NEWS

Looking for birth parents

Mary Theodoropoulou only found out she had been adopted when she went to apply for a marriage license and couldn’t obtain a birth certificate. «Someone in the civil service assumed I could be a ‘special case’ and directed me to the relevant department, where I found out the truth. Since then I have been looking for my birth parents,» she said. Theodoropoulou is a co-founder of the NGO Roots Research Center that helps adoptees find their origins. Harsh social and family mores forced thousands of women, most of them unmarried, to give up their babies for adoption or to abandon them at an orphanage during the turbulent postwar years. Many of those infants are now looking for their birth mothers. It is rare for parents, however, to go looking for the children they were once forced to give up into the hands of strangers. «You don’t want to upset your adoptive parents so you usually start looking secretly for your origins,» said Theodoropoulou. «For the same reason, many only start looking once their adoptive parents have died. Of course that carries a price, as often the only thing to be found is a grave.» It is only since 1996 that the law (2447) has allowed an adult to seek his or her birth parents. Roots Research has so far received requests from about 600 people looking for parents, 200 other relatives seeking adopted children and 350 parents whose children were taken from them in maternity hospitals. «My adoptive parents took excellent care of me, both materially and emotionally, I wanted for nothing. However, you can’t rest until you have found out the truth about who you are and been able to ask why,» said Theodoropoulou. «When I began my search, I met hundreds of people doing likewise. In 1995 we got together and decided to push for a law allowing adult adoptees to look for their birth parents, and a year later that happened.» The success rate, she said, is only about 15 percent and only when there is the proper documentation. For most, the truth is never revealed. A typical case is that of Costas, whose father sought his birth parents for over 30 years until his death. He gave his reasons as the fact that he had never really felt any sense of family and always felt something was missing. According to him, his adoptive parents hid the truth from him, telling him that his birth parents had emigrated and all trace of them had been lost. In 1995, Costas’s father died without having solved the mystery; his son is continuing the search. «If they are still alive and I do find them, I will ask them why they abandoned my father,» he said. Adoptive parents are those who will always be the real «parents,» but often the discovery of why the birth parents gave up their child is a relief for both sides. «I wanted to find my child but I was always afraid of whether he would want to know me after everything that had happened,» said one woman who once gave up a child for adoption. Most reunions are successful, and often a special relationship develops between half-siblings. According to Petros Tatsopoulos, author of «The Kindness of Strangers,» all children who find out they are adopted want to meet their biological parents but then return to their adoptive parents as it is with them that they have formed family ties. The years after the civil war (1944-49), he said, was the worst period in Greek history regarding the separation of parents from their children. Regions where the civil strife was at its most intense saw the disappearance of many children. «Both sides committed mass crimes,» said Tatsopoulos. «Children of the guerrillas were taken to Eastern European countries, with or without their parents’ consent. Then on the other side, in 1947 Queen Frederika set up about 50 ‘children’s towns’ and sent other Greek children to the east coast of the US. That occurred on the basis of a royal decree ruling that all those who collaborated with the guerrillas were unfit to be parents. Thirty thousand children were separated from their parents in this way.»