Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Concerns about international adoption

I keep reading these stories about Haitian kids being brought out of Haiti as fast as possible, about adoptions being fast-tracked and paperwork being missing and orphanages saving lives. Lots of the stories take the angle of the Americans, French, etc. as saviors, bringing these children away from misery and suffering into wonderful new lives. And in some cases, maybe that's true. But the whole thing makes me squirmy.

I have to say, right up front, that I think that everyone involved has the best of intentions. But I have some serious qualms. I can maybe understand the kids whose adoptions were already finalized being taken to their new homes ahead of schedule. But the ones whose adoptions were in process, and now the paperwork is lost? It seems to me that when paperwork is lost, that should be a reason to slow down a process to make sure everything is in order, instead of speeding it up.

And the kids who were supposedly abandoned? How can you call it abandonment when a country is in chaos, officials are finding it challenging to distribute aid because it's so hard to get around, the city has literally collapsed, and people have very limited ways of communicating? How can you know if a child has been abandoned or if the family is frantically looking for them and has not yet found them?

The whole thing makes me uncomfortable. Then, a few days ago, a group called Adoptees of Color released a statement that articulated everything about this situation that makes me uncomfortable.

But it also went well beyond my feelings on the matter, and touched on aspects of all international adoptions, aspects that I had thought about in the past, but not in that framework. Frankly, the statement gave me huge reservations about international adoption in general.

I've mentioned before that Torsten and I have seriously considered adopting, and are still considering it. I lived in Senegal for five months and have an interest in Africa, so my first thought was that we might like to adopt an African child. And as I said before, I wouldn't want to cut any child off from the culture where it was born and try to force it to assimilate completely to our lifestyles here.

But this statement had some really forceful language about international adoption, and it's coming from a group of adoptees of color--basically a group of people who come from the same situation that any child we adopted from Africa would be raised in. And the statement isn't just talking about Haiti.

Some especially striking quotes:
"We resist the racist, colonialist mentality that positions the Western nuclear family as superior to other conceptions of family, and we seek to challenge those who abuse the phrase 'Every child deserves a family' to rethink how this phrase is used to justify the removal of children from Haiti for the fulfillment of their own needs and desires. Western and Northern desire for ownership of Haitian children directly contributes to the destruction of existing family and community structures in Haiti. This individualistic desire is supported by the historical and global anti-African sentiment which negates the validity of black mothers and fathers and condones the separation of black children from their families, cultures, and countries of origin."

"We bear testimony to the ways in which the intercountry adoption industry has profited from and reinforced neo-liberal structural adjustment policies, aid dependency, population control policies, unsustainable development, corruption, and child trafficking."

"Our adoptions from Vietnam, South Korea, Guatemala and many other countries are no different from what is happening to the children of Haiti today. Like us, these 'disaster orphans' will grow into adulthood and begin to grasp the magnitude of the abuse, fraud, negligence, suffering, and deprivation of human rights involved in their displacements."

"We have learned first-hand that adoption (domestic or intercountry) itself as a process forces children to negate their true feelings of grief, anger, pain or loss, and to assimilate to meet the desires and expectations of strangers."
Well. Those are some strong words, right there. And I'm not saying I disagree with them. I absolutely think they're valid, and certainly those who have gone through this experience themselves can speak about it and what it means and how it affects them in a way that outsiders cannot.

And I would hope that in our family, at least some of these things wouldn't hold true. We aren't saying that our conception of family is better; we're saying it's also good. A potential future adopted child of ours would never be expected to deny their true feelings and emotions about their history and their family. But certainly, there's a broader culture and framework to all this that anyone who adopts internationally has to buy into, at least to a certain extent.

Frankly, reading this statement made me not want to adopt a child, ever, and certainly not internationally. It has definitely given me reservations that I didn't have before. It seems that the whole adoption experience is fraught with landmines. And I can only imagine how hurt and sad I would feel as the parent of one of these children to read these strong words written about their experience, and to know that they felt this way.

And I don't know if there's a way to stop it. Perhaps I'm over-thinking this, but this has certainly opened my eyes to a whole new dimension of international adoption, all international adoption, and probably some (or all) domestic adoptions as well.

I've always felt that conceiving a child is a somewhat selfish, though completely justifiable (I do plan on doing it myself, after all) act when there are so many children in the world who need homes. But of course adoption is never easy. It's not simple, it's not quick, it's not cheap, and there are all these moral questions and complicated emotional issues to address.

I guess it always seemed to me that adoption was a good thing to do, not that it is noble and selfless (as, after all, you are fulfilling your own desire to parent a child, or multiple children), but that it benefits everyone involved. And now I'm not so sure about that.

I am thinking, though, that if we do adopt a child, it will be through the U.S. foster system. We've both been thinking that for awhile, and this statement certainly makes me lean more in that direction. Not that that process would be without its own issues and concerns, because of course it would. But right now it's looking like the most palatable option to me.

Or maybe I'm just running away from the problem. One new perspective and I give up on the whole thing? Is that what's happening? I really don't know.


  1. I had thought of this position. And while I think it's valid and worth considering when adopting - I can't think that letting children suffer in an environment where food and water is not available is acceptable.

  2. I'm fascinated by this post, Jess. I think the question we all need to ask ourselves when considering any adoption is "what's best for the child?" Is a life without parents, without food, without education better for a child because they are kept in their own home country? I'm not sure I know the answer. And there are probably a range of answers that are true.

    One thing that's for certain is when adoptions cost as much as they do (in the range of $25,000), you have to wonder where is the money going? If it's going to make improvements in the child's native country, to provide mothers better medical options, etc., then maybe it's ok. But, if it's an "administrative" cost, then you have to really wonder if this business maybe isn't in the best interest of the child.

    Bottom line: do your research before adopting. Thanks for making me think about it a little more.

  3. Ouch, that quote really is painful to read! It's considered separating a child from his/her family to take him/her from an orphanage? It's RACIST to adopt a child that no one in his/her own country wants? It's ABUSE to love and care for a child? And an adopted child's new family is "strangers," even when the child has grown up with them? This is so harsh.

  4. I have always had an issue with adoptions from other countries. I really think that when there are so many children in this country who are not getting basic human services like food, schooling, medical aid, how can we send money outside or adopt from outside? I also agree with the conception statement you made, it is selfish but justifiable; but if my husband and I cannot conceive when we start trying, we'll be looking inside the States for adoption as well.

  5. I think I agree with the sattement made about "imperial Americans" thinking we know what's best for everyone out there. Have we even asked other parts of Haiti if they'll take these children in? I don't think so, considering the fast tracking that's happening with these adoptions. I know for a fact that here in the States, if you want to adopt an American child, they prefer families with similar racial/cultural backgrounds. I don't think we're giving that same consideration to the children being brought in from Haiti. so, immediately we're treating them differently than children born here.

  6. I am glad you spoke about this - I've been following the stories also, and reading some of the articles written by international adoptees, and I was wondering what your perspective was on it.
    I don't know if Ryan and I will ever adopt a child; it's not something we've ever talked about doing, but I wouldn't rule it out completely. But if we did, I would hate to think that we would be taking a child away from the only family and culture they know; even if it's not "family" in the way that we think of family.
    If we feel we want to do something, our money could be better used getting those children food, clothing, water, or whatever else they need in their home environment.

  7. We're simply not in a position to adopt a child right now, but we have looked into adoption quite a bit. The US foster system has come a long way and provides amazing resources to adoptive families. You can adopt a child who is free for adoption without being a foster parent first in most cases, and you can take time to get to know your child and have a good transition period. In NY, children from the foster care system get free tuition at state schools (and I know that's the case in some other states too). So if you adopt an 8 year old, you don't have to worry that you only have 10 years to save for college. And there is a lot in place to help - parenting classes - life coaching for the kids, etc. And, in many cases the costs for foster care adoption are very minimal, which I think takes a lot of the pressure off the situation - it's really hard to think about paying 25-30K through the adoption process and then making sure you have enough funds to provide for a child who will have special adjustment needs.

  8. Hm, while I agree that there are valid points in the quote, and I, too, have been worried about the trafficking of children out of Haiti, not just for adoption purposes...

    The Adoptees of Color are but one organization with one voice. They do not speak for all international adoptees. I think that you and Torsten will make the best decision for your family regarding adoption or not, international or domestic. And I think you will consider other opinions and talk extensively with adoption agencies. Like you, I do not believe we are superior but I think we are also good. And I think that a life with love and necessities is a good life, no matter where it occurs.

    Of course, as always. I could be wrong.

  9. Right after the earthquake in Haiti when I started seeing some of the viral stories shouting to "bring the orphans to the US!" I cringed. All I could think was what if Canada (or any other country) tried to do the same to children in New Orleans after Katrina? What if organizations tried to take US children out of the country without proper legal paperwork? It's just all bad.

    I think adoption is a very hard but worthwile effort, but I've had so many friends burned by the process that everything about it makes me sad. One family, who wanted to adopt an infant in the States, had 3 different women/girls back out right before the baby was born. Another friend who is a foster parent wants to adopt the child she's had in her home for 2 1/2 years (since he was 8 months old) but the court won't sever the parents rights.

    And, even though I think that statement is very, very harsh I can understand the feelings behind it. I babysat our neighbor's kids for years - 2 unrealted boys from Honduras who were very malnurished and abused as babies. They were adopted when they were 3 and 5. Both boys struggled a lot growing up, feeling outcast, odd and adrift. Even now, both in their mid 20s they harbor some resentment about being taken from their culture. They love their adoptive parents very much and are very loyal to them, but they are torn about their past.

  10. wow - lots to think about for sure. The quote is VERY strong, and I'm not sure I completely agree or disagree...

  11. I had an incredibly long comment written out, but I decided against it. This whole situation is riddled with mistakes and problems waiting to happen, as well as good intentions (but we all know where those lead...). As someone who has been adopted internationally (and gladly so) and someone who has dealt with many situations similar to mine, this situation is hard for me to judge objectively and some of these comments are slightly offensive.

  12. Brandy Gore--I would be really fascinated to hear more about your perspective on all this. I don't think anyone really qualifies as objective in this situation since we all bring our own perspectives and biases. If you don't want to post it as a comment, I'd love it if you'd email me some of what you wrote in your original comment. My email address is duwaxloolu at gmail.

  13. I've heard both the adoptions were finalized and the kids came sooner than expected and the shady under the table stories. I haven't paid as much attention as I should, but it concerns me. That said, it warms my heart to know that adoption is at the forefront of people's minds.

    I babysat for a little boy in college, and right after Katrina he told me that he was going to adopt a "hurricane baby". I think he truly convinced himself he'd finally have a little sister - his parents just didn't quite know!

  14. If you want to read more about adoption in general, American Family has some REALLY interesting things to say about it. I have learned a lot just from reading her blog.

    Particularly this post:

  15. I think it's very hard to know what to do. My neighbour is a foster mother, with three children she adopted from infancy (one from Brazil, one from Venezuela - i think - and one from Canada), and then two little foster children (half-brothers; same mother, different father). The foster boys have lived with her for nearly four years now. The 10-year-old boy fits right into the family but has attachment issues because he still sees his biological mother some weekends (and he's not up for adoption because of these visits)... the six-year-old has fetal alochol syndrome (I used to take care of him when he was four).

    There are many issues with adoption, and not even related to international issues. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is one such thing you should definitely be thinking about (a good blog for a mom with adopted children who knows all about FASD is ) . Kari also speaks a lot to parents considering adoption so she's something to possibly get in touch with if/when you're seriously considering this option.

    What about adopting from Germany? I know it might not be as easy as some countries, but I know Poland, for example, has major orphanages. If I was to adopt, I think I'd try Poland because it's Martin's background and then the child WOULD have a sense of culture and family, and language. So maybe Germany would be like that for you and Torsten, as an idea.

    It's a hard choice, but I do still believe it can be a noble choice. Many adopted children have a load of baggage and issues that come along with being apart from their families; but many will flourish with the love and family-life they'll get by being adopted as opposed to living in an orphanage, hazardous/unstable environment, or in the foster system.

  16. Brandy Gore - I hope that I didn't offend you. I reread my comment and see that I didn't express my entire feelings on the topic very well. I didn't want to leave a super-long comment, and there is so much that can be said on the topic.
    I definitely don't think that all international adoptions are "taking a child away from the only family and culture they know." Just that it's something to consider when you are looking at adopting. And there are definitely children in every country who need good homes. I'm not entirely against international adoption, and I am not judging those who have chosen that option, I guess is what I'm trying to say. I apologize if that didn't come across at all in my earlier comment. Obviously I don't know that you were refering specifically to me, but rereading my comment after yours made me realize that I really wasn't clear about that.

  17. I love AmFam. And I totally reworked my thoughts on adoption after reading Mrs. Broccoli Guy's stories. I, too, used to think I would adopt internationally (China) and it would be all happy shiny rainbows and both of those sites (and others) provided a lot of information and perspectives I really had never thought about. You used the word "fraught" - that's what I think too.

    That said, "desire for ownership"? I think what Swistle said is just the BEGINNING of my feelings on that statement.

  18. Did you hear about this issue>

    Child abduction and trafficking is what would make me the most nervous about a child from a 3-world nation. I would never want to deprive a mother of her child simply because I wanted to be a mother.

  19. Hmm, what an interesting discussion! I see both sides. However, I don't understand the negativity in international adoption. I know several people with adopted foreign children (some Chinese, some Hungarian). These children had awful lives prior to adoption. All had been in a orphanage since birth. I know most about the Chinese girl because she was adopted by my co-worker. When they got her she was terrified of touch since she had been left alone in a crib for 90% of her life. At 18mo she was scared of her own fingers and toes because she'd never seen them (babies were bundled 24/7). What kind of a life is that? Why is it wrong that she is now in a loving family who adores her more than anything?

  20. OK. I cannot judge how anyone wants to create their family. And adoption is one valid option. But I do have a real problem with people adopting international orphans of different races before even considering the LARGE NUMBER of non-white children available for adoption in the US.

    My best friend works in social services and has a caseload of 40+ kids here in Pittsburgh alone who have already been cleared for adoption by the courts and are not being adopted, largely because they are black or mixed race.

    If anyone is considering adopting outside their race, I strongly urge you to find out about the children who need homes in your area before spending tens of thousands of dollars to "import" a child. Then, make the decision that is right for you and your family.

  21. This is really interesting. The children in Haiti and their situations are really hard to watch. I think it's made us more compassionate, more motherly, more basicly human. They have no shelter, no food and water--people watching over them are protecting them from the rif-raf until they can be reunited with family or people who want to adopt them. I have two kids and the coverage of this often
    gets me so worked up...

    As much as I understand the anger in the quote, we aren't trying to use a colonist attitude thinking the US can fix everything by taking away Haiti's children and taking them somewhere better...if their parents have perished, and they have no extended family--why is this a bad thing. There are people who have no children or have children and are reaching out. As long as they file all the paperwork and things are done the right is this not a good thing?

    I have two adopted cousins, one from Mexico and one from Colombia(they are siblings.) Their lives changed when they were adopted after they were born--as they wouldn't have had the same opportunities if they had been raised where they had been born. My uncle/aunt have taken them back to their homeland and they know they're background. They are proud of being born there, and raised here. Seeing them on the street they are very well adjusted, well educated, girl/boy next door. They knew they had more chances in the US as a result of being adopted...

    I think that people change lives when they adopt. They change circumstances and can give the world a little more love. Whether you choose to adopt overseas or in the US, the end result is pretty much the same.

    The fact that there are so many neglected/maltreated children in the US is heartbreaking. So many foster kids have horrible stories...until they meet that perfect family later on in their life....

  22. This is definitely an interesting thing to think about. I have several tangential experiences with this topic, but none very first hand, so I am not sure how to classify my feelings...

    I myself have a large, loving, intact nuclear family.

    I also grew up sharing my home and my family with foster siblings. And they were just that - my siblings. My parents are/were amazing parents to all of the children living in our home, biological or not. We probably would have adopted several of them, if not for them being reuinted with their families. These kids were lucky that, in the end, they had two options - being reuinted with families (sometimes parents, sometimes grandparents, sometimes aunts/uncles) or staying in my loving, supportive family. It has certainly shaped who I am as a person, and I thank my parents for this experience.

    I also have a cousin adopted into our white anglo-saxon protestant family from an orphanage in India. I love my cousin. We all love my cousin. He is an amazing part of our family. He was adopted from an orphanage while he was several (like 7 or 8?) months old. He weighed about 5 pounds, and was diagnosed with failure to thrive. He is now a 22 year old college student, tall, healthy, funny, and a really great kid. It's hard to imagine our lives without him. No, he doesn't look exactly like us. Yes, we love him just as he is. I don't know, for my whole family (cousin included), it has been such a wildly positive experience that it's hard to criticize the institution of international adoption as a whole. My cousin has no (as in zero!) negative feelings about being adopted by my white aunt and uncle, about living in Oregon vs. India, and so on. I know, because we've talked about it. He loves who he is and the life he leads.

    I also have a good friend who adopted a child of a different race domestically (we are in Oregon, he was born in Missouri). This too has been a wildly positive experience. The child's mom already had 4 kids and was barely scraping by. It was a tough, heartbreaking decision for her to make. Her son's new parents met her, and everyone discussed the implications of everything prior to the adoption. It was emotional, but I think everyone feels at peace with the outcome.

    So yeah. I'm certainly not objective here. I've seen foster care. I've seen international adoption. I've seen domestic adoption. I think it's never going to be a one size fits all solution. I think you and Torsten have good hearts, and good heads, and I think you will educate yourselves and make a good decision...

  23. I can definitely see the point being raised there. But (and it's a big but), there are parts of sub-Saharan Africa where entire generations of adults have died/are dying of AIDS. Which means there is often literally no one left to take care of thousands of orphaned children. I have friends planning to adopt from Ethiopia, and I know it's not because they think a middle-class white American couple is automatically the better choice for parents. It's because their hearts are breaking for all the children who will NEVER get out of crowded, underfunded orphanages, because there's nowhere else for them to go. This is not historical African culture--this is a tragic modern-day situation, and American pharmaceutical companies and policies have played a big part in the size of the epidemic. Some strides are being made to get AIDS drugs to Ethiopia and countries like it, but until that crisis sees some resolution, I think adoption, international or domestic, is the best choice for those kids.

  24. Speaking as a woman of color, I think that it is *impossible* to truly understand this situation without placing it in the context of historical and contemporary power dynamics. I know this is going to make most of the [white]people in here cringe, but it is true, and it needs to be said: the vast majority of the history linking white families to children of color, particularly from Africa and indigenous children from the U.S., is the history of slavery. Indeed, the further along in the slave trade (and I´m not just talking to the U.S. here, but also and particularly to Cuba and Brazil in the 19th century), the higher the porportion of children taken. If you have even half a heart, it will make you sick.

    Power relationships remain basically similar, and white families have a consistant inability to understand family and community structures that are unlike their own. Even if both of a child´s parents are dead, in most cases, there are other people who are family -- whether or not that meets the white American definiton as such.

    More importantly, why is no one talking about why poverty and structural failures are so abundant in these countries -- christ, particularly in Haiti? How many times in the 20th century alone did the United States military occupy Haiti and try to re-enslave its citizens, who created the first free republic in the world? If Port-Au-Prince has collapsed, if Haitians can´t feed themselves, well -- take a stab at fixing the root of the problem (Structural Adjustment policies would be a good start).

    Oh, and believe me, no amount of ´visiting the country´ where the child was born will connect him or her to his or her culture. They will feel forever estranged and liminal.

    I´m sorry if I have offended anyone, but I have very personal reasons to feels so strongly on these issues.

  25. Ick. Adoption is a really, really loaded issue and it is very difficult, and I don't think anyone really understands how challenging and difficult the process is until they've been through it themselves.

    Have you ever talked to Meredith/Lawyerish? Two failed adoptions from Vietnam. Two. Two referrals. No baby. Thank you, unethical practices elsewhere. (She's pregnant now -- an option she didn't

    Doing your research isn't a guarantee, and smart people who DO their research still have difficulties. Unethical agencies hide behind ethical appearances.

    It's a mess. That doesn't mean that there aren't bright spots, but it's still a mess, and it makes me sad.

    I like, too, what kakaty says, and I also like what Maroon Memoirs says about both domestic and international adoption. It's all good stuff to think about.

    I think all of this stuff is swept under the carpet when people tell infertile couples to "just adopt." And I think, too, aside from all of the other issues, there is the fact that infertility treatment is often less expensive than adoption. It's nice to be idealistic about everything, but there are cold, hard facts to consider with every family.

  26. I'm not sure I could ever adopt a child. A coworker of mine did it recently (a child from Jamaica) and it sounded as if she was going to pick out a dog. That might sound harsh, but you don't get to spend that much time with the child before you have to "pick one."

    Anyway, I know that you will do a ton of research to find out more about adoptions (both domestic and international) and figure out whether it is right for you. I think that the reason that a lot of people go abroad is because it doesn't take as long to adopt a child.

  27. I used to think I would quite like to adopt internationally until I spent my summer in Kenya. A lot of that time was with local orphans. I now feel VERY strongly that if you actually have the best interests of needy children at heart, then sending money to established ngos is the best way to do so. The costs of adoption alone can pay for that kid's whole childhood and beyond of food, housing, and schooling.

    I think international adoptions are NOT about providing something good to kids, but about obtaining something for oneself. I think it's very selfish.

  28. Doesn't it suck when trying to stay informed makes you feel like a jerk, even before you've done anything?

    While I do think that there is more than one type of "good" family structure in the world, I think that the article (haven't read it, but judging from the quotes you provided) is a little short sighted. Does the writer of the article really think that leaving a child in a world of poverty, starvation and abuse is really better than providing that same child with a safe and loving environment in which to grow up?

    That said, the rapid fire Haitian adoptions make me sad too for the same reasons you've stated: what if some of those kids HAVEN'T been abandoned but simply haven't been found by their parents yet?

    It really seems to be damned if you do, damned if you don't, doesn't it?

  29. wow, VERY interesting post, and VERY interesting comments. i'm kind of glad i got here a bit late, because i was really really interested to hear everyone weigh in on this.

    i'm hugely uninformed on this subject in general, having not researched adoption for myself. but.. wow. i DO take offense to the overarching statement that white people adopt from other countries due to some deeply-rooted colonial feelings of superiority. that's quite a statement to make. and while it makes my entire body cringe to think of someone inadvertantly taking a child away from a family who would have absolutely cared for him and loved him, i have to believe that's not the norm. it's not just in our haughty white imaginations that kids are abandoned throughout the world (yes, including within the states) that would be better off with a family than languishing in an orphanage. but.. gah, how do you KNOW the kid you get is one who hasn't been yanked from a family? i don't know.

    this is already long, but one last thing: i believe the act of adoption itself creates confusion and identity questions for any child. i DO NOT think that it is so much worse for non-white children coming from non-american cultures than it is for other kids. i've known literally dozens of adopted kids throughout my life, and they ALL have questions about how they fit into a family that they weren't born into. but each person's sense of society and culture is something you learn and develop, not something you're born with. how could a child feel like they're missing "their" culture when they only experienced it between birth and 3 months??

    all that said... the haiti adoptions do make me feel a bit squirmy. kakaty's point about someone swooping in and taking the katrina orphans seems like an awfully good analogy (and something we would have FREAKED OUT over, had it happened). oof. it's all so complicated.

  30. Thought of this post when I read this article today:

    Summary - 10 people from the NW are in big trouble after kidnapping 33 Haitian children that they were "rescuing." Looks like only 1 is probably going to get jail time, but that's not settled yet.

  31. Survival group against God?? LOL. Good luck with that. Truth is, no one knows the exact time this will happen except the man upstairs, however, I firmly believe that there are people placed here by God that post the warning signs and it's up to you to take heed.
    [/url] - some truth about 2012