I can’t remember how old I was when Rose and Roy told me, but from as far back as I can remember, I’ve always known I was adopted. To be fair, I don’t think I really understood what it meant. I just know that it was something that happened when I was a baby.
Rose and Roy had been living in the Philippines for a few years doing some missionary work and I suppose they believed that adopting foreign children would be a good idea and make them look better to their Christian organization. Roy's from the UK and Rose is South African. They had adopted my older brother five years before me and always had the desire for a big family.
When they decided to adopt another child, they took my brother with them to the orphanage and asked him who he would like as a little sister. He ran up to me and said, “This one, I want her to be my sister.” I don’t remember much about our time in the Philippines: I only have vague memories and can really only go off of photos. I spent most of my time with my nanny – who I loved dearly – and the rest of the time, I spent with our dog.
We left the Philippines when I was just three and the family was moved to the UK. However, we didn’t spend much time there and very shortly after, we moved on to Canada. I don’t have many memories of speaking about adoption. I knew it upset my brother quite a bit, and maybe that’s why we never spoke more about it. He always seemed to be angry, and whenever the word “adoption” was mentioned, he would explode. I couldn’t understand that reaction, as I didn’t really have any feelings about it.
I can’t say I had the happiest childhood, and most of it I blocked out. I spent a lot of time alone in my closet. I couldn’t take the fighting that went on in our house. Once in a while memories come back to me, but for the most part, most of it’s a blur.
When I think back now, I find it quite strange that we didn’t speak more about adoption. I don’t really remember talking about how anything made us feel. Rose and Roy always would say, “You’re too young to know how you feel.” or, “God wants us to do this, so it’s right.” And being that young, I went along with it. I figured feelings weren’t something I had the right to feel.
Happier times: Anastasia, her brother and adoptive parents, Rose and Roy
I didn’t notice for years that I had a different skin color to everybody else in their family. To me, we were all the same skin color. I can’t even remember the first time it was brought to my attention that my brother and I were different. It’s interesting how no one is born racist, or born judging others because they look different; it’s something that’s taught. Unfortunately, it took years in the adopted “family” for everyone to show their true colors, and see that racism is actually quite big. It ultimately became the dividing factor in their family.
We did a lot of moving around when I was younger, and because they had a lot of family in South Africa, we spent a fair amount of time there as well. I don’t remember too much racism when I was younger; it wasn’t till I was older that it started to become apparent.
As I mentioned earlier, as Rose and Roy are missionaries, we started moving around a lot, which meant moving countries quite often. That also meant leaving behind our friends, our animals, our schools… our whole lives. It was something that I hated so much, but I had to get used to.
“I didn’t notice for years that I had a different skin color to everybody else in their family. To me, we were all the same skin color.”
Deep inside I started to become angry and resentful. All I wanted was a family, a real family, and one that stayed in one place long enough to have a real life. I started to see why my brother was so angry all the time. It wasn’t just the adoption, it was the instability, the never knowing, the rejection from the family.
By the time I was 11, we had been living in South America for a few years, and I was beyond miserable. I had never wanted to leave Canada, but like everything else, I was told I was too young to know how I felt about leaving everything behind.
By this point, Rose and I didn’t get along whatsoever. She would get so frustrated with me for small things, and take it all out on me. She would often tell me she wished she had never adopted me, or that she isn’t surprised that I was given up for adoption. She even went as far to say that if she ever committed suicide, it would be my fault.
That’s when I started really resenting the fact that I'd been adopted. Rose would always combat what she said by telling me I should be grateful to her because life in the Philippines would be a million times worse. At that point, I doubted it so much and said I would prefer to die on the streets there with my biological family than be in the same house as her.
Andy, Anastasia's birth father
It wasn’t till I was about 17 that my brother told me the reason Rose hated me so much. Roy had cheated on her with my nanny; the nanny I was so close to. In the end we left the Philippines because of that, but Rose and Roy decided to stay together. That’s when Rose started to take it out on me.
We finally moved back to Canada after five years in Central and South America. Aside from the culture shock I went through, and the fighting at home, I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I didn’t understand what was going on in my life. I was miserable from Rose, and all I wanted was the pain to go away. I was diagnosed with PTSD at a young age, and no one knew how to help me as they had never heard of someone so young living through such violence.
I kept it all inside, because the more I spoke, the worse it made it at home. I started drinking and using drugs at 13: I just wanted everything to end and constantly hearing about how I screwed up everything by being adopted didn’t help. Every day that I had to see Rose made me hate my life even more and resent the fact that I was adopted.
I just wanted my mother. My real one. I didn’t care if she had no money or lived in a shack: at least I’d be able to be with her. I couldn’t understand why they gave me up. All the anger inside started to turn to rage. I started to believe everything Rose said to me; started to see myself as not good enough for anyone and that no one would ever want me. But in the same breath, I wouldn’t say anything because she always told me that I should just be grateful. But for what exactly?
“Every day that I had to see Rose made me hate my life even more and resent the fact that I was adopted. I just wanted my mother. My real one.”
I can’t remember how old I was the first time Rose and Roy went back to the Philippines, or if it was that they contacted the orphanage I was from and they were sent information. Either way, I remember one day being handed some papers with no explanation, no talking about how I felt. It was all the information on my biological family. It broke my heart once again and left me with even more questions than before.
My biological parents are Andy Rumeral and Susan Miguel. They had me when they were really young. My dad was 13 and my mum was 15. They had seven kids together and then my mum left my dad, married someone else, and had four more children.
My sister Sandy and I, we’re the oldest. It really hurt me a lot when I saw that I had a twin sister, and that I was the one given up for adoption. Why me? Why didn’t they keep us both? Why did they keep having babies after us? Why wasn’t I good enough to stay?
The paper had all our names and birthdates on it. Things kind of went downhill from there. I would obsess about my family. Every time Rose would say something to me, I would bite my tongue, and inside I would scream at my biological mum for leaving me. I guess it was true; not even my mum wanted me and that piece of paper was proof.
I was kicked out of Roy and Roses’ house when I was 16 and for the next year it was a bit of a tornado. I moved in for a short amount of time with my then boyfriend. Things were really great when I wasn’t living with him, and when I moved into his place, life did a complete 180. He turned into the biggest monster I had ever met. All of a sudden my nightmares became a reality.
I just wanted out, but had nowhere to go. Roy would come and pick me up once in a while and it was as if he had turned a blind eye. I clearly had bruises and black eyes, and he would never bat an eyelash. It was as if he didn’t want to be confronted with reality, so I played along.
“It really hurt me a lot when I saw that I had a twin sister, and that I was the one given up for adoption. Why me? Why didn’t they keep us both?”
Eventually the beatings and raping from my boyfriend became too much for me. By this point he'd threatened my life a few times and I was so afraid I just left. I couldn’t go back to Rose and Roy’s house as they didn’t want me there, so the next few months became living for myself.
I bounced around from various shelters, to the street. I would usually stay the amount of time allowed in a shelter, sleep on the street a few nights, go to another shelter and so on. I met a lot of different people in that time: there were a lot of really difficult times, but there were also a lot of really happy times.
When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose (or so I thought). Roy told me years later he didn’t mind me living on the street, because at least he knew he could always find me. He would make it a point to find me once a week for food. Other than that I relied on busking, dumpster diving, and shelters.
In fact, it was while living on the street that I found out I was pregnant. Not what I imagined or what I hoped for. I realised I had to get off the street, but had nowhere to go. How could I have a baby? I was only 16 and on the run from my ex. The police had been involved various times but they couldn’t do much, and as I lived on the street, there wasn’t too much they could do to protect me.
I was always asked why I didn’t have an abortion or put my baby up for adoption. Both options had gone through my mind. I did have an abortion booked, but when they did the ultrasound to see how far along I was, I saw my baby on the screen. I could see this little alien-looking bean moving around; I could see the form of fingers and toes. I couldn’t go through with it.
Susan: Anastasia's birth mother
I then looked into the option of adoption. I had the family picked out, and the paperwork ready. The day I went to sign the last bit of paperwork, the lady at the centre asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this. She knew what I had gone through and my feelings of being adopted. She told me that ultimately it was my choice but that she wanted to make sure that I was really positive this is what I wanted to do.
She left the room for a minute and left me sitting there. How could I do this to my child? Did I really want her to feel what I felt? It isn’t her fault. I ripped up the paperwork and walked out. I knew I had to change my life, but there was a part of me didn’t really care.
I was usually on the run from the father of my child, and was still using quite a lot of drugs and drinking heavily. It seemed to make my situation better. I lived on the streets and in shelters until I was about seven months pregnant. The government eventually housed me. It wasn’t till I was about eight months pregnant that I decided to get clean. By that point my doctor had told me I needed to brace myself for a child with disabilities. I gave birth on 8 November 8, 2001, to a very healthy baby girl. She far surpassed the doctors’ expectations. But I can’t say that I was thrilled. I was only 16; still a child myself.
Being a mum to my daughter wasn’t easy at all. I had never wanted children, I didn’t see the point in having them. And as my daughter was a result of rape, I didn’t bond with her. Every time I looked at her, I saw him. It took me years to see her as a true gift. I tried hard to love her, and when I really struggled, I would remember what I felt like being rejected by my parents, and that would help me a bit more.
“How could I do this to my child? Did I really want her to feel what I felt? It isn’t her fault. I ripped up the paperwork and walked out.”
When I was 18, I gave birth to my other daughter. I didn’t even know how to be a mother, I didn’t even know what a mother was. To me, a mother, was someone that rejected her children, or told them ugly things and made them feel unwanted. Did I want that for my children? Did I even deserve to have children? These are questions that have haunted me for years. Not so much anymore, but definitely as I was growing up with my kids. I still don’t fully understand what a mother is, and perhaps I never will.
It wasn’t till I was 18 that my adopted parents went back to the Philippines. They'd asked me before they left if I wanted to find out more info about my family. I told them it wasn’t necessary but if they happened to find anything out, that was fine too. They came back with an envelope, handed it to me and left. It had a letter from my natural dad, photos of my parents, my brothers and sisters, and an address of a family member that lived in the US.
I can’t explain what went through my head as I was looking through the photos. I was a part of her and a part of him, and yet I knew nothing about them. There in front of me, were photos of my brothers and sisters, all together. Why were they all together, and I was on the other side of the world? I stared at those photos for hours, so much went through my head. I don’t think I even cried, I was just so amazed and yet disgusted.
Anastasia and her two daughters, Mariah and Thalya Rayne
I saw the letter from my dad: yellow paper with green lines and messy handwriting. I had waited for this my whole life. I finally had something in my hands from my dad. It took me a few days to open it. I was terrified of what I might read inside. When I finally did, I think I started crying even before starting it.
“My daughter…” that’s how it started. How could he call me his daughter? He didn’t even know me. He was the one that gave me up. YOU GAVE ME UP, YOU CAN’T CALL ME YOUR DAUGHTER NOW. He spoke about how he regretted giving me away, how it was my mother who did it, how he would do anything to have me back. He said he'd been looking for me for years, but didn’t know where to search. All he knew was that I had been adopted into a white family and left for a better life.
A better life? How would you know? You don’t know what it’s been like. You can’t act like all of a sudden I matter to you. He asked me about my life, about my children, about my adopted “parents”. He just kept telling me he loved me and asking me for forgiveness. How does that work? I don’t even know you, you can’t suddenly come into my life and write me all these things and think it’s going to be better. I hate you.
He'd left his address and also a contact for one of my cousins in the Philippines. He said that my cousin was the one that wrote most of the letter as my dad doesn’t speak much English. I didn’t do anything for about a year, I didn’t know what to say to him. I didn’t know how to feel. I was so hurt by this point.
I finally worked up enough courage to get ahold of my cousin. It all happened fairly quickly. It seemed like one day he was just a man I knew I was apart of, and the next day, I was waiting to speak to him for the first time. This was way back when we had Yahoo messenger for video calling.
I’ll never forget that day. It was about 02:00 a.m. in Canada. Everyone had gone to bed and I didn’t want to turn on my webcam. I knew on the other side was Andy, the man that was biologically my father. I took a deep breathe, closed my eyes and turned it on.
When I opened them, there he was. He had a big smile on his face and eyes filled with tears. “My daughter” was the first thing out of his mouth. I didn’t move a muscle: I don’t think I even took a breath. There he was. I had waited 20 years, and there he was.
My cousin was sitting beside him and I don’t think he knew what to say either. My dad just started to say “I love you, I love you, my daughter, Rodelia.” He kept calling me my birth name, which makes sense, as he had no idea they had changed my name.
It was a really powerful experience. I had no idea what to say; I didn’t want to say anything, I just wanted to stare at him and for him to speak to me. I just wanted to hear his voice. I didn’t care that he couldn’t speak English. I just wanted my dad to hold me. The video chats became a weekly thing. I would chose a couple of nights a week, and “speak” with my dad and cousin online. Most of the time it was just me sitting there crying, and staring at him, but it was just the fact that he was there, and I could see him.
Sandy: the twin sister Anastasia had trouble forgiving
However, I was also drinking a lot at this time. I loved seeing him, but also hated it. I felt dead inside. This went on for about six months. I thought I was coping well with it. And then one day, I exploded. What the hell was this? He can’t be out of my life for 20 years and then just suddenly come into it and think this is all OK. That’s not how it works. And just as quickly as it started, I ended it.
I didn’t want to talk to them anymore. I didn’t want to hear anything about him. Any of them. I tried to block it all out, and for years I wouldn’t speak of them. I suddenly understood why my brother was always so angry. I started drinking a lot and taking opiods. Anything to numb how I felt inside. Almost everything I did, I was completely high.
In my head, I was a better mother while high. I would laugh more and didn’t feel so dead inside. My life became consumed with numbing the pain I felt. I gave my children everything. I didn’t want them to know what it was like to feel like I felt. I gave them everything, except a lot of affection. I loved my children, I gave them hugs, I cuddled them, but from a distance. I didn’t baby them.
“He can't be out of my life for 20 years and then just suddenly come into it and think this is all OK. That's not how this works.”
Eventually my niece and my partner’s son was also living with us. We had a full house of children: exactly what I didn’t want in life. As hard as it was, I gave all those children the love I felt I never had. But how could I, if I didn’t love myself? After a year of all these children, I eventually gave my niece back to my brother, and my step son went back to his mother. I really struggled as a mother. I loved my children, and always made sure to tell them that, but I didn’t know how to love.
I struggled with addiction for years. It eventually got so bad that I went to rehab. My body had become so physically dependent on alcohol, my organs were failing, and I was drinking to die. I prayed that every sip I took would kill me, that I wouldn’t wake up. And every time I would wake up, I would be so angry. My doctors had already told me when I was 20 that I wouldn’t live to see 30 if I didn’t get my addiction under control… but I didn’t care. I wanted the pain to end. What would it matter anyways?
Rehab helped change my life. If it wasn’t for that one year away, I wouldn’t be alive today. It was by far the hardest year of my life, but so worth it. It took a few years even after rehab to be “OK” with being sober.
When I was about 28, I had another life-changing event. It was early in the morning and my phone kept going off. It was notifications from Facebook. I didn’t recognize the name, and logged on. All I remember reading was “sis, it’s me, your younger sis. I’m with mom. She want say hi [sic].” I froze. Who are you? What do you mean, you’re my sister? When I looked at her photo, I recognized her from the photos I had. I responded right away and said I wanted to speak to my mom. She said OK and gave me her Skype name.
“My body had become so physically dependent on alcohol, my organs were failing, and I was drinking to die.”
I sat on my bed in the dark. I called my partner and told him I was about to speak with my mum for the first time and that I was scared. I sat in my bed, crying, for about half an hour before turning on my computer. This again. I had been waiting for this moment for 28 years.
I turned on my camera and waited for hers to come on. When it finally came on, there were about 15 people sitting down, all smiling and waving at me: I knew none of them were my mom. And then suddenly I saw her. She was sitting in the middle of everyone. Not smiling, not waving, just sitting there.
I burst into tears, and so did she. I just said, “Mama, I need you.” I didn’t care that she couldn’t speak English. She was my mother. She was the woman that could make everything all better. She just kept saying “I love you, I’m so sorry. I love you.” And then I just started asking her “WHY?” WHY ME?” “WHAT DID I DO TO YOU?”
Rhea: Anastasia's little sister
My little sister then had to step in and translate for me. The first thing she asked me was if I had seen my adoption papers. I said I had. She said that she never signed them, that she didn’t know about the adoption until I was already in the orphanage and someone else wanted to adopt me.
She told me to look and tell me if her signature was there, or if it was a fingerprint. I already knew it was a fingerprint. It was his fingerprint. She said that on the third piece of paper, it’ll show that she didn’t know about the adoption until a few months later.
My parents hadn’t been living together, and my mum was in and out of the hospital, so it was quite normal for things like this to happen. Quite normal? I don’t know what it was inside of me that told me she was telling the truth. But somehow her story made a lot more sense then the one my dad had told me.
I stared at my mum on the screen for about two hours. Just listened to her sing to me. Ask me questions. Look at me. This was my mum. The lady that gave me life. The lady I loved, and yet didn’t know why. The lady I also blamed for not knowing how to love my own children. The lady that brought me into this world, but also felt like she took my life from me. She eventually had to go, and we hung up. That was the last time I spoke to her.
I sat there completely numb. I didn’t know how to feel at this point. I couldn’t numb myself even more with any kind of substance. Like most things, I put it to the side, and kept on going. I don’t know why that was the last time I spoke to my mom. I wasn’t angry at her. I was extremely hurt. It brought up even more questions, but I didn’t feel towards her like I do with my dad.
“I stared at my mum on the screen for about two hours. Just listened to her sing to me. Ask me questions. Look at me. This was my mum. The lady that gave me life. The lady I loved, and yet didn’t know why.”
I often think about her, all of them. Most of my biological family don’t accept me as one of their own. They all know that I was adopted into a white family, and so to them, I’m a bank account. Ironic how I was adopted into a racist white family, and my biological family doesn’t see me as family as I was adopted into a white family.
It wasn’t until I was 31 that I met Lilly Pretorius. I was in South Africa for an emergency and needed somewhere to stay. She took me in under her wing, and for three weeks stood by my side. She stood up against my adopted “parents” and fought with me.
Lily became my mother; she became the woman that finally loved me for who I was, and cared for me without there being stipulations. She finally gave me unconditional love. We have spoken many times about finding a way for her to legally adopt me. Until that day, I’m just blessed to have her in my life. I’m grateful for the love she shows me and to be able to fall back on her. I never in a million years expected to have a mother figure like her.
I felt like I had one more step in leaving that part of my life behind. I legally changed my name, realizing I didn’t want to have anything to do with Rose and Roy. I wanted my life to be filled with positivity. I was tired of always being told I needed help, that I was exaggerating, that it was always in God's plan. I was tired of the arguing, and feeling worthless.
The day I received my new passport with my new name was one of the best days of my life. It was like a dark chapter had finally closed, and life, my life, could really begin. They were gone. I’ve had to learn to forgive my biological parents for what I felt was abandonment. I don’t know if I’ll ever know the real reason why or who actually made the decision. In some ways I’d prefer to just think they both genuinely had my best interest at heart, but that would be living a lie. I’ve had to learn to be thankful for the life they gave me, and the opportunities I have had. Without them, I wouldn’t be alive today. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to help others.
I’ve had to forgive my biological family for not accepting me as one of their own. We share the same DNA and features, yet because I was adopted into a white family, I am not considered one of them.
I’ve had to forgive my brothers and sisters for being a family, having one another, and having what I’ve always wanted. I had to work through that resentment I’ve held against them all this time, one that they’ve had no idea about. For years they wished they were me; thinking I had it all, that I’m happy, that I have lots of money, and a great life. In reality, they had no idea what I went through and what I felt all these years without them.
“The day I received my new passport with my new name was one of the best days of my life. It was like a dark chapter had finally closed, and life, my life, could really begin.”
I’ve had to learn to forgive my twin sister for being the one they chose to keep and living a life that she may consider poor and disgraceful. I’ve had to learn to be thankful that I have a sister, and not just one, but many. I’ve had to be grateful that after all these years I was able to speak with her and know more about her and her life.
I’ve had to forgive my mum and Rose for not teaching me or showing me a mother’s love. I never knew how to be a mom; I didn’t want to be one. My children both know that I’d do anything for them but that I didn’t find motherhood or parenthood easy. They know that I won’t ever stop fighting for them. They know I love them, I don’t always show it the same way a typical mother might, but I show them in ways they understand. I know I’m by far a great mother, but my kids know that I’ll be there for them, no matter what. I wasn’t a natural born mother, but I was born to be a mother to them.
I’ve had to learn to forgive my dad for giving me away. I’ve had to forgive him for not being that father figure I wanted and needed. I had to forgive him for not being there for me and doing what fathers do with their little girls. I wish he would have warned me about boys, about life, things every little girl wants from her dad.
I’ve had to forgive Roy for being too much like my best friend and not enough like a dad, for never saying ‘no’, and not setting any boundaries. I’ve had to forgive him for cheating on Rose and her taking her anger out on me. I’ve had to forgive him for not believing me when I needed him the most, and for leaving me in situations that a father should be there for his daughter. I’ve had to forgive him for letting me do what I want, when I wanted, and instead of telling me something wasn’t right, encouraging me to keep going.
And, finally, I’ve had to forgive myself for not letting myself be happy, loved, and free. ●
Anastasia Fox is a Barcelona-based freelancer with a passion for life and a willingness to help others.
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