Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program

My wife and I are grateful beyond words for the generosity of everyone who posted. Some of you we know, some we know only online, some we don't know at all. Everyone has really helped put us securely back on the path of adoption.

Here's the ingredients of the breakdown:

My parents came to town and gave a very rosey portrait of their relationship with my sister (she was adopted at 13 mos. in a closed adoption in the mid-70's). This is VERY unusual, as there has been discord between my mother and my sister since she was a preteen, which deepened into real open hostility when she was 15 through 27. She moved closer to my folks because she needed financial help, and there's been a restoration of some sort of relationship. Still, they both play massive head games and every conversation I have turns into a "he-said, she-said". So when I heard everything was good, I was hopeful. I have not spoken to my sister at length about our decision to adopt. She happened to call during this visit and I talked to her, only to learn that she has formed a very close relationship with her birth mother and views my parents as not her parents (detailed in last post), good only for financial support. While I am very happy that she's reunited with her birth mother, I am uncomfortable with the way that she is lying to/using/manipulating my parents. I am not absolving my parents, as they did everything wrong, in terms of attempting to make her a "natural" daughter by denying her her history. Add to that the fact that much of the information they DID claim to "know" about her past is being disputed by the birth mother. I personally think EVERYONE involved is lying and trying to make themselves look good. Still, it's been pretty heartbreaking to be in the middle of what should be a happy and hopeful journey towards adoption and yet be in the middle of this ready-for-Jerry Springer drama, in which you are informed that your family was not "real" and was "abusive", and that the birth family is "real".

Only in that moment did I begin to understand what it must be like (on all sides) for an international adoptee to feel that he or she would rather have grown up an orphan in his or her native country than be adopted.

At the same time, my wife's mother, who is, frankly, a really amazing person, had a breakdown in her support. She's afraid of us traveling (we entered into the adoption with the intention of escorting, but have become convinced of the necessity of traveling). This spun out into an expression of many, many doubts and fears -- some legitimate, but many the kind of uneducated fears fostered by the mainstream media's shallow and sensationalistic coverage of adoption in general and international adoption in particular. It's important that I make it clear that none of this was based on race, but rather issues about bonding, corruption, mental illness and health history and the ethics of adoption agencies.

My wife is incredibly close to her mom and, even though my wife could argue against most of her mother's fears, the emotional toll of worrying her was very great. It eroded her confidence in the decision. More importantly, I think it made her feel that by pressing forward, she would be betraying her mom on some level. Add to that the fact that we have very little-to-no family or family support. She's the only person we have locally, and knowing that she's not supportive weighs on us.

The two events tapped into all of the reading we've done about first world "baby buying" and adult adoptee resentment, creating a perfect storm of doubt. We almost emailed our agency and told them that we were done.

So, that's the backstory. Now, thanks to your kindness, we've rediscovered our initial enthusiasm.

Here's what helped:

Brian (dad to 3) said...
Then again, many parent/child relationships are strained and many times it's the parents' fault, so I figure I have quite a bit of control over them not hating me and it's far from "nothing more than a gamble".


A woman from our agency, who's also the mother of many adoptees, some who've reached adulthood, and a few who are Ethiopian, said much the same thing -- that the method of parenting adoptive children has evolved tremendously in the last 30 years. Either through their own selfishness or through the legitimate fact that adoption was treated differently at the time, my parents basically made all the "wrong" choices in parenting my sister... and got a predictable result. You, this adoptive mother and others have pointed out that, while no guarantee, more enlightened, less selfish, more honest parenting can help make adoption seem more normal.

Jon said...

You may have already stumbled upon this, but here's a great blog written by an adoptive mom of two korean born children.

www.thirdmom.blogspot.com



I do read her often. Thank you for pointing out her most recent posts.


-Samantha- said...

Wow, what happened my friend? To tell you the truth, it seems to me that you think way too much. You are overanalizing everything... For all you know, your adopted child will become the one you are most compatible with...who knows.


Certainly, it has not been blood that has fostered my best relationships. To be honest, I am somewhat envious of many of the people in the ET adoption community who blog about their close relationships with family. I have an incredibly perfunctory relationship with my blood relatives. There's every possibility that the same deep connection I have with my best friends could also be forged between me and my daughter -- let's hope so!

Anonymous said...

I have felt very similar to what you wrote about, I have been on the other side of being the adopted child and "hating" my adoptive father at the time, now we have a really good relationship, and he is dear to me.
-Emmelia
www.corban7@wordpress.com


I know that becoming an individual is the point of childhood, and a natural part of that is a pulling away from the parents. I fully expect all my kids to go through a period where they pull away and reject. I think what freaks me out about my sister is that she's in her early thirties and has 3 kids of her own. It's nice to hear that not all rifts are permanent.


Anonymous said...

I've noticed that many of the adult adoptees (domestic) are in closed situations, or come from really abusive families. I feel more readily able to dismiss those situations as being too out of the norm to be relevant background for my situation. However, I think we have a lot to learn from the stories if we can sift through the anger (get ready for a wild ride). We have as much to learn from international adoptess who are coming of age.

So, the bigger question for me is: what can we learn and do differenly based on their experiences. I've got a long way to go on my learning curve, but so far I've decided:

1) I need to do more work integrating culture into my children's lives...more openness and communication will be necessary. It's going to be WORK, lots of work for me. I may have to move to a different neighborhood, go to a different church, find new physicians, and definitely surround my family with people "like" my kids.

2) Adoption reform, especially for domestic adoption, is needed.

3) Socioeconomic reform is desperately needed on a global scale. Read "The End of Povery" if you disagree. Such reform could result in a huge reduction in the availability of children for international adoption. Sucks for me personally, but I would get up on a table and shout 'hallelujah' if I knew that fewer people in the world were dying from lack of access to clean water or basic medication, that more families could afford to raise their children.


All of the above, I feel, is dead on. As most readers know, I've recommended THE END OF POVERTY highly a few times. It was a transformative book for me, paving the way to choosing Ethiopia over other programs -- long before we seriously considered adoption.

I try to incorporate economic justice into this blog as much as possible without having it overwhelm the focus on adoption, itself.

Anonymous continues, saying:

One of the biggest "catch 22" issues for me is that many Ethiopian children are not "orphans" by my standards: they have families, often families they know, who could and would want to raise them if those families had the cash OR in some circumstances if AIDS (b/c of death of one or both parents) wasn't such a social stigma. How do I reconcile that my children have living relatives who love them, but because of a long history of social, economic and political development, CAN'T raise them. So, then I fly halfway around the world to take them out of the only life they know and raise them as my own? And I know this is true because I get the chance to meet these relatives before I leave the country and give them a nifty map of where we'll be (as if they'll ever get to visit) and a generic photo of our "family"?


This weighs on me as well. I think I entered the process thinking of "orphans", and coming to understand that most are relinquished. In my posts about birthmothers, I've discussed how this has thrown me for a loop.

I read once that for some adoptees, the trauma of adoption is distinct from the event of getting a new family. In other words, adoption does not cause relinquishment. The relinquishment and trauma would occur anyway.

It's important, I think, to run a check on the idea that you are "saving" anyone. I feel that having selfish motives -- WANTING a daughter, ENJOYING Ethiopian culture, in my case, actually HELPS motivate me to do the RIGHT THING by my daughter and keep her culture and heritage alive.

As for "orphanage vs. family" and the disruption to culture and language...

Umm 'Skandar said...

What is the greater loss, to lose one's country, language, and culture? Or to have no family? It seems that right way to balance anger adult adoptee question is to seek out adults who lived their whole life in an orphanage. What can they add to this conversation?


I agree -- does anyone know if orphans have ever gone on record??

Carrie said...

My friend, I know exactly were you are in your adoption journey right now. The fear that you feel is real and you have real reasons to be afraid. Adoption, like everything in life, comes with no guarantees. You may adopt a child who has very real issues with being adopted or you may adopt a child who has none. Have you read “In Their Own Voices” by Rita Simmons? I found it to be a very realistic look at how transracially adopted children feel about their adoption and being raised in a white family. Many of these children had to deal with issues stemming from their adoption, but most still felt close to their adoptive parents. The people who had the most issues with their adoptive parents seemed to be the ones where there was “other”
issues with the child/parent relationship besides adoption e.g., abuse, neglect, poor communication.


I have not read this book yet, but was aware of it. I'll have to order it.

This post heartened me because the idea that adoption is a complication in an otherwise dysfunctional parent/child relationship applied to my parents and sister's relationship. Many of their parenting choices didn't have great results for either my sister or me -- but with adoption adding an extra wrinkle, her problems with them are more pronounced than mine. Once again, hopefully more selfless parenting can lead to a more healthy, respectful relationship all around.

Cathy and Abebech said similar things...

cathy said...

You wouldn't be a good parent if you didn't wrestle with these questions.

abebech said...

These are great responses. Please do check out thirdmom's blog, and my own post in response.
I am pro-adoption reform, pro-open records, do believe that children are best served by being raised in healthy families of origin, yet I feel very passionately that we did the right thing by our daughter, and will do so again by another child BECAUSE we've considered all these angles, listened to those very important voices, gave it all serious consideration and decided as we did. I also realize that doesn't mean she'll think we did the right thing when she's old enough to decide. But she'll know we did what we believed was the best thing, with our hearts full of love for her. Isn't that what most parents do?


A surprisingly cogent and effective argument. Also used by our African-American social worker, when I pestered her with questions during our home study. I may actually start believing it!

For those not in the know, Abebech is A NEW FLOWER BLOOMS. I have blogged about her awesomeness before.

jen said...
One thing I have considered, along with a lot of what has already been said here is that our children will grow up in a very different world than the adopted children coming of age. There are gazillions of books for us parents to read, there are studies that show what worked and what didn't, there are many more adoption communities and support groups, there are even more inter-racial relationships (marriages, adoptions, etc.) than twenty years ago. That's not to say that we have come so far that we don't need to work HARD, but it is to say that our children will have a different background than the children who are adult adoptees now.


Julie said...

I think the anger many adult adoptees have is a result of a line of thinking their parents' generation had toward international adoption (and adoption in general). Adoptive parents did not try (for the most part) to include their children's culture and did not address the issue of race. Some adoptees were even made to feel grateful for being "rescued" by their parents. Of course these are all generalizations, but awareness of the importance of one's birth culture and race are things that we as adoptive parents are only now starting to deal with in a healthy and constructive way. My thought (and hope) is the newest generation of adoptees will not be as angry as some of the current adult adoptees.


My wife and I attended a gathering of other adoptive families this past weekend. It was really amazing. It felt so natural, and the families were all really wonderful. I think these resources and the increasing awareness of adoption will help kids feel more "normal".

I must also say that part of my wife and my reason for continuing is all of you. We've met some of the most engaged, open, honest, decent people within this adoption community. People who are engaged in the world, people who are fighting for economic justice and racial equality. People who's relationship with God is about love and community, not division or oppression. People willing to admit to fears, mistakes and insecurities.

It may sound strange, but we figure such people can't be involved in something wrong, or something damaging to kids.

So, we're soldiering on, waiting for our referral. I'll continue to blog about race and culture and adoption, in hopes that such an education can making me a better parent -- and that by being such a parent, I really can tip the scales of fate in my (and my adopted child's) favor.

8 comments:

Karen said...

Just a little something my 8-year-old step-daughter (adopted from Guatemala) wrote on our blog this morning. It made my day...:-)

"I hope people who want to adopt won't be afraid of adopting. Adoption might be a little scary at first, but when you get into it and start filling out the papers is not so scary as before because people who are working with you try to help you and just make sure that you'll be good parents, and they'll just sit at the table and talk to you and ask you what you'd do when you adopt a baby - like would you feed her and take good care of her? Ask people who adopt, and they might clue you in to some stuff."

Owlhaven said...

I'm glad you are still going forward. The stuff that's worth doing is not always the easy stuff. regarding kids and living relatives, there are lots of situations. Sometimes kids are abandoned with no way at all to track down family. Some kids truly have no lviing relatives. others may have a distant relative or two, who is so freaked out by the HIV status of the child's (dead) parent that they are unwilling to have a relationship with the child. Sure, there are cases like the one you worry about, where support and HIV medication would allow the birth parent to raise the child. But there are also many very straightforward situations where you are simply looking at a child who is alone in the world who needs a family.

Mary, mom to many, including 4 Ethiopians, two of whom are still waiting to come home.

Brian said...

Glad to hear you're back on track.

One comment on:
"I read once that for some adoptees, the trauma of adoption is distinct from the event of getting a new family. In other words, adoption does not cause relinquishment. The relinquishment and trauma would occur anyway."

I think it's VERY important for everyone to pick their country/agency so that they are sure that this is the case. That is, the agency finds families for kids that need help, not the other way around. The agency we used is quite restrictive on the minimal age range/gender you're allowed to request, and while it annoys me, it's also reassuring that they've got the kids (post-relinquishment) best interest at heart.

Umm 'Skandar said...

I was struck a few weeks ago about a piece in the NYTs that mentioned adults in China who have lived their whole lives in orphanages and who were given last names like "party" (ie Communist Party) or "state" or a last name from the state where they were raised. And how they lived with this literal evidence that they were orphans and wards of the state.

Somehow, I never thought about the adult orphans who are never adopted. Now when I encounter a particularly angry adoptee I think about those raised as orphans by the state in land left behind and think about what they would say and how they would answer them.

It has shifted my thinking.

Swerl said...

Thanks you all for your insightful comments. Karen, your 8 year old seems more together than I do!

Mary: According to our agency, they are having an uptick in relinquishments. It's still a mystery as to what our child's situation will be.

Brian: What does "The agency we used is quite restrictive on the minimal age range/gender you're allowed to request" mean? I know our agency is very thorough that all of the relinquishments are done in a legal, ethical way, with no pressure, etc. I'd love to know what other safeguards your agency offers.

Umm 'Skandar: I've never heard that before! How "1984"! This is the most amazing perspective I've heard on this issue. You should go to http://thirdmom.blogspot.com and contribute that to her ongoing "orphanage vs. adoption" free-for-all. You will also see really long, annoying posts by me.

Dan said...

Hi SWERL, your deliberations have been echoing mine (and my wife's) over the last month or so. I started reading the research, and the blogs. What I'm finding in the research is very different from the perception I'm getting from the vocal minority of adult adoptees. The research is showing that kids are pretty well adjusted overall. And, at young ages in particular, can even have healthier self-concepts related to race (lots of Clark's doll test stuff here).

I too have been struggling with the whole "adoption as imperialism" thing, and am going through a similar evolution of thought and opinion. At any rate, you may want to check out this article:

Roby, J.L., & Shaw, S.A. (2006). The African Orphan Crisis and International Adoption. Social Work, 51(3), 199-210.

It gives a fair history and overview of transracial/transcultural adoption of AA kids in the US as well as current issues related to international adoption. It also looks at the varying African response to international adoption.

The authors conclude that the building of "sustainable, community-based programs to care for children" is the best solution. But that when family and kinship (or community) efforts can't provide a safe environment and loving family, then adoption should be considered...first in country, then internationally. That is, international adoption is A-OK for the overflow, and should be discussed as a viable option for some children.

Furthermore, the authors posit that if we respect the history and culture of the kid's home and pay attention to all of the ethical and legal details, then we at least provide a small few children a family, safety and love. Only a few kids are helped, but this outweighs the negatives, surely.

Even if they may have their own issues, UNICEF's position on this topic is something to applaud: "Inter-country adoption is one of a range of care options which may be open to children, and for individual children who cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of origin, it may indeed be the best solution" (see UNICEF's position on Inter-country adoption)

I thank you for your posts, and the responses engendered by them, because they affirm that we are doing the right thing, seeking our child in Ethiopia.

As for the situation in the U.S...I agree with the other comments : stand strong, and trust your social worker. The country is slow but getting it. Of course there's still tension. We've come a long way in how parents are trained for any adoption, let alone transracial adoptions.

Geez, it's only been 10-12 years that U.S. law has made it so that race COULDN'T be a primary factor in adoptions. Even groups that have been nearly militant in their opposition to AA kids being adopted by white parents have come around in the last decade to saying that, well, OK, maybe a white home is better than NO home. (And this is now the position of the NABSW, who once referred to whites adopting black kids as "cultural genocide").

People that discuss black cultural competence as something whites can't attend to in any way tend to discuss the topic as if there is one, homogeneous black culture that is fully competent in raising a healthy "black" child. Those that say only a black family can teach black cultural competence are IMO, being short-sighted, and not acknowledging the role that environment outside of the family can play too. Nor are they recognizing the diversity of interests within black families (say, in a family that might prefer classical to jazz or rap music).

For more on the transracial adoption debate in the US, and the source of my overly long blatherings here, see:

Griffith, E.E.H., & Bergeron, R.L. (2006). Cultural Stereotypes Die Hard: The Case of Transracial Adoption. The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, 34(3), 303-314.

Dan said...

Hi SWERL, your deliberations have been echoing mine (and my wife's) over the last month or so. I started reading the research, and the blogs. What I'm finding in the research is very different from the perception I'm getting from the vocal minority of adult adoptees. The research is showing that kids are pretty well adjusted overall. And, at young ages in particular, can even have healthier self-concepts related to race (lots of Clark's doll test stuff here).

I too have been struggling with the whole "adoption as imperialism" thing, and am going through a similar evolution of thought and opinion. At any rate, you may want to check out this article:

Roby, J.L., & Shaw, S.A. (2006). The African Orphan Crisis and International Adoption. Social Work, 51(3), 199-210.

It gives a fair history and overview of transracial/transcultural adoption of AA kids in the US as well as current issues related to international adoption. It also looks at the varying African response to international adoption.

The authors conclude that the building of "sustainable, community-based programs to care for children" is the best solution. But that when family and kinship (or community) efforts can't provide a safe environment and loving family, then adoption should be considered...first in country, then internationally. That is, international adoption is A-OK for the overflow, and should be discussed as a viable option for some children.

Furthermore, the authors posit that if we respect the history and culture of the kid's home and pay attention to all of the ethical and legal details, then we at least provide a small few children a family, safety and love. Only a few kids are helped, but this outweighs the negatives, surely.

Even if they may have their own issues, UNICEF's position on this topic is something to applaud: "Inter-country adoption is one of a range of care options which may be open to children, and for individual children who cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of origin, it may indeed be the best solution" (see UNICEF's position on Inter-country adoption)

I thank you for your posts, and the responses engendered by them, because they affirm that we are doing the right thing, seeking our child in Ethiopia.

As for the situation in the U.S...I agree with the other comments : stand strong, and trust your social worker. The country is slow but getting it. Of course there's still tension. We've come a long way in how parents are trained for any adoption, let alone transracial adoptions.

Geez, it's only been 10-12 years that U.S. law has made it so that race COULDN'T be a primary factor in adoptions. Even groups that have been nearly militant in their opposition to AA kids being adopted by white parents have come around in the last decade to saying that, well, OK, maybe a white home is better than NO home. (And this is now the position of the NABSW, who once referred to whites adopting black kids as "cultural genocide").

People that discuss black cultural competence as something whites can't attend to in any way tend to discuss the topic as if there is one, homogeneous black culture that is fully competent in raising a healthy "black" child. Those that say only a black family can teach black cultural competence are IMO, being short-sighted, and not acknowledging the role that environment outside of the family can play too. Nor are they recognizing the diversity of interests within black families (say, in a family that might prefer classical to jazz or rap music).

For more on the transracial adoption debate in the US, and the source of my overly long blatherings here, see:

Griffith, E.E.H., & Bergeron, R.L. (2006). Cultural Stereotypes Die Hard: The Case of Transracial Adoption. The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, 34(3), 303-314.

Swerl said...

Dan: I appreciate your solid research approach... HOw do you find that stuff?