An adult adoptee, Chantal De Brouwer, explains what keeping a connection with her birth country and culture has meant to her.
When I was about three days old, I was left on a transit bus in Mexico City. No one knows how long I’d been there, but the driver brought me to the hospital in the middle of the night. I weighed three pounds.
My mom, Josie, arrived in Mexico City on June 1, 1988. The baby girl whose picture had arrived in the mail a few months earlier was at Casa Cuna Orphanage and was now 14 months old. When mom, her lawyer, and social worker arrived at the orphanage two days later, only the social worker was allowed in.
Eventually, after what seemed like hours and hours of waiting, the social worker emerged with me in her arms dressed in a pink polka-dot dress. “Aqui esta su hija.” “Here is your daughter,” the social worker said with a smile.
When I was six, mom took me back to Casa Cuna. We were accompanied by two very close friends, Maru and Angelica, both of whom were my nannies in Canada until I was five years old. They now live in Mexico City.
Until that visit, mom had never seen where I had spent the first year of my life, and she was very emotional. I remember saying, “Mommy, you’re hurting me!” as she gripped my hand.
When I was 10, mom again took me back to Mexico, and we visited the hospital where I spent the first month of my life. The nurses who took care of me there never knew what happened to me once I was taken to the orphanage. For all they knew, I was still there. When they heard who I was, they started crying. I was completely overwhelmed and terrified as they screamed, “Es muy bonita! Muy grande!” (She’s beautiful! Very big!) I was anxious to leave because I was scared that the nurses would want me to stay.
During that trip, we also returned to Casa Cuna, but even then I was not able to grasp the idea of an orphanage. Since I was old enough to talk, I could reel off those unbelievable events of my life, but I did not really understand them until that visit.
So far, I have returned to Mexico four times. It’s important for me to go back and visit the country I was born in, to see people who look like me, and to hear the first language I learned to speak.
I now understand that mom made sure I visited the orphanage when I was younger so that I wouldn’t grow up having a false sense of where I’d come from. Because of these visits, and my time with Maru and Angelica, I had an early appreciation for Mexico, and its culture. My mom realized that just because I wouldn’t grow up in Mexico it didn’t mean that I couldn’t claim it as my own. As a result, I have never believed any of the stereotypes about Mexicans because I grew up knowing the best of them. I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I can carry on a conversation—if I really focus!
Being an adoptee
Being an adoptee can be confusing. I am often asked, “Do you want to meet your real parents?” It’s hard enough having to decide that for myself, but the lack of understanding about adoption that people demonstrate when the say “real parent” is almost as hard to bear. You see, my real mom is Josie De Brouwer. She is the woman who clothed me, put a roof over my head, and food on my plate. She has always been there for me, and always will be. It’s my birth parents who abandoned me and, no, I have no desire to meet them. Don’t think I’m bitter—I’m thankful they wanted me to have a better life. Although I do not know why I was left on that bus, that fact has led to many wonderful people looking out for me. I am happy with the way I am today. I love my mom very much and, as far as I’m concerned, she is all I need. It would, however, be nice to see photos of my birth family so I can see where I get my features.
Another advantage I’ve had is that I have stayed in touch with other kids who were adopted. We all have adoption in common, and it’s nice to have people around who are just as confused as you are! I can’t take all the credit for that: if it hadn’t been for our moms dragging us to their adoption get-togethers, then I may not be such good friends with my fellow adoptees!
One thing I hope to contribute to the world is adoption education and awareness. I’d like to help people understand the proper terminology—for example, “birth parents” as apposed to “real parents.” I’d also like to help people realize that because I was adopted doesn’t mean that I am loved less than a child who is raised by their biological parents. I’d also like to see a unit on adoption in the curriculum of every elementary and high school family studies class.
Telling the truth
The best thing my mom did was to tell me my story from the beginning—the biggest mistake a parent can make is to delay telling a child that he or she were adopted. I learned the story of how I was left on a bus and how my mom adopted me before I understood it. I just grew up knowing it, and have only come to grasp its meaning now that I’m older.
I have pride in knowing that my biological family, the people who share my blood, found the courage to let me go. It tells me that perhaps I have that same courage in myself.