Ending Intercountry Adoption

The more I’ve learned about this, including from now adult adoptees brought to the US from another country, the more it has troubled me. Today, I came across a document about – The Legal Mandate for Ending the Modern Era of Intercountry Adoption by David M Smolin.

After describing all the high level discussions and reports – from the United Nations to The Hague, which included defining the sale of child as human trafficking. He say that these international instruments have been an important success, changing fundamentally and positively the way these subjects are understood. Unfortunately, the project of bringing intercountry adoption practice into conformity with these standards has largely been a failure. Also that applying these developing standards to the approximately 70 year history of modern intercountry adoption nets one overall conclusion: the system as a whole has failed to implement its own principles and standards.

Even within the context of most of the more positive efforts are extensive histories of systemic abuses, usually with little or no governmental provision of remedies or assistance to the persons and families deeply hurt by those abuses. Far too little, far too late. He notes that if systemic intercountry adoption is to continue, there would need to be a large-scale revision as to the implementation of norms and the provision of remedies, when norm violations occur. Trying to do intercountry adoption the same way will end up with the same un-remedied harms to children and families that we have seen over the last 70 years.

The author states his “conclusion does not mean that every international adoption has been illegal in the modern era of intercountry adoption. Some individual adoptions most likely have met international standards. Further, some nations during certain periods of time may have had practices in conformity with, or close to conformity with, international standards. However, these exceptional circumstances cannot justify the maintenance of a system of intercountry adoption which pervasively and systematically violates international standards.”

I am in favor of family preservation and decidedly not in favor of strangers taking children out of their culture and away from their native language – ever. His entire document is 23 pages long. You can read it at the link above.

The Stories We Tell

I do beg to differ with Mr Twain. When you don’t know, you make up stories to fill in the gaps. Before I knew the truth of my adoptee parent’s origins – I thought both of my parents must be mixed race – my mom was black and white and my dad was Mexican and white. Neither one of those turns out to be true.

My mom wouldn’t explain how she could have been born in Virginia but adopted at 6 months old in Memphis. She did know that Georgia Tann was in the baby stealing and selling market. My mom died still not knowing the truth because Tennessee couldn’t provide whether her dad was alive when she wanted her file (though he had already been dead 30 years by that time).

My mom’s story went this way. She was born to illiterate parents in Virginia. A nurse at the hospital was in cahoots with Georgia Tann. She gave my mom’s parents papers to sign that they couldn’t read. She said the nursery was too crowded and so they needed to move my mom. When her mother was released and went to retrieve her – she was gone. In my mom’s polite language with the Tennessee officials (though she believed firmly she had been stolen), she referred to her adoption as inappropriate.

Truth was my maternal grandmother was exploited by Georgia Tann in her desperate financial situation. She was married. I have a story about my maternal grandfather. His first wife died almost 9 months pregnant in the dead of winter with the baby still in her womb. I have thought consciously or not, he was concerned because he was WPA, the children from his deceased wife were in Arkansas, his job in Memphis had ended and he went back to Arkansas. He was insecure as to his living conditions there and so didn’t take my grandmother at 4 mos pregnant, also due to deliver in the dead of winter with him. My cousin who has the same grandfather does not believe he was the kind of man to abandon his family that way. I can’t know – no one left living to tell me. My mom didn’t feel close to him and maybe that is because her own mother felt abandoned.

My dad was adopted from the Salvation Army. When his adoptive parents died, he found a letter copy to the Texas requesting the altered birth certificate that mentioned his mother’s name as Delores. Growing up on the Mexican border in El Paso TX, until I finally knew better, my story about my dad was that his mother was Mexican and his father white. Her family would not accept a mixed race baby so she took him into El Paso and left him on the doorstep of the Salvation Army with a note to please take care of her baby. Understandable given the circumstances but still not true.

This is a common experience for people with adoption in their family histories. Making up stories to fill in the gaps. Knowing the truth is preferable – even if the story was a very pretty and exciting one (as some I’ve heard about are).