In Praise Of Adoption

An adoptee friend of mine alerted me to this article that is an interview of Scott Simon. It touches upon an interesting tangential or is it potential argument for adopting based upon the environment. The title of the article is NPR’s Scott Simon on Adoption and Environmentalism. Before I go any further, I’ll quickly answer that part – the interviewer mentions reading the book and coming across this passage: “Adopting a child to prove something is not a healthy motivation. I would seriously consider alerting the authorities if I heard a prospective parent say, ‘We want to adopt because it’s the most environmentally responsible thing to do.  Don’t want to increase our carbon footprint, after all!’ ”

I give Simon and his wife some credit for trying assisted reproduction first. I don’t know how far that went with that effort beyond the most traditional and conventional method of invitro fertilization. When that effort failed, their next thought was “there are children in the world already who need us, so why don’t we do that ?”

I don’t know how much the couple investigated the whole orphan industry in foreign countries. I know quite a bit that is unsavory and deceptive in those situations and I don’t intend to do more than mention there is more going on there than a gullible hopeful adoptive parent might wish to know and is completely willing to remain ignorant of. The fact that I have issues with transracial adoption generally should come as no surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog for very long.

Simeon and his wife adopted from China and to their credit (though it will not actually prove to be enough to offset the loss of native culture for his daughters) they have tried – they see a family therapist and their children go to a weekly cultural class that teaches Mandarin stories and songs.

Simon says, “you ought to have children out of joy, not out of sense of duty.” Yet, I question, is not thinking you are “saving” children some kind of sense of duty, what is often referred to in adoption circles as saviorism.

He perceives adoption as a kind of global warming addressing the needs of 150 million orphaned and abandoned children in this world. I refer the reader back to my previous comment about transracial adoption and these children in foreign countries. I would add here – most are not orphans or abandoned. They do come from poverty stricken families who expect their children to return to them some day after a good education in the United States and that actually rarely is successful, even if the adoptee makes an effort because that child has been severed from their cultural roots and has a difficult time relating.

Simon admits that adoption is “good for those of us who adopt. It’s transforming — literally, physically, emotionally transforming.” I do not doubt the truth of that statement. This does not consider the child them selves. Simeon mentions talking to adoptees for his book “who say they have no interest whatsoever in meeting their birth parents, and I think it’s possible that five months or five years or 10 years after saying that, they may feel differently.”

There are MANY adoptees today constantly doing their best to reconnect with their genetic biological families. This I do know is true. My own mom who was adopted tried and failed to be able to reconnect with her mom as she was deceased by that time, and later on inexpensive DNA testing through Ancestry did not bring her the results she was seeking – though it has been a great assistance to me. My dad (also adopted) never expressed the same interest and in fact seemed fearful of what he might learn.

As a person who became a parent for the second and third time at an advanced age, I do agree with Simon that “Having children is a profoundly personal decision and personal experience, and I can’t put myself in the position of judging.” I stop short of agreeing with him that “[adoption is] a very good thing to do.” because at this point in my own self-education, I don’t believe that – in most cases (honestly, not every possible circumstance – I reserve a strong belief there may be exceptions).

The interviewer indicates the possibility that the Simon’s happy family came about through the unhappy circumstance of China’s draconian one-child policy. His answer is something I need to deeply contemplate as I don’t know everything, though I do know some that troubles me – we did not get our children from a family or a single mother; we got them out of institutions. If we hadn’t adopted them, or somebody else hadn’t adopted them, they would’ve grown up in institutions. They wouldn’t have grown up in institutions in the way that we understand growing up — they would have stayed there until the age of 12 or 13, then they would’ve gone into farm or factory work, or worse, which is too terrible to contemplate. It’s China’s one-child policy that took them away from their families. I don’t think anything would’ve been accomplished by leaving them there. I say a few times in the book, it’s our blessing that began with a tragedy, a tragedy that’s also a crime.

Simon ends on a belief that adoption is preferable to creating a family using the new technologies as adoption is an ancient practice (though until modern times no one profited financially as an industry). I disagree with him on that point as well. That should not surprise anyone as I have two sons for whom my husband is the genetic biological father thanks to a new technology that allowed me to use a compassionate and generous woman’s eggs – twice – years apart, yielding for us two 100% genetically biological siblings.

All You Can Ever Know

Nicole Chung

With Asians on my mind this morning, I stumbled on this book when an essay in Time magazine titled “My adoption didn’t make me less Korean” got my attention. I can not locate a digital link for this (I will share some excerpts – her own words about being Asian at this fraught time – later in this blog). In my all things adoption group, there have been a number of Korean adoptees. The international adoption of Korean children by Americans was the result of a large number of orphaned mixed children from the Korean War after 1953. That is not Nicole’s story.

In looking for her book, I found a New Yorker review by Katy Waldman – Nicole Chung’s Adoption Memoir, “All You Can Ever Know,” Is an Ode to Sisterly Love. Like many adoptees, her parents believed she was a gift from God. Like many transracial adoptees, growing up among white, Catholic Oregonians in the eighties and nineties, students teased her for being adopted and for looking “different.” 

Her adoptive mother couldn’t tell her much about her original parents. They “had just moved here from Korea” and “thought they wouldn’t be able to give you the life you deserved.” This brief story, one of love and sadness and altruism, “may be all you can ever know,” her mother told her.

After a protracted and unglamorous process of filing paperwork and wrangling lawyers, she finally uncovered the reality of her original genetic family, the Chungs. She discovered an older sister, Cindy. Sadly, her sister had been physically abused by their natural mother. She learned that her parents are divorced and not speaking to one another. Her birth father had told Cindy that Nicole had died. 

Nicole explains why having a baby mattered to her so much, “I wouldn’t be alone anymore. There would be someone who was connected to me in a way no one else had ever been.” For her memoir, Chung wanted to explore “the quiet drama of the everyday adopted experience.” 

Remembering the fiction she scribbled down as a kid, Chung writes that she “found a measure of previously unknown power” in envisioning “places where someone like me could be happy, accepted, normal.” 

From Chung’s Time essay – What her adoptive parents struggled with was to fully and consistently see and understand her as a Korean American woman. She doesn’t blame them for this, she notes – “Acknowledging it flew in the face of everything ‘experts’ had told them when they adopted me in the early 1980s – the adoption agency, the social worker, the judge had all maintained that it wouldn’t, shouldn’t matter.” She shares the things they would say to be color-blind with her.

She also notes – “Often, people who’ve read my memoir will note my white family’s ‘color-blind’ approach and ask whether this led to me thinking of myself as white. My answer is always swift, unequivocal: no, I never thought I was white.” However, she goes on to say her adoptive parents did “assume that I’d be protected from racism because the world would see me as they did – their child, no more, no less – and as my race was irrelevant to them, they could not imagine anyone else caring about it either.”

She says, “While my adoptive family saw me as almost raceless and therefore safe from racists, I lived every day from the age of 7, when I heard my first slur from a classmate, understanding that my Korean face made me hypervisible where we lived – and that it could also make me a target.”

This startled me. I cannot imagine children that age knowing racial slurs. Then, I remember reading once that children learn racism in the family. I thought about WWII, the Korean War and more recently the Vietnam War. I could believe that some returning veterans, having done battle with Asians, might have brought bias home with them.

Chung describes how from the start of the pandemic and racial scapegoating, she has thought of other Asian American kids growing up in white families and white spaces, even as she knows their experiences are not interchangeable. She says, “I know it can feel like a unique burden when you witness or experience racism in a kind of isolation, unable to retreat and process your rage or sorrow with people who also know what it’s like to live in an Asian body.”

She speaks of the experiences of transracial adoptees – “asking, sometimes begging our adoptive relatives to acknowledge our experiences; to stand with us; to challenge the racism endemic in our society as well as our own families and communities.”

Her adoptive parents have died. She says, “I’ve had to accept that there are questions I’ll never get answers to, things we’ll never be able to settle. That my parents didn’t entirely understand or accept my racial reality will always be with me, part of my adoption story.”

In her final thoughts she says, “I know the last thing either of my parents would have wanted was for me to despair, or live my life in fear. And so, for their sake and my own, I won’t.”

Racially Determined Adoptions

I spent most of last summer educating myself about racial inequality and reform issues. Now I see this advertisement. First of all, $13,000 tax credit for adopters??? Think if poor mothers got $13,000 to keep and raise their own babies. The newborn adoption industry would totally collapse.  In Canada, they pay single parents so that they are not burdened with having to find a job and child care. There are no losers in that scenario. This program lasts until the child is 18. The amount per month decreases as the child gets older.

Note that African American babies are less valuable at Everlasting Adoptions. One could ask – Doesn’t this somehow directly violate anti-discrimination laws? Besides the smell of human trafficking in this brochure. No one regulates this business. It’s truly the wild west at this time in human history as regards adoption. This one isn’t even an adoption agency, its like a “travel agent” for people who want to pay someone to find a birth mom for them. If found, the parties then go to an adoption agency to draw up the paperwork but on Everlasting Adoptions website, they proudly take credit for successfully completed matches.

NPR did a story back in 2013 titled Six Words: ‘Black Babies Cost Less To Adopt’. The title for this one came from a Louisiana woman. Other contributors have also addressed the skin-color based fee structure for many adoptions, NPR noted – The intersection of race and adoption has prompted many people to submit their six words to The Race Card Project. Americans adopt thousands of children each year. And as the nation has become increasingly diverse, and with the growth of international adoption in recent decades, many of those children don’t look like their adoptive parents.

One adoptive parent, remembers a phone call with an adoption agency social worker. “And [she] was telling us about these different fee structures that they had based on the ethnic background of the child. And … they also had, sort of a different track for adoptive parents.” Moving through the process would be quicker, if the family was open to adopting an African-American (not biracial) child, the social worker explained to her. “And that is because they have children of color waiting,” but adopting biracial, Latino, Asian or Caucasian children could be a slower process because there were more parents waiting for them. “And I remember hearing this and just sort of being dumbfounded that they would sort of segregate — to use a loaded term — segregate these children by ethnic background before they were even in this world,”

It is a profit-motivated, supply and demand business. Thankfully, NPR also found that some states and agencies are using a different formula to make adoption more affordable for families, with a sliding scale based on income rather than skin color. In that system, lower-income families pay less to adopt. Some agencies are also moving toward a uniform cost system where all adoptive parents would pay the same fees. (Though I am still not in favor of adoption in most cases.) Still, back in 2013, the cost to adopt the Caucasian child was approximately $35,000, plus some legal expenses. I see upward of $40,000 in Go Fund Me efforts set up by hopeful adoptive parents today in 2021.

A Difference In Perspective

Within adoption reform communities, there is a deep commitment and ongoing effort to do adoptive relationships in a manner that is focused on the well-being of the adopted child, who through no choice of their own is not with the parents who conceived nor the mother who gave birth to them.

So, here’s the story of two conflicting perspectives on “doing it right”.

My husband and I live in West Africa with our 5 children. We recently adopted twin 4 year old girls in December. These children were being raised by their single Aunt who could not take care of them any longer since she was also raising 6 additional children (her own and also from other siblings), so she surrendered them to an orphanage because their mother had nothing to do with them since they were 1 year old. Unfortunately, this is a pretty common scenario here in West Africa.

We talk often about their “first mom,” allow the twins to miss her and express sadness, assure them they are loved and wanted. We keep in contact with their Aunt and have recently developed an online relationship with their mother. I send pictures and video to their family several times a week so they are able to know how the twins are doing. The twins have been able to talk with their aunt, cousins, and mother on two occasions. My husband and I had hoped to keep this relationship alive so the girls always had a connection to their African family.

Recently I received very harsh criticism from an adult Native American adoptee who was adopted into a privileged white family at birth. She has no connection with her biological family and claims she has never had any questions about them because “her parents did it right.” She insisted that the way we are referring to their mother as “first mom” and the ongoing connection we are attempting to foster will create an identity crisis and undermine my parental authority as their adoptive mother. We are a Christian missionary family (as is she) and she also told me that she believes our behavior and language will cause them to question God and fall away from their faith because of the uncertainty we’ll cause. In her opinion, we need to “squash” the connection with their mother and start referring to her as “the woman who gave birth to you” and to me as your “only mom.” She was also concerned that the girls have “romanticized” their memories of their mom, making her seem better than she was to them.

There is so much attention now being paid to issues of racial inequality and identity that I am not surprised that the first comment was somewhat harsh but here goes –

You are the definition of white saviorism. The very fact that you are missionaries in another country trying to recruit locals to your culture and belief system is white colonization. I find it disgusting and harmful. As to your adoption, it’s sad for all those involved, especially for the twins.

And the original woman’s response –

I teach at an American Christian school for North American children who have parents living abroad either as missionaries, humanitarian workers, or for business. We actually do not interact with locals in the manner you are assuming. But, let me educate you on what happens here in West Africa to children whose parents cannot take care of them…. the lucky ones are given to “schools” that use these children as slaves, abuse them, and force them to beg on the streets for money usually shoeless and hungry. Others are taken out to remote villages and left to starve or sold as human sacrifices or into human trafficking. The fact that you make such a bold statement without knowing anything about what happens here just shows your own ignorance and first world privilege.

The criticism was gently affirmed by another woman –

What was brought up is a valid point. I think your heart is in the right place, but you should always be mindful of how your actions have potentially negatively affected your adopted daughters’ natural family.

In adoption reform circles, financial and other resource support for natural families and keeping children within their birth culture (which means ending transracial adoption, which is not the same is a mixed race family birthing mixed race children, to be clear on this point) is the direction that reformers are seeking in an effort to end the need for removing children from the biological and genetic families.

And finally, an adoptee shares –

As an adoptee ALL I wanted my entire childhood was to know who and where I came from. Since I had no answers I would make up stories about how my first mom was a famous actress etc etc. I found out later in life that many adoptees made up elaborate stories about their bio families. It was literally torturous to not know. I feel now that SO much was straight out stolen from me as a child. And for what purpose???

Since I had no answers about my own parents’ origins, I “made up” stories.  My mom was half African-American – she was not.  My dad was half Mexican – he was not.  I would have preferred the reality and an opportunity to know those persons who I was genetically related to.  My parent died without ever having that opportunity.  Since I have recovered the knowledge of my genetic origins, I am thankful also to now know people I am actually related to by blood.  It has healed to wholeness something that was previously broken within me – without denying the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins I knew as a child due solely to the adoptions of my parents.

My Only Objection

Back in November, during National Adoption Month, I wrote to Klobuchar that I had been supportive of her campaign for the Democratic nominee until I found out about her strong interest in promoting adoption.  Her counterpart in the Senate is Roy Blunt who is from my state of Missouri but he is a Republican and close ally of our president Trump, so I did not bother to write him.

Yesterday, Klobuchar did better than expected in the New Hampshire primary.  There is a section of the electorate who wants calm and someone they are not being fed a drama a day but can go about their business with some assurance of ethical behavior in the top official of the government.  I get it.  Klobuchar does not really excite.  She is like the mom who you know you can depend upon not to embarrass you.

She was instrumental in smoothing the way for a number of transracial adoptions from Haiti as depicted in the photo above.  On January 12 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, which is a very poor country.  The earthquake affected an estimated three million people. Close to 230,000 people died, 300,000 were injured and one million were made homeless. An estimated 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed.

“It’s wonderful to see adoptive families, family members, friends and others who plan to adopt kids from Haiti here this evening,” Klobuchar said in a meeting in 2011. “We in Congress will work hard to continue to help you with adoption issues.”

Over the course of approximately two months following the earthquake, Klobuchar’s office worked with 25 families to help unite 39 Haitian children with their new families in Minnesota. A Congressional bill authored by Klobuchar later passed the House and Senate and was signed into law.  One at least hopes all of the children are truly orphans and not simply taken from extended family who would raise them.

No doubt, her heart is in the right place even though she appears woefully ignorant about the wounds inflicted by adoption and even worse, the effects on children who are placed in families who bear no resemblance to their culture.  I will vote for whoever the Democratic presidential nominee is in November 2020.  I don’t know if I can get over my objection to Klobuchar’s very public role in promoting adoption.

 

Robbed Of Heritage

The symbolism in this painting calls to something very deep within me.  It is a painting by Barbara Taffet. In 1973, she reinvented herself as Maria Alquilar, a Latina artist whose fictive back story included a Sephardic Jewish father from Argentina. Drawing on her deep knowledge of world myths and spiritual traditions, filtered through her own personal mythology, she began creating idiosyncratic works inspired by the work of the California Sacramento-Davis area narrative expressionist, outsider and funk artists she admired and collected.

Adoption robs us of our actual cultural heritage.  All my life until very recently, I believed my dad was half-Mexican and my mom possibly half-African American.  They were both adoptees and for what little we knew about our familial roots, we could claim any story we wanted and not even our own selves knew whether it was true or not.

So along came inexpensive DNA testing.  Both my mom and I had ours done at Ancestry.  Later on, I had mine also tested at 23 and Me.  My mom has some Mali in her and so, I suspect slavery had something to do with that.  My dad’s dark complexion actually came by way of his Danish immigrant father.  I have learned there is some Ashkenazi Jew in me and suspect that comes via a family that lived for generations on Long Island New York.

Why does this painting call so deeply to my soul – there is that Jewish symbol and there is the Southwestern symbols as well.  There is a predator protecting it’s prey – my maternal grandmother was preyed upon by Georgia Tann, the famous baby thief of Memphis Tennessee.  And it is always about the bunnies in my household.  The angelic image at the top is more like a Jackrabbit which fits nicely with my New Mexican birth.

In many transracial adoptions, the very young child is not only cut off from their cultural heritage but loses contact with their native language.  It may be difficult to understand how disorienting that is but I get it.  It’s time to change the rules of the adoption game.