Friday, January 04, 2008

International Adoption, followed by quiet time

I have a pile of work that I simply, absolutely must do. In an attempt to make myself do things that I detest doing, I shall deny myself the blogsphere until I make a certain amount of progress. I can't bear to turn off email, so if anyone really wants to talk to me, you can get me that way. Otherwise, don't worry. I am fine. Just pulling my hair out and gnashing my teeth over stupid administrative paperwork that is long over-due and fighting off the anxiety attacks that come when you have to call attention to the fact that you didn't do something when you should have by turning it in months late.

Mrs. Incredible, also known as Corey, has adopted children from Haiti and wrote a couple of long comments about it. She worries that she may have offended me. She did not (really, Corey, you didn't). I avoid talking about international adoption because ... well ... because I don't like talking about it (see problem with administrative paperwork above). So, just to be clear, here is what I think. I'm not including anything here about private domestic infant adoption because I can't think about that many things all at once. Feel free to add comments to round out the discussion.

I think that one does not help a community, however poor or otherwise in trouble, by taking away its children. This means that domestic foster care and international adoption are at best necessary response to problems that need solutions. When people think of them as solutions to community problems they are being short-sighted at best. In general, finding new parents for children is always a radical response for a problem and should be used only when other options are really and truly not options. We seem to understand that when we are in the US, or maybe it is just that the children of America's poor are not attractive to these sorts of parents. SOME people though do seem to think this way about adoptions from other countries. I read some articles recently about adoptions becoming harder from Guatemala. The parents interviewed spoke about the poverty of Guatemala and argued that they were helping the children by adopting them and bringing them to America.

I find the idea that we are helping a child by saving him from being a member of his family and country revolting. The money spent on "rescuing" one child from be a Guatemalan citizen, could improve the lives of many more children within Guatemala.

And yet I think that orphanages are not good places for children. If there are many orphan in orphanages in some country, and all reasonable efforts to help their first families raise them and local people to adopt them have been exhausted, then I cannot bring myself to say that the children are better off in orphanages than being adopted internationally. I also cannot bring myself to say that I am confident that they are. I really don't know. This is one of the points where I have to confess my ignorance. I just don't know enough about it.

I get confused by the realities of making decisions in this world and thinking about how the systems of this world are part of oppressive and abusive structures.

I think that foster can be seen as a system that supports oppression of women. I wonder if the rise of children in foster care can be correlated with welfare "reform." I am confident that (some) children go into foster care because we do not do enough in this country to help and support the poor -- and especially poor single mothers. I think the problems are systematic, societal, and not the sort of things that can be fixed on an individual level. When it is so impossible to get good health care, education, decent-paying jobs, adequate day care, when people who are parents have grown up without these necessities, when mothers have felt it necessary to live in abusive relationships in order to have a place to live, it is usually too late when child services gets involved. I don't think anyone actually thinks, "Well, we don't have to provide day care and health care to the poor in this country, because we can always take their kids into foster care." Nobody thinks that. I hope.

Yet still, I think that foster care is necessary in individual cases, and it cannot be considered a solution to the problems that create its necessity. It is, as Corey said of international adoptions, a band aid.

And I participate in it. I care for children in the system. Of my three permanent placement boys, two I think really needed to be there. Their mothers could not take care of them (one had died), and their extended families could not take care of them. In one case I continue to believe that if there had been the rights sort of intervention at the right time, care would not have been necessary. And so I believe that in some cases I care for children who were separated from their parents because of poverty, abuse, and lack of options which in a just society would exist. And I do not think that I am a bad person because I love and care for a young person who should have grown up with his mother. I feel slightly comforted knowing that my willingness to provide care is not creating a demand for such children to be taken away.

It bothers me when people use think of adoption as a way of saving children from poverty. Poverty should be addressed in different ways. And I don't say that very much, because I don't think I am standing on some sort of ethical high ground. Though I want to say that adopting from domestic foster care is better than international adoption, I don't think it is that simple. When I think of children who are in under-funded orphanages, I may believe the best solution in the long run is to deal with the problems of the society that resulted in them being there, but do I really think that adoption by foreigners is worse for them than living in this orphanage?

The question that needs to be asked is: When is a foreign adoption ethically similar to me caring for a foster child who in a more just world would not be in foster care, and is it one of the causes of the injustice? At what point does the demand for certain children become one of the reasons they are separated from their parents? At what point is it necessary to take the even more radical step of separating a child from his or her culture, language, and country?

I cannot say. And so I don't write about this very often.

I believe that many people turn to international adoption instead of foster-care adoption based upon the belief that the children they adopt will have suffered fewer traumas, been exposed to fewer drugs in utereo, and, in many cases, will not come with first families they don't want to deal with. Since I only have anecdotal evidence, I have no idea whether they are right in some degree. I am confident that it is not as risk-free as some people think it is. When those risks become realities I think it can be more difficult for people who have adopted internationally because they are not entitled to the same level of assistance from our social services. They may have a harder time finding professionals who understand ways in which differences of culture are interwoven into the problem. They will have even less access to the children's histories in order to understand the exact nature of the problem.

I find it odd that so many Americans are outraged that a couple is told to return the foster child they hoped to adopt to his father when the baby has spent 6 months with them and is bonded to them, and yet so few Americans think that there is significant trauma in removing an 8 or 18 month old child from her home country to live with parents who speak a different language, eat different foods, and live in very different ways. I think that we as a community tend to believe in the resiliency or fragility of children as it serves the needs of the ones who would like to adopt them.

I am not anti-adoption, although I am not pro-adoption either. Neither term makes much sense to me. Would someone be "anti-chemotherapy" as a political or ethical position? Chemotherapy is not a great analogy, but maybe it helps. Bad things happen in this world. Generally we are better at responding to problems than preventing them. Something has gone wrong though if we as a society so celebrate the necessary and most radical response that we stop caring about preventing the problem, or even finding less radical responses to them.

And I understand the joy of being the receiving parent. I know, I experience, the phenomenon of knowing I have been blessed by a relationship that in a more just world I would never have.

And now, without further even proof-reading, I am going to make myself work on that stupid paperwork.


  1. Very interesting.

    One thing I have noticed is that many (not all) who adopt infants, internionally or domestically are doing it to help themselves first and the child second. what brought them to consider adoption is their own needs - not the childs.

    Those that foster children tend to think of the child first. Not sure that makes sense.

    What I mean is that what often brings individuals to adopt an infant is infertility, a desire of their own - first - to be a parent, to obtain something they cannot on their own. So they want to be a mommy and they go and find a baby. Its all about them.

    Compare that with families willing to foster. They often have their own children already, they arent attempting to use the child to heal their own wounds or desires, they want to help the child.
    It can be a very different dynamic.

    I try to stay away from being labelled pro or anti adoption. I personally have a greater interest in family preservation than I do adoption. Do all you can to keep the child with the mother, family, and adoption as a last resort and never ever should it be considered the cure to infertility.

  2. I struggle with this as well as accept most of your argument, but I wholeheartedy reject the idea that people who adopt are "selfish". I know that's not the word suz used, but it fits within her arguement.

    I have known plenty of selfish foster parents who do it for a miriad of reasons. So I think that argument is quite one sided as well. I think it is quiote idealistic to say that foster parents do it for the children. Ba-hum-bug.

    While I have adopted from the foster care system, and have not internatianally I have no problem with either. I think a child needs a home and you are willing to provide, it is a win-win situation. It is not as though these children are being ripped from the arms of their parents or from families within the community willing to adopt. They are "throw aways" in most cases. Are these adoptive families helping communities? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe by removing one child, another may have a spot in the orphanage instead of perishing on the street. Is it a bandaid or a fix-all. I don't think so. It will howver in most cases allow one child a life they would've never had.

    Will they mourn for their family? Maybe. Will they mourn for their culture? Maybe. But i bet they won't mourn for life in an ophange without parents, ony to be tossed onto the streets when they age-out. How can this be a bad thing?

    Childrne with loving families who WANT them always trump families who cannot care for them and endanger them whether intentionally or not.

    Popular answer? maybe not, but I stand by it.

  3. Anonymous12:55 PM

    As a would-be international adoptive parent, I struggle with these questions.

    I hope at some point to foster or foster-adopt, but we're a childless couple with no parenting experience, and I feel like starting off with a school-age child is too much for us.

    It's not because babies are cuter: I've seen reliable stats -- can't find them now, of course -- that kids adopted before age two have a *significantly* easier time than kids adopted later in life. So I'd like to start with a lesser challenge and get some parenting experience before we move up to a more difficult situation. And in our geographic area, it's very rare for children under two to become available for adoption through foster care. (I know because I called and asked.)

    It is absolutely true that many PAPs choose international adoption for the reasons you cite -- I've heard those same reasons expressed in classes and online. But for me, our international adoption feels ethically *more* comfortable than domestic infant adoption.

    For one, we won't be matched until a child is already in an orphanage; our dossier can't be used to persuade a mom to relinquish. First moms in the country we're adopting from have to appear before a judge to affirm their decision to relinquish, and that typically doesn't happen until their baby is 3-6 months old (not ideal, but it's better than most U.S. states).

    (Anecdotally, some PAPs lost a referral because a judge was really determined the baby should remain with her family and finally convinced the baby's aunt to parent the child; I don't know if all the judges are like that, but we can hope.)

    The country we're adopting from also maintains a national registry for adoptees and first families, to facilitate reunion. And we have family members there, so we can travel back every few years and (I hope) visit our child's mother/family while we're there.

    Of course, I can't know what sort of pressures there are for women to relinquish, nor to what degree the orphanage we're using is complicit. (I get a good vibe from them, but without being a fly on the wall in every single meeting, it's impossible to know.) But I'm researching organizations that support single moms in that country, and I hope to eventually contribute as much money to them as we'll spend on the adoption -- so that we aren't just benefiting from the status quo, but also helping change things for the better.

    Ultimately, yeah, we're still being selfish. But I'm reconciled to that (for the most part -- I'm still a bit defensive, obviously). I think it's better for us to be the best parents we can to a kid who may not be in the greatest need than it is to martyr ourselves by adopting a kid we don't feel enthusiastic about, out of guilt. If all goes well, when our first child is older we'll adopt an older child (either from foster care or a waiting child internationally, if our child would benefit from a sibling who shares his/her heritage).

  4. Hmm. Very interesting. I have to admit I've wondered the same thing about the Utah couple and I can't help but point back to the money that is exchanging hands as part of the process.

    In private, domestic adoption PAPs are paying a fee for a good... like it or not, that's what is happening. So implicitly, I think, people (PAPs, people who know them or read about them) feel like those PAPs have a right to that particular child. I think all of the sentiment about finding the child God meant for you to love, etc, etc, etc also reinforces this idea.

    I'm not saying this is a conscious process or that people intentionally view domestically adopted babies this way, but I do think it's actually happening....

    And don't even get me started on fostering or adopting children to "save them". Ugghhhh... one of my biggest pet peeves.

  5. Personally, I think that some degree of 'selfishness' is a valuable thing as an adoptive parent. It's all well and good to say that it should be about the child, but I think parents can and should try to make sure that their needs are addressed. Parents are people too, and their stability and comfort level is going to have a significant effect on their parenting. To criticize them for accepting their own limits (not that anyone here has, but I've seen it elsewhere) seems unfair to them and their children.

    I think the point where some people get into trouble is when they start assuming that their desire to address their own needs trumps someone else's desire to do the same. And that can be tricky, because the other people who have needs (children, first parents, societies) may not be in a position to effectively voice their needs. Sometimes there is someone like a social worker who attempts to do that for them, but not always, and so it's easy for some potential adoptive parents to forget that they have needs at all.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that I believe strongly in placing more emphasis on adoption ethics, including more support for first families, both here and abroad, and I do not believe that anyone is entitled to any particular child or situation. However as long as a reasonable effort is being made to act ethically (recognizing that we live in an imperfect world), then I don't have a problem with parents making choices with their own best interests in mind.

  6. You know my viewpoints on this and I think, on this issue, it's safe to say that we respectfully disagree. I always cringe when a pre-adoptive parent has the opinion that they are "saving" a child. Children are not charity cases, they are kids. And, by adopting internationally or domestically, you are not solving a single societal issue. Adoption is not a solution. Not here in the US and not anywhere else in the world. Adoption doesn't stop poverty, adoption doesn't solve rampant unemployment, adoption doesn't cure drug-addicted parents.

    However, I believe that kids are all kids -- whether they're from the US or Korea or Russia or wherever. I know first hand the trauma that removing a child from his home can cause. I also know first hand that most children are better off in a family that can care for them and where they will have permanency. Did it hurt Slugger to leave his foster family and move in with me? Absolutely. Is he better off? Absolutely. Did it hurt my friends' children to leave Russia, leave their culture, learn a new language? Absolutely. Are they happier here and better off? Absolutely -- and they will tell you so themselves.

    There's no saving going on. And the world would be a much better place if adoption wasn't necessary at all. But I have no guilt for building my family this way. I know I'm changing a damn thing for society, but for Slugger I've changed an awful lot.

  7. I don't see where we disagree, Maggie, unless it is just that I worry more about the systems and patterns that can get inter-woven into oppressions.

    I worry a whole lot less about it when we are talking about older children, just because there is not a demand for them. I don't see the practice of foster care and adoption leading to the coersion of first parents.

    I don't feel guilty about my kids either -- if the one who I am most convinced would not have been in care if interventions came at the right time. By the time I met him all that had happened and could not be undone. Now there was just a gay boy who didn't have a family and needed one.

  8. I don't normally comment here, though I'm a regular reader, because I don't often feel particularly qualified to fer up any opinions. However, I DO have a unique angle on this particular question because I am currently staying as a live in volunteer carer at an orphanage in Thailand. I've been here since October and will stay on until the middle of April.

    I work primarily with children under the age of two, and basically just hang out in the baby room from between three and six hours a day, changing nappies, changing clothes, administering bottles, cuddles, belly-rasberies and generally being an interactive booster seat for the shorties.

    I know these kids very well (my blog is linked if you are interested - I have photos and vague attempts at wit). For children who have lost their birth families mostly due to poverty, they are lucky. The orphanage here, at least, is well funded. These children want for no physical thing. They are fed, clothed and watered; they have a playground and a LOT of toys (most of them donated by visitors and adoptive parents). They each have their own cot and their own bottle. They stay in a big open room with air conditioning and clean floors. They get to run around and play games and interact with lots of other human beings. The nannies and the volunteers who take care them genuinely know and love each one of the thirty odd mini-toddlers here. No one is ever left crying for long; no one is left in a wet nappy or in a cot or even in dirty clothes all day.

    The only thing they really, truly lack which they also DESPERATELY need are parents. A domestic home; one on one attention and affection for as much of the day as possible; discipline; true parental devotion. The kids here, as much aI love their tiny little socks off, are CRAZY PEOPLE. They kick, they bite, they yank each others' hair out in tufts. They tantrum eveyr five minutes. They brain each other usuing their toys. They REGULARLY form huge baby!mosh pits as they violantly wrestle for a single favoured toy. The older orphans here, though generally sweet and friendly, regularly break into the volunteers' house and strip it of anything valuable (or edible); they break in the bike sheds and wreck the orphanage employees' bikes; there is a three legged cat here who is three legged because one of the orphans CUT OFF its forth leg. They're not psychos - they're just kids who have never experianced actual PARENTING before.

    These kids don't need rescuing - but my GOD do they need parents.

    Certainly more needs to be done to educated pre-adoptive parents until this whole 'rescuing a child' mentality crap that some have going on becomes as uncommon as possible. More needs to be done to stop the young women who come here (and yes, I've seen them) to drop off their babies NEEDING to leave their kids in the orpanage. And more definitley needs to be done by the Thai government to encourage domestic adoption. The Thai ecnomy is on the up and up - it is NOT a 'third world' country. There is a growing and thriving city-dwelling middle class who are absolutely comfortably well off and could offer many of the children currently in this orphanage a comfortable home in their own culture.

    But as long as babies keep being left here, and as long as domestic adopters are non-forthcoming, international adoption is how these children find loving, stable, permenant homes. And in no way, size, shape or form is it better for them to be left in this orphanage than for them to be adopted, even if it is out of the country to parents of a different race and culture. I know how these children live - and even here, in this clean, loving, well-run, well-stocked institution, I heave such a huge sigh of relief every time I hear about another of my kids being matched with their (almost exclusively European) parents.

  9. Thank you Islay. This is helpful background information. Orphanages are not good places for kids to grow up. The problems are so complex, aren't they.

    I would love to hear more about something. You say that the "saving a child" mentality is a problem, and say that the children desperately need parents. Can you explain here or on your blog what the difference is? If you write it on your blog I will give it a link here.

    Other readers: you can get to Islay's blog by clicking on her name. The address is here:


Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.