Priyangika Decides To Fight ‘Baby Farms’ When Reunited With Her Biological Mother
- IWB Post
- June 13, 2020
Adoption stories are not rare. Yet, very often we tend to see these in single focus or simplistic frames. These stories are usually about a child finding a secure better home who grows up becoming a confident and endearing individual. But what most of us don’t know are the multiple facets that are attached to every adoption story. What we don’t know is the deep-rooted emotional turmoil that stays for life, the uncertainty, and constant unsettling as adoptees try to find out more about their true biological parents. What we perhaps don’t know, are stories such as of Priyangika Samanthie.
Priyangika Samanthie was adopted when she was seven weeks old. Though born in Sri Lanka, she moved to Norway with her adopted parents immediately after adoption. “I got to know that I was adopted from a very young age. I think I was aware of it from the age of three because I started having meltdowns as I wished to see my mother. I was very angry with my adopted parents because they couldn’t put me in contact with her but they tried to share their stories, pictures, films and they were very supportive and tried to answer every question that I had. They kept repeating stories after stories and tried meeting my needs but it wasn’t enough for me because I had a feeling that something wasn’t right and my soul was seeking her (mother) constantly.”
The only thing that Priyangika heard about her biological mom was that she was a poor single mother who could not have her because of the shame around the pregnancy. “I was presented the story most adoptees are told and in some cases it is true but in my case, it turned out differently,” says Priyangika. As Priyangika pursued the search of her mother, she along the way discovered stories of other adoptees and the adoption racquets that were both an economic and social reality in Sri Lanka. The saddening reality can be heart-wrenching when one thinks about the baby farms (places where babies for adoption were kept) or even orphanages from where the formalities of international adoption played out almost always without the complete knowledge and understanding of the biological parents. The social stigma and poverty made it only worse for mothers, who were often told that the child would be away for only a while. These women were then left bereft, hurt, and helpless when they tried to locate their children with little to no clue about what exactly transpired or the formalities and legalities of adoption rules in different countries. Unfortunately, Priyangika’s mother, Poojani, was also a victim, as quite a few others too, who found themselves caught in this vicious cycle.
In fact, Priyangika’s search for the truth has led to many discoveries and discrepancies in social practices and adoption laws as she now fights the larger battle of making governments and social organizations aware of these inconsistencies. She also hopes to ‘strengthen families’ so that parents do not give up children, either clandestinely, without consent or forcefully succumbing to circumstances.
In spite of setbacks, Priyangika finally managed to locate and meet her biological mother in 2014. Though today Poojani has passed away, Priyangika continues her quest for justice for other adoptees like her. We spoke to Priyangika about her journey, her mother, and the unique bond that she shared with her.
Tell us a bit about your mother. How would you best describe her?
Priyangika: She was someone who sacrificed herself for others. She was very strong-willed when it came to justice, she was always a fighter, a warm lady, a loving grandmother, beautiful, and a roller coaster when it came to emotions because she could love much and hate much as well. She was someone who could do anything in life, she knew her way and she didn’t need anyone to take care of her. She never begged me for money or never asked me to take care of her but I wanted to. I would also describe her as a leader. She was someone who could lead people in the best direction if she had the best direction herself, but she could also bring people over a cliff if she was really angry! But if you could convince her to strongly believe in something and if she strongly believed in it then she would actually practice it very quickly.
It was a long journey for you trying to find your biological mother. But what would you say about the emotions of your mother who was apart from you? Did she ever tell you the challenges she had to face while giving you up for adoption and thereafter?
Priyangika: It was a tough road for my mother from early on when she had to work as a housekeeper just to provide for her family. She had to quit school and she started working for my father’s family. She could tell that he was trying to interact with her and as a woman, she felt guilty having to deal with that. She has told me that it was difficult for her even before they started having a relationship and she felt forced to give him something back because she had feelings for him but that wasn’t enough for him. After she got pregnant it got even worse because he had a family and people started to hit out on each other and she had to live in the consequences of that. And after a while, she got heart disease because of the amount of stress and traumas she had to deal with. She has told me how difficult it was for her to get the right medicine and having to deal with the pain of having to lose me against her will. She has told me that she felt very lonely, abandoned by her family because they were too scared and that during the pregnancy they were just distant.
I am very open-minded and even though I understand she was hurt by being abandoned, I also understand why they were scared and how it must have felt for them to deal with this. That doesn’t make it okay, but I made a choice that I wanted to be supportive of my younger generation so they can break out of this bad cycle of traumas and generational poverty. I could see she was very affected by all of this when it came to the way she interacted with me because she felt that she had abandoned me and had given up looking for me after a while. It looked like it was eating her up, that she was rotting inside and she was out of control emotionally after a while. She was looking for me for 10 years and no one was supporting her in that period. It was difficult for her to be constantly told that she was no longer my guardian and she could not get the information that she wanted along with facing the fact that she had been fooled. She was affected emotionally and that is also one of my biggest fights for the future that we start thinking how this affects our women and mothers and the consequences they have to face during pregnancy and in the long run. Not only psychological but there is also the physical aspect of it. She had to stop breastfeeding and they had to give pills to stop her milk. It’s inhuman to listen to a mother who has given birth, dealt with pregnancy, tried to get back to her senses and who had to go to an orphanage right after giving birth to give me up for adoption instead of coming home and being taken care of and celebrating a new life.
Was there any difference in your feelings or emotions towards your biological mother while you were looking for her and when you finally met her?
Priyangika: I was very curious about her and how she would interact with me. I imagined her like those ‘aunties’ who love cooking, their homes are always open, are so loving and kind and full of laughter and spirit, and hardworking. The image that I had was of Asian mothers being absolutely amazing. But when I met her I started to realize that her traumas were overshadowing her personality and had made her angry and bitter inside and all of those emotions came out when I came home. She felt like she could trust me with it and instead of her interacting with me as a mother in all aspects, she was also leaning on me. So instead of me finding a strong beautiful mother who was able to take care of me and welcoming me back home, I had to deal with a mother who was affected mentally and was bitter and didn’t even acknowledge me. Many times she would say ‘go to hell’ or ‘you should have never come’ but I just knew that it was the trauma speaking and she wanted me to come closer. I had to be patient and be in it. It takes a lot of you to love someone and realize that you love every part of them. And it’s the bad parts that are going to shine the most because she simply hasn’t used the good parts in a very long time and no one has encouraged that part of her. Everyone would speak down to her and she always had to defend herself. And because I have been so aware of this my whole life, I was able to be patient and faithful, but I think this is a path where adoptees are a bit naïve and are not prepared for it.
What were the practical and emotional challenges that both of you faced after the reunion? How did you both cope with them?
Priyangika: After we were reunited there was a lot to deal with. I had a lot of emotions inside that I wasn’t aware of and needed to feel because I actually hadn’t been crying for almost 10 years till I met my mother. I was struggling to show emotions and cry because I was really traumatized by not being around her. I think I was more shocked about all the emotions I felt and I felt helpless dealing with them because I felt I didn’t have the right tools to deal with it. So I isolated myself and felt every emotion and I would sit and write. I remember I recorded myself on videos and just tried to deal with it. My mother was dealing with a lot of emotions, strongly loving me sometimes and strongly hating me along the way at times, too. Every single emotion she felt she would put it on me so I had to be strong for both of us for many years. Just trying to speak to her, showing her love and support was difficult sometimes because I could sit and speak to her for one hour and we could really bond and connect on our emotional path, and the next day she would speak to me like I wasn’t there for her. It was hard for us to get closure. But I think we have dealt with it mostly by recreating a bond by just accepting the truth and being realistic and we understood at an early stage that it would require love from both of us to create this bond.
In the short time that you spent with your mother what are the things you learned from her?
Priyangika: I have learned from her that the number of people that believe in you will not be the reason why you succeed. It is your own strength and aim to find justice and fight for it that will help you find success. She has been inspiring me to be a woman who is willing to sacrifice her own reputation for a bigger cause. She to me is a goddess! She has dealt with all these traumas and showed me love and a different perspective of life in her own way. She has been so consistent in trying to be kinder to me even if she was in a position where she was not able to look after herself. She has shown me that you can start over even if you don’t have the tools for it and I am speaking from the perspective of a woman who has been sleeping in bus stands, who has been working on the streets, having to deal with life in the toughest way possible and yet, she had a sense of humor, she was a kind lady who looked after people. Yes, she was angry but I have learned that you can use the anger as a drive instead. What I really admire about her is that she was strong-headed and not someone you could pick on and tell what to do. She knew what was right and wrong and she followed her heart. She would try to inform you along the way and bring you along but if you didn’t agree with her she would still continue alone and I needed to understand that. She told me to be the leader of the crowd and to show them the right direction.
Also, many adoptees, we are so angry and passionate and we want justice and we want it today. But my mother taught me that she had been fighting for her own life for 20 years and no one believed in her. When I got back she explained to me that if I was going to cry, it would be on my own behalf, but if I fight on this path then I was fighting for someone else and in this way, I could heal my own heart, too. She was always making me see the big picture and asking me to focus on my goal. She has helped me view life from a higher perspective. She has also shown me how a grandmother should be! She has been an amazing grandmother and that’s the type of grandmother that I want to be to my children’s children one day.
How did your adoptive parents help and support your search for your biological mother?
Priyangika: My adoptive father helped me write the first letter when I was seeking a reunion and I was contacting all the authorities in Norway to get my papers and my documents. They also started to have conversations with me around the dinner table preparing me for different scenarios. Having my adopted parents as a support system at the back of my mind, having them a phone call away, being able to speak to them about this, them knowing every single detail and just acknowledging my feelings along the way has been very helpful and they are absolutely amazing human beings. I cannot imagine myself as an adoptee mom where I would have to deal with the situations that I created as a child in my upbringing. But they dealt with it and never said any word that made me feel that I was not a part of the family or not wanted. They have always made me feel wanted in the family. I was always in their face, cursing them, telling them they kidnapped me, etc., but they always responded with love, grace, and mercy. That’s something I really admire about them, they are incredible people.
You are working to help many other children find their biological parents in Sri Lanka. What are some of the reasons that many parents had to give up their children for adoption? Did your mother also help you to identify these reasons?
Priyangika: It’s a difficult scenario to explain because if it wasn’t for poverty it might be even lesser, and the cases would be related to violence, traumas, child outside marriage, etc. Sometimes babies are sold off for adoption or just given to an orphanage. Most of the time the mothers are convinced that the child is going to come back or they have been told that they will live there for a while and then they will get them back. So it’s a scenario where it’s not willingly done, but they had to give the child up for someone to support it. The traders or traffickers made a business of this and in most cases, the biological parents have been forced, helpless or even fooled. So it’s not just black and white. These are desperate situations with strong beautiful people who have been taken advantage of, this a broken system and this is some part of our post-colonial history that our own local people are taking advantage of. Giving up the child for adoption because of poverty is not a willing decision, because if the parents had the financial support they would not give up the child for adoption. I indirectly see it as against their will or they are not in a position where they can actually make an emotional choice. Also, the lack of information that they receive also affects the parents. Most of the parents do not know what they are going into or are not given the correct information. So a lot of information is missed, lost in translation or not given at all, because the traders and traffickers know that the parents will simply not give the child for adoption if they knew. I find it very disturbing that our mothers and fathers have no idea about their own rights and are taken advantage of. I, however, do hope to see a better system for supporting families, not only financially but a system where you can strengthen a family within the society. A foster care system instead of adopting children abroad or within the country is a better option.
What suggestions or ideas would you give to make sure that women like your mother are well taken care of by the government or society so that a family doesn’t have to go through such turmoil?
Priyangika: I think governments, activists in different countries and lawyers, or whoever can be supportive and come up with plans, laws, and solutions, should be involved. There has to be a stronger system around families that is not only looking for the rights of the child but also the rights of the parents. We have supported families to take care of their children inside the country instead of adopting them abroad and I have seen that they become a strong healthy family. It is important to take everything into consideration and I think the government can do so to create a better structure if they involve people who have been on the other side of the table. Sri Lanka has already started to create a foster care adoptive system and I will be in contact with them to speak about local and foreign adoption to make sure they understand the sacrifices that come along with the adoption. I would recommend a system where there is a social worker who visits different families giving them courses or tools that can help strengthen the family. There also needs to be a system where there is DNA testing, where the people in society are tested to reunite the children who have been victims in human trafficking or adoption cases. It also has to be an improved system where mothers who are pregnant get to know their rights. It is important to support your daughter to have a child if the husband leaves her, or if there is a rape, etc. These might be uncomfortable topics but supporting these women is important in various ways, such as finding solutions for babysitting for women who are alone. When it comes to poverty and adoptees being sent abroad because their family is financially unstable, it might help to have a system where we work for giving out items for free or at a lower cost to the mothers who require and need them. To avoid too many adoptions and get the numbers down it will be important to get our stories out and to make people think about it from a psychological point of view, too.
The west is not always the best because there is a part of the western world where we (the adoptees) have to deal with a lot of difficulties, like racism. There are many cases where the adoptees face issues, like violence, abuse, etc. and the information of the child cannot be accessed by biological parents due to government and country laws. Some of us are not able to have a good education or life because we suffer from illness or sometimes adoptee parents change their minds. So if local women and society are informed about what is going on in other parts of the world I think it will help them understand that sending children for adoption to other countries is not the best option. Also, parents need to get a free lawyer when they lose the children to kidnapping or trafficking or against their will. A lot of women speak to me, that they would love to sue and get the child back, or they know where the child is but they cannot provide for the finances to get the child back home. My aim is to spread the information of their rights and strengthen them and help them fight their case and hopefully along the way get politicians involved and fight for justice to hold them accountable.
Cover photo by Emilie Beck