It’s common for adopted children to want to find their birth parents. What is less common is for adoptees to use social media to find them.
Meet Alex Gilbert, a 23-year-old media producer in Auckland, New Zealand, who's done just that. And now he’s using his own experiences online to help and support others who were also adopted at birth.
His website I'm Adopted is a platform for anyone to simply share their stories and experience with adoption or being adopted, and to support them in the journey to finding their birth parents.
"I call it a community group for adopted people," says Gilbert.
"For example, if I want to find my birth parents, I may decide to share my story through I'm Adopted. People see the stories, share them, and help each other. That is what amazes me the most!” says Gilbert.
Gilbert, who single-handedly runs both the social media platforms and website for I’m Adopted, says the project began last August as a safe space to discuss adoption, which he found was a topic many people shied away from.
Gilbert's birth family is Russian and though he never knew much about Russia before travelling there to meet his biological family, he'd always been drawn towards the country, he says.
"I only knew a little bit about the history and culture. I have always been fascinated about what Russians eat and drink. I don't speak any Russian, but my girlfriend does as she's from Siberia. I've been learning the language and I can currently read the alphabet."
“Not everyone is open when it comes to talking about adoption. When I was trying to find my birth parents, I had no idea where I could share my story to see if anyone could help," Gilbert says.
The site has already produced many successful connections between adoptees and their birth families, including that of Marina Pharis, an American, and her birth parents overseas.
“Marina told her story on the page last year. Within a week, she managed to find her birth parents. A Russian person on the page helped her trace them after seeing her story. Russian media got a hold of her story and shared it too!”
Gilbert was adopted out of Arkhangelsk, Russia. His biological mother had given him up, since she was too poor at the time to care for a baby. And having grown up in an orphanage herself, she thought adoption “was the best thing to do”.
“[My adoption paper] was my only piece of information I had to find my birth parents," say Gilbert. "In 2013, I started searching their names on different Russian social network websites, and I managed to find someone with the same last name as my birth mother's.”
It was an onerous search, but in the end it paid off for Gilbert.
“We found a community group under her last name and several people from her school contacted me. They told me where she lived and so one thing lead to another. I eventually managed to get in contact with her through one of her friends in the same town,” he says.
His birth mother had never told Gilbert’s birth father about her pregnancy. So, in 2013, Gilbert’s message came as bit of a shock to his biological dad.
“To this day she still won't tell me why she never told my birth father about me. When we asked her last year, she simply said that she 'Didn't know what to do',” Gilbert says.
Through I'm Adopted, Gilbert has met and connected with several people from around the globe.
"Most users on the page are from the USA, then NZ, Russia, and then the UK. Australia is on the list too, actually! Just after the UK!” says Gilbert.
Gilbert has some words of wisdom for anyone who wants to find their birth parents, the first step being, “to be honest with your mum and dad who raised you”.
“With finding your birth parents, I say, 'Go for it!' Do it only when you are comfortable, though, and not when you are young. I feel that searching for your birth parents in your mid 20s is the perfect time to do it.
“You must always be prepared for anything when you want to find your birthparents. I could have travelled all the way to Russia, driven all that way to my birth mother's house and she could have changed her mind with meeting me. I had to be prepared for that,” he says.