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Adoptee and parental loss in inter country adoption: generational support for trauma and loss.


Anna is a Filippino adoptee who was raised with a sister who was also adopted. At twenty-one, Anna traced her biological mother and was able to reunite with her and other relatives. In the process of discovering her origins and reconciling pieces of her past Anna navigates adoption loss on many levels: - her adopted sister is not similarly engaged in finding her adoptive relatives - her half siblings have their own loss and shame to navigate - her daughter starts to echo her own questions of loss (would you give me up for adoption?) - birth is a time of pressure to avoid further loss in her adoptive and biological families. Eating disorders and self harm were tools Anna used to help suppress the curiosity and internal conflict, and she discusses how parents can try to explore this with their children, even in the face of resistance. Anna has great insight as she has done the work of deep reflection, has fully immersed herself in the adoption community to deepen her understanding and she is a qualified counsellor and psychosocial recovery coach. She has lots to educate us about on loss, shame, terminology and how to approach an adoption reunion.

00:00 - Start 00:40 - Anna's, the adoptee, wife, parent and counsellor 01:44 - Terminology that triggers adoptees 03:14 - Adoption meetings with birth relatives 05:10 - Cultural questions 07:04 - Terminology after reunifying 08:37 - Unspoken loss and the process of mastering ones identity 11:52 - How adoptive parents can support the process 12:55 - Shame and love is the start 14:00 - Shame and loss for half siblings and balancing the tricky dynamic for all 15:55 - Eating disorders and Self Harm: what parents can do 21:03 - Understanding and acceptance to find boundaries can be misunderstood as moodiness or stubbornness 23:03 - Emotional presence in pregnancy and parenthood 25:50 - A daughters curiosity and echo's of adoption loss 28:36 - Before and after reunification 31:06 - Faith becomes the attachment that grounds one 32:34 - Education and not a one size fits all 33:55 - Keep communicating and sharing


This is Sonia Wagner, representing PCA Families in one of our recordings that capture lived experience and best practice evidence based learning that assist kinship, permanent and adoptive parents/carers in supporting young people. PCA Families has a zero tolerance of child abuse. I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay respect to elders past and present and express our intention to move together to a place of justice and partnership.

Today we are speaking about Intercountry Adoption with Anna Kopeikin. In particular we are exploring loss and what adoptive parents can do to support adoptees.

Anna is a Filippino adoptee residing in Queensland (QLD), Australia. She was raised with a sister who was also adopted. At twenty-one, Anna traced her biological mother and was able to reunite with her, discovering more of her story and past. In the process of discovering her origins and reconciling pieces of her past Anna has now dedicated her life to supporting and helping others impacted by adoption.

Welcome Anna.

00:40 Can you tell us a little more about yourself now – your family and working lives!

Yes - I guess like the condensed version of me. Coming the end of July I’m 34 and I actually had to double check! I’m married almost 10 years (Mark and  I). It’s almost time for long service leave! We have two daughters an 8 year old and a 14 month old. So life is a little busy on the home front! I started a counselling practice last year and more recently I started a role as a psychosocial recovery coach, so that’s the mental health side of the NDIS. That’s the really condensed version!

01:44 One of the first things I would like to discuss is how we create expectations through terminology. We commonly refer to the meeting with birth relatives as a reunion, which implies joining together as a unified whole.  Does that create an expectation or an aspiration that may set one up for failure or success?

I love this talk and consideration around the terminology in the adoption sphere, not necessarily around reunification, because there is wording and language that can be quite triggering. For me I went into it, not necessarily naïve, but I didn’t have any expectations around the reunion. I got into the head space to the point that if I get there, whatever happens is what happens, and if another door is closed to me that is just what it is. But thankfully it wasn’t. So mine was about unravelling everything else. So it’s a good point around approaching reunions as to what happens if it is not successful. What happens if there are more questions rather than there are answers, which is very frequently how it goes. I think the way I approached mine was about being very realistic and mindful of the expectations. So there is a fair bit to balance within that.

03:14 Adoption meetings with birth relatives are emotionally complex and unique to each individual. On one hand a meeting offers completion of the jigsaw and obtaining a sense of accomplishment.  Having reunified with your birth relatives in 2008, can you tell me a little more about that meeting and how relationships have changed over time?

It was monumental at the time. I was 21 and quite young theoretically to do that journey. I did end up going by myself. My parents and adoptive sister were invited but out of circumstances and respect that it was my journey they let me go by myself. I guess I went into it a bit naïve but I think for me it was really just about the grounding around not having expectations. The meeting was really quite lovely and I think it went as smoothly as it could. Things have definitely fluctuated and the dynamics have had their ebb and flow. It’s been tricky coming together with different cultures, and different expectations, so as much as we try and connect, there were so many different barriers developed over the years that made it tricky to keep a consistent healthy dynamic over the years. There has been a lot of pain in my biological mum’s process and her journey that takes its toll on her and how she approaches me and certainly how the family do.

05:10 What led up to the need or importance of learning about it at that time?

Being adopted by a very white Australian and a very white Englishman, it was always very distinct that I was adopted and I don’t think I would have had any inclination about hiding it. It was always at the forefront and stating the obvious: this is my adopted Mum and Dad. They have always been loving and supportive. It was just not possible for them to be part of that reunion process.

Always knowing and being quite distinctly adopted, for me there was always that sense of why, what happened, a sense of curiosity and we are meaning making human beings so we are always looking for a narrative to that degree, so I was always more vocal about it than my adopted sister.  So that was quite a big difference. For me not necessarily having someone that I could go to and talk about it because we were both adopted. For me it was tricky juggling that aspect of rejection too.  For me it was about always being curious. 

07:04 I am interested in how you refer to your birth relatives now that you have met them? There are so many descriptions: birth mother, half brother/sister, adoptive mum, bio mum. How did you manage all of those titles and what resonates for you?

Because I have been so used to it, such as identifying initially by introducing this is my adopted Mum and Dad, so that people immediately understood, that was just natural in my adoption upbringing. Ive met my biological mother and some of her relatives. It was really lovely because when I met her she said you can call me Mama Lita, her name is Manulita, so it was a mini nickname variation of her nickname. So there was no pressure around calling her Mama and it didn’t have to become awkward and stiled. So that came about organically. Her children definitely call her Mum. So it was a way of being accepted without pressure to connect. So having a nickname vs a title definitely helped.

08:37 What about the unspoken loss that extended families and some of our listeners may be unfamiliar with?  Today adoptive families are more familiar with loss and trauma, however, that may not extend to the extended adoptive family or friends or acquaintances, or even birth relatives. 

Traumatic loss of one’s identity and attachment can impact gravely on the need to feel empowered, secure, valued and connected.  Mastery and control are an important part of the process of recovery from trauma and are achieved through adapting, learning, self awareness and forgiving. I expect you did this as you became a counsellor as you strike me as someone that has done the work and looked inwards on a deeper level to identify who you are and what’s important.  Can you tell me about that process and what could help others in your situation.

That’s a massive process, even if you aren’t adopted. Everyone brings their own stuff. The phrase that few people get out of life without any trauma. As an adoptee and my nature has always been quite curious and Ive loved doing the internal process. I’m also kind of mindful when its externalised. Its kind of, doing the counselling degree was incredbile. It happened through this process of wanting to be involved in the adoption community after the reunion aspect. A bit of perfectionism and wanting to do my best so I thought if I want to be involved I want to equip myself. So I began studying counselling. I would joke with my husband that even if I don’t get a job it will be the best therapy ever. It was tough. I heard the quote that its like open heart surgery without the anaesthetic. When you do that introspective process its massive and the deeper you go the more enriching it is but the tougher it is. Unearthing the adoption issues, the grief, the trauma. All of it. I paced myself, finding a balance. Finding safe and intelligent people to do that with is a key aspect as well. Its still ongoing, so give it a few more hours or a few more years and I will get through another layer. By no means have it under wraps as yet. It’s life long.

11:52 Are there things adoptive families can do to support that journey?

It’s a tough question. There is so much more awareness and resources available if you know the right search words and the right people to connect with. It depends on your family too. If you are genuinely open to understanding it comes over time. I see some adoptive families doing really well and others struggling and reaching out. But every family is different.

12:55 Was your adoptive family a big part of that process

One of my big scars is shame, so I do a lot of my processing internally. It still bothers my husband that I need to process internally. He will say what is going on and I will say I don’t know Im still processing. My adoptive family made efforts but given the time and the era we went through adoption, it was love will fix everything, but we know now that love is the beginning, not the sum total of it.

14:00 Do you think that there is understanding in the community about the loss that birth relatives also experience – what I refer to as the hidden loss – that someone loses while others gain and that happy endings take lots of work?

Not as much. There is a lot more awareness and understanding out there but even in different cultures there are differences in the tint and shade to it. For my biological family and our dynamic for example. I have an older half-sister and older half-brother and they would have been 5 and 7 when I came about. My younger sister was quite happy to engage with me, because I think she would have had limited memories of the dynamic. My older brother was a bit more withdrawn because he would have been more familiar with the behind the scenes that played out. They have had layers of loss as a siblings. So no doubt they would have their own internal process to work through in their family dynamic, let alone with me on the outskirts.  When I met my younger half-brother who would have had no clue and was brought up in a different family dynamic again he was quite sweet and innocent to the broader picture. So having so many different angles even within our family dynamic was tricky.

15:55 You mentioned that you suffered from eating disorders and self harm and that despite your adoptive parents exploring this subtly, as they knew something wasn’t quite right, that you kept quiet. 

We know that many practices like scratching, burning, hair pulling, eating or restricting eating to the point of discomfort, and other forms of self-injury, serve a purpose for dealing with internal conflict.  The pain helps numb the emotional pain and provides temporary relief in controlling the environment. 

There is more awareness around this now as a result of the pandemic where we are seeing increasing numbers of teens experiencing such mental health disorders as they turn to these behaviours to control their environment amidst lockdowns and constant changes that are not within their own control.  Even today with all the information sharing I think it’s still very hard for parents to identify the signs.

What were the more obvious signs that could have been explored or identified that you were experiencing?

I was that painful child that would suppress a lot. So I think even if my parents were equipped and resourced I would still be on shut down and not really be able to articulate what was going on internally. Im really bad at asking for help. Ive never formally engaged in professional services around it. It wasn’t until I went to Uni and multiple lecturers and psychologists reading my papers or reports would say to me by the way you know what you went through is quite severe and have you ever unpacked that? I would say what do you mean that’s just normal and dismiss it.

It depends on what groundwork you have done with your children. If you assure them from the youngest age that there is nothing off limits to talk about.

If parents get the inclination that something is a bit off do the check in and its not just about oh how was your day or I’ve noticed this. But spend the time and effort to ask what was the meaning behind that? If you get resistance go with the conversation and ask is there a reason why we can’t have this conversation? Is there someone else you can talk to about this? It’s so easy to go ok we tried we asked.  I think parents are mindful of not interrogating children and pushing them away. If you can find a way to go with the resistance. Depending on what might be picked up on and depending on the personality and other factors.

For me it was putting it in a report and getting busted at Uni.  It wasn’t until I had people that exude safety and responsibility and wisdom around the deep heavy stuff. It was the brokenness that I tried to hide that I finally had people and places to dissect that with.

21:03: One of the things I am interested in is the idea of loss and how that impacts on your life.  You have indicated you were encouraged to meet birth relatives and that you grew up understanding you were adopted.  You also talk about feeling overwhelmed in first meeting your extended adoptive family and at times being estranged from your extended family.  Were you able to acknowledge those core issues with your adoptive family and clarify your feelings and forgive decisions or mistakes made along the way?

It’s been tricky there have been attempts. I have done enough of my own journey that I realise that I can’t expect others to be as open minded as I have been. It’s also not my responsibility to teach them and educate them or develop an understanding or relationship. Im not going to force it. Im at an age and stage where I don’t want to do superficiality. I want to be authentic. I know that sometimes that’s a prickly aspect of me. What may be seen as moodiness or stubbornness is actually part of me saying this is my boundary. Some people can accept that and some cant. No family is perfect. My adoptive family are beautiful but there is only so much I can share and have validated and I am quite content in that.

23:03 You also mention in your podcast with Intercountry Adoptee and Family Support Services (ICAFSS) that you were less emotionally present in your first pregnancy.  I can relate but on a different level – not knowing how wonderful it is until you have your newborn. You also mention this pressure to get it right – right so that reexperiencing loss would not be reexperienced by both your adoptive and birth relatives.  That must have been overwhelming. How did you manage that and get support for yourself and those around you?

At the time it was a blur, it was a lovely blur. With a newborn your brain is already scrambling. There was a lot of that. I think I am inbuilt to just get through. Like survival mode because of that background of childhood trauma. I thought just get through and I will do the reflective process later. I try and give my children now so much more than I had, which is a natural process as a parent. Just doing the journey of parenthood with additional layers.

As much as my abilities that can achieve that without loss, without sounding paranoid. In Queensland we have Intercountry Adoptive Families of Queensland, which is a community group that we linked into, so that our children could be a bit more involved to see different intercultural families. So not exactly looking for professional support, but being more involved so they would see and do life alongside other families, that weren’t typically how people fronted as “normal” families.

25:50 You also mention the curiosity of your daughter and the challenge of answering her questions that relate to why or why not you don’t look the same as your adoptive parents.  It seems that there is more than just a triad of acknowledgement of loss, as you are now experiencing your daughters understanding of your loss and her own awareness of her own.  What resources or supports do we need to be making available to help other adoptees or adoptive parents with this process?

Our oldest is now 8 and when she was 5 and starting to vocalise curiosity she picked up that my husband, her Dad, who is Russian looks like his parents, so she was asking why do you look different to Nan and Grandad, but you look like your sister (Philippino adopted sister). So watching that unravel, she had questions around “so if I’m part Philippine, why can’t I be born in the Philippines”? Her curiosity delved into “why don’t you know your birth Dad”? “Are you going to give me up”? So it was like an echo from my childhood. So having to echo that back and sit in that was not what I expected from my 5 year old.

Being part of the wider adoptive community with beautiful friends from different countries has given her exposure to non-typical nuclear families. Certainly on my husbands side, to have that diversity is a blessing. The world we live in has so many cultures and we didn’t want to shelter my children from that. To have them seeing other families doing life is a bit more grounding.

28:36 I wonder if we could talk about who you are before and after reunifying with your birth relatives? Has that changed you and if so how?

It feels like a lifetime ago now. I was 21 when I went over and that was 21 years of asking questions and for the majority of that I was doing that internally.  I think I was a bit delayed in as far as developing an identity in terms of saying hey this is who Anna is. And that has changed since I got married and became a mum. I realise identity to me is not a set solid presentation. It is something that I will continually work on and develop.

Prior to the reunion I was a lot more, (not sure of the right word)  perhaps young, immature. It was a great experience and if there are adoptees that are able to go and visit their birth country it is a great experience.  I think that was something at the time that I could immerse myself in.  That was a pivotal point in broadening my appreciation.

Post reunion it took me a long time to process what happened. It was like a delayed reaction. It was a very compacted 10 days and quite intense that took me almost 10 years to unravel. It’s been a massive transition as you can only imagine. The relationship that has changed and adapted with my biological family has had a huge impact. Would culture actually solve issues being an adoptee?. Not necessarily. I am very grateful to find and meet my biological family. There are adoptees that would almost kill to have that experience.  I can accept the answers I do have and accept the answers I don’t have. It’s built my gratitude and acceptance in general.

31:06 You have mentioned a few times that it is your faith that has helped you. Can you tell me a little more about your faith and how that supports you?

It wasn’t until recently I could actually articulate that my first attachment was my faith in God. There was always this grounding that there was more to life than just the here and now. The fact that I was brought up in a Christian household, we always had that Christian influence. Although we didn’t go to a traditional Church institution until I was 14 years old. Being slowly introduced to the Church organisation but always having a faith. Being an internal processor I had time to challenge that and develop it for myself. It is certainly something that has anchored me through everything that has happened and being introspective it seemed so much more grounding to have that faith there.

32:34 If you had a clean slate and could create a World in which adoptions occur, what are the supports or changes you would put in place?

In a perfect world we would have perfect Government, perfect families and people but that’s far from reality. We have nuclear families, adoptive families doing the best they can. My adoptive beginnings were because my biological mother made several attempts to abort me. So I am certainly someone that appreciates that adoption is a viable possibility when its done with the best possible practices. Developing education and resources around it, conversations like today, developing as much community awareness. I think we are starting to. Will it ever be perfect, no? If people can have an open mind about it that’s a good start.

33:55 Is there anything else we need to discuss and open up communication on that you may not have mentioned today?

I love that there are so many online resources. For the generation coming through, how often do we find ourselves googling something or looking up online. There is so much information out there and resources, so much more that since my adoptive parents had us. I think keep building on that.  It’s a tricky space because there are so many resources.  But it is about which one is more applicable or relevant and there is not a one size fits all to that information. So its about putting as much relevant information together as possible and putting that out there. It’s a process.


To anyone making the time to listen to this recording, thankyou for giving up your valuable time for the benefit of the young people in your life. 

If you are a kinship or permanent carer or parent needing help or support please contact PCA Families 03 9020 1833. 

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Until next time have an amazing week.



Australian Institute of Health and Welfare - Adoptions

Adopt Change Organisation - Adoption

Intercountry Adoption Australia

Intercountry Adoptee Voices

Relationships Australia - Intercountry Adoptee and Family Support Service

Raising Adopted Children

Vanish – Victorian Adoption Network for Information and Self Help


ICAFSS Relationship Matters Podcast: Anna Kopeikin – Filipina – Australian Adoptee

Intercountry Adoptee Voices