By Florine Roche
Jan 4: In the last few years many countries have voiced their concerns over inter-country adoption prevalent in most South Asian countries including India. Many countries including China, Russia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Korea etc., have banned adoption after instances of abuse of the adopted children were reported. In recent years many adoptee adults have started talking openly about the emotional trauma they undergo due to the sudden change of physical, linguistic and social environment at a young age due to adoption. There is a surge in the number of adoptees who go the birth of their countries in search of their biological parents. A few have succeeded in reuniting with their original parents whereas for a majority the search has proved to be a futile exercise.
One such adoptee who has been frantically trying to find her roots in India is Carol Peters ‘Carol D'Souza’ (Original name Carol Fonseca), a citizen of Belgium. Carol, who is now 53, has made four trips to India in her quest to locate her biological parents and to connect with the country of her birth. Her first trip was in 1998 and the fourth one was in 2018 and it has been like ‘so near yet too far’ in her pursuit of finding her biological parents. In 2009, she had visited India with her husband and two daughters to locate her biological parents and also to acquaint her family with the country of birth.
Despite her success in getting some vital clues in the last 20 years Carol is still far away from her mission. However, she isn’t giving up yet, this is my strength. Carol who is polio affected and suffers from many other ailments wants to come to India again despite her failing health to with the fond hope that she will succeed in her mission. “It was a painful experience for me in my new home in a new environment where I felt totally alienated. I wanted to know who my biological mother is and wanted to connect to connect with my roots and my culture. I wanted to find out why I was given away to the orphanage,” says Carol during the long telephonic conversation I had with her. After listening to her tale, I could realise that she went through a harrowing experience as an adoptee.
Uprooted and Alienated
Carol’s adoption story and her subsequent efforts to find her parents and get back to her roots make an interesting reading. She was born in Mumbai on December 2, 1967. Within four days of her birth she was admitted into St Joseph’s Home & Nursery, an orphanage located in Byculla (Agripada), Mumbai. She had poliomyelitis when she was 2.5-years-old. On October 7, 1974 when she was 7 years, she was adopted by Marcel Peters of Belgium. However, it wasn’t a happy ending to her story. She was unable to cope with the sudden change of the physical, linguistic and social milieu at such a young age. She says she felt out of place in her foster family. This traumatic experience was the trigger that resolved her to know more about her past and the circumstances that orphaned her.
From a young age of 14, Carol wanted to find out about her biological parents. Unfortunately for her there was very little information in her adoption file in Belgium and she had to wait for a few more years to begin her investigation. From 1974 to 2000, she had to undergo repeated hospitalization for the 18 surgeries for polio and others problems of health which was also quite stressful and traumatic. For a living she worked in a hospital as nursery nurse and caregiver but too as secretary and in 2000, she married to Luc Noirhomme, a lawyer in Social Law and a delegated judge in Liege. After the birth of her two daughters Laure-Victoria and Agnes-Indira, she stopped working to take care of her family. Her numerous surgeries left her very weak and now she is forced to walk with the help of sticks sometimes, use wheelchair or electric scooter for handicapped person. All these difficulties did not prevent her quest to find her roots back in India.
Search began two decades ago
During her first trip to Mumbai she visited this orphanage where she had spent her childhood and some nuns there recognised her after seeing her childhood photo. One of the nuns recognised Carol but refused to divulge any information or help her because it is a very sensitive issue, (secret and confidential). Again in 2011, when she visited India, she was helped by a few Indian friends in Mumbai. At St Joseph’s, Carol could lay her hands on the ‘confidential’ adoption file which was under the surname ‘D'Souza’. From this file, Carol learned that she was baptized by Fr J M Carsi SJ in the chapel of St Joseph’s Home on December 21, 1967 and her godmother of baptism was Maureen Vaz. From this file, she also came to know that her mother’s name was Irene and her grandmother was Lily. The nuns at the orphanage hinted that her family could be from Goa but refused to provide any additional information that could help her trace her roots possibly because it was all ‘confidential’.
There was also another hitch that further complicated the search for Carol. In the Belgian adoption file, her name in the Indian passport was mentioned as Carol Fonseca, not at all Carol D'Souza. She was surprised to find that she had two surnames – Fonseca and D'Souza, which further pushed her to continue with her search. In November 2018, Carol came back to Mumbai and met Fr V D'Souza of Wadala. It may be recalled here that it was based on the letter from the parish priest of Wadala West that Carol was taken in by the nuns of St Joseph’s Home & Nursery where she was looked after till her adoption in October 7, 1974. Fr V D'Souza assured her of all help but Carol is yet to hear from him. Now, there is another priest in this parish. Though a friend of Carol met one Irene through these contacts, the lady completely denied she got anything to do with Carol. All her efforts came to a nought and it was like back to square one for Carol. But she isn’t deterred by the setbacks. Rather her resolve to know the circumstances that led to her abandonment is strong as ever. She is constantly in touch with her friends in Mumbai and is intensifying her efforts in search of truth.
In July 2020, Carol did a 23andMe DNA test and to her surprise once again the test pointed her ancestry to Mangaluru and Goa. 23andMe founded in 2006, uses technology to genotype DNA and is focused on collecting and analysing genetic data to help people to know their ancestry. Through this buttressed earlier revelations that her paternal side and maternal side cousins are in Goa, in Mangaluru and also in Mumbai, in Gujarat and in USA. Based on the DNA test, Carol contacted her second cousin Rachel’s daughter Marguerite Chatelier Pinto, who now lives in the US. Rachel’s parents were Alex Pinto and Mary D'Souza originally from Mangaluru who had moved to Mumbai after marriage. She also discovered other cousins (3rd to 5th cousins).
Carol once again wants to visit India in 2021 and she feels that it might be her last visit considering her failing health. She is in touch with her friend who have assured her of all help.
Since 2018, when Carol got some hint about her ancestry, she felt very happy. She says, “It feels a bit strange and unbelievable, but now I feel I am not alone and I am proud of my Indian origins. I can finally create my own family tree and learn my story.”
People who aren’t aware of the emotional side of adoption may wonder why Carol is so persistent with her quest. Adoption makes way for an assortment of very complex and deep rooted feelings involving all those who are involved in the adoption triangle. Being adopted leads to an emotional turmoil and can be a lonely experience especially when the foster home fails to instil that feeling of being loved. It is this emotional tumult that prompts Carol not to give up despite facing many dead ends in her journey of finding her roots. Despite many volunteering to help it has been a lonely journey all along for Carol to demystify her ancestry. Let us hope in the year 2021 she might be successful in coming out of complex knot surrounding her ancestry.