Thursday, September 30, 2010

A reader asks me, "Should we adopt?"

[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.


Haley said...

What a great post. Thank you for taking the time to share all of that. I especially like your re-phrasing of the question from "should we..." into "why are we...". That is a distinction that has become really important to me lately, so it was great to hear your perspective on that.

Harmony said...

Thanks, Melissa. I really, really appreciate your reply to my "impossible" question. :-)

I have been thinking about this a lot recently. At this point - and this might change, but it's where I am now - I think the only reason why we would adopt would be if we are unable to have another child (and that's not an out-there possibility - we had lots of trouble before I got pregnant with Pearl). I think my husband and I are in a unique position, where we have "enough" of a cultural tie to Korea (husband is nearly fluent in the language, I speak some, we eat Korean food a lot, I make our own kimchi, my in-laws speak 90% Korean when they visit, etc), but we don't hold any of the cultural stigmas against half-Koreans. So if we were going to adopt anyway, we'd try to go that route.

Our family already "sponsors" two families in the Philippines (I use the quotes because, well, we don't really send all that much money) and we donate to a local charity that tries to help women find ways to keep their babies, but I appreciate the links to the Korean charities. I will talk to my husband about them.

I firmly believe that children should stay with their birth families unless there is significant abuse. And even in those cases, the children should be given to relatives or close family friends. I've felt that way for years (more so now that I have a baby). But like I said on facebook, I had no idea how common this kind of adoption was in countries other than China (because of that horrible One Child policy). Maybe I'm naive, but I think more Christians would support single mother programs if they just knew about the problem. Then those who really wanted to adopt could, without feeling like they were perpetuating the problem.

Anyway, thank you again for your answer!

Kris said...

This was a really great post. It is the kind of thing PAPs should read. I wish I had read things like this before we adopted.

I got my eye-opener after contacting my daughter's family in Russia and found she has a large, loving family there. Yes, there was a reason for her surrender, but it is not something that would have had to happen had she been born in the US or Canada.

I understand the point you are making that people go where the money is. It makes me very sad for my daughter and as much as I love her, there is a part of me wishes we had not adopted, not fed into this "system" that ultimately does very little to keep families together, but rather often leaves mothers with little choice but to surrender their children.

Von said...

Anyone thinking about adoption needs to thoroughly research the adoption industry and understand the ethics of adoption, the political situation in any country they're thinking of adopting from.Get the true picture not the spin and see where you are then with the truth in your sights.

Michael said...

A good post and not an easy topic. I detest the saint image that some either want to adopt or that people want to award to adoptive parents. The decision is very personal. You do need to be well informed and I agree about finding a solution to problem why there are indeed orphans and being a part of the solution.

You also have to look at the culture where some children are relinquished because of physical abnormalities that can be treated here or do not carry the social stigma.

We are at peace with our three adoptions. The first two chose us as they came to us as teenagers. Neither lost their family or culture. It is a different story with our youngest. We are doing all we can to preserve his cultural ties and language. It will not be enough, but we will do all we can.

We have many cultures in our family -- one for each of our children (all different countries), the American culture and the one of my ancestors. It is no easy task, but we do our best with eyes wide open and with as much info as we can gather.

Thank you for adding to our understanding.


The Declassified Adoptee said...

Great answer.

I vote for working for cultural change within Korea rather than adopting.

A child adopted from Korea to America might benefit if in a home with Korean heritage. But not only will they be Korean in a family that celebrates Korean heritage....they will also be Korean American, living in a country where they are in the minority and may be treated differently by their peers just by how they look. This is another big reason why we say to preserve one's culture and heritage--within the country of origin.

One adoption fee can support hundreds of families for a lifetime. Demanding respect for women, especially single mothers, is a huge aspect of social justice. We cannot make change for women and demand support for needy families if we pay their government systems tens of thousands of dollars to take dependent children off their hands. Doing that gives them no reason to reform.

Anonymous said...

I wrote a sort-of-response to this here, using your quote to run off some other parts. I think what you're writing is true, but that it's also useful to acknowledge that there is an awful lot of bad parenting around that intersects sharply with the adoption industry, but is not an outcome of the adoption industry itself, but a source.

Reena said...

What a great post – and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

I agree that it is important to sponsor organizations that will benefit family unity. In past years and ever since I can remember growing up as a child, my family did sponsor one or more children through a faith based organization. My mom started this sponsorship and when she passed on; I assumed financial responsibility for supporting the children she sponsored.

Recently I quit my sponsorship because I was not comfortable with the “Christian” requirement for children to participate with this organization. I waited until the child I was sponsoring graduated from the program and then I declined to sponsor another child.

We have adopted internationally from China and my daughters are still quite young. From a very young age, I had always planned to adopt a child—more so than to have a child through birth.

My parents tried to adopt a child from foster care (it never happened) when I was a young child and the realization that there were kids who did not have someone to love them no matter what really affected me. As an adult I have come to realize that the way in which children come to be adopted isn’t simplistic.

I have a good friend who is Chinese and few acquaintances. They have conveyed to me how difficult life in China can be for women living in the countryside and how difficult life is for an Orphan who lives in China and ages out of the orphanage.

We do not delude ourselves into thinking that our daughters’ first mothers and families willingly *abandoned* them. I think in many cases the first moms truly have no choice—the oppression they must feel, I cannot begin to imagine the depths of it, but I try. The one child policy in China has a huge effect. It was in place before China was open to IA and I do not believe that closing the IA program from China would have any effect on the One Child Policy. This is my belief and I could, admittedly be wrong.

As much as I love my daughters, I know that it would have been better if they could have stayed and been raised in their first family.

I think it would have even been better for our youngest daughter if she could have stayed with her foster family in China. They told us that they would not be allowed to adopt her because they have a child-aged son whom they adopted a few years prior—the One Child Policy would not allow them adopt another child.

They also told us that life would be very hard for her because of a physical medical condition (not allowed to go to public school, very hard to get a job—all this is already hard for ‘orphans’ in China because they are considered unlucky—add a visible medical condition and this stance is multiplied).

And no, we do not share the ideology that we *saved* our daughters.

I think it is important that IA families make every effort to educated their children about their birth culture—admittedly this is different than raising them in their birth culture and different than raising them similarly to a family who has immigrated to our country—but I do feel we have a responsibility to educate them as much as possible.

I think it is important for IA families to provide financial support to organizations that help children living in the country from where they adopted and who are not adopted. My family does do this.

I think it is especially important for Afamilies (IA or domestic) to support organizations that work to help moms keep their babies/families in tack.

I would love to find such an organization in China—but I have been unable to find one.

Another organization that helps women living in contires effected by war is called women for women It isn’t specifically for family unification, but by providing another woman/mom with financial resources and encouragement, it would likely have this effect.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and point of view.

Mei Ling said...

Clearly, as much as we say biology does not matter, it is usually the first choice.

Even Melissa herself admits she would have adopted if she had been told she could not conceive.

I think it is natural to want to conceive one's own blood-and-flesh child.

But we should stop pretending that adoption is the first choice when it is evident that it is not always that way, or even frequently that way. (That is not to say that not every couple adopted because of infertility - but that usually, the majority adopted *after* finding out they could not conceive.)

I've seen some commenters say "Well biology *wasn't* a choice, so adoption was the first choice."

No. Adoption is the second choice once the first choice - biology - has fallen through.

Campbell said...

Really good post.

HollyMarie said...

Melissa, you write so beautifully and with such care and grace in your words. You really do. Thank you for this post.

Our education came about AFTER our adoptions. We were completely naive with the first adoption. And in our case, adoption really was our first choice. We never tried to conceive before adopting our first daughter, and again did not before adopting our second daughter. My mind was being opened while in process w/ our second and after our two we said, conception is next; we are done with international adoption. Lo and behold, conception did not happen and now we know it will not happen, at least the chances are so slim they are as good as zero. And we grieved that a lot. And we are adopting again... but we cannot go down the international road again, so it's domestic this time, hopefully open. And this is the last time. Internationally we are sponsoring children and giving to programs that work toward family preservation. It matters not the base of the organization, whether it is faith based or not... neither is more or less deserving of our help.

a Tonggu Momma said...

This is an excellent post on a difficult topic, Melissa. Usually when someone tells me, "I want to adopt," I counter with "do you want to adopt? or do you want to be an adoptive parent?" Because if one answers the first in the affirmative, without answering the second in the affirmative, then they should just stop there.

Rita said...

Ooooh, Tongu Momma, what an excellent way to put it.

Anonymous said...

SOS Children and UNICEF also strongly support family preservation.

T and T Livesay said...

This was a really great post. I am purposefully reading the opinions of adult adoptees to challenge my own thinking. We have adopted but we live in the culture/country that our kids were born into now so at least we're able to give them that. We're working to break systems that tear women and children apart in Haiti. It feels impossible but we're still trying.

Mila said...

T & T Livesay, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read such a long post...I visited your blog and truly appreciated your most recent post. As I commented on your blog, seeing and hearing about young mothers in Haiti being empowered and supported to raise their children is so heartening and exactly what I hope to see more and more of in the years to come not only in Haiti but also in other countries...

Thank you for being willing to meet people where they're at without harsh and/or presumptuous judgment and supporting mothers, no matter their age or circumstances...

TheHappyNeills said...

I think a little credit is due to many adoptive parents. . . sooooooooooo many organizations that are working to better the lives of women and entire villages, feeding programs, implement more social/medical help, etc. etc. in so many countries were founded by adoptive parents who started out probably by adopting a child in need of a family and have now dedicated their lives to trying to better societies so that so many children will never BE in need of adopting.

I have encountered hundreds of adoptive parents over our few-year adoption journey, and no group is more passionate about orphan prevention and orphan care than adoptive parents themselves.

Generally speaking, of course....of course there are those who just wanted kids and adopted and are done.

We purposely chose not to have any more biological children because of our heart for orphaned children, coupled with our desire for more children. It was not a Plan B for us, nor do we think we are "saving" a child. Providing the basic right/need (FAMILY) of any child--yes. Saving, doing a charitable thing--no.

Once we've seen, how can we not act? How can we NOT be involved in lifelong action to prevent the orphaning of children? We'd be turning a huge blind eye. Sadly, some do. Most, do not.

In a perfect world, adoption would not be necessary. That doesn't exist, obviously. Our boy had no options where he was at.

What we need to do is do things to prevent the adoption of children who MIGHT have another option, somehow, someway, to remain with their birth family.

It is not right for people to say we should feed hundreds of mouths with adoption money instead, or donate to such-and-such instead.

You (not you, Melissa, the hypothetical "you") CANNOT put a price on a child having a family forever. You cannot say that one child's adoption (a lifetime WITH a family) is NOT worth the money, but donating to such-and-such cause is, that money could be "better spent" elsewhere.
That infuriates me, and it's just not logical either.

My boy would remain an orphan, in an institution, with lack of medical care for his special need. But hey, that might be worth it, if we could make a big donation to a pregnancy center in another country instead!

The need exists NOW for so many children to be adopted. And the need exists for more things to be in place to prevent orphans. DO BOTH. DO NOT TELL ME WE SHOULD BE DOING THE OTHER, BUT NOT ADOPTING, BECAUSE OF THE COST!

A recent post I read sums it up so well:

YES, we need to dedicate our lives to bringing CHANGE past the one life that we are bringing into our family. And so many APs have! Compared to a show of hands for people who have not adopted, I bet the numbers would be astounding.

Yet it's usually the people who have never adopted who suggest doing x-y-z to the APs. . . the suggesters aren't usually putting their own words into practice when there are so many APs who are sold out for the cause.

Anyway, end rant.

Mila said...

@ HappyNeills-

Thanks for stopping're right some AP's get involved by starting organizations or by helping certain organizations (KUMSN in Korea, Rileys in Uganda).

But the truth is that very few organizations exist that are purely, truly devoted to preventing child abandonment and supporting family preservation, in particular when compared w/how many adoption agencies exist. There is a disturbing discrepancy. And it's symptomatic of the bias and imbalance in perception, power, and money.

I will say in response to you that I'm not an AP, but I am a "suggester," and I think being an adoptee whose life has been and continues to be drastically altered & affected by adoption practices gives me the right and obligation to speak up about how things need to change.

AP's are not the only ones who have the right to suggest simply because they're the only ones who adopt...Birth/original mothers have some things to say, too, and they, too, have the right to be a part of the conversation for reform. I ask AP's to make it real by imagining looking my Omma in the face and telling her you'd rather have given your money to adopt me than help supply the resources & support she needed to care for me...

You don't have to be an adopter to recognize the need for reform and the gross injustices that are often only perfunctorily acknowledged and addressed as exemplified by the lack of organizations and the dearth of reform in the adoption world.

If you're not already familiar with it, check out Child's i Foundation/Malaika House:

If you haven't read the report "Families, Not Orphanages" by Better Care Network, please do:

Furthermore, international adoption prevents nations and their people from developing domestic solutions and changing the social norms that perpetuate negative stigmas...Korea is a sad example of is only just now beginning to change due to primarily the work of ADOPTEES educating and affecting legislation...

The social and political change necessary to prevent child abandonment and promote family preservation is possible...but it's hard work. (Read this post:

And by the way, there is no "hypothetical me"--only & just the "real me." Just sayin'... ;)

TheHappyNeills said...

I was in no way meaning you-Melissa. Just the broad "you" people use in everyday conversation when speaking about anything...meaning, anyone out there who might say that. I didn't mean a hypothetical Melissa, I meant the hypothetical "you" in everyday English language. Sorry for that confusion. I know from reading your blog what you-Melissa stand for.

And I completely believe in adopting children who truly need it. Our son we're adopting has no options.

Bottom line is--there are so many children with the TRUE need of a family RIGHT NOW. And reform is needed RIGHT NOW. We have to be doing both. Int'l adoption is not a perfect solution but sometimes it's the only solution NOW. We will adopt our son NOW, and we will be involved however we can for the rest of our lives. We do not have to pit one against the other--adoption vs reform. Our world needs both, desperately.

You said, "The social and political change necessary to prevent child abandonment and promote family preservation is possible...but it's hard work."

COMPLETELY AGREE. TOTALLY. But since our world and others' worlds are far from perfect, it will take long, hard work. . . but the fact remains that there are orphans in dire need of families, and when their country fails to offer that to them, then we are willing to do it.

I love your statement, " I ask AP's to make it real by imagining looking my Omma in the face and telling her you'd rather have given your money to adopt me than help supply the resources & support she needed to care for me..."

Completely agree here, too. I would never want to adopt a child whose family might somehow be able to care for him if other resources/options were somehow made available, and I would hope that this conviction continues to spread amongst PAPs. I know there are many who just want a child and don't dig deep into the history and such.

Like I said, our son has no options, though. Mom--gone. Dad--gone. Chance of being adopted where he is at--no.

I also think it's completely acceptable to be a "suggestor", if the person doing the suggesting is actively involved in what they're suggesting! You are a prime, refreshing ARE doing the very things you're suggesting rather than just pointing fingers at others you feel should be acting.

It's only wrong and infuriating when "suggestors" have done nothing themselves, they just somehow think that should be only our (PAPs and APs) responsbility and they have the ability to tell APs so.

One little example we personally have encountered, and many others I know. . . "Why don't all these parents adopting internationally do something for the children in their own city first?" Well, sir, what are YOU doing for the children in this city? Are WE the only ones that burden should fall on? I can tell you all the reasons why we are not able to adopt through the system and turned to int'l adoption instead and talk to you all day about our passion to see change for the fatherless and at-risk in this city, this state, and this country, as well as other countries, and a big list of things we're actively involved in locally. And, by the way, we did try domestic adoption here.

There's just so much of that out there. . . from every angle. Just as non-adoptees can't point at adult adoptees and say, "Well, if you want to see change, then YOU get involved. Not my problem.". . . non-adopters can't expect adopters to solely shoulder all kinds of reform for orphans, just because we've already stepped in those waters a bit. It's everyone's responsibility to be involved somehow, in big ways and in small. . . because these are our city's and our world's most vulnerable children. . . and if grown adults don't give a flip about the world's most vulnerable and innocent people, then we're doomed.

TheHappyNeills said...

And just as I would never suggest to a birthmom that WANTS desperately to keep her child that I'd rather spend the money to keep her baby myself than help her keep her baby. . . I would hope that others never suggest to my SON that we would've been better off spending the adoption money on other worthy causes around the world rather than UN-orphaning him. . . which is what people are essentially saying when they suggest "better" uses of our money. There is no putting a price on a human life. Following that line of thinking, why wouldn't that person tell a couple--no, they shouldn't get pregnant and spend thousands on a hospital bill and thousands on that child's education someday. . . because think of how far that money could go elsewhere. Comparisons like that just don't work when you're talking about PEOPLE. My SON is worth it. Feeding hungry villages is worth it. Donating to family-preservation organizations is worth it. Raising a biological baby is worth it. It's ALL worth it. It's all NECESSARY.

The suggestions that are so commonplace that we need to be doing X and Y instead of Z is what irks me so.

Mila said... bad, HappyNeills...sorry. Thanks for clarifying on the hypothetical "you." ;)

And you're right, a multi-approach is needed...I just hope to see IA decrease dramatically, even become nonexistent, as other resources and options are developed locally, and families are empowered rather than exploited.

And I do think not enough attention and focus are given to family preservation. A family, the Rileys in Uganda, are working to develop family preservation--it's very clear on their blog. They receive email after email from Americans specifically about what? Do these Americans ask how they can donate to the Rileys' family preservation efforts? No, they ask how they can adopt a child...and when the Rileys take the time to email back to explain that's not their focus and why, that's the last they hear from these times, they even get not so friendly responses... just one example that shows although X, Y & Z may have a place, more attn, education, resources, etc. are needed on X and Y than on Z. ;)

TheHappyNeills said...

Yes, I love the Riley's work and follow their blog! I keep up with Child's i Foundation as well.

My prayer is that people passionate about adopting ONE orphan (who has no other option than int'l adoption) will be just as passionate about preventing orphans.

It's because of our passion for orphans that we're only adopting rather than having more bio babies, because there is a need. . . and it's because of our passion for orphans that we're committed to doing our part to help prevent more orphans.

We love adoption, but are sad it has to exist in the first place. We love our next little boy, who has no options. . . but we would love to see other children in Ug with similar circumstances HAVE other options.