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159 - Voices of Indian Adoptees
Episode 15923rd October 2021 • Who Am I Really? • Damon L. Davis
00:00:00 00:48:20

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Today's adoptee story is Winnie's. She called me from Los Angeles, California. Growing up, Winnie's adoptive parents were closed to discussing her adoption, rejected her basic desire to socialize and left her to fend for herself in the name of creating an independent woman. But her treatment was unfairly different from that of her adopted sister.

When he has an arduous road ahead seeking reunion with her birth mother in India in the face of information inaccuracies. And in the wake of massive COVID 19 casualties. Winnie is the creator of Indian Adoptees Connect, a community for Indian adopted people like herself.

This is Winnie's journey


159 - Winnie Hartman Gross

Info Intro


[00:00:00] Damon: Hey, it's Damon. I'm taking this moment to remind you that at the end of the month, October 30th, we're recognizing adoptee remembrance day. It's a day to remember adopted people we've lost to suicide or who have suffered in adoption along their life's journey. .

On Instagram. I recently read, posted that adoptees are four times more likely to commit suicide than non adopted people. In the original post, the Instagram handle, the adoptee chameleon talked about Their own struggles with attempting adoption reunion, but never getting a response from their outreach.

se connect has helped her to [:

You're going to hear similar pain today from Winnie creator of Indian adoptees connect. She credits the connection to the adoptee community, with her ability to find strength, to carry on. If, you know, someone that you think needs help making it through another day.

Please. I suggest they find their tribe online. In person or release their pain through some form of expression or therapy. What we don't release, eats away at us from the inside. Adopteeremembrance day is October 30th. I hope on that day, you'll take a moment to uplift another adoptee. And hopefully they'll pass it on to someone else.

Cold Cut


So having that whole support system, oh my God has helped me so [00:02:00] much. If I did not find this adoption community, I don't know where I would be right now. I think like they're the ones who have really held me together

Episode Intro


When he has an arduous road ahead seeking reunion with her birth mother in India in the face of information inaccuracies. And in the wake of massive COVID 19 casualties. Winnie is the creator of Indian adoptees connect.

A, community for Indian adopted people like herself. This is winnie's journey



her parents told her when she was very young, that she is adopted, but when he admits she didn't fully understand what being adopted meant. So she would repeat it to people without fully grasping what she was saying. When he's home was very strict and she felt like everything was a no.

She wasn't allowed to hang out with her friends. There were no slumber parties. No, nothing. The answer to everything

was no


So, , I kind of have to deal with that. And then like, as far as my adoption, we would talk about it in our household. Like if I had questions they would answer, like they would answer the question and then they would shut the conversation down with, you know, we're your family now, and I'll have the type of parents, you know, if they don't want to talk about something it's not going to get talked about.

So, you know, the minute they hear something they don't like, or they don't want to talk about it, they just shut it down. So, you know, like I said, they would answer questions, but having like full blown conversations about adoption was never really never really happened in my household. So


Can you tell me about the ethnic makeup of your family? What are you and what are they?


so in my paperwork it says that my orphanage was in Hyderabad India, and then I was born in tandoor India, but growing up, my parents were, I would say the opposite.

So it's like confusing now. So that's why I'm trying to figure out, okay, where am I really from then in India? So, but I'm Indian and then my parents and family are white.




[00:05:48] Damon: Yeah. , how was that growing up for you sort of growing up, knowing you can see yourself in the mirror and I make the presumption that you are not necessarily a person who looks like a white Jewish [00:06:00] families how was it for you to grow up, looking so different from your, your family?


So, you know, I do remember my mom being like she's adopted. And the thing is you wouldn't think a six year old would understand that, but it was weird that I still remember it till this day, but it's like, that's when everything switched and that's when everything started to make sense to me that like, okay, this is why I get the stares.

This is why, you [:

Like in middle school, I would get stares. People would always be confused. I mean, I think the only people that weren't confused with, like my teachers, but everybody else would just kind of stare and ask a ton of questions and everything. So, you know, it's like, I would have to say I'm adopted, but then it's like as a little child, , how do you go into full-blown detail about that to explain, you know, the difference and everything.

it's like, I can't, I can't. [:

So that's a lot of the stuff that I have to like,


[00:08:36] Winnie: Exactly. Exactly. And like, that's one thing about adoption and it's like, it doesn't go away and like the whole racial difference. I'm always going to have to explain that, like, I'm not in a relationship now, but like say when I start dating, I'm going to have to explain that to my boyfriend.

I'm going to have to explain it to his family. It's like never ending,


When he was obsessed with designing stuff, artistic expression and creating, but she was a very shy kid possibly because her parents sheltered her so much


So when , I would go to camp or it would be the first day of school or something. I remember having like severe anxiety because I was just like, okay, What are these things around me? Like, I didn't know what it almost felt like. I didn't know what the real world was and [00:10:00] what human people were because, you know, like I said, my parents, you know, never really, I remember having friends growing up, but I don't remember really being able to have that full blown interaction with people.

So growing up, I was very shy. I was very like timid and everything. Um, I guess you can say a loner too, cause I would always like stay to myself, but you know, I do remember my teachers just always saying how sweet I was and how nice that was. I was just always like very shy into myself. But now that I'm older, it's like the complete opposite.

I'm like a huge extrovert. I'm loud and crazy. And I love interacting with people now and stuff.


[00:11:11] Winnie: And I'm still trying to understand why. And I don't know why for me, it was like that because with my sister who's, she's also adopted, there was actually the complete opposite with her. Like she got to go out, she got to have parties, she got to have friends and everything. And I don't know why with me, I, you know, was pretty much confined to my room the whole time.

e to know why, but , I don't [:



[00:12:03] Winnie: She is, yeah.

Winnie's family was full of lawyers and entrepreneurs. So for her as a creative, she didn't connect with her family on her level. There were no similarities between winning and her family members, Underscoring that her artistic ability is innate. I inherited, definitely not learned or nurtured. Winnie told me that day when her classmate astutely pointed out the visible cultural difference between her and her adoptive mother was a pivotal moment for her. She became obsessed with knowing who her biological mother was, but in that obsession, she also distanced herself from her adoptive parents a bit.

She tried to maintain a bond, but when he said they're not affectionate people, so it wasn't hard to detach

of how , they were raised or [:

, their kids, but you know, one thing I'm learning about, the difference with a birth parent and an adoptive parent, I kind of feel like when it comes to adoptive parents, , the ones that kind of neglect us, they kind of, they already know they're not our birth parents. So they kind of have this attitude of you're not my actual child.

So there's no need to have that type of a bond or if I don't have that bond with you. Right. It doesn't matter because at the end of the day, you're not my child. So why have the need to want to connect with you in that type of stuff? , I'm not going to say like, you know, It was all bad, but you know, it is kind of hard to say if there were good memories.

ut my career and everything, [:

And I think when you just have the urge to find your birth mother, it just makes you kind of be like, fuck it with your adoptive parents. So that's kind of my whole attitude right now. , I faced a lot of rejection from my adoptive parents. So that has kind of caused me to , not only not trust them, but it's also affected trying to have a bond with them because it's kind of like.

We were in close, growing up. We didn't have that closeness or bondness going up. So why start now? Type of thing. So


[00:14:59] Winnie: [00:15:00] So I feel like there's a difference between pushing your child to be independent and actually pushing them away.

And I don't know, like if for adoptees, we take it more serious when it comes to rejection, because we embedded the trauma of being rejected by a doc by our birth parents. So. You know, I mean, I can say for me, I don't know about other about these, but I can say for me, you know, anytime my parents said, no, I took that as rejections.

somewhere or something like [:

, they would literally tell me to figure it out. I remember like a couple of times being stranded, like at school or at my job. And I had to like figure out how to get home literally on my own, because they wouldn't help me. And. You know, as a parent, it's like you and leave your kids stranded. I don't care what the situation is.

And, you know, it's just, it would be with that sometimes with school staff, they would be like, figure it out on your own. Um, and I think that's why, like now I'm so independent. That's why I do everything on my own, because I guess you can say they pretty much had traumatized me into just doing everything on my own because they were never there.

I just I'm so used to having [:

[00:17:06] Damon: much. So it's interesting. There's both positive and negatives. What you've been trained into dependent woman, you're going to get it done.

But on the flip side of that, and I think most adults can acknowledge, like we don't get very far in life doing everything by ourselves together. And if you're not in a position of being able to ask for help and it's everything like I do real estate investing and I can't like raise money and buy houses all by myself.

u are going to be limited in [:

And unfortunately they've trained you into this. , independent silo. That is going to be challenging for you to break out of when it is truly time for you to ask for help, because you're going to feel like you, you can't

so at six years old, Winnie was thrust into the reality that her adoptive mother was not her birth mother. She said she can't even remember her parents sitting her down to talk about that situation at school. And she feels like that should have been a moment that opened up a conversation between them.

As she said.

ge where she used to live in [:

In 2015. Winnie got her own apartment. She was on her own and it was triggering a lot of emotions about her adoption


So I waited. So they went out of town and I knew my parents had my information. And so I waited. So they went out of town and I went through my mom's office and I literally found like my whole adoption file and I just copied everything. , I remember taking the file, going back to my apartment, copying everything.

I [:

This is about my mother and everything. And you know, as I'm going through the paperwork, that's actually, when I learned my birth mother's name


[00:20:35] Winnie: I was happy, but also very pissed off at my parents because, you know, I remember seeing my birth certificate at a very young age, but you know, where it says mother's name, her name was written in curses. So obviously I couldn't read it and you know, growing up, I'm telling people, you know, I'm going to have to get my mother's name written out.

I [:

When you have a whole document downstairs of my birth mother, and you can't even share that with




So I already know like once that comes out, it's about to be a war zone. But I mean, at the end day, I mean, I feel like with adoptive parents, you know, They need to understand at the end, they, we filled the void for them. And we have this ongoing trauma that I don't want to say never goes away, but it's always going to be there.

them not knowing their birth [:

And this is just my personal opinion, but I don't see it. Like I said, adoptees should be going to our adoptive parents asking for information. You know, you took us away from our culture. You took us away from our family. You should be coming up to us asking us where, okay. One. And so if we have an interest in our family and our birth family and wanting to look for them and this, we do help us do that, you know, like don't shut it down as you know, where are your family now?

r anger that I have about my [:

You guys have me because of her, you know what I mean? So it's like, even if it's a situation where like the adoption agency can't update you guys, or doesn't want to give you information, you should want me to know you should want me to have answers and stuff. And you know, they always told me, like my birth mother was too sick to take care of me and all this stuff.

n has to happen. And I don't [:

[00:25:04] Damon: Yeah, there's a lot in there and I, I can feel your irritation with assistance and with problems that it presents, especially because it's, some of it is residual from how adoption was set up and carried out previously. Right. I feel my sense is, and I haven't spoken to a lot of adoptees who've been brought to their families in for lack of better terms, what I'll call sort of a new era of adoption, like baby scoop era.

e in a new family, but also. [:

But it doesn't acknowledge that there is actually a person who has created the baby, as you've said, it's placed in there. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for this woman. So how can you acknowledge her?

arch entailed as she reached [:

[00:27:09] Winnie: With me being adopted from India, , there's a lot of cultural aspects, um that I'm learning about. And it's kind of caused me to kind of be on a hold with my adoptions search, , with the search for my birth mother, because, , one thing I learned about is that girls are actually not wanted in my country.

ip, but he had left her when [:

And that is very common in my country. But you know, with me being a girl, I'm pretty sure that's the reason why he left, if that's even true. , but

and, you know, even if she didn't have to deal with the diary system and you know, this no girl policy type of situation, she still came from a village that can, you know, pretty much cast her out. Cause I do know that they're completely against, you know, women having kids before marriage and, you know, she could have gotten shunned by her family.

o sick or whatever. But then [:

And, you know, it'll be a happy reunion. . But in some cases, you know, that that's not the case. I don't even know if um my birth mother would even want to meet me. And that hurts because, its your birth mother. And, you know, you would want to know your birth mother who gave birth to you

inal straw with living life. [:

Like I just don't think I can handle. And, , you know, it is, like I said, even if I were to go to my country, it's also one of those things where like, if I do try to look for her, it's one of those things where I would probably have to even go like undercover. Like that's how. Intense. It is in my country because it's like I would have to do everything in my power to protect her identity.

y country that they have for [:

I'm a hundred to be able to. Right. Escape all of that. And then, you know, on top of that too, I don't want him to know if she's alive or dead. So it's like, you


Right. I feel like you're in a place and forgive me if this is not correct, but I feel like you're in a place of sort of building a lot of narratives that might not be true. And,


[00:31:39] Damon: so I really want to sort of push you away from that and caution you against it because there's going to be some stuff that's well, within your control, and there's going to be some stuff that's completely out of your control and there's nothing you can do about it.

ause there's so much to live [:

Right. That rejection might be coming from a place that has absolutely nothing to do with you as a person. And I would hate to see you take that and own it when it's not yours to own. It's hers personally, it's the country and the society of where she lives. It's the potentially male domination of that society.

s so much to learn along the [:

And to know that you're okay because you, I mean, think about this. If, for example, this woman, let's make the assumption that she was a young woman and she got pregnant unexpectedly and she's had a girl and girls are not favored and you now are available for adoption. there's so much on top of her right now at that moment in her life, not knowing what happened to that infant that she either chose to, or was forced to give away, just knowing that you're alive is going to possibly be humongous for her.

not be, she could be in the [:

It might feel like rejection when it's really not also, you know what I mean? So I just, when you look in the mirror, I want you to see yourself as being okay. And that everything that happens along this journey is just part of the journey, because that really is what it is. A lot of this stuff is out of your hands.

l than it needs to be. Okay. [:

And you've seen a sister who has gotten, sounds like better treatment than you. And so you've lived with question marks over your head, and now you're embarking on this voyage to try to find this person. And it is filled with question marks too. I can, I am. I'm not trying to be insensitive to what you've endured.

Certainly I'm with you. I hear you.

restrictions and the nearly [:

[00:36:08] Winnie: my country has like the biggest hit a couple of months ago and you know, millions of people had died and, , that also had taken like a mental toll on me and a lot of other Indian adoptees because.

, it's kinda like, okay, we may have lost our birth family with like, before getting to meet them. And, um, I think a lot of us are kinda like trying to process that right now. And, , I don't even think they're even letting anybody into the country, but I think once things like really do clear up, I know me and a few of other Indian adoptees have discussed going together.

like, you know, approval, I [:

, And then I just kind of have to go from there. Like I do have her information, but one thing I'm learning about, international adoptions, , I think it does happen a little bit in the U S as well, but they do lie on our paperwork.

So I think I would have to make sure that like my birth mother's name is the actual name that I have in the document. , I have watched a couple of documentaries of Indian girls trying to go look for their birth mothers and they end up finding their information is like completely false. So they have nothing to go on.


[00:38:40] Damon: We agreed. It's going to be best to go to India and a group because this is a long uphill journey and it will be tough to traverse this path alone. Winnie has to hope she can de identify herself to even do the investigation and make contact with her birth mother.

n she'll be left, hoping the [:



, , some are in reunion, some, you know, very private about their situations, , which is normal. , we'd been so traumatized with, you know, either the process or , knowing the reason why we've been given up. So some are like, it takes them a while to open up and it's definitely understandable.

I've actually met a few Indian adoptees that actually just found out that they were adopted and they're . Grown adults really? And yeah.


[00:40:07] Winnie: yeah. Late discovery adoptees. Yep. So.

Monthly, I try to hold like support group meetings. And then, you know, we also have other meetings, other Indian adoptees, who are advocacies as well, they hold meetings. , just kind of like, you know, sometimes we'll discuss like random things sometimes, you know, we'll have a meeting like right before the holidays because some holidays can be very triggering for adoptees.

d, um, you know, having that [:

So having that whole support system, oh my God has helped me so much. If I did not find this adoption community, I don't know where I would be right now. I think like they're the ones who have really held me together and kept me saying really, because it's so comforting to see other people going through the same thing that you're going through or say you have a trigger.

even if my advice to people [:

So finding a community, finding a support system, I feel like it's honestly the best way to like get through anything.


So you, you have to seek out a community in order to make that connection. And. And there's a real release of connecting with people who can relate, right? It's, it's one thing to explain it to somebody. And when you experience to a non adoptee, they intellectually understand what you're going through, but the, the deeper sort of more [00:43:00] emotional connection is something that would take either a longer time to get to, if they can reach it at all.

But with an adopted person that is an immediate understanding, there is no sort of additional layer of explanation to help you understand that perspective. They are adopted too, they understand what you've lived through, and if they haven't lived through it themselves, at least they can more directly empathize with it.

And so being part of a community is massively valuable. And so the fact that you've created. I think is just an invaluable resource for people out there to connect with. Cause you know, he does, I'm, I'm in a bunch of adoption, you know, Facebook groups and things like that. And it there's something to be said for understanding everybody's experience.

ective that other people are [:

[00:44:22] Winnie: Yeah. That's another reason why I created it because like, it was something I actually realized that you really don't hear about Indian adoption.

So that was like really the main reason why I wanted to start this group and community and bring awareness to the issues that my country and stuff to, you know, let people know like, Hey, adoption, really isn't peachy and keen. Like these are some of the reasons why our birth mothers had to give us a way, like, it's not fair to us.


you know, well, Winnie, thank you so much for being here with me. I really appreciate it. And it [00:45:00] was so interesting. Sort of where you're coming from and where you're trying to go. I love the independence that you've grown into, but, , you know, I hate that it has sort of held you back from wanting to seek help from people.

But by the same token, I feel like that independence is going to drive you towards this commitment to locating your biological mother. And I just wish you the best of luck and in your travel to get there, your journey, to find her and her acceptance to at least want to meet you, see you face to face. I mean, you've got some hurdles, there's going to be a language barrier and so many other things, but at least sort of getting an acknowledgement of your existence, I hope will be, you know, sort of supremely you know, healing for you.


[00:45:44] Damon: pleasure. I wish you all the best. Okay. Take care. Stay safe. All right.


Show Close


Especially when her sister didn't receive the same treatment. Winnie was forced into autonomy. Driving her to seek her own answers in her house when her adoptive parents weren't around to shut her down. But accessing the information her parents had was the easy part compared to what lies ahead in her home country of India.

There will be cultural barriers, language barriers, possible inaccurate, and therefore misleading information to sift through. And the challenge of navigating her own feelings in a foreign land. For international adoptees, the search for truth

and I'm sending strength to [: