Adopted from Vietnam, Amy Trotter has been with Holt since 2014 and been a social worker even longer. In honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, Amy shares about her background and hopes for the future as Holt’s director of post adoption.
Amy Trotter knows a lot about adoption.
She became a social worker in 1995, moving into international adoption in 2007. She helped facilitate international adoptions and even counseled birth mothers and adoptive families in the U.S. as they made open adoption plans. But as a biracial Vietnamese adoptee, adoption extends beyond her professional life. It is a profoundly important part of her personal identity as well.
Amy joined Holt International in 2017 as the director of Holt’s Illinois branch office. Then in 2023 she became Holt’s director of post-adoption. Amy is passionate and committed to this work, understanding its importance first-hand.
She’s had many experiences and has learned a lot through her own life as an adoptee. Amy’s new position leading the post-adoption services department will allow her to develop programming for and walk alongside other adoptees as they process their own adoptions.
“I believe in post-adoption services so much,” Amy says. “I have benefitted from them myself many times — to get my birth records, to ask questions and get help with travel for a heritage tour I and my family did. I’ve also attended different webinars, assisted with Holt Adoptee Camps and talked to campers and counselors about their experiences.”
One of Amy’s most significant experiences with post-adoption services was when she did a birth search herself. Then she went on a heritage tour to learn more about her family and cultural identity.
Amy was adopted in February of 1975, right before the Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon. She was 5 when her adoptive family brought her to the United States. She grew up in Ames, Iowa, where her father worked at Iowa State University and her mother was a teacher.
As a biracial adoptee growing up in the heart of the American Midwest, Amy had limited exposure to diversity. She thinks she was one of about three people of color at her high school. Because of this, she feels a strong empathy for other adoptees growing up without many people who look like them.
Amy grew up thinking her own birth parents weren’t alive, that they had probably passed away during the Vietnam War. But her adoptive parents always told her they’d support her returning to her birth country and searching for her birth family, if she ever wanted to. She considered it for many years, and then in 2014, she decided to plan a trip to Vietnam.
A Heritage Tour to Vietnam
Amy traveled back to Vietnam on a Holt Heritage Tour in 2014 with her husband, daughter, adoptive father and her two adoptive brothers and their wives. (Her adoptive mother had passes away almost a decade earlier.) She knew from a Holt birth search that she had birth siblings somewhere. But she didn’t know their names or where they lived. Their tour group didn’t locate any of them during the tour itself. However, soon after returning from Vietnam, she got a call from her birth brother’s daughter, her biological niece. It turned out that her brother lived in Minnesota. Through him, Amy also discovered that one of her sisters and her birth mother had immigrated to California!
“I see them a couple times per year, and we talk almost every week,” Amy says. “Since then, I’ve found out I also have an older sister in Vietnam, and we’ve reconnected too.”
Reuniting with members of her birth family has given Amy insight into her past, the kind that many adoptees hope for — like stories about herself as a baby. Amy’s older sister even remembers taking care of Amy when she was young.
“She said that after she bathed me, she would keep me covered because of my darker skin,” Amy says good-naturedly, remembering what her birth sister told her. “She laughs about washing my hair because when it dried it would just poof up! Curly hair was so foreign to her.”
Learning More About Her Past
Amy’s mother is Vietnamese and her father was African American, although Amy hasn’t been able to find him. She is amused by her sister’s confusion with her hair that dried out into an afro instead of down like typical Vietnamese hair. But, she has also learned some complicated things about her first five years of life, and why she was placed for adoption.
Amy’s birth mother says she was worried about Amy’s safety, as a biracial child in Vietnam at the time. She had friends with biracial children who suffered severe stigma and discrimination — to the point of fearing for their lives — and she didn’t want that for Amy.
“She was worried about me,” Amy says. “The odds of biracial children thriving in Vietnam were low at that time. That was one reason why she ended up placing me in an orphanage to be adopted.”
Despite learning about hard parts of her story, Amy is grateful to have found so many members of her birth family. They continue to keep in touch, and Amy’s daughter has even gotten know her cousins, aunts, uncles and her grandmother.
Adoption Is a Lifelong Experience
For Amy, adoption has been a lifelong experience in many ways. Reconnecting with her birth family in her middle age — once she had a family of her own — has been a journey in and of itself.
“Adoption is a lifelong experience for me especially because of my daughter,” Amy says. “She has grown really connected to her cousins from my birth brothers. She also looks like me and you can see a little Vietnamese in her, which is something she’ll get asked about. It has become a generational story for our family.”
Amy recognizes that part of adoption being a lifelong experience means that it will look very different at different times.
“I’m at this stage right now, but it will certainly change and be different soon,” Amy says. “For example, my birth mom is 83, so when she passes will be a big transition in my adoption [journey]. There are definitely pros and cons about birth parent relationships, and it’s never going to be easy.”
Amy has traveled back to Vietnam since and met more members of her extended family, another gift. She feels fortunate at having been able to find her birth family and have a relationship with them, something post-adoption services helped support her through.
Amy’s Vision for Post-Adoption Services
Amy’s knows firsthand the importance of supporting adoptees throughout their lives. And as the director of post-adoption for Holt, this is her number one priority.
“I really want to focus on making sure that we are able to provide long-term services to adult adoptees” Amy says. “To me, one of the most important resources we can provide is mental health services and support.”
Amy feels strongly about this. She recognizes threads of her own story in the adoptees she connects with, from children to adults.
“Adoptees today still experience the things I did 30 years ago: grief, racial microaggressions and wondering about their heritage,” Amy says. “All [adoptees] think about birth parents, they wonder about doing a heritage tour and what it will feel like. Working in post-adoption, I want to be sure we’re helping things like racism not repeat. I also want to be sure that we’re educating families about supporting adoptees through grief and birth searches as well as we can.”
Amy also understands a fundamental insight she’s wrestled with through her own story. It is this: that the lifelong adoption experience is in many ways about being able to process grief. Like many adoptees, she loves her adoptive family and can’t imagine her life without them. But at the same time, she grapples with the grief of not having been able to grow up in the family, culture and country of her birth. To Amy, helping adoptees process this grief is crucial for post-adoption services.
“We’re really trying to encourage families to understand that adoption is about grief and loss,” Amy reflects. “Adoption is both tough and good, and we need to be able to talk about both. We want to change the mindset that adoption is just an event and talk about it as the life-long process that it is. I would even call it a life cycle!”
Holt Post-Adoption Department Is Here For You
Through Holt’s post-adoption services department, Amy is excited to be able to offer many of these life-long services to adoptees — from counseling, to mentorship to help with birth searches and citizenship and more. Adoptees ages 9 to 17 can attend Holt Adoptee Camp each summer, staffed entirely by other adoptees. Parents can attend parent support clubs and webinars to learn more about their child’s developmental stage and how to have open conversations with them about their adoption.
“People need different resources at different stages, and we want to be able to accommodate that,” Amy says. “We want to be able to talk about the tough pieces so we can learn from them.”
Support & Education
Holt’s post-adoption team offers short-term counseling and can refer you to mental health resources. We also provide ongoing education for adoptive families and professionals on best practices for parenting adoptees.