5.05.2011

On Adoption

It's so interesting for me to hear the things that people consider controversial.  Jude is soon wrapping up kindergarten at a play-based-learning school, thus graduating from the school itself.  As we considered our different schooling options and where to go next, I quickly learned how strongly people feel about schooling choices.  Be it public school, private school, parochial school or homeschool, everyone seems to have an opinion and often times those opinions are both passionately held and laced with judgements.

Likewise, when I was breastfeeding, even though I breastfed my bio kids for what seemed like forever (and tandem nursed for a year!) - weird by American standards -  I didn't always feel like I fit in with groups that may be more dogmatic about their parenting approach.  While I didn't appreciate people judging me for my decision to extended breastfeed, I didn't need to counter that feeling by judging others for not breastfeeding.  Additionally, when I attempted to adoptive breastfeed, putting a lot of effort into it and ultimately realizing it was not going to work out, I understood firsthand what some women experience in their struggle to make breastfeeding work.

Adoption is no different.  Domestic vs International.  Special needs vs. Healthy Infant.  Boy vs Girl.  Adoption vs Orphan Care.  Adoption vs Keeping First Families Intact.  Like school choice and breastfeeding, I generally try to stay quiet on these controversial issues both in this space and in real life, unless it feels like someone really wants to dialogue about it - not just listen to refute or prove that their way is the only right way.  I don't feel that there is only one way when it comes to adoption (or school choice or breastfeeding!).

Yet I am going to bend my own policy temporarily to share a blog post that I read by Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan.  I found it so thought-provoking and was still mulling over it days later.  It's called Why Does Adoption Cost So Much? (and why we didn't just send that money to Haiti).   She raised some good points, namely that many people make big financial decisions and are not asked or expected to send that money to a third world country instead.  Should those of us in the adoption community be held to a different standard, especially by those who are not themselves adopting?   Also, how can one put a price tag on the value of having a family?  Having a family is priceless.   On the other hand, I feel like, for those of us within the adoption community, it is fair to question why adoption costs so much and where our money is going.   And for those who are interested in advocating for orphans, I feel that it's also fair to ask whether adoption is the best (or at least, the only) way to do that.

When we first started our adoption journey we wanted to grow our family and provide a family for orphan who would not be adopted.   We read about the 4.5 million orphans in Ethiopia and thought adopting our daughter would fulfill both desires. After completing our adoption process we learned of the long waiting lists for healthy infants and the corruption that can arise out of that demand.  We learned that only 0.001% of the orphans in Ethiopia will ever be eligible for adoption.  We learned about the children ages five and older who are much less likely to be adopted because they are considered "too old".  We were told that these kids say things like, "We pray every night for parents, but parents only want the babies."

Dan and I have come to feel that one needs to extremely mindful when pursuing adoption, especially as it pertains to corruption in adoption.   We now realize that adoption is not an option for most of the world's orphans.  (For more on this, please see my comments in the comments section below.)  We strongly believe that adoption is not charity and that first and foremost the decision to adopt must stem from the desire to grow one's family.   (This, by the way, is a fantastic reason to adopt!  There is no reason to feel guilty about that desire or to wrap it up in martyrdom.)  The fact that we were able to compile the money to grow our family through adoption did compel us to examine how we could give more every year to the 99.999% of orphans who will never have families.  As un-sexy as giving is, the fact is that many organizations need money - to provide clean water, to repair fistulas, to improve oftentimes abysmal orphanage conditions.  Orphan care and preventing children from becoming orphaned in the first place have become two causes close to our hearts.

We are thankful that our adoption journey led us to our daughter.  We feel incredibly blessed to have a child from the amazing country of Ethiopia and specifically, Evangeline.  Now more than ever, we are overjoyed and relieved that Dan investigated Evie's origins, traveled to her birth city, and that we used an orphanage that hasn't been implicated in any ethical wrong doing. 

Is adoption anywhere near as simple as we thought when first going into it?  Not even close!  Would Evie have been adopted if we hadn't come along?  Without a doubt!  Did we 'save' her?  No way.  Are we anti-adoption?  Not at all.  We feel that adoption is a wonderful way to grow a family.  In fact, it's on our radar to adopt an older child someday when our kids are all older, depending on where life and God(!) lead us.   (For the time being, though,  I expect my hands will be quite full with four, thankyouverymuch.)  Is it good for those of us in the adoption community to dialogue about these issues, and especially to insist upon the highest ethical standards in adoption?  Absolutely!

So, this is where we find ourselves at this point of our adoption journey.  How about you?  How have your opinions on adoption evolved or changed as you've progressed in your own adoption journey?

14 comments:

  1. You know....I'm not sure my opinions about adoption have changed at all. Our adoption journey really did start with us realizing how many children live without families, and that utterly breaking our hearts and making us angry. We both really love kids, and while I really wanted more kids, Scot initially did not (even before adoption was on our radar screen at all). However, seeing my desire for more kids paired with our growing awareness of children who need families, he knew we had enough love to give another child.

    I definitely understand about corruption in adoption, and I find it disgusting and awful. Honestly, that's why I studied every country with an adoption program before I did anything else, because I needed to understand WHY that particular country had so many orphans that having an international adoption program was even an option. Poverty alone as a reason for orphanages full of kids scared me because of the thought of corruption. Places like Haiti for example, I felt that for us, e would always doubt every part of our child's story because of rampant corruption there.

    China ended up being our choice because well, first of all and most importantly, we fell in love with it, but we knew that there, we knew why our child (who we suspected at the time would be a girl) was an orphan. Now, with Cooper, we know (or can assume with a high degree of certainty) that he was orphaned because of his heart condition.

    It's REALLY hard...a VERY multi-layered onion with no clear answers in my opinion. Because, while I know that Cooper likely has a living family that likely REALLY wanted to keep him and raise him, some combination of poverty, social stigma, and/or lack of access to proper medical care caused his parent(s) to conclude that abandoning him was their only or best option. I think that that is AWFUL on every level for EVERYONE involved and I will ALWAYS support reforms in China (and everywhere) that make keeping first-families united the number one priority above all else.

    However, that doesn't change the facts of the situation in China that caused Cooper to become an orphan, and be truly in need of a family who would love him forever and help him to understand the precious gift from God that he is and has always been to his first family and to us. An institution is NO PLACE for a child to spend his/her life (as I KNOW you agree wholeheartedly) no matter why or how the child ended up there.

    The one phrase that I don't understand from your post is: "adoption is not the answer for most orphans". I definitely get corruption and that having these booming international adoption programs encourages that. I GET that.....I don't know what the answer/solution is, but I understand that is an issue. But, I would think that adoption is the answer for most orphans in many countries- certainly China. Unless and until their culture and government changes and they start valuing women and life in general, baby girls and kids with medical issues of almost any kind will be abandoned. Those kids deserve families, and while I will always support reforms in China, and would be the first to be THRILLED should they make changes that would result in there being no more abandoned babies, as long as there are, I feel adoption is the best answer (and orphan care a close second). I'd love to understand what you mean by the idea that "adoption is not the answer for most orphans". I hope you know that I AM one who truly loves dialogue.

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  2. (blogger cut me off....I'm being long-winded tonight!)

    It's tough- it really is.....it's hard on every level. Being a mom who has birthed two babies, I would do ANYTHING to prevent a mom from having to make a decision she did not want to make (whether as a result of overt pressure or of social/economic/or other concerns). I believe all parents who get pregnant and want to parent their child should be able to without exception. But, when a whole country has policies that result in abandoned babies, it's just not ok for those kids to grow up in institutions.

    You know what I try to do? I just try to think about Cooper. HE needed a family for reasons I can guess at, but will never know. And every day I'm just thankful that whatever the circumstances were around his abandonment, that God saw fit to allow him to be part of our family, and that he did not have to grow up in an institution.

    Man, I wish we could be at a coffeehouse talking about all this. I LOVE these kinds of discussions and hearing other people's thoughts and opinions and experiences. I learn a lot.

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  3. Jenna, I really appreciate your thoughts. I too wish we could have this conversation in person!

    First of all, I completely agree with you that families are indeed preferably to institutionalized care. I'd like to explain what I meant by the statement, "Adoption is not the answer for most orphans."
    I should actually probably rephrase that to say "Adoption is not *an option* for most orphans".

    Last fall, Dan and I seriously considered opening an orphanage in Ethiopia. Before that point, I just assumed, "There are 4.5 million orphans in Ethiopia, that must mean that *all* are eligible for adoption." As it turns out, only about 0.001% of orphans will ever be eligible for adoption. Part of the problem is providing the right paperwork for the adoption to take place. All of the rules and regulations which were created to keep things ethical become a double edged sword. If a child's parents had died, someone has to provide proof of a death certificate. These aren't always easy to come by in Ethiopia. If a parent has relinquished rights, the parent needs to be present before the courts - again, not always easy in a country like Ethiopia. We were told that for every 10 healthy infants brought to an orphanage or triage center, only 1 (at best) would have the paperwork to move forward with an adoption.

    The next problem for orphans when it comes to adoption is that most of the orphan population (I've read anywhere between 85-93%) is five and older and may also have special needs that would make them less likely to be chosen by adoptive families. Being only 7-15% of orphan pop are 5 and under, very few are in the healthy infant range. Many children are orphaned due to HIV and many parents are not open to HIV + children. We were told this fall that healthy infants were so eagerly desired that bribes were taking place to get these paperwork ready orphans and that we would have to travel to the border of Somalia to have a chance of getting healthy infants into an orphange - they are that desired. So we were warned then that the Ethiopian adoption fallout was coming.

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  4. The next problem is that governments like Ethiopia do not have endless resources to handle an infinite number of adoptions. Ethiopia did something like 5,000 foreign adoptions last year and have had to reduce that number at this point by 90% to keep it ethical. Even if, theoretically, you had recruited 20,000 people to adopt, you would still have the issue of the Ethiopian government only having so much capacity for adoption.

    Of course, the orphan population is not limited to only Ethiopia. As you know, many countries have orphans but those countries are not open for adoption. Some that are technically open have requirements that make adoption difficult for most American families. We have friends pursuing a Zambian adoption right now. They are required to foster in country for three months. They tried to adopt twins from an orphanage prior to the adoption they are currently pursuing. After spending an entire summer in Zambia the adoption fell through because the dad was too uncertain and was told by the villagers that he would be accused of selling his children. As far as I know, the twins are still in an orphanage there. Our friends were actually in a documentary about the orphan crisis in Zambia, as well as the HIV crisis there.

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  5. What we learned as we pursued opening an orphanage is there is actually a big need for orphanages that care for the children who will never be adopted. We spoke with the Miracle Foundation (I linked to them in my blog post) and they invited Dan to tour their model in action in India. They have created a model called the "village model" where they recruit one woman to be the "mother" to ten children of mixed ages. The group then becomes their own family. This is by far the most expensive orphanage model, but is one that has the best outcomes. Orphans who are left to survive in conventional orphanages will often end up in prostitution or the black market. From what we learned, this foundation is helping children become productive members of society. We have talked about trying to do something like that in Ethiopia, but the problem is financing it. After the baby is born we plan to do some more networking with other families who may be interested in doing something like this and putting our heads together. We just don't feel like we could take on something that big alone right now.

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  6. Can I interrupt this convo for a total tangent related to your comments on breastfeeding?!

    Mallory was 2 in Feb and still nurses at bedtime and at naptime (if we are at home). Baby #4 is due in July. When I was pregnant with Mallory, I fully anticipated tandem nursing with her and Griffin - but he weaned himself around 17 months old. And then I was really thankful for having that break! But, this time around, it is not seeming so likely.

    Just curious if your kids just stopped altogether on their own or if you made some steps to help them wean. I was hoping for a getaway before next baby - but not looking like that will happen either! (By the way, Ladera has always been on my top list....I had my own travel planning business for quite awhile and while I booked most clients to Sandals type places....and enjoy them for what they are....I have always preferred the Ladera type places! So happy - but jealous - of your trip!)

    Our blog has become private...but if you get a chance, would you email me any advice to shannon underscore clubb at yahoo dot com?

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  7. Man..I wish I didn't have a miraine. I can hardly think right now.
    I love this post. I love your and Jenna's discussion, also.
    I wish we still had that blog of Tish's so we could talk about this in private. :)
    I love you gals for sharing your hearts.

    Wonderful food for thought.

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  8. Great points, Rachel. Well said.

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  9. Wow--this is a good one! Starting out with all the parenting topics people judge each other about and adoption choices being included--YES! I do have a hard time when folks who haven't adopted try to get judgmental about our adoption choices. And admittedly, I have a hard time not getting defensive when someone points out that our criteria for both our first, and now our second (and last) child are/were "under 2 and healthy", and those kids aren't the ones who are really in danger of not having parents. However, I totally agree with you that adoptive parents should hold ourselves to a different standard. We should constantly be questioning the INDUSTRY and what is really best for our children. My opinion on adoption and adoption practices changes all the time, as I continue to research and keep up with current events. I remain steadfast in knowing my son is my son, and that's how it is supposed to be, but I owe it to him to be honest and admit that we didn't adopt him to save an orphan. Trust me, he's not the type to need saving. ;-) We adopted (and are adopting again) because we always wanted 2 children. Yes, I think M's parentless status was accurate, but as you point out, if we weren't there, someone else would have stepped in. We didn't save him, and we (by far!) got the better end of the deal.

    Thank you for continuing to pass on statistics about how many orphans are really helped by adoption. I don't think enough people realize that adoption is not the solution to poverty and helping the widow and orphan. Again, if I'm honest, adoption should be a last resort. Every effort should be made to keep children with their first families (of course excluding cases of abuse and real neglect--poverty not counting as neglect). Thank you for pointing out the better solutions for caring for widows and orphans (clean water, good health care, more schools and vocational training, etc). And thank you for the added insight regarding what you and Dan learned when you considered opening an orphanage. It has given me much to think about!

    Thank you for this courageous and insightful post. With all the rainbows and unicorns views of adoption out there, I feel like I can't openly question the industry without someone thinking I'm ungrateful for having my son, or I'm anti-adoption, or something. It's a complex thing, and I'm glad there are folks like you out there who will admit that and ask the right questions. Let's keep searching and learning!

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  10. Ugh. Just typed a really long response and lost it. :(

    Good post, good dialogue. We all must be open to how God would have us serve orphans. Each story is different. How he'll use us unique.

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  11. Oh how I wish I could just "talk" and my snazzy Mac would type all I have to say! I type so slowly. With Embryo Adoption, there is a entire different yet similar set of thinking/emotion that Rhea and I had/have going through this. I will post on it in the future and I'll link you to it. If you read my latest post and my last bullet point, you will see a bit of what I mean! Mind boggling! GREAT post from you Rachel!! love it!

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  12. I was thinking and praying about adoption this morning, and decided to come to your blog to see what you had to say. This is really helpful. I have this gut feeling that we aren't called to adopt, that we wouldn't really be "helping" unless we had the heart to take an older or sick child, which we're not considering. I loved what you said about getting involved with an orphanage in Ethiopia. I can see how that really gets at helping those in real need. I wonder if someday.... You never know. I'll talk to God.

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  13. I just found your blog on this page http://www.danielleburkleo.com/. We are currently in the process of adopting, and I couldn't agree with you more! We too have experienced the criticisms and judgments of others when it came to our schooling choice (homeschool), our parenting decisions, our decision to adopt.... I'm beginning to think that all adult decisions equal judgment from some place or the other. The thing I have found most peace in is that my husband and I are confident in our decisions, and we can stand as a solid unit when faced with these judgments.

    It is our rights as parents to determine for our own children what is best, despite others opinions on the matter. When we began the adoption process I had no idea the loops and jumps and PAPERWORK that would be required of us. I had also never understood the whole Human Trafficking aspect of adoption, and I certainly hadn't thought of the idea that every adoption starts with loss. It has been so good to find an adoption "community", even if it is on the internet, and to find resources like your blog that we can refer to as we learn more and more about the process, and stages, and social aspects of this process. Thank you so much for sharing! You have a lovely family, and I'm glad that I found your blog!

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    Replies
    1. Aw, thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment and for the encouraging words. I appreciate it.

      You know it’s really funny reflecting on that post because I wrote it several years ago and a lot has changed for me since then. I think as my kids have gotten older, or perhaps as our family has grown, people are less inclined to offer their opinions as often. Most people have been cool with our decision to homeschool. And it seems most of the controversy around adoption is either taking place within the adoption community or the anti-adoption community, but most people are generally very supportive. So I want to say that to encourage you. :) I hope you will experience that as well.

      I learned so much from being a part of the adoption community. It was truly life changing for me. I’m very, very grateful.

      I wish you all the best on your journey to meet your child! Thanks for stopping by!

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