Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Walk on the Wild Side

Our walk on the wild side was at McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary -- a very cool place in Palm Beach.  They get most of their animals from government agencies that have impounded the animals as abused or neglected, or from owners with permits to possess such exotic animals.  People also bring them pets they no longer want or can handle, or animals they've found injured.  They return to the wild those they can, but many of the animals have been raised in captivity and could no longer survive in the wild.  We got to see many of those animals up close and personal!

Zoe was brave enough to pet a baby crocodile and a snake, and hold a tortoise.
William was willing to hold ANYTHING -- including a bearded dragon, a snake, and a much larger tortoise than Zoe's!

The only animal Maya was willing to touch was a baby squirrel, which she would do only while the guide held it -- no picking up any animals for Maya!  The guide told us that someone in the neighborhood had brought it by, and they were going to raise it to release into the "wild."

The squirrel wasn't the smallest things we saw -- that would have been the lizards that were EVERYWHERE (and I think William took pictures of ALL of them!).

Then there were the BIG cats, including a lion, several tigers, black leopard, a jaguar/black leopard mix, and a TINY 3-week-old Florida panther.  The tiger and the black leopard were left in a Motel 6 in Orlando, and the manager called the sanctuary to come pick them up in the dead of night before any of the motel guests knew!

It was really an amazing tour.  The group consisted of the 5 of us, and a dad and son, and that's it.  We were able to get really close to the animals, and learned the history of each and information about their lifespans in captivity.  It was a good lesson for everyone to learn, as we heard again and again about someone who got an animal when it was cute and little, and then couldn't handle it as it grew.  So many ignorant people who can't see the 170 pound panther in the cuddly panther cub.  I know there's something about adoption in that comment . . . .

Our last "wild thing" wasn't so wild -- a manatee mailbox at a house near our hotel.  I wonder what the owner thinks of all the tourists who pile out of cars to admire  "Barbara Manatee" (all you Veggie Tales fans know why the kids named her Barbara!).

Transracial adoption -- for or against?

A thoughtful post about transracial adoption at Irene's Daughters:

I am still quite torn over the issue [of transracial adoption]. Even more so since so many of the children needing homes in this country are dark skinned. Sometimes I think, “Why am I making this such a big deal? Doesn’t this really come down to making sure my child knows their self worth regardless of skin color? Surely I could teach them the proper ways of responding to racism.” Then I read a blog like yours….

To be very honest, I felt after talking to you about it that I should never consider adopting a child of color. They really would be better off in foster care or in an orphanage.

Above are a couple of comments I’ve received after posting about transracial adoption. For those who didn’t grow up with me or don’t know much about my childhood or my adoption history — which would be almost all of you, I guess — I used to feel a great deal of personal responsibility to present adoption in a positive light. I was this little self-appointed poster child for adoption, particularly transracial adoption. I always spoke of it in the most glowing terms, and minimized any possible issues arising from it (in my own life and in the lives of others). I learned this from my own parents (who always insisted they were “colorblind,” and told me that was how I should be, too), but it was as much for their benefit as for my own — I thought that people might misunderstand or, worse, pity me if they thought for a second that adoption wasn’t all sunshine and roses for all concerned.

There was a time when I would have been racked with guilt if anyone told me I had dissuaded them from considering adoption, or thinking well of it. Truthfully, it still brings me up short, because I still feel that sense of responsibility, though now it’s more from the time I’ve spent working in adoption advocacy and education. I don’t walk around with my parents on a daily basis any longer; no one knows I’m part of a transracial adoption unless I volunteer it, and so I feel less pressure to present myself as evidence in its favor. I think that’s a good thing, and much healthier for me.

* * *

Despite its flaws, and the times when it doesn’t work out “perfectly,” I am still about as pro-adoption as you can get without turning a blind eye to potential problems and abuses.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Walk on the Beach

China Testing DNA Before Adoptions

So says Amanda Kloer at's End Human Trafficking:

The baby trafficking industry in China has been growing rapidly in the past few years, now encompassing children sent to the U.S. and Europe and trafficked internally. While some of the infants and children who are bought and sold on the black market are orphans, others are kidnapped, lured away, and even purchased from poor and desperate families. By taking babies from the poor and selling them to the rich, traffickers can make bank. But the Chinese police hope DNA can change that.

The national database China has developed contains DNA samples from over 100,000 missing, homeless, or trafficked children and over 35,000 parents. Their goal is to test all children against the database before being adopted. If the child has a relative in the database or has been reported missing at some point, the police will then have the chance to contact the child's biological family before the adoption goes through. These rules apply to foreign adoptions as well. So far, testing is only being applied to children being adopted, but may hopefully be available to all children in the future.

DNA matching has already allowed several families to reunite with their missing children. And if the policy of checking the database before every adoption is really implemented, it could be a hindrance to traffickers who kidnap children and sell them to adoption agencies. But for the strategy to be effective, China needs a quorum of parents reporting their missing children and willing and able to pay the fees associated with a DNA test. Plus, this plan only addresses child trafficking through legal adoption means — underground adoption operations could easily skirt the testing requirements.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

We're on Vacation!

It's that time of year again when I have the misfortune of presenting at a work conference in West Palm Beach.  Pity me!

And it's that time of year again when the blog turns into a travelogue.  Mostly, I'll be recording our vacation fun for the benefit of family, and you are all welcome to come along!  If something adoption crosses my path, I'll try to throw it up on the blog, but no promises!

This year my nephew, William, the handsome devil in the photo above, has joined us for vacation fun.  And we're all thrilled that Mimi was able to come along, too.  So it's true family fun this week.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fate Uncertain for 12 Haitian Airlift Kids

The AP reports:

Six months after a chaotic airlift to the United States, 12 Haitian children remain in a Roman Catholic institution near Pittsburgh, their fate in limbo while U.S. and Haitian authorities struggle to determine which nation should be their future home.

Their case is complicated and politically sensitive, and all parties say they want the best outcome possible for the children. Yet impatience in some quarters is growing.

"It's astounding to me that the bureaucracy can't get this done," said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who took part in the airlift. "It's unfair to these children. Let's get them adopted by loving families."

Unlike some 1,100 other children flown out of Haiti to the U.S. after the Jan. 12 earthquake, the youths at the Holy Family Institute in Emsworth, Pa., were not part of the adoption process prior to the quake and — according to some legal experts — shouldn't have been eligible for the emergency program.

There are American families eager to adopt them now, including some who've been screened and approved by adoption agencies. But there's been little in the way of public updates on the case as federal agencies, the Haitian government and the International Red Cross try to determine whether the 12 should be put up for U.S. adoption or returned to relatives in Haiti.
And with impressive understatement, the article says, "In hindsight, it's clear that including the 12 children in the airlift has created a long-running dilemma."

DADT Doesn't Work For Adoptive Parenting

Dawn Davenport at Creating a Family blog has a great post, "'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Doesn't Work for Adoptive Parenting, Either" [LOVE the title!] about the importance of talking adoption with our kids -- not just as toddlers, but as they grow older, too:

We know, however, from talking with teens and adult adoptees, that kids don’t stop thinking about being adopted when they outgrow their footy pajamas. In particular, they wonder about their birth parents: who they are, what they liked to do, what they looked like, why they didn’t parent them. Some kids think about this a lot, some think about it a little, but from what I can tell from talking to teens and adults, most think about it some.

There are some kids who will readily talk and ask these questions to their parents and birth parents, if they are in an open adoption. But lots of kids, my own included, might think and wonder, but never bring the subject up. And even the most curious and talkative child will steer clear of this conversation if they sense that it makes their parents uncomfortable. It is way too easy for parents to assume that if it isn’t spoken, it isn’t thought. If the kids don’t ask, then we don’t need to tell. This is mighty convenient since we just as soon not talk about it anyway. If we’re not careful, this can become a self perpetuating cycle. Our discomfort, keeps them silent, and their silence justifies our own.

So what’s a parent to do?
Go find out what savvy adoptive parent Dawn does.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hawaiian Adoption Tradition

From Hana Hou:  The Magazine of Hawaiian Airlines, a story about  a form of adoption in Hawaiian tradition called "hanai:"

“I am a child of hanai,” says Auntie Leimamo Lee of Hana. In other words, as an infant she was given away by her birth parents to be raised by another couple. The transfer occurred when she was one month old, over eighty-five years ago.

Given away, but not in the usual Western sense of adoption. The transfer of little Leimamo was done Hawaiian-style—without shame or secrecy, without falsified birth records, in fact, without paperwork of any kind. It was a simple matter of friendly agreement between consenting parties. “My parents never had any children of their own,” Leimamo says. “But they loved children, and they asked for one.” In fact, over the course of their lives, Leimamo’s makua hanai (feeding parents) asked for many such children and eventually raised seven keiki hanai (feeding children) in their plantation-style home on Hana Bay—“feeding,” of course, being metaphorical for all forms of caretaking, including emotional and spiritual nourishment.

* * *

One might wonder how any parents could give up their newborn with such apparent ease. So it’s important to remember a key element to all true hanai agreements: No one loses. Leimamo has had a close, lifelong relationship with her birth family. “My adopted parents made sure that I would always love them,” she says. “Our ties cling together very tight.” She demonstrates this by twining all ten of her 85-year-old fingers together, raising her hands and smiling brightly.
Although "hanai" is no longer legally recognized in Hawaii, it's still an interesting look at adoption in another culture, yes?  It makes me think, again, about how birth parents in another country may not understand what is being proposed when aWestern agency or orphanage proposes an adoption placement (I blogged about that problem here).

Graying Adoptees Still Searching for Their Identities

Check out this great story at ABC News about domestic adoptees' access to their original birth certificates.  The article is really accessible, and the comments very interesting.  The story does a good job of debunking some of the myths about who closed records are supposed to protect, like in this part:

Historically, birth records were closed to protect children from the stigma of being born "out of wedlock" and having "illegitimate" stamped on their birth certificates.

It also was designed to protect the adoptive family from intervention or, as older adoption contracts state, "molestation" by a birth mother.

Hasegawa always knew she was adopted, but later learned more detail about her birth mother's identity through letters written to an adoptive aunt. Her birth parents had married in Paris, but after her father was killed, her mother had to return to the United States and, without help, reluctantly gave up her daughter.

Hasegawa said birth mothers were never promised anonymity. They were forced to sign papers that relinquished their babies, giving up all rights to knowing their fate -- if they were later sick, died or even if they were ever adopted.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, most states had sealed adoption court records completely but, typically allowed adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates, according to adoption researcher Elizabeth Samuels, a law professor at the University of Baltimore.

"In the 1950s when adoption was more popular, they wanted to hide the shame of the illegitimate family and the adoptive family didn't want interference in creating the perfect family," she said. "The adoptive birth certificate should reflect the new person."

In 1960, the laws in 40 percent of the states still permitted adult adoptees to inspect them, but between then and 1990, all but a handful of the rest of the states closed the birth records to adult adoptees.

When mores changed, a generation of adoptees began searching for their birth parents, and adoptive parents felt threatened that their children wouldn't love them, according to Samuels.

The focus of protection shifted away from the birth mother and her child to the rights of adoptive families. Efforts to keep records closed were led by adoption agencies, attorneys general and legislators, but not by the birth mothers themselves.

Today's adoptive parents are more apt to fight for the "rights of the child and their origin," said Samuels.
So, how about showing you're an adoptive parent ally and leave a comment at that story in support of access to original birth certificates.

Budding Teen Reporters for Half the Sky

Really interesting blog posts from the China orphan support group Half the Sky -- one written by a teen from a Henan orphanage, the other a teen from a Chongqing orphanage -- about 12 teen orphans who are in Beijing courtesy of a grant from Hewlett Packard to Half the Sky.  The teens are learning how to produce a newsletter, and will be producing a newsletter for Half the Sky's Youth Services starting in October.  Here's an excerpt from day 1:

At dinner, more kids joined us, Yuntie from Guangxi, Liangliang from Hunan, Na from Hubei, Zhenliang from Anhui and the last one to arrive – Zhongling from Liaoning. This trip is also their first trip to Beijing, except for Liangliang, who had three surgeries in Beijing for his feet.

Yuntie, Zhenliang, and Zhongling, due to their young age and physical condition, came with a chaperone. Even though Lianliang needs a wheelchair or a crutch to move around, he insisted that he didn’t need a chaperone. The reason: “I don’t want to give extra work to the ayis at the institution, and they are very busy already and tired. I knew that I could manage the trip on my own, and I feel proud that I could do it.”
Sounds like a great group of kids.  You can find the report of day 2 here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Teen Connects With Chinese Roots

From the Hamilton, Ohio Journal News:

This summer, 15-year-old Jade Kurlas returned to the Mother’s Love Orphanage in Nanning, China, where she was adopted by Dennis and Robin Kurlas in 1996 when she was a year old. [Maya was at Mother's Love].

She had returned to the orphanage once before, when the Kurlases adopted their second daughter, Meilian, in 2002, from a different orphanage.  At that time, she got to meet with the foster mother who had helped take care of her before the adoption, and the director of the orphanage invited her to come back when she was a teenager.

* * *

The orphanage had changed some from her previous visit. No longer a holding place for international adoptions, Mother’s Love now has 35 children in residence who are being cared for because they are HIV positive or have cerebral palsy, Robin Kurlas said.

“We blew bubbles in the courtyard, made cookies and had a dance party,” Jade rattled off some of the highlights of her week at the orphanage. “The kids had never made cookies before.”

* * *

Jade said that the trip deepened her interest in her birth heritage and that she feels “more Chinese” now.

“I want to learn how to speak Chinese,” she said. “All of the girls and I decided that we would go back and take care of the kids and help them. I’m going to continue donating to them.”

“I miss it,” she said. “I want to go back now.”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

2009 International Adoption Immigration Statistics

The Department of Homeland Security has released its 2009 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.  Included, naturally, are statistics about international adoption to the U.S.

Of particular interest, Table 12, Immigrant Orphans Adopted by U.S. Citizens by Gender, Age, and Region and Country of Birth: Fiscal Year 2009, and Supplemental Table 4, Immigrant-Orphans Adopted by U.S. Citizens by State or Territory of Residence, Gender, and Age: Fiscal Year 2009.

At Adoption Under One Roof, AngelaW has posted some interesting charts and graphs based on the data.  It's a very interesting read.

What gifts to bring to a nation that makes everything?

It isn't just adoptive parents who have trouble bringing appropriate gifts to China.  According to this article in the L.A. Times, Chinese-Americans traveling to China to visit relatives have the same problem:

Times have changed. Living standards in China have risen fast — especially in the wealthier coastal areas. Hand-me-downs from the U.S. will no longer do.

And now that China has transformed itself from communist backwater to manufacturing powerhouse, it's not so much what the gift is but where it comes from that matters, said Bao.

"They may not all speak English, but everyone in China recognizes those three words," he said. "When they see the label 'Made in China,' they will think, 'How come you gave me this?' "

These days, in other words, buying gifts to take to China is a major headache for Chinese Americans.

"It really does consume people when they make preparations to go back to China," said Clayton Dube, associate director of the U.S.-China Institute at USC.
The article also has some suggestions for good gifts from America.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Are there "good" and "bad" reasons to adopt?

That's the issue raised in the comments to this post, (and this one, too) a really interesting and important issue.  How about this list of Wrong Motives to Adopt, from blogger Melissa J.:

Because everybody is doing it (children should not be a fad)

To have someone who will love you back (not every child may want to reciprocate your love and affection-initially anyway)

Your biological clock is ticking (not good motivation for adoption)

You want some company (adopt a dog!)

Because you feel sorry for the child or want to rescue them (feeling any sense of indebtedness is not fair to a child who did not ask to be in the position they are)

You could really use another person to help out around the house (hire a housekeeper!)

A playmate for your other children (baby-sit or do more play-dates)

Because children from ______ are so cute (may be cute, but cute is not a good reason to adopt)

If I can't have a child biologically, I guess I'll settle for adoption (adoption is not second best, it's just a different path-and it's not easy)

A child will bring my spouse and I closer (might be true, but will likely cause more tension and less one-on-one time together; not good for a struggling marriage)

I need someone to pass on the family name (poor reason to adopt)

I'll start the adoption process and hopefully my husband will come around (it takes the full cooperation of both in the relationship to do this otherwise it is likely to cause great tension in the marriage)

Love will cure any problem a child may have and I have a lot love to give (unfortunately no amount of love in this world can help some children; though patience, proper advocacy and empathy can help)

Tired of watching other women have babies (not a good reason to adopt; children who are adopted often have very unique special needs that require a lot of devotion)

Could use some extra income (some special needs adoptions provide subsidy to cover a child's extra care needs; often the subsidy does not meet all the expenses of the child)

You want someone to leave an inheritance to (donate to a worthy charitable organization)

You think you'll gain respect and status of sainthood (this is a purely selfish motive; likely you'll feel more like a servant than anything high and mighty)

I need a reason to get up in the morning (program your coffee maker; with children there are likely to be days when you don't feel like getting up in the morning)

A big tax write off (while this is a bonus, your children will likely cost you more than you'll get back from your taxes)

To make me feel complete (you really ought to feel complete before you adopt)

To have someone to care for you in your old age (children don't always outlive their parents; it's terribly sad to hear such expectations being placed on a child; start saving for your future now)
Do you agree that these are bad reasons to adopt?  I'd guess that we all do.  Are there other "bad" reasons?What are the "good" reasons?

What's Wrong With This Ad?

This ad has appeared in the last few issues of Adoptive Families magazine, and I've found it irritating each time I've seen it.  Why?

1.  Can you spell commodification?

"WACAP delivers" is a slogan that turns a child into a package to be delivered.  We deliver the goods. Sure, the fine print under the heading says we're delivering SERVICES, not children, but the big print and the visual is pure objectification.  And the last line of the ad -- "Adoptions from China, Ethiopia, India, Kazakhstan, Korea, Russia, Thailand, and the U.S." -- continues the one-stop-shopping catalog theme.  And each time I see the ad, I can't help but remember that WACAP was the agency that brought Artyom to Torry Ann Hansen; she seems to have taken the delivery theme to heart when she returned her package to Moscow.

2.  Adoption = labor & delivery?

"Delivering" children is what pregnant women do, right?  So what WACAP does is the equivilent of childbirth -- adopting is the equivalent of childbirth.  The slogon subtly reinforces the "same-as" narrative of adoption. Adoption is the "same as" giving birth to a child.  What a comforting meme for prospective adoptive parents;  you won't have to worry about any pesky adoption issues, because parenting an adopted child is the same as parenting a child born to you.  No wonder adoptive parents are sometimes ashamed to thell their agency about problems or seek post-adoption services.

3.  Or is it take-out?

"WACAP delivers" reminds me of those people who talk about their biological children as "home-grown" and their children adopted from China as "take-out." Paula, adopted from Korea, had some trenchant words to say about this usage at her blog, Heart, Mind & Seoul:

Maybe it's just me, but there's something about that term that seems a bit off. Perhaps it's the visual that pops into my head of a sign advertising "Homegrown Tomatoes For Sale!" (it also makes me wonder if my "homegrown" daughter should call me Farmer Mom) and the way it strongly suggests - at least to me - that the said child is some kind of commodity. I guess I don't see it so much as a term of endearment as I do a description - for a product. And what about the kids that aren't "homegrown" - what does that make them (including me and my son)? Foreign goods? High-end imported products custom made in Korea?
No, Paula, it isn't just you who finds that terminology "a bit off."

4.  Is that a guarantee?

The slogan sounds to me like you're guaranteed a child, WACAP will deliver you a child.  What does that say about screening prospective adoptive parents?  No one gets screened out?  I know, I know, they only deliver SERVICES.  But is that what the headline and visual suggest?  They've skirted the legalities, but the ad suggests a different kind of guaranteed delivery that's designed to draw in prospective adoptive parents.

I don't have any particular problem with WACAP.  I was even looking at them as a potential agency for a special needs adoption from China just before China pulled the plug on singles adopting. So there's no ax to grind with this particular agency. The ad just illustrates so much of the bad stuff in the way adoption is practiced today.

I emailed my thoughts on the ad to WACAP when I first saw it (I was nicer than I am in this post!).  I received no response. And the ad keeps running . . . .

Friday, July 23, 2010

Post-Adoption Services

Anon left a comment to this post, and described the blog of an adoptive parent she follows: "A year and a half after adopting, she admitted with shame that they have been forced to seek counseling. Rather than be willing to recognize that needing help with coping with an international adoption, or acknowledge that there are a lot of experts out there with a ton of useful knowledge to impart, she is ashamed."   Unfortumately, that's not an uncommon reaction to needing post-adoption services.  The "love is all you need" meme is designed to make adoptive parents feel like failures if their child and/or family need something more.

Let's see if we can demystify post-adoption services.  Here's a list, with brief descriptions that I edited a bit to make briefer, from the Child Welfare Information Gateway, of typical post-adoption services:

Adoptive Parent Support Groups. In an adoptive parent support group, adoptive and prospective adoptive parents come together to offer and receive information and support from their peers. Parent groups offer their members and other participants a support system, friendships, educational programming, social interactions with other adoptive families, and advice from experienced adoptive parents. Parent groups exist throughout the country and vary extensively, from small playgroups for toddlers adopted through intercountry adoptions to large regional groups offering a range of programs and services to their members (who can number in the hundreds). Most parent groups are organized and administered by adoptive parent volunteers.

Online support groups. Available 24 hours a day, Internet support groups now number in the thousands. Through participating in these groups, parents will likely find families who have experienced exactly what they are going through and who will be able to provide helpful suggestions. Parents should remember, however, to use the same precautions with online support groups that are used for any Internet activity.

Psychological therapy/counseling. Members of adoptive families may at times want or need professional help as concerns or problems arise. Timely intervention by a professional skilled in adoption issues often can prevent concerns from becoming more serious problems. The type and duration of therapy will vary depending on the kinds of problems being addressed. Some families build a relationship with a therapist over years, "checking in" for help as needed. Others find they need a therapist's help only occasionally.

Respite care. Sometimes parents just need to get away for a while, reframe their problems, and get some rest. Respite care is a service that offers parents a temporary break from their parenting responsibilities. It is meant for families with children who require more skilled care than babysitters can provide or for parents going through a crisis of their own. Respite care can be in-home, meaning the respite worker comes to the house and stays with the children while the parents go out. With out-of-home respite, the parents take the children to a designated site.

Seminars/conferences. Many adoptive parent support groups, adoption agencies, and postadoption service organizations offer education in adoption issues through workshops and conferences that range in length from a few hours to a few days. At an adoption conference, parents can learn about the adoption topics that are most important to them, have questions answered by the experts, socialize with other adoptive family members, and have the opportunity to purchase adoption-related books and other informative materials.
Books and magazines. There are many helpful books on adoption for children and adults. Many of the children's books explain the "whys" of adoption and describe the process by which children are adopted. Some may help as children begin to question and discuss their own adoption story. Some of the books help parents look at the unique aspects of adoptive parenting. Others are written specifically for those who have adopted children with particular needs or who are parenting children from other cultures.

Camps/recreational opportunities/heritage camps. Overnight camps or retreats are a powerful way for members of adoptive families to connect not only with others like themselves, but also with their own family members. Such events, typically weeklong, often combine adoption and ethnic heritage education and support with traditional camping activities. Family camps offer activities for all members of the family.
I can also think of more post-adoption services that in my experience many adoptive families use because of developmental delays or physical issues related to institutional care -- early childhood intervention, physical therapy, occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, speech therapy.

OK, I tried to use Blogger's poll service, but it isn't working, so let's try this:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

It's not family-building, it's a movement

From the Baptist Press:

The adoption agency Bethany Christian Services says interest from couples in adopting is significantly ahead of what it was last year, a trend that is being seen elsewhere and, adoption leaders say, is an example of a growing adoption movement among Christians.

International adoption placements through Bethany are up 66 percent this year compared to last year while inquiries about international adoption are up 95 percent, the agency reported July 19. Domestic infant adoption interest also is up: Applications are up 23 percent and home studies up 15 percent.

Representatives from Nighlight Christian Adoptions and Buckner International -- two Christian-based agencies -- say they, too, have seen an uptick in interest from couples wanting to adopt.

The increased interest comes as ministries and churches renew their focus on adoption.
* * *
Ron Stoddart, executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, said there's "no doubt" that there's a growing adoption movement among Christians.
 Go to the link to read the whole thing, and tell me what you think of the photo illustrating the story.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

International Adoption & Bone Marrow Transplants

I posted recently about the case of 16-year-old Katie, adopted from China, who needs a bone marrow transplant. Unable to find a match from the bone marrow registry in the U.S., Katie's mother traveled to China in the hopes of finding a match.  In 2008, I posted about Lydia, adopted from China, who needed a bone marrow transpant.  Her family located birth family in China, but Lydia relapsed before a transplant could be accomplished, and she passed away.  In 2006, Deena, who was adopted from Thailand, was saved by a bone marrow transplant from her birth mother, whom her adoptive parents flew to the U.S. in the hopes she would be a match. Deena had been on the bone marrow registry list for years without finding a match. In 2002, China adoptee Kailee Wells was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia and needed a bone marrow transplant.  In 2005, her parents quest for a donor led them to an unrelated donor in China.  Kailee is now 10, and is doing well.  In 1997, Zak, adopted from Thailand, found a one-in-a-million donor in the U.S. In 1996, it was a Korean adoptee looking to the homeland for a bone marrow match:

Brian Bauman's life reads like a traditional American success story: popular and determined, he was elected president of the student council at his Minnesota high school and went on to the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he was majoring in math and physics. But in 1995, at age 21, Brian was found to have chronic myelogenous leukemia, an insidious form of the disease. Doctors told Brian's parents, Steve and Elaine Bauman, that their son would die within five years if he didn't receive a bone-marrow transplant.

At that point, Brian's story became a quest that would take the Baumans far beyond the borders of the U.S. For Brian was born Kim Sung Duk in South Korea in 1974. He was taken at age 3 to a Seoul orphanage by his unmarried mother and adopted six months later by the Baumans. To save Brian's life, his adoptive parents hoped to locate a Korean relative with compatible bone marrow, in a land where such a request is guaranteed to reopen painful psychological wounds. To many Koreans, adoption of any kind is considered shameful. Families who give away children, or even take them in, are careful to hide the fact from their neighbors, schoolteachers and the children themselves. During its impoverished postwar period, South Korea began sending thousands of children abroad for adoption--the number peaked at 8,800 in 1985--and that human tide is perceived as a national disgrace. The Baumans somehow had to track down members of Brian's birth family and persuade them to help the young man, who was in Colorado and, as he put it, "seeing goals slip through my fingers."
 A match was found for Brian, and he was interviewed on Korean TV in 2007, so is apparently doing well.

I think most people are aware of the effect of adoption on transplant issues -- at least aware that the lack of access to genetic relatives can be a problem.  This isn't just the case in international adoption -- domestic adoptees who are denied access to information about genetic relatives can have the same problem.  Genetic relatives are more likely to be a match.

But with international adoption, especially from Asian and African countries, there's another problem -- the difficulties of minorities finding a match on the national donor registry.  So it's not just that finding genetic relatives is difficult, it's also difficult to find unrelated donors who match. The following graphic of bone marrow donors by race accompanied an NPR story, Blacks Face Bone Marrow Donor Shortage:

The article goes on to say,  "In 2008, 40 percent of caucasians who didn't have a bone marrow match in their own family were able to receive a transplant through the national marrow donor program. The rate for African-Americans was 15 percent."  According to the Asian American Donor Program, "Ethnic Minorities have a 30-40% chance of finding a match from the existing NMDP registry. Caucasians have an 80% chance of finding a match from the existing NMDP registry."

According to the NPR article, the low rate of donation in the African-American community is one reason for the low match rates.  But there's also another reason: "Experts say that African-American patients have more rare genetic makeups than caucasians because their genes tend to be more racially mixed. This makes finding a precise match that much tougher." 

It strikes me that this racial mixing in America would make it difficult for recent immigrants to America to find a match in America.  They are less likely to have genes that are racially mixed.  No wonder that homeland searches are more productive for international adoptees like Kailee and Brian, who found unrelated donors. The U.S. national registry has cooperative agreements with donor registries in a number of foreign countries, but they tend to be small.  Publicizing the need for a donor can encourage donation in those countries, which is why adoptive families go to the home country looking for a donor.

When you adopt internationally, every story like Katie's, Lydia's, Deena's, Kailee's, Zak's, and Brian's  strikes a chord of fear. When you have no information about birth family, no way to contact them, you have to worry about what would happen if your child needed a transplant. It's impossible not to personalize the story and feel overwhelming sympathy and terror.  Add in the difficulty of an unrelated match because your child is an ethnic minority and the fear is amplified.

So what to do?  Register with the National Bone Marrow Registry.  Encourage your child to do the same when he or she reaches adulthood. Support the Asian American Donor Program. Support the right of all adoptees to original birth certificates and other information about their pasts. And look for your child's birth family.

Triplet Adoptees Explore Their Korean Heritage

From the Korea Herald, a story of triplets and older sister visiting Korea, with great quotes from the sisters about their experience growing up in a primarily Caucasian area, about Korean identity, and about searching for birth family:

Maree, Jenna and Kiira Ness came to Korea to learn about its culture. However, they are not your average tourists. They are Korean adoptee triplets.

The 25-year-old triplets arrived here from Oregon on June 28 to join a special program hosted by the Korean government and Hallym University.

This was their second trip to Korea since their adoption in April 1985.

* * *

All four sisters [including an older sister adopted from Korea]were home-schooled by their mother till the triplets were in fourth grade, and from that point on they attended private Christian schools till they finished high school.

* * *

When they started school, in the predominately Caucasian neighborhood, some children gave the girls problems. “A couple of boys would make fun of us. Do the eye thing. Swear at us during recess,” said Maree.

“I didn’t understand why the boys were saying these things. I felt like it was not nice but since the teachers didn’t do anything about it and our parents never told us,‘You guys might experience racism’ I never had any understanding about the injustice related to racism.”

Once the sisters became adults, they started to question their self identities.

For Maree it wasn’t until she started taking university courses in sociology. “I didn’t feel comfortable with being Asian, but I didn’t necessarily want to be white either,” she said.

“Before, I felt like I couldn’t really embrace Korean culture, because I felt it might be weird since I didn’t grow up that way, or I felt a bit pressured to embrace it and therefore wanted to resist the pressure,” said Kiira.

* * *

Rather it was people of her own descent that marginalized Maree.

“For me it has been hard to be a person of color in a predominately white area but it can also be difficult if you’re with other Koreans or people of color when they don’t understand about transracial adoption.

“She’s just a white girl; a banana; she doesn’t really get it; Maree is brainwashed and really not like us,” were some of the things her Asian peers used to describe her, Maree said.

Looking for people to relate with, some of the sisters sought out Asian adoptee communities.

“Being an adoptee can be very isolating, and to break out of that isolation was a very positive thing for me, to know that there are other adoptees,” said Maree.

* * *

“I am still me, but I identify myself a bit more Korean than before. I’m still American, but I feel that I can embrace my Korean identity more now. It’ll be ongoing to process my identity, what it means to me and how I can define it, but now I feel free to choose and act on the identity that I want to embrace,” said Kiira.

* * *

While in Korea, the sisters have requested a formal search for their mother and are still waiting to hear any news.

 “I don’t have any expectations about what it might be like. It can be a really positive experience for some people or it can be a really difficult,” Maree said when asked about meeting her biological mother.

The triplets were able to look at their Holt Korea files. Maree said that her mother, being sick and financially unable to support the triplets, was forced to give them up for adoption. Also, previously unknown was the birth order. It bothered Maree to not know the little things about her own birth. And finding out the birth order answered a big question in their lives.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The ultimate disruption

From the Tennessean, under the title, Another Adoption Tragedy Taints Tennessee, to remind us of  8-year-old Artyom's Tennessean mother putting him on plane to Moscow with a note saying she didn't want to parent him any more, this sad story:

This was supposed to be Kairissa XingJing Mark's forever home.

On March 29, the 4-year-old's new family brought her home from China to a big brick house in a cozy Mt. Juliet subdivision that is the picture of the American Dream. There was a big fenced-in yard for her to play in and pretty pink curtains in the upstairs bedroom window. In the window next to the door, someone had taped a child's coloring of a religious scene, the Good Shepherd guarding his flock.

But three months after her adoption, Kairissa is dead, her adoptive family is shattered and the international adoption community is reeling from the news of yet another horror story out of Tennessee.

Kairissa's mother, Dr. Deborah Wen Yee Mark, a pediatrician, stands accused of beating her to death. Last week, a Wilson County grand jury indicted Mark on one count of first-degree murder and eight counts of child abuse. It also indicted her husband, Steven Joshua Mark, a stay-at-home dad, on multiple counts of aggravated child abuse, child abuse, failure to protect and of being an accessory after the fact.

Seven LInks

I am SO stealing this idea from Tonggu Mama at Our Little Tongginator, who stole it fair and square from Heather at Production, Not Reproduction. Provide links and answers to the following 7 questions::

1) Your first post: Why? Why? Why?

A typical and not very interesting post to explain why I started the blog.  Now, if you want to talk about my FIRST EVER blog post, it was a post anticipating Zoe's referral.  Or what about the first post of Maya's travel blog -- announcing her referral!  And then there's the first post of the Xiamen Adventure blog, sharing our excitement as we get ready to leave for our 5-month sojourn in China.

2) A post you enjoyed writing the most: Wanted: Marriageable Men

OK, I admit it, this one was a blast to write.  I had my tongue so thoroughly embedded in my cheek I thought I'd require surgery to have it removed!

3) A post which had a great discussion: Fake Birth Certificate

I loved the discussion on this one, about amended birth certificates for adopted children, probably because most everyone who commented disagreed with me!  A close second was this one: What Makes an Adoption Ethical?  And the "Meant to Be" series (see I, II, and III) fosterd a lot of great discussion, too.

4) A post on someone else's blog you wish you'd written: Pendulum

From Margie at Third Mom -- she leaves as she started. I wish I had even half of her understanding of adoption issues and parenting adopted kids.

5) Your most helpful post: Being EXPLICIT About Race & Racism

OK, this was a hard one for me.  I like to think I'm all about being helpful;  I like to blog about tips and tools.  I'm big on lists and how-tos.  So I like to think I've done lots of helpful posts!  But most of my "helpful" posts have been squarely about adoption (like the Ten Commandments of Telling and the Adoption Book List), and this one about race & racism applies to EVERYONE.  Or at least that's how I'm justifying narrowing down to this one!

6) A post with a title of which you are proud: Adoption, Guns & Ammo Style

My titles are boring, merely descriptive.  I do like using song titles when they fit (What's Love Got to Do With It), and I love play on words, but you kind of have to read the whole post to get it, which isn't helpful for this list. I mean, Have Mercy isn't a funny title until you realize it's about Madonna's adoption of Mercy, and whether the court will allow her to "have" Mercy.  Some of the things my kids say make it into the title (My Uterus Hurts), but again, you have to read the post for it to make sense. So I just picked the Guns & Ammo one because it goes so improbably (or so I thought!) with adoption.

7) A post that you wish more people had read:  Amy Eldride of LWB Speaks

OK, I know this category is really for a post that very few people read, and THOUSANDS have read this post.  But the information is SO IMPORTANT that I want thousands more to read it.  I think the information will lead to more special needs kids being adopted, more support for LWB and other organizations that are doing orphan care in China and around the world, and better parenting of kids adopted from institutional care.  So thanks to all who have spread the word about this post, and keep on spreading it!

So there you have it, my seven links (with a half-dozen or so more thrown in -- I'm not a great rule-follower!).  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Heritage Camp 2010 Video

Here's some video of the closing ceremony at China Heritage Camp.  I didn't realize until I went to upload it last night that Zoe and Maya had provided "color commentary" for the video!  I thought they were just watching the video when they took my Flip and their giggling selves to the playroom the other day!

You can see Zoe front and center for her scarf dance (the one where Maya is sure the words are about kissing!), but you'll only catch glimpses of Maya in green, it the back row in the far left corner, in her kneeling dance.  What was really cool about that dance was the music -- it's from the Beijing Angelic Choir, which has been our "sleepy-time music" heard nightly since I met Zoe in China.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

In an op-ed piece entitled "Open birth records will mean fewer adoptions," the National Council for Adoption argues that New Jersey's new legislation to open birth records will lower adoption rates just as, they claim, it did in other states that passed open records laws:
Oregon passed its law in 1998, after which there was a brief spike in adoptions, from 320 in 1997 to 403 in 2002. However, in 2007, the number of adoptions declined to 273, an 18 percent decrease in adoptions since Oregon's open-records law was passed.

Alabama enacted its law in 2000. In 1997, there were 250 adoptions. A brief spike occurred in 2002, when the number of adoptions rose to 370, but in 2007, that number declined precipitously to 124 adoptions, a 50 percent decrease from the number before the law was passed.

New Hampshire had 114 adoptions in 2002. In 2005, its open birth records law went into effect, and in 2007, the number of adoption declined to 90, a 21 percent decrease in adoptions after the law took effect.

Therefore, rather than promoting adoptions, the law statistically has had the opposite effect. Does New Jersey really want to risk a reduction in the number of adoptions? Is it any wonder that only six states have passed such laws?
When I first read the NCFA op-ed piece, I laughed out loud. The statistical picture was so obviously incomplete, and quite clearly illustrated the fallacy non causa pro causa, thinking that correlation equals causation. Sure, adoption rates decreased in states that passed open records laws -- because adoption has decreased in ALL states! It has decreased in states that have open records laws, in states that don't have open records laws, in states that have never had closed records at all! Newborn/infant adoption has been decreasing yearly in the U.S. That doesn't mean that open records has anything to do with it! We might as well say that the decline in adoption is caused by increased obesity rates, since they've occurred at the same time.

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute has recently released an update of their 2007 report of the effect of open records laws on adoption rates.  They explicitly call out the NCFA on their statistics:

The Adoption Institute requested the full study from which the three states’ statistics were drawn to check the accuracy of the conclusions and, most important, to ensure they were presented in context – especially since NCFA in the past has been accused of manipulating data in order to further itsaims. NCFA refused the Adoption Institute’s requests, however, and said it would provide no further information until it releases its full report next year. As a consequence, until then, the data in commentary will be the only information available to lawmakers or others dealing with the issue, but without context or opportunity for independent analysis.
The Donaldson report goes on to say, and illustrate in table form:

The rates of infant adoption per 1,000 abortions in Kansas and Alaska, where adult adopted personsalways have had access to their OBCs, are much higher than the national average. Both Kansas and Alaska have higher rates of adoption per 1,000 non-marital live births than the national rate. Adoption rates vary markedly from state to state. Of those in the table above that restored access prior to 2002, two states had adoption rates higher than the national average and two had lower ones. In comparing adoption rates in five states with access (Kansas, Alabama, Delaware, Oregon and Tennessee) to bordering states without access (Nebraska, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Washington and North Carolina), those states with access had higher adoption rates.
The statistical picture is far more complicated and nuanced than NCFA wants us to believe.  Read the whole Donaldson report;  it does a good job of explaining the importance of open records to all members of the adoption triad, the current state of the law, and the statistical picture.  Don't fall for NCFA's lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Developing One's Self

Here's an interesting dissertation, Developing One's Self:  Adoption and identity formation through the eyes of transracially adopted Native American adults.  The dissertation uses "life story method" to explore identity issues in 7 adults adopted before the Indian Child Welfare Act.  The first 16 pages are free, have to purchase to read the whole thing.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thirst for Information

China adoption operates in such a vacuum of information, which so often is filled with rumor and guesswork and myth, that adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents are simply thirsting for accurate, credible information.  Since I posted my summary of Amy Eldridge's presentation at heritage camp my blog traffic has increased from about 230 a day to over 1,000 a day.  From my SiteMeter stats, I can see that people have shared the link with adoptive parent forums in the U.S., France and Sweden.  In France, someone has translated it into French and posted it on their blog!  FCC groups in Georgia and Maryland and Indiana and Arizona have shared the links with members. The link has been posted to orphanage-specific groups. And I just love that it's being shared on groups dedicated to waiting children and children with limb difference and other special needs. It's been shared on Twitter and Facebook.  It's being emailed among friends.  It's being shared by adoption agencies.  Bloggers are linking it so their friends and family can better understand the wait in China adoption.  And they are all offering heartfelt thanks to Amy for sharing this much-needed information.  How desperate we all were for what you shared, Amy! Thank you.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

International Adoption Radio Panel

From KQED/NPR Radio, a program on international adoption, described as follows:
Families are looking abroad to adopt for a variety of reasons, including wanting to help children in disaster zones or out of lives of poverty. But there are fewer children available for international adoption in recent years. We talk about the whys and hows of international adoption -- and about the challenges of fostering a cultural connection between adopted children and their birth homes.


E.J. Graff, associate director and senior researcher at The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University

Janet Shirley, overseas program coordinator for Bay Area Adoption Services

Kathleen Nielsen, Bay Area Adoption Services board member who adopted a child from China

Marguerite Wright, author of "I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race Conscious World" and senior clinical psychologist at the Center for the Vulnerable Child at Oakland Children's Hospital

Tom DiFilipo, president and CEO of the Joint Council on International Children Services, a child advocacy group focusing on international adoptions

As is unfortunately typical, there's no adult adoptee on the panel.  I left a comment at the website suggesting that they should add these voices to any discussion of adoption.

Recent China Daily Articles

Here are a few articles about adoption, the one child policy, and child birth from China Daily:

Second child deserves hukou
The government has started the sixth census and indicated that second children of parents, born in violation of the one-child policy, can apply for household registration (hukou) without having to pay any fine.

In order to implement the strict family planning policy and check a population boom, some local public security authorities usually refuse to grant hukou to the second child of a family. But this penalty has no legal basis because not they, but their parents violated the family planning law. Refusing their application for hukou runs counter to the Constitution and deprives them of their citizenship and right of equality.
Invisible children
The second child usually has had a rough ride since the government implemented the one-child policy. In urban areas, they don't even have a birth certificate, let alone household registration. As a result, they have met with obstruction at almost every step of their lives. They could not get admission to public schools, or find government jobs after they grew up.

Though the restrictions have become much relaxed in recent years, they were still "undocumented". But now the government has begun looking at these children differently and granting them official status. These "invisible" children are on way to becoming "visible" and getting their rights.
Parents deliver U.S. citizenship
Wang Rong, who is six-months pregnant, is about to leave Beijing for California so she can give birth to her baby in the United States and give the child its first gift - US citizenship.

The special delivery will cost Wang and her husband, both white-collar workers in the capital, 100,000 yuan ($15,000), but they say it is money well spent.

The expenditure will cover all costs, including services before departure, medical care in the US and a three-month stay there, thanks to the help of a Shanghai-based agency that specializes in taking mainland moms to North America.

"Given the quality of educational resources and employment prospects in China, where there is a huge population and harsh competition, I want my baby to win at the starting line by obtaining US citizenship," she said.
Joy and pain for special needs adoption
It was love at first sight for Jill Crouch when she saw the 1-year-old Chinese boy in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in December 2008.

"We weren't sure what to expect but we were very excited to meet this beautiful little boy we'd known only through pictures for seven months," Crouch told China Daily.

Timothy, now 2 and a half, is a special-needs child with a cleft palate who was abandoned by his parents because they could not afford the medical cost.

"We are very lucky to have Tim," she said. "With him, we finally have a family."

* * *

 Despite the love Americans shower on their adoptive children, there are still problems, Huang Hai, a social worker and founder of the website, said.

Huang, who has researched the situation of more than 3,000 adopted Chinese children in the US, is trying to establish the Angels Alliance Foundation to help these children cope with the problems they face in adapting and growing up in a new country. "Children with special needs, or those adopted at an older age, are even more likely to have psychological problems, including a low sense of identity and getting hurt when they are bullied in schools or by adoptive parents in some rare cases," Huang said.
Just a mish-mash, but each interesting in its own way.  Your reactions?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Did you know "Despicable Me" has adoption themes?

From the trailers, I had no idea "Despicable Me" had anything about adoption in it.  But a head's up from a friend sent me looking for more information.  One website I found crowed:

It is a movie about adoption. It is, in fact, a powerful and positive movie about adoption. The content is appropriate for all ages and we strongly recommend it for the entire family.
Oh, goody!  We need more good adoption movies!  But the Family Film Guide had this to say:

Of more concern to families with adopted children (and I say this because it was specifically pointed out to me by a adoptive mother after the screening) is the way adoption and orphanages are portrayed. Gru adopts three orphaned girls for a selfish reason and later returns them to their uncaring orphanage, but no worries, in the end everyone winds up happy.
No worries, everyone winds up happy?!  Gee, I want my kids seeing a disrupted adoption and an uncaring orphanage.  No worries, indeed!  And how uncaring is this orphanage?  Well, how about this review from an adoptive mom who loved the movie but wouldn't want her adopted daughter to see it:

Warning: Because the plot deals with orphans and adoption, sometimes in an irresponsible manner, I didn't take Rosie. I think she is too young to understand that it was done with a sense of humor and true adoption is nothing like it is portrayed in the movie. If your children have any issues about adoption, make sure you talk about it before you go see the movie.
Specifically how is the orphanage bad? Another adoptive mom advises:

The story line includes a single man adopting three orphaned girls so he can use them to fulfill his evil plans. The orphanage caretaker is a surly, demanding woman that punishes the children by putting them in "the shame box" During the climatic point of the movie, the evil character-turned good guy sends the girls back to the orphanage (against his wishes, but it's still a disruption). The orphanage caretaker makes the girls sit in the shame box because they're returned! The end is happy and endearing, heart warming, tear jerking, etc. Really, despite the premise, it's super cute. However, it could definitely be a trigger for traumatized children so be careful! I would NOT recommend it for families that have newly adopted children, have severe attachment issues or that have little girls that were abused by a male figure.
Anyone wonder how supervillian Gru manages to adopt three girls?  This reviewer does, describing the movie as set in a world where "a single bald man with questionable background could easily get approval for the adoption of three little girls, even after saying such creepy lines like: 'My heart is like a tooth, and it has a cavity that can be filled only with children.'" Great image of screening of adoptive parents, huh?

And after a positive review of the movie as "family friendly" at Christianity Today, an adoptive mom commented:

I would have given this film zero stars if I could. I am shocked that the reviewer does not speak at all about the terrible portrayal of adoption in this film. As an adoptive parent, I was appauled that my daughter saw the three girls put into cardboard boxes labeled Box of Shame when the villan returned them to the orphanage. Clearly the other reviewer knows nothing about adoption, because this movie does not give it nice treatment. Adoption advocates are horrified by this movie, and Christians who are compassionate towards orphans should boycott it.
So now you know.  Do with the information what you will.  But recognize that even if you and your kids don't see it, it's highly likely that your kids' friends will have seen it.  Be prepared for some nasty orphanage comments and send-you-back-if-you're-bad comments in the upcoming school year.  Sigh.

The story of an OPEN international adoption

The unusual story of an open adoption from Peru, in the Chicago Tribune:
Sue and Ray Fumi awakened their first morning in Lima, Peru, to the news that their baby had already arrived.

The couple scrambled to get ready to meet the 5-week-old girl they were adopting, eager to begin to love her as their own.

But they met with an unexpected twist: The baby was carried to their meeting in the arms of her birth mother, Candy Quispe Valdez. The Fumis had no idea the pretty young woman would decide to accompany the attorney's aide and personally hand them the baby.

* * *
Madeline Fumi, who is now 18 and has kept in touch with her birth mother through the years following that improbable meeting. Madeline has been visiting Valdez and four biological half-siblings outside Lima in the last week, her second journey to her ancestral homeland since she was adopted.

The confluence of Madeline's biological and adoptive worlds — which would be much more difficult today, as birth mothers' identities are unknown in most international adoptions — has helped her become more secure with being adopted and provided a connection to her heritage.

And with the help of one little clue from Valdez, the Fumis tracked down Madeline's two biological brothers in the Midwest, each with his own intriguing adoption story. The three siblings created an extended family, sharing summer vacations and milestones — as well as devastating events.

While the surprise encounter with Valdez originally made Sue Fumi tremble, she said it became easy to love this woman who relinquished her baby, giving the Fumis the daughter they so desired.

"I knew instantly that I would not forget her and that our family would not be complete without her," she said.
How about that? An open international adoption, with frequent contacts and in-person visits, and the sky didn't fall!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Striking a balance; talking about adoption

At Adoption Mosaic, a reminder of the importance of initiating talks about adoption with our kids:

It should never be the responsibility of the young adoptee to initiate a conversation about such a significant topic with their parents. Should adoptees be EMPOWERED to speak about adoption with their parents? Absolutely. Should kids be the sole guide for their parents? Never. Note: There is a difference between knowing your child and how to talk with them, knowing when they don’t want to talk, or knowing what is appropriate for them as opposed to making them be the initiator. Silence or saying “I don’t want to talk” may mean “I don’t know how”.

Adoptive parenting can be a fine line to walk with many important feelings to balance. Parents will wobble and have to redistribute to maintain the balance, but it is the parents who need to: do the work, set the example and lead their kids to a place of power in their own adoption experience.

Vietnam Orphans Return

An amazing story in the Dallas Morning News about a group of adoptees returning to Vietnam -- I don't know what's more extraordinary, the story of the creation of the orphanage in Vietnam, the evacuation of the orphans by boat and eventual  landing in Dallas, or the family reunions on the return trip to Vietnam:

At the reunion, the orphans did not spend a lot of time reminiscing about the old days. But on the bus from Ho Chi Minh City, they stopped by the church in Phan Thiet that sheltered them that first night [as they were fleeing the country].

The women of the church whipped up a meal of squid, cabbage soup, pork and eggs. The group ate a big meal and left the church $1,000, a long-planned thank-you gift.

Another stop, on Friday, was at the site of the Cam Ranh Bay Christian Orphanage. None of the buildings remains. A new school occupies much of the land.

Kindergartners and first-graders gave a concert, singing two songs in English under an image of Ho Chi Minh. The orphans applauded, then filed out of the classroom and wandered the grounds, debating what used to be where.

On this hot day, nearly everyone carried a water bottle. Some used empty ones to scoop up dirt as a souvenir.

The week's biggest event was Family Night, when the orphans invited long-lost – and in some cases, never-seen – relatives for a banquet.

Kelli St. Germain sat talking through a translator with the aunt who put her in the orphanage after St. Germain's parents died in a land mine explosion. They tried to figure out how old St. Germain might really be.

Thomas Ho of Mesquite had a dozen relatives at the banquet. Some came from Vietnam's central highlands, taking local buses for a day and a half.

"I'm overwhelmed," he said.

Among them was a cousin who lost a leg to a mine explosion during the war. Ho recalled working with her in the rice paddies as a boy.

In his hotel room earlier, she had shown him the worn end of her prosthetic leg. Ho said he would make sure that before he flew back to the United States, she'd have a new one.

Holme Oltrogee's guest at Family Night was his birth mother, whom he hadn't seen since he left with the orphans.

Oltrogee, of Frisco, had spent much of the week listening to, loving on and crying with the tiny woman. She shared family history and the dire circumstances under which she put him and his brother in the orphanage.

Oltrogee, 42, is hugely grateful for how his life has gone. That includes his adoption by Gene and Alice Oltrogee of North Dallas, education at St. Mark's School of Texas and Davidson College, marriage, a daughter, and an information technology consulting career.

But he had long felt an urge to reconnect with Vietnam and with the woman who brought him into the world as Hung Nguyen.

He got the push he needed from the other orphans.

"This reunion forced me to come back," Oltrogee said. "I needed to come back. I learned more about myself."
The whole thing is a must read.  I know I'm always saying it, but this time you'll really be glad you did.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Amy Eldridge of LWB Speaks

The BEST adult session at the Chinese Heritage Camp was the talk by Amy Eldridge of Love Without Boundaries.  She spoke about the changing face of Chinese adoption and about the current challenges of orphan care in China.  It was emotional, informative, and fascinating.  I'll try to report it all, but I hope others who were there will add anything I missed.  Amy spoke for almost 2 hours, so I don't think I could possibly remember it all!

Amy first talked about the immense changes in China adoption in the past 10 years.  The landscape has changed considerably from the days when Chinese orphanages were filled with healthy infant girls who had been abandoned because of the government's one child policy and the social preference for boys.  Now, the orphanages are filled with special needs kids, many critically ill.  She reported that 98% of newly abandoned children in China have serious medical needs, which explains why 60% of adoptions in 2010 were special needs adoption.

Why the significant change?  First, she said, there has been a growth in more modern attitudes about girls.  It is really only in the rural areas that the social preference for boys remains.  Ten years ago, 85% of the Chinese population lived in rural areas.  Now, only 50% are rural, 50% urban.  With that urbanization has come more education, the internet, and the like, which has led to more modern attitudes.  Second, there has been growth in the availability of ultrasound technology.  Now, anyone who is pregnant can know the child's sex.  Anyone who carries a girl to term does so knowingly and with every intention of parenting her.  Those who want a boy instead will have an abortion.  Third, domestic adoption in China is growing rapidly.  That's caused in part by the public interest in adoption after all the news reporting about the orphans of the Sichuan earthquake.  And another factor is the increased rate of infertility in China.  One government agency estimates that as many as 40 million couples in China are infertile.  Infertility is skyrocketing because of increased premarital sex without much sex education, causing increased rates of STDs and frequent abortions that might be less than sterile and because of environmental toxins and pollution.  Domestic adoption is preferred by orphanage directors, because domestic adopters pay higher fees than international adopters.  In Guangzhou, domestic adopters pay fees of $15,000 to the orphanage;  in Hefei, the fee is $7,000 for domestic adopters.  Most adoptions are handled on the county or provincial level, even though the CCAA now has a national office of domestic adoption.  Orphanages just don't send the files of healthy infants for international adoption when they can place the child domestically.

So, for these three reasons, there are fewer and fewer healthy infant girls available for international adoption.  And there has been skyrocketing abandonment of special needs children.  One reason for that is the increase in children in China born with birth defects.  Birth defects in China have increased 40% since 2001. It is estimated that 1 in 8 to 10 children born in China have birth defects.  There are a number of theories about why the rate of birth defects is so high in China, but most believe it is environmental exposure -- after all, in a recent list of the 20 "dirtiest" cities in the world, 16 of them were Chinese cities.  In one area of Shaanxi Province, where there is considerable coal production and other environmental hazards, it's reported that the birth defect rate is 85%.

Special needs children get abandoned because of the stigma associated with disabilities and/or because of medical costs.  Extended family, espcially the mother-in-law, will insist that a disabled child be abandoned becasue the child is considered unlucky, a curse on the family.  Children with visible disabilities will be refused education, and when they grow up will have difficulty finding a job. Medical costs can be too high for a family to bear -- there is no health insurance, no free health care in China.  All health care has to be paid for up front.  Even if you're in an accident, you won't be treated until your family shows up to pay the bill first.  There are no emergency rooms in China.  Poor families will abandon their children in the hopes that they will receive health care in the orphanage.  Amy said LWB has to be careful about media reports in China, because if there is a story about them doing medical work in an area there's a sharp spike in the abandonment of special needs kids there.  She also talked about my FAVORITE fund at LWB, the Unity Fund, which provides free life-saving medical treatment so that poor families don't have to abandon a sick child.  I think we all know that adoption is not the solution to the orphan crisis, only preventing children from being orphaned in the first place will solve it.

So how has the increase in special needs abandonment affected orphan care in China?  Think about how overwhelmed nannies might be with a room full of healthy kids to take care of.  Now think how overwhelming it would be with the same nannies with the same training or lack thereof and the same resources taking care of a roomful of special needs kids.  Amy talked about walking into a typical orphanage "baby room" and thinking it should be a hospital ward instead. Nannies will also  have the same fear of "unlucky" disabled children as others in China, and may not want to care for a child with albinism or a visible disability.

Two of the biggest needs, then, are education/training for orphanage staff and financial resources.  LWB does both.  Some of their training is with orphanage directors to help them prepare files on special needs kids to submit for adoption.  They sometimes have to encourage the directors to submit files, since the directors will harbor the belief that no one would want to adopt a child with particular disabilities.  They also help them make the files more appealing, like encouraging them to have the children smiling in their referral picture, something that culturally isn't the norm in China.  Amy related that she told a group of 100 directors in a meeting that it was especially important for the boys to be smiling, since Americans were less willing to adopt boys.   She said the room simply erupted in disbelief.  They absolutely couldn't believe that girls would be preferred to boys! The directors are still more likely to submit files on boys than girls.

The poorest orphanages in China might get from the government only $25 per child per month, and formula could cost $20 per child per month.  Then there is salaries for nannies, power, clothes, other food, and there isn't much left over for medical care.  Those orphanages that haven't done international adoptions don't have loyal parents who are willing to help out;  adoptive parents want to help their child's orphanage.

The CCAA has two initiatives for medical treatment of special needs kids, but both have their limitations.  First is the Tomorrow Plan which provides surgeries for orphans.  They've funded 6,000 cleft surgeries alone since its inception in 2004.  But it takes too long to process applications, so it can't help children who are in immident need for surgeries or other medical treatment.  The plan also designates the hospitals the orphanage must use, and in some areas, the orphanages refuse because they feel the designated hospital is inadequate.  The second program is the Blue Sky Initiative.  China is building mega-orphanages that can house 600 children, and has on-site medical care and therapy.  But there are none in rural areas.  And, in places with such mega-orphanages, they are pulling children out of foster care to return them to the orphanage. Amy says they are watching closely  to see if there are worse outcomes for children no longer in foster care.

Even with these initiatives and with all LWB and other orphan care organizations can do, Amy said that adoption into a loving home does more for a child than anything else.  In China there is a significant stigma about being an orphan.  In many areas, orphans cannot go to school outside the orphanage, and in the areas where they can go, they go to the worst schools.  They won't be admitted into better schools because parents won't pay for their children to go to school and sit next to an orphan.  Companies wouldn't hire an orphan, either, since orphans are considered bad luck.  LWB paid for the schooling for the first orphan in Guangzhou to go to and graduate from college.  She earned a degree in accounting, and couldn't find a job because employers were afraid that she would bring bad luck to the financial bottom line.  She eventually found a job with a foreign company.  Another orphan who graduated teacher's college was hired by LWB because no one else would.

Amy also said that adoptive parents need to be prepared before adopting.  When they have seen disruptions of adoption in China -- where adoptive parents decide not to go through with a special needs adoption even before returning home -- it's usually because they have not been adequately prepared.  She received a call from a family who had switched from the NSN program to the special needs program to adopt a cleft child who had been an LWB child.  LWB had repaired her lip, though her palatte repair needed to be done when she was older. Amy knew the child was perfectly healthy, chubby, interactive -- everything you'd want from a institutionalized child. The dad said to her, "Do you know that when she drinks her bottle, milk comes out of her nose?"  Duh, yes, Amy knew that and the family would have known that if they had read ANYTHING about cleft-affected children. 

Finally, Amy talked about orphanage conditions that adoptive families need  to be aware of, so they can understand some of the issues their children may face. 

First, as to attachment, APs need to be aware that children may have had numerous changes in caretakers.  A child might spend time with birth parents, especially since there's been an increase in older-child abandonment in China. Then the child might spend time with the person who found her, who thought she might keep the baby before the neighbors or extended family said she wouldn't be allowed to.So the child is turned over to the police, who might keep the child for a few days before turning the child over to the orphanage.  The child might be in quarantine for a month at the orphanage who is trying to avoid the spread of HIV or Hep C. Then the child enters the young infant room, and then in a few months to the older infant room, and then the toddler room or foster care.  And the child in foster care may be returned to the orphanage for two weeks before the adoptive parents come.  With a special needs child who might have had hospitalizations and/or surgeries, the child would likely be alone at the hospital through all of this.  The orphanage can't spare the nanny who might have been the primary caregiver, so they might send a groundskeeper to take the child to the hospital and then leave her alone.  In Chinese medicine, there is a great reluctance to give children pain medication, so post-operative time will be painful and scary for a child alone.  All of this affects attachment.

Second, children may have feeding issues.  Overcrowded orphanages don't have the time to hand-feed children, so bottles are propped and often boiling hot.  Solid food is beyond the resources of the orphanage, and most orphanages can't afford meat. Newborns might wait 5-6 hours between feedings.  Infants might wait 12 hours.  There won't be between-meal snacks for toddlers or older children.  Children are often hungry all the time, never feeling full. From this, you can expect aversion to certain food textures, no ability to suck, food hoarding, gorging, no off-switch when eating because no feeling of being full.

Third, children might experience "irrational" fears that aren't so irrational after all.  They would often be alone in the dark at night, with only a skeleton orphanage staff on hand.  There might be bugs and rats in the dark.  Fear of the dark, of thunderstorms, of animals, of bugs, are not irrational fears for these children.  Adoptive parents can't know what their children experienced in the orphanage, so must be understanding of these fears.

Whew!  That's all I remember -- if you were there, and want to add or correct, please comment!  As I said, it was an amazing presentation.  I was happy to meet Amy Eldridge and thank her at the end of her presentation, and she was kind enough to say she loved my blog (brag, brag)!  If you ever have an opportunity to hear Amy speak, run, don't walk, to hear her!