Sunday, November 23, 2008

Did I Steal My Daughter?

That's the title of another provocative article about possible fraud in a Guatemalan adoption, and exploring concerns about coercion in relinquishments. An adoptive family seeks for their daughter's birth mother to assuage concerns that her relinquishment was not voluntary.

That night I was changing Flora's diaper. "Who's my girl?" I sang as I pulled the tab taut across her stomach. She pointed at her chest and laughed, her dimples creasing into pinholes. Then she reached up to tickle my chin. "Flora Beatriz," I cooed. "You are one beautiful kid." Hearing myself say her middle name took me aback. Beatriz [birth mother], I suddenly realized, had chosen it, the only connection to their brief life together.

And that's when it finally sank in: Beatriz hadn't made a "choice" in the liberating way that our post-Roe culture thinks about reproductive options. Like any woman in the developing world placing a child for adoption, she'd buckled under crushing financial or social pressure—perhaps even coercion. I'd considered this before, but had always batted the thought away by telling myself that Flora was going to be adopted, whether it was we who stepped forward or someone else.

Walter walked in, flushed and sweating from wrestling with the boys, who were now happily digging into bowls of applesauce. "She's getting so big," he said. "She'll be talking soon."

His smile fell as he saw me crying. "Did something happen today?" I nodded. "I think Beatriz wants us to find her," was all I could say.
* * *
i was working on deadline the afternoon Susi's email flashed on my screen, a month after we had hired her to find Beatriz. . . . Her email relieved us of two worries: Beatriz had been hoping we would find her, and she had not been coerced into placing Flora for adoption. She thanked us for making it possible to watch her child grow up. She missed her, prayed for her, and wanted Flora to know that not a day passed when she didn't think about her. She said that before the adoption she was a bubbly person. Now she kept mostly to herself.

I'd nurtured a vague notion of a faraway woman grieving for her lost child. But as soon as an image of Beatriz sobbing into her pillow materialized, my brain concocted a counter-narrative, a story in which she was healing from her loss. A story in which not having to raise the child I tucked into bed every night freed Beatriz in some way.

Then one evening not long after the email arrived, Walter and I spent our date night at a reading of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, an anthology that is a stirring and stern rebuke to the standard heartwarming adoption narrative.

Back in our car, Walter bowed his head. "We should give her back," he said.

I'd harbored the same thought, but the anguish on his face threatened me enough to push back. "We can't," I answered.

"Why not?" he countered. "It wouldn't take much money to support them."

"Because we are her family."

"She'd adjust."

"How do you know that?" It was an unconvincing dodge. We were friends with several families who had adopted toddlers; their kids were thriving. "How could we do that to the boys?" I insisted.

"We couldn't," Walter said.

"And how could we do that to us? I couldn't live with that pain."

"But why should Beatriz have to?" he asked.

So this presents another "what would you do" moment . . . .


Mei-Ling said...

["And how could we do that to us? I couldn't live with that pain."

"But why should Beatriz have to?" he asked.]

My mom would not have easily able to live with the pain of giving me back.

But as the afather says: why should my Taiwan mother have had to?

Lisa said...

It is devastating to think that a birth mother has to live with the pain of giving her child up. But, then again, she gave her child up. As painful as that may be. I understand that some women are coerced. But what about the child who is sitting in an orphanage or foster care and needs a home?
Should Flora go back to the birth mother? They contacted her and she said she was not coerced. Did Beatriz ask for her back? If not, then why are they considering sending her back? I understand their compassion, but that is a sad message for the child - my birth mother gave me up and so did my adoptive parents.

Wendy said...

There is no easy answer.

On the one hand I do think giving her back to her birthmother and supporting their family might be best for the child, but then I wonder at what point has too much time passed.
If the parent was under pressure of finances, coersion, etc. and would have kept their child if they were able, then they should raise them. The lifelong questions and cultural loss will no longer exist for the child--isn't that the goal?

However, if the child has been in the home for years and has no sense of their birth culture, their birth family, and has attachment and bonding to their A- family than I wonder how much that disruption would cause damage. We have seen those circumstances when years pass and a birth father finds his child and fights for him/her back. The case in China when the AP's gave their son back to the BP's and then they sent him back again. In long term placements maybe the best thing is an open adoption with joint custody and/or visitation.

I am just thinking out loud here, but I think with a short term placement and the desire by the birthmother to raise the child (especially international where we know that oftentimes it is only poverty that keeps a woman from raising her child or pressuring attorneys taking advantage of poor women) that taking her back to her country and first family is best.

Too often, we (Americans), see the world through our priveledge, not fully recognizing the circumstances that brought our kids to IA.

Lisa, I agree with you in that if Flora was given to someone else than the child may see that everyone is giving her up, but going back to her birthfamily is not the same. I would think these families would have a lifelong connection, and the child's best option for internal happiness would be with her birth family.

If the child is still in diapers, I am assuming she is an infant or toddler; IA includes toddler adoption all the time and people say the child with adjust, why couldn't it work going back to her birthfamily? I adopted my daughter at 25 months, I can say children don't "just adjust", far from, but I would think the long-term sense of loss would be diminished. There certainly would not be the need for how to answer the unanswered that we are all doing here (at this site) or as Mei-Ling can attest, the coming to terms with the loss of culture, loss of first family, loss of language, etc.

There is no win-win, as in all adoptions. I would think the best for any child is as individual as children and circumstances. Instances like this one are why I said it is best to stop an adoption you feel or sense if unethical before you get home or adopt, you can do the legwork and find the answers before you find yourself in this situation. Unfortunately this happened to more than one child, more than one family, and in more than one country. It just seems Guatamala got caught. Reform will only come one person at a time, a pattern has to be questioned before unethical practices end.