates do not have the full data that the State Department requires to issue a passport, and many adoptees encounter surprising and unnecessary delays when they apply for one. That data--unamended and true--is of course on the original birth certificates of the adopted, but most adoptees in this country can not access them. Ironically applying for a passport in how in 2007 Jeff found out, at 41, that he was adopted.

Jeff's sign after finding his mother's grave
In his afterword to his letter he writes:
"Life, as you have always known it to be as fact, becomes a lifetime filled with lies in under a moment....Life, as you have always known it to be, ceases and your struggle to find your niche."
In 2009 Jeff attended his first adoptee rights demonstration and realized he had found his tribe. He searched and found his mother's family in 2012, but his mother had already passed away. This is the photo he took of his mother's gave when he visited it in 2013, the same year he became president of the Adoptee Rights Coalition.

Sunny Jo, a woman born in South Korea, but adopted and raised in Norway, learns that she was kidnapped and sold for adoption. She describes her adoption as "Chinese water torture," When she was 24, she met her Korean parents and lived in their home for a time. She met children who could not grow up in their own families, but nonetheless remained in South Korea: "And I envied them with my entire being...
"Not a day goes by without grief for the losses I suffered because of a long chain of events which eventually led to me growing up so far away from Korea....When I look at my Korean sister, living her life like the way mine should have been, I feel a sting in my heart, not only because I could have had it, because I am supposed to feel lucky because I didn't (and because my adoptive parents' lifestyle, by many, is considered to be superior to that of my Korean parents). 
....I feel like a stolen heart from a corpse, trapped in a foreign body. Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop. There is no bigger pain than the one that is considered a blessing.
American foster care gets no gold stars here, as someone born In New Hampshire describes his quite horrific growing up in the system. Bob Honecker was sexually abused by one of his brothers (a biological child of his foster parents), and later, by the girl in the family. He felt he could not tell anyone. Eventually a single man adopted Honecker. The man turned out to be both physically and sexually abusive. When he was 46, Honecker found his parents in the summer of 2013, only to learn that his mother had been forced to give him up for adoption. His father had died within days of potentially reuniting with him. Today Honecker and his wife are caregivers, and  he is also a certified peer support worker. (His Facebook page is U.N.A. U're Not Alone.)

A few years ago at a conference titled Adoption, Identity and Kinship at the University of Pittsburgh, one of the speakers was a Dutch woman who spoke of her theory of what she called "kinning," whereby the adoptee from another culture takes on the culture of the new family. She made it sound so logical, who could object, why wouldn't an adoptee do that? However, she might find the essay by Tobias Hubinette, now a reader in intercultural studies in Sweden, enlightening. While several studies have posited that adoptees do as well as biological children in their new families, he reports on new research based on thousands of adult intercountry adoptions in Sweden, and finds that the picture is not so rosy.

He writes the the adoptees had substantial problems in establishing themselves socioeconomically in education, employment and even creating their own families, in spite of having been adopted predominantly by the Swedish elite. He goes on to list the difference in accomplishments between biological children of that group and the adopted. "[E]pidemiological studies show high levels of psychiatric illness, addiction, criminality, and suicide compared to the control groups." We've seen the same statistics here, but the studies are largely ignored because so many people wish to adopt--and a whole thriving industry exists to deliver the children.

The other Vance twin, Jenette, writes about how having a son at 18 saved her, even though her adoptive mother ended up "disowning" her from the family. Her adoptive mother tried to coax her to give her child up to adoption, as the Lord might want. Jenette writes:
"Going to college, getting a good job right after graduation, and entering the medical field have allowed me to raise him independently. I believe mothers should never be led to believe that they are incapable of parenting based on who they are during their pregnancy. Life is always changing....Motherhood should never be stolen from a woman just because she is poor or she doesn't have a ring on her finger....The best way to avoid adoption trauma is to support the original mother."
What of the regulations of the Hague Convention, the document that is supposed to prevent corruption in intercountry adoption? Certainly "foreign" parents who wish to do good by adopting are taking children who need homes their native countries cannot provide, right? Most likely not.

Arun Dohle, born in India, raised in Germany, discovered a sink hole of corruption when he returned to India to find his mother in 2000. He soon learned his own adoption papers were a sham, that he may have been kidnapped, but that the agency that had placed him had no interest in helping him find his family--even though by Indian law adoptees had a right to know about their parents. He calls Indian adoptions "a legalized marketplace" that misleads prospective adoptive parents:
"The rules developed under the guise of the Hague Convention do not prevent abuses, but instead prevent them from being seen. They mystify and hide the inherent injustice behind a legalized smokescreen. The result is the demand-driven creation of 'legal orphans' who, according to their paperwork, could not be cared for in their own countries. The reality is that India could easily care for the 700 to 1,000 children sent abroad annually. This is a matter of political choice." 
This is but a smattering of the 28 essays that peel back the layers of lies and deception involved in foreign adoption, as well as expose the hard truths of the traumatic effect of being torn from one's own culture to grow up in a foreign one. Peter Dodds, born in Germany, adopted in the U.S., writes of the inexorable pull to return to his homeland; Tracy A. DeMeyer, a Native American, describes the moment she learned her original name, at first just sitting there, then crying; Paul Redmond, born in one of the notorious mother and baby homes in Ireland (Castlepollard) in 1964, writes of the horrendous conditions in them for both mothers and babies, and the unusually high number of infant deaths; Marion McMillan, a first mother from Scotland (a 1966 first mother like fellow-blogger Jane and myself), ends her piece with this acute observation:
"The doctors don't want to know. For mothers of loss to adoption, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is forever....I live daily with bereavement. The loss is truly a bottomless abyss of sorrow." 
The essays collected here are fierce, even hard to read as a first mother, for I know some of my own daughter's emotions are buried in them somewhere, though she was not adopted out of country. Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists is a valuable addition to the literature about adoption that portrays it as less than simply a wonderful act that is commemorated with special jewelry. Even the cover art--at first seemingly innocuous--highlights the obvious difference between being raised by your own kind and genetic strangers. The very blonde woman whose image is repeated several times is almost certainly not the original mother of the infant she is holding, an infant with black, spiky hair.

A note in the book states that some of the names have been changed to remain anonymity, and that the book's purpose "is to give validation to, and to voice concern for, families who have been separated by adoption." It succeeds brilliantly. Anyone considering adoption--especially adopting from another country--should read AdoptionlandHighly recommended for libraries in areas where adoptions are common; highly recommended for universities where students are researching both the long-term effects of being given up for adoption, and growing up adopted. I cannot praise this book enough.--lorraine
Harvesting Children from Ethiopia for Families in America
Babies "confiscated" in China and sold as orphans to the western market
Kidnapped in Guatemala, 'adopted' in America
Mamalita: An adoption book I can't love, a story that isn't for everyone
Encouraging intercountry adoptions with hard cash
Guatemalan Army Stole Kids for Adoption

There are more...to find them use the search function above and put in the name of a country or "international adoption." 

To Order, Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists
 click on link above or the jacket photo.


  1. I can't wait to read these essays. A lot of my own thought and emotions are in the few passages in Lorraine's post. Thanks for this!

  2. quote......." responsibility to look after her son and to not be manipulated " .......how does that work ?.....a bit harsh :(

    1. ...that is the quote.

      I think, no matter what, no matter how, many adoptees--if not all--feel abandoned by their mothers. It's primal. It's pre-verbal and thus cannot be easily "worked through" with therapy. The writer was expressing that.

  3. I'm reading it now. I can't thank the contributors enough for putting it together and expressing their voices (our voices, my voice too) so eloquently and honestly. My heart goes out to all of them (and for me and for so many others caught up in the adoption wave).

    It is refreshing to read my story in other people like me. For many intercountry adoptees, we've grown up isolated and scattered across the globe, with no genetic mirrors and few people who understand us (except in the cyber world). Thus, it's nice to realize that other people do understand us.

    Peace for everyone struggling and RIP for those who didn't survive.

    -Another transracial, intercountry, dislocated displacee.

  4. And now it appears that even world famous newlyweds, George and Amal Clooney, may be considering international adoption.


    1. I've never been a fan of George's acting skills, and now I've another reason to be less enamored by him. He/they will join the loooong list of celebrities who won't be invited to my house for dinner. Bragelina aren't on my guest list either.

      I liked LGA's reaction to these news. http://landofgazillionadoptees.com/2014/11/18/screw-off-george-and-amal-clooney/

  5. In the harsh economic climate that many mothers and babies have encountered, all over the world, throughout history, a mother's primal bond with a newborn can be disrupted with lifelong effects, even if that child is not given up for adoption.

    Though a dreadful adoption in my extended family first brought me to FMF, my own birth could not have occurred under worse circumstances or timing for the family that was, as they so often put it, "stuck with [me]." My father was in graduate school, my mother worked full-time at a pink-collar job that she always refused to discuss in order to supplement the family's GI Bill benefits, and whatever free time she might have had, I've been told, was dedicated to desperately playing geisha to my father. As the second child of the "wrong gender," my baby bottle and I were thrust into the arms of my grandmother for the first eighteen months to two years of my life. Fortunately for both of us, my gran adored me. Taught me everything I knew about unconditional love.

    My mother never saw me as anything but an indentured servant who was required to "earn [my] keep." Our rupture-from-birth simply never healed, or got better. Financially things eventually improved for my parents, once the advanced degree was completed and my father was earning a fat salary back in his widely-considered-a-paradise of a hometown, by the time the last child was born--followed immediately by my father's vasectomy. But long before the Reagan years, I learned that the concept of a "trickle-down economy," or that a rising tide lifts all boats, was only selectively true. At least this was the case in my family of origin (FOO, or even FOOey!), which disowned me when I finally, finally stopped skimming any cream off my life and offering it up first to my FOO. Even though I physically resembled my bparents, superficially, I was never considered "one of [them]." I was the freak they were stuck with, the one pushing a broom and returning the deposit bottles and babysitting for the whole frigging neighborhood. Their culture was not mine. I knew the language and the nuances, though the little (and big) treats and extras that Life in Paradise bestowed on most of my fellow residents stopped before Santa passed over me. I didn't laugh when Charlie Brown got a rock in his trick-or-treat bag: that was just everyday living. (G-d bless you, Charles M. Schulz, for making childhood depression an everyday commonplace, just when I needed someone like that!)

    My husband and I just started seeing a new, young internist, to whom we were bequeathed when our previous one retired. And how little I know about my bfamily's medical history! They didn't TELL me diddly-squat, and the people who did know and would say are mostly gone now. "You know, I've encountered this [lack of information] frequently with, uh... [long embarrassed pause] adoptees. But you're my first patient whose living parents, uh...," stammered Dr. New.

    "... considered this none of my goddamn business," said I. Not for the first time with a doctor, but the eighth or ninth or tenth. I do know that my mother died of emphysema, but she stopped speaking to me ten years, almost to the day, before she died.

    I am looking forward to reading this collection of essays with GREAT anticipation.

    1. Mrs. TQB: Ever time I read one of your posts like this I want to reach out and give you a big hug. I've heard of what you describe happening before--a biological child simply treated like not one of the family. Thank god your grandmother loved you in those early years. I found out that my mother went into deep depression shortly after I was born and my grandmother came to live with us and took over quite a bit. Of course I have no memory of that, and never was treated as you describe.

      Hugs again to you.

  6. Something I learned recently is that it is exceedingly common for foreign agencies to falsify a child's date of birth. This is because PAPS prefer younger children and US State Department rules require children be under the age of 16. I had heard of the DOB falsification (this happened to Astrid Dabbeni, director of Oregon's Adoption Mosaic), but I didn't realize it was routine.

    Once the child comes to the US, the adoptive parents have the child examined by a dentist or physician to get an idea of his likely age. Then the adoptive parents start a re-adoption process in their state and ask the judge to change the child's age legally. After the adoption is completed, they obtain a birth certificate from the state showing a DOB that is closer to his probably true DOB.

    Not only does a child adopted from abroad lose his parents, extended family, country, culture, but doesn't even get to know his true age.

    1. So many lies in adoption. I tell some adoptees that unless you can confirm with certainty that what you were told about yourself is true, then you shouldn't assume that's your true (his)story.

      Also, with foreign adoptions (language barrier, cultural differences/standards), it's easier to lie and harder for people to get to the truth.

      This was written by an adoptee blogger who I think writes really well and on important topics. This post got my attention, showing the disregard for humanity by these adoption agencies for financial greed. http://redthreadbroken.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/twin-sisters-response/

      And as a Korean adoptee, I thought this was pretty accurate, policy-wise. If anyone else has any thoughts, I'd be interested in hearing them.

    2. When we adopted our daughter in Russia, we were asked if we wanted to change her birthdate. It was recommended we change it to make her birthdate 6 months later than it actually is. It did seem to be something that was routinely done. Her birthdate was known since she was born in a hospital. We did not change her birthdate. She is currently a year behind in school (in 4th grade but old enough for 5th). That's OK with me, many children in our area are held back.

    3. I've heard of cases where the adoption agency changes the birth date without letting the adoptive parents know although they may suspect it. The changes may be as much as three or four years. I commend parents who insist upon the true date or try to make the child's legal date as close as possible to the true date.

  7. Thank you for the review Lorraine

    And in particular for the mention of the Irish Mother & Baby homes chapter which I wrote. If anyone wants more information about the history of adoption in Ireland after reading the book, then it's worth going to the open group page on Facebook; Adoption Rights Now 24 hour News channel and checking out the files section where the full Report can be found and downloaded for free. The chapter in 'Adoptionland' is a much shorter edit of a larger work.

    Thanks again to everyone involved in the production of the book and to First Mother Forum for your support.

    Best wishes


  8. Great to see this publication getting the exposure and feedback that it deserves
    There can never be too many books about adoption in my honest opinion and especially from the ultimate experts the adoptees themselves
    Thanks [Birth Mother] First Mother
    Lucy Sheen

  9. Thank you Lorraine for writing this awakening review on Adoptionland, from Orphan to Activist. My goal is to raise awareness, protect and enlighten vulnerable mothers, fathers and families from around the world today. These days adoption agencies carelessly throw around the word 'orphan' to advertise and market children and pull at the heart strings of unaware potential adopters which is creating this huge demand for children. Using the word 'orphan' in their advertising materials and campaigns creates life long corruption and heartfelt pain in original families. Families in foreign countries are unaware of this man-made 'children's market'. Adoption is truly not 'saving' a child, it's destroying a family and a society. In the grand scale of things it's taking away from the country, the country's future. In reality, adoptive parents do not know for sure if the child they receive is a real orphan or a stolen child. Paperwork is falsified and the truth will never be revealed because documents are locked up. Placing pictures of 'available' children should also be illegal. This is an inhumane way of showcasing children that are not even theirs to showcase in the first place. Do the children even get compensated or sign a release form to have their photo online? What about their rights to privacy? What about their rights to dignity? Mothers and children should not be separated. Children are an extension of ourselves. When the fetus is in the mother they are one. Once the child's umbilical cord is cut we sometimes forget that fact, but it remains that we are still one with our children by way of DNA, spiritually and emotionally. That is why it's important we don't let these agencies manipulate mothers, lie to fathers and cut off children from their God given families. This pain must stop. In the beginning agencies said that the Korean children were 'saved from prejudice', but in fact, we were just thrown into another society of prejudice to navigate through, cut from what was rightfully ours, our Korean ethnicity and language. I think it's ridiculous the propaganda these agencies throw around to justify these adoption traumas. Agencies create fears to create a demand. This is very manipulative but they are very good with what they do. This book is the first book to acknowledge the voices of the victims and if heard...well, perhaps a way we can start to heal and forgive. Adopted people feel left behind from every direction and it would be nice to get acknowledgment or an 'apology day' for the industry's 'gotcha day'.
    Join us in our FB group Adoption Truth and Transparency Worldwide Network for more discussions.



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