This post is about international adoption where there is a known family member.
We have what might be called an "open" international adoption. As anyone who reads this blog knows, the orphanage that my girls were adopted from is only for infants after their mothers have died in birth. Family members of the newborn bring the infant to the orphanage. Given the above, you know enough about my girls to know that we know some of their family. We were fortunate to be living in the country while we were adopting our girls. We not only met their family, we met them many times. To say I was completely humbled by the experience of knowing their family would be a huge understatement.
I have had many conversations about open international adoption, and continue to be surprised by the overall fear or anxiety regarding open adoptions (internationally). Here are the biggest concerns (I will use the term birth family for the rest of the discussion)--
The biggest concern I have heard is related to the future relationship between a richer adoptive family and the poorer birth family.
The birth family will ask us for money or things.
The birth family will ask our child/ren for money or things in the years to come.
My child/ren will become a "dollar sign" or a "way to get to the states" to their birth family.
My child/ren will get hurt by their relationship (or lack thereof) with their birth family.
It will be awkward and uncomfortable.
It will be hard to explain why there were adopted.
It is messier, motives are harder to figure out.
What if they change their mind at the last minute?
What other reasons would you like to add?
I think one reason people are drawn to international adoption is because there often isn't a birth family involved (publicly) anymore. The baby or child has been abandoned on the street or in a neighborhood, or at an orphanage. The abandonment becomes testimony to the fact that the birth family couldn't take care of them (or perhaps a perception that the birth family didn't want them). It is easier. (I do want to say that in some countries it is illegal to abandon your child, so it is only done anonymously.) There is an orphan that needs a family. There are families that would love to welcome that child into their home as a part of their family, forever.
I had a conversation last year that has stuck with me. We were talking about international adoption in situations where the mother is alive and decides to sign relinquishment papers to give the child up for adoption (for whatever reason). The person I was talking with said it's not that different than in the U.S., when women do the same (for whatever reason). A woman in the U.S. decides to give her child to another person to raise (for whatever reason), through adoption. Very similar.
And also not very similar.
In the U.S., in private domestic adoptions, a woman has a list of adoptive families from which to choose. She will have photos, videos, essays, and on and on. She has time to change her mind. She has choices.
In the international setting, a woman (or family member) signs relinquishment papers and doesn't choose who she gives her child to at all.
Why not? Why doesn't the (international) birth family have the right to choose who gets to raise their child? (In the U.S. you lose the right to chose when you do harm to your child, like in the case of abuse).
Is it because the birth families are categorically abusive or dangerously abusing drugs? No, I don't think so. (Of course, there are some birth families that are abusive, and lose this right internationally as well.)
Is it because of neglect? Now this is very tricky and perhaps at the core of the issue. Here is a definition of neglect from the Child Welfare website.
" Neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child's basic needs. Neglect may be:
- Physical (e.g., failure to provide necessary food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision)
- Medical (e.g., failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment)3
- Educational (e.g., failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs)
- Emotional (e.g., inattention to a child's emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs)
These situations do not always mean a child is neglected. Sometimes cultural values, the standards of care in the community, and poverty may be contributing factors, indicating the family is in need of information or assistance. "
Our definition of neglect could easily be applied to most poor children/families in a country like DRC. Not the emotional aspect, but the physical, medical, and educational aspects. How can we even begin to apply the same standard in a developing country?
Are we saying, "because you "neglected" your child you don't have the right to choose"? Pretty awful sounding, eh? Or are we saying that because we are rich and have access to all of the above are we therefore in a superior position to choose what is right for that child.
This is what it comes to--we have the right to choose. If you are in extreme poverty, the right to choose (on most levels) is taken away from you. And probably this is at the root of the practical implications of the disparity of income b/w a family in the west and a family in DRC that has "abandoned" their child.
What does this do? Lack of choice robs a person of dignity. It takes away the privilege of being a parent, the right to make the best decision you can for your child. To choose who will raise your child to the best of your ability. And in the long run, it probably contributes to a lack of a desire to stay in touch with the child's new family. If you have no choice, you feel powerless.
What happens if we start advocating for open adoptions internationally? What if we let the known birth families choose who they want to raise their children?
Why do we take away the rights of the adult in the poor country, but keep it in the rich country (and I do realize that when it comes to domestic adoption, birth mothers are given less rights than we would assume)? What if, before a birth family signs a consent they are given a letter written by the adoptive family and a picture of that family? What if they are given the wonderful privilege of choosing a piece of their future child's life? What if they are given the permission to say no? To choose whether or not they want that child to be raised by that family? What if they want to have a say in the kind of family their child gets raised in? (I am specifically talking about children that have already been abandoned for adoption, not about children that have been abandoned that have families that do not want their children to be adopted.) And what if they want to stay in touch? In direct contact?
Maybe I am over simplifying this, I don't know. Last year, I asked about the idea of letting a birth family see a photo of an adoptive family before the family signed away consent. I was told absolutely that that wasn't a good idea. A birth family should sign consent before knowing anything about the adoptive family.
You know what gets me? Most international adoptions would not be happening (in DRC anyway, and I'm sure for other "poor" countries) if we took the effects of poverty out of the picture. So, we take a desperate poor situation (where a family member abandons a child), and add even greater tragedy to it. Take away their choice in that child's future, any role in that child's life, take away their dignity.
What I do know, is that every person deserves to have connection to their family. To their genetic roots. If they want it. I believe that every person has the right to their genetic heritage, to their birth family.
Read adult adoptee literature, hear the heart cries that will pierce your soul. Cries to connect. Cries to be heard. Cries to belong. To have rights to their pasts, to their heritage, to themselves, to their first families. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, all of it.
Economic disparities and cultural misunderstandings are, I believe, at the heart of the issues as to why we are uncomfortable with open international adoption. There is much to fear and much to control. There is much to lose and much to gain. And ultimately, I believe it is not our choice to make. It is our children's choice (because ultimately, in all of this, they are the ones with NO choices).
And I think that my little girls will be glad I (and they) know their family, that I will do everything I can to keep that connection.
Yes, it will be probably be awkward at times. Yes, I or they will be probably be asked for something at times. Yes, it will probably be hard and hurtful at times. And yes, it will be absolutely worth it because it is about so much more. And these girls are not just mine, they are theirs too. Ultimately, it's not a choice that is mine to make.
(I am speaking from my experience with international adoption in DRC.)