Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists

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

In About Us, Adoption, Adoption Trafficking, Excerpts, Featured by Admin

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.

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 babusive. 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.)iological 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 

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 had 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, First Mother Forum

For your copy visit here.

Cover Art by Darius X

Cover Art by Darius X



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