Friday, November 10, 2006

Paper thoughts

I read a post over on Third Mom’s blog ( and it made me want to comment. She referenced a paper written by an obviously brilliant individual. Without researching the author’s background, I’m guessing by her name that she might have personal experience with the world of international adoption. She makes many points in her paper and I just had to add my $3.50. (two cents is NEVER enough for me)

I will begin by saying that I do not hold a Ph.D. I do not have unfettered access to thousands of peer-reviewed journals. Alas, my days of extensive research are through. Two degrees under my belt and I am finished. (BS in Psychology and Master’s in Public Health, if you’re truly interested. Neither of which is of any consequence to this post.) I do have an opinion, go figure, so I thought I would share it here. It’s nothing but conjecture and my first thoughts on the subject. I’m more than willing to do further research if folks provide the citations!

It would be difficult for anyone to argue that international adoption exists solely to find homes for parentless children.

I’m not sure who would honestly argue this point. People adopt children internationally for a myriad of reasons. I think many adoptive parents go through a series of thoughts and feelings on their decision to adopt, internationally or domestically. These feelings may change during the adoption process or may gradually evolve over time, far after their children are grown adults. I have to admit that this statement makes me immediately ask the question, Does the author wish to make the argument that international adoption exists solely to find children for childless adults?

I will speak only about Guatemala because that is where my son was born.
The current fertility rate in Guatemala is 3.82 children per female of childbearing age. In the US, it’s 2.09. The infant mortality rate in Guatemala is 3.1%. In the US, it’s .6%. (That’s point six… as in just a little over ½ a percent). There is no current viable governmental social services system in that country. This means the bulk of the social services provided for those who need it are through faith-based and/or private institutions. Some adoption agencies provide humanitarian aid in the region, not just for those children that are being adopted. My point is that the high fertility rate in Guatemala does not exist because it is number three on the list in regard to number of international adoptions (behind China and Russia). The fertility rate has been high for centuries. Agrarian cultures, countries with large Roman Catholic populations, countries in which women have little control over their lives (including educational opportunities and reproductive rights) all tend to have higher fertility rates. Guatemala’s high fertility rate and high poverty rate are not due to international adoption. Ceasing international adoption will not lower either rate and it will contribute to the deaths of children and the future poverty of those who survive. Some share that opinion, including Guatemalans. Some don’t. And that’s okay.

Motivation to adopt internationally had shifted from child-focused to parent focused.

References are made throughout the paper to adoption being “parent-centered.” This is not the first time I’ve encountered such a statement. I am currently in the midst of an international adoption. I cannot seem to figure out what about this process is centered on me. Honestly, each step of the process has been centered on rules made by various governmental agencies (both foreign and domestic), adoption agencies, social workers, judges, lawyers, court staff, notaries, doctors, post office clerks, the list goes on and on. I’m not sure at what point any of this has been centered on me. MY wishes, feelings, and thoughts have largely been ignored. It’s been a constant parade of demands and requirements of others and largely out of my control. I’m not arguing whether or not my needs are superior to the needs of my child. I’m simply stating that I don’t see how the process is centered on me.

Of interest, the author refers to a study where parents stated their motivation to adopt from Korea rather than domestically included “shorter waiting periods” and “an interest in international adoption.” She then draws the conclusion that this “reflects the parent-centered motivations.” Why? Perhaps the parents were thinking of their child when they stated they wanted a shorter waiting period. The sooner the completion of the adoption, the sooner the child is permanently placed with the family. Bonding behaviors begin immediately and environmental influences are very strong. Language development also begins within months of birth. I’m no language expert but additional difficulties with the transition from one language to anther would be exacerbated the older the child is at the time of placement. Perhaps the motivation was to bring the child home and establish bonds early. I have no problem understanding a child will have difficulty being separated from his first mother. But is it selfish to not want additional attachments with foster mothers, orphanage workers, etc. to also have to be broken? I would think it would be highly child-centered to think this way. As for an interest in international adoption, why is this inherently parent centered? I would argue I’m thinking about the future best interest of my child - to remain in a stable home. It may be, quite possibly, the only home he has any conscious memory of in his entire life. More on that later.

Transracial adoptive parents, in general, not just those with Asian children, tend to be publicly acknowledged for their selflessness and courage in taking on the challenge of raising children of color…..

Ummmm – No? Again, speaking only from my personal frame of reference, this has not been the case. I get dumb ass comments like “Couldn’t you just have one of you own ?” or “There are so many kids in orphanages here. Why go somewhere else and bring one back?” Truly, I’ve gotten ZERO pats on the back for “taking on the challenge.” People who are positive about the adoption simply say things like “That’s great!” or “Congratulations.” Pretty much the same things they’ve said to my pregnant colleagues.

Ironically, when I read the blogs of most adoptive parents, I find there is an overwhelming need to feel normal and “just like everybody else.” I admit I think this is naïve on our part. How could I think people aren’t going to look a bit surprised to hear “we have a son” when they’ve been around me for the previous nine months and I’ve obviously not been pregnant? How could I think there won’t be questions when my café au lait colored son walks toward me saying “mama” and my pale bluish-white Irish skinned self picks him up? I’m not stupid. But, I wanted to be a mother AND there were kids in other countries that needed someone to fulfill this role because the first one they had no longer had the ability to do so. Why not bring us together?

I feel like I have to throw something in about the “why not adopt domestically?” I won’t even get into the fact that I trust the legal system in the US as far as I can….. nope, not even that much.[ Did I mention hubby is on the path to becoming a lawyer? Lucky me, huh?] Here’s the cut and dry for me. International adoptions are final. Period. No I changed my mind. No I got my life together now. No I made a mistake. No I won the lottery. Domestic adoptions just don’t have the case law to back them. More and more, family courts and family law attorneys are permitted to sever adoptive family ties if anyone from the first family lodges a complaint. LET ME BE CLEAR: I am interested in what is best for a child. Once a decision has been made and a child has been placed, I do not feel it is in the best interest of the child to reverse an adoption because one or more of the parties have now changed their mind. I just don’t. I do believe that there are first mothers who should have been given more support in order to parent their children. I don’t, however, feel that the way to rectify that mistake is to reverse an adoption decision once it’s been made. I just don’t. And that is a post all to itself….. and I digress….. back to the paper….

Economic necessity is one of the dominant factors in relinquishment…….. The neocolonialism inherent in that exchange is striking.

Say again? Adoptive parents are acquiring the resources of the child’s native country. I’d say that indigenous children are not seen as a resource in Guatemala. They are viewed, in large part, as a burden. They are expendable and at the mercy of the government which requires the poor to work, in servitude, for nearly a third of the year. Their families can’t afford to feed, clothe or educate them. It’s not fair and this system obviously needs to change. However, it’s a change that MUST come from within. The Guatemalan people will have to make these changes for themselves. Outside help makes it worse. (For the record, the last time the US got “involved” in Guatemala specifically, it overthrew the only democratically elected government in the nation’s history and start 30+ years on civil war. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous people were slaughtered in their own country. Obviously, I’d prefer if the US kept out of Guatemala. It’s done quite enough, thank you.) In my case, I will give my son a chance at a better life – an education, health care, food, clothes. If he so chooses to return to his native country, he will do so much better prepared than his first family could have ever prepared him. I agree that it’s not fair this is the case. Maybe he will be an instrument for change. It appears that many of the leaders of Latin American were educated in the US. Coincidence?

The author goes on to quote an adoptee who wonders why “the supporters of international adoption are quiet about the children who are left behind.” SAYS WHO? Many parents of internationally adopted children are very vocal about adoption. They learn much about their children’s birth country and try to incorporate aspects of that culture into their children’s lives. They also tend to be the most generous supporters of orphanages and humanitarian aid to the country from which they adopt. On a more personal note, I MUST address the reference to children who are “neglected, abandoned and abused” and the idea that parents whishing to adopt should take on a personal responsibility to these children. BULLSHIT. Stop passing the buck. Abused, neglected and abandoned children are EVERYONE’S responsibility. The idea that a parent whishing to adopt a child should not want a healthy child, both physically and emotionally, is total crap. When was the last time you heard a pregnant woman say, “Gee, we were really hoping for a girl with Down’s Syndrome. We got stuck with normal chromosomal counts.” How often do you hear parents of a toddler say “Damn. We were hoping he’d have ADHD like his older brother. Now he just won’t get what it’s like to have a disability.” GOOD GRIEF. It’s a totally human response to want a healthy child. Adoptive parents are no different. So to suddenly find it selfish on the part of adoptive parents to want young, healthy children in their lives where they can provide health care and a positive, safe, loving environment from as early an age as possible just makes no sense to me. Again, wasn’t the point to act “in the best interest of the child?” How is this wish “parent-centered?” Truly, I’m at a loss.

And I just have no add my own little tidbit on culture. Again, completely from my personal frame of reference. I have two step-sons. (I refer to them as my sons; however for clarity I make the “step” distinction here.) They live in Germany with their biological mother. Both boys speak German and only a few phrases of English. Officially they are both German and American citizens. They hold passports in both countries. Their mother is German; their father, an American. They were 4 and 3 months, respectively, when they returned to Germany with their mother. They are now 15 and 12. Now, having NEVER lived in the US that they remember, they both talk about being Americans. They walk around like something from the latest Cash Money Records video. K-Fed’s got nothing on these two pale faced Germans who can’t speak a word of English, but are great at phonetically rapping IN ENGLISH… (with a few German words thrown in because ‘they sound better’.) They couldn’t give a rat’s ass about German culture. Don’t care; aren’t interested. When I visit them and want to learn about their language, their culture, etc., they are thoroughly annoyed with me. It’s not just because they are children either. Their German family can’t tell me anything about their history or traditions. They can’t explain any of the various holidays. I just hear “I don’t know. It’s a day off.”

My point is that just because you look a certain way doesn’t mean that you have ties to a particular culture. Sorry, it doesn’t. There are many people who cut ties with their racial / cultural / ethnic communities, for one reason or another, and choose to join a new one. It happens every day. I think it’s fabulous. People should be where they feel they belong. I can assure you that I may “look” the part of the good Southern belle but I’m physically ill on a daily basis at the horrific racist drivel said in my presence. But it’s okay, right? Because “I’m one of ‘them.’” I must be ….. I LOOK this way. If my son wants to learn about Guatemalan culture I will give him ample opportunities. I will share and learn and experience as much as I can to pass along to him. But if he ends up wanting to adopt the cultural traditions of the Aborigines in the Australian outback, don’t blame me. Some people just aren’t interested in their own culture.

So if you’re still reading, I’m impressed. I tend to be long winded when I get going. But hey, doesn’t that make up for the space between posts??


Anonymous said...

oh of course I'm still reading, you are a wonderful writer. Your opinions are well thought out and very fair. keep
'em coming.

Amy said...

Amen sistah!!! I haven't been reading much or posting much or blogging much lately. My life has been crazy and I've really fallen out of my adoption frenzy as soon as our dossier was sent on it's way to Guatemala. But, I'm getting back into it a bit and wanted to check in on you. What an amazing and well written editorial! Interesting, impressive and motivating. I'm on my way (if my painkillers don't kick in) to write my own blog since this has brought up some of my own ideas.

Thanks for sharing your insight!


Third Mom said...

Awesome post!! Thanks for the shout-out, but more importantly for tackling this issue, which is incredibly complex. You know from my original post that I struggle with this issue - but I'm not a pragmatic and tend to view everything throught he prism of my motivations, with a dash of guilt. I appreciate that you hit the article's points and offered your perspective so clearly.

I'm chuckling at the anecdote about your stepsons, too, and it reminded me of a good post at Susan Ito's, here:

It's a new way of looking at racial identity, and it makes the point that you are making with that anecdote, which is that racial identity goes far beyond the color of one's skin. Take a look.

Totally off topic - my husband's German, too, still has his German citizenship. Now that Germany has passed the dual citizen law he's starting the process of becoming a US citizen. He gets back every year, but I haven't been since 1980. I really need to visit.

Irshlas said...

Wow - thanks to everyone and your kind words. I'm floored to think this many people may actually have read my post!

Kristen - Thanks for dropping by again. I'm always thrilled to see someone who was/is adopted reading here. Your views and thoughts are appreciated.

Guatamama: Glad to see you're still reading! I was hoping you'd continue to post. Hope all is well with your DH and that the process is rolling along for your referral.

ThirdMom: you're SUCH an inspiration. I read you constantly. If I gain half the insight you have, I'll be worlds ahead once my son arrives. Thank you for the encouragement. I'll definitely be following along.

(Now if I could only figure out how to make a "blogs I read" column........)

erinberry said...

You made a lot of good points!

It's ridiculous to say that prospective adoptive parents are somehow selfish for wanting to adopt from a program with a shorter timeline. All things being equal, of COURSE we want a shorter timeline.

And infertiles/adoptive parents have no more duty to special-needs children than do fertile/biological parents.

Anonymous said...

Great post. New to your blog. Great read. Nice to find likeminded people out there!

Yeah So said...

You and I definitely are on the same plane here...especially the cultural part. I don't understand why I'm expected to teach my child spanish just because they were born in South America! Great post.

erinberry said...

"I don't understand why I'm expected to teach my child spanish just because they were born in South America!"

Starfish, I think the short answer to that is that your children are Hispanic, and if they decide to search out that identity at some point, they may feel that they are outsiders because they don't speak the language.

This is what I have read from adult adoptees born in Korea (in books, articles, and blogs). When, in high school or college, they meet up with other Koreans, they often feel like outsiders. So they don't feel that they "fit" with the white Americans, and they don't "fit" with the Korean crowd either. They end up feeling like they have no real identity.

Personally I believe it's very important for our children to learn the language of their native culture when possible.

MAMB said...

You make a lot of good points. You put a lot of thought into this post - thank you for the effort put forth. I say that because I tend to stick to lighter topics in order to not lose people...but I appreciate well thought out posts on the more important topics.