My Adoption Journey – Daria Rottenberk

My name is Daria Rottenberk, I am a Russian-American adoptee. I was born in St Petersburg, Russia in 1991. I had lived with my birth father until about the age 4, he was an alcoholic and wasn’t around often. I don’t know anything about my birth mother’s possible my father was grieving her loss and fell into a depression. I do remember my memories with him, and I also remember that I had gone mushroom picking in a forest with a woman, who could have been my mother. 

After an unfortunate fishing accident, my father was injured, and had brought me with him to the hospital to be seen. I believe the nurses noticed I was malnourished and neglected, so they placed me in an orphanage walking distance nearby. I don’t fully know if this was intentional by my father, I have always felt it was just bad circumstances and that I was taken from him. For the next 2 years I was placed in 3 orphanages total. I remember I always cried out asking where my father was. To my memory, the orphanages felt institutionalizing and provided no real sense of nurture or individuality. I am now seeing how these experiences from the ages 4-6 have impacted me. 

By age 6, I was in my 3rd and last orphanage. My birth father had come to visit, I am unsure if this was a goodbye, or a gesture to show he was trying. I didn’t know how to comprehend or express things at this age, and I know I was an angry, rebellious child/orphan. Shortly after I was adopted by the Johnson family in Michigan, United States. 

I don’t fully remember the transition, but I know I had learned English rather fast. I did have a hard time communicating and expressing my emotions because of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). Being adopted from a different country and culture and having no answers on what happened with my biological father, ate away at me as a child. The full nurture and support I needed wasn’t fully given, and it became a toxic environment for myself, and the family.  Though I love them very much, I now understand some of the things that were instilled in me from that environment. 

Child Protective Services had put me with another family, which was not much of a better fit for me. I was with them for a short time, and I remember having thoughts of running away. I snuck calls to the first adoptive family, the Johnsons, in hopes of coming back to them. 

I did come back to the Johnson family again. But it was still not the healthiest or best fit. At age 8, The Rottenberk family had decided to meet me, and it followed that I be legally and officially adopted into their family. They were able to provide the nurture, freedom and understanding I needed as a traumatized child. I grew up always loving the Johnsons, as they were my first family, but I understand now that it was also a trauma and heartache that has shaped my thoughts and emotions. I settled in with the Rottenberks well, and was the only child for a while. We later adopted 2 boys, Larry (4 years old) and John (7 years old) at the time. They are half brothers, and are fortunate to be adopted together. 

Growing up until preteen years, I bragged and loved talking about my story, how different I was. I enjoyed expressing through writing and journaling, as I’m sure I didn’t know how else to and found safety in it. But getting into my teenage years, up until my mid 20’s, I numbed myself of my past and closed those chapters. I numbed myself away so much that I had forgotten I was even from Russia. I was triggered by everything-people asking where my name was from, seeing close relationships within other families, seeing people have the same genetics, always being asked about my story, when I was completely closed off to it all. I was deeply hurting inside. I felt misunderstood by everyone. And most of all I felt alone in the world. I became bitter at the world and distracted myself through work and partying. 

I moved to Los Angeles, California when I was 26, in pursuit of my modeling career. Little did I know I’d be taking a spiritual dive into myself. Not only was I physically more alone, but my soul was searching for purpose. I was on a flight for a work trip, and I remember looking outside the window, reflecting on so many things. I had been feeling empty and unfulfilled in life. I asked myself ‘What is missing, what is this void?’ I then felt a sense that it was Russia and my past, my adoptive story, how I had closed myself off from everything, and lacked a sense of identity. I wanted to understand and be more at peace with it all. I was inspired to take on this journey of reconnecting to myself again, searching for answers on my past in Russia, and opening up those traumas for inner growth and healing. 

Since then, I started doing my own research on my past. With the little paperwork that was paper trailed, I had only known my Russian birth name (Valentina Anatolievna Eremenko). My middle name would mean my birth father’s name is Anatoly, and I knew I was from St Petersburg. I knew that my memories would be the main thing to help me investigate and unravel my own story. I connected with a videographer, and we filmed/documented some of my story. I had also connected with a private investigator who wanted to help me search for any of my biological family. I later found I’m Adopted- a charity organization and community of adoptees, and had connected with the founder Alex Gilbert. I eagerly became a spokesmodel/ambassador with I’m Adopted. With my memories and the support I have received, I do hope to make connections of my past and gain a sense of closure and understanding in my healing journey. My purpose is to continue sharing my story to help spread awareness on the adoption experience and give other adoptees a voice. 

– Daria Rottenberk

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Russian - American Adoptee & American Ambassador


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