Child Collectors

Jeane and Paul Briggs have 34 children – 29 of whom were adopted from other countries including Mexico, Ghana and Ukraine. 

Today, I saw the term “child collectors”. This is applies to people who adopt a lot of kids. It is not all that uncommon to see 10 adopted children in one family and sometimes it is because they are siblings. We have collected antique tractors and have met collectors who just couldn’t stop collecting. I wanted an image for that term and went looking in google images for “Large Families of Adopted Children” and found this one.

Their story was hosted by the BBC – “The family with 34 children – and counting.” There is a part of me that recoils. It seems obscene. But now that I have gotten here, I’ll look into it some more. It seems more like a group home or orphanage than a family situation to my own heart. The couple has 5 biological children in addition to the 29 they have adopted.

The Briggs family lives in West Virginia. Their odyssey began with a badly beaten, blind, 2 year old child in a Mexican orphanage. That child is now 31 years old and has thrived.  He has a girlfriend and  is a naturally talented musician who can play the piano and guitar and composes his own music. Okay so far.

In December 2014, when this story was written, the couple was anticipating the arrival of two more children that they were in the process of adopting, baby boys from Ghana. The three month old babies were abandoned in the bush.

There is only one word that comes to mind because “church” is mentioned in relation to Jeane and what motivated her to adopt the first one – saviorism. There is a missionary agenda here to convert more souls in the service of the church’s reason for existing.

Over the past 29 years, as more children have arrived, the Briggs’s house has been adapted for their expanding family. It now has nine bedrooms – two of which resemble dormitories – and at over 5,000 square feet, the building is more than twice its original size. The family’s grocery bill averages $1,000/week (back in 2014) but thanks Paul’s well-paid job and Jeane’s careful budgeting, they have been able to meet their expenses.

And no surprise, Jeane has been home-schooling the children for nearly 30 years. This is not uncommon among Evangelical Christians. My sons have been educated at home but we don’t do it for religious reasons. Every homeschooling family we’ve met regionally does it for religious reasons. Thanks to the strength of the Christian persuasion in Missouri politics, we are not troubled about the choice we made for our own sons. We have our own reasons. We are reasonably well educated and informed people who work at home, older parents, and are happy to have our children with us 24/7. This was a decided advantage for my family during the pandemic lockdowns.

Some of the Briggs children still have first families that they are encouraged to keep in contact with. Sometimes of the children speak to relatives on the phone and Jeane will send pictures to let those back home know the children are doing well. She says, “They may have our last name but if there is a relative, then we are glad that child has two families who love them. My husband and I don’t need to be the first Mom and Dad to them.”

From a young age, Jeane was concerned with the bigger issues affecting society and was particularly interested in orphans and adoption. Even then, she knew she wanted a large family – although she never expected it would be this big. She said, “Even as a child, I knew I would adopt and have a large family. Faith has been the biggest motivation… every child should have a loving family.” I rest my case about how religion drives adoption. Certainly, many of the Briggs children came from difficult backgrounds and I do agree that EVERY child should have a loving family.

Jeane and Paul Briggs

The Ideal Perspective ?

The most common experience from those I have witnessed is a lifetime of regret on the part of the birth mother. That is why my all things adoption group encourages expectant mothers to at least try and parent their newborn for some significant period of time before giving their precious baby up for adoption.

On the other side are voices trying to convince expectant mothers that the BEST thing they can do for their baby is let them go. And so today, I saw this description of that mindset . . .

This is from a “Bravelove testimony”. Although this perspective is from an adoptee testimony, it could have just as easily come from adoptive parent testimonies, birth mother testimonies or adoption professional testimonies. It is often seen as the desired perspective that adoptees should hold of their adoptions. It is often praised as a perspective showing love and respect for birthmothers, yet to me, it is reducing women who are birthmothers to the decision they made and dismissing them as complex people who were dealing with complex situations.

“A birth mother has three options. She can choose to have an abortion, and I wouldn’t be here right now. She can give birth, but choose to say “no this is my child and I don’t care what kind of life she has, she is mine and I’m not going to let her go,” and be totally selfish, but my birth mom chose the most selfless option. And probably the hardest; to carry me for nine months, give birth to me through all that pain and suffering and then look me in the eyes” and say “I love you so much I can’t keep you.”

Some version of the above, maybe not so direct but with similar implications, is often seen as the ideal attitude for an adoptee to have in order to “come to terms” with their adoptions.

I have reversed my own thinking about adoption (both of my parents were adoptees and both of my sisters gave up babies to adoption). I’ve done my best to understand the history of adoption and my grandmothers who surrendered their babies in the 1930s as well as how the thinking about adoption has changed over time, fewer births due to Roe v Wade, more open instead of closed adoptions, the advent of inexpensive DNA testing and matching sites opening up a whole new wave of reunions between adoptees and their birth parents. It appears to me no matter how good of a job adoptive parents did in raising a child, no matter what kind of wealth supported amenities they were able to offer (private school, horseback riding or ballet lessons, etc) adoptees and their birth parents seem to yearn for one thing throughout their lifetimes – to be reunited. This says something powerful to me about the whole push to separate women from their babies. When those adopting are evangelical Christians (whether the good people adopting believing they are doing some kind of saving grace for any unwanted child are motivated by that or not) the leadership of that religious persuasion is seeing adoption as taking the children of heathens and converting them to the faith.

I never did think that the choice a woman makes – to surrender her child or not – was selfish or selfless. All birth mothers are simply human beings who were doing the best they could under whatever circumstances they were dealing with. Each one has my own sympathetic compassion for the effects of that decision on the remainder of their lifetimes.

Abortion Prevents Adoptions

I once had an abortion. The timing of my pregnancy was all wrong (and significant drug use was taking place), the father to be all wrong (not interested), the progression of the pregnancy was all wrong (see drug use above) as breakthrough bleeding was occurring. My sister-in-law gave birth to a son with severe birth defects. While I cannot know if her desperate attempts to hide her high school, out of wedlock, pregnancy played a role, it could have. I know when my first husband discovered I was pregnant at a time when he had an active case of hepatitis (most likely also drug related) he feared our child would be compromised. I stuck with that pregnancy and she is as close to perfect as any of us are (we do all have our individual health related challenges in life).

So, I was grateful for the ability to have a safe and clean, medically provided, mental health counseling included before the procedure, abortion at Reproductive Services in El Paso Texas in the mid-1970s. Honestly, it has haunted me. Not because I think it was the wrong decision but because abortion is such a contentious issue. For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone I had had one.

I am old enough now that whether abortion was outlawed or not, it would not affect me personally. I am wise enough to think, instead of trying to control women’s bodies, men could choose to control their own. For one by not promiscuously pursuing sex. Young men could be given vasectomies that are reversible when they become mature enough to be responsible as fathers. That’s a winning option in my perspective.

I loved the passion in Paxton Smith’s speech because I see my own self when I was that age. I have always been an outspoken person. I loved to debate the boys in my Algebra class in high school (I also had a coach for Geometry class who made it more understandable). I gave impassioned speeches at pep rallies on occasion. I am still outspoken as anyone who follows my Facebook page surely knows. Paxton has said the most meaningful reactions to her speech have come from concerned fathers who fear for their own daughters’ futures.

Paxton Smith had pre-written a speech on how TV and media have shaped her worldview, which had been approved by school administrators. But when it came time to address the graduating class of Lake Highlands high, she switched course. Her nervous emotions are plain to see before they reach that level of impassioned anger. I recognize how that feels.

Texas’s new “heartbeat” measure ranks among the most extreme abortion bans in the US, blocking the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy – before many women and girls even know they’re pregnant. The bill, due to come into force in September, doesn’t include exceptions for rape or incest and allows private citizens to enforce its provisions through what could be a torrent of expensive and time-consuming lawsuits.

Abortion or Pro-Life issues are the hot button for evangelical Christians. It is not lost on me, what the Salvation Army in El Paso Texas told me when I was researching my dad’s adoption through them – they had to close down their homes for unwed mothers (a method of channeling infants to prospective adoptive parents) after Roe v Wade passed because there were simply not enough clients to keep the enterprise going. Another factor is the societal acceptance of single mothers – I know more than one who is doing a fantastic job raising their children – both genders included in this number. I don’t know if the Salvation Army took “donations” from prospective adoptive parents in exchange for infants but it would not surprise me if they did. Adoption is a lucrative business at any level of charitable intent.

Evangelical Christians are very interested in taking heathen babies and converting them to the faith. True, it may simply be emotional, adorable baby feelings that they think causes them to be against abortion and Pro-Life. However, just like Mitch McConnell’s nefarious agenda for our government’s institutions, the powers that be in the Christian hierarchy seek to increase the number of the faithful in part through adoption.

Prophet Of Adoption

If it were not for Time magazine, I would not know this man exists. He is featured in their Feb 1 – Feb 8 2021 issue, in the TheBrief TIME with . . . 2 page section. In one of the sub-notes, I saw “has written extensively on adoption.” Of course I wanted to know Moore (pun intended and actually my maternal grandfather was a Moore).

Though I want to focus on his promotion of adoption to evangelical Christians as God’s plan, I’d like to first be thankful to him (as a second impeachment trial begins today for Donald Trump), for writing about the Capitol breach thusly – “If you can defend this, you can defend anything.” The intruders displayed JESUS SAVES signs next to those calling for the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence and, once in the building, thanked God for the opportunity to get rid of the communists, the globalists and the traitors within the U S government and to this Moore said “If you can wave this away with ‘Well, what about . . . then where, at long last, is your limit?”

I’ve long known there is an unusually strong link joining Christians and adoption and Moore, who is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, carries a lot of influence. He is the father of 5 adopted sons (two from Russia) and has written many books encouraging Christians to adopt and giving them biblical justification for doing so. Some of his book titles include – Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, The Gospel & Adoption and Onward: Engaging the Culture. There could be more books than I have listed because Moore is on a mission to promote adoption.

I found a review of Adopted for Life with the title Adoption Isn’t Charity, It’s War!. I will admit, I find that perspective a bit disturbing. The writer is a hopeful adoptive parent with a couple of biological children. She admits that she has had a long standing desire to adopt. So this book is right up her heart’s alley as a Christian.

She writes – Moore addresses aptly issues of the Gospel, spirituality, how churches should build an adoption culture, details of addressing financial concerns, the sovereignty of God, racism, as well as the emotional results of adoption (& that’s just the beginning with this book).

Moore’s conviction that “adoption is not charity, it’s war!” drew my heart to fight for what is good & right & pure. God has called all believers to contribute to the ministry of adoption whether through prayer & finances or through opening homes, or encouragement.

Moore asks the question, “What if our churches were known as those who adopt babies & children & teenagers?” What would happen to our Christian witness if that was the case?

Moore addresses many issues within our culture including IVF. I know many children created by God through IVF & love them dearly. I think his approach in this particular area lacked some grace (as the grace side for people who have already gone through with IVF was nonexistent). I sympathize with those experiencing infertility greatly & think that all subjects, especially those of such magnitude should be addressed lovingly & gently. It is no small thing that brings people to the point of considering or going through IVF & we ought to be very careful how & in what context we speak to such issues. Gospel themes run throughout this book so the grace is there – I think you might just have to look closely for it in this particular area.

Well, it was infertility that led Moore to adopt and so, it doesn’t surprise me that since it failed and included miscarriages for his wife, he is less than passionate about that idea. One of the comments on this woman’s blog is “Adoption is an all out war for the life of a child.” The blog writer affirms, “Amen! and spiritual war because Satan is against such a beautiful truth lived out as happens in adoption! “

And really, Christians especially try to tie their support of Pro-Life (anti-abortion) and pro-adoption perspectives with preventing abortions. Honestly, the two aspects of reproduction and parenting do not belong together but it would be impossible to prevent Christians from doing this.

Which leads me back to Moore.

In an interview with Christianity Today, Moore says – My wife and I went through several years of infertility and miscarriages and found ourselves going through the process of adoption and we felt very much alone. So I started to write about the issue of adoption really to address people who are in the same situation that we were, which is not understanding and seeing the meaning of that rich metaphor of adoption in Scripture, not understanding how adoption makes a real family.

When asked – With gay marriage legislation moving ahead and not as many victories as they would like on abortion, is this a cause where evangelicals could see more success?

Moore answers, “I don’t really see success in terms of legislative or cultural victory. I see it more in calling evangelical Christians back to a commitment that we’ve always had to shelter the vulnerable.”

And since I don’t want to subscribe to Christianity Today, that is all of the article I was allowed to see as a preview. I can appreciate Moore as a Never Trumper. He acknowledges that Trump divided families and churches. For his courage in speaking out, he and his family have been threatened. Even so, he is a solid social conservative, opposed to same-sex marriage, abortion and premarital sex.

What may be perhaps his most clear eyed statement comes at the end of the Time magazine piece – “There is an entire generation of people who are growing cynical that religion is just a means to some other end.” I would include promoting adoption as God’s plan as one of those means to justify something that seems to be transitioning into a belief that society should seek to preserve the natural family through financial and emotional supports, rather than simply taking children from their natural parents and placing them into Christian homes where they can be indoctrinated into the faith.

Adoptees Know These

The first comment I saw on this image went something like this – Interesting how it’s “aren’t your adoptive parents enough?” AND “don’t you want to meet your REAL family?”

A more interesting one was this story – last year one of my friends’ mothers introduced me to his father and his stepfather by saying this is my husband, and this is my son’s “real” father.. I said “does he have a fake father?” Her face was priceless and she hemmed and hawed trying to clean it up.

In these modern times when effort is made to reform the whole perspective around adoption it can be hard to know what the right way to say something is. Early on, I was advised not to use “birth mother” but simply mother or if an identifier was necessary – natural or original. A mother is a mother and all of them give birth. Someone who doesn’t give birth is not necessarily a “mother” though they may be understood as such, they are more accurately a parent.

Unpacking a few more . . . the I would rather have been aborted comes up more often among adult adoptees than the general public might believe. It is hurtful to be asked, “Why would you ever want to meet someone who gave you up?” Maybe simply to answer the question – why? I know that is the question I had regarding my own parents original parents (both of my parents were adopted). Even though I can’t ask my grandparents direction because they have all died, I have learned enough to form some realistic theories about the reasons.

There are a LOT of adoptees who don’t feel “lucky” to have been adopted. When there is extreme mental damage in a parent, maybe then. Most I have encountered would not refer to themselves as “lucky”.

It is true that it isn’t possible to change the past and a complication for my own self is that if my parents were not adopted, I would not exist. I do feel lucky that my teenage mother was not sent off to have and give me up. I credit my dad’s adoptive mother for keeping me in the family. If I had been given up, I would still exist and my original parents would still have been the same people but I would have been raised by other parents and my two younger siblings may not have ever been born because our parents may not have married after such a rupture in the family unit.

Everything that happens – matters. An adoptee can feel like they had a good life (as my own mother did) and still want to know about their origins (as my own mother did). My dad seems to have been content with who his parents were and how they treated him (though the first adoptive father turned out to be an alcoholic and was kicked out of the home by my dad’s adoptive mother – she did remarry and my dad was adopted a second time when he was already 8 years old). My dad never seemed to want to know anything about his origins. I have wondered if he was afraid of what he would find out. He told my mom regarding her own desires, “you might open up a can of worms.” That is telling in my own heart.

Many adoptive parents actually do adopt to SAVE some kid from some fate worse than death which they imagine would have been the outcome otherwise. This is called saviorism and is very common among evangelical Christians.

You can interpret the rest however your heart whispers to you.

The Story of Haitian Adoptions

God’s Littlest Angels, an orphanage in Pétionville, Haiti

Since the subject has come up, I thought I would look into this.  The January 12 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti’s capitol set off an international adoption bonanza in which some safeguards meant to protect children were ignored.

The current Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett adopted John Peter, now age 13, was adopted by her in 2010 when he was 3 years old, after the devastating earthquake in Haiti.  Ibram X. Kendi tweeted, “Some White colonizers ‘adopted’ Black children. They ‘civilized’ these ‘savage’ children in the ‘superior’ ways of White people, while using them as props in their lifelong pictures of denial, while cutting the biological parents of these children out of the picture of humanity. And whether this is Barrett or not is not the point. It is a belief too many White people have: if they have or adopt a child of color, then they can’t be racist.”

John Lee Brougher from the NextGen America PAC tweeted, “As an adoptee, I need to know more about the circumstances of how Amy Coney Barrett came to adopt her children, and the treatment of them since. Transracial adoption is fraught with trauma and potential for harm.”  And I really hoped that Trump would have picked the judge from Florida that was on the short list for diversity reasons but I knew he didn’t care one whit about diversity.  He does care about the Evangelicals (many of whom promote international adoptions) and their desire for ultra-conservative judges.  From that perspective, of course Coney Barrett was a given and that has proven out.  A group of Evangelicals were reported in the Oval office the morning before the official announcement.

The Obama administration responded to BOTH the crisis and to the pleas of prospective adoptive parents and the lawmakers assisting them, by lifting visa requirements for children in the process of being adopted by Americans.

Although initially planned as a short-term, small-scale evacuation, the rescue effort quickly evolved into a baby lift unlike anything since the Vietnam War. It went on for months; fell briefly under the cloud of scandal involving 10 Baptist missionaries who improperly took custody of 33 children; ignited tensions between the United States and child protection organizations; and swept up about 1,150 Haitian children, more than were adopted by American families in the previous three years, according to interviews with government officials, adoption agencies and child advocacy groups.

Under humanitarian parole, adoptions were expedited regardless of whether children were in peril, and without the screening required to make sure they had not been improperly separated from their relatives or placed in homes that could not adequately care for them.

Some Haitian orphanages were nearly emptied, even though they had not been affected by the quake or licensed to handle adoptions. Children were released without legal documents showing they were orphans and without regard for evidence suggesting fraud. In at least one case, two siblings were evacuated even though American authorities had determined through DNA tests that the man who had given them to an orphanage was not a relative.

I’m sure there will be more about these circumstances in the coming days.  To inform yourself about the matter, you can read about the free for all Haitian adoptions after the 2010 earthquake in the New York Times – “After Haiti Quake, the Chaos of U.S. Adoptions“.

Adopting To Create Converts

I have 3 new books related in one way or another to adoption and was holding off the mention of any of them but I have long suspected that evangelicals are adopting to create converts.  Similar to my blog yesterday related to overpopulation, this is another way that a child is objectified to accomplish a mission that is not actually related to the child’s well-being.

So, I haven’t read this book yet but I will and after I read it, I may have more to say from my own perspective.  There is so much wrong with this.  Transracial adoptions are by far even more damaging and complex than same race adoptions and I recently wrote about one of those as well.

“Evangelicals felt that they had kind of unfairly lost a claim to the good works side of Christianity, the social gospel, the helping the poor,” the author tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies in an interview, “and so they wanted a way to get back into doing something for poor people’s rights, and adoption and orphan care came about as something that, I think, they could really invest themselves into without challenging or changing their stances on the other social issues that they care about.”

Joyce says that the connection between abortion and adoption is also key in that many Christians see adoption as a ready answer to the longstanding abortion debate.  Conservative evangelicals have helped orchestrate a boom-and-bust adoption market in countries where people are poor, regulations are weak, and families are vulnerable to these agencies that are sending representatives abroad to recruit “orphans.” It is not uncommon, says Joyce, for these orphans to come from caring families who have a different understanding of adoption than Americans do: They agree to send their children away, thinking it’s temporary – for a better education and opportunities – and that the child will eventually return.

These evangelical Christian couples believe that God has destined this child to be in their family from the beginning of time.  There is absolutely a missionary or evangelizing angle. A lot of the leaders in this movement, who have written some serious books talking about the adoption of children, describe this as the way that Christians can best mirror the experience of their own salvation – that Christians were adopted by God – and so Christians must reflect that experience by then going and adopting children.