Let’s remember that we were children but children grow up into adults and those adults want answers as to who they are and where they came from. Coram IAC owes it to us and our next generation. We are not ornaments or souvenirs, we are people with a past history and an origin story that belongs to us.
Freddie’s inability to communicate her true feelings echoes that of us all. We are silenced, unable to articulate the trauma that lives in our bodies. We as intercountry adoptees are made to feel grateful for being saved from a culture that is deemed inferior to western society. However, those same western societies see us as different. This is the paradox of being an intercountry adoptee. We don’t belong to either society and never will.
When I was a teenager my mother told me I was not her biological daughter. I had been fostered but she refused to tell me who I was and where I came from. Social services knew I had been deceived throughout my childhood but they did not tell me the truth.
I felt sad and lonely as a child, something was missing. I had to wait several months for my adoption order before I found out who my biological parents were and the circumstances surrounding my birth. I did not receive support from any professionals to help me process this discovery.
Anxiety and depression
As I grew into a young adult I visited the GP because I suffered from severe anxiety and depression but instead of taking my childhood into account, I was given a prescription for antidepressants which only numbed me so I stopped taking them.
I felt a deep sense of loss and shame inside my body. I also felt fear. I was not safe. I couldn’t express it but professional services continued to ignore the traumatic childhood events surrounding my adoption. I struggled to form relationships and I felt immense grief. I had flashbacks, nightmares, stomach pains and migraines.
Normal decisions became difficult and overwhelming, I was constantly hypervigilant. I couldn’t regulate my emotions, I found it impossible to breathe deeply or calm myself. Self-loathing affected every part of my life and relationships. I was flawed, unlovable and unacceptable. I questioned my value and my worth. I was living on autopilot, unable to make rational decisions or enjoy my youth and I would react to everything.
Life events and experiences triggered these emotions inside my body constantly. During my first pregnancy, I had only recently been reunited with my birth mother when she died. The grief and pain interrupted my bonding with my child. I believed I wasn’t going to be a good enough mother and I shouldn’t be in this world.
Left untreated I developed severe postnatal depression and was given another prescription for antidepressants but still no recognition of the cause. It took two years and a breakdown for a sympathetic GP to tell me I needed counselling.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
I was placed on a year-long NHS waiting list and given CBT. I was told it was my thoughts that were detrimental to me not my experiences. So I internalised more shame.
The CBT didn’t work; I knew it was much deeper than changing my thought patterns but CBT and IAPT counselling was all I was offered by the NHS for another twenty years. I couldn’t afford private therapy.
Finally being heard
As a middle-aged woman, I made a desperate visit to yet another GP. I was feeling hopeless, guilty, and shameful. I had severe uncontrollable mood swings. I isolated myself as a coping mechanism and had dissociative thoughts. I sat in that surgery and I told her all that I had been through in my life as the tears streamed down my face. She finally heard me and I was referred.
Several months later I had a consultation with secondary mental health services. Six months after that I was assessed by two clinical psychologists and asked a series of questions about my life experiences. I was left in the room for the team to discuss my answers.
When they returned they sat down and told me I had Complex PTSD. I didn’t even know what it was! Suddenly my whole life made sense and I cried from the relief in my body as the clinical psychologist apologised on behalf of the NHS for my suffering all these years.
Still waiting to see a therapist
That diagnosis was in October 2021 and I am still waiting for my trauma therapy because apparently there is a shortage of trained therapists and a long waiting list.
My advice to any adoptee
My advice to any adoptee who is struggling with similar symptoms is to visit your GP and insist on a referral and get a second opinion from another GP if you are dismissed.
The important first step for any adoptee who cannot for financial reasons access private therapy is to get a referral to the right services.
There is post-adoption support through your local authority for adult adoptees as well as six free counselling sessions via PAC if you live in a subscribing borough – but many councils do not offer this. Some charities offer therapy and will assess you for a reduced fee if you are on a low income.
You deserve all the help you can get and you are not alone.