From the time I was little, I remember carrying around a deep sadness about my missing family. I would tell my mother and others how I missed my birthmother. I remember trying to explain the concept of having two families to other children in my pre-school. Of course, they were just baffled, but it was important to me to try to piece together my story and my international life. As I got older, my thinking branched out to my entire first family. For a period of time, I was convinced that I looked more like my first father than my first mother. As an only child in the States, I’ve wondered if I have a sibling in China. Since I was abandoned when I was two years old, perhaps I have a little brother who is two years younger than me. These are the types of fantasies that are inescapable when one is separated from their biological roots, their country of origin, and a piece of themselves.
Article 8 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that “States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.” International adoption takes away these rights from adoptees by law, often times crossing over lines of ethics (knowingly or unknowingly by key figures) in order to do so. I believe that adults should be advocates of all children, who are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Once a parent has adopted transracially or transnationally, I believe they need to become an advocate for their children when they face discrimination and racism, when they question their belonging, and in regaining rights stolen.
It is common for orphanages to move and lose paperwork, for fires to occur which destroy documents, and for buildings and streets to change names and functions. The longer the adoptee waits to find out any additional information, the smaller the likelihood becomes of finding their first family or finding their first family while their original parents are alive. If adoptive parents know anything that could lead to finding their child’s biological family, I think it is their responsibility to follow up on that despite their child’s age or then current interest. Adoptees’ opinions change over time. A reluctant adoptee as a child may want that information later when it is too late. If their opinion doesn’t change, however, they don’t have to pursue it any further. The importance lies in the ability of having a choice of whether or not to make that contact. The current adoption situation strips adoptees of having that choice.
I do not think adoptive parents can necessarily wait for the adoptee to express interest because of the aforementioned reason. Additionally, I know adoptees who feel that talking about their adoption or their birthparents to their adoptive parents would be disrespectful and cause tension. Adoptive parents let their child know that they are open to talking about the issues of adoption by opening discussion first. Once the child is reassured that it’s a “safe subject” after all, they may feel much more comfortable expressing their genuine thoughts.
Luckily for my parents, I was always a vocal child. I told them when I missed my birthfamily, and I told them when I wanted to search for them. I made a bucket list for myself when I was 11 (strange, I know) and the very first item was “find my birthparents.” That has been an unwavering desire of mine. In the short term, I hope that I am able to find them some day and add more of the missing pieces to my story. In the long term, I hope that advocacy for children and children’s rights will reform international adoption so that the children being adopted will have truly been orphaned, not forced to be relinquished because of policy, poverty, or patriarchy. When that is the case, the anguish of deciding whether or not to search will not be faced by the vast majority of adoptive parents or adoptees.