Thursday, October 7, 2010

Orphanages & Diamonds: Socioeconomic Status & Adoption

This post is somewhat a continuation from an ongoing discussion that began with the original posts, "The choice to adopt is a luxury choice" and "Response to comments" and also extending from another related and more recent entry, "A reader asks me: Should we adopt?"

And yes, I know this is another dang long post. (It might help to print it out and use it for some light bathroom reading...ha.) But seriously, these issues are so complex and so potentially controversial that I felt it necessary to take the time to attempt to deal with them in detail. I spent a lot of time trying to think through this entry, and yet I still feel as though it is incomplete and in need of even more thought and editing...

Kudos to you if you actually read the whole thing!

Excerpted from a recent report, Families, Not Orphanages, by Better Care Network, which is affiliated with Unicef and USAID (italics are my own emphasis):

"Studies focusing on the reasons for institutional placements consistently reflect that poverty is the driving force behind their placement. For example, a study based on case studies of Sri Lanka, Bulgaria and Moldova found, 'that poverty is a major underlying cause of children being received into institutional care and that such reception into care is a costly, inappropriate and often harmful response to adverse economic circumstances.' Furthermore, the case studies show 'that resources committed to institutions can be more effectively used to combat poverty if provided to alternative, community-based support organizations for children and families.' (p. 7)

* * * Exposing ourselves to differing perspectives

I am first going to revisit and clarify a couple of statements made in the comments section of the original posts, "The choice to adopt is a luxury choice" and "Response to comments." I'm not trying to dig up controversy nor am I looking for a fight nor am I trying to single out any particular individual. I simply want to make sure that I respond to and do not neglect or ignore issues or concerns raised by readers.

A reader wrote in response to the original post ("The choice to adopt..."), "one has to wonder how healthy it is to keep reading [Yoon's Blur]." And yet she also wrote later, "I get frustrated by the implications...that if I don’t come to the exact same conclusions that I’m stopping my ears to someone’s process."

There is a contradiction in these two statements, is there not? Again, I'm not picking on her in particular, but I think there are other AP's and the like who do this very thing. They claim that they are "open" to hearing what adult adoptees have to say, but if an adult adoptee says something that rubs an AP the wrong way or that the AP perceives a certain way, the AP pulls away with reactions like "one has to wonder how healthy it is to keep reading."

The initial statement of "one has to wonder how healthy it is to keep reading" alarmed me such that I felt it necessary to respond by saying, ""I do humbly ask that before you write me off..." I was so surprised that an AP who had been following my blog for a while would have reacted so strongly to my "process," and I felt compelled to try to clarify myself.

When an AP makes a statement like "one has to wonder how healthy it is to keep reading," the AP definitely communicates quite the opposite of the proclamation that you are not "stopping [your] ear's to someone's process."

Again, I'm not trying to be combative or argumentative, and I'm not incriminating anyone (I'm not even certain that the reader to whom I'm referring visits this blog any longer). I'm simply using this as an example to demonstrate a practice, whether subconsciously or consciously, that I have encountered among adoptive parents--the practice of claiming and even believing you're "open" to listening to differing perspectives, and yet when you do encounter perspectives that challenge your own, you ultimately pull away, whether actively or passively, from those who expose you to those differing perspectives.

I address this practice, because I believe that it is detrimental in the long run to both the AP's and their adopted children. We may ultimately have to "agree to disagree" on certain topics or issues, which is inevitable and acceptable. But to react by closing oneself off to those views with which you disagree is counterproductive to understanding the adoption experience as a whole. One day your children will grow to be adults. And then what? What will you do if your adult child comes to similar conclusions or asks similar questions as I and other adult adoptees have and do?

The adoptee life is a process. My views have changed drastically, albeit slowly, over the years as I have matured and as I continue to do the hard work of trying to synthesize all the varying facets of adoption. But I also work very hard to keep my mind and heart open to these varying facets. The list of blogs featured on my blog under "More Blogs and Resources" features a range of adoptee experiences--some that would probably be considered more "adoptive parent friendly" and others that would probably feel "less friendly."

To prevent ending up in an echo chamber and to continue to recognize the complexity of the adoption experience, I think it is crucial to make sure we each make efforts to expose ourselves to experiences and perspectives that differ from our own.

* * * The role of socioeconomic status & adoptive parents in the practice of adoption

The reader to whom I referred above also took issue with some of the statements I made in the original post, specifically the following:

“a practice in which those who live in luxury (relatively-speaking) get to take the children of those who live in poverty”

“we are so quick to take another mother's child and yet slow to help her keep her child. “

“since I live in luxury over here while you live in poverty over there, I should get to raise your child.”

To me, it's painting a subtle picture of adoptive parents as "takers" and birth parents as their victims. I acknowledge that direct abduction of children may be true in some cases. But in the vast majority, adoptive parents have taken children out of orphanages, not out of families.

I hope that folks realize that I'm not accusing adoptive parents of stealing children nor am I creating a narrative in which AP's are the evil villain and birth mothers are the clueless victim. (If you have not read the original post in its entirety, I encourage you to do so for the full context of the above statements.)

I would also hope, however, that folks would be willing to recognize that although many AP's have adopted children out of orphanages or foster care and have not directly removed children from their original families, there is still a role that AP's have played in the complex social system that supports the current practice of [international] adoption. I'm simply hoping and asking that AP's be willing to acknowledge this role that they have played, not as a guilt trip or a confession to wrong, but simply as a fact. Being able to acknowledge this fact is significant, because in order to do so it requires that one must also acknowledge the whole of the social and economic factors and circumstances that surround the current practices of IA.

But ultimately, with an issue as complex as adoption, I think it is often the case that some of us simply have to "agree to disagree," particularly because contrary to what some adoptive parents have communicated over time, I do think socioeconomic status plays a crucial role in the how & why of the adoption process (specifically that it is the rich who are adopting, or "taking," from the poor, that is, in the majority of IA cases). I do believe that many of the birth mothers have been victimized by the larger social and cultural structure and system, whether directly or indirectly, in these situations, along with their children.

I also believe that adoptive parents do play a role in the adoption industry, just as much as social workers & otherwise (As I've stated before, I am not incriminating particular individuals, but rather trying to provoke thought about each of our roles in the adoption system).

Again, the above reader's interpretation of my viewpoint is her own, and I can see how she might misinterpret what I mean. But those who know me personally and have followed my blog from its inception, know that I am not anti-adoption or anti-adoptive parents. Furthermore, when I refer to the "rich taking from the poor," I am not pushing some kind of conspiracy theory, folks. The rich taking from the poor has been going on for ages. This idea just gets touchy when we're no longer talking about simple material resources but when we're suddenly talking about human life (although it's an illusion to think that the two are mutually exclusive).

Again, I'm not implying that somehow we, the rich, are abducting children from the poor, or that those who adopt are evil villains. Rather, I am addressing a complex social system that in very practical and very real ways supports and promotes international adoption more so than it does family preservation. This isn't a subversive attempt to undermine adoptive parents or adoption, but instead it is a clear and honest acknowledgment of the facts. Just do a search for adoption agencies versus organizations that support unwed mothers and family preservation, and the results alone indicate the imbalance of resources and power. (Click here for some telling statistics of what $20,000 - an average estimate of fees & cost for an international adoption - can do toward family preservation...)

As I stated in the previous post, "A reader asks me: Should we adopt?": 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.

It's simply that I think these are truths that are obvious, and quite honestly it puzzles me when AP's resist these truths so ardently: the role of socioeconomic status and the part that AP's play in the adoption system. As Amanda (The Declassified Adoptee) stated, "We see what type of children are demanded and prefered by those looking to adopt, simply by looking at the adoption rates, practices, laws, and costs in all realms of adoption" & "The current state of adoption is a huge reaction to preventable problems. Do I want children to languish in orphanages? No. I want to prevent the need for them to be placed in orphanages in the first place."

Also as quoted by Amanda, "Women in developing nations who place children for adoption abroad usually do so because they are disadvantaged by terrible poverty and/or by the stigma of illegitimacy." --Fisher, A. (2003). Still not quite as good as having your own? Toward a sociology of adoption. Annual Review of Sociology

Why is it so hard to acknowledge that adoptive parents are ultimately, the "takers," the benefactors in the case of adoption? They're certainly not the ones "giving away" in this situation. If you want to get technical, here are some general definitions of the word "take": lay hold of (something) with one's hands; reach for and hold; remove (someone or something) from a particular place; gain or acquire (possession or ownership of something); accept or receive (someone or something)...

Again, according to these definitions, is it not accurate to acknowledge that AP's are the "takers." I don't mean it in a negative, scandalous way, but simply at face value.

Is it so "controversial" because it perhaps puts a crack in the veneer that adoptive parents are the veritable saints because they have committed the ultimate act of charity? Why is it so hard to admit that adoptive parents have benefited from the compromised and disadvantaged situation of another mother? Have not adoptive parents received while another has lost? Why is this so offensive?

Now, for clarity's sake, again, I'm not saying that all AP's and social workers are therefore malicious, evil people who directly and knowingly "steal" children away from their biological families. C'mon, now, I'd have to be equally ignorant to generalize such a claim. (Again, I've said many, many times how much I respect & admire my own parents, while I'm the first to say that the social worker who has helped me over the past decade is a near saint!)

I'm not saying that AP's are wrong for having adopted. I am saying, though, that they are not exactly doing right when they choose to ignore the issues that I'm discussing here in this post and in previous posts. AP's need to be willing to burst their nice, neat adoption bubble for the sake of the children at the mercy of current adoption practices.

Look, I realize that good people with good intentions can work within a broken system--it happens every day. Just as Amanda acknowledged, "Some APs have very good intentions and ethical hearts; I am friends with several of them." But that does not mean they have not played a part, whether ignorantly or knowingly, in perpetuating that which is broken in the adoption system.

I did use some strong, albeit respectful, language in the original post, but I did so to provoke us to think about the very real role we ALL play, and to provoke thought about the assumptions made in American culture (every culture has flaws), particularly when it comes to adoption. ("I don't think the average person realizes how much we can tend to favor our American way of life to the point where we are unable to empathize with another group of people as to how important their way of life and belief systems are to them." The US & the Well Being of Children, at Declassified Adoptee)

Now, as I have tried to make clear previously, I am not saying that I therefore would have preferred to grow up in an orphanage or that we should just let the children currently in orphanages remain there. What I am saying is this: We can address one without letting go of the other. In other words, we can promote social and cultural change in the countries adopting out to decrease the number of children that end up in orphanages in the first place, while we continue to recognize that there are currently children in orphanages who need homes.

With that said, I believe socioeconomic status is an obvious contributing factor that results in children being relinquished for adoption and landing in orphanages, while I also believe that we all play a role. I think it is chosen ignorance--choosing to ignore the facts--to claim that socioeconomic status plays no role whatsoever in international adoption (and it's more complicated that doling out birth control to every woman). I also think it's chosen ignorance to deny the very obvious fact that it is the rich adopting the children of the poor--to say that the demand from couples in wealthy, Western countries has no effect or bearing on current adoption practices is to bury one's head in the sand, to stop one's ears to the truth.

Again, for the record, I know it is complicated. Social culture and economic status are not issues easily remedied--there are complex reasons as to why certain people end up in certain socioeconomic positions. Sometimes, it's personal choices. Sometimes, it's a neglectful, corrupt government. Sometimes, it's a long history of oppression. But most of the time, it's a combination of several factors.

[To make it clear, the term "socioeconomic status" indicates the inclusion of both social and economic factors in an individual's perceived status. For example, a drug dealer may have a high economic status, yet his or her occupation results in a compromised social status--hence overall socioeconomic status is influenced by both social and economic characteristics as determined within a particular culture.]

* * * A helpful analogy: Diamonds & clothing

I think a helpful, although not perfect, analogy can be found in the diamond or clothing industry. If I buy a diamond bracelet I am not directly responsible for the unethical and inhumane practices that were employed to obtain the diamonds.

If I buy clothing from a store that uses child labor and/or sweat shops to manufacture that clothing, again, I am not the one who is directly enslaving the children or workers in those sweat shops.

And I can even tell myself, well, at least these shops are providing money for families that otherwise might starve to death. But such rationalizations do not nullify the fact that the practices employed to make the clothing involve unethical and inhumane working conditions. Even though the meager wages offered may keep a family from starving, I don't think any of us would accept working under such conditions! Just because someone is poor does not justify suboptimal and substandard conditions with the pretense that at least they're not starving to death--that is in fact, taking advantage of their desperation.

In both scenarios, I may not be directly responsible for the circumstances in which the diamonds or clothing were obtained or manufactured, but can I honestly say that my choice to purchase those items plays NO ROLE whatsoever in perpetuating those practices?

If I am to be honest with myself, I must recognize my role--although not direct-- that I have contributed to creating a demand for those specific products. I as one person may not be able to demolish such circumstances or practices alone, but I can still recognize my part and make a small difference by trying to educate others--just think, if everyone were willing to speak out or take a stand, change truly would happen. That's what the Civil Rights Movement was about--individuals took a stand together.

Now of course, it's always complicated. Different folks may choose different roles. Some may choose to buy diamonds but demand to see a "Kimberley report" every time to establish that the diamonds were obtained ethically & humanely. Of course, there are times that the report may be falsified & folks have to again realize their role & the repercussions involved.

Others may choose to never purchase clothes again from that particular store or may choose never to buy diamonds again. Some may start up their own organizations to promote reform and support. Or they may decide to work within existing organizations with the intention of fighting for changes to the current practices to abolish the inhumane & unethical practices.

* * * The assumptions: It's only poor, uneducated teens, and besides, what can I do anyway?

Furthermore, the assumption that it is only poor, uneducated adolescents who end up in situations of being unwed and pregnant is a gross misassumption. My own biological mother was in her early twenties when she became pregnant with me. Unforeseen circumstances rendered my biological father unable to provide for her and for me. Because of Korean social culture, she could not rely on her family nor could she obtain employment or support otherwise.

Also, my husband and I visited a home for unwed pregnant women during our first trip to Korea. There we met a woman, whom I'll call J. She was 30 years old--an intelligent and fully capable adult. In fact before becoming pregnant she had a full-time job and lived on her own. But in Korea, if you become pregnant and are not married, the persecution and ostracism either lead to you being fired or become so unbearable that you are forced out. Unlike in the States, common practice is that employers will not employ unwed pregnant women or single mothers, and often, even when seeking a job, personal information can be demanded, including reference letters from family members specifically, while employers can and often do ask, "Who is the father?"

In the situations of unwed mothers, family has often cast them out, while the father most often has fled and shirked responsibility. And be careful before assuming that these women took part in a one night stand. (Even if that were the case, ostracizing and shutting them out is still not justified--however, quite often a one night stand is not the case.) J, to whom I referred earlier had been in a long-term relationship with her boyfriend. He left her after she became pregnant.

I've also read autobiographical accounts of Korean women being turned away from clinics and hospitals while they were in the midst of labor! If this is not an indication of the social injustice and obstacles set against unwed pregnant women/single mothers and their children, then I don't know what is!

To ignore the role that social culture plays in the ability of an unwed pregnant woman or a single mom to provide for her child is questionable at the least and cruel at most. And even in the cases in which a young, poor, uneducated teen finds herself pregnant and abandoned by the father, this does not somehow mean she deserves to have her child taken away from her or that she deserves to have to give up her child for someone else to raise.

Who are we to assign such judgment to justify ourselves? And for those in particular claiming a Christian faith, it may help to recall John 8 in which the Pharisees dragged out a woman caught in adultery proclaiming she must be stoned, to which Jesus famously replied, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."

And for those who think it's impossible to make a difference? If folks had just shrugged their shoulders and said, "Well, what can I, just one person, do?" when segregation and oppression of the African-American community dominated the social culture of America, or apartheid ruled South Africa, nothing would have ever changed.

You may not be able to move to Korea, as some adult Korean adoptees have chosen to do, to work for social change through the legislature and local community. You may not be able to start up an organization that supports unwed mothers who want to raise their children. You may not be in a place in life that allows you to work within organizations that actively advocate for social and cultural transformation and infrastructure.

But you know what you can do? You can be willing to educate yourself with the humility to acknowledge and embrace the complexities, no matter how unsettling or uncomfortable it makes you, of a system that is flawed and in need of reform. Furthermore, you can also work to educate others, whether in small or large ways.

I promise you, it makes a difference, because ultimately, one by one leads to many. And it can either be the many stacked and overcrowded in an orphanage, or it can be the many who finally get the chance to remain in the arms of the mother who gave them birth and never wanted to say good-bye in the first place.


Jessica said...

Great post Melissa!!! I'm trying to educate others around me as much as I can. By reading your blog I learn so much. Thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

As an adoptive mom, I appreciate so much this post and the last one. Well-expressed.


The Richerts said...

Thank you for such a thoughtful, well executed post. I appreciate and agree with each one of your points.
Very well said,

Kristen Howerton said...

Still reading. :)

And yes, great post. As usual.

I do feel a little misquoted, and I can see where you felt like I was threatened to "pick up my toys and go home". But the full quote was:

"I have heard you express frustration that adoptive parents are not listening to adult adoptees. But when we are subtly implicated by some as the cause of our child's tragic seperation from their birth family, one has to wonder how healthy it is to keep reading, when this presuposition so strongly twists the reality for most of our children, who would still be without a family had we not adopted them."

Just to clarify, I wasn't referring specifically to your blog, but just trying to share some of my honest feelings as a parent who reads a lot of adult adoptee writings. I have had to question how healthy it is for me to be repeatedly told that I've taken/stolen/kidnapped my kids. That is a prevalent theme on a lot of blogs and again I'm not talking about you specifically. But that is why this particular post hit a nerve. I'm just sharing honestly that for me, if I feel like someone is saying, to quote another comment, that "I have blood on my hands", then at a point it moves from persepctive to blame.

I said this in another comment, but I'll say it again here. I regret that I singled in on the issues where we disagree because we have so much common ground. I feel so strongly that adoptive parents should be doing what they can to keep families together and cultures intact, and to understand the privilege differential of adoption. These issues are heavy on my heart.

I get your analogy about the diamonds - and I get that it could be true in a lot of cases. But some of this post is difficult to generalize. They are many kinds of adoption, and circumstances leading to it, and you seem to lump them all together based on what goes on in Korea. Adoptive parents are not homogenous, nor are sending countries. The sad truth is that there is little "demand" for some children, especially black children, and especially children who are not infants, or who have a history of trauma/abuse/neglect. So I guess I wince when I hear your generalizations, feeling like you are talking broadly about AP's, but knowing that my children's story (and so many others) are not what you are describing. Particularly the assumption that there being a capable/willing (living) mother who just needs economical assistance, or the idea of an instituional demand for children when some kids wait so long to get a permenant family.

This, though:
"We can address one without letting go of the other. In other words, we can promote social and cultural change in the countries adopting out to decrease the number of children that end up in orphanages in the first place, while we continue to recognize that there are currently children in orphanages who need homes."

YES. Totally agree.

Sandy said...

Well spoken Melissa - if my dad was still here he would get a small smile on his face, a twinkle would appear in his eyes and he would give you a nod - that's all one needed to know you did good and he was proud of you. Words were not needed.

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave to me was the gift of not following what society dictated/promoted UNLESS after I had educated myself and applied my own ethics and morals and truly believed society was right. And if I did not agree I needed to speak up and say so every single chance.

My parents vehemently and vocally disagreed with how society treated mothers of my era (Baby Scoop Era) and still adopted solely because there were not enough homes for all of us surrendered babies in my area. But they also worked hard to change peoples minds by speaking up and speaking out against societies practices and they made a huge difference in our community because they were respected by all because they put their money and daily actions where their mouth was.

They continued through good times and bad to support families both at home and overseas - at the expense of having all the newest must haves. They supported family preservation and family betterment. They believed in giving a hand up to keep families together - be that monetarily, a place to stay, babysitting, help getting a many ways to do GREAT things...we all have it in us to do something over and over again.

We have to acknowledge right from wrong every time we see it - eventually change will happen. Regardless if it not popular of steps on toes or makes people angry. Knowing you were part of the change no matter how small makes it much easier to sleep at night.

All it takes is one voice to start a chorus of voices which can move mountains.

Dawn said...

I am new to this blog and also an adoptive mother. Your writing is thoughtful, kind, and worth discussion.

Like Kristen, I have to agree with you and disagree with you. I'm not sure I will be able to word my thoughts as eloquently as her, but I am going to try in just a few paragraphs. So forgive me if this doesn't come out so beautifully.

I agree that the whole of the adoption system is broken, both here in the US and abroad in so many countries. Poverty is absolutely a deciding factor in many, many of these situations. And that's why I agree with almost all of your post and what you are saying.

But, like Kristen, my children (and the children we have been working to adopt for 5 1/2 years) have backgrounds much different from the scenario you are describing. And because of those histories, we are deeply involved in their countries of birth. We are burdened for them.

They come from countries that like our own broken country, need to heal from the inside out. Your own words are ones I have used often, "We can address one without letting go of the other. In other words, we can promote social and cultural change in the countries adopting out to decrease the number of children that end up in orphanages in the first place, while we continue to recognize that there are currently children in orphanages who need homes."

Like so many things in life, adoptees, adoptions, and adoptive parents can't be lumped. I truly appreciate your voice here. Please, please keep speaking.

Von said...

Still here, not going anywhere and responding only to the first paras.No one has a right to lay the 'not healthy for me to come here' trip on anyone.If it's not healthy keep away, don't read, follow or comment.
It is not for us to be asked to justify our feelings and how we got where we are.Adopters either accept what we're saying about adoption and how it is for us from our perspective or stop trying to tell us we don't feel what we say we do, haven't experienced what we say we have.
I believe it is also respectful to actually read carefully what the blogger has said, not re-interpret, jump to conclusions and make assumptions, whether you agree or not.
Time also to ban anonymous.

Kris said...

Really great post!

Anonymous said...

Every parent thinks their kid is "the exception" and this is not really different with adoptive parents, either. My own parents thought my adoption was an exception. If I wasn't adopted, then I would have had to become a typist or a prostitute! I had a biological aunt who raised my sister (who I am pretty certain did not end up a prostitute), whom I have never met, but didn't have the resources to raise me. Why was it OK to take me from her, instead of giving her the resources to raise me? There are definitely motives there that should have been addressed.

But Melissa is addressing the vast majority of children who are available for adoption internationally. The vast majority of these children have a living parent. A living parent with little to no social/financial support.

How does international adoption remedy the root causes of why children are separated from their parents? When they are separated from their parents, why isn't there support for an extended family member to raise them? Or support within their vast country of origin to support them? We adoptees have spoken so much on the topic of how being removed from our cultures, our heritage, our language, and being thrown into a family where WE as the child are the minority, destroys our identity. Our self-worth. Adopted Koreans commit suicide at a rate 5 times that of a non adopted person. I knew one. And know another who failed and is now permanently physically disabled. How is this not a serious facet of adoption that should be examined?

UNICEF and USAID have both played a part in reuniting children with their original families after spending time in orphanages due to extreme poverty. It is much more costly to continue the operations of an orphanage long term, than to provide the financial aid and social support to a family, a village/community to raise their own children.

Yes, there are going to be children who will need to be adopted. But why must it happen internationally? Why must they be removed from their original countries? What are we doing to support these communities where they are from? If every single member of my family died, I would not want my children sent overseas to live - I would want someone in my community to raise them. International adoption should be an exception, not this booming, multi-billion industry it has become. Isn't it about finding the absolute best home for a child, and not a child for the parent?

These sending countries will do very little to spend their resources on addressing the needs of "orphans" if they can send them off to another country that will do it for them. Korea did it for 60 years. Before that, there was no international adoption - orphans were raised by extended family, or within their communities. And it is only now, on basically a global "callout" that the Korean government is being shamed into answering why they have not addressed this issue; spearheaded by adoptees and single mothers. The next generation of adoptees from sending countries will want the same answers.

Sending countries who do not have the resources need our help, as a rich country, to be able to preserve these families. Does an impoverished woman with a lack of basic social rights want you to take her child? Probably not. What can we do empower women like her to keep her child? To empower their communities to raise their children?

These are questions that I don't think can be answered with "adoption to America."

Anonymous said...
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The Byrd's Nest said...

Good post Melissa. I spent the first couple of years as an adoptive mom living in ignorance and now I have been trying to educate myself more to help my girls. Both 1st mom's remain heavy on my heart but Emma's in particular because she gave her up simply because she couldn't afford her medication for her asthma and skin allergies. Well, she has outgrown both in the 3 1/2 years she has lived with us. She rarely has to have a breathing treatment. When I think about these words that you have burdens me even more for Emma and her mom...she was a single mother and only 17 years old. Don't get me wrong....I love my little Emma with all my heart and maybe I wouldn't be so "in tune" to her feelings if she hadn't grieved so much in the past few years. I haven't really even gathered my thoughts enough to write this....just sharing some thoughts out loud. Thank you for always sharing your heart with us.

Claudia said...

As always, a really interesting post.

I had actually copied the same paragraph Kirsten did in order to do exactly what she did - paste it, and then say I totally agree! And I totally do.

Picking up the point you made in the paragraph she copied: I see, often, people writing as if adoptive parents have no interest in keeping families together; that we adopt *instead* of doing family preservation work. I'm sure that in some cases this is true. But not in mine, and frankly not in the case of any other adoptive parent I would want to be friends with. Sure, as adoptive parents, we have a particular responsiblity to be active in working for family preservation, because we are so aware of what our children have lost. But I'm convinced that this is a responsibility that ALL of us on this planet have. We should ALL be doing what we can (money, time, resources, whatever it is that we've got) to make sure that families have the resources they need to stay together, that clean water is available so people don't die of preventable diseases, so that HIV research can happen and better, cheaper medicines become available. And so on.

My view is this: people with resources should care about people who don't have resources. We should all be interested in making sure that people have got what they need to survive - and of course, being able to provide for children is one of the most basic of those needs. Adoptive parents who don't care about this? Well, they make me angry. But people who aren't adoptive parents who don't care about this? Well, they make me angry too.

I can see that adoption, as an industry, does play a role in what happens to some babies. I hate that fact, but like you say, I need to face it. But ALL of us play a role in it, whether we have adopted or not. Unwed mothers often face insurmountable economic pressures because of the wider economic pressures in their countries - that's something that all of us need to deal with and act on, even if adoption is the furthest thing from our minds.

ps on a lighter note - sona's parents thinking she was going to be a 'typist or a prostitute?' My grandmother was a typist - I should tell her about the option she narrowly avoided :)

Eastiopians said...

Amen! To make this simple, but clear...if I can take the time to research where my food comes from (which I think we all should) and change my diet and lifestyle based on a disgusting food industry here in America...then why would I not look at my adopted child (who is MUCH more important to me than my food consumption obviously) and examine the system in which she came into our family and then DO something about it? Just as we help propel our food industry forward by consuming without questioning, we also propel the adoption industry forward when we do not question it. I get so tired of people just live reactionary lives and not looking at what our own actions we are linked to these systems. Ignoring it doesn't mean we didn't contribute. Ignoring it means that you are not acknowledging the worth of what you have (in my opinion) and the importance of your own actions.

(current blog is

Anonymous said...

I am an adoptive mom, and I used to find ways to justify the necessity of our adoption. As you have emphasized, adoption is complex, so there are so many unknowns and what ifs, so I do not know if ultimately we did the right or wrong thing. However, the fact of the matter is, we wrote quite a large check to adopt our children... and being painfully honest with myself, that was money that we never would have just donated to a charity working for family preservation. Now that I am realizing the effects that our actions have had on the adoption system, I am not sure how to come to terms with our own culpability. I so appreciate your thoughts, because I am wrestling so much with my own.

Trina DeMattei said...

Great post and wonderful blog. I am a fellow TRA and new to the world of adoption blogs. Your posts are extremely thoughtful and I think it is wonderful that they inspire such debate.

Reena said...

As always Melissa-- a thought provoking, well written post.

I think the analogy you use with diamonds and clothing is a good one. I think these types of analogies upset people because with adoption we are talking about children and not material items.

IMO, this makes the analogies you used that much more powerful.

Yes, some children come to be adopted for reasons other than poverty or socio-economic status of their first families-- I would then think that those AP would realize that your post likely does not apply to their situation.

Socioeconomic/political realities are the most likely reasons that my daughters came to be my daughters.

I frequently seek out ways to make a contribution so that humanitarian rights in China will be improved. It isn't easy to find ways, but we look and we try.

Singly, we may not be able to make a difference, but if everyone acted singly, then there might be a majority and perhaps a difference can be made. Even if we disagree on some points, perhaps we can agree on this point.

Yoli said...

Grat post Melissa and Sona wonderful reply, one that I will be thinking about for a long time.

Kristen Howerton said...

I believe that there are mothers who just need help to raise their kids. Yes. Adoption is not be the answer there. But there are 18 million true orphans in the world right now, according to UNICEF. Kids who have lost both parents. Most of them living in 3rd world countries where there is no social service in place to care for them. 18 million. My kid is hardly an "exception".

Adoption may not be an answer for all of them, but it's insensitive to minimize the reality of the millions of orphans who have no family.

It's very easy to say what we would want, from an American perspective, for our own kids if we died. Of course I would want my kids with family, too. But that is because I live in a country where adoption or blended families are supported. If I lived in a country where adoption was looked down upon . . . where being taken in by another struggling family member might mean they are treated as a nuisance (at best) or a servant (at worst) . . . where they would be the last to be fed or to go to school . . . I'd probably have very different feelings if I was ill and had to make those choices. Why should we decide for them?

Mila said...

Get ready...looooong comment, so I had to post it in parts....

You stated, Kristen, that "Most of them living in 3rd world countries where there is no social service in place to care for them. Adoption may not be an answer for all of them, but it's insensitive to minimize the reality of the millions of orphans who have no family."

First of all, it's true, many of these places don't have the infrastructure. But I don't think anyone is minimizing the reality of millions of orphans...I think that's actually the opposite of what is being is taken very seriously and hence, it is being acknowledged that there are a host of solutions that are currently often ignored and under-supported or as you acknowledged nonexistent. But that can change.

According to the report released this year in association with BCN and UNICEF, "Statistics on orphaning reported by UNICEF and other organizations have raised global awareness, but they have also created misunderstandings. Such statistics estimate the number of children per country and globally who have lost one or both parents. The vast majority of orphans, however, are living with a surviving parent or relatives. Of the estimated 145 million children estimated to be orphans, about 9% have lost both parents [which would come to about 13 million]. This important point is rarely made when the media cite orphan figures. Furthermore, evidence suggests that the vast majority of children who have lost both parents are living with an aunt, uncle, grandparent, or other extended-family member." For example, "in Zimbabwe...98% of the country's orphans are living in a family setting..." and in Malawi, "more than 99% of orphans were living in a household."

According to this study, there is a persistent misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the information and circumstances surrounding "orphanhood."

The report also states, "Where intervention is necessary, local family care can be arranged or support can be provided to the household through a community mechanism."

Also, the report states that "The most immediate and long-term needs of the orphaned children are best met by supporting and strengthening the family care that they do have, rather than by replacing it, and by developing family care for the samller number of orphans who living outside of families. The problem is that resources have often been directed instead to establishing new orphanages or to expanding existing facilities."

(cont' below)

Mila said...

The report even more convincingly expresses that "The most compelling reason to scale up kinship care is that living with immediate or extended family is often the preferred choice for children themselves in the event that parents are unable or unwilling to provide care. In South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, for example, the children's expressed preference was: immediate family and extended family followed by community members, foster care and care in a child-headed household.

Also, if you read the report it further elucidates that "In Sri Lanka, for example 92% of children in private residential institutions had one or both parents living, and more than 40% were admitted due to poverty. In Zimbabwe, where nearly 40% of children in orphanages have a surviving parent and nearly 60% have a contactable relative, poverty was cited as the driving reason for placement. In an assessment of 49 orphanages in war-torn and impoverished Liberia, 98% of the children had at least one surviving parent..." That's only some of the evidence cited.

I am not saying that those currently in orphanages should be ignored, but that there are multiple solutions that can and should be developed before turning to inter-country adoption not only for the sake of preserving the children's heritage but for the sake of the social, economic and political well-being of the relevant countries.

Again the bigger underlying issue is WHY orphanages persist when so often there is either a living parent or living relative who is able to care for the child. True there are obviously cases in which parents and relatives are not alive or contactable or willing, but even then, domestic and community family-based care should take priority over international adoption. (As stated by the Guide to Good Practice as established by the Hague Convention, "States Party to the Convention recognize that a child should be raised by his or her birth family or extended family whenever possible. If that is not possible or practicable, other forms of permanent family care in the country of origin should be considered. Only after due consideration has been given to national solutions should inter-country adoption be considered, and then only if it is in the child' best interests."

The point is that so often these guidelines are NOT applied. They remain simply hypothetical and theoretical rather than actually being put into practice. Inter-country adoption becomes the first resort while the alternatives are sorely neglected.

(cont' below...I told you it was long...)

Mila said...

Additionally, as of present many of these governments have not been held accountable for the lack of internal infrastructure and support services to promote and make possible such family- and community-based intervention & preservation.

Also, more could be done to help reunite these children with their living parent or relative (and if you read the report, successful family reunification has taken place in several seemingly impossible situations (involving child soldiers, political violence, etc.) due to the hard work and concerted efforts of the governments and cooperating organizations).

I cite these examples to demonstrate the potential and possibility for reform and transition regarding current practices throughout the world that can help prevent or rectify family separation. The current over-reliance on and the outdated popularity of institutions hinders the progress of the more healthy, cost-efficient and very feasible alternatives of family preservation and local community family-based options.
The authors of the report acknowledge that there will be cases in which residential care may be necessary as a temporary solution or situations in which international adoption may take place, but as a LAST RESORT. And the sad truth is that unfortunately many adoptions have taken place as a first resort to the neglect of other options. As the authors of the report stated, "inadequate imagination and resources have thus far been directed to [establishing and improving better family-based alternatives]."
It's true as you stated, Kristen, "If I lived in a country where adoption was looked down upon . . . where being taken in by another struggling family member might mean they are treated as a nuisance (at best) or a servant (at worst) . . . where they would be the last to be fed or to go to school . . . I'd probably have very different feelings if I was ill and had to make those choices. Why should we decide for them?"

First all, I don't think the issue or answer is ultimately international adoption versus domestic adoption either way, but rather an issue of promoting and fighting for systemic social, political, and governmental reform and change. Rather than citing the above issues as cause for IA, the bigger picture and long-term focus should be to cite the above issues as cause for reform politically, socially and financially at the local level.

And as evidenced in the report such reform and change are possible if folks are willing to embrace it and put in the hard work and effort to make it happen.

Furthermore, I've encountered a very similar experience to what you described above--I wasn't the last to be fed or the last to go to school, but I certainly have been & still am treated as a second-class citizen, as a servant and a nuisance, discriminated against for my differences, and so forth. I traded one life of hardship for a different life of hardship...and either way the decision was made for me because as an infant I had no understanding or say in the matter.

Mila said...

(cont' from above...oh my gosh, I gotta learn to be more concise...)

Hence, lastly, now that I am an adult and no longer a child, I am voicing what I could not say or communicate so long ago...

Now that I can make my own decisions and choices, I am deciding, I am choosing, I am compelled to study and learn about the issues from all sides.

It's not that international adoption is evil or invalid, but that it is given so much attention & resources to the detriment and neglect of the alternatives, to the detriment and neglect of so many adult adoptees who now voice how they wish things could be...

It is simply that I believe we can challenge the status quo (the social, political, and economic inequalities that are at the root of the issues) & all the reasons that folks give as to why change can't or shouldn't happen. I believe we can embrace and work toward the reform and change that is not only possible but also necessary and vital for not only the sake of the millions of orphans and their families, but for the sake of the betterment, well-being, and preservation of their countries and people.

(Okay, phew...I think I'm done for now...)

Mila said...

@ Theresa wrote, "Just as we help propel our food industry forward by consuming without questioning, we also propel the adoption industry forward when we do not question it. I get so tired of people just live reactionary lives and not looking at what our own actions we are linked to these systems. Ignoring it doesn't mean we didn't contribute. Ignoring it means that you are not acknowledging the worth of what you have (in my opinion) and the importance of your own actions."

I particularly appreciate, "we also propel the adoption industry forward when we do not question it" and "I get so tired of people just living reactionary lives and not looking at what our own actions cause..."

These statements can apply to so many different situations in life both on a personal level and a global level, well beyond the issues of adoption...

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