Blue Bayou

At the Cannes Film Festival in July, a journalist from the Netherlands thanked the director and star Justin Chon for his movie, which centers on a Korean American adoptee. Chon isn’t actually adopted like his subject, Louisiana bayou-bred Anthony LeBlanc, whom he plays in the movie. The film premieres Sept 17th.

LeBlanc is a tattoo artist with a criminal record. Like many adoptees in the real world, LeBlanc was never naturalized and risks being sent to a country he barely knows, prompting questions around citizenship, belonging, family — and who gets to be considered American. 

Chon said his Korean heritage and the experiences of friends in his immediate community in part compelled him to examine the issues surrounding international adoption. The practice began during wartime “babylifts” after World War II and subsequent conflicts when the U.S. asserted its power in part by “rescuing” orphans from communism to demonstrate its goodwill.

In 1955, the practice was further formalized when an evangelical couple, Henry and Bertha Holt, successfully advocated for the right to adopt Korean “war orphans” through an act of Congress. The couple later launched Holt International Children’s Services, the first large-scale international adoption organization. Foreign born babies those adopted by US parents before 2000 weren’t automatically granted citizenship. 

Chon said that to bring the sort of tenderness and care the subject deserved, he first pored over research and news articles about similar cases. One of the most publicized was the deportation of Adam Crapser, who was adopted from South Korea. He endured abuse and later abandonment by two sets of adoptive parents, none of whom filed for his citizenship. Crapser, who had several arrests on his record, was deported in 2016. 

Variety wrote in a review that “Justin Chon’s Blunt-Force Melodrama Takes on the Injustices of America’s Immigration System.” The system is the system, and its rules and loopholes exist to punish more than they protect. The movie holds little back as it rails against the cruelties and hypocrisies of American immigration law to stirring effect. 

At the film’s outset, it’s clear LeBlanc has turned his life around from rough beginnings. Having spent his childhood passed from one adoptive and foster family to another, and having endured a stint in prison for motorcycle theft, he has finally found emotional stability in the home he shares with Kathy and Jessie, her daughter from a previous relationship, who regards him adoringly as her true dad. 

“Where are you really from?” It’s an invasive question that’s awfully familiar to people of color, one that intrudes its way into our everyday lives. Though it can have innocent intentions, it’s often hostile and only works to invalidate your livelihood. You don’t really belong here, is the true meaning that lurks under that query. As the closing titles inform us, tens of thousands of adoptees have been deported from the United States, thanks to an exploited loophole in a law that only protects children born after 1983. 

What Blue Bayou does wonderfully in quiet moments is illustrate that being Asian is not a one-size-fits-all identity but a vast tapestry of different cultures. I’ve not seen this movie yet, of course, but I think I would like to. New Orleans holds a special place in my heart. My maternal grandmother went there to try to convince Georgia Tann to give her baby girl back to her but it failed and my mom was taken to Nogales Arizona by her adoptive mother.

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.

Adoption Ad During the Super Bowl

Toyota featured the story of Jessica Long, 13 time Paralympic Gold Medalist. Born in Siberia and due to a rare condition, had to have her legs amputated, Jessica Long has inspired people with her story.

Toyota tells through a reenactment how her adoptive mother found out that she would need to have her legs amputated.

“Mrs. Long. We found a baby girl for your adoption,” says a woman on the phone with Long’s onscreen mother. “But there are some things you need to know. She’s in Siberia and she was born with a rare condition.”

“Her legs will need to be amputated,” the woman adds as the scenes play out floating in water while Long swims. “Her legs will need to be amputated. I know this is difficult to hear. Her life, it won’t be easy.”

The commercial then shifts to Long winning a race as her mother watches from the kitchen table.

“It might not be easy, but it’ll be amazing,” Long’s mom says. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

The commercial voiceover then adds, “We believe there is hope and strength in all of us.”

During an interview with People magazine back in 2016, the swimmer said – “Winning gold medals is incredible and obviously it’s what I want to do, but there’s something so special about having a little girl who has just lost her leg from cancer come up and tell me I’m her hero.”

Clearly, it is her physical disability that informs Jessica’s identity much more than the fact of her adoption.

“It took me years to realize that if I act ashamed and I try to hide them people kind of react the same way,” she added. “But if I wear my shorts or a cute summer dress and I show off my legs and I’m willing to talk about it, people are engaged and they want to know about my story.”

The renowned athlete was adopted by Americans from a Russian orphanage at 13 months old. At 18 months old, her legs were amputated below the knees. In total, she’s won 29 gold medals, 8 silver medals and 4 bronze ones.

As a blogger, the only question that I had was whether any pro-adoption group helped fund the commercial or suggested the idea to Toyota. Just a hint of cynicism but otherwise, I love the story of overcoming life’s realities with determination. However, there may be no connection with that kind of organization.

In 2013, Jessica Long traveled with her younger sister to meet her birth parents, who were teenagers when Long was born Tatiana Olegovna Kirillova. It was a three-day journey to her Russian adoption center and then an 18-hour train ride to what would have been her Siberian hometown. “Long Way Home” (the story of her journey) premiered on primetime during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.

Jessica says this about her adoption – “When I first see my Russian family, I want them to know that I’m not angry with them, that I’m not upset that they gave me up for adoption,” Long said in the film, before a tearful, hug-filled reunion. “I think that was really brave, and I don’t know what I would have done if I was in her situation, at 16 and having this disabled baby that they knew that they couldn’t take care of. I want to tell her that when I see her that, if anything, I have so much love for her, my mom, because she gave me life.”

And I’ve learned a bit more of Jessica’s adoption back story – her teenaged parents were persuaded to give her up, with doctors telling the mother that she was “still young” and would be able “to give birth to a normal child.” This is disgusting. This is why so many kids end up in ‘orphanages’, not because they don’t have parents, but because of lack of support, ablism and/or poverty. And even sadder is this, her mother said, “Of course I was against leaving her in the hospital but because of the circumstances we had to do so. In my heart I did want to take her home, and thought I would take her back later.” This belief that their child will return to them someday is a common occurrence in international adoptions.

There is of course, some questionable motivation when a car company wanting to sell more cars uses these kinds of themes. For those closest to the situations, it is absolutely a triggering commercial – hit notes on adoption, orphans, and a special needs person. At the same time, it is a perfect little story wrapped in a bow, delectable, and very palatable for the masses who gobble it up. General society and adoptive parents as well as the hopeful adoptive parents always love a “poor little orphan finds a home” story.

There is also a hashtag, #ToyotaWeDisApprove, trending on Twitter.

 

Levels of Necessity

A woman asks – Is there ever an instance where adoption is ok?

A good example comes from an adoptive parent – I don’t know. I thought no, but then a friend reached out yesterday about being contacted to adopt a friend’s child that was born 3 months early. The baby is still in the hospital (born in November). Both parents recently passed away, and the extended family is either unwilling or unable (because of incarceration) to adopt. The other siblings have been adopted by other families that are not related. If all this proves to be true, it’s the first time I’ve felt like maybe this is a time when a child does need a home and does need to be adopted. The baby is literally alone in NICU and is truly an orphan. With that being said, as an adoptive parent, I’ve come to realize that most adoptions don’t have those levels of necessity attached to them.

I also thought this was a good answer – There will never be a blanket statement of “adoption is okay in xyz case.” The answer is that adoption should be a last resort. Instead, support the parents in keeping their kids. But if you are adopting no matter what, look for kids (usually teens) who have already experienced a termination of parental rights.

Another writes – Living in a country (New Zealand) where adoption is almost obsolete – fallen 98% in the last 30 years and considered a relic of the past, I think we have proven it is not needed anymore – there are better options that do not erase a persons identity.

Here is another perspective from an adoptee related to an International adoption – I was adopted from China as a baby during their one child policy – families were often stuck in the position of giving their daughters to other family members, hiding them from authorities, or giving them up for fostering or adoption. I don’t think it was my American parent’s job to fix this through adoption, when there were other ways they could care for children domestically, but should this be considered a slight “exception”? I do empathize with my parents desire to help a dire situation, but I’m sure I’d feel different had I not had a loving, safe childhood in America. Thousands of Chinese girls were adopted by American families during this time, and I know others feel they have had opportunities here in America that they know they wouldn’t have had, had they stayed with their birth parents.

I also liked this answer – With the consent of the person being adopted, and then ONLY if the person being adopted is of an age to consent to the adoption. Adoption is never necessary. Therefore, it should only be done with consent.

I definitely agree with this perspective – Until they stop erasing the child’s ancestry and issuing fake birth records, no. Adoption, as it is practiced today, is never OK. You can provide permanency, love, and support to a child without adoption. Adoption is a lie.

These last two are backed up with this personal experience – If they are old enough to fully understand what is going on, so I would say 12 and up (just my opinion) and if there was no other family. In my case there was no one, but I didn’t get adopted until I was an adult (had 7 unsuccessful adoptions while in foster care) but adoption should only happen of the child is fully aware of everything and 100% without a doubt wants to be adopted.

And lastly this – I am an adoptive parent – I adopted my nephew when my sister was dying and his dad was not available. I would have done things differently and possibly left it as a kinship placement with permanent guardianship – had I known then, what I know now. Talking about his first parents is common in my home, we have his mom’s pictures hanging up, I have his original birth certificate and several other documents of importance. And he’s in therapy at the age of 6 from trauma directly from being adopted. It’s not sunshine and roses, even when it’s family.

Not Only A Happy Ending

I’m not personally in favor of either international nor transracial adoptions and I really have no right to an opinion on either but I do realize they are both fraught with complexities that no one should enter into unaware.

Adoptees are not a monolithic variety of human being. They differ as much as any individuals do.  Jillian Lauren is both an adult adoptee and an adoptive mother.  With her husband, Scott Shriner, the couple adopted an Ethiopian boy.

She says that she does not love adoption because it is one long Disney happy ending. She loves adoption for the way its struggles have defined her life and made her strong. This is a realistic perspective.

Here’s her adoptee story –

My story began with my unwed birthmother stranded alone in a snow-blanketed Chicago, feeling terrified and foolish. Across the country, my soon-to-be-mother had cried herself to sleep in her West Orange, New Jersey apartment every night for years, longing for a child. A deal was struck, a baby passed from one set of hands to another. I was adopted just barely before the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973. My mother says she did not once put me down during the entire trip home.

To be so unwanted and so wanted at the same time can carve a fault line in you.

She admits that at one time, her perspective on adoption was similar to what Laura Barcella once wrote – “Being forsaken by my biological mother has burdened me, for as long as I can remember, with a sense of inborn exile — a gaping hole where my identity should be.”

Indeed, adoption does not give any one who has been adopted a life that is always comfortable or easy.

Jillian Lauren goes on to describe what it has been like with her adopted son’s profound anxiety and fear. It is derived from having survived malnutrition, illness and unimaginable loss in his first year of life. For almost the entirety of his first three years with the couple – he ate little, slept less and had violent tantrums roughly 10 times a day.  Lauren admits that during this time, he often bit her until she bled.

Adoption is a narrative that begins with loss and definitely trauma.

She shares that through the trials with her son of the past few years, she has come to understand herself as selfish, vain, petulant and unequal to the task of mothering. To be certain, she has also found resiliency, determination and resourcefulness.

Each person grows through their challenges.  The good and the bad both have qualities that can serve our ongoing journeys.

 

What It Costs

A few days ago, the New York Times had an article titled What I Spent To Adopt My Child.  Sharing some statistics, facts and excerpts today.

Each adoption process shares the same ultimate purpose: to unite children who need families with those that want children. Yet, despite this common goal, the price tag of adoption in the United States varies widely.

The cost depends on what path you choose: If adopting through the public foster care system, your total out-of-pocket expenses can be next to nothing. If you hope to adopt a newborn, however, the cost can reach $45,000 or sometimes higher if you’re adopting from outside the country.

There are two main paths to adopt an infant in the United States: through a lawyer, often referred to as an “independent adoption,” or through an agency. An independent adoption can cost $15,000 to $40,000.  My youngest sister chose through a lawyer.  Some of her living and medical expenses were covered by the adoptive parents.  Prospective parents are responsible for finding a birth mother.  My sister received several packets from hopeful adoptive parents and shared them with me for my own impressions about her choice.  Her choice was always her own and she always knew she was going to surrender her baby from early on in her pregnancy.

My other sister’s surrender went through an agency.  When adopting through an agency, costs can vary by state, ranging from $20,000 to $45,000.  The cost covers organizational, legal and medical expenses. And all agencies operate differently.  It is up to the prospective parents to carefully review what is and is not covered in their rate prior to signing with any agency.

One same sex male couple in this article who adopted a 9 year boy out of Foster Care comes the closest to one of the better outcomes.  Older children in Foster Care need loving and stable homes more than most of the infant adoptions (which are primarily due to financially unsupported mothers).  This couple recently celebrated 14 years of marriage.  Seems stable enough to me.  One of the partners in this relationship is an adult adoptee.  When asked to total the out-of-pocket expenses this couple allocated toward their adoption, one said, “At the risk of sounding glib — gas money. Otherwise, nothing. No processing fees, or surprise $1,000 bills here and there, and that’s very typical of the foster care experience.”

You can search the NY Times for this article.  I’ll even give you the link – What I Spent To Adopt My Child.