Adoptee heartbreaking hunt for birth family

Tauranga's Ekaterina (Kat) Clark is in a documentary about adoptees seeking their birth parents. Photo / Alex Gilbert, I'm Adopted.

Ekaterina Clark began her search for her birth mother knowing there could be a tragic reason behind her adoption.

But she was unprepared for what she discovered.

The Tauranga woman, known as Kat and born in Russia as Ekaterina Ivanova Popovskya, will appear on Friday in an episode of the documentary series I’m Adopted.

The series is an independent project created, produced and edited by fellow adoptee Alex Gilbert, who runs a New Zealand and worldwide support network for adoptees.

The first season of the documentary series, released on YouTube last year, featured the stories of 12 different adopted people and was viewed by tens of thousands of people.

Kat tells the Bay of Plenty Times she has wanted to search for her birth mother for a while and approached Alex for help through his I’m Adopted Facebook page.

“He picked it up and started searching and found clues. It happened really quickly.”

Kat Clark (left), pictured with Alex Gilbert. Photo / Alex Gilbert, I'm Adopted.

Alex contacted a Russian woman named Marina who lived in the same town as Kat’s birth mother and was willing to make inquiries.

It was discovered that Kat’s birth mother, whom she calls Valentina, lived in a boarding house for people with special needs. Marina passed the stringent security clearances and got a video of Valentina for Clark.

“She speaks to me and she says, ‘I’m glad you found me, Katya’. She’s very sweet.”

But, Kat learned, Valentina is “childlike” and has been so her whole life.

“She doesn’t really understand a lot of things, like where New Zealand is. Marina ended up telling her we were from Australia because she couldn’t comprehend New Zealand or where it is.

“Marina said she [Valentina] looked at my photo for a long time and said that she remembers me. She remembers coming to the first orphanage or hospital where I was, she remembers holding me in her arms a few times. And then I was obviously shipped out to another orphanage where I was adopted out.

“She looked at my photo for a long time and had tears in her eyes.”

Kat was adopted by her New Zealand parents in the mid-1990s when she was almost four. She does not have strong recollections of her early years in Russia, only photos and videos from the orphanage.

“But I think the body can remember stuff. Emotions. Emotional trauma. Things come up and I’ll feel like I’ve felt that before.”

Before embarking on her mission to find her birth mother, Kat spoke to her “supportive” parents about the confronting things she could learn.

“You know you’ll hear things that you won’t want to hear. Mum and Dad were open with me, they had no idea where she was or anything.

“So they were like, ‘Look, we know the history of adopted children. It’s a pretty rough upbringing where everyone’s got their own story - expect a really sh***y start to life’. And I thought, ‘Okay, yeah, I was obviously taken away from my birth mum for a reason’.

“But I wasn’t prepared to hear where she is. No one was prepared for that.

“A lot of adoptees have found their parents and maybe mum and dad were alcoholics, or lived in poverty so couldn’t raise you. There’s all those stories - and then there’s this one.”

Tauranga's Ekaterina (Kat) Clark is being featured in a documentary about adoptees seeking their birth parents. Photo / Alex Gilbert, I'm Adopted.

Learning about her birth mother has taken its toll.

Kat says she has sought counselling because “it’s brought up so much stuff”.

“It’s almost like I was reborn again, like I discovered who I was all over again. A connection to where you’re from, your whakapapa, is important and, yeah, I guess it messed me up a little bit, to be honest.

“There’s a lot of talk about finding your parents, how it’s so exciting and stuff. But no one really talks about the negative side of it too, because it is. It’s quite heartbreaking. You’re having to hear these things... Obviously, [Valentina’s] situation is quite unique, where she is and how she’s living. So I’m having to deal with that as well. And unpack that a bit, too.

“I was expecting to meet my mother, meet a mother. But, in a way, I’ve met someone who’s like a child, so having to deal with that is almost like a loss again.”

Kat says she took part in the documentary to repay Alex for his help in finding her birth mother.

She hopes the documentary will attract donations to Alex’s charity, which could help fund her trip to meet Valentina.

Alex, also a Russian adoptee, registered I’m Adopted as a charity in 2015 as a support network to help connect adoptees. He created the documentary episodes in his own time with his own resources.

“I think it’s great for adoptees to connect with each other like this, and that’s why I’ve created these stories. Ekaterina is the first story; the second is another Kiwi, a New Zealand adoptee. The series is a mix of all different adoptees from all areas, domestically and internationally.

“Ekaterina’s told a powerful story, and I know it will help so many adopted people in the community and around the world.”

Alex met his Russian birth parents in 2013 and says he also discovered ties to Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

“I’m just about wanting people to learn about where they come from. It’s a choice that they want to learn, of course, but having that support network there I think is so important.”

Alex Gilbert, the creator, producer and editor of the documentary series I'm Adopted.

-Bay of Plenty Times.


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