Sunday, September 30, 2012

Guest Post: Not My Problem

The following is a guest post that I am privileged to share.  The author is an adoptive parent from DRC who wishes to remain anonymous.  

Not My Problem

Across the internet, families share through blogs and forums their heart-wrenching adoption stories of things gone wrong. Easily enough with a quick Google search you will find numerous agencies that work with DRC who have had problems with current and former clients in regard to their work with in Congo. 

The resounding message both spoken and unspoken by many families in process and after completion is this..........."It's not my problem."

It's not my problem if your agency isn't allowing contact with known biological or foster parents - we didn't have that experience.

It's not my problem if your agency isn't allowing you to travel, and demanding you use an escort instead - we got to travel.

It's not my problem if you haven't received medical reports/photos/translated documents/or information regarding abandonment - we received one or all of those things from them.

It's not my problem if you are being over charged for your adoption - we aren't hindered by costs.

It's not my problem if you have worries that your child's abandonment story was fabricated - we didn't ask those questions.

It's not my problem if our agency we used has documentation of child trafficking in other countries - they are good Christians and God called us to adopt through them.

I have read these things from many an online forum and personal conversations from other families in process and home from DRC. What I want to say is - It is everyone's problem. For those in process to adopt from DRC - it IS your problem when unethical adoptions are happening in DRC. Your child is not home yet. DRC is not a party to the Hague Convention and whether or not your adoption is completed in a timely manner within DRC or through USCIS (our own government) depends on the delicate balance of individual processes. You may fall in love with a photo of a child halfway around the world - but until that child is home in your arms there are many variables. What agencies are or are not doing within DRC is critically important to the future of your family. Each case of unethical practice is dire to you, as you hope that a spark will not light the fire to the end of adoptions out of DRC.

For those families already home with children, It is your problem if agencies are allowed to work unethically within DRC. You have seen the children in need firsthand and know the situation for them is dire. You look at your own children and think....what if? That's someone's older son sitting in an orphanage watching infants come and go because of the Western demand for African infant adoption. That's someone's mother, who felt she was using the orphanage as a short term solution vs. letting her children starve due to extreme poverty. That's someone's mother, who was coerced into adoption through an agency telling her that the child would be better off with a foreign education. Adopting from Congo means that you have the lifelong responsibility to the children left behind. It means that once you accept a Congolese child into your family, you will forever have ties to DRC. It is in your child's blood, and it is now, a part of your own family's DNA.

It is everyone's problem If abandonment stories are fabricated in attempt to adopt children to 1st world countries. The fabrication of child background and history reports further muddles the intimate truth of children within a culture where family is important. It allows those who would want to profit off of international adoption to expedite an adoption with little recourse. It allows a system of adoption that caters to supply and demand to Western families and makes it difficult for legitimate orphans to be determined. 

If you see the slightest issue from other families who are using the same agency as you are - take notice. Listen. Encourage others to speak freely and without judgement. Above all else - examine the story from the APs point of view. There are reasons for every complaint. Listen without trying to justify the actions of the agency. Adoptive parents are very loyal to their agencies.  This makes it difficult for many to listen with open hearts to the problems that others experienced. They want to justify the actions of their agency in order to believe nothing of consequence occurred. Listening to "red flags" told by other families does nothing to further the plight of orphans. Shutting your ears to problems that are occurring with agencies in DRC will resolve nothing. 

It is imperative that as adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents................whether your child is home or coming soon, that we demand answers and transparency in DRC adoptions. Fighting and bickering between APs resolves nothing. Saying, "It's not my problem" or "That didn't happen to me" resolves nothing. 

Friends...........child trafficking, it is happening. Forged paperwork, it is happening. Profiting off of orphans, it is happening. Removing children from families who do not know they are being adopted, it is happening. Any and every issue that has been seen and heard in other countries is happening as well in DRC. If you wanted a smooth and easy adoption process - maybe you should rethink what you're doing adopting in the first place?

The backlash from those sharing horror stories of adoptions gone wrong, lies, deceit, and profiting off of orphans from other APs is bewildering. We must band together and demand a higher standard of best practices in Congolese adoptions. We must push our agencies within the USA to be fully transparent. We must push our agencies to hold in country staff accountable for their behaviors within Congo. We must encourage what's best for all children, not just those that will be adopted. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Notes from life, part II: Parenting missteps and noticing the color before you.

I realized I had some more thoughts left after my post last night.

First, read this:    It's such a great follow up to the original post and I really liked the answers to a lot of the questions.  (I know back to adoption for a moment).

And to more mundane observations--

I have made a couple big parenting blunders the last couple months.  Actually, I blunder all the time!  However a couple nights ago, I heard Natalie tell Isla (who was throwing a horrendous tantrum), "just go on your bed and be really quiet and mom will come in and give you a lot of special food, don't worry."  You might wonder what she was talking about.  Well, Natalie threw a horrible tantrum about a week ago (complete with tearing her room apart and screaming nasty things at me).  After she finally calmed down (I had sent her to her room without dinner in desperation) I started feeling bad.  And I decided to be like the mom in the Wild Things.  (You know, when Max came back from his adventure dinner was there and it was still warm?).  So, even though I had banished her to her room, I brought her a plate of special food and milk.  She felt very special and we had a good talk.  Come to find out that now, if anyone throws a tantrum I am expected to bring them a special dinner and milk afterwards.  Huh.  Somehow they missed my point I think!

My other mistake was that I started reading Natalie the Little House on the Prairie books.  Somehow I totally forgot how many scary forest parts there are in the Cabin in the Woods book.  I found myself reading the chapter about the black panther chasing the grandfather on his horse in the dark woods with the panther screaming as he ran.  And midway through the chapter it hit-- WHAT I was reading and to WHOM I was reading it to !  Big mistake.  Let's just say that I spent most of the rest of the next 10 minutes trying to create a very nice happy (believable) ending to that chapter about how panthers are just big cats and they like to yell but they are nice and the grandfather just wanted to get home fast.  As you can imagine that didn't work, and my 5 year old had by that time worked up a very realistic picture of just what would have happened had the grandfather been caught.  And as you also imagine, I spent many many nights after that with her waking up in the middle of the night scared of panthers (as we live near a forest) and me trying to convince her they are just problem!  Yeah.  Not a good move.

M&Ms are very motivating.  Especially to twins who could care less about going in the potty.  I broke down (again) and brought out the m&ms.  And guess who was going on the potty all day?  Yup, Mia.  The problem is that this happened before and when I take away the M&Ms she could care less about the potty.  M&Ms still might cost less in the long run than diapers though...

Isla is sick with croup and had this comment about it, "Mommy, why my mouth has a lion in it?"

We have all always talked about the color of our hair, skin and eyes.  Ellie and Mia have always called their skin color brown.  Well two weeks ago they noticed for the first time another little girl who had brown skin and Mia said, 'there's another Ellie'.  We talked about the fact the little girl wasn't Ellie but had brown skin like her.  Since then they notice every child or adult with brown skin and it makes them SO happy.    It's interesting to me, on a development note how all of a sudden they notice skin tones and how theirs matches or doesn't match.   We have been going to the same church for about 9 months.  It is about 95% African American/African.   This last Sunday, it totally hit them both that everyone they saw had brown skin.  The looks on their faces were priceless, made me want to cry and caused me to be so grateful that we chose this church.  Mia looked at me with wonder in her eyes and gigantic smilie and said, "all these people have brown skin like me".   Yes, baby, they do, beautiful brown skin like you.  

There are so many things I am thankful for today.  These little ones top the list today.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Notes from life: And how my family will make you feel better about yours.

The days pass so quickly; I can't believe the colors of fall surround me already.  I love living in the country again.  Everywhere I look there is beauty.  The leaves are turning and as our back yard is next to fields of sheep and horses which are at the base of the wooded hills of a state park, the brilliance and turn of the season astounds me daily.

Some notes of my days--

I often very keenly miss Africa.  I most of all miss Congo.  The daily life of living there. I miss the sounds of birds.  I miss the flowers.  I miss the glory of the rainy season and the struggle of the dry.  I miss the thunder storms that left me rattled and awed.   I miss walking in the streets, taking crazy cabs, talking in my broken mixed up french.  I miss driving to the orphanage and hugging and loving little ones who loved me back.  There is hurt in my heart, when I realize that they probably never understood why I stopped coming, when I used to come and visit so regularly.

I miss the people of Congo, people I love.

I miss Africa.  I miss Rwanda, and the tremendous difference one finds upon crossing the borders.  I miss visiting Kigali.  I always felt like I was visiting the U.S. when I was in Kigali.  That is how foreign it felt compared to my life in DRC.  I remember the looks people gave us when we told them where we lived.  The looks of incredulity, like no one really understood us.

I miss the people of Africa.

I miss Africa.  I miss our travels around the continent and the people we met.  I miss our fairly yearly trips to Kenya.  I remember my fear of Nairobi that eventually turned into a yearning to visit and a love of the city.

I miss the people of Africa.

I also miss things that are a bit unexpected.  I miss border crossings and the people who were all crossing into and out of DRC at the same time.  I miss the constant feeling of knowing how much the water I drank was a gift.  Because there was dry season and water was rarer and harder to find every year.   I miss the joy we all felt when the power came on full strength and we left the constant "mood lighting" to actually being able to see each other.  Now, I simply leave lights on and forget what it felt like to be grateful for any electricity I received, let alone full strength power.  I miss being a minority.  I miss being reminded of how so many people live around the world.  I miss the unease, the doubt, the anger about injustice.  Now, I fight complacency daily.

I miss my friends.  Oh, how I miss my friends.

There are other notes from my life I could share.

The kids are getting big, and so fast.  Natalie has been very entertaining lately.  She is 5 3/4 years.  She is tall and loves to climb trees.  She is also very intense and often angry that life is not perfect or the way she wants it all the time.  A more recent story, she fell off her bike and started yelling and screaming, then yelled at me, "Why did Adam and Eve have to eat that stupid apple anyway??!!".  Why, indeed?

Isla is 3 3/4.  She is still the princess.  No more so than in the middle of the night.  She wakes up nightly yelling, "come down here and put my covers back on."  She never tries to put them on herself.  She just lays there, frozen and cold, yelling for us to come and cover her back up.  She will not tire of yelling for us and will do it all night.

Mia and Isla

Ellie and Mia are almost 3 years old.  Wow that was fast.  Mia is just as sassy as ever and is only quiet when sleeping.  She can tell off most anyone and has no fear about it.  She continues to be able to get into anything and everything and is the one that most often is making us pull out our hair.  We hope she makes it in one piece to adulthood.  She is also very cute (which probably helps her get away with so much sass).  Ellie is strong and observant.  She notices details that we all overlook.  Her memory is amazing and she surprises me by what she will recall and tell me about.  She is very coordinated and has mastered most bikes/scooters put in her path.  I think her goal is to get to the tree climbing ability of Natalie.  They are still not potty trained.  Don't ask.

Ellie and Mia

As a final note, I will say that I realized today that I have become "that family".  You know the one, right?  The family that makes you feel better about yours?  Well, that's us.  Without fail, when I am out with all four kids (three of whom are basically 3 year old triplets, and the other is a 5 year old) I get told two things:

"Wow, you have your hands full!"


"And I thought my life was crazy!"

There you have it.  Maybe I should hire us out.  You know, I could come over and the kids could yell, I might yell, they will spill things, climb on things, probably break things, and then we will leave.  Or, even better, you could come to my house.  You could see all undone laundry, the clothes everywhere, the pots that are never clean in the sink, the boxes I still haven't unpacked, the general lack of cleanliness.  Or you could go to the park with us.  You could watch me try to stop one of the twins from running into the parking lot, while the other is eating weeks old food from the car floor, while the 3 year old is refusing to even get out of the car and won't stop repeating in a drone like voice "I want a huggy, I want a huggy, I want a huggy, I just peed all over myself", while the almost 6 year old is screaming at me to go over to the big monkey bars.

Then you will go home and and you will think, "wow, and I thought my life was crazy."  Yup, that's us, my family will make you feel better about yours.  

And you know what, that's okay with me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An orphanage in Kinshasa, and trying to stop abuse

This is an ongoing story of an orphanage in Kinshasa where abuse of children is happening.  It is also the story of the fight of a concerned woman trying her best to help others who are trying to bring justice and truth to this situation.  If you haven't read it yet, please take the time to do so.  The story was also published in the New York Times.

And what happens when she does take a very courageous stand.

The NYT post.

This is an orphanage that has done many referrals for adoptions for many agencies and organizations and still does so today.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Guest Post: Should we even be adopting children?

This story just came to me this morning and it is too important of a story not to share.  Please take some time this weekend and read it through.  

Should we even be adopting children?

It is a question that I often ask myself.  Should we even be adopting children from Africa or other international destinations?  Many people tell me about the millions of “orphans” in Africa and how we, as people who care deeply about justice and believe that we shouldn’t forget the most vulnerable, need to do something about these children.  However the definition that is used in these statistics is a child who has lost one parent.  Many of these children do not need to be adopted as they have parents or other family members who can raise them. 

My husband and I started down an adoption route in the DRC over 2 years ago now.   We decided to do an independent adoption so we connected with a good lawyer in Kinshasa, and once our paperwork was all sorted, we flew out to meet him and visit some orphanages to see for ourselves the situation and whether we wanted to adopt from there. 

So off to Kinshasa we went.  We spent time with the lawyer, and then visited a few orphanages.  We decided to adopt 2 children from the same home, a little girl 2.5 years old, the other 3.5 years old.  The 2.5 year old had no family, was abandoned in the hospital at birth and had been living in the home since she was born; the other girl had a maternal aunt who had just surfaced and Social Services wanted to investigate to determine her situation and whether she could be adopted.  As we didn’t want to adopt any child who had potential family members, we stepped back from the older child, and decided to adopt the younger girl.

6 months into the process our lawyer informed us that a staff member who worked for him had visited the orphanage and someone had taken him aside and told him that the 2.5 year old we were adopting had a mother who was alive.  She was ill and struggled to care for her, but came and visited her daughter every week at the home.  No one had mentioned her before.  She wasn’t on the birth certificate, her information wasn’t on any documentation – no mention of her anywhere.  So here was a loving mother who had placed her daughter in a home because she couldn’t look after her due to her illness, and yet visited her every week, showing her love and commitment.  And her baby was about to be adopted out from under her.  As soon as we heard this we stopped all proceedings.

We continued to be involved in the older girls’ case, with a man on the ground who ensured that her file was not forgotten in the stack of cases Social Services was investigating.  A few months later we heard that the file was completed and her aunt had agreed to take her into her family.  We were happy to hear this, knowing that us stepping away from that was a good thing.  This child would be reunited with her maternal family members.  Wonderful.  However a few months after this, when we checked up on her I was told she was being adopted to a couple in France.  I frantically tried to stop the adoption, but no one, not the agency rep in Kinshasa, not the orphanage director, no one would stop this adoption.

So why did this happen, why would two children whom the orphanage knew had family, why would they adopt out these two children?  Why?

The answer, I am afraid, is money.  Orphanages get money for children. Oh it can be masked in many ways, but families either provide a set “donation”, or pay $100 – 200 USD per month to cover the costs of the child they are adopting once the process has begun.  After an 8-month process, this can be quite lucrative for the orphanages.  If they adopt out 10 children a year, they could be looking at between $15,000 – 20,000.   In these two situations I am certain this was the reason these two children were being adopted. The aunt of the older girl had no ability to stop this from happening – she couldn’t provide any money to the orphanage, so it wasn’t valuable to the home to allow this child to return to her family. And the little girl with the mother?  The mother was not on any documentation and being ill and poor, would have no ability to advocate for her child.  I am certain this child is adopted now; it was only the honesty of our lawyer that the process was stopped for us. 

So, money.  And whether this money goes into the pocket of someone or whether it goes to feed or clothe the children in the home, it doesn’t matter.  Because what it does is encourage adoptions when some shouldn’t be happening.  Heck, I am all for the adoption of children who have no family or who cannot live with their family.  But how do we know this is actually the case? 

So should we be adopting children from countries such as the DRC, a country with very little regulatory processes, which makes the situation ripe for manipulation on all levels?  I would say, be very careful and believe no one.  People will say what they know you want to hear so that children get adopted and so they receive money.  It doesn’t matter if an agency has a “nice” person on the ground.  That person may be lovely, but still may be pocketing money for each child he or she adopts out.  So unless you can be certain of the background of the child you adopt, then I would say no.  Walk away.

Because it isn’t worth it.  It isn’t worth it for your own conscience, and it isn’t worth it for your adopted child and your future together as a family.  When your child is 18 years old and goes back to the DRC and finds out she has a birth mother who hadn’t wanted her adopted, or an aunt who had fought in the courts to get her and yet was still adopted out, or some other sordid story of manipulation, your response to your child of  “I didn’t know”, may not be enough to satisfy. 

It is true that children shouldn’t grow up in orphanages.  We have seen the photos and heard the stories of some of those terrible places.  But adoption when children have family to go back to isn’t a good option either.  Let’s keep children in the families they have been placed in biologically and only adopt children who have no other place to go. 

Our story?  We ended up adopting two little girls, a 4 year old and a 2 year old from a small orphanage in the DRC that we met with and checked the children’s family stories so that we could be sure they could never go and live with their birth families.  We maintain connection with the birth families and with the home, knowing that this is not only our girls’ story today but will be for the rest of their lives. 

Debora Randall lives with her husband and their two children in Rwanda. 

9/23/12  Addendum--Debora Randall has given me permission to share the name of the orphanage in this story.  It is Maison L'Espoire run by Madam Marie Vuvu.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Guest Post: Filling in the Blanks

I will be back to normal blogging this week.  I have some exciting news to share about Tumaini, some great update photos of the kids, and of course normal life to start writing about again.  In the meantime, I have another lovely guest post to share from a fellow adoptive DRC mom and friend who I respect and admire.  

When you adopt - there is a lot you don't know. Some information will be filled in as you go. Some information will happen once your child is home. Other things won't ever be known.

One thing that happens once you adopt a child is that you become their advocate. As a mom to littles, I pride myself on being a fierce advocate for their histories.

Let me explain..........

When we adopted Big Sis we were not allowed by our agency to travel. When we adopted Big Sis, we had a limited amount of information on her history. I was told that's what happens when you adopt internationally. That's what happens when you adopt from Africa. That's what happens when it comes to orphans. What I failed to adequately understand was that 
from the moment she came home I would be searching to fill in the blanks. 

I realized after my daughter was home that it was painful to have limited information on her past in DRC and if it was painful for me as her mother to have limited information - 
it would be even more painful for her to have limited information about herself.

Someday my daughter will ask who her birth mother was. She will ask about her birth father. She will ask if she has siblings in DRC or where she was born or if her parents are still alive. My daughter will ask lots of questions I don't even expect. She will ask me what it's like in Congo and what they eat and the clothes that they wear. She will ask me all sorts of things about Congo and her history and birth family and all these things are 
natural. Even though she was adopted as an infant she won't ever forget where she came from or how she joined our family and she shouldn't have to.

When we traveled to DRC to finish the adoption for our second adoption, we were able to ask questions about their histories and their adoptions. Details that we wouldn't have necessarily gotten had we been told we had to use an escort again. Details that had to be done personally by us. The information we got from traveling to DRC was 
priceless and necessary. Did we get every question answered? - No. Were all the blanks filled in? - No. But we were closer in understanding their past as well as their culture.

From traveling to DRC we can now tell our children what DRC is like. What the weather is like. What the people are like. What they wear. What they eat. How it smells. So many details that we could not tell them had we never gone.

We were not able on our trip to visit an orphanage - but I know that this is something we can do on a future trip. When we got our vaccinations to travel our doctor told us, "Most parents who travel to adopt internationally will return again." This is true - we will return to DRC. Probably more than once. I'm already making plans for a return trip.

The importance of obtaining 
all paperwork on your child as well as traveling will also help fill in the blanks. Getting things translated will help. Talking to the key players in your childs' adoption will help. If you are able - speaking to the foster parents or orphanage directors will help. Obtaining copies of abandonment paperwork in country from social services or the US Embassy will help. Obtaining copies of medical reports will help.

Something that is done currently in other African nations where adoptions occur are investigations. Hiring a trusted and experienced adoption investigator will help fill in those blanks. Having a person research and find information on birth family as well as obtain copies of paperwork on your child will help fill in large blanks in your childs' history. Someday my own children will want to know if their birth families are alive and know about them. As their mother and their 
advocate, I need to have all the answers I can.

With adoption there will be blanks in your child's history and story, but as a parent it is essential to help your child fill in those blanks until your child is able to take over where you left off. Filling in information about your childs' adoption and past does not mean they do not love you as their adoptive parent - it shows that you love them enough to help them figure out who they are.

b, adoptive mom of three children from DRC