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Adoption: children in search of their origins

“Very, very happy. » Yes, Thomas is “really very happy”. The young man from Puy-en-Velay almost stutters. He’s been bubbling with emotions since the phone call he received a few days ago. At the end of the line, a voice from Ethiopia spoke these few words: “I found your biological mother. She wants to talk to you. » From now on, the young man of 18 years spends his time imagining this imminent reunion. He already imagines the scene down to the smallest detail: “What am I going to tell him?” Will I cry in front of her? And her, how will she be? Above all, will she tell me why she abandoned me? »

Like him, hundreds of young adoptees, seized by a vertigo of identity, set off in search of their origins to try to find meaning in their story. “For all of us, the questions ‘where am I from?’ and “who do I look like?” are fundamental. But it is quite certain that they arise even more acutely for adopted children, because their history has been broken. advances the psychiatrist Fanny Cohen-Herlem (1).

Culture of secrecy

Their quest has become all the more frequent today as the culture of secrecy, which has long prevailed, is no longer appropriate. “Historically, adoption was hidden, recalls Yves Denéchère, professor of contemporary history at the University of Angers. The couples adopted children born in France, who could look like them, and therefore they did not talk about it… juntil, sooner or later, the child who has become an adult discovers this family secret. Then the situation changed, with the development of international adoption, because the children who arrive do not look like their parents and the secret is no longer tenable. »

Moreover, international adoption has been marred by certain scandals. Doubt has crept in: the approach, from being generous, has become vaguely suspicious. “As a result, children must be able to answer these legitimate questions: “Have I been robbed? Did my parents really want to abandon me?” », continues the specialist.

Families must therefore learn to live with this quest. “As soon as they submit their file, the parents who are candidates for adoption are notified. From now on, they are advised to tell the children right away that they have been adopted,” confirms Anne Royal, president of Childhood and Adoption Families, which represents adoptees and their parents.

Not knowing everything

But every trajectory is different. Not all children want to know everything about their story. “In society, among friends and colleagues, the idea circulates that one cannot be completely happy when one does not know where one comes from. It’s not always the case. Some adoptees never go in search of their origins and are doing well,” assures child psychiatrist Fanny Cohen-Herlem (1). It is up to the parents to find the right balance: answer the questions, without preceding them.

Claude and Catherine, Thomas’s parents, have never made any mystery about the birth of their son. Ethiopia is very present in their lives because “a big piece of Thomas’ heart remained there”, respects his mother. Arrived at 6 years old, the little boy had had time to make precise memories of the country where he was born. He spoke Amharic, enjoyed tasting beyayennatou, an assortment of traditional dishes. So his parents never thought of erasing that part of himself. “When he was little, my husband used to help him keep a memory book from Ethiopia, so that he would never forget it”, illustrates Catherine.

Then when, at 17, Thomas wanted to find his birth mother, they supported him. At first, the young man had thrown himself headlong into social networks, in vain. “So we contacted the organization through which we had adopted him, who have always been very transparent. Thomas was able to meet the president, who then recommended a local association specializing in the search for origins. In five days, he heard from his birth mother,” greet his mother. Today, whatever happens, whether the reunion goes well or not, she and her husband will be there. “Because we know it’s very important to Thomas and we want him to be happy. »

A sense of rivalry

However, some parents find it more difficult to accept this research“that they can live as a disavowal”, nuance Jean-Louis Le Run, child psychiatrist at the head of the psychological support system for adoptive stories (Dapha) (2). They may suffer from this and feel a sense of rivalry with the biological parents who reappear in their child’s life. However, he invites them to ignore it. “It is very complicated for an adopted person to embark on a search for their origins without feeling caught in a conflict of loyalty”, he deciphers. If the parents can free him from it, that’s ideal.

These are fully useful at such a time, also notes Patrizia, who has worked in the adoption service of a department for sixteen years. She has seen adoptees of all kinds, ranging in age from 3 to 70, parade through her office in search of their origins. She accompanies everyone, guides and identifies their expectations. “The notion of origins is more complex than we sometimes think, she believes. Basically, these people want to take their story into their own hands,” reclaiming a story, a family romance.

“Even more than a name and a contact, they want elements that help them think about and visualize their birth. Some do not go to the end of their process when they obtain certain elements that are sufficient for them. I also received a little girl of 3 years old, born under secrecy. I realized that her birth remained very abstract and that she wanted me to tell her about it. That was his real request. »


Adoption is becoming increasingly rare

In 2021, 252 children were adopted abroad by French people. This figure has been falling sharply for several years. By comparison, 3,847 children were adopted internationally in 2005.

The countries of origin touch all continents. In 2021, the children came mainly from Thailand (46 adoptions), the Republic of Congo (31), Vietnam (22), Colombia (16) and Madagascar (16).

As of December 31, 2019, 884 wards of the State born in France have been placed for adoption. These are either babies born secretly, that is to say, abandoned at birth, or older children taken away from their parents following abandonment.

Sources: International Adoption Mission and National Child Protection Observatory


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