Un-Adopted

The Stauffer Family minus Huxley

The video began like so many others. YouTubers Myka and James Stauffer, in the glow of camera-friendly lighting, staring into the lens. But this time, instead of energetically updating their roughly 1 million subscribers (over 700,000 on Myka’s YouTube channel and over 300,000 on the family’s vlog, The Stauffer Life) on their “kiddos” or Myka’s “mommy morning routine” or vegan-meal ideas, the couple had somber expressions.

“This is by far the hardest video James and I have ever publicly had to make,” said Myka. Wearing white shirts that matched the linens on the bed where they sat, the Stauffers revealed that they had placed Huxley, their then almost 5-year-old autistic son from China — whose adoption process and life they had documented for more than three years — with “his now new forever family.” Myka and James tearfully explained that the extent of Huxley’s needs had not been clear when they’d adopted him, that it was never supposed to happen this way, and that they loved him.

In the kindest light, Myka, now 33, and James, 35, were painted as well-meaning but naïve parents who had gotten in over their heads; in the harshest, they were fame-hungry narcissists who’d exploited a child for clicks and profit only to discard him when caring for him proved too difficult.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, anywhere from one percent to 5 percent of the more than 100,000 adoptions in the U.S. each year are legally terminated in what’s called a “dissolution”. The Stauffers’ decision to relinquish custody of Huxley could be called rare but it is not uncommon in adoptionland.

Myka said she’d long wanted to adopt; at one point, she and James talked about having six or seven children, with multiple adoptions, and were specifically interested in a child from Africa. James was more reluctant, she said, and after several conversations, she finally pleaded, “Can you please, please in your heart just consider adoption? Just really genuinely think about it, because it’s really important to me.” He ultimately agreed, and, later in 2016, the couple posted a video announcing their plans to adopt and their intent to take viewers along with them on their “journey.”

Sharing information about a child’s adoption before he or she is in the home is frowned upon by adoption experts.  Not only can publicizing an adoption jeopardize it, but it’s often seen as playing into the stereotype of white families swooping in to “save” foreign children.

International adoptions to the U.S. have dropped to a fraction of what they were a decade and a half ago, as many countries, including China, have revised their protocols. (For the 2019 fiscal year, the U.S. Department of State reported just 2,971 adoptions to the US from other countries, down from almost 23,000 adoptions in 2004.) China still accounts for more adoptions to the US than any other country, but now almost all adoptees from China to the US are toddler age or older, and many have existing health conditions. If the Stauffers adopted from China, they would almost certainly be choosing a child with special needs.

Myka and James asked viewers to invest not only time in Huxley’s adoption story but money.  In October 2017, Myka and James, along with their three biological children, traveled to China to pick up Huxley. The accompanying video, which they called Huxley’s “Gotcha Day” — a term popular on YouTube but criticized by the adoption community — racked up more than 5.5 million views. Myka and James dedicated it “to all the orphans around the world” and set the video to “You Set My World on Fire,” by Sweden’s Loving Caliber, an acoustic track with the lyrics “Just tell me you’ll stay or take me away / I want you for myself every single day.”

Since adopting Huxley, Myka and James’s online success had grown substantially. Total earnings are difficult to estimate, but the Stauffers earned from $4,100 to $66,700 from their three channels in April and May 2020, according to analytics site Social Blade, a number that does not include revenue from sponsorships. Myka had hired a manager to handle all the direct marketing from companies that wanted to work with her.

The Stauffers began to consider a way out that was never part of the “journey” they had expected to experience, much less share. When they finally broke their silence in late May, they said they had initially kept quiet because they didn’t want to jeopardize Huxley’s transition to his new family. In their video, Myka said that Huxley was thriving in his new home, that he was happy, and that “his new mommy has medical-professional training and is a very good fit.” But the optics of their situation were fraught. In the middle of a pandemic and a national reckoning over racial injustice, when the president and multiple other right-wing leaders repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as the “kung flu” or “Wuhan flu,” Myka and James were a privileged white couple who’d given away their Chinese son.

Other adoptive parents have described situations that seem to echo the Stauffers’ sense of hopelessness. In her memoir The Best of Us, author Joyce Maynard describes adopting two girls from Ethiopia and then, just over a year later, placing them with another family whose mother she met during the adoption process. “With an ignorance that staggers me now — ignorance, and some arrogance, no doubt — I had believed my love would be there like an eternal flame, and that this love of mine could fix whatever had been broken in my daughters’ lives.” When this proved not to be the case, that the road to attachment would be a long one, she describes it as “the most profound sense of despair I had ever known.”

One of the biggest misconceptions is that dissolutions happen because the child is bad. Nine times out of ten, it is NOT the child’s behavior. It seems like it’s the child’s behavior, but it’s the child’s behavior triggering something in the family.  The most common reason for dissolution is that the parents feel incompetent to manage the child’s behaviors.

These are just excerpts.  You can read the entire story here – Why Did These YouTubers Give Away Their Son?  I had encountered the story previously but I didn’t know it in depth.  It is a cautionary tale about international adoptions as well as chasing after lucrative clicks and sponsorships.  It is a double edged sword waiting to cut the next victim.

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