Ireland’s ‘first wave of intercountry adoptions’?

Irish Minister for Health and Children Barry Andrews’ official statements on Wednesday, 3 March (at the Committee debate on a pending adoption bill) leave me with my jaw gaping and wondering if this man is fit for office. He said, “The first wave of inter-country adoptions occurred in the early 1990s. Some of those individuals are now coming of age and beginning to take an interest in tracing. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to wait until we have a little bit more knowledge and experience of this area. There is a perfectly good system for tracing in this country. It has worked well. “

This is an absolute insult to the more than 2,000 of us who were involuntarily sent from Ireland for adoption between the 1940’s and 1970’s, largely to the U.S. We represent that ‘first wave’ and are now well into adulthood (some of us even have grandchildren…imagine that). We are tax-paying, voting, middle-aged adults who, by the way, hold dual citizenship. We, along with our in-country adopted Irish brethren, have also been vocal in adoption reform for the last twenty years. It is truly unfortunate that the government largely chose to ignore us, despite our best efforts to produce sane legislation and truly efficient post-adoption services. It is clear Minister Andrews himself has either chosen to ignore us or would like to conveniently forget this dark chapter of baby-brokering in Ireland’s own history. Time and again, we have offered sound proposed legislation, including the restoration of unfettered access to the original documents of our birth – a right enjoyed by every other citizen save adopted people.

The last sentence of his statement above also absolutely beggars belief and I happen to know firsthand that it is largely untrue.

Having availed of the ‘perfectly good’ post-adoption services offered by the Sacred Heart Adoption Society in Bessboro’ as early as 1997, I can attest to the absolute ineffectiveness of the current system. In fact, the handling of my own particular case was so disastrously mismanaged by this agency that in 2003, I was forced to file a complaint with Mr. John Collins of the Irish Adoption Authority. Among the agency’s many egregious mistakes were the following:

Their trace coordinator was following several incorrect birth certificates for my natural mother, despite the fact their own records noted her correct date of birth on admittance forms (which I was given a copy of, in violation of the agency’s own ‘non-identifying information only’ policy). I was told my mother was an “orphan,” that her parents had been killed; she was actually, like me, born out of wedlock. The same trace coordinator would have contacted some poor woman in Limerick of no relation to me, except that I had grown so weary of their inefficiency that I managed to trace my mother on my own. It took me one e-mail to a heritage researcher based in Dublin, and an hour later I was looking at a faxed copy of my mother’s and my own birth certificates. Over the next few years, I established welcomed, careful contact with my mother (we enjoy an ongoing close relationship).

For my mother’s part, she too tried at various times over the years to contact this agency. Initially, she was told I had been sent to California, when in fact I was raised in Philadelphia. Shortly after I arrived in the U.S., my adoptive parents sent a letter to her, along with photos of me at my first Christmas with my new family. They wanted to assure her that I was happy and healthy and assimilating to my new life. She only got one photo; the others and the letter were withheld from her.

After informing them of the success of my self-trace, I received a nasty letter from the aforementioned trace coordinator, including a copy of private and confidential correspondence between this coordinator and my adoptive mother (still living). I did not solicit this letter and it was unnecessary. When I informed my adoptive mother of this breach of her own confidentiality, she was absolutely horrified.

This same coordinator was captured on videotape showing a visitor from the U.S. the records room at Bessboro’ and announcing that only she and one other person had access to this room – a professional publicist who they were “hiring to write a book to refute that [June, author of ‘The Light in the Window‘] Goulding woman’s lies.” So I’m given to understand that some publicist off the street can have free access to my and my adoptive parents’ private information, but I myself can’t? And this is effective post-adoption service?

My experience is completely typical of that currently experienced by many thousands of adopted adults in and from Ireland. For me and others who were part of the wave of children sent to the United States, it is further compounded by distance, costs and either lack of information or disinformation. Let’s try listening to the elder voices of those who have experienced inter-country adoption – we don’t have to wait for the “1990s” crop to come of age. And here’s a news flash, Minister Andrews: many of those voices came from your own backyard.

I am furious.

I am furious.  Absolutely furious.  Over a week ago, the Justice for Magdalenes organization issued a press release to all of the major newspapers and media in Ireland as well as to all members and parties of government (full press release is shown below).  We challenged the compartmentalised, two-tiered response by the Irish state towards institutional abuse that results in survivors of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, many of them children at the time, once again being ignored under the 2002 Redress Act.

Specifically we asked that the Minister for Children investigate the plight of children (which we now have mounting evidence that some were as young as 11 years old) who were placed directly into Magdalene Laundries.  Their applications to the Residential Redress Board are routinely rejected because “the Applicant had not established that she was resident in an institution covered by the Act or any Order made thereunder.”

Not one media outlet or newspaper or government official responded or publicised the press release.  Not one.

For fourteen years, since the inception of the original Magdalene Memorial Committee (which morphed into Justice for Magdalenes in the late 1990’s), we have fought a Sisyphean battle to seek justice for the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries.  Yet it would appear the media (and perhaps the public) are more interested in viewing again and again the ‘exoticness’ of survivor trauma – the gut-wrenching stories of misery these women were subjected to, often far worse than prisons.  How much more does the public need to see or hear before they take action?

We challenge Irish society to stop clamouring for the tragic stories, watching and reading as if bystanders at a car wreck scene, and stand up for the abrogated rights of these women.  Take action and write your local TD.  Tell them you support the cause of justice for Magdalene survivors – a decent pension for the unpaid labour they performed, a public apology from all the religious orders responsible for their incarceration, an investigation of the illegally unreported deaths at High Park Convent and the equally illegally exhumed bodies moved from those grounds, and acknowledgement that the fabled land of ‘saints and scholars’ was complicit in not ‘cherishing children’ equally and treating women as something less than human.

 


Press Release:  29 July, 2009 

Justice for Magdalenes committee calls on Government to provide redress for Magdalene survivors

Justice for Magdalenes welcomes the publication of the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, 2009: Implementation Plan, and we look forward to witnessing the immediate implementation of the ninety-nine measures outlined therein.

However, we challenge the compartmentalised, two-tiered response by the Irish state towards institutional abuse that results in survivors of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, many of them children at the time, once again being ignored.

Specifically we ask that the Minister for Children investigate the plight of children (which we now have mounting evidence that some were as young as 11 years old) who were placed directly into Magdalene Laundries.  Their applications to the “Residential Redress Board” are routinely rejected because “the Applicant had not established that she was resident in an institution covered by the Act or any Order made thereunder.”

“The fact that these children were never committed to a residential institution (e.g., an industrial or reformatory school) is immaterial,” said Justice for Magdalenes spokesperson Mari Steed, whose mother was a Magdalene.  “The fact that a family member signed these children into the ‘care’ of the nuns does not obviate the state’s responsibility for their welfare. These children were and are citizens of the state and they deserved to be cherished.  Yet increasingly we’re discovering they were all but ‘invisibly’ moved between residential institutions and Magdalene Laundries, with little or no record maintained by the religious orders or Departments of Health, Education, Children or Justice,” she added.

Children’s Minister Barry Andrews in his remarks insisted that Irish people no longer show deference towards the Catholic Church. But the government maintains precisely the same deferent attitude towards the religious congregations that operated the nation’s Magdalene Laundries, i.e., the Good Shepherd Sisters, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, and Mercy Sisters. No one has apologised.  No one held accountable. And the core issue is still liability and the State’s evasion of all financial responsibility for institutions they continue to view as “private” and “voluntary.”  This deference is also clear in the government’s dismissal of claims submitted by non-Catholic survivors of such institutions as the Bethany Home.  JFM demands that the Minister for Children introduce amending legislation whereby survivors of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, regardless of how they entered such institutions, are provided with redress and reparation for their abusive childhoods, the unpaid labour they performed and the abrogation of their civil and human rights.

Furthermore, JFM demands that the Minister for Justice introduce legislation for a distinct redress scheme for survivors of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries as outlined by JFM and submitted to all politicians in Dáil Éireann on July 3 (copy attached).

[END]

Justice for Magdalenes seeks to promote and represent the interests of the Magdalene Women, to respectfully promote equality and seek justice for the women formerly incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries and to seek the establishment / improvements of support/advisory/re-integration services provided for survivors.

Bastardy, History, Sealed Records and Activism

yelseal2I just wanted to take a few minutes of your time to discuss what may be, for some, an uncomfortable topic — perhaps several uncomfortable topics. So before you read any further, allow me to warn you that the following will likely contain multiple uses of the word “bastard” I am well aware that there are many adopted people who feel uncomfortable with the term “bastard”, and perhaps justifiably so, given the media’s (and in general, society’s) misuse of the term. By dictionary definition, a bastard is any child born outside the bonds of matrimony. The origin of the word and its use in ancient times bear not even a fleeting resemblance to the current negative connotation of the term. In ancient Ireland, under Brehon law, bastard children were accorded the same legal status, right of inheritance and eligibility for clan leadership as any child born inside marriage. It was not until Roman Canon law and Napoleonic law supplanted Ireland’s highly-developed and extremely progressive legal system that we began our slide toward “second-class citizenship.” Food for thought.

During the Middle Ages, heraldic symbolism included the “bar sinister”, adiagonal black stripe accorded to the coat of arms of an individual born outside marital bonds. Legend has it enemies would flee upon sight of a warrior carrying the bar sinister on their shield: “bastards” were known to be fierce and inexhaustible fighters and much feared. [Note: thanks to Tom of Know My Own for his research on the ‘bar sinister’]

In the US prior to the 1920’s, the original birth certificate of an adopted child was filed publicly; however, generally those certificates were stamped or noted as “illegitimate”. Post-1920’s, popular psychology held that all children should be reared under the “clean slate” theory. Moreover, there was a concerted effort by adoptive parents (particularly those with celebrity status) to eradicate this original birth certificate from public view and remove the “illegitimate” terminology. Sound reasoning — but unfortunately, state lawmakers chose to interpret this as not only removing the Birth Certificate from public view, but also from the parties privy to it: adoptive parents, adopted child and natural parents. That, in a nutshell, pretty much sums up the history of sealed records in the US.

In 1995, a group of dedicated US adoption activists were posting away on the alt.adoption newsgroup. One visionary half-jokingly signed a post with her name, followed by “Bastard Nation.” And with a phrase borrowed from the canon of Queer Nation, the gay rights organisation, a movement was born. The surest way to disarm or deflect negative wording is to take ownership of it. If you educate the unwashed masses on what a bastard really is, you diffuse the terminology and take away its sting.

Over the years, we’ve kept track of media use of the term and in one year alone, noted over 100 uses of the word “bastard” on the ‘Drew Carey’ show. ABC, prime time. And all of them negative uses: “You BASTARD!”, “I can’t stand that bastard…”, etc. That’s just one network, one show. And ironically, about a year later, I was submitting feedback on an ABC news show with an adoption theme and signed my post with my Bastard Nation State Director title. It was promptly auto-rejected by ABC’s website for ‘use of offensive language.’ So apparently it’s OK with ABC to air the word every night on the ‘Drew Carey’ show, with its negative connotation, but I cannot submit the name of a legitimate, not-for-profit org using the word!

Now on to a topic I’ve harped on before: activism.

Every individual on AdoptionIreland’s Mailing List has benefited at some point from the search, help, advice or legwork of some tireless volunteer (and I stress the word ‘volunteer’ — NO ONE here gets paid to do what we do). In my many years working in adoption reform, I’ve seen countless individuals join lists, seek help, get help, reunite, etc., then disappear. It becomes rather disheartening to see this behavior over and over again when I know that the help these folks have been given comes on the back of the hard work and sweat of activists who fight daily to keep public records accessible to all of you, whether in Ireland, the US or elsewhere. Our diligent angels here would not be able to cross-reference the Adopted Children’s Register, or pull a cert at Joyce House, if not for the concerted efforts of a dedicated few to ensure that the GRO keeps those files open to you.

I’m not asking everyone to become politically charged, or even an active activist, by any stretch! I know we all have lives, children, partners and what not to keep us busy 24/7. But what does it cost to type up a simple email or letter, throw a stamp on it and send it to your local legislator? There are at least nine US states and two provinces in Canada, plus the UK, with records-related legislation (good and bad) pending. Ireland’s own Adoption Bill is currently under revision and there’s plenty more room for your voices to be heard. Find out if one of those states or provinces may affect YOU at www.bastards.org/alert/ and find out what you can do locally. Take five minutes and submit an online postcard to renounce the treatment of women in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries (one could be YOUR mother/sister/aunt/granny) at our online Postcard Campaign or comb through this website to get the latest news on where we may need your help. Please don’t just complete your search and then go away. We need your help to make sure that the next person who traces has access to the same information you did (or more).

Apathy is our worst enemy. Don’t let the media and the public continue to misuse the word ‘bastard’; don’t let lawmakers take away your dignity and relegate you to second-class citizenship. And the next time you hear someone use the term ‘bastard’ negatively, look ’em straight in the eye and say, “I was born that way…what’s your excuse?”

The Hidden Loss

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“Adoption Loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful”
— The Reverend Keith C. Griffith, MBE

Adoption. The word conjures two distinct images for most people. Either you view it as a joyous, good-willed, altruistic means of building a family, or as a shameful, coercive, traumatic tearing apart of a family. Perhaps you are somewhere in between.

Adoption is one the few events in life that causes enormous grief for all parties involved, along with enormous joy. But unlike death, it is a grief that is not or cannot be publically acknowledged.

It begins with the intense, personal and shameful grief borne by the prospective adoptive mother or father. Many couples or singles choose adoption because of infertility issues that cannot be resolved with current medical treatment. But in many cases, after suffering the exhausting rounds of infertility courses with no success, couples are left with this unresolved issue and no means to address it or mourn it. They may feel somewhat less than functional in their male/female roles, inadequate to their spouse/partner, and may suffer from low-esteem. They also internally grieve the child they can’t conceive, as real to them as a stillborn.

The second victim is the woman who is pregnant and either can’t raise the child herself, faces societal or religious pressure to give up an ‘illegitimate’ child, or lives in a culture that actively preys on vulnerable, poor families to augment a thriving black-market baby brokering business. She loses her child either by willingly or coercively relinquishing to adoption, or worse, having her stolen under some nefarious scheme. Either way, this loss is something about which the woman is actively encouraged not to speak; she is told to ‘move on with her life’ and forget the child she had, and often held and cared for. If she marries subsequent to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, she must often keep her secret from even her spouse and later children. No one sends her sympathy cards or offers her murmurs of condolences.

I fell into this ‘second victim’ category by relinquishing a daughter to adoption in 1978 (when I was 18), through the active coercion of a Catholic Social Services agency. I never imagined the hole it would leave. No one told me or warned me of the lifelong repercussions, nor did they allow me a period to grieve this loss or discuss it at length. The damage done to my psyche and sense of worth led me into an abusive marriage and left me emotionally drained and unable to connect with people.

It was not until I was 33 and engaged in therapy following my husband’s death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound that I began to address the loss I suffered at 18. It was the first time I was able to connect events from that long-ago sorrow to the current, violent end to my marriage and my husband’s life. And ironically, in going through the traditional steps to acknowledge my husband’s passing — the memorial service, scattering of ashes, sympathy from friends and family — that I was able to really see and understand the deficit of grieving I experienced as a young mother separated from her child. The healing became complete in 1997 when I finally found my then 19-year old daughter and joyously reunited with her. The closure that event and our on-going close relationship has brought is immeasurable. It was the closing of the coffin on that dark, shame-ridden past; it was shedding myself of the guilt and helplessness, and saying goodbye to that sad, powerless young woman.

But not every woman reaches that closure. Many are still locked inside their own mental prison; afraid to reach out to lost children and unable to resolve their grief. They still believe that society would never permit them that mourning. And maybe they’re partly right and much still needs to be done to eliminate the shame and stigma still surrounding out-of-wedlock birth. As an enlightened, educated society, we would like to believe this attitude doesn’t exist anymore. But witness the numerous abandoned infants, often in tragic locations and with fatal result. These are not always acts committed by callous, unfeeling monsters, but by women at their wits’ end, brought to desperation by overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame.

Finally, the third and perhaps most important victim of loss is the adopted child/adult. From the moment an adoption is finalized (and often sooner), the child is taken from his mother and handed over to a completely new set of parents, often with a stop in a temporary foster care home until finalization.

We now know that the mother-child bond is an extraordinary one, forged even before birth. Ample evidence shows that we identify using all of our senses with the individual who bore us — sound, smell, taste and touch are crucial factors in early infant development. We share genetic material that irrevocably links us with our parents. And suddenly this bond, this link, is severed with the simple act of giving a child over to another set of parents to raise. This event is generally cause for joyous celebration on the part of the new welcoming family, extended relatives and friends. And the new little arrival is expected to be happy as well. However, this is too often not the case.

Many of these children remained with their mothers in ‘orphanages’ or mother-baby homes for extended periods until they were adopted out, so the bonding is that much more developed and intense. Particularly poignant is the loss suffered by children involved in intercountry adoption. I speak to that experience myself. In addition to relinquishing a child to adoption, I was also one of over 2,000 children sent from Ireland to the US for adoption between 1940-1970. Almost all of us were required to remain in the Irish mother-baby homes with our mothers for a minimum of a year (and often up to age 5). Varying reasons have been given for this requirement, including government flight regulations concerning infants and an unwillingness on the part of Catholic agencies to make children available for adoption in Ireland, lest they fall into the hands of Protestant couples, who were generally the only ones who could afford to adopt at the time. They looked to the US market, where there were thousands of Irish-American, Catholic couples eager to take in ‘Irish orphans’. Often these couples had been languishing on Catholic Social Services waiting lists and saw the Irish scheme as a way to circumvent a 7-year wait requirement.

In the early days of this exportation, children would frequently arrive in groups and would not only be met at the airport by their enthusiastic new families, but also by an eager press, who snapped pictures of ‘adorable Irish orphans’ accompanied by heart-tugging stories (ironically, Archbishop John McQuaid of Dublin, who was the principle architect of the adoption scheme, demanded that there be no press in conjunction with these adoptions — evidently, this message didn’t make it to the NY media). What a maelstrom to confront as a newly-arrived, immigrant 2-year old who’s just lost his mother, his culture and country, and every sight and sound that has grown familiar to him in his brief life!

Most pictures of us at the time we arrived show frightened, round-eyed children with stricken expressions. Our passport photos are not the usual going-on-holiday snaps showing a happy, grinning traveler. We look more like deer caught in the headlights.

And now, having faced this trauma of separation, we are again asked to sublimate our grief. We are given no vent to this loss. In fact, any acting-out behavior shown during this first arrival and initial adjustment period is now popularly labeled ‘attachment disorder.’ When an under-educated adoptive parent is confronted by an angry, fretful child, crying inconsolably, there are sometimes dire consequences. More than a few cases have been reported of adoptive parents returning children to agencies, simply because they could not cope or help assimilate their child to his new environment. Or worse, have resulted in the death of children at the hands of adoptive parents unable to cope and frustrated that little Vladimir seemed unable to ‘adapt’ and lashed out at his older siblings or parents. This post-traumatic stress and its attendant symptoms is also often mistaken for fetal alcohol syndrome or written off as a result of the birthmother’s poor healthcare or habits.

I was one of the lucky ones who had largely understanding and open-minded adoptive parents who did everything in their power to help my brother and me (also from Ireland) to adapt and feel comfortable in our ‘adoptive’ skin. I am also fortunate to have found my own natural mother, now living in England, and enjoy a relationship with her as close as that with my birthdaughter (3,000 miles notwithstanding). But when I view the low points of her life and see the sadness in her eyes, I understand too well the price of her loss. This sweet, spirited woman breaks my heart every time she ends a phone call in her lilting Wexford accent with, “I am so, so happy to have found you. And now that I’ve found you, I’ll never let you go again, my darling baby.”

So little is known about the long-term results of adoption and many people tend to view adoption as ending with the arrival of the new, warm bundle of joy. But it is a lifelong process and those of us who have lived the experience, particularly in an intercountry or transracial arrangement, are now able to speak to that experience. A generation of babies and children from Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere around the world are now adults with voices. We have stories to tell and lessons to share.

I’ve witnessed firsthand the loss my adoptive mother experienced, unable to bear a child of her own. I’ve seen it reflected in her eyes each time she looks at me and sees someone else’s daughter, and I’ve seen it in her inability to connect with my brother or I on that intuitive gut level that most mothers have. I’ve seen it in my birthmother’s eyes as she mentally counts all those missing years she and I didn’t have, and most crucially in myself, in losing my firstborn.

Adoption loss represents uncharted territory that is desperately in need of study and a re-thinking of traditional methods to coping with or responding to that grief. There is opportunity to learn from the victims of this loss and develop appropriate strategies among professionals, family members and communities that would allow these victims to mourn, close and heal their loss.

The Immigrant’s Song

immigrationThe conversation began in my adoptive mother’s kitchen on a sunny Sunday over a photo taken that previous Christmas. She was unhappy with the photo and when my mother is unhappy with something, she has the tendency to speak out. Normally, that would be more than fine with your humble narrator, who seeks truth and openness in all things. But her version of “speaking out” is more the type of commentary that leaves people startled and uncomfortable, scratching their heads and saying things like, “Did she really just say that?”

On this sunny May day, she was unhappy because she felt that I and my two teenaged children had not “dressed up” sufficiently for Christmas. My daughter and I were wearing, what we felt, were perfectly acceptable holiday-ish red sweaters and my son was wearing a dark green, long-sleeved polo. Casual maybe, but certainly not sloppy.

Now before we go further, you must understand that I am a Catholic in Recovery. I have long since discarded any belief, confidence or relationship I ever had in the Roman Catholic Church. My children have never been baptised, a fact that drives my mother to the brink of despair. However, I have exposed my children to all manner of religious beliefs and doctrines over the years — Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Wicca, non-denominational faiths, bible study groups, and general Christian youth groups. And I strongly believe that children should not have a spiritual belief system forced upon them. The spiritual path one follows should be a conscious, rational, adult choice.

And my adoptive mother knows all this. We’ve been down this road many times, painful and bumpy as it may be. So the fact that we were not well-dressed by her standards to commemorate a holiday in a Christian tradition that she knows we no longer accept or celebrate just makes her nuts, even beyond the fashion aspect of it all.

What followed her initial comment of displeasure at our appearance in this photo startled even me. She said, “You look like immigrants.” Now, in fairness I concede that Jessica was wearing a red bandana to hold her hair back, but that’s a common enough teen fashion. But more to the point, I am an immigrant.

So I can understand and own her statement well enough. In fact, I answered with, “Well, I am an immigrant.”

She sputtered and stammered for a few seconds and then shot back a statement that left me speechless for at least a minute: “Oh, but you’re not really an immigrant…not really. That’s not what I meant.”

So what the hell did she mean?

Let’s look at this statement from a psychological perspective and take it as an opportunity to learn a little bit about the effects of intercountry adoption 50-plus years gone. With intercountry adoption so much in the spotlight these days, there’s a chorus of voices I’m not hearing. These are the voices of adults who have lived through the experience of being separated from their mothers, their homeland and their identity and shipped thousands of miles away to be adopted by largely white, mid- to upper-middle-class families who cannot biologically have children of their own.

We have heard the angry voices of parents who, for the most part, adopted for the right reasons and with the right intentions, and did so legally and ethically. They are angry with those of us trying to expose the slimy, ugly stuff under the rock that often occurs in intercountry adoption. These well-meaning people somehow believe we are tarring them with the same slimy brush, which is certainly not the case. The individuals calling and writing letters to newspapers and so on are not the targets of our concern. We are concerned about those you will never hear who are certainly not going to expose themselves as callous monsters that sought to buy a child at any price from equally callous monsters who took advantage of a lucrative supply and demand in children. Or callous monsters that went through the process of obtaining a child, only to discover that said child didn’t quite meet their expectations, and like a dress that didn’t fit, they send the poor child back.

All of this furor currently saturating the media revolves around the practises in place today and largely affects the welfare of small, or at least young, children. Yet no one seems to be clamoring for the advice or wisdom of adoption professionals who can speak from long experience with the phenomena of foreign adoption, or more importantly, for the wisdom of now-adults who have actually lived it.

And yes Virginia, they are adults now. Thousands of European WWII “orphans”, US and Canadian “orphan train” victims, UK migrants, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian adopted people now vote, pay taxes, drive cars, raise children (and grandchildren) of their own. And they can now answer, with courage and conviction, the question of what it means to be a foreign, transracial or transcultural adopted person.

I am one of those adults. I am an immigrant. I am an adopted person. I was born in Ireland in 1960 and sent to the US for adoption in 1961, along with more than 2,000 other children, as part of a Church-led scheme that spanned the 1940′s-1960′s.

I believe many adoptive parents, in order to cement their new family, try to erase the fact that their child arrived from some other country and that adoption itself somehow magically erases the child’s foreign status, just as it legally erases the child’s identity and the “taint” of bastardy. And I believe my mother’s comment and thesis follows this — in her mind, I’m “not really an immigrant” because I was adopted and assimilated into her family and her culture.

What a dangerous delusion to harbor. We know so much more today about infant and young child psychology, and know how much even newborns absorb of their surroundings and their mothers (however briefly they may have been with them). To believe that a baby or small child can be stuffed onto a plane and flown thousands of miles from everything and everyone he has ever known, and not be in some way traumatised by this event, is beyond reason.

The popular belief is that all children being placed for adoption, domestically or internationally, are orphaned, neglected or mistreated by uncaring or incapable natural families. That is simply often not the case. Mounting evidence now tells us that children have been outright stolen or kidnapped from their parents, removed from parents who simply lacked financial resources or state support, or taken from frightened, coerced women who faced societal or religious shame for bearing a child out of wedlock. I was the product of that last category in a repressed, cold, religiously-strangled Ireland. These are not reasons to sunder a child’s bond with his natural family or to destroy his identity and heritage.

Adoption should always be about finding homes for children who truly need them, not finding children for homes that lack them. An adoption placement should only be sought when there are no other means of support within the child’s own natural family, and that includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other in-family placement. Adoption is still such a permanent, closed, secretive practise, one that erases the child’s original identity as well as generally hides/seals all “trails” to his natural family. It therefore makes sense that alternatives like legal guardianship or financial sponsorship be sought — that is, if the couple who claim they want to make a difference in a child’s life mean what they say. And this is supposed to be about the rights and welfare of the child, right?

The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption clearly defines those rights, as well as the strict guidelines, fees and general practise surrounding foreign adoption. Yet many countries have still not ratified this treaty. And many of these non-signatories to Hague are countries from which we continue to accept children for adoption.

On the positive side, the lesson many of us have learned as the product of intercountry adoption is how to become resilient, high achieving, compassionate and adaptable adults. And we are slowly starting to become a vocal and effective force in shaping best practice and policy. But on the negative side, the level of trust, comfort and sense of self we develop is hugely impacted by our trauma and loss. No one ever told our adoptive parents to expect these issues, or what to do with a child once they’re past the basic human needs of food, shelter, changing and so forth. And there are still many who won’t listen to us for fear of hearing the not-so-pretty truth.

I am an immigrant. I am the daughter of another woman. I do have a past, a history — an identity that existed before I arrived in a New York airport in 1961.  And no re-write of that history will make it go away.

 

Without a Home

I am an American citizen.  On 11 September 2001, like millions of my compatriots, I sat and watched the destruction of three great symbols of this nation’s strength, the instantaneous (I hope) death of thousands of men and women who had simply marched off to work that morning, and I cried. My tears held an extra measure of salt that day because in my solidarity with my fellow citizens, I still stood apart. My terror has deeper roots: I stand on the same U.S. soil as millions of other people do, yet not by birthright or heritage or by choice. And I have to wonder why I’m here. Forty-one years ago the Irish State made a decision on my behalf to send me to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. I was one in a 2,000-strong wave of children sent to the U.S. for adoption. I have no doubt my mother had little say in my destiny, much less me.

As I grow older the whole concept of “destiny” grips me more than ever. For the record, let me state that my adoptive parents and my upbringing itself were lovely. But at age 18, I found myself in the same position as my own mother in 1960, relinquishing a daughter for adoption in Pennsylvania in 1978. And in 1993, what had been an abusive, horrid marriage to the father of my two younger children ended in his suicide. The bullet he used to take his life lodged in my face and left life rather touch-and-go for a few days.

My adoptive mother recently told me that the first few agonizing hours after she’d been contacted by the hospital and informed I’d been shot must have been eerily similar to those experienced by the thousands of parents, spouses and children who waited for word of their loved ones in New York or Washington on 11 September. She was in Philadelphia and I in Florida at the time, so she endured an interminable wait for a flight to my side. Would all this have happened had I stayed in Ireland? This is the question that burns.

I have always considered Ireland my home. Like many adopted adults, I tend to be rootless, creating no strong or long-lasting bonds with anyone save my own children, and never staying in one place for very long. I’ve bounced between Philadelphia and Florida, with a stop in Indiana along the way, three times to date. What brought me back to Philadelphia was not necessarily my adoptive family (although I do enjoy their company for the most part). It was a need to be closer to my now-found eldest daughter, Kerry, and her own growing family.

Moments in my adult life, and a few during childhood, have been inexorably touched by adoption. My makeup, good bad or indifferent, has been defined by my bastard status.

And now, as I wonder what the hell I’m doing here a scant hour and a half away from the carnage in lower Manhattan, I can’t help but feel some animosity toward a government that cared so little for my status as a citizen that they’d send me 3,000 miles from home. As if that weren’t bad enough, my quest to learn more about my birth heritage has been met with frustration, secrecy, and thousands of miles of bureaucratic red tape, government ineptitude, and disorganized records. Ultimately, the cold almost unfeeling attitude I’ve encountered with various agencies and institutions have left me with such a vast sense of isolation, I have to wonder where in hell I really belong.

Perhaps this attitude I sense really doesn’t exist, and the individuals I’ve dealt with for what scant information I’ve received are really just victims of a bungled system in need of radical reform. But no adopted adult — in the U.S., Ireland, U.K. or elsewhere — should be subjected to the levels of incompetence we’ve witnessed in the last ten years. And more importantly, the indignities we’ve suffered as virtual second-class citizens have left us confused and wondering, do we matter at all?

And just to remind those in a position or place to initiate reform, those of us sent abroad have even less in the way of resources or direct contact than our Irish-adopted brethren. So we sit isolated and very much alone, especially in these days of fear and uncertainty, struggling with the fact that our natural parents are now aging and less likely to be found or contacted without fear of disrupting the tangled lives they’ve had to construct to hide their “shame”. We’ve precious little in the way of support from agencies and a mountain of backlog to work against. I fear that without serious reform and a consistent level of service and support from the government or sponsored agents, we will gradually fade into obscurity, our loved ones long dead, and a chance at any claim of national heritage gone.

Our naturalisation papers say we are American, our birth certificates say we are Irish. What we are, at the moment, is without a home or any way to contact those who might claim us through blood.

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