Adoption is one of the greatest acts of love on earth: it means choosing to make a child in need part of your family and providing that child with a safe, loving home. At the same time, there is always an element of tragedy to adoption stories. They all begin with a goodbye from someone who was unable, for whatever reason, to take on the task of raising their child.
Many adoptees grow up trying to make sense of this paradox. They may have been raised by the most loving family in the world who was able to fulfill all their physical and emotional needs, and yet many are still left with so many questions about who they are, where they come from, and why that initial goodbye had to happen.
If you’re an adoptee or searching for a family member who was adopted, you can apply for a free DNA kit through DNA Quest! Applications are open until March 17.
Some adoptees choose to let those questions go and focus on the life and the family they know. After all, seeking the answers to those questions may lead to some difficult discoveries or encounters, and for some, the risk doesn’t feel worth it.
Others, however, decide to brave the unknown and set out to find the answers — perhaps with the understanding that whatever they might discover couldn’t be worse than the idea of never knowing.
Alex Gilbert was in the latter category. Adopted from a small orphanage in Arkhangelsk, Russia at age 2 along with a brother of the same age, he was raised in a small town in New Zealand. All he knew about his birth parents was his mother’s name — until, at the age of 21, he decided to try to learn more about them. He was able to find and contact his birth mother, Tatiana, through social media, and shortly thereafter, he decided to fly to Russia to meet her for the first time. Tatiana was able to reveal the identity of his birth father, Misha — who had never known Alex existed — and Alex was able to contact and meet him. Misha was overjoyed to meet Alex and introduce him to his wife and daughter, the half-sister Alex never knew he had.
Alex’s journey to meet his birth parents was documented on the New Zealand TV program, Sunday, in 2014:
It was that journey that led Alex to found I’m Adopted, a global online community and nonprofit organization, in 2015. I’m Adopted provides resources and support to adoptees all over the world, and helps document and share their stories through writing and video. As part of the project, Alex produces An Adoption Story, a series of documentary films telling the stories of adoptees. You can check out the full series of videos here:
MyHeritage is proud to support Alex and his organization, and today we are excited to introduce him to you.
What drove you to decide to make contact with your own birth parents?
I have always been interested in where I came from. I didn’t know anything about my roots or links that were also outside of Russia which I only started to learn about now. I have just wanted to simply connect with my birth family. It’s always been an important thing for me.
Fears I knew I had to be prepared for. I was worried that, yes, my birth parents may have not wanted me to reach out to them, but I was prepared for that. A lot of us adoptees, I believe, should be prepared for anything, including that. Talking with my family and close friends helped me a lot. The support is always needed that’s why having I’m Adopted also has helped many of those in the community around the world.
Your brother, who was adopted along with you, wasn’t interested in finding his birth family initially. Why do you think some adoptees feel a pull to know who their birth parents are, while others prefer not to?
Every adoptee has a right to want to search or not. I have respect always for both ends, and this is where my brother does really come into this. I respected his decision. A lot of this comes down to being afraid of what you may find out. It’s a life-changing decision. I helped my brother in the end find his birth father and two sisters, however, he didn’t go any further with this search. But when the time is right, he will make that decision to go the next step with contact with them and I have his full support with that.
How did your adoptive parents react when you expressed interest in finding your birth family?
My parents have always been supportive with the search for my birth family. Of course they were worried about anything that may come my way — birth parents not wanting to talk or meet with me, or me just having an unpleasant experience. I have always been prepared for that and I understand that for many adoptees it can be unpleasant. So the support is always needed.
What was the experience of meeting your birth parents like for you?
It was a nerve-wracking experience. The meeting with my birth mother was difficult, just as I know that she had been in an orphanage all her entire childhood. But I was happy I got to meet her.
My birth father, who knew nothing of my existence until I contacted him online in 2013, was very welcoming. He couldn’t believe it. It was a great meeting and to this day, we are always in contact. I also have stayed with him and his family a few times in Saint Petersburg.
What is your relationship with them like now?
I can say it has always been challenging with my birth mother, ever since I first met her. But I do go and visit her, and I have a few times now. I am doing what I can to now help her find her own birth parents, as she was in an orphanage her entire childhood. I have been able to help her with tracking the whereabouts of her birth mother and birth father who moved to Kazakhstan. She also has a brother in Ukraine. I have been back to Russia to visit my birth mother and I spent a weekend with her which was incredible.
I am always in contact with my birth father, and I often stay with him and the family when I visit Saint Petersburg. I have learnt so much about his family while he has known so much about mine. I thank him always for accepting me completely into his life and his family. He has another son who is older — my half-brother who has a different mother — and also a young daughter, Sonia, whose mother is my birth father’s wife.
What are some things you learned from the experience of finding your biological family? Did it change your perceptions or perspective in any way?
I feel you need to put your feet in the shoes of your birth parents. It’s so important to. Especially when you find out more about their lives. I know that for everyone it’s a personal choice and so I don’t pressure adoptees to find family — do it in your own time. But connecting and finding out about your roots is so important. I support adoptees doing that, always. It made me appreciate the childhood I had, but I also have so much respect for my birth parents for bringing me into this world. My birth parents were young. Never were married and that’s life. It happens for many.
Tell us a little about your organization, I’m Adopted, and what it does.
I set it up as a community website in 2015 for adoptees. Since then I have grown it into a much bigger worldwide organization which helps so many adoptees connect with each other. We do meetups, to give them the chance to simply connect, and it helps with the support for adoptees who need it. We have a private group and a public page. We also share resources online, and of course, there’s my adoption series on my YouTube channel. Overall, it’s a support network. For those who may want to find family or not, overall, it helps many find answers. Many adoptees have always shared stories on the page. Learning about other people’s experiences can help, no matter what part of their journey they are on.
Why do you think it is so important for adoptees to have a community where they can share their stories and connect with each other?
Many adoptees grow up without the support of a community of people who understand some of the feelings and emotions they may be going through. Identity is a big thing. Feelings that come up from time to time can be a lot about, why I was adopted? Or, I wonder what my birth family looks like? Or, where does my bloodline go? These are some examples of questions that are often asked within the community.
How is I’m Adopted helping meet this need?
We’ve been slowly growing our support meetups, but many may not want to meet face to face, so online resources like stories from others really do help too. We have also been growing resources to provide more direct support, which has helped a lot in the private circle that we have for adoptees. It’s that awareness that should be there. And it’s important not only for adoptees themselves, but also for adoptive parents, who also may want help supporting a child who is asking questions. For adoptive parents, a lot of them do need some extra help from time to time to understand their adopted child more.
What are some tips you would give to an adoptee who is about to meet their birth family for the first time?
Take your steps slow. Never rush into it and when you feel like it’s right, you will know it’s right. Be prepared for anything that can happen, but do this with the closest support you can have by your side. Your family or close friends. This is important. For those who may not have close support, I do always encourage joining our private community, which can help with small steps. But always take small steps, not big ones. It’s a life-changing experience and can have any number of outcomes.
Tell us about An Adoption Story.
I am a one man band, so I do all the filming, editing, and production myself. It’s a series I’m really proud of, and the stories are all so unique. MyHeritage has had a hand in two of the recent stories, those of Vanya and Alexei D’Ath. I am filming 4 new stories in the U.S. at the moment.
Can you tell us about a story you worked on that touched you particularly deeply?
An interview that has stood out to me was probably one of the earliest ones I did, with a guy called Alexei:
This was the first story I did. Alexei was born in Ukraine and placed in an orphanage in Russia. He was then adopted by his New Zealand family at a later age. He has had a lot of health difficulties, but his outlook on life is incredible. We are aiming to try and get him to meet his birth family down the line. He thinks they have gone to Poland, but we are still working on this progress for the next part of his story.
What role has MyHeritage played in your journey?
On a personal level, at the moment, I am trying to find my birth mother’s family, and MyHeritage has been supporting my documentary series to document this process. I have been building my family tree, and I am aiming to get to Kazakhstan to knock on some doors in a few months which will help me find answers for my birth mother.
Here’s the latest installment in the series:
When it comes to An Adoption Story, the online series I’m creating which is shared on I’m Adopted, MyHeritage is helping build those family trees and supporting those adoptees who share their stories who may have missing links. DNA tests for those who have done them will also be shared. But overall the energy that we both share is about connections, so this has been incredibly supportive with what I am doing.
What advice would you have for an adoptee who has been trying to find their birth parents but hasn’t succeeded yet?
I know many stories where this has happened and it’s difficult. Always talk with someone close and hopefully down the line take small steps if you may want to look again. But support is always required. It is hard to take in, but there is never a timeline. Our community always welcomes adoptees, whether they are trying to find birth family or not.
Many thanks to Alex for sharing his story and his incredible work with us. Visit his website at imadopted.org, and follow his YouTube channel for more beautiful stories and updates on his own journey.
Applications for the third installment of DNA Quest are open until March 17! If you’re an adoptee searching for your birth family, or searching for a family member who was adopted, you can apply for a free DNA kit here: dnaquest.org
For additional information on using MyHeritage to search for birth parents, see the following articles from the MyHeritage Knowledge Base:
- DNA Testing Guidelines for Finding Birth Parents of Adoptees
- How To Find Birth Parents Who Haven’t Tested DNA
- How to Add Adoptive and Birth Parents to Your Family Tree
The post Supporting Adoptees Through Community: Interview with Alex Gilbert, Founder of I’m Adopted appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.
Source: My Heritage