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Rafael Barker, Caitlin Imperio: You should know what adoption did for us

Rafael Barker, Caitlin Imperio: You should know what adoption did for us
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November is National Adoption Month, a time to raise awareness for adoption and those whose lives have been changed by it.

“Adoption is the ultimate planned-parenthood.” That’s a quote from Northern Light, a U.S. Air Force newspaper that profiled the Imperio family’s adoption of Caitlin when she was younger.

It’s a quote that rings true with us.

We are two children from other countries who were adopted and raised to call West Virginia home. We met a few years back and realized we had similar stories. We want to share them with you today in hopes it will help you understand the profound effect adoption can have on children’s lives.

Rafael’s story

I was born in Bogota, Colombia, South America, in August of 1984. I was placed in an orphanage early in life and bounced between orphanage care and foster care. The people who would become my parents moved to West Virginia in the mid-seventies and had my brother in 1984.

They weren’t finished filling out their family, and in the winter of 1989, I came home to West Virginia. There are many different steps between the birth of their first son and my adoption, but the story for me started when I came home.

I have been blessed by an adoption experience people could only dream of. My parents have been the most supportive, comforting, generous parents. I truly feel like I won the family lottery. I’m often telling people I was born under a lucky star.

That said, while my adoption has been the greatest gift I’ve ever received, and my parents have grown to be peers and friends of mine, such an enormous life event as an adoption, preceded by four and a half years between an orphanage and foster care, no doubt will affect even the strongest of people.

What I mean to say is it hasn’t been perfect. Throughout my youth, I had many restless nights, experienced confusion about my identity as a member of my family and a member of my community, overcame an irrational self-hatred and recognized a feeling of “otherness” likely known only by other adoptees.

To know you’re adored, loved and supported by your parents, but to still feel undeserving or untrusting of that love, can be a difficult thing adoptees might face. Adoptees might work to build an identity for themselves as they mature, while always being aware they might look and act much differently had they been raised in their home country by their biological family.

Recently, I had a lazy Sunday evening at my rented house and decided to watch a movie. I settled on “Lion,” a 2015 film about one man’s search for “home” after being raised by adoptive parents. This movie is a tearjerker, for certain. I found myself connecting deeply to Saroo (later “Sheru,” which translates to Lion).

I know what it feels like to have an “otherness,” to have the feeling I am missing something, but not knowing exactly what that is. I also know what it was like to have parents who absolutely supported me and gave me the foundation I never could have had were I raised in my birth country. Unlike the character in “Lion,” I haven’t felt a need to seek out the past life I never got to live, to “find my family.”

My family consists of Lynne, Jerry and Eamon, and I am blessed to say that.

The importance of National Adoption Month to me is the opportunity to call attention to the many, many children who need families and to help connect them to those families who are looking to complete their family units. To lift the stigma over adoption.

Caitlin’s Story

I was born in Mutsu Bay, Japan, just before Christmas in 1985. My adoptive parents, David and Beth, were stationed at Misawa Air Base and had been looking to adopt.

People would say “adoptive parents,” but really they’re just Mom and Dad to me. They took me in at two-weeks-old, so they’re the only parents I’ve ever known.

We were a military family and moved around until we settled in Ravenswood when I was 8. I was the youngest of six siblings in our family, though I was the only one that was adopted.

My mom always tells the story about this one doctor’s visit when I was still really young, when we found out that I, like her, was allergic to penicillin. She said I told the doctor, “Well, it must be hereditary, because my mom is allergic to it, too.”

That’s how close I was to my parents. Even though I knew I was adopted, I never saw myself as not part of this family. This was important in my teen years. Like any adolescent, those years can be a struggle to find your identity and how you fit in. This can be much tougher for adopted children.

This is where having a loving family and good friends in the community helped. They were patient and kind, and they helped support me as I struggled to figure out who I was. Had I not had that support, things could have turned out much differently for me.

That’s why it’s so important to have a welcoming, diverse community, and for people to be aware of adoption and how it can change the lives of those who are adopted. As someone whose life has been changed by adoption, I ask you to do whatever you can to help save the lives of other children in the same way it has saved mine.

•••

There were 4,700 youth in foster care adopted in the U.S. last year. There are more than 100,000 children in foster care waiting for permanent loving families.West Virginia’s Bureau for Children and Families maintains an online directory of children awaiting adoption. You can visit their website,

dhhr.wv.gov/bcf/Providers/Pages/Adoption.aspx

, or call 866-CALL-MWV for information on how you can become an adoptive for foster parent.



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