Gabriella Kern is a twenty-year-old Franco-Colombian law student with a story to tell. It’s her own story, but one she shares with millions of others, including Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs and Superman. Gabriella was adopted.
Gabriella is the first to say what a success her adoption has been. She was adopted when she was just four months old, by a Colombian mother and French father. They have given her a caring and loving home, a very happy childhood, (shared with a younger brother from a different adoption) and the chance to study in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Paris. One may well wonder where the “story” is in such a perfect adoption, but as Gabriella says, “No child is ever abandoned without sorrow.”
Gabriella has always known that she was adopted and in her young childhood it was never an issue. However, at the age of about ten, when learning about genetics in biology classes, like most of her classmates she started to wonder who she looked like. Did she have her mother’s eyes, her father’s nose…? Though her parents had always been open to discussing her adoption with her they had very little information to share. They had adopted Gabriella from a FANA orphanage in Colombia, and Colombian law forbids orphanages to divulge any information about the biological parents of the children in their care. In the same way, the biological parents are not given any information about the family that adopts their child. Even the child concerned is not allowed to know anything about their background until they are 18 years old.
As Gabriella puts it, “Each child handles their adoption in a different way. Some have a lot of bad feelings towards their biological parents, others are simply not interested”, but Gabriella felt the need to know everything about her own history. “From the age of thirteen to seventeen I spent a lot of time thinking about my adoption, sometimes in a positive way, and other times, when it was hard, I‘d ask myself why me?” Gabriella wanted to find her biological mother to thank her for giving birth to her and to reassure her, ”I wanted to tell her that whether she had done it against her will, or because she wanted to, she had made the right choice.”
When her eighteenth birthday came Gabriella could finally start her search. She contacted the foundation that had organized her adoption and the Colombian social services. One month later she received an email which provided some information about the adoption and a few details about her biological mother, Diana, but gave no means of entering into contact with her. That didn’t stop Gabriella, “I had her name, the town where she was born and her date of birth, so I thought of using Facebook.” After looking at several profiles, Gabriella finally found one with the right date of birth. When she saw the photo of Diana, Gabriella just knew that she was looking at her mother. She sent a request to become “friends”.
When Diana realized who Gabriella was, she was overjoyed. She had always thought about her baby, every year on her birthday, and she told her how much she regretted abandoning her. Then, looking at Diana’s profile, Gabriella came upon a photo entitled “A Happy Family” it was of Diana sitting between two children. Diana explained that the girl in the picture was Gabriella’s older sister, and the boy her half brother. It came as a complete shock to Gabriella to discover that Diana not only had another family, but that it was she, the middle child who had been abandoned. “At that point it just didn’t make sense; I could imagine giving up a first child because it wasn’t planned or because the parents weren’t ready, or even the last child because of financial or practical difficulties, but abandoning a second child?”
After several months of exchanges, Gabriella decided that she wanted to travel to Colombia to meet her biological family. It was her choice to make the journey on her own because it was a personal journey in more ways than one. The details of her journey and the discoveries she made in Colombia are the subject of a very moving presentation Gabriella gave at TEDxIHEParis last year. Her story solicited many reactions, most of them showing interest in the subject of adoption and inspiring others to contact her to discuss their own cases. However, Gabriella was also reproached for being in no position to talk about adoption because hers had been so “perfect” that she could not understand the real difficulties and distress behind other adoptions. For this reason, Gabriella has since decided to share the full details of her abandonment.
Diana’s own biological parents separated when she was young, and Diana’s mother met someone else. This stepfather was an aggressive and violent man who repeatedly abused Diana from the age of eight without her mother knowing. Diana became pregnant at the age of fifteen with her first child, Gabriella’s sister. For appearances’ sake, the baby was raised as one of the family, though Diana’s mother refused to believe that her new husband was the father. The abuse continued after the baby arrived, and though Diana tried to run away from home on several occasions, the police always found her and brought her back to her parents. When Diana found out she was pregnant for the second time, she decided that she couldn’t put another child through what her first daughter had known. A month before the baby was due, she told her parents that she was going to stay with a friend to rest, but secretly checked into an orphanage hospital and completed the necessary paperwork to put her baby up for adoption. She was only seventeen years old. When Gabriella was born Diana held her in her arms for just five minutes. She kissed her, said she was sorry, that she loved her, and then the nurses took her away. Diana thought that she would never see her daughter again.
Gabriella’s Story was originally printed inside issue 21 of Expatriates Magazine – Pick up a print copy here
Even if this is a terribly sad story, Gabriella stresses that she is not looking for pity. On the contrary, the aim of telling her story is to show that although adoption generally stems from sad and difficult circumstances it can result in something positive.
Today Gabriella is delighted to have a second family and especially a sister; they have become very close and share a lot with each other via email and Facebook. She is looking forward to showing her Paris soon.
Gabriella is hoping to use her future qualifications to work in a field that will allow her to continue to communicate about adoption, to lessen the stigma associated with it, and to celebrate the success stories, in the hope of inspiring more people to adopt. You can follow the story of Gabriella’s journey to find her origins in her TEDx Talk “The Light of Adoption” below.