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US Adoptees Stolen as Babies from Chile Find Families, Each Other in Growing Support Network

One USA TODAY story alone reached six people who’ve confirmed they were stolen from their families in Chile and adopted out to families in foreign countries, including the U.S.

Rachel Smolka’s adoption paperwork said she was the result of a rape and that her single mother didn’t want to raise a baby alone. Other forms said she had no father or mother at all and had been abandoned.

Matt Molokie’s papers said his mother got pregnant at 18 and had decided to give her son a better life by putting him up for adoption.

It was all a lie.

Both Smolka and Molokie recently confirmed that they were stolen from their single, low-income mothers in Chile in the 1980s.

Smolka and Molokie were strangers until two months ago when they learned of their similar pasts and remarkably, that they grew up just 20 minutes from each other on Staten Island, New York.

They’ve not only formed a unique friendship out of their tragic pasts, but they are also part of a growing community of people who’ve learned the truth about their adoptions in Chile and reconnected with their birth families.

In the U.S., more than 40 of the adoptees have formed a support network where they can share their pasts and their pain, and find comfort in knowing they’re not alone.

For 40 years, Rachel Smolka believed she had a typical adoption story: Her birth mother, Karina del Carmen Valdes Lara, simply couldn’t take care of her and decided she’d be better off with another family.

In reality, Valdes told USA TODAY that she had been looking forward to having a baby; she wasn’t raped like the paperwork said. She was unmarried but she was going to figure it out, she was going to be a good mom.

After giving birth on Nov. 28, 1981, Valdes said she got to hold her newborn daughter only once before the midwife took her away, later telling her the baby had asphyxiated and died. While Valdes grieved, Smolka was being raised in New York by adoptive parents who had no idea their baby had been stolen from her mother.

Although Valdes eventually learned the truth that her baby was alive, she had no way to find out where she was or why she’d been stolen. But she never gave up hope.

“For me, every Nov. 28 marked the year because it was my daughter’s birthday,” Valdes told USA TODAY from her home in Chile. “On her birthday, I would silently tell her, ‘Happy birthday.’ I never missed a birthday.”

Karina del Carmen Valdes Lara is pictured at her home in Chile in February 2023.

One day in early 2021, Valdes came across a USA TODAY story about international adoptees who had mistakenly believed they were U.S. citizens.

Although Smolka had a wonderful childhood, she said the story sparked questions about her past. As she began researching she learned that more than 20,000 children were stolen from their families in Chile and adopted out to foreigners mostly in the U.S. and northern Europe.

Eventually she would learn that she was one of them and she found Valdes on Facebook. They were on a video call the next day.

“I was in shock,” Smolka said.

‘Changing lives’

Matt Molokie (second from the left) is pictured with his Chilean family, including his mother (center) during a visit in June 2023.

Like Smolka, Matt Molokie was going about his daily routine when he came across a story that would change his life. He read a report by USA TODAY about a California man who got to meet his sister in Chile after finding out he had had been stolen from his mother in the 1980s.

Molokie said the story made him wonder about his own adoption and that he decided to reach out to Nos Buscamos, an NGO dedicated to reuniting stolen children with their Chilean families.

Within a half hour the agency got back to him and said they knew where his birth mother was.

Molokie’s mother would come to tell him that her sisters brought her to a halfway house when she was 4 months pregnant and that she was held captive until she had the baby. Once she gave birth, they took him away, telling her she couldn’t support the baby on her own.  

She never told a soul what had happened until Molokie and Nos Buscamos had found her.

In all, six cases have been resolved as a result of the same USA TODAY story that Molokie read, said Constanza del Río, founder and president of Nos Buscamos.

“It really raised attention,” she said. “It’s awesome for us because it’s about changing lives.”

Since learning the truth about their adoptions, both Smolka and Molokie have reunited with their families in Chile.

Smolka went for a week in February, not only reuniting with her mother but also meeting four sisters, a brother and 10 nieces and nephews for the first time. She worked with her adopted mother to put together an album of photos showing Smolka growing up in New York so that her birth mother could see how she was raised.

“I was a nervous wreck to go down there,” Smolka said. “I went there not knowing what to expect, and when I left, I felt like a piece of like my heart and soul was left there.”

As for her birth mother, Valdes said she “cried with grief and with joy” when she finally found out what had happened to her daughter. Getting to hold her for the first time in more than 40 years felt like a miracle.

“I never imagined I would find her,” she said. “I’m very happy that God gave me the opportunity and put my daughter in my path because I asked God on my knees to put my daughter in a dream so I could meet her and tell her everything.”

Molokie said he also had a powerfully emotional reunion with his family in Chile when he went there this month.

“My mother was waiting for me when I got off the plane,” he said. “She just broke down crying. I think she cried every day I was there. She just held onto me and wouldn’t let go and just kept crying and apologizing.”

He said his mother seems more at peace now that she knows what happened to her son.

Finding comfort

Matt Molokie and Rachel Smolka met for the first time in April 2023, when they learned they were both born a half hour apart in Chile and both grew up in Staten Island, New York. Both Molokie and Smolka are among upwards of 20,000 people stolen from their mothers in Chile as babies.

Through the support group of Chilean adoptees like them, Smolka and Molokie already have formed a tight friendship in just two months.

When Molokie had to say goodbye to his Chilean family and get back on a plane to New York, he was hit with a wave of emotions. The first person he reached out to was Smolka.

“I’ve never felt such an attachment to people so fast before,” he said about his Chilean family. “I reached out immediately to Rachel at the airport and I was like, ‘Was this as difficult for you, as well? I feel like an emotional mess right now.’ She answered me in two minutes. I didn’t feel so alone.'”

That’s exactly why Nos Buscamos started support groups in countries around the world where there are multiple Chilean adoptees stolen from their mothers. So far there are support groups in the U.S., the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Peru and Australia, del Río said.

Constanza del Río, the founder and president of Nos Buscamos, is pictured. Nos Buscamos says it has reunited 400 adoptees with the families they were stolen from in Chile.

She said she and another group member came up with the idea for the support groups watching NBC’s “This is Us,” which depicted a character who had been adopted finding comfort in talking to other adoptees.

The community of stolen adoptees will only continue to grow, del Río said. So far, her group has reunited about 400 adoptees with their families and believes there are more than 20,000 to go.

“It’s moving slowly but we started in 2014 and nobody knew about this and now I’m talking with a journalist in the United States,” she said. “It’s not as fast as we would like but it’s working … One by one.”

One by one, each person who finds out that they were stolen from Chile is figuring out their new normal, integrating their new families into their lives, introducing their two completely different worlds.

Both Smolka and Molokie are planning on returning to Chile to further deepen their connections.

“Now I have a whole family in Chile,” Smolka said. “The beginning of my life sounds like a twisted horror movie and I lived almost four decades having no idea. But now there is a rainbow.”

Source : USA Today