Growing up, Alex Gilbert had always known he was adopted. His parents Mark and Janice Gilbert were honest with both Alex and Andrei (the Gilberts' other adopted son) about the fact that they were once orphans.
At the age of 2, the boys were chosen by the Gilberts from among 23 others at an orphanage in the Russian city Arkhangelsk.
"They've always said... you two have been adopted. They told us since I could remember," Alex said.
But unlike Andrei, Alex wanted to know about his family roots.
"As I was growing up I was always curious to know where I was from before I was adopted and who are my birth parents."
Using the information he had about his life before his adoption, which included a passport, the name of his biological mother and the address of the orphanage in Arkhangelsk, Alex used Facebook to track down his birth mom.
- Also see: How to find your biological parents
Social media detective
It wasn't long before he had a lead.
"I had done only a little bit of searching but was lucky to be able to find my birth parents quite quickly. I used social media to search for them," Alex told Parent24 via email.
Alex contacted birth mom Tatiana, speaking to her for the very first time on her 40th birthday, and the two arranged to meet.
"We had a translator at the time with the phone call which was helpful. We called her home phone through Skype to say Happy Birthday to her."
He was still on record as a Russian citizen, and all Russian males between the ages of 18 and 27 are required by law to serve in the army for a maximum of 1 year. But in 2013, risking conscription – and rejection – the 21-year-old travelled over 10 000km to meet his biological mother in Rybinsk.
"I was nervous. Emotional and anxious about the entire situation. I had never been to Russia before (only when I was in the orphanage, of course). But I don’t remember that or Russia at all in the early 1990s. It was a good feeling however, with closure."
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- Also see: Shocking adoption hoax
When they met, Alex learned that Tatiana was 18 when she had him, has had no other children since, and was herself raised in an orphanage.
She also revealed her pregnancy had not been planned and that his father – then a soldier – had never known about him. "They just met, I think it was just a one-day sort of thing, they didn't even go out."
Alex also found out why he was given up for adoption. "She said it was the norm... the thing to do. In the situation they were in at the time it wouldn't have been easy."
Tatiana also told Alex she's made contact with his biological father, Mihail, who lives in St. Petersburg, and gave him his contact details.
- Also see: Real-life adoption stories
A father, a half-sister and a step mom
In St. Petersburg, Alex met Mihail, Liana, Mihail's wife, and their baby, Sonia, Alex's half-sister.
"We bonded right away... he's a lot like me, he just speaks Russian."
Mihail (or Misha, as Alex calls him) admits that he was sure that he was being pranked. And had he known of his birth, he would've raised Alex himself.
Visiting his Russian family remains a regular occurrence for Alex, who spent most of July 2018 in his birth country.
"I have a strong relationship with my birth father Mihail but not so much with my birth mother Tatiana. She has had a hard life and struggles with her drinking. I keep in touch with her sometimes but not as much as I would like to. My birth father however, I am always in contact with him."
- Also see: Cape Town Adoption Support
The experience of searching for and finding his blood family has been so impactful that Alex has created a website where others like him could do the same, equipping adoptees from around the world with the same tools he used to reconnect.
"After I had found my birth parents, I wanted to create a platform that would help others adopted around the world to connect. So I’m Adopted was then created."
I’m Adopted is a free platform where adoptees can share their stories and information about their past that could help track down lost relatives. I'm Adopted also has a Facebook page which is another way the team provides free assistance and guidance to reconnect families.
"I have done some personal searches for people but I can’t say exactly how many. I found about 4 families myself a few months ago and... I have shared over 400+ stories for adoptees around the world. Many of them have found some connections but I don’t always follow up on the updates. There are stories after stories. But it’s the fact that it helps people reconnect which is important."
Watch the full emotional story below:
- The right way to adopt in 7 steps
- The process of adoption in South Africa
- When the adoption process goes wrong
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