Chattr spoke with 22 year old Jonah Bobongie about his journey to find his birth mother, which he is documenting on a podcast series called ‘Led By A Heartstring’. He’s an incredible young man who wants to inspire other people who have been adopted. Read the full interview below.
What was it like growing up disconnected from your cultural heritage and have you found ways to reconnect with it?
At a young age I didn’t know any better than to live as part of the society that I was brought up in. I conformed to the social norms of the world around me and I didn’t think too much of this disconnect. As I entered high school and became more aware of different cultures, I could understand that where I and my birth family originate from, Papua New Guinea, is different to Australia. At this stage, it became somewhat awkward for me as I didn’t have the answers to people asking me about where I was from and assuming I knew a lot about the heritage that matches my outside self. My adoptive mum, who is Caucasian, tried her best to incorporate aspects of Papua New Guinea (PNG) into my life such as having me interact more with people in our community that have that knowledge that she didn’t have. I wasn’t too interested in this, because I wasn’t growing up in that world, so I was kind of ignorant to the fact. As I’m becoming a young adult, I have found myself reading about PNG online, looking at the news bulletins and only this year have I learned the specific province in which I came from, Siassi Island of Morobe. By doing so, I have felt more relieved that I can finally answer questions from friends and sometimes strangers and also feel more connected to where I am from.
Do you have any advice for other adopted people who feel disconnected from their identities?
Try to look at other components of your life that gives you identity (i.e. communities you are a part of already, what hobbies you enjoy or what you do for work) and accept that as part of your identity at this current moment. This can give you an anchor to who you’ve become as a person while you continue with life and embark on your own journey of learning about your origins.
If you feel that what you look like doesn’t fit in with the society you are growing up in, try to seek out information about your heritage, whether it be finding groups in your community, reading books or increasing your intake of content formulated from your birth families origins. With this, don’t be like me and be ignorant of your biological culture, embrace that this is part of your identity as well and feel privileged that you have a unique and interesting story that you should not be ashamed of.
How did your family react when you told them you wanted to search for your birth mother?
They were overzealous when I announced that I was ready to start searching for my birth mother — sometimes I feel like they wanted to find her more than I did, but I’ve come to that point in my life where I need to know, and that comes at different times for adopted people, sometimes it may never come. My adoptive mum, Carol, has always said she knew this day would come and when it did, she would be happy for me as she knew this is what I needed, and she knew it would make me happy. My sister was also super excited for me as she had gone down this path being adopted herself. I feel that she could fully understand what I was feeling, not only today, but my entire life of grief and trauma disguised in my everyday life from the day I was adopted.
What are you hoping to achieve through sharing your journey on your podcast?
I started ‘Led By A Heartstring’ to enlighten the world on the psyche of an adoptee, to encourage me to search for my birth family and to lend a hand to other adoptees battling with internal conflicts that originate from being adopted. I for one, have always felt alone on this journey, because there are very few people in Australia who are adopted. It’s not like you can go down to the shops and find another adoptee, especially with the low figures of adoption in Australia at the moment.
I had only spoken to another adopted person for the first time this year and that moment was such an extraordinary moment because I had never felt more connected and understood in my life. So, I want to provide that to other adoptees who can just listen and follow along in their own time and inspire them to search for family, connect with their culture or comprehend the way they feel from adoption. When you turn 18, you are legally allowed to apply for adoption records, and I have also held off searching for my birth family for four years now. I think having the added support through the project helped me finally do it and hopefully this further enlightens more people of the process it takes to find your family and hopefully, find yourself.
How has your emotional wellbeing been impacted since you started your journey?
In all honesty, this journey has been such an elevated experience which has just come with the highest of highs and lowest of lows. On the daily, it’s like riding a rollercoaster backwards with your eyes closed. There is so much uncertainty and every day I can go through thirty different scenarios that may be the outcome, but none of them could be right. At the same time, I’m bursting with anticipation, because as soon as I submitted that request, I expected answers. I expected answers to questions I been asking for twenty-two years and it’s all a waiting game, but at least it won’t be as long as twenty-two years until I get those answers (fingers crossed).
I’m also feeling extremely overwhelmed from the support I am receiving from my inner circle and external parties from the general public. Embarking on this journey is big enough already but doing it in front of the world is something else.
When you find your birth mother – what is your ideal expected outcome from that encounter?
I want to feel whole. I don’t want to feel like there is a piece missing from my heart. It’s like that feeling a person gets after going through a break-up, you feel a piece of your heart has been broken off and stepped on, but a few sad Adele songs and some ice-cream and you’ll feel better. I’ve had that feeling since I was 8 weeks old, so I hope that feeling subsides. Beyond that, I hope our first encounter will be the most fulfilling reunion of my life. I hope we can answer each other’s questions and I can just look at her and think ‘I’m home’.
What has the process been like trying to find your birth mother (in regards to accessing the information to find her)?
At first, I had no idea how to start this journey. I’m a self-starter so I didn’t feel the need to ask anyone how to do it, I firstly tried to Google “how do I find my family” and it definitely was not a predicted search phrase. It took me an hour or so to finally come across the Department of Child Safety page for Queensland adoptions and I came across an ‘application for adoption information by an adopted child’ form. I filled this out and express mailed it to the offices in which I received a letter back to allow for up to twelve weeks to return any information they had on file to me.
At this point in time, it has been about six weeks since they started searching records and I have received no information as of yet. It certainly feels drawn out for me as I’ve waited so long for this moment and it seems to just be a tease at this stage and in this day and age information is so accessible I’d hoped the process would be much more rapid.
How do you plan on being an advocate for adopted Australians?
I’m a huge advocate for mental health in general but I know and completely understand how adoption can add to the general pressures associated with life. I hope that I can give adopted Australians a voice and help them accept their feelings and make sure they feel like they belong and are valid; even when sometimes they can feel alone on this journey. I’ll be in their pockets, on their laptops on their tablets for them to listen to at their own pace and in their own time, when they feel they need to hear someone represent what is so hard to explain to someone who is not adopted.
All of us at Chattr are wishing Jonah well on his journey and hoping he finds the missing piece to his identity puzzle. Good luck to you, Jonah!
Featured Image Supplied