Alex Gilbert is adopted. The 23 year old New Zealand man was born in Arkhangelsk, Russia and brought to Auckland in 1994 at the age of two by his adoptive parents.
In 2013 Gilbert decided he wanted to find his birth parents and through social media managed to trace his relatives with only their names on a piece of paper. Now, Gilbert wants to help other people find their birth parents, and so the project I'm Adopted was born.
"I have always known I was adopted and when people ask me about my adoption, I am always happy to talk about it," Gilbert told The Huffington Post Australia.
"I was raised in a small town above Auckland, called Whangarei. My brother Andrei and I are both adopted. He has different birth parents, but he is not interested in finding his relatives."
"I feel pretty good with being adopted, there is nothing negative about it. Though, growing up I have always wondered who my birth parents could be. I never knew what they looked like or what they did, it was just always a mystery for me. I love my mum and dad here, so being adopted didn't affect me growing up. It was just always a big wonder," Gilbert said.
Gilbert started the I'm Adopted project around eight months ago after successfully meeting his own birth parents.
"I thought about how I could help other adoptees share their stories like I did. I created a forum through Facebook which is a great way to share people's stories and experiences. A lot of adopted people don't like to talk about their adoption and quite often keep that information to themselves. Creating this page has helped many people tell their stories with other adoptees so they can all relate with each other," Gilbert said.
Speaking about his own search which sparked the project, Gilbert had the full support of his adoptive parents.
"When I decided to start looking for my birth parents my parents were very supportive. My mum and dad were fascinated with the entire journey. I kept them updated with what new information I was able to find and my mum and dad also really wanted to meet my birth parents too," Gilbert said.
"Meeting my birth parents was an eye opener for me. Meeting my birth mother, Tatiana, for the first time was a little bit of a shock."
"I flew to Moscow by myself and then met up with a friend there who was documenting my journey for me. We then drove to the small town of Rybinsk which is a six hour drive out of Moscow. My birth mother was waiting for me by her apartment and I didn't know what to expect or what to see."
"I left the car walked over to her carrying a bag of gifts in my hand. I got up to her and gave her a hug, though it was a very awkward hug. I said 'hello' and then she started to ask me questions. She took me into her apartment which was really quite small. Her bed was in the lounge and we could only have a few people in the lounge at a time. I asked her many questions about her upbringing. She herself was in an orphanage and she told me she was unable to take care of me at the time and struggled with money."
Gilbert with his parents and birth mother.
"Overall the meet up with her was good and I was happy that I was able to do it. I couldn't be more thankful," Gilbert said.
The following day Gilbert prepared himself to meet his birth father for the first time.
"My birth father, Mihail, was incredible. He told me many times before meeting that he was so excited. When I met him, he picked me up and wouldn't let go. I met his entire family and he told me he didn't know about me at all as my birth mother didn't tell him she was pregnant. My birth mother just left her town at the time and didn't tell anyone, nobody knew where she went."
"Mihail has told me many times that he would have raised me had he known I was born. Though the past is the past and now we only think about the present I am happy I got to make that connection with both my birth parents and I am very happy with the life I have now. I couldn't ask for anything more," Gilbert said.
Gilbert hopes that his story and the platform he has created will encourage others to embark on their own search.
"Several adoptees have been able to find their birth parents already. We had our first I'm Adopted meet up last weekend, where we had adoptees get together for the first time. This was incredible, they all just talked about their stories with each other and every different story was unique. I hope that the community will grow more and more so that it can help more and more," Gilbert said.
Watch Gilbert meet his birth parents in Russia: