[This is a dang long post. Some of you will be disinclined to read the whole thing simply because it's sooo long. I can't half blame you. But I honestly did not know how to address such a deep and complex inquiry in brief. And even with all my droning, I did not cover the issue to the extent that it requires.]
A reader, "Harmony," who is a Caucasian American woman married to a Korean-American man, in response to a link I posted, "An example of an ethical international adoption and other things," (by Korean adoptee, Jane Trenka) asked the following:
It seems to me like one of the issues you and other adoptees bring up a lot is culture. Obviously language and culture are major issues with international adoption, but I've also heard the same thing said about black children who were adopted out to white families, that they missed out on black culture.
So what do you do with families that have a complicated culture? What, for example, is the culture of our family? White? Asian? Korean? American? If we were to adopt, how do we reconcile our family with the desire I hear from adult adoptees to be in families as close as possible to their birth families?
Then we get into another one of those horrible issues with Korean culture. If the average Korean isn't going to support a single mother, or adopt her child, you can certainly bet that it'll be worse for a mixed child.
Hines Ward started a charity to help deal with this horrible discrimination of mixed children - and I'm not just talking about orphans.
It seems to me like the cultural hurdles are so high, it's going to take more than a generation for it to change.
So what do we do in the meantime? I imagine the stigma against adoption and against single mothers would change a lot faster if international adoption were eliminated (or at least significantly reduced). And yet, that leaves a generation of children in foster homes or orphanages.
So what would be the best, in your opinion? Should we try to adopt a half white child from a Korean orphanage? Should we give up the idea of adoption and work for cultural change?
I'm really very interested in hearing what you have to say...
I believe adpotees when they say that they feel the loss of culture. I mean, even look at our president. He wasn't even adopted, but he felt the loss of black culture. So would we be doing more harm than good by adopting?
About two and a half years ago we were very close to adopting. Now we have a 1-year-old and have some time to reflect about the decision before we go down that road again. Not saying "we will" this time, but "should we?"...I know the answer isn't simple, but that's why I'm asking for advice from people who know better than I do.
* * *
First of all, I have a lot to ramble on about in response to Harmony's inquiry. She asks some great questions, but of course, there are so many layers to the questions and their answers--really someone could write an entire book addressing the aforementioned issues (and actually, I'm pretty certain someone has). I'll do my best to be thorough yet concise, but concision is not exactly my gift, while I'm also bound to miss some important points. I certainly don't have this all figured out, and I still have much to learn myself.
Second of all, this is a potentially touchy topic that could evoke some strong emotions and reactions. I know my opinion on the matter is just my opinion, but it is an informed opinion based on cumulative knowledge and experience garnered over the years. Let's just make sure to be respectful and open-minded toward one another. And let's not make threats to stop listening to someone else's ideas because you happen to disagree. That defeats the purpose of a healthy, constructive discussion and debate. We can be honest with one another and disagree with one another without being catty. Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way...
To begin, I appreciate Harmony's honest and insightful inquiry. I appreciate that she seems to be asking questions actually looking for honest answers and not simply to justify herself. She's not simply looking for an echo chamber. And that takes guts. So, thanks, Harmony.
I think folks like Harmony perhaps might benefit from broadening their inquiry from "Should we adopt?" to include questions such as "What are the root causes of adoption (ie, international adoption)?" and "Why do I want to adopt?" which I believe would ultimately lead them to asking themselves "What options do we have to help children and their families affected by adoption and the related circumstances?"
In short, there are several options to consider (in no particular order):
- Adopting internationally
- Adopting domestically
- Providing assistance to existing orphanages (there are also orphanages that house children who will never be eligible for adoption)
- Providing assistance to existing homes for unwed pregnant women and/or mothers (there are many in Korea)
- Sponsoring a child and/or mother
- Providing support to existing organizations that assist with family preservation
- Advocating for more programs & resources for family assistance and preservation
- And the like
The truth is that where the money goes is where the people go, and where the people go is where the money goes. Wherever the funds are being funneled is where real, practical support will burgeon. So, if the bulk of the money is going to international adoption, well, that's where the practical support is going to remain. If the people are pouring their resources into international adoption, well, then, the cycle will keep on turning.
Harmony, of course, addresses an important fact--orphanages at this very moment are overflowing with children. Hence, I'm not suggesting we completely abandon one for the sake of another. But we've got to start somewhere, and part of that start is acknowledging the drastic imbalance of power and resources that plays an undeniable, but often neglected, role in the fact that orphanages are flooded with children.
In other words, as I alluded to above, it's a vicious cycle.
In my small opinion, the more folks who decide to practice true charity--that is, true altruism--the more opportunity there will be for the programs, resources, and infrastructure to develop that will enable and empower families to stay together.
So, again, when you ask yourself, "Should we adopt?" perhaps more appropriately you can ask yourself, "Why do we want adopt?"
If you are drawn to adopt because you want to "give back" or because you think it's a good charity or an obligation as a result of your religion or belief system, think twice and perhaps dig a little more deeply. There are so many other ways in which we can "give back." Furthermore, no human being wants to grow up feeling like they came to be a part of someone's family as an act of pity.
As I've quoted before, Sandy, an adoptive mom, once stated in response to a blog post, The Theology of Adoption, "If Christians wish to focus on adopting as a way to give back then they need to adopt the entire family - not just the child - no Christian should be purposely severing the biological link that God created...God told them to care for all humanity...not just the little ones..."
I know the Bible clearly states to look after orphans (James 1). I understand this. But the fact is that so many of these children in orphanages are not orphans. They have living parents and/or relatives who are completely capable of taking care of them and who want to take care of them, but because of the disturbing dearth of economic and societal support, they feel forced into a corner. Harmony even acknowledged to me at one point, her misguided assumption that children end up in orphanages because their parents did not want to take care of them. This is a common misconception that demonstrates the ignorance surrounding why a mother or family relinquishes a child. So often it has nothing to do with wanting or not wanting, but rather with living versus dying, both in the literal sense and the social sense.
To clarify, for any doubters or assumers, I'm not anti-adoption. And I don't think charity is a bad virtue. And I'm not saying that all adoptive parents directly and purposely sever the biological link between child and mother. I recognize, as an adoptee myself who is managing reunion, that the reasons that children end up in orphanages are complicated.
But I also think that when it comes to adoption, people often choose to be rather naive and negligent in acknowledging their part. They can also have some pretty funky ideas and motivations about what it means to adopt that ultimately seem self-serving and self-lauding, while being dismissive of the realities that these mothers and families face. Rather than altruism, it's egoism. Rather than sincere charity, it's judgment.
Charity is defined as, "the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need; kindness and tolerance in judging others."
If you truly want to be charitable, as Sandy is quoted above, use your money to help families stay together. Rather than passing judgment and deciding who is or isn't "worthy" of raising a child, exercise kindness and tolerance by bolstering support for these families. You might not gain anything tangible for yourself in doing so. But you may at least have the peace of mind and a clear conscience that you have done what so many others won't, at least not yet.
Again, I repeat myself, I'm not therefore saying that we should leave children to languish in an orphanage or that I would have rather spent my life in an institution. That's not the point, and honestly, it grates on me that people would even make such an assumption. Duh, people, no adoptee would have rather stayed in an orphanage, and no decent human being wants children to suffer such a fate.
When folks ask such meaningless questions as, "Would you rather have adoptees like yourself grow up in an orphanage?" or "Are you saying that you'd rather these children stay in orphanges?" they're once again failing to ask the real questions that address the root causes.Why do children end up in orphanages?
As I stated earlier, where the resources go is where the people go and vice versa. It's obvious to most that resources for family preservation are severely lacking, and this is in part because folks are not investing resources into it. Hence, I am suggesting that while continuing to provide services and assistance for those children in orphanages, what is desperately neededalso and to an even greater extent are programs, infrastructure, resources, etc. to make available assistance that will foster family preservation when family preservation is what is wanted.
* * *
I will say, however, that ultimately, the question, "Should we adopt?" is obviously a question that a person has to ultimately answer for herself. It's a very personal question with a gravity similar to the questions of "Should we get married?" or "Should we get pregnant?"--no one else can answer it for you. Yet one must also choose not to be naive to the realities, and in particular the responsibilities, of marriage or of getting pregnant.
It's no different with adoption. As Jane stated in her blog post, prospective adoptive parents must decide not to be naive, and specifically to be willing to take responsibility for the social implications of their decisions. In other words, adopting is no fairy tale, folks, and we each play a part in the larger system, whether we acknowledge it or we don't. It's not necessarily a "happily ever after" story, and if you go into it expecting that, you're letting naivete get the best of you.
No one should rush into adopting, and no one should adopt because they're wanting a congratulatory pat on the back for being such a beacon of charity and good welfare. No one should adopt solely because they think it's the "right thing" to do. You don't choose to get pregnant (at least I would hope not) because you think it's the "right thing" to do. You don't get pregnant (again, I would hope not) seeking sainthood and adulation from folks shaking your hand saying what a Mother Theresa you are and how selfless it is that you chose to give birth to a child. You don't decide to get pregnant because you're expecting a child who worships you with the deepest of gratitude and honor for "saving" them from the womb.
Rather, you get pregnant realizing the depth of responsibility. I'm not going into parenthood expecting my child to give back to me tenfold and thank me every day for bringing him out of the womb. In other words, giving birth ultimately isn't about me. It's not about what my child is going to give or do for me. I'm not giving birth because I wanted a number one fan who's going to thank me for the rest of my life. I'm not giving birth because I want to "grow" my family. It's something much more profound, much deeper, much more intangible than any of that. It's something I want to do, but not because I'm expecting endless gratitude in return. I know it's going to be challenging and hard and there are times I'm going to want to rip out my hair. And yet, somehow, still, my husband and I wanted to do this. We made the decision, even knowing all that it would demand of our lives and our very selves.
Adoption is no different in that respect, but of course it is very different in other respects (but that's a whole other post for another time...).
* * *
As far as Harmony's more specific inquiry regarding the cultural dilemma that an interracial, interethnic couple faces, I will first of all share from my husband's and my personal experience.
Mike and I have actually contemplated the same issues. Before we discovered that we were pregnant in May, we had engaged in serious discussions regarding the possibility of adopting, because we thought we might be facing infertility.
Similar to Harmony's situation, my husband and I are an interracial couple. I'm Korean-American. He's half Greek and half Caucasian-American. Being an interracial couple can complicate matters of adoption, particularly if one is wanting to cultivate ethnic and cultural preservation.
Also as an adoptee, knowing what I know now and due to my personal experiences as an adoptee, I still wrestle with deep conflicts when contemplating the idea of adopting. (Before going any further at this point, let me state for the record that anything I share about my personal beliefs and/or conclusions regarding adoption should not be taken as me passing judgment on those who have adopted or are thinking about adopting.)
As Harmony expressed, since cultural and ethnic preservation is a huge factor to me personally, I have come to the conclusion that I could not in good conscience adopt internationally, at least not at this point in my journey. I feel as though once my child became an adult, he or she would come to me and ask, "Why did you do this? You're an adoptee. How could you have done this? Why didn't you do more to help people like me stay with our families? And knowing what you know, how could you have taken me away from my culture and my people? Of all the people in the world, you knew better. You knew better."
And yet, as my husband and I faced the very real possibility that we were infertile, I had to further wrestle internally.
He and I also discussed the option of adopting domestically, but again, with being a Caucasian-Asian interracial couple, even domestic adoption is complicated. I expressed to my husband that the only way I might possibly be able to consider adoption domestically was if we could adopt a child who was half Korean-American and half White-American in order to be able to honestly foster cultural preservation and to have the highest chances of open adoption and birth family relations. The chances of that possibility arising seem quite slim.
I don't even feel good about adopting a half White, half Korean child from Korea itself for several reasons. One being that Korea is not signed onto the Hague agreement, while their current practices are in need of some serious reform. Second, I would still be depriving the child of his or her original culture. I don't speak Korean. I don't know the culture as a native does. If he or she should one day want to return, so much would be lost. Certainly, I speak from experience.
(Furthermore, I would like to note, that although, Korea still has a long way to go, domestic adoption is on the rise there, while more mothers are choosing to keep their children. Although the change is slow, it is at the least an indication that things can change--just not without those who are willing to blaze the trail and take those pioneering risks as well as suffer the consequences of being the first to do so. Also, as some of you know already, there are also many Korean adoptees currently living in Korea actively working to influence social change through education and legislation. So, again, affecting change is always an option whether from behind the scenes or on the stage--we all play a part...)
Although, for Harmony and her husband, being that your husband was actually raised by a Korean family and knows the language and culture, you would be able to maintain those aspects of culture to a greater degree than my husband and I would, if you did adopt a biracial child from Korea...
Ultimately, however, my husband and I were also surrendered to the idea that we perhaps might choose to remain childless and use whatever resources we would have otherwise used to raise a child of our own to work toward family preservation, and in particular, in Korea. More specifically, he and I discussed the possible decision to take our resources and use them to sponsor unwed mothers in Korea to enable them to have the option to keep and raise their children. This ultimately ended up being the most viable option to me as well as the one most acceptable to my conscience at this point in my process, due to my personal experience and knowledge.
I guess my point in sharing all of this is to say to Harmony, and anyone else willing to listen and consider, that there are many options and possibilities to contemplate.
I can't nor will I tell you whether you should adopt. I realize that in some situations adoption is going to happen and in some cases is necessary. But the necessity of adoption can also certainly be diminished if more social and economic resources are cultivated that give mothers and families more viable options. All in all, I am simply saying that folks should at least contemplate the range of ways in which they might be able to contribute to the well-being of children around the world and not limit themselves to only the practice of adoption as a way to "make the world a better place."
There are programs available, although certainly not enough, that support families and mothers. Although a seeming conflict in interest, the agency through which I was adopted offers support for mothers who opt to keep their children as well as sponsorship for individual children who are not eligible for adoption, while I have also previously mentioned Riverkids and Unity Medical Fund. The fact so few resources exist with the defined purpose of directly aiding families and mothers to enable family preservation is proof that resources for family preservation are scarce in comparison to the plethora of adoption-related organizations and funds.
* * *
And ultimately, here's the real issue to ponder: When a mother is faced with only two choices between either utter starvation and deprivation (not only physically and economically but socially and culturally) versus relinquishing her child for adoption with the hope then that both she and her child will be saved from such starvation and deprivation, what real choices are she and her child actually being given? Ultimately, the choice she faces is death versus life (whether literally or metaphorically).
I know a fellow Korean adoptee whose mother tried to hold onto her daughter. Her mother was able to nurse her, which is ultimately what kept her from starving to death, but eventually, by the time she grew to be three years old, nursing was no longer an option and both her mother and her faced starvation. Her mother tried to make money by running a cart on the streets of Seoul, but it was barely a living. Eventually she saw an advertisement in a magazine, for what? Family assistance? Of course not.
How is deprivation versus adoption a real choice? What mother is going to choose death over life for her child?
It would be a completely different story if these mothers were actually presented with real choices. Rather than showing up at some agency where she is presented with one of only two options to either keep her child and face starvation and outcast or give up her child with the hope that the child will be provided for, what if she were able to sit down and really consider some options? What if instead she could find assistance both socially and economically? With all other factors equal, would she then choose to keep and raise her child?
Obviously, I realize that the reasons behind a mother giving up her child are complex. Socioeconomic status, however, does play a crucial role along with cultural stigmas and pressures and of course, various personal factors. I am simply suggesting that if socioeconomic factors could be controlled and adjusted for, so that mothers did not feel forced or cornered into giving up their children purely on the basis of insufficient economic and social support, then should we not acknowledge this and the role it plays in the current system of adoption?
It's true that many feel overwhelmed by the need for such systemic change--overcoming cultural stigmas and old thinking is indeed quite a task. But it's a necessary one. If we really care about all the children flooding orphanages, then we won't be able to turn a blind eye and simply say, "Well, what can I do? I'm only one person?" If we are truly disturbed by the circumstances that compel a mother to give up the child she loves, then we will be willing to acknowledge the root causes and fight to address them, whether we do so in the forefront or in the background.
My own biological mother has expressed that had the resources available today been available back in the 70's she would have kept me. (Now be careful here, I'm not therefore saying that I don't love my American family...) I'm simply sharing this as one of many examples to illustrate how the lack of resources and options, both economically and socially, available to these unwed mothers forces them into a corner, forces them into making a decision that many mothers would not make otherwise.
I have close friends who are single mothers here in America. Transfer their situations to Korea, and they would not have had the freedom of choice that they were able to exercise as a result of living in the States. I'm not implying therefore that all unwed mothers everywhere would therefore always decide to keep their children. But I am saying that social and economic support makes a significant difference in the options available and hence in the decisions made by these mothers.
So, again, when asking yourself, "Should we adopt?" remember that adoption is not simply about you and what you want. Remember that adoption happens as a result of someone else's tragedy within a vast complexity of broken social systems and dire circumstances. Whatever decision you make, make sure to include the decision to learn all that you can about all the sides of adoption and to acknowledge that your decision, your role inevitably and undeniably impacts not simply your own lives that you can tangibly see and feel, but the lives of those whom you do not see--those who are so often all but invisible because no one has made the decision to see them or feel for them.