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Daphne Boteler is no longer afraid to share her adoption story

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Daphne Boteler, a freshman at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries, used to hide the fact that she was adopted. In April, she stood in front of 300 people and accepted the Star of Adoption Award from the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.). She was the youngest to receive the award that recognized how far Daphne has come — not only from Manila, Philippines — but also from the child who kept everything inside, to having the confidence to share her story.

Mari Itzkowitz is program director of the Annandale C.A.S.E. office, which is a mental health organization that helps adoptees and their families. Adoption can lend additional layers to mental health issues, she said.

When Itzkowitz met Daphne and her parents, she encountered a family at their wits’ end. She nominated Daphne for the award because of the growth she had seen in her.

“Daphne moved from pretending she wasn’t adopted to being in a place where she could stand in front of people and share her life story,” said Itzkowitz. “I wanted people to hear it and see the progress she and her parents have made.”

Millard and Athene Boteler flew to the Philippines in 2004 to meet their daughter, who was 2 years old at the time. They picked her up from her foster family and headed to a hotel for the night. Before they got far, Daphne’s foster mother quickly ran after them to make sure she didn’t leave without her red pillow, the only thing Daphne owned then and still has to this day. The first night, Athene and her friend went to buy clothes for her daughter while she played with her dad.

Daphne had fun playing, but decided she wanted to go home — back to the home she knew with her foster family. She didn’t understand the new arrangement. “Dad couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand him,” she said of the language barrier.

She kicked, screamed and tried to escape. It was the same method she would use over the years to cope. Athene said no one slept that night.

Daphne confided in a close friend that she was adopted, but when word got out, she felt ashamed and embarrassed, like she was different from everyone. Her denial worked to some degree since her adoptive mother is Filipino.

Each time she encountered mean comments or tough questions — “Can adopted children be returned?” or “Aren’t you lucky you were adopted?” — it would add to her struggle.

When Daphne was 6, her behavior was troubling and her parents sought help from different resources. Daphne would throw tantrums and pull her hair out. One doctor suggested her parents shave her head but they rejected that advice. Millard and Athene sought more help and found C.A.S.E. It was a safe place and Millard said they saw a difference immediately.

Counseling helped the Botelers communicate. Daphne learned to grieve her losses. Traumatic events, such as being shuttled back and forth between the orphanage and foster care before she was 2 years old, not understanding her adoption and removal from what she thought was her forever home with a foster family, led to difficulties adjusting and getting close to anyone.

Two years ago, Daphne sang for the first time in public, boosting her confidence. She gives credit to C.A.S.E., her parents and friends for her growth. Daphne plays piano and guitar and formed an all-girl band, DKA. Music has a calming effect on her. She is a member of her school choir and volunteers every summer as a youth counselor at vacation Bible school at St. Bernadette Church in Springfield.

Millard said the nurturing teachers at John Paul the Great are helping bring Daphne out of her shell and the Catholic education has been phenomenal.  

Daphne now sees her adoption as a badge of honor, recognizing that many people are adopted, but each of them has a unique story.

She has advice for other adoptees: “Don’t be afraid of your story. Embrace it.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017