Monday, May 9, 2016


It has been several years since my last post here and I am so pleased to be able to report that the unease has greatly eased! My own motherhood and lots of work on healing and moving forward, has brought to a better place. I have matured and grown as a person, and my mother and I have done lots of work separately and together on healing the wounds that kept up bound to the past in stagnation.

I am writing a memoir about my abduction (due 2017) and I have learned so much in the process of writing. Acceptance, love, healing, moving forward. It has been excruciatingly painful at times. I have reconnected with my father after 20+ years apart and it has been so painful to see his life deteriorating in sickness and loneliness in his tiny one-room apartment in Jerusalem, his new home. A documentary film about our story came out in 2015, called Sarah Cecilie, and it was helpful to find a path toward forgiveness and reconciliation with the man I hated and feared for so long.

He is flawed, perpetually sure of himself, and deeply wounded. I can move on now. I can take in the love that he has always had for me and allow it to nurture me, while at the same time let go of the many illusions I had about how his version of our life story would mesh with mine. He holds fast to his position and I stand clear in mine. He has mumbled a few words of apology only to add hateful words of pain to them. "Why don't you and your brothers thank me for all I did for you?" He asks. "I shouldn't have bothered," he says.

"I love you, Ta," I tell him. I don't bother to argue anymore. I love him despite his lack of ability to take responsibility for his actions that wrecked two families and caused so much unnecessary pain. He hurts, and therefore he has hurt others. It is not an excuse, but an explanation.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Unease, lack of movement, stagnancy

This was written at a time of pain. See my update in the next post.

Unease. I felt this as soon as I started to understand what parents want of their children. I had to confront my worst fear, that I would never be good enough the way I was. 
My mother was a Norwegian woman raised as a Lutheran, and because I was abducted I had become an American Jewish girl. I had become a foreigner to my own mother. So much of me was going to be a painful reminder to my mother that she did not have the influence that she had surely wanted to have in my childhood. 

Because I was abducted, I, through no fault of my own, had formed an identity that was different than it would have been had I grown up with my mother. 

As so many other kids do, I struggled through my childhood, teen years and into adulthood, to figure out what I believe in, what I feel about various spiritual and social issues, in short, I was trying to figure out who I was. What did it mean to be an American Jewish girl with a dash of Norwegian heritage thrown in? I had no idea for a very long time and it was so painful.
I my growing up with extra unease, an undercurrent of feeling that there was someone else I was supposed to be. This was very difficult, even oppressive, as I struggled to make sense of my world. I hoped that one day my mother would embrace me and accept me as I was. I needed her in my life to feel whole, and that I wanted to share myself fully with her. Half of my DNA came from her, and I was actually a whole lot like her in temperament despite our 14 years time apart. I hoped that this would be enough, and that I would never have to feel that I was not what she wanted and hoped for. 
But the fact was that the pain and loss, the unease, remained for a long time. I would be the American, Jewish, abducted daughter who my mother felt alienated from. There would be reminders that represented my mothers losses and pain, and those reminders are within me. They are in my language, my name, my way of being. And they inform who I am. 
And any issues that remotely touched upon the parts of me that were tied to the abduction, would be reminders that I was abducted, that I was different, that we as mother and daughter are integrally different from the fantasy that all parents have when they have a child. 

I longed to cry out, "I am first and foremost a human being, just like you, mother. I am not so terribly different, and I am not less your child, because I have an identity that is somewhat different from yours. Get over yourself and see what it is like from my point of view. It is deeply painful to feel that your sense of loss revolves around who I am not!" 
It is highly convenient to have an excuse for anything that goes even slightly wrong: oh, that argument, that misunderstanding, that difference of opinion, it´s all because I was abducted. Oh yeah?! Nope, sorry! Some of my friends who were not abducted have great hardships in their relationships with their parents. And they have nothing outside of themselves to blame it on. 

My mother needs me to validate her, to help her feel like a good enough parent, a lovable person and important enough in my life. Her need to express her pain, to feel her losses in life (so many of which have nothing directly to do with the abduction), and to mourn it, has taken alot of space in our relationship. I would have preferred to really get to know each other, to accept each other, and to embrace one another in our differences, despite the losses, rather than focusing on them as an unending source of pain and separation. 

My mother was the youngest daughter of a family of five girls and one boy. Her brother, my uncle, is younger than her. The whole family has struggled with various issues, including depression and anxiety, dating back to a difficult and uneasy childhood. Their parents, hard working farmers, did their very best to provide for their family. They were good people who died young and struggled with many issues, especially a dysfunctional marriage and much anger and frustration in relating to one another. My paternal grandparents lived on the farm with them, and they were difficult to deal with. The two women did not get along, and there was much spoken and unspoken criticism and anger in the air. This was stifling and stressful for the children, and communication of any sort of difficult feelings is deeply distressing to most of my aunts and my uncle. There is a sense of defensiveness and criticism in the air even today when they gather together, and although nothing is spoken about and they care for one another deeply, there is an elephant in the room - lots of feelings and pain not worked on. My mother dealt with depression early in her life, and sought help for it. I´m proud of her for that. She was a smart, insightful young woman who was keenly aware of the problems in the family and she sought to forge onward and build her own life, understanding that her development would not be optimal if she stayed on the farm or in the small town the farm is situated on. She got an education, moved away, and exposed herself to other ways of life. I´m so proud of her for that. 

She was deeply affected by her childhood, and had several episodes of depression while in her young twenties. That is healthy and normal, in my view, given what she had gone through. My grandmother even left my grandfather for a time, taking the two youngest kids with her. My mother was one of those kids, and I´m sure it was dramatic to leaver the farm and her older siblings with a mother who was surely in deep pain and turmoil. This and other events must have been deeply painful. I see my mother as a seeker of truth, and she hurt for that, but it is also a gift to really feel life as it is. However, the abduction was then too much for her. It was crushing for someone already deeply affected by a childhood poor in security, love and positive communication. Mom didn´t feel good about herself because of it. How could she? Children internalize their parents misery, and easily feel bad about themselves if they are not helped to accept themselves and love themselves at an early age. 

My mother often says that she was very happy before I was abducted, and had a song in her heart. I don´t really buy that, although I have no doubt that she was happier then. I feel that she was struggling with low self-esteem and episodes of depression, and also with trust issues in relating to other people in her life. Totally understandable, and I struggled with much of the same. I´m not in any way judging her for this, as it is completely normal given the circumstances. 

But then, the abduction was such a huge event that it overshadowed everything else. My mom lives in it, and her whole life revolves around it as the reason for everything that is wrong in her life. She feels judged by others, cast out, terminally blemished with shame and pain, because of it. And honestly, I see many other parents who have dealt with abduction who have fared much better. They seem to have had more to go on from other sources in their lives. But mom did not have that backup positive energy to help her through, as she was already struggling before I was abducted. 

I wish that my mom could see that so much of her suffering now is, in a way, self-inflicted. It is what she tells herself about herself, about reality, about her options in life, that are a big source of suffering. She attributes everything that is painful, whether in relating to others or problems at work, to the abduction, and I don´t see it as such. Sure, it is defining and important. But there is so much else, and people in our lives have tried to put it in perspective for her. They don´t define her solely as the woman whose child was abducted. But she does. One of her friends told me once that she wishes my mom didn´t constantly talk about it, as it got boring after a time to focus so much on it. She wanted to know about other parts of my mom, and did not see it as the only defining issue for my mom. Another woman, a social worker, talked about what other people she knows have gone through, things much worse than abduction, to try and put it in perspective. She saw that my mom was so sure that everyone only sees her as a victim. No! That is how my mom feels about herself, but it is not the only thing people see. 

I have felt oppressed by how mom sees everything as relating to the abduction, and her desperate need for me to validate and see that. Music, pictures, various choices, small comments by people in her life that to her indicated their disapproval or lack of acceptance, and much more seem to cause constant pain today. I once wrote a postcard to an aunt, Martha, my mother´s sister. I left out her last name, and simply addressed it to "Aunt Martha" as a way to be more familial and endearing. It turned out that the postman did not know which Martha it was for, and had to inquire with several Marthas in the village to find out whom it was addressed to. I thought nothing of it on my end, simply hoping to let Martha know I felt familiar and warm towards her. When I spoke with my mother shortly after I sent the postcard, my mom informed me of what had happened in an upset tone. She did not see any humor in it at all, and did not spare my feelings in telling me how Martha is traumatized by my abduction and can´t talk to anyone about it, especially not outsiders. The fact that the postman called Martha about me, the abducted child living in the USA, was bringing the abduction out in the open somehow, and was deeply upsetting. I started to understand then just how little the family had accepted and integrated into some kind of normal, my abduction and return to the family. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Special Commission of June 2011 on the practical operation of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention and the 1996 Hague Child Protection Convention

I was invited to attend the June 2011 special commission meeting on the Hague Convention on International Parental Child Abduction as a member of PACT- Parents and Abducted Children Together, Catherine Meyer´s organization. Catherine is a special lady. More about her in the words that follow.

The Hague: My first impression is one of an old-world European city that manages to be friendly and laid-back at the same time as it is well-established and old-world. My mother, my son Aidan (along for the trip) and I arrive together with Catherine Meyer, the dynamic, wonderful founder of Parents and Abducted Children Together (aka PACT), at Schiphol Airport. Catherine is one of my heroes. Her two sons were abducted from her to Germany by her ex-husband, and she has been a tireless advocate and voice for those who go through abduction ever since. Her years in Washington, DC, as the British Ambassador´s wife (her husband is Sir Christopher Meyer, former British Ambassador), were used to advocate for the cause. Catherine wrote a moving book about her experience, called They are My Children, Too. Catherine is important to me. As a mother whose children were abducted, she brought the issue to a new light by being so public about her story while in Washington, and she touches many people by telling her story and by her work on the issue.
The conference took place at the famous Peace Palace. What a beautiful building! I love the name, it evokes calm and comfort, and is a wonderful place to be to work together to find common solutions and international cooperation on the issue of parental child abduction.
The conference room took my breath away. A few hundred people, each representing a country or organization, all sitting in rows with their country or organization´s "flag" before them, microphones for each. Above us, the many interpreters sat, to aid us in understanding one another.
I got to talk about my experience a bit to the crowd, in the context of the continued importance of the Convention in preventing the incidence of "forum shopping," of parents abducting children more than once in order to find a more sympathetic forum, or court. The Convention aims to prevent this by sending the abductor and child back to where they came from. I got applause from the audience after sharing my family´s forum shopping story: many lands and two sets of kids were involved because the Hague Convention did not exist at the time.
It was heartwarming to me to feel the energy in the air, and to know that they, all two or three hundred attendees, were there to deal with parental abduction! With what was my story! I fought tears at times, choked back emotions, as I took in the fact that all those people understood that abduction is not just "a simple domestic matter," and that parentally abducted kids are not "safe and okay just because they are with a parent!"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April 14th 2010

I quietly mark the 36th anniversary of my abduction on this day. There is an ache that won´t go away today. I ache for all the broken children affected by divorce and custody conflicts, forced to tear a hole in their souls by having to choose which of their parents to love.
This breaks children´s hearts. It broke mine, as with each passing day after April 14th 1974, the memories of my mother´s love got weaker. I forgot her face, her language, her family. It all faded as I was told terrible things about her, untrue things, and read the hatred on my father´s face. She became a stranger to me, a faceless stranger, as I struggled to survive my new life, life on the run. I was running away from my own mother.
I went along with the lies because I was too innocent to believe that my own father would betray my trust. And because I had no real choice. As I stopped missing her because I could not remember her, I absorbed my father´s hatred and made it my own. I became afraid of her as she became a faceless stranger who wanted to take me to a place I no longer identified with, and I became afraid to lose the life I had come to know. So I rejected her, hated her, to keep my father´s love. He was all I had, or so I thought for a long time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Media madness, or the challenge of getting ones desired message across

In the past few weeks, I have been on the front page of one article and interviewed in another short article in Aftenposten, one of Norway´s more respectable papers. I was interviewed by NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting System´s) radio twice, appeared on NRK television once, and had an awful article published in VG, a tabloid newspaper. The last was awful and I´m going to try and forget about it, but the others were okay, though I feel a bit overexposed at this point as my dramatic story gets overly used every time.

This time around, there were larger issues connected to parental child abduction that were focused on in addition to my own story. I am happy about that, as I hope to work on large-scale issues connected to custody in the future. But I am a bit concerned about the parts of my interview that were left out in the articles and interviews. The Aftenposten journalist (a wonderful woman named Olga Stokke) and I sat and talked for over 2 hours, and the conversation got boiled down to a few short paragraphs in the paper. Typical, but worrisome for me when the subject matter is so sensitive.

It all started when I read an article in A magasinet, Aftenposten´s weekly magazine, about a growing trend among parents whose children have been abducted to another country--the trend is the recovery of children by SWAT-like teams who charge large sums of money to locate, track and smuggle children away from the parent who has abducted them. This is often done when the government or legal authorities do not intervene in a timely fashion, or in the case where children are abducted to countries that do not recognize the legal authority of the country a child was abducted from. But these teams are often used by parents whose children are abducted to other western countries, and rather than wait for the legal wheels to (often way too slowly) turn, these parents take matters into their own hands.

It is awful to have a child abducted and to feel helpless because the child is in a country that does not recognize international child abduction treaties or does not have diplomatic ties with western countries. To feel that no one, nothing, can help and that one has to take matters into one´s own hands is a terrible place to be. This can be the case even when dealing with "friendly" countries, countries that do recognize international child abduction as a crime. All too often, the wheels of justice turn way too slowly in these cases, or do not turn at all. I have incredible sympathy for parents in these situations and for the mother featured in the story in A Magasinet, but despite this, warning bells went off in my head.

While I do see the value of recovering children in this manner in some cases, I have been contacted by children who have been "recovered" back and forth multiple times, as both parents feel entitled to custody of the child and will not compromise. These children are angry and bitter at both parents, and are often terribly traumatized and angry. From their point of view, both parents are seen as either untrustworthy or possessive, and these children are stuck in a tug of war in which there are no real winners. Of course, each case is unique and there is not any one solution for all families. But I knew that I had to speak out about the dangers, while at the same time encouraging society and the authorities to do more for these families so that such drastic measures and potential negative consequences could be avoided if at all possible. Unfortunately, I feel that my message got reduced to warning parents not to recover in this way, without all the nuances and reasons for why I feel this way coming across.

If a child has been missing for a long time, I worry about the trauma of losing what has become familiar and known, without the buffer of a transition period and mental and legal help to shield the child from shock, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I foresee damage to the future relationship with the victim (or left-behind) parent and increased difficulty in forming trusting relationships. This was an important point in my interview, which got left out in the article itself. I talked at length about the concept of parental alienation, which is the process in which a child is turned against a parent and is made to believe that they are dangerous to them. This happened to me, and I told the journalist that once some time had gone by and I forgot my mother and her love, it would have been terribly traumatic to be recovered by undercover agents without a transitionary period and good mental health support. I emphasized the fact that the authorities must act in a more timely way in these cases to avoid this issue. The return to the original home as soon as possible is imperative in order to reduce trauma.

My ideal scenario is one where the legal and mental health authorities work quickly to locate and resolve cases of parental abduction, and where children are given intense support in reuniting with the parent they were abducted from so that the process of return is as gentle as possible, thus giving the reunited parent and child every possible chance at success.

Additionally, older children who experience undercover recoveries may react in self-destructive ways. I have witnessed this personally, and this is another problem in recoveries of older children who have not been given proper support and preparation for returning to the victim parent.

Last but not least, my biggest concern is that if this trend continues, where parents feel forced to take matters into their own hands, the government will continue to view parental abduction, especially complex cases of international parental abduction, as "private" or domestic issues, best left to parents to solve on their own.

The high risk of physical and emotional harm to children and parents, the risk of financial ruin for desperate parents (these militaristic teams can charge up to several hundred thousand dollars depending on the case), and the threat of lessened societal and governmental involvement, are the reasons why I urge that taking matters into ones own hands this way be approached with extreme caution.

It is unfortunate that the nuances of my message did not come through in the Aftenposten article. I appeal to national and international authorities and to child welfare agencies to take parental child abduction seriously enough that each case is given top priority immediately upon being reported. The time factor is of the essence, both regarding the physical state and location of the child, but just as importantly, the emotional and mental state of the child. It did not take my father long to alienate me from my mother. The simple passage of a few weeks is enough time to create a great sense of distance and fear of the other parent in the heart and mind of a young child.

I did not mean to indicate that victim parents are the "bad guys" for resorting to what I see as desperate measures, but that many more resources are needed to adequately address the growing problem of child abduction by the authorities. And I simply wanted to point out that, in the long-run, I do not see undercover recoveries as a workable solution of choice in most cases. The children desperately need and deserve to be prioritized in these cases, so that they can be returned to their legal domiciles as soon as possible.

Here´s a link to the front-page article in Aftenposten:
Here´s a link to a follow-up article in Aftenposten, where I comment on the New Year´s Eve abduction of a 4-year-old girl to Iraq by her father:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Poem for My Unborn Child

My Precious Little Boy

I love you already
As you wait patiently, safely, in my womb,
For the day you meet your family.

I hope that I can give you
All that you deserve,
warmth, security, peace,
and so much more.

You are perfect, innocent, beautiful,
a little soul that is open, ready to love, ready to trust.
I want to meet you in the purity of your newness.
I hope that your spirit is never hurt by those in the shadows,
those who have forgotten how to love and nurture.

Your yet-unborn sweetness is a song in my heart.
Your little movements, thumps and bumps warm me.
I am reminded of your fragility,
and your strength.

You are strong,
yet you are achingly vulnerable.
You are all that the universe has given you.
Your birthright and your heritage,
Is to use your humanity in the way that you desire.
And not to be blunted by unnecessary pain and sorrow.

My dearest wish for you:
please, world, show you the beauty that exists
in the sun, the stars, the flowers, the animals,
and in the beautiful people who have not forgotten how to love.
May you always live from the perfect love that now exists within your unblemished heart and soul.

My Baby

I am 8 months pregnant with our second son. And I am elated. I am carrying a healthy baby according to ultrasound reports, and it is a joy to be expanding our family to a foursome. It is a wonderful that we will soon meet our next child and provide a sibling for our son Aidan, who will turn four in January.

But in addition to all the anticipatory joy, I carry with me the baggage of being an adult who was parentally abducted as a child. This affects my pregnancy and my parenting. I share this in the hopes that it can help others dealing with custody issues, so that others understand the effects of custodial strife on their children. Being a child of a severely conflicted home inevitably affects adult children as they start their own families.

I was parentally abducted from my mother at the age of four, and would not see her again until I was eighteen. My father took me from our home in Norway to New York City, and I was led to fear my mother´s culture, family and love for me. I spent my childhood on the run, in fear of a mother I had loved. I have spent years rebuilding my shattered relationship with my mother after the devastation my father´s actions caused.

As young adult I began to deal with the long-term ramifications of the abduction. Until then I had accepted my father´s lies and justifications for his actions. I stopped trusting myself and others at some point, since I had believed a lie for so long. I had learned to deny the existence of the part of me that came from my mother. I had to question everything I had been taught about my family history, every perception I had about my life and my past. It was and is painful , but early adulthood was particularly filled with confusion.

My name, identity, background, history, appearance, all the basics that make up a person´s selfhood and frame of reference had to be questioned and patched together to create a new self-image. I stopped fearing my mother as we became reacquainted, which was liberating. It helped me to accept a part of myself I had rejected. For a long time I denied her existence in my life because of the negativity I was taught to feel towards her. I even insisted to other children that I had never had a mother when I was very young, as I had forgotten what she looked like and she had become an apparition to me. I cried when another little girl insisted that everyone has a mother. But as I grew more sophisticated in my understanding of what had really happened, I was left with the awful realization that my father did not do what he did for my benefit, although he tried to make it seem that way. He knew that there were other options, but he chose the most drastic of them all. I felt deeply betrayed, and fell into deep depression and despair.

My name was changed when I was abducted, from “Cecilie Rina” to the name “Sarah. “ While I had several other assumed names during the years on the run, Sarah was the one I had used the most, and had grown to feel most familiar and comfortable with. As I began to make sense of my history, it struck me that the name Sarah was tied to an injustice, and I struggled with how to deal with this. I experimented with using Cecilie as my primary name, but dropping Sarah felt forced. I felt I lost a part of myself when I experimented with letting it go. Sarah was an integral part of who I had developed into. I could not turn myself into the little girl I once was or deny the part of me Sarah had come to represent. However, it felt like I was continuing to live a lie by using it.
A few weeks ago, ready to make legal peace with this at long last, I decided to officially change my name to “Sarah Cecilie” and drop the middle name I never used, “Rina” which had been my father´s choice when I was born. This way, I get to keep a name that is familiar and comfortable, while acknowledging the importance of the name Cecilie in my life. I cannot right all the injustices of my father´s actions, but it feels good to resolve the name issue this way, and to honor my needs and comfort levels.

Naming our new baby will be a joy, but also a reminder that for a vulnerable child, something as basic as a name can create chaos and heartache.

Identity and cultural issues still loom large. My mother was raised Protestant in Norway, my American father was raised as a secular Jew, and the rest of the family is a bit of everything. It has caused tension, especially since family bonds were already weakened by the years apart and the rifts in the family. My husband, John, grew up Catholic. We take part in celebrating both major Jewish and Christian holidays, but cultural divisions still play a role in creating a sense of being split, especially on my side of the family. Unfortunate for a family already divided in such significant ways.

Like many others who have lived life on the run, there is no physical place I can truly call home, and no culture that I am an integral part of. There cannot be, as I did not spend enough time in any one place to develop a real sense of belonging. My roots, my heritage, a sense of connection to these, have been fragmented by parental abduction—lost time with loved ones, years on the run, and the fact that I disattached myself mentally from people and places as a child in order to cope with the feelings of loss as we constantly moved from place to place.

On the positive side, I am open to all cultures and religions, and this is a gift that has enriched my life in many ways. But the fact that I am not an integral part of any unit, even that of my own family, is painful. The years spent apart and the inevitable cultural differences informs the way people relate to me. I am thankful for my husband´s family, who have welcomed me with open arms, and this is a new joy for me.

I struggle with depression. It started when I was abducted, and it continues, though not constantly, to today. I had post-partum depression when Aidan was born, which manifested as insomnia that did not allow me to sleep even when the baby did, irrational fears of not being able to protect my baby, deep anxiety, and reliving my own traumatic childhood when I became a parent myself. The emotions were strong, and though I am a resourceful person, it took all my energy to maintain a sense of normalcy on a daily basis. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I was also deeply in love with our darling little son, which ironically made the depression deeper as I did not feel adequate as a mother. I had no “norms” to fall back upon and incorporate into my own parenting, and I felt lost. I worried about my relationship with my boy while still in the hospital. Gnawing, nagging fears of not being able to communicate with him, of becoming like my father, flooded me. Memories of my own losses also came flooding back, and I did not breathe freely those first months.

I also struggled with the idea that I was going to have the title of “parent.” I had such mixed feelings about parents. Aidan was very much wanted. But at the same time, I knew how awful parents could be to their own children, how blind they could be to the pain they can cause, and how powerful they are in the heart and soul of a child. I had, and have, problems trusting in my own abilities, so I agonized over this.
I am slowly learning to trust myself more, but I still agonize a lot. Aidan is my guide, and I learn so much every day by being with him. He is a sensitive, loving, wonderful little boy, and it is wonderful to have a family of my own. This pregnancy is easier emotionally, thanks to Aidan and the confidence I am slowly building as a parent. The struggles remain, though. The dark legacy of parental abduction casts a shadow on generations after it.