|Arriving in Canada on February 23rd, 1987|
After much thought and a few unexpected events, I have decided to search. Searching has always seemed next to impossible to me, given the lack of information I have about my birth family.
I was born in late 1985 in the northern part of Ethiopia, an area heavily affected by famine and civil war. I don’t have a birth record and what I know about my birth family is only through word of mouth. In fact, my official documents were produced a few months after my birth with the sole purpose of legalizing my adoption. I understand that it might not have been possible to fully document all relevant information about my birth and birth family given the chaotic circumstances and lack of resources, but I have many questions as to why so much information was unavailable.
Growing up without such information has been “normal” but at the same time, very disconcerting. As I’ve written in Gazillion Voices, I think the lack of information I have about my background contributed to me ignoring my adoption for most of my life. I rarely thought about my birth family, perhaps because I had what I needed—a happy childhood, a loving family and friends. I only realized that I had identity issues when
I was in my late teens. Deep down, I knew that the only way to have some peace of mind would be to search for my birth family, but I wondered how I could embark on a search without proper documentation.
Here I am, "ready" to search almost ten years later. For me, searching means confronting one of the biggest injustices associated with being adopted—fighting to access one’s personal information...or in my case, hiring someone to search for my undocumented information. I’m nervous and unhappy (to put it politely) about having to go through this hassle. It’s not just about finding the time and money to search; it’s also about trusting someone to work with such a limited amount of information. This search could take days, weeks, months or years and the outcome is uncertain. I might find my birth family or I might not. I might find out why I was relinquished or I might not find anything at all.
Besides wanting to know the truth about my past, I strongly believe that it’s my right to have this information. In my view, searches are about a human rights issue—having the right to access one’s personal information. Deciding to search has made me realize to what extent knowing or having access to information about one’s birth and birth family is a privilege. It may seem strange to think that a person is privileged if they were born in a country that has the institutional capacity to accurately document and safeguard their birth information. Yet, he or she is even more privileged if they have access to this information.
Unfortunately, many transnational adoptees like me lack information about our births and family backgrounds. The reasons for this can be traced back to political or structural reasons. However, if you dig deeper into this issue by reading adoptee narratives, it appears that the reasons behind "lost" or purposely omitted information from documents is also due to more subjective reasons. Birth families tend to relinquish children because they cannot adequately provide for them. For instance, families are usually experiencing economic difficulties, death, illness, rape or stigma due to single or unwed mothers. Relinquishing a child is an act of desperation and sometimes birth parents may want to remain anonymous out of shame or fear. Yet whatever the reasons for relinquishment, this information should not go undocumented. Individuals, agencies and governmental institutions involved in adoption and orphan care need to be held accountable for documenting all information pertinent to children's births and family backgrounds. Furthermore, I don't believe that this information should be kept a secret in order to protect a child from a harsh reality nor to cover up a parent's shame. Adopted children grow up to be adopted adults. Sooner or later, they will ask questions such as why knowing who gave birth to them and knowing their ancestry is privileged information that they cannot have.
The benefits of having this information for adoptees' emotional, psychological and mental well-being should not be overlooked nor underestimated. While I've had a positive adoption experience, there's a part of me that has always felt lost and out of place as a result of being adopted. Having this information may not give me peace of mind, but I believe that it will give me closure.