‘What if abandoning a child was the greatest act of love this world has ever known?’
This statement was made by Victor Alexeyev, one of five young adult adopted people, who spoke at the Coming of Age session at the Redefining Family conference in Auckland.
Victor, along with Alex Gilbert, Alexander Kuch, Katya Murray and Voichita Stewart all started their lives in orphanages in either Russia or Romania, in the early 1990s, before they were adopted into New Zealand families.
For a short period in the 1990s Romania was the largest source of children for international adoption. At the time it received a great deal of coverage from western media who drew attention to the country’s orphanages housing children abandoned by their parents. This resulted in families from around the world stepping in through direct social intervention to rescue them.
By 2005 Romania had closed its intercountry adoption program.
I was curious, being adopted myself – albeit from another time, circumstance and place – whether there was any commonality in the ongoing impacts of our adult adoption experiences, even though a generation gap of over 30 years separated theirs from mine.
All five were adopted at between two and five years of age. Some had discovered they had siblings. All strongly endorsed their adopted parents – their mom and dad – and the good life they had been given in idyllic New Zealand.
All had scars as they moved to piece together and understand their early lives.
As young adults all but one had moved to search for first kin with two experiencing reunions in recent times.
- Voichita had married and had a child of her own, describing it as wonderful experience in helping her understand her own adoption as she has no knowledge of her original parents.
- Katya had discovered a brother ten years younger than her and found her original parents, but had yet to meet them.
- Alex, using the internet, had searched and found both his Russian parents, meeting them in 2013.
- Alexander, an advocate for adoption, had met his mother for the first time as part of a Romanian live television show.
- Victor had recently discovered that his mother had passed away and there was no record of any other family.
I was impressed by Victor who was most reflective and articulate in outlining his internal struggle to find an identity as he learnt to live with his adoption experience. Embracing Christianity had helped him.
He noted how the national debate to choose a new New Zealand flag had challenged him to ask some hard questions: Where do I come from? Why am I here? Who am I?
The last question was the hardest to answer, leading him to a further sub-question – What do I have an affinity to?
In his search for identity it came down to three things: Love. Loyalty. Longing.
And in defining love came his question, ‘what if abandoning a child is the greatest act of love the world has known?’
Where the alternative is too hard to bear I can see why there is a need to frame love in this way, to provide solace when so little is known and so much is lost.
But do abandonment and love sit comfortably together? I think not.
Who does Victor love? His adoptive family in all their diversity.
Who is he loyal to? His adoptive family in all their diversity.
What does he long for? Connection.
In outlining his experience there emerged an internal tug-of-war between connecting with his adoptive family and his birth family – if by his own admission the latter were possible. And furthermore, there was a pull between his adoptive culture and his birth culture, the loss of the latter he had grieved for.
If things were different what would he most like to know?
The circumstances that had him put into an orphanage and information about his father.
In listening to all of them reflect on their own stories I was struck by how much of the human condition is indivisible regardless of time, place, culture, language, education, social status, gender, age or religion.
Connection and belonging, through which we build our identity and our place in the world, have direct links to our origins. We do need to know where we come and who we are related to.
Even with good second families the tug of first kin never leaves us.
Adopted people, like migrating birds, are forever aware of the call of summer. At some point in their lives many take flight to find where this summer lies. This migration within, to find that safe place we can call home, is ever present.