International Adoption Is Fucked-Up
Yes, I know that’s a blanket statement. I’m not going to change it. International adoption is fucked-up.
Let’s continue to give international adoption agencies the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say they uncover something unseemly about the adoption. Perhaps they suspect the child is not an orphan, or was not willingly relinquished by their parents. Maybe the child begins to act out in ways that indicate past sexual abuse. But this adoption is SO CLOSE to going through, and they know that if they tell the potential adoptive parents about this new discovery, the whole thing will get derailed.
And if the whole thing is derailed, this child that the agency worker has such compassion for is going to remain in an orphanage when they could have been in a family. The agency worker has met the potential adoptive parents. Zie feels that they are strong, good, smart people. Zie is sure they will be able to deal with the child’s new issues. And so zie continues the adoption, never mentioning these pesky new issues that have cropped up. Zie is sure they will be worked out. And, really, isn’t it better this way than the alternative, to let the child languish in an orphanage?
It was read to us neutrally, without commentary, and my questions asking for interpretations were not answered. It was only in the last couple of years, as I did some reading on the behavior of people living in poverty, that I was able to make sense of things like K's assertion that she intended to get a Master's degree, made at a time when she was actively a drug addict. This kind of aspiration without understanding of what is necessary to achieve it or realistic plan to take steps toward it is apparently common; I saw similar things described many times in literature on people trapped in inner-city poverty. But the agency director, who had much more experience dealing with people like K. than I did, made no effort to interpret her statements for us; as a result, I, at least, believed her to be much more functional than she was. I was able to believe (albeit very briefly) that we had that mythical good birthmother who was making a rational decision for the good of her baby, and with her own future well-being in mind. This is, of course, what any adoptive parent wants to believe.
I'm not sure why I don't (yet) believe that K. was telling the truth about the social worker pressuring her to say that the father was a one-night stand. It would be in the interest of the agency to have her do that, certainly: adoptive parents are going to be much less worried about the no-name one-night stand than the estranged former live-in boyfriend who is not willing to sign off on the adoption. And, given the stereotype that Black teenage fathers are not interested in being parents, the risk of lying--or of not admitting suspicions--would have seemed very low. My lawyer told me once that contested adoptions are so rare that many adoption lawyers practice their whole career without being involved in one; what were the odds C. was going to actually pursue parental rights?
I overlooked several things that made me uncomfortable at the time, telling myself that the agency were professionals and knew what they were doing. For instance: we were told that in the days after the birth, K. was so hysterical and unstable that it took two case workers four hours to get her to sign her surrender of parental rights. At the time, a voice in my head said, "How can it not be coercive if it takes her four hours to be talked into it?" But I had never adopted a baby before; the agency had done this hundreds of time. I trusted that they knew when a line had been crossed, and when it hadn't. But a part of me wishes I had said, "Wait a minute--four hours? Two case workers?" I wish that we had had more time in all the rush and hysteria and fear and excitement to sit down and think about whether our line had been crossed, even if the agency's hadn't. (Though, honestly: could we have walked away? We had driven to Chicago, we were standing in the agency offices, all we had to do was sign some papers and write a big check and we could go pick up the baby from the hospital. You'd have to be a lot stronger than I am to walk out of there and drive home without a baby just because you weren't completely comfortable about how the birthmother came to sign her surrenders.)
I did not say: If I had known then what I know now, I might not have done it. I have friends who are vegetarian or vegan because they cannot bring themselves to participate in the factory farming system that feeds so many of us; they do not want to be complicit in that cruelty. Similarly, I might have chosen, had I known then, not to participate in what increasingly seems to me to be a system rife with ethics abuses. On the other hand, part of what I know now is from my own direct experience, and sometimes that's the only way we learn. I'm not sure any number of books or blogs or stories from adult adoptees would have deterred me. "That's not me," I'd have said. "That's not my agency."
Except that, it turns out, it was me. It was my agency.
Harriet has some words to say about that, though, too:
I’m a little uncertain how I feel about it when I put up something like I did, and then people say, “Oh, this has made me choose not to adopt, thank you!” Because I still believe in adoption, and for some kids, it’s their best hope, their second best option now that the first best is gone. I sympathize with workers who want to hold back details, because here they have this kid who needs a chance, and these parents who could be so good for them, but the parents might balk if they knew how hard it was going to be, even though the worker knows they could and would do it if this child was already in their home, or if this was their biokid.
The thing is, adopting a child means accepting a new burden into your life, but that burden is more than the child. Adoptive parents must accept ethical burdens as well. Adoptive parents must accept that by adopting their child, they are likely contributing to the same system that damaged their child. And there’s just no way around that.
Yehva is running up and down the house with the boys. They are pretending to be friends who visit each other's houses. They are having sleepovers. Her fortune cookie last night said, "You are strong and brave," and the rest of us all laughed at how true that is. I am not sorry she's here, I am not sorry to be giving her everything I possibly can to make her life good. But I am sorry about so many things, about the world, and K.'s life, and about our agency, and about my own naivete and willful blindness. I always tell people how much money the custody fight cost us, but it also cost me a certain measure of peace of mind, because it revealed things I would never have had to see otherwise.
I don't know what I would tell a potential adoptive parent who came to me for advice, other than: be prepared for it to be a big stinking mess. Try to believe that the things that happen to other adoptive parents--the birth mother who changes her mind, the undisclosed drug use, the child adopted from foster care who is so traumatized that she can never give you the affection you crave, the agency that turns out to be less than above-board, the internationally adopted toddler who turns out to be a four-year-old whose growth was stunted by malnutrition, the teenage birthfather who inexplicably of all the teenage boys in the world wants to raise his daughter--try to believe that any of these things could actually happen to you, too. That you cannot wade into that morass and come out clean on the other side. Some of the shit is going to get on you. But shit getting on you is part of being a parent, so go ahead and be a parent. Mazel tov, I say to you. And welcome to the hard world we live in.