Sunday, January 31, 2010

China, and children as a commodity

An editorial from the L.A. Times, as a follow-up to this story and this story:

Over decades now, infertility or the simple desire to offer a child the chance for a better life has sent would-be parents to China in search of a baby to adopt. For so many, it was the perfect match. On one side of the Pacific were well-to-do couples yearning to share their love and good fortune; on the other were a plethora of little girls abandoned by impoverished parents in need of a son to support them in old age, or in violation of the country's so-called one-child policy.

No one liked to think of adoptions in unseemly market terms, but in fact this was a case of supply and demand. Whether paying for egg donors and surrogate mothers in the United States, or for lawyers and adoption agencies abroad, those who sought children knew that lots of money changed hands -- $15,000 to $30,000 in paperwork, travel and fees for a Chinese baby. Still, why call it commerce when such aching needs were concerned, and what did it matter if everyone was better off?

That's how it seemed, anyway, as tens of thousands of babies arrived in the United States in the 1990s and 2000s from Hunan, Guangdong and other provinces with names previously unknown to many of the adoptive parents. The overwhelming majority of adoptees were girls, moving from an often-soulless orphanage into the tearful embrace of a new family and a newly decorated bedroom in the likes of Indiana, Minnesota or California.

Unfortunately, not everything was as it seemed. Although many of the babies indeed were abandoned, demand ultimately began to outpace supply, and as Barbara Demick of The Times' Beijing Bureau recently reported, some babies were taken from birth parents in remote villages by coercion, fraud or kidnapping. Official orphanages, which received $3,000 per child from the adoptive parents, began paying up to $600 per newborn in expenses and more to finders, some of whom were government officials. In recent years, some Chinese parents have begun to talk about how they were threatened or tricked into giving up their daughters, sometimes in lieu of fines they could not afford for having a second or third child.

* * *

There is a cultural divide between the Chinese system's tendency toward secrecy and Americans' belief in their right to know. Given that China is still the largest source of adopted babies in the United States, however, it is imperative that U.S. officials demand openness and transparency regarding the background of these children, and that U.S. agencies deal only with proven, reputable orphanages in China. The Chinese must bend over backward to clarify the origins of babies and to create a thorough databank of information to ensure that all babies are offered for adoption voluntarily. No parent should be forced or tricked into relinquishing a child.

The donations that adoptive parents are required to pay to orphanages -- raised to
about $5,000 last year -- also should be dropped or redirected. The Chinese government considers this a social welfare fee to help fund the orphanages and care for the children who are still there, many of them with special needs. It should fund these orphanages in a way that does not create local incentives to find more babies for adoption.

In the past, Americans may not have dreamed that their pursuit of parenthood could create a market for abandoned or abducted children -- obviously that was never their intention. But now that the issue has come to light, they too must be vigilant. Their children inevitably will ask where they came from, who they are and why they were put up for adoption. For the sake of both parents and children, they should have answers.

I concur wholeheartedly with the call for transparency (I said as much here), though I can't say that I'm hopeful that that will happen. I don't think the U.S. has the will to press China on this issue, elevating other issues of trade and debt and Taiwan and you-name-it over integrity in adoption.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"An abduction, not an adoption"

Ten Americans apparently involved in trafficking Haitian children for the purposes of adoption:

Haitian police were holding 10 US citizens late Saturday on suspicion they tried to slip out of the country with 31 Haitian children in a trafficking scheme, a government minister said.

Haitian Social Affairs Minister Yves Christallin said the police arrested five men and five women with US passports, and two Haitians, as they tried to cross into the Dominican Republic with the children Friday night.

He said two pastors were also involved, one in Haiti and one in Atlanta, Georgia.

"This is an abduction, not an adoption," said Christallin.

Christallin said the US citizens did not have the proper documents to take the children out of Haiti, nor letters of authorization from their parents.

The children were aged two months to 12 years and had come from different places, he said.

"What is important for us in Haiti is that a child needs to have an authorization from this ministry to leave the country," he said.
As if Haiti didn't have enough to worry about. As if trafficking for the sex trade and slavery isn't enough to worry about. Now they have to worry about vigilante pastors who know far better than everyone else what to do for the children of Haiti. Sigh.

P.S. As I should have expected, Bastardette has a whole lot more details and promises even more.

P.P.S. This blog has a roundup of other trafficking stories out of Haiti.

"A Family Is a Family Is a Family"

On Sunday evening, Rosie O'Donnell hosts an HBO special on famlies. I'm not a huge Rosie fan, not since she said she tells her adopted kids that they grew in the wrong tummies. I do appreciate what she has done to promote gay adoption, especially for this family. The New York Daily News gave the show a pretty good review:
Most of the special, which HBO is showing early enough so young children can watch, isn't about gay marriage, and the hot-button phrase itself is never heard. Families of same-sex couples, including O'Donnell's, get maybe five minutes, tucked in the middle of discussions and songs about the importance of families in general. But for many viewers, gay marriage will be the takeaway.

Ironically, no one will disagree with the initial premise: Children very early understand the value of feeling that they are part of a loving family.

Family, they sense, is their place in the world, the place where they are safe, the foundation on which they build other relationships and the rest of their lives. Not all families are warm and loving, of course. But this special doesn't get into that, focusing instead on families that work.

The disagreement begins only when people start defining family, like by saying it
does or doesn't have to include a mommy and daddy.

"A Family Is a Family" argues that constricting definitions are irrelevant, a family is whatever it is and if it works for the children, it's doing what a family needs to do. To reinforce that point, it strongly suggests children don't care about the talking points. They just need to feel wanted, loved and protected.
The New York Times review slams the show for its "cloying sweetness" and lack of complexity: "the image captured is adorable, but, unlike any given episode of 'Sesame Street,' it reveals almost nothing about day-to-day realities and challenges." It points to one moment of honest that is VERY interesting:

It has one moment of honesty as well: a girl named Maya who was adopted from China describes how that country’s one-child policy and its cultural preference for boys led her parents to abandon her.

“My birth parents didn’t want me, but still they loved me,” she says. Then she pauses briefly before continuing, as if filing away that incongruous statement for further consideration later, when the camera that wants to capture only the sunny side of things is off.
We'll be watching it; even bad television -- maybe ESPECIALLY bad television -- can have its teachable moments!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Even when we laugh, it's there

The other night the girls were watching a Veggie Tales video (in case you’ve been under a rock for the last decade or so, the Veggie Tales series features a tomato and a cucumber and assorted other vegetables sharing Biblical tales or values), and being inordinately silly and giggly while doing so. At one point in the early part of the video, the tomato turns to the audience and asks, “Any questions?”

Zoe immediately responded, giggling through the whole thing, “Yeah, do you know who my birth parents are?!”

Maya corrects her, “No! It has to be a question about GOD!”

Undeterred, Zoe addresses the screen, “Does GOD know who my birth parents are?!”

Tragedy turned to farce – it’s hard to believe Zoe can joke about it when I see her sobbing out her grief and loss about not knowing her birth parents, when she reacts with anger to the idea that her birth parents may have parented her siblings while abandoning her, when she worries about whether the earthquake in China (which was nowhere near where we believe her birth parents to be living) has killed her first family, when she buckles down to learn Chinese so she can speak to her birth parents when she finds them.

I don’t for a minute think that by laughing about her loss that she’s “over it.” I believe the pain, loss, grief, anger and fear of abandonment that comes from Zoe’s loss of her first family will always be with her. Sometimes the emotional turmoil is acute, sparked by something like a birthday or some other incident that reminds us that before adoption comes loss. Sometimes the pain seems less acute, more like background noise. I still worry about it then, because background noise can block out other thoughts and feelings, leaving one in a fog.

And though Zoe laughed, it’s telling that the first question that came to mind for her when asked, “Any questions,” was about her birth parents. It’s there, even when we laugh.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Adoption Reform: Top Ten

Reform. Re-form. To form anew.

Reform. To improve by alteration, correction of error, or removal of defects; put into a better form or condition; to abolish abuse or malpractice in; to change for the better.

At Grown in My Heart, the topic for this month's adoption carnival is REFORM. What do you want to see reformed in adoption? I could write a book on this topic, but I'm limiting myself to a top ten list. Go to Grown in My Heart to read other blogs on this topic, and add your voice to the mix -- write a post at your blog about what you would like to see reformed in adoption, and link it here. Don't have a blog? Comment here or at Grown in My Heart. Let your voice be heard!

10. There should be no more secrets and lies in adoption.

Secrets and lies are poison in adoption. Whether it's the government-sanctioned lie of an amended birth certificate or adoptive parents who don't want their kids to even THINK about birth parents, secrecy and lies breed shame. Every adult adoptee should have completely free access to original birth certificates and adoption records. Increased openness in adoption is also an important tool in combatting trafficking and adoption corruption. Corrupt practices and trafficking flourish in the dark -- if we don't know who the birth parents are, we can never know whether the child was really legitimately available for adoption. And yes, I mean this for both domestic and international adoption.

9. There must be effective education for prospective adoptive parents; that goes double for parents adopting transracially.

To the extent that prospective adoptive parents are provided any education, it rarely reaches beyond what to expect in the first few years after an infant adoption -- help with transitions, attachment and bonding, and that's about it. There needs to be meaningful training about the fact that adoption is not a single event, but a lifelong issue. For transracial adoption, the training needs to include information about race and racial identity formation and racism, not just steps for incorporating culture.

8. There must be post-adoption services for all members of the triad.

For many, if not most, adoption agencies, once the child is in the hands of the adoptive parents, the relationship between the agency and all parties ends. Birth mothers should receive services, including counseling, post-relinquishment. Adoptive parents should receive continuing education and counseling about parenting adopted children post-adoption. Adopted persons, as children and as adults, should receive services, including referrals to necessary professionals, post-adoption.

7. International adoption should be a last resort.

All countries should be required to promote domestic adoption before they can participate in a program to place children internationally. While all adoption starts with loss, international adoption compounds the loss of family with loss of country, language, culture, and oftentimes the loss of the ability to grow up surrounded by people of the same race. Rather than making international adoption to the U.S. a part of U.S. foreign policy, the policy should be to encourage domestic adoption in those countries.

6. We need laws to ensure that consents to adoption are informed and freely given.

In most U.S. states, there is no requirement that mothers be given independent legal advice before relinquishing a child for adoption, that the relinquishment be given before a judge, that mothers be provided independent counseling before relinquishment. Most states allow minor girls to consent to relinquishment without any special safeguards. Many states require that before a woman can get an abortion she must be informed about her parenting options -- establishing paternity, getting child support, the availability of welfare and other government aid, etc. THERE IS NO SUCH REQUIREMENT WHEN A WOMAN IS ASKED TO RELINQUISH PARENTAL RIGHTS. There should be.

5. Open adoption agreements must be made legally enforceable.

In most jurisdictions in the U.S., open adoption agreements are simply personal promises that are not legally enforceable. In the places where such agreements can be made legally enforceable, there are usually technical steps that must be followed to make the agreement enforceable (for example, in Texas, such agreements are enforceable only if the post-adoption contact is included in the order terminating the birth mother's parental rights). And since birth mothers are not required to have independent legal counsel (see 6, above), they rarely know what needs to happen to make the agreement enforceable.

4. There should be better screening of adoptive parents.

We are seeing a growth in adoption disruptions -- some figures say it is as high as 1/3 of all adoptions. In addition to inadequate education of prospective adoptive parents (see 9, above), in adequate screening is one of the causes of disruptions, I believe. My social worker pretty much told me that her job was to "screen in" adoptive parents, not "screen out" adoptive parents. Since we believe that a home and a family is best for children, we seem to take to position that ANY home and family will do. Is it any wonder, then, that we see so many disruptions?

3. Judicial training should include adoption issues, with voices from all members of the triad.

Legal reform doesn't just involve legislatures. Regardless of what the statutes say, they will be interpreted and applied by judges. Judges, just like the general public, are inclined to see adoption as a win-win-win story since they haven't heard any voices that speak to the true complexity of the issues in adoption. One way that we've increased judicial awareness of complex issues like domestic violence and gender bias is by mandating judicial education on these issues. We should press to include adoption issues in judicial training.

2. The U.S. should not allow international adoptions with non-Hague countries.

The Hague Convention concerning international adoption is by no means perfect in protecting children, birth parents and adoptive parents from adoption corruption and trafficking, but it is better than nothing. By allowing adoptions from non-Hague countries, despite having signed and ratified the Hague Convention, the U.S. weakens its position on ethical international adoption. As Hague compliance has improved in Hague-country adoptions, it has driven agencies and adoptive parents to look for greener pastures. That allows for unregulated international adoption agencies to have unregulated programs in unregulated countries -- a situation rife for corruption.

. . . and the most important reform of adoption I'd like to see . . .

1. We should all work to end adoption.

I don't know that we will ever achieve the goal of ending adoption, and by saying we should work to end adoption I'm not saying that adoption is bad or wrong in and of itself. We should work HARD to end adoption by eradicating the circumstances that lead to children being available for adoption. The ideal is that all mothers receive the support they need to parent their children. It's better for the children. It's better for the mothers. Ergo, it's better for society. We need to foster a societal commitment to support families, because the real solution to the "orphan problem" is not adoption, but preventing children from being orphaned to begin with.

The Legacy of 'Paper Sons'

Interesting article from the L.A. Times about the continuing legacy of 'paper sons' from China:
When Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, it froze the size of the Chinese immigrant population in the country. No new Chinese, except for a select few, including scholars and diplomats, were allowed into the country. Those already here were largely barred from citizenship. The act blocked Chinese men who had immigrated during the Gold Rush and the railroad boom of the late 19th century from reuniting with their families.

But when the great earthquake of 1906 hit San Francisco, lighting fires that leveled hundreds of city blocks, some Chinese immigrants sensed an opportunity.

By claiming to be citizens whose records had been lost in the destruction, they became free to travel to China; once there, they could either bring back blood relatives or sell their paperwork to others who would claim to be family members -- paper sons.

"About 80% to 90% of the 175,000 Chinese that came to America between 1910 and 1940 were paper sons," said Judy Yung, professor emeritus in Asian American Studies at UC Santa Cruz whose father was a paper son.

* * *

But the legacy of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the paper son phenomenon lingers. The result is that a younger generation of Chinese Americans like Steve Yee grew up confused about and disconnected from their family history.

Yee said his father hid his secret so well that the family wondered if they would ever find out much about his real background. Joe Yee worked long hours at the family-owned grocery store and rarely talked to his children about himself or his past.

His children knew he served in World War II and was awarded a Bronze Star. They knew he traveled back to China once to wed their mother in an arranged marriage. And they knew he defeated discrimination by asking a white friend to buy their home and deed it to the family.

Other than that, their father remained a mystery. He was not so much concerned about his children learning their Chinese roots as he was about their becoming Americans.

* * *

For her own children's sake, Yee's sister Lillie Yee-Shiroi, 61, also wanted to learn more about her father's life and family history. There was so much basic information they didn't know. What was her father's real birth date? When did he arrive in San Francisco? On what boat?

"When my son was in fifth grade he had to do a family history project and make a family tree," recalled Yee-Shiroi, a retired social worker who married a Japanese

"On my husband's side there were all these relatives. On my side, besides my brothers and sisters, there was question mark, question mark, question mark."

I confess I've thought of the 'paper sons' as sort of ancient history -- I had not considered the lingering effects of that period of history on the families of 'paper sons.'

I think it's important for our adopted Chinese children to understand the history of the Chinese in America, not just the history of China. Though recent immigrants to America, our kids as Chinese-Americans need to be connected to the rich history of the Chinese in America, which is part of their history now, too. I've mentioned it before, but a great read for adults wishing to learn more is Iris Chang's Chinese in America.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Guest Blogger: If Adoption Isn't the Answer, How DO We Care For Orphans?

Here's my standard disclaimer for all guest blogs: The opinions expressed herein are solely the opinions of the author. By publishing it here, I do not signal agreement or disagreement. The purpose of guest blogs is to bring a variety of viewpoints, some of which I might share, and some of which I might not. There, does that cover it?!

Our first guest blogger is Lisa Yabuki:

Well, I'm not a blogger, but I am an adoptive mom of a beautiful almost 7-year old girl from China and 2 bio boys ages 13 and 9. Unlike many who choose adoption because of biological necessity, we chose to add to our family through adoption after having 2 boys because we believed that there were children in the world who needed families, and we felt that we could be that family for one child. In reading Malinda's blog for some time now, I have realized that not everyone has this rosy picture of adoption being a win-win situation for the child and the adoptive family. There has been a real focus on the losses experienced by the birth families and by the adoptees themselves. Even the nature of adopting has been called into question as a practice which breeds corruption and child trafficking, and some have likened adoptive parents to kidnappers who steal other people's children for their own benefit. While I don't espouse these extreme views, it has gotten me thinking about the problem of orphans in this world and how I as a Christian ought to respond. Certainly adoption is not the only thing that can be done to help orphans, but I also think that children need something more than just shelter and sustenance to be truly whole human beings. Ideally all children would be cared for by their birth parents, but this is not an ideal world. So, what is to be done?

A friend of mine heads up an organization called Yes, it is a Christian organization, but I don't think it fits the stereotype that many people have about Christian organizations. The goal of worldorphans is to get the churches in the child's community of origin to care for the needy children of the community in a family-like setting. The children benefit by remaining in their birth communities, and the community's awareness is raised by seeing what the churches are doing. I am curious what readers of this blog think about this type of approach to orphan care.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Guest Bloggers

Is there an adoption topic or particular viewpoint that you'd like to see discussed here? Have you had an adoption conversation with your child you'd like to share? Are you an adult adoptee who would like to share a childhood conversation or childhood feelings about adoption? As a birth parent, would you like to share what you think adoptive parents should be saying about birth family to their adopted children? Is there a question you have and would like to get others' input? Have you thought about starting your own blog but don't have the time or inclination to do it all the time? Do you have a private blog, but wouldn't mind having one of your private posts go public somewhere else? How about submitting a guest blog post?! Email me your post, and I'll consider publishing it (My blog, my rules, no hurt feelings, please!).

Monday, January 25, 2010

"I am afraid you will abandon me"

Number 12 on the list of Sherrie Eldridge's Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew: "I am afraid you will abandon me." Oh, yes. It's there. And you don't have to dig very far below the surface to find that fear in my kids.

Saturday night we were snuggling on the couch watching ice skating on TV (the girls LOVED the number of Asian-American skaters competing for the U.S. championship), and during a commercial, Maya said, apropos of nothing, "Mama, if someone else adopted me and then gave me away to someone else who adopted me, I'd be sad because you wouldn't be my mom and you're the best mom!"

Wow, unpacking this one is interesting. I think it's particularly noteworthy that the people who give her away in this scenario are not her birth parents. And as usual when Maya talks to me about adoption, she reaffirms that I'm the best, like she's afraid she'll hurt my feelings if she doesn't. She always does this when she talks about her birth mom -- part of that divided loyalty that adoptees often speak about. There seems to be that loyalty thing in not pegging her birth parents as someone who gave her away.

I told her that I was glad that I adopted her instead of someone else adopting her, and I told her I would never give her away. I talked about all the things that make me able to take care of her -- a job, a house, money, food, family who helps us out -- and said that I thought her birth parents didn't have all of these things, which is why I thought they couldn't raise her. I said I had promised to love her and take care of her forever when I adopted her, and that was what I was going to do. And we snuggled some more.

I didn't address the issue of being adopted by one family who gave her away to another family -- I didn't really think that was what she was really getting at. She doesn't know anything about adoption disruption. She was asking about permanency, a typical theme for adoptees who've been "given away" once and wonder whether it will happen again.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

When the Family Business is Child Trafficking

The L.A. Times is still plugging away at the issue of corruption in Chinese adoption (see here and here and here for previous stories). This time, they talk to the traffickers at the heart of the Hunan scandal, who were convicted of selling babies to orphanages in 2006:
The telephones kept ringing with more orders and although Duan Yuelin kept raising his prices, the demand was inexhaustible. Customers were so eager to buy more that they would ply him with expensive gifts and dinners in fancy restaurants.

His family-run business was racking up sales of as much as $3,000 a month, unimaginable riches for uneducated Chinese rice farmers from southern Hunan province.

What merchandise was he selling? Babies. And the customers were government-run orphanages that paid up to $600 each for newborn girls for adoption in the United States and other Western countries.

"They couldn't get enough babies. The demand kept going up and up, and so did the prices," recalled Duan, who was released from prison last month after serving about four years of a six-year sentence for child trafficking.
The story recounts how his family got into the business, who his customers were, and includes information from Duan about other families who were also in the business of selling children to Chinese orphanages. The story also quotes an orphanage director who admits to paying "finder's fees" for babies:

The well-publicized court case involving the Duans prompted the China Center of Adoption Affairs to suspend adoptions from Hunan and warn orphanages against paying for babies. Insiders in the orphanage community here say the practice continues, but with more discretion.

Deng Yuping, director of an orphanage in Yichun in Jiangxi province, said he pays up to $75 to cover transportation costs for people who bring in babies, but that many walk away because they can get more from other orphanages.

"It's true, some orphanages are paying bigger 'finder's fees' than we are," Deng said.

Orphanage directors acknowledge that they don't have the resources to make sure that babies brought in had been abandoned.

"We can only take care of the child. It is up to the public security bureau [police] to investigate if that child was really abandoned," said Chen Ming, a former orphanage director who received a suspended sentence in the Duans' case.

The defense the Duan family offered was similar to that offered by the family planning officials who confiscated children and sold them to orphanages, that the kids were better off with their adoptive families (which I blogged about here): "The Duans insist that even if they broke the law, the babies have had a better life as a result."

An interesting quote about babies who are abandoned near an orphanage, for those of you who know this is where your child was found (as much as we can know anything, given that the story confirms that orphanage directors in Hunan fabricated finding locations): "If they [birth family] were leaving baby near an orphanage, they often would light a firecracker as a signal for the staff to find the child. " Seems like further confirmation that oftentimes birth family took special steps to ensure that their child was found quickly.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Operation Pierre Pan: What Does Haiti Want?

There's been very little discussion of what the government of Haiti wants when there's talk of mass evacuations of unparented children from Haiti. In fact, there seems little recognition that Haiti is a sovereign nation that might have a say in the matter! When one commenter to this post at another blog said, "Haiti is still a sovereign nation and I’m not convinced that the United States has the right to determine the future of these children, no matter how dire the current situation may be," the response was immediate:

The Haitian government is asking for help!!! They are begging for help!!!!! We aren’t stepping in and bullying them into making them accept our help!!!!

Sheesh, we’re the bad guys because we’re trying to save lives? Sometimes the US bashing is a bit much.
Well, this article in the Miami Herald (Miami, where the Catholic Archdiocese started all the talk of repeating their Pedro Pan operation with Haiti's children) offers this:

"The Haitian civil government is starting to reemerge,'' said Florida Department of Children & Families Secretary George Sheldon, who has been meeting with state, county and federal leaders for several days to coordinate refugee resettlement efforts.

"The desire of the Haitian people, to the extent that this can be done, is for the children to be cared for in Haiti,'' Sheldon added. "That is their preference.''
Needing help from the international community, even asking for help from the international community, does not strip a country of its right to make decisions for its own people. After Hurricane Katrina, many countries offered and provided help to the U.S. The U.S. rejected much of that assistance, admittedly, but not all. In fact, the U.S. even officially requested help from some countries. That was all well within the rights of a sovereign nation -- accepting some aid offered, rejecting other aid offered. No one suggested that having accepted some form of aid from a country gave that country the right to force other forms of aid that the U.S. did not desire to accept.

Can you imagine people's reaction if the United Arab Emirates, which gave the U.S. $100 million after Katrina, had decided to mount a mass evacuation of Louisiana's children?! And if the UAE's response had been,"You asked for our help!!! You begged for our help!!!!! We're not stepping in and bullying you into accepting our help!" If we followed the "they asked for help" rule some want to impose on Haiti, having accepted that $100 million would have stripped us of any right to reject that offer of an Operation American Pan.

The U.S. should stand firm in recognizing Haiti's sovereignty in this situation, so that our sovereignty will be recognized if we need help in the face of a terrorist attack or natural disaster. As the BBC trenchantly observed about the aid the U.S. asked for after Hurricane Katrina, "Even superpowers need friends."

New Book: Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother

Click here to read a fascinating excerpt from a new book coming out next month, Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories Of Loss And Love, by Xinran. You probably know Xinran from her book, The Good Women of China, or her organization Mother's Bridge of Love, which profits from the sale of the adoption-themed children's book Motherbridge of Love.

In this excerpt she writes of the problem of abandoned girl children in China in the 1980s, and of witnessing the killing of a newborn girl, which was explained to her as follows:

"It's not a child," she interrupted. "It's a girl baby, and we can't keep it."

"A girl baby isn't a child, and you can't keep it?" I repeated uncomprehendingly.

"Around these parts, you can't get by without a son. You city folk get food from the government. We get our grain ration according tothe number of people in the family. Girl babies don't count. The officials in charge don't give us any extra land when a girl is born, and there's so little arable land that the girls will starve to death anyway."

This was 1989 and I did not know until then that a 2,000-year-old system for allocating land was still in use in Chinese villages near the end of the 20th century.
This is the first I've heard of such land and grain allocation policies. I know that over-quota children aren't counted in such allocations, but this is the first I've heard that girls didn't count. Anyone else know another source for this?

Xinran also tells of the abandoned child she took in, despite already having a child, with the intention of adopting, and why she felt compelled to take her to an orphanage instead:

I really thought by some devious means I'd eventually be able to adopt Little Snow, find loopholes in a policy that grew stricter by the day. I was extremely naive in those days.

* * *

Then, straight after New Year, the head of the radio station came to see me for a private chat. He advised me to give up Little Snow. Not long after that, I was warned by personnel that if I did not act soon, the head might lose his job, and I mine, because I had disobeyed the one-child family planning policy. This was equivalent to taking a colleague's dinner bowl away from him, because it was the workplace that
administered the almost military-style rationing system of those days.
She kept visiting Little Snow after taking her to the orphanage, but one day she found the orphanage closed down and all the babies gone. She tracked down the official in charge and recounts this conversation:
The children were redistributed among other orphanages.

"Was each child given a number before they went?" I asked the official claiming to be in charge.

He looked at me in surprise. "What for?"

"Are there files on each child?"

He looked even more taken aback. "What files?"

"Then how will they ever be able to trace their birth families in the future?" I burst out.

He laughed at me: "You must be joking! No orphans ever find their mothers."
She learned later that all the children were adopted, likely abroad. She, herself, went abroad in 1997, and writes as a mother who lost a child:

As the years went by and I travelled around, I could not help searching for Little Snow. And looking at all these Chinese girls who had been adopted by families around the world, I had mixed feelings. Were they China's daughters? What did they know of China? Did their unknown Chinese mothers feel joy or sorrow, knowing their beloved daughters were happy in another mother's arms?
Sounds like this will be a fascinating read about a time in China when the one-child policy was being rigorously enforced and international adoption was just starting. I think it's important to see it in that historical context, rather than thinking it is completely true for China today that girls are still so undervalued, or that it was ever true for all of Chinese people.

I haven't found the book available at any U.S. site -- the link above is to Australia Borders. And Amazon shows it as unavailable-limited availability, but with a publication date of March 2010.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Some Links About Haiti & Adoption

I've put together a few random links -- no way can I keep up with everything out there on Haiti and adoption right now. But here are a few things that haven't gotten a lot of play out there, I think. The Daily Bastardette is doing a great job of keeping track, so check her out first.

Interesting article with quotes from a Canadian professor who has a book coming out soon about Operation Pedro Pan:

On Wednesday, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that Canada will expedite some adoptions of Haitian children following last week's devastating earthquake, but it won't ease immigration restrictions for those looking to come to this country.

"I understand the response (regarding adoptees), but it's not a good time (for a massive airlift)," said Karen Dubinsky, professor of Global Development Studies and History at Queen's University.

"North Americans are compassionate and places would be found (for more doptees), but that's not what Haiti as a country needs right now." First World nations should be helping Haiti with money and supplies, Dubinsky said.

Dubinsky has studied large-scale child evacuation campaigns, including Operation Peter Pan, which followed the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and said the Haitian situation causes "red flags to go up."

More than 14,000 children were sent from Cuba to Miami by their parents between 1960 and 1962 in an operation co-ordinated by the U.S. government and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami. Dubinsky said such adoption campaigns present "tremendous risks."

"The U.S. government, which was no fan of the Cuban Revolution, really helped to
manipulate the anxieties, saying the (new) government was going to take parental rights away from Cubans," said Dubinsky. "Cubans taken to the U.S. went into foster care and orphanages and many never saw their parents as children, although some were reunited as adults."

Dubinsky's book about Operation Peter Pan, Babies Without Borders: Adoption and Migration Across the Americas,will be published this spring.

An adoptive mom is PISSED OFF that people are only now caring about Haiti's orphans:

I’ve now been hearing a lot about people all across our country (and our community) wanting to “sign up” to adopt kids from Haiti who have been left orphaned by this horrible disaster. While I should be excited, and I am on some level, that at least people are talking about, thinking about and maybe even considering adoption, and it’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds, THESE PEOPLE ARE PISSING ME OFF!

I suppose they’re no different than people who never give to charity until there’s a disaster… never attend church until Easter or Christmas Eve… never cheer for a football team until Superbowl Sunday… These are “fair-weather fans,” or so we’ve dubbed them. But let me be very clear about this: There is no room in adoptive parenting for fleeting, fly-by-night, wanna-be do-gooders.

[I sure sympathize with being pissed off about this! An acquaintance of mine updated her Facebook status yesterday with, "I want to get me one of those Hati orphans." It was all I could do not to respond, "Don't you think you should learn to SPELL Haiti before you "get" a child from there?!" Sheesh.]

From CNN and the British Telegraph, articles about children's charities warning against rush for adoption from Haiti.

From NPR (thanks to kantmakm for the link), an interview with the Joint Council on International Children's Services Chief Executive Thomas DiFilipo (JCICS is about as pro-adoption as it is possible to be, for what it's worth):

[I]n a time of a national emergency, it's really not the best policy to airlift the children into another country. Here's a quick example of what can happen. You have a child in school. You have a mother or father at work, maybe the work is in a on the opposite side of the island. The earthquake hits, the child is alone for two or three weeks, no one comes to visit. You assume the child's an orphan, you put them on a plane, fly them to France, and they get adopted.

And then two months later, you discover the father was in the hospital or could not otherwise, he was injured or was in a camp. And then you find out what you really did was not give a child a home, and a family, but what you did was you separated the child from their parents, their birthparents. And we certainly don't want to be in a position of doing that. Airlifting children out for medical needs or emergency surgeries, that's one thing. But mass airlifts of tens of thousands of children just - it's not something that we would support, for sure.

Tonggu Mamma picks up on that theme in a very well-reasoned post (go read the whole thing!):

We live in Maryland, which is the little state newscasters keep referring to when discussing the country size of Haiti. My sister and her family also live in Maryland, about 90 minutes south of us - BY CAR. Would you seriously question my love for my nieces and nephews if an earthquake of that magnitude hit Maryland and I had yet to reach my sister's children on day ten? What about on day 20? Or 30? What if I was completely healthy, except that I broke my leg during the earthquake and I didn't own a car? And what about my Great Aunt P, who also lives in Maryland, but about three-and-a-half hours from us - BY CAR - and in the mountains. How long would you expect me to take to reach her house under similar conditions? Much less find out where my relatives were living if their house now lay in rubble?

Puts things in perspective, doesn't it?
O Solo Mama adds another adoptive parent voice with 10 Ways to Think About the Lost Children of Haiti.

A religious charity, Hope for Orphans: Serving Every Church to Reach Every Orphan, adds a cautionary note about adopting from Haiti, in language familiar to many evangelical Christians, including some important questions that should first be considered:
1.How have we sensed God’s leading toward adoption prior to this tragedy? While it is entirely possible that the Lord is using this tragedy to open your eyes to the needs of orphans and the possibility of adoption, you may want to proceed with caution if this tragedy is the first time you have ever considered adoption. . . .

* * *

3.Have you sought the insight and counsel from godly people who know you well? . . . Also, it would be wise to seek counsel from others you know who have adopted. They can share with you the realities of raising children who have experienced great suffering . . . .

* * *

5.Is my desire to adopt coming primarily from a desire to obey God or to “save” a child who is suffering. The desire to help a child in need is very important. The thing to remember is that adoption is not the only way to do this. You can be a part of God’s care for the orphans of Haiti in other ways.

Finally, from the Beyond Consequences Institute, an opportunity to listen to an audio link giving advice from Dr. Ronald Federici and social worker Heather T. Forbes to adoptive parents bringing home children from Haiti who have experienced the additional trauma of the earthquake on top of the traumas that led them to adoption.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

One of THOSE Books

Each Thursday a parent reads in Maya's kindergarden class. I'm doing it today as a last-minute fill-in, and Maya was very excited to hear it when I told her this morning. When we went to look at books to decide what to read, she said, "But you can't read one of those books, like Chinese Eyes or on being 'different.'" (she didn't actually do air quotes when she said different, but with her tone of voice she might as well have!). With more discussion, it was revealed that "those books" included anything China-related or adoption-related!

My girls are just so different (wouldn't Maya hate that!) -- Zoe loves it when I read one of "those books" to her class. She can't wait for me to come to her class to talk about adoption, and is really looking forward to Chinese New Year so we can do our annual talk in her class. Today her class is having a talent show (just a little one in the classroom, no parents invited!), and Zoe has decided that her talent will be writing Chinese characters on the board!

Maya, on the other hand, doesn't think being different is all that great. She wants a daddy, like just about everyone else she knows has. She's avoidant when it comes to talking about adoption, because if we talk about it, she has to think about being different. And while she knows she's Chinese, she'd rather no one else know.

So Maya and I look through some books, and she picks a lovely little book illustrating Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." (She doesn't get that very few kindergartners would pick that book, making her very different!) After looking at Todd Parr's It's OK to be Different, she agrees I can read it (yes!). I think Maya needs to hear it more than her classmates do.

And so long as it isn't one of those books, about China or adoption or being different, I can pick a book to surprise her!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Adoptive Parents as "Victims" of the Earthquake

Trenchant observation from Korean adoptee at Outlandish Remarks about media focus on American adoptive parents as victims of the Haitian earthquake:

Sifting through the adoption-related news media from the past week, I’ve encountered a deluge of stories about the devastating impact of the Haitian
earthquake on, um, straight middle-class white people in the U.S., Canada, and
Western Europe.

My inbox is infested with melodramatic stories of good straight middle-class Christian white people who’ve bonded with “their” Haitian children through pictures, orphanage visits, and on religious missions. The Washington Post announced, “Prospective parents grow more worried about Haiti’s orphans,” and the The LA Times declared, “Children are safe, but US parents’ adoption dreams are buried in rubble of Haiti earthquake.”

“Heart-wrenching,” “excruciating,” “tragic,” “anxious,” and “fearful.” These are the terms used to frame white adoptive couples’ emotional experience of the disaster.
That focus on adoptive parent victimhood is affirmed in an interview with Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary Michelle Bond about citizen services in Haiti following the earthquake:

QUESTION: What about children awaiting adoption by U.S. families?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOND: I mentioned that American citizens who have been affected by the earthquake are our top priority. Well, American citizens who are waiting to complete the adoptions of children in Haiti are included in those who are top priority.

Amazing how her answer switched the focus from the children to the victimized parents; amazing that people whose dreams have been crushed under rubble are equated to people who have just been crushed under rubble . . . .

I have a great deal of sympathy for adoptive parents who have already adopted or who have already been matched with children in Haiti. I can't imagine how difficult it is to be in their shoes. But it is hard to think that their plight makes them victims of the earthquake -- their chidlren, yes, but adoptive parents, no.

I don't mean to make this blog all Haiti, all the time, but not only is Haiti the most extraordinary humanitarian crisis in at least a decade, with 200,000 people dead and 1.5 million homeless, it is also the biggest international adoption story in the news right now.

I wish it weren't an adoption story; I'm very concerned that the focus on adoption is diverting resources and attention from other vulnerable populations in Haiti -- the sick and injured, the elderly (click only if you have a strong stomach), pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, ALL children whose parents are no better at finding food, water and shelter than the extant orphanages there. And I'm concerned that the call for adoption as a relief mission will destroy families and further traumatize already traumatized children. As I've said before, the issue for children "in the pipeline" is a bit different, but these cries for expatriating orphans is going far beyond those already adopted by U.S. citizens or those already matched with U.S. citizens. A recent New York Times article mentions that among the 53 "orphans" brought to the U.S. through the efforts of Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell are 7 who have not been adopted or matched. On Twitter, I got this message today: "300 Haitian kids arriving in #Indiana, looking for host families (1mo min, possible #adoption opp) Can you help?" (The latest tweets now say that prospective adoptive families have been found for all 300 kids, so no need for temporary foster homes.)(Newest news, no Haitian orphans heading to Indiana -- wonder how much in donations the charity that floated this one made?)

So despite the measured approach promised by CIS and the Department of State, with only children already adopted or matched for adoption being promised entry visas, children are already arriving in the U.S. to fuel the hopes of prospective adoptive parents, without any check on whether these children are orphans. After all, as the New York Times article notes, being in an orphanage does not make one an orphan, and not all orphanages are reputable:

It normally takes three years to adopt a child from Haiti, because of a lengthy process required under Haitian law. The Haitian government has had reason to be
cautious; there are about 200 orphanages in Haiti, but United Nations officials say not all are legitimate. Some are fronts for traffickers who buy children from their parents and sell them to couples in other countries. “In orphanages in Haiti there are an awful lot of children who are not orphans,” said Christopher de Bono, a Unicef spokesman.
Please consider the real victims of the Haiti earthquakes (another earthquake hit that country today), and donate to organizations that will help all the desperate people of Haiti. Click here for a list of organizations offering aid in Haiti.

What Haiti Needs

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Biology 101

I'm frequently amused and bemused by the searches that lead people to the blog. My all-time favorite in weird searches -- "Korean grandmother boobs!"

Today's query shows a complete lack of understanding of human reproduction: "can you get a visa to the US for an adopted child in Taiwan if they have 2 birthparents?"

Ok, follow me here, it takes a man and a woman to make a baby. Ergo, every person on earth has two birthparents!

Haitian Children in the Process of Adoption

The Department of Homeland Security (Citizenship & Immigration Services) and Department of State have announced that Haitian children in the process of adoption will be granted immigration visas or humanitarian parole to the U.S. Those eligible:

Category 1
Children who have been legally confirmed as orphans eligible for intercountry adoption by the Government of Haiti, were in the process of being adopted by Americans prior to Jan. 12, 2010 and meet the below criteria.

Required Criteria
Evidence of availability for adoption, which MUST include at least one of the following:

Full and final Haitian adoption decree

Government of Haiti Custody grant to prospective adoptive parents for emigration and adoption

* * *

Category 2
Children who have been identified by an adoption service provider or facilitator as eligible for intercountry adoption, were matched to prospective American adoptive parents prior to Jan. 12, 2010 and meet the below criteria.

Required Criteria
Significant evidence of a relationship between the prospective adoptive parents and the child AND of the parents’ intention to complete the adoption, which could include the following:

Proof of travel by the prospective adoptive parents to Haiti to visit the child

Photos of the child and prospective adoptive parents together

An Adoption Service Provider “Acceptance of Referral” letter signed by the prospective adoptive parents

Documentary evidence that the prospective adoptive parents initiated the adoption process prior to Jan. 12, 2010 with intent to adopt the child . . . .

Evidence of the child’s availability for adoption, which could include the following:

IBESR (Haitian Adoption Authority) approval

Documentation of legal relinquishment or award of custody to the Haitian orphanage

The departments have struck a line that is likely to make many unhappy. This is no Operation Pierre Pan where all orphans are scooped up for airlift to the U.S.. Only children whose orphan status has already been fairly well established, and who likely already have some relationship with the adoptive parents, are eligible. But is also not free from the potential for fraud, since much relies on the complete honesty of the fractured, overtaxed Haitian government and adoption agencies who, for good or ill, are strongly motivated to get Haitian children regardless of orphan status out of the country.

Still, this seems like a supportable middle ground, especially for children in Category 1, and some in Category 2. Category 1 children seem to have a legal right to enter, just like any other Haitian children with relatives in the U.S. CIS is already expediting relative petitions for children in the quake area. I'm also less troubled about bringing Category 2 children who already know their prospective adoptive parents to the U.S. -- at least there is that basic familiarity with their new caregivers that might help to offset the trauma of already traumatized children being removed from everything familiar.

My fervent prayer is that the U.S. with grant humanitarian parole to entire families from Haiti if they can be better cared for out of the country. We mived whole families from New Orleans after Katrina, recognizing the value of keeping families together. I hope we can do the same for Haitian families. All the children of Haiti are suffering, whether orphaned or not. Let's do our best to support all Haitians in this time of crisis.

"I'm Legit"

I posted about this song by Zara Phillips and Darryl McDaniels (DMC of 2009 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Run-DMC), after I heard it at the American Adoption Conference convention in April 2009. Now you can see the video! Great song, great video!

Both artists are adopted, and produced this song to support open records in adoption. I've written before about the practice of amending birth certificates to substitute the names for adoptive parents for birth parents, and then sealing that original birth certificate with the accurate birth information. I think adoptive parents should stand up for open records, recognizing that we have nothing to fear from our children's natural interest in their birth families. I hope the emotion in these lyrics will convince others that open records is the only humane option.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy MLK Day

I hope I can get away with saying "MLK Day." If Zoe sees it, I'm likely to get in trouble! Ever since she learned about MLK in preschool, she's been insistent that we use his FULL name, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., all the time. I have such a distinct memory of her at age 3 on MLK Day, at a restaurant with a TV showing a clip of Dr. King. Zoe became so excited when she saw him, exclaiming in her piping little voice, "That's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! Look, it's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!" Everyone in the restaurant had to turn to see who was excitedly saying that mouthful!

Today, to mark the occassion, we read Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and talked about what it means. Zoe drew the picture, above, with her summation of the speech's meaning. The video, below, is the girls' homage to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with Zoe singing a song she learned in school , and Maya showing her paraphrase of the speech (yes, these are Maya's own words!). Enjoy!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Talking to Your Child About Money in Adoption

Money is an inescapable part of adoption. The lack of money is one common reason for placing a child for adoption. Without money, one cannot adopt. The desire for money motivates much corruption in adoption. Money makes the world go 'round, as they say.

Have you had that conversation, where you have the difficult job of explaining to your child that you paid for adoption services, not for her? At Grown in My Heart, Michelle of GotchaBaby introduces her breakdown of adoption fees by imagining that conversation after her daughter helped her send the last payment to the adoption agency facilitating the adoption of her brother:

And she happily held the sealed envelope until we got to the mailbox. I’ll admit, there was a moment of panic running through my head. “Do I tell her the truth, that we are finishing paying the placement fee for her brother? Is she going to ask why that costs money? Holy crow, is she going to connect the dots and figure out that we paid money for her adoption as well? Why can’t I just do these things when she is asleep???”

Once the moment had passed and I regained my senses, I had some time to think about the fact that at some point, this very topic will come up. What, exactly, will I say? Probably something along the lines of that we had to go through some classes and do some paperwork to be able to adopt them. That the agency that brought us together with their birthmother, Jane, does a lot of good things for people who need help, and the agency, in turn, relies on people to support their work. That the people who work at the agency helping other families all need to be paid, just like we get
paid for our jobs. Or something like that. That the agency we used provides services to all women and children needing help, helped me swallow the agency’s placement fee.

The issue hasn't come up with my kids yet. They've certainly been present when people ask me how much it costs to adopt, and I've always answered carefully about fees for services. I also reference the medical costs for giving birth to a child in my answer about the costs of adoption, so they can see that there are costs involved no matter how you add a child to your family. But I don't know how much of these conversations they've understood.

I remember how shocked my kids were when they figured out that their preschool teachers weren't working for love alone. I hope my explanations of tuition payments will lay the foundation for explaining adoption agency fees when the topic comes up.

Have you had that conversation with your child? Tell us about it!

New China Adoptee Blog!

Meia passed on the link to her new blog, Adoption, Etcetera, where she introduces herself as follows:

The Basics...Adopted at approximately age 2 in December 1993 from Anhui Province, China, by a single woman. I'm a follow-the-golden-rule, origami-crane-folding, peace-making, write-a-letter vegetarian. I'm a stand-on-the-corner-in-a-witch's-costume-and-a-rainbow-scarf protesting-prop 8, pro-gay-rights feminist. I'm a singing-in-the-shower whisperer. I'm a baby-name-book-reading, writer. I'm a cool chess nerd. I'm a travel-around-the-world homebody. I'm a feeding-the-chickens-because-it feels-so-peaceful snail-lover. I'm an adopted adopter of a black cat I named Kitty-Cat. I'm a watch-the-ants-gather-around-the-sugar-water-droplet-because-it's-just-like-Arthur-and-the-knights -at-the-round-table gal. Etcetera.

I love it! Be sure to read her post about Mandarin lessons as a child. I'm looking forward to hearing more from her. Etcetera.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Love Without Boundaries: Vote For Them to Win $1M!

Please vote for Love Without Boundaries to win $1 million from Chase Community Giving. (Voting is free, and therefore won't divert any funds you are donating to Haiti relief.)
The thing I love about LWB is that not only does it help orphans in Chinese orphanages, it also prevents Chinese children from being orphaned. I've posted before about LWB's Unity Fund, which provides medical care/surgery to poor families so that they need not abandon their children in the hopes that they will receive life-saving medical treatment. The only thing better than helping orphans in need, in my opinion, is preventing kids from becoming orphans in the first place.

I'm not asking you to donate a penny, just vote! Voting ends January 22, so vote, and spread the word!

More on Haiti and Adoption

Child Trafficking Major Concern After Quake, so it is important to get unaccompanied children into "safe zones," says UNICEF.

73adoptee has collected many cautionary blog posts about Haiti and the adoption response, including posts with great information about the baby airlift from Cuba in the 1960s, called Operation Pedro Pan, and those calling for an Operation Pierre Pan from Haiti.

Quebec Department of International Adoption (via Google Translate) adds its caution to the statement from the U.S. State Department about seeking to adopt children affected by conflict or natural disaster -- including a reminder that children without parents present are "unaccompanied minors," not necessarily "orphans."

From SOS Children's Villages, Earthquake Orphan Appeal: Do Not Adopt Earthquake Orphans, asking some great questions:
When you see any child who has lost their family on the news, your natural instinct is to want to go and pick them up and cherish them. You should not feel guilty about this instinct, it is part of being human and most of us share it. There is also a deep wisdom in this reaction about the need for a proper long term solution for the child not just one day's hot meal. However before taking steps toward trying to adopt a tsunami [sic] child, you should stop and think:

1) Is you adopting them the best solution for the child? A child who has started growing up in a community and their lost parents still has some inner security from knowing their environment, knowing other adults, familiar weather, the sound of local language or accents and their general surrounding (even smells, humidity and temperature). You may feel you can offer the most caring environment in the world, but it may not be the one where the child feels most secure.

2) Is this approach cost effective? Caring for children locally in the long term is much cheaper than uprooting them and bringing them over for adoption. . . .

3) Can you know that the child really has no-one? . . .

4) Are many of us really up to it? . . .
FYI, SOS Children's Villages already has a village in Haiti, has worked there since 1978, and has emergency sponsorships of quake orphans in Haiti.

Dawn at Creating a Family has a list of adoption agencies and aid agencies in Haiti doing emergency relief work with orphans and orphanages.

"They Remembered Me"

From AdoptiveFamlies, an article by Korean adoptee Hollee McGinnis (who happens to be policy & operations director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute), who did not search for her birth family -- they searched for her:

That night, as I stared at the blurry photo of my biological grandfather and grand mother, my mind kept returning to one thought: They remembered me. Every adopted person thinks about the man and the woman—ghostlike figments—who gave her life. But that night the characters in my adoption story came alive. They were no longer figments of a dream, but flesh and blood people—people who shared my blood.
It took four years of exploring my American, Korean, and adoption identities before I embarked on a journey back to my birth country to meet my birthfather and his family. The night before I left for Korea, I sat with my parents on our back patio. I feared the only parents I knew might feel I did not love them if I met my birth family. But my dad dispelled my worries. He said, "We always knew we had family in Korea."
Suz commented on a post once saying that she wished stories from adult adoptees about searching for or meeting birth family didn't include defensive language about their adoptive families, the de rigueur defense of "I love my adoptive parents, but. . . ." I wish we were past that, too. After all, what could be more natural than someone wanting to meet their birth family? That doesn't have anything to do with how good or bad their adoptive family is/was!

Still, some adoptive parents need to hear that message, and McGinnis provides that reassurance here: "But meeting my biological family has in many ways strengthened my relationship with my adoptive family; I have a future now with my birth family, but nothing can take away the years of nurture my parents gave me."

She also absolves her parents for withholding the letter her birth grandfather sent when she was 15, and not disclosing it to her until she was an adult (on the advice of an adult adoptee they consulted). I think adoptive parents really take a risk withholding this kind of information, a risk of damaging their relationship with their child. With so much uncertainty in the lives of adopted children, they need to be able to trust that we will tell them the truth -- the whole truth. Adoption experts say children need to know the whole truth by age 12. Yes, we tell the truth in age-appropriate ways, but we have to tell the whole truth.

I can't speak to her situation, but I'd have to say that I would think a 15-year-old would be old enough to learn of the letter. The reason experts say kids need to know their whole story by age 12 is that so much important identity work happens in the teen years. Adopted kids need to be able to integrate their whole story in those teen years. I would think it would be important for a teenager to see that letter, and know that her birth family had not forgotten her. I'd think it would be a positive for an adopted teen to work that knowledge into her identity.

Still, I'm glad that McGinnis' parents did tell her about the letter; not all adoptive families would, I'm sorry to say, from stories I've heard. And I'm glad that her parents were sensitive enough to absolve her of any loyalty conflict, accepting that she wanted to go to Korea and meet her birth family.

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Playing the Adoption Card"

A great post (too mild a description -- how about fantastic, wise, insightful. . . ) by Tonggu Momma at Grown in My Heart, about her daughter "playing the adoption card:"

I am a momma who strives to keep open the lines of communication with my daughter, especially those conversations that center around her adoption. Listening to adult adoptees (both on-line and those I know in real life) pushed me to go a step further this year, asking questions of my daughter and allowing us both to just sit with her emotions. We’ve had many conversations about her first family, her foster family and orphanage, our adoption story and yes, we’ve even tackled the topic of racism. I’ve made mistakes, as a momma and as a person, but I figure that trying my best, focusing on my daughter rather than myself and remaining humble during this process will see all of us through as best we can.

Last month, the Tongginator played the adoption card. And by that I mean that she tried to manipulate me to get her way, using the topic of adoption. . . .

But my daughter is smart. REALLY smart. She also knows me well.

And what she’s learned these past five years as my daughter is that I pretty much drop everything to talk with her when she brings up the topic of adoption. When she says “I miss my Abu (her name for her foster mother),” I stop what I am doing, get down at her eye level, offer a hug and wait. I make no apologies for this… it’s what she needs.

Except when she doesn’t.
Oh, boy, does this sound familiar! Zoe, especially, will play the adoption card at times, raising adoption to deflect negative attention ("when you're mad at me, it makes me feel like I'm back in the orphanage") or to delay doing something she's supposed to do (wanting to talk adoption when she should be doing her homework) or when she wants some one-on-one attention (interrupting something Maya is saying to ask a question about adoption).

How lucky we are that by the time our kids start talking adoption, we know them well enough to distinguish between genuine and disingenuous adoption talk, or at least most of the time we can tell the difference! When I'm not sure, I try to err on the side of talking about adoption, if at all possible. And sometimes when I know they're really playing the adoption card, I'll still talk adoption, if I have my own agenda for doing so, like when I've been looking for an opening to explore an adoption issue with them. But I also let them know that I recognize their tactic for what it is (boy, do they hate talking at that juncture)!

I think if you've laid the right foundation with your kids (like Tonggu Momma has), by letting them know in a multitude of ways that you're open to discussing adoption feelings, there's nothing wrong with giving them a quick affirmation on the adoption point ("I know you feel sad about your birth parents, but. . ."), and then postpone the discussion to another time (". . . you need to finish your homework before bedtime. Let's talk about it after you finish.") But then I think it is important to raise the issue again at that later point, even if you think it was being used manipulatively -- and if they are reluctant to talk now, you can at least affirm your willingness to talk, and explain again why you couldn't talk before.

And, of course, the best way to diminish the value of playing the adoption card is to listen attentively to ALL important issues your child wants to discuss. That way you affirm that adoption isn't the only issue you pay special attention to, that they are about more than just adoption. And if they have a full deck of cards to play in an attempt to manipulate you, at least the adoption card won't come up as often!

Haiti and Adoption

At MomLogic, adoptive mom Sarah talks about the earthquake in Haiti, and her 4-year-old whose adoption has been finalized, but is still there because of visa problems:
When I heard about the earthquake, it almost felt unreal. It still does.

My son is there. He's 4 years old.

I have adopted two children from Haiti, and am currently hosting a baby ("Bear") from there. He has been with us over a year while he gets surgeries for spina bifida. My daughter, Angeline, also from Haiti, also has spina bifida. My son Isaac, due to years and years of glitches in paperwork, is still in Haiti. My heart breaks knowing he's there, and I can't get to him, especially in this devastation. I have heard from
his orphanage that he is okay, thank God, but my heart breaks for him. I just want to go get him NOW.
At her blog, Mom to 14 (yes, you read that right -- she has 14 kids at age 36 -- 5 bio, 6 adopted from foster care, 2 adopted from Haiti, and one hosted from Haiti), she writes:
In the adoption world the word is that there will be a meeting tomorrow [Friday] at 10am EST by the department of state who will talk about adoptions in Haiti and those US citizens with children waiting for Visa's or passports. Children who have been waiting years. They said it could take weeks to come to a decision on how to handle things.
The only thing I could find on the State Department website about Haiti and adoption is this timely reminder that adopting children affected by natural disasters and conflict is not the best way to help:

The Department of State receives inquiries from American citizens concerned about the plight of children in areas of conflict and in countries afflicted by natural disasters such as the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Our office shares this concern for children in devastated areas and we understand that some Americans want to respond by offering to open their homes and adopt these children in need.

It can be extremely difficult in such circumstances to determine whether children who appear to be orphans truly are eligible for adoption. Children may be temporarily separated from their parents or other family members during a natural disaster or conflict, and their parents may be looking for them. It is not uncommon in an emergency or unsettled situation for parents to send their children out of the area, or for families to become separated during an evacuation. Even when it can be demonstrated that children have indeed lost their parents or have been abandoned, they are often taken in by other relatives in the extended family.

During times of crisis, it can also be exceptionally difficult to fulfill the legal requirements for adoption of both the U.S. and the child's country of origin. This is
especially true when civil authority breaks down or temporarily ceases to function. It can also be difficult to gather documents necessary to fulfill the legal requirements of U.S. immigration law. There are many ways in which U.S. citizens can help the children in areas of natural disaster or conflict. For example, individuals who wish to assist can make a financial contribution to a reputable relief or humanitarian organization working in that country.
I've posted before on the topic of adopting children affected by natural disaster, that adoption experts say it's wrong to take a traumatized child away from the only environment he or she knows in the wake of tragedy. I think the State Department is right to remind those looking at the tragic pictures on the news that they should be looking at other ways to help.

But that does not help those, like Sarah, who are already in the process of adopting from Haiti. I can only imagine how I would be feeling in their shoes. The closest I can come is the uncertainty I felt about what would happen to Zoe's adoption after 9/11 -- I received her referral in August, and didn't take a full breathe until I held her in October. And I didn't have to worry about whether she was alive, healthy, safe. . . .

My heart goes out to the people of Haiti, and to all those outside of Haiti who are worried about loved ones there.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

More Children Rescued From Child Trafficking Ring

Have you been following this story? Looks like 12 more children have been rescued from this child trafficking ring in China:

In the continuing crackdown on human trafficking that started in April, twelve more abducted children were rescued by police in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

That brings the number of rescued children in Guangxi to 31, of whom 20 have been reunited with their families.

Nineteen of the reunited children were from Guangxi and one is from Yunnan Province, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

The reunited kids were linked to their parents through DNA tests and a DNA database set up by the Ministry of Public Security.

The police have taken into custody five people suspected of running a multi-provincial human trafficking ring. The chief suspect surnamed Lan confessed to police that his ring has sold more than 30 kids in rich southern Chinese provinces, according to a former report.

Lan said he used little pets and balloons to lure little boys from migrant worker families in Guangxi. He said he almost succeeded every time when he tried to abduct a child.

He said he earned between 20,000 and 40,000 yuan for each boy he sold in Fujian, according to the report.

Some children are sold for adoption to childless couples, and others are trained as beggars or prostitutes.
My kids are from Guangxi Province, so this story has really hit close to home. Sometimes international adoptive parents look at these stories and simply heave a sigh of relief when they realize it only implicates domestic adoption, not international adoption. I understand that reaction, but in reality we should all care about child trafficking, no matter what. For one thing, as China (finally) cracks down on child trafficking, traffickers may be looking to "dump" children they may have already taken as the police draw near. Taking them to an orphanage would be a great way to do that. From the orphanage, they may find themselves adopted internationally by unwitting adoptive parents.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

World's Oldest Mother -- Age and Adoption

Some days I feel like the World's Oldest Mother.

Sometimes the feeling is internal, like when I can't get up without making those old people noises, or when my knee aches and my shoulder twinges and my . . . well, you get the picture. Other times it's external, like when people ask if I'm my kids' grandmother (7 times in the first year I was home with Zoe (not that I'm counting or anything!)). Sometimes its the inadvertent things friends say -- like the friend who complained that her elderly parents couldn't possibly understand something going on in her life, and I realized that her mom was 40 when she was born, just like I was 40 when I adopted Zoe (I take a perverse pleasure in the fact that I was 39 when Zoe was born, even though I turned 40 just 5 days after she was born!All bets are off with Maya, of course -- I was 43 when she was born, and 45 when I adopted her, officially older than dirt). I can just see Zoe and Maya in future years complaining to a friend that I'm too old to understand! Oh, yes, and sometimes the reminder that I'm the World's Oldest Mom comes in something my kids say, like when Zoe wrote, "I hope you enjoy your grandkids," on my last birthday card. Or when Zoe realized I was exactly 40 years older than her: ". . . when I'm 7, you'll be 47; and when I'm 8, you'll be 48; and when I'm 9, you'll be 49; and when I'm 10, you'll be 40-10. . . . "

With 40-10 staring me in the face, I want to talk about parental age and adoption. It's an issue I cover in Adoption Law, together with other adoptive-parent "qualifications" like religion, race and sexual orientation. The legal standard, of course, is best interest of the child, when we look at parental qualifications in adoption placements. The arguments against older parents are pretty well known -- they may not live to raise the child into adulthood, they may not have the physical energy needed to parent, they may not have the mental flexibility necessary to understand "today's youth," the child might be stigmatized with peers and others for having older parents.

With many of these arguments, age is really serving as a proxy for health. We can all name 70-year-olds with more energy than some 30-year-olds we can name, and same goes for life expectancy and mental flexibility. (I have a sneaking suspicion, for example, that Jean Smart, though older than me, is much more physically fit than I am!) Certainly, in the grand scheme of things, the younger you are the more energy you have and the longer your life expectancy is. But we always know some exceptions. Why, you can even take a test to see if your REAL age is the same as your calendar age!

Sometimes when it's hard to get information about an issue, when we don't know if someone fits within the norm or is an exception, we use proxies -- like we use "race" as a proxy for "lower socio-economic status" and "lower socio-economic status" as a proxy for "poor education" in making decisions about admission to college. It may be that you are African-American and the child of an ambassador who attended private schools, or you grew up in a poor area, but went to the only excellent high school in the vicinity, but we can't know the socio-economic status of each applicant, or how good the thousands of high schools in America are, so we use race and/or area poverty as a proxy.

But in adoption, do we need to use age as a proxy? We already gather tons of information about prospective adoptive parents, including health and mental outlook and energy -- the things we really want to know, that we sometimes assume age will tell us. But we can figure out whether someone fits within the norm for their age, or is an exception to the rule. Health can even tell us something about life expectancy, though there are no absolutes on that front. Still, life expectancy is increasing -- life expectancy for women at birth in 1900 was 50.7 years, and in 1997 it was 79.4 years. A 58 year-old-woman can expect to live an additional 24.6 years, long enough to usher a child into adulthood. And we know that even very young adoptive parents can die before their time. Because of that, what we typically want to know of all prospective adoptive parents, regardless of age, is what plans they have for the care and custody of their child if they were to die before the child reached adulthood.

So that leaves us with the stigma, embarrassment, etc., of a child with older parents. It hasn't seemed to occur to my kids yet that I'm older than the average bear, though I'm sure it will eventually. I admit, I sometimes feel weird as the menopausal mother of a kindergartner, but I can also say I'm not the only "golden oldie" on the pickup line! And that stigma argument is the same one used to deny adoption on the basis of sexual orientation -- after all, won't Johnny be embarrassed to have gay parents? It's also one of the arguments against transracial adoption.

Yes, there's this long-held belief that adoption should try to replicate the "natural family." The adoptive family should look just like a biological family -- that was the motivation behind the old "matching" rules, where child and adoptive parents were matched not just by race, but by hair color and texture, skin tone, eye color, even height and weight. Replicating the natural family would also mean only couples capable of procreating "naturally" would be suitable adoptive parents. Gay couples wouldn't fit in this requirement, neither would transracial adoption. And being too old to reproduce would also disqualify a family from adopting under this rubric. I'm not sure I'd want to limit adoption to what "nature" could create -- as a single mom, I wouldn't qualify, either, not having experienced any visits from God or gods to impregnate me!

The "nature" argument comes up with assisted reproduction as well. Take a look at this interesting article, Monstrous Mothers: Media Representations of Post-Menopausal Pregnancy. The world's real oldest mother, who gave birth at age 66 with the help of donor eggs, died at the age of 69 last summer. That's kind of the poster child for "too old," right? She left her 3-year-old twins orphaned. Yes, she might have lived to the ripe old age of 101, as her mother did, but the odds were against it, right? Just like the odds would be against a 66-year-old adoptive parent, right? What she did, and what older adoptive parents do, is "unnatural."

My problem with this argument is that it disproportionally affects women. Nature allows the World's Oldest Father to procreate at age 90, and media representations of older fathers wouldn't dub them "Monstrous Fathers," hmm? What we buy instead is the meme, "I'm a much better father now than before, because I'm older, more settled, and have more patience," usually said while the child is in the background jumping on the couch (I always think it's exhaustion, not patience, that allows him to ignore the bouncing kid!). I know a man who had a child with his (of course much younger) wife at age 66, the same age as the World's Oldest Mother, and no one even blinked. It certainly wasn't a cause celebre in the media, with people screaming, "There oughtta be a law!"

"So? Nature is unfair," I hear you cry. But who says adoption has to follow nature? Interestingly enough, the Evan B. Donaldson Institute has a recent report out suggesting that nature -- at least when assisted -- should follow adoption: Old Lessons for a New World: Applying Adoption Research & Experience to Assisted Reproductive Technology. But in adoption, we've moved beyond matching, beyond the idea of replicating the "natural" family, haven't we?

Most courts that have looked at the age factor in adoption have said that the age of prospective adoptive parents is relevant in a best interest of the child analysis, but that it cannot be a SOLE or DETERMINATIVE factor in adoption placement. In the case we study in class (registration required to view case), the prospective adoptive parents were selected by the birth mom, had parented the child placed with them as a newborn for 2.5 years at the time of the adoption, and were aged 54 (adoptive mom) and 70 (adoptive dad) at the time of the adoption. The trial court denied the adoption based solely on age, and the appellate court reversed, and directed the trial court to enter an order approving the adoption.

I'm not willing to accept categorical statements -- "you're too old to parent a child," said to adoptive parents, or "you're too young to parent a child," said to a birth mom to induce relinquishment. Adoption, more than just about any other endeavor in human life, is about SCREENING. We have doctors, social workers, government officials and judges all judging the fitness of adoptive parents. We don't need proxies, we don't need single-factor tests. We can carefully examine on a case-by-case basis the suitability of a particular adoptive parent. We might get it wrong, I don't doubt that, but I can't help but believe that individualized assessments are better than absolute rules.