18 Aug 2016

What it's like to meet your birth mother for the first time on live TV

9:26 am on 18 August 2016

Alex Kuch, 21, was invited by a Romanian talk show to discuss his adoption from an orphanage at two years old. To his horror, they then surprised him on live television with his birth mother, who he had never met.

Alex on TV, before the big surprise.

Alex on TV, before the big surprise. Photo: Unknown


‘What it’s like’ is a weekly Wireless series. For more, click here.

As told to Rebecca Kamm. 

I was adopted from a Romanian orphanage when I was two by my German parents. We stayed in Germany until I was 11, then my family moved to Auckland.

I was given away by my birth mother because she couldn't provide for me, and because my birth father wasn't interested in me. They separated afterwards. I have no memories of my orphanage, but the impressions I do have are that it wasn't very good. 

Last year I was invited to speak on a TV show in Romania. I was there to talk about my own adoption, and about the adoption situation in Romania. The show was called La Martu; it was sort of like a reality or chat show, on the national TV channel.

After I had talked about my adoption, they said: "We've got a surprise for you. We tracked down your birth mum." Then they just surprised me with my birth mum. On live TV.  

I wasn't sure of my birth mother’s motives at that time, the reasons why she did it.

I hadn’t been looking for her and I didn't plan on necessarily finding her on the trip. The producers had asked me about finding her two days before I left, and I said “Why not, I’ll be in Romania, it could be interesting”, but I expected them to do it in a different style. Both parties agreeing to meet first, and then talking in private. 

They took it to a different level.

When they brought her out, I was just in shock. But my subconscious kind of took over, and I knew what to talk about. They tried to make a bit of drama; they tried to make me call her “mum”. I said, "Er, no, that's not going to happen, my mum and dad are in New Zealand."

They kept putting things out of perspective. I told the TV presenter a couple of times, "That's enough now." I told them they should look at the historical context of Romania at the time of my adoption; back then the government had banned all forms of family planning.

The whole thing was quite long, maybe one and a half to two hours. They asked a lot of questions. They asked my birth mother why she gave me up for adoption, and she said her husband at the time - my birth father - wasn't interested in me. 

Then they asked three of my half-siblings, who were there, what they thought of me. They had mixed opinions. My half sister wasn't so interested, and was quite rude. The rest of them were just curious. 

We used a translator. I still managed to speak, but I was in shock afterwards. Shock, disbelief and confusion, and a feeling of having been used for the wrong reasons. It was quite emotional. They certainly had different idea about what it was going to be than I did.

I wasn't sure of my birth mother’s motives at that time, the reasons why she did it. People quite enjoy being on TV in Romania, and some people who watched it said that could have been her reason.

We had a quick chat afterwards with the translator and got each other's contact details but we didn't make contact. It wasn't the right time. There was some not-very-clear communication from her side, a lot of misinformation about certain events. For example, she said I had six half siblings but three had died at birth - but they were actually still alive. Things like that.

At that time I decided not to stay in contact with my birth mother. We'll see what the future brings. I didn't want to distract from the main reason of the trip; the TV show was just an add-on at the beginning. The whole trip lasted two weeks. It was short but busy.

Looking back, it could have been done in a more professional way. I think the [TV show] might need to look at the way they do things. Some people talked to the producers afterwards about what had happened, but things are done a bit differently over there.

I was in Romania with a family friend, a lawyer who runs an NGO. I was going to visit my orphanage, but interestingly enough the government heard about it and intervened. The orphanage’s director had given permission for me to visit, but the government said they didn't want a media scandal. I wasn't going to go there with media in the first place.

Orphanages in Romania on the whole are not that great. They even changed the name of them: they call them "children's homes" now.

The one I did visit was due to connections. The family friend I was with who runs the NGO knew and had worked with the director. It was in good condition and had a lot of foreign funding; from France, the UK, Germany.

But there are reports of orphanages that are still really bad. There is currently one under investigation by the state for child trafficking. It's gotten so bad that the children's commissioner, or their equivalent, is on the case.

I'd go back to Romania in the future, for some talks probably, given that they still have 70,000 children in institutions there. The reason the Romanian government gave when they closed off foreign adoptions from orphanages in 2004 was that they want to keep children in their own culture. And to avoid human trafficking.

But I would say there's more abuse in the homes, and trafficking happens in orphanages.

The ban was put in place when Romania joined the EU. The EU made it one of the requirements. In 2013, I was invited to speak at a parliamentary hearing with some other people who had been adopted. I asked the Romanian politicians there who they were representing when they made those choices. In whose interest was the ban?

They said they couldn't publicly comment on that, because there was lots of media there. And afterwards, all the media footage disappeared.

Alex's parents meet him for the first time.

Alex's parents meet him for the first time. Photo: Unknown