Thursday, May 24, 2007

What I Think I Know About Adoption

As some may have noted, I've been exploring doubts about international adoption. In previous posts, I discussed my own family history with adoption, and spoke frankly about my second thoughts. In the comments, a few of my closer "net" friends suggested checking out a discussion at THIRD MOM about the ethics of adoption (framed in an "adoption vs. orphanage" debate). Her call for responses got over 50 (!) comments. Troublemaker that I am, one of my comments prompted another post from Third Mom about feelings of guilt over adopting. I thanked her for her clarifying post, and said I would respond.

Well, I've been thinking about it for nearly 10 days, trying to think of how to fit it all in.

I decided to start a new series of posts, called "What I Think I Know about Adoption". It will basically convey, in a declarative way, what I feel is the "truth" of adoption.

I WELCOME people to either support my thoughts with research or anecdotes (thus transforming what I THINK I know into what I KNOW I know), or tear down my thoughts, so I can think something different:

What I Think I Know about Adoption

"Family Expansion" is the favored term within the adoption community for the desire to add children to your family. The desire for family expansion through the process of adoption (as apposed to pregnancy, surrogacy, etc.) has as many motivating factors as there are adoptive families.

A few include:

A desire for a child of a specific gender
A religious conviction to adopt
A desire for siblings for children already in the family
A desire for a child without the risk of pregnancy and childbirth

Family expansion can refer to a single parent or a couple, gay or straight, with biological children, previously adopted children or no previous children at all.

Self-interest is at the core of family expansion. You are adding a child becasue you feel it is a benefit FOR YOUR FAMILY.

Another motivation can impact the thinking of family expansion through adoption: that of "saving" a child. This is especially true in cases of INTERNATIONAL adoption. One should be careful in the examination of one's motivations and intellectual honesty before ascribing too much weight to this reason for adoptiong.


1. If the money you spent on an adoption was diverted to food aid, etc., more children could be helped.
2. If all the money you would spend RAISING a child (including college tuition, etc.) were devoted to sponsoring children, more good would be done for children.
3. In "saving" a child, you are also "robbing" the child of an indigenous culture, language and extended family.
4. Some alledge that -- especially in the case of infants -- it is the DEMAND for babies which is driving the supply. This dynamic can easily lead to unethical practices, including "buying" babies (agents of adoption paying money to the families of those who offer children for adoption), stealing babies or unduly pressuring mothers to surrender their children for adoption.
5. International adoption can help restrictive governments uphold bad policies and prevent the development of forward thinking policies regarding family planning, reproductive rights, women's rights and child welfare. Adoption helps China from modifying it's "One Child" policy, for example. Korea continues to marginalize single mothers, using international adoption as an outlet for these "shameful" children. Other countries allow their brutalized poor to turn to adoption, rather than make efforts to keep birth families intact.
6. Many of the children "saved" are the easiest to place, while the most traumatized, older children, the children more likely to have lost both of their parents, for example, are nearly impossible to be placed.

Still, the idea of "saving" a child is a powerful notion. Before you even adopt, many may commend you for being "bighearted" or "generous", when, in fact, you are being self-motivated (not in a bad way, you simply want a child!)

How to answer this "commendation" from family and friends is often one of the first schisms between how those deep within the adoption culture views things, compared to those outside of this culture. Some people get angry. Some simply say, if told that their child will be "lucky"; "No, we're the lucky ones."

Being conciously self-motivated is probably a healthy outlook. Adoption parenting is not easy, and you will probably be more engaged over the long-haul if adoption is something you are doing for your own gratification than out of a sense of charity. There are other ways not buying into this pattern of thought will make you a better parent. Traumatized adult adoptees are quite forthcoming about the damage it does, hearing things like, "If it wasn't for us, you'd be starving... a child prostitute... a drug addict... dead." Usually, these comments are made in the throes of a massive fight, probably when the adopted child was a teen... and richly deserved getting scolded. Still, without the pernicious notion that the child was "saved", such comments wouldn't roll off the tongue so easily in heated situations.

Thinking critically about what adopted child would fit best in your family (even if the family is just a single would-be parent) will help make the best "fit", and give the family the best opportunity for happiness for all involved.

A few things to consider about the child:

1. Country of origin
2. Gender
3. Age
4. Race
5. Religion

Are you interested in a sibling group?
A child with special needs?

Again, it's good to be honest, because to be a postive influence on your adopted child, you will need to embrace all aspects of that child's history and do your utmost to instill pride in your child. So, if you don't like Chinese culture, or if you are uncomfortable around black people, for two examples, you need to be self-aware enough to face these facts and plan your family's expansion accordingly. A far worse crime than admitting these pedispositions is adopting children of a different racial, national or cultural background, then, out of discomfort or disinterest, failing to help you child connect with these crucial aspects of his or her identity.

Such failures only bear their bitter fruit as the child matures and feels alienated from those who look like him or her, or, even worse, has internalized a sense of anger or hatred towards himself for being "different". As adult adoptees attempt to fill in these blanks themselves, they can grow resentful towards their adoptive parents. Adoptive parents can feel threatened by the aggressive exploration of this denied identity, and relationships can become strained.


Another important consideration is to ensure that your adoption is ethical.

Some countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and most Eurpoean countries have joined such contries as China, India, Colombia, Philippines, Mexico, Poland, Thailand, Brazil and Moldova have joined the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption is an international treaty that seeks to prevent corruption in the adoption process for signatory countries by:

1) Ensuring that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of children; and
2) Preventing the abduction, exploitation, sale, or trafficking of children.

As a result, all of the adoption agencies within the United States are regulated according to these stadards. In a perfect world, this means that even when adoptions occur from non-sigatory countries, such as South Korea, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia or Russia, these programs are held to the same high standard as adoptions between signatory countries.

Unfortunately, being a signatory country does not guarantee that the goals stated above are met. Such was the case with the Guatamala program. Currently, although Guatamala is a signatory country, their program showed many signs of problems and abuses. Currently, many countries have suspended adoptions from Guatamala. The United States is proceeding on a case-by-case basis, with strict oversight.

Guatamala has failed to regulate notaries processing adoption or the foster care that occurs between relinquishment and adoption. As a result, some foster care allowed for the physical abuse of kids. The conflict of interest that existed (and still exits) for notaries dealing directly with relinquishing families and adoptive families created an environment ripe for pay-offs, bribes, baby buying and even baby stealing. The situation has gotten so bad the the United States government now demands a DNA match between supposed birthmothers and the children they are relinquishing, due to the "numerous cases in which impostors who were not the children's actual birth mothers attempted to relinquish rights to children who were not theirs."

Imagine finding out, or even SUSPECTING that your child was STOLEN from his or her mother's arms? Such horror is a reason why EVERYONE involved in adoption must go to superhuman efforts to make sure that all adoptions remain legal, all processes remain transparent and all actions are taken for the benefit of the children.
A good agency in the US does not guarantee a "clean" adoption.

The US State Dept. advises:

"Even if a U.S. adoption agency has an unblemished record with such offices, however, and even if the agency itself is operating completely with the best intentions, the lack of oversight and regulation over the other actors in the Guatemalan adoption process make it extremely difficult for even the most ethical agency to be completely certain that everything has been done in accordance with the law and in the best interests of all the parties."

Of course, it is easy to substitute ANY country for "Guatemala", which means that ANY international adoption program has the potential for the kind of corruption that trades paltry amounts of money for the devistation and abuse of children.

Another option for many countries is PRIVATE ADOPTION, in which you hire an attorney or other advocate in a country to directly pursue an adoption through that nation's courts. I don't know much about this process, but would love to find out more from those who've gone this route.

I'd like to end this post with a question -- how, as waiting adoptive parents, do you ensure ethical adoptions the world over?

Next, I plan to discuss first families, poverty and adoption.


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