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.
Recently Colin Kaepernick has spoken about his experiences growing up as an adoptee of colour. The thing which distinguishes his and so many other adoptions is that his adopters are white.
The sad fact is that there are a disproportionate number of children of colour in the system and available for adoption. Take a look at some American adoption agencies and a small scratch of the surface reveals a sliding scale of fees based on ethnicity with Black children often costing tens of thousands of dollars less than white children. Astounding really when you think of how Black children are objectified within adoption circles.
The media feeds into this obsession with acquiring–collecting–children of colour. Celebrity adopters such as Madonna and Angelina Jolie regularly trot out their tribes of stolen children in a desperate attempt to virtue signal to the world and be lauded. Lauded for what? Taking a child from their country of origin? Removing them entirely from their culture? How is that beneficial for the child? Surely with the kind of wealth they have, if they had a desire to save a child, funding that child to remain in their own country would be a more ethical approach.
Now let’s look at the experiences of transracial adoptees. Many times we are adopted into families as a plan C. Families at the end of their adoption journey having been turned down from other avenues of adoption. Families faced with the reality that there are very few white babies available for adoption, or if funds are drying up, will look at other options. Whether that be domestically or internationally that often concludes with the adoption of a child of colour. That child, ripped out of their culture and often torn from their country, now has to acclimatise to a completely alien environment. As they grow up this feeling of alienation is often compounded by views held within their own families, views often shared and declared within their company.
The comments made towards Colin when he talks about his hair and his family’s reaction to his wish to have braids is a perfect example of the kind of denial of culture TRAs have to endure their entire lives. And denial of culture doesn’t stop at hair care. Denial of culture includes denying access to food, access to music, access to literature, access to community and so in essence: access to self. In the face of such denials of basic human rights, to expect anyone to be grateful is laughable.
You didn’t save us. You inflicted immeasurable damage. You want gratitude? That’s not how gratitude works, to be grateful you first need something to be grateful for.
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.