As an adult adoptee, I want to see children being put at the heart of adoption

Debbie Iromlou
Wednesday, October 18, 2023

My name is Debbie Iromlou and I'm a co-founder of the Adult Adoptee Movement. We are a group of people who were adopted as babies during the forced adoption era.

People who've been adopted have grown up in a family that doesn't genetically mirror who they are. And sometimes it doesn't even physically mirror who they are, as in transracial adoption, which was my experience. I grew up with a white mother, but I'm not white. I always had questions around my identity, who I was and where I came from. I wasn't allowed to have those conversations because my adoption closed it off.

It's as though we've been taken, a contract has been signed, we had no say in that contract, and then we're not allowed to ask any questions of what happened pre-contract. We are raised to be quiet, feeling quite silenced about who we are, where we came from, how we were born, questions that all normal children ask in families when they're growing up. ‘You look like uncle, you look like auntie, you look like grandma, you look like grandpa, that was when I was pregnant with you’. These are the stories that you grow up listening to and they help you form a sense of self.

When you are adopted, you don't have any of that. That's why it's incredibly important for adults who've been adopted to then go back and search through the files and find out how they came into this world and who they really are.

If you were adopted before 2005, you can search for your records, you are legally allowed to have access to your original birth certificate but any other information that you go in search of is at the discretion of the adoption agency that placed you. In practical terms, that means if the adoption agency feels you shouldn't know very much information then they have the discretion on what they choose to give us and what they choose to redact. It wouldn't matter if that birth mother has passed away or if it happened so many years ago, they would still take all that information into account and can refuse access to identifying information about your birth mother.

When it comes to medical records, this could be vitally important.  Most people don’t know that when you're adopted, your NHS number is changed. You are completely cut off from your original birth family. You are then given a new identity and with that new identity comes new medical records. When you go and visit a GP and the GP asks ‘is there any family history?’ You are unable to answer the question. And rather than saying, well, let's look into this, there's an awkward silence and it's not discussed. At the Adult Adoptee Movement, we are campaigning to have a tick box scheme implemented by the NHS that would put adoptees at higher risk for various genetic diseases because we don't know our family history.

Adoption is still seen as in the interest of the adoptive family and they are in charge. For example, today with younger adoptees, they'll have letterbox contact. What that means is they have contact by letterbox with their birth relatives, whoever wishes to communicate with them back and forth. But that is at the discretion of the adoptive parents. If the adoptive parents don't want the letterbox contact, they will not pass the letters onto the children. Those children may grow up to feel they're unwanted or unloved or there was something wrong with them, that they were rejected, and that's not necessarily the truth.

I want to see children being put at the heart of adoption, and The Adult Adoptee Movement is campaigning for the system to be changed. It's about the children and their life outcomes. They should have access to their own records, whether they are historical records, medical records, and they need to have free access to trauma therapy as adults to help them come to terms with their history. If this had been in place for me, this would have been life-changing.

The Adult Adoptee Movement is calling upon the government of today to change adoption law and allow all adoptees to have access to the historical information without any third party redactions involved, without having to go from one organisation to another organisation. One centralised system that adoptees can access for their historical information. The Adult Adoptee Movement is asking for a system that allows adult adoptees to access their biological family’s medical information because it's vitally important that we have access to what we are carrying in our genes not only for ourselves but for our children and their children. Adoption doesn’t end with the adoptee, it continues through the generations.

Debbie Iromlou is the co-founder of the Adult Adoptee Movement and Founder of TAAN (the Transracial adult adoptee network). She is an Intercountry and Transracial adoptee who was born in 1968. Her birth origins are Kuwaiti Iranian. Debbie was raised in foster care in a white English community. When she was adopted as a teenager by her foster mother, she also discovered the truth about her parents. Debbie has spent her life searching for birth relatives and cultural connections.

She has created and facilitates two support groups for adult adoptees in London. Debbie uses her lived experience to help others heal and inform of the dislocation, alienation and isolation that occurs from being raised in a white foster or adoptive home without a biological identity or same race role models. Follow Debbie on X: @Debster_68

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