Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Dichotomy of International Adoption

I realize that this post is going to be kind of all over the place and rambling but with the stress of our referral quickly approaching and some of the things I have been reading in the news, on blogs and adoption boards I thought it would be therapeutic to get my thoughts out there. Sometimes it helps me to process my thoughts by writing them down.

For the past few weeks there have been articles in all of the major newspapers about China researching/thinking/talking about ending its One Child Policy. The more recent articles make it seem like the policy will stay intact for at least another ten years. Change happens slow in China so it is possible that we will see an incremental end to the policy over the next few decades. With the spotlight shining on China right now due to the Olympics, they are getting a lot of pressure regarding human rights issues. This may be why they are studying the policy now, to show the world that they are looking again at their controversial policies.

The one child policy was enacted because of China's overpopulation issues. As unthinkable as it may seem to us to have the government tell us how many children we can have, in China the policy has ultimately saved lives. They need to continue to be able to feed their population and with it continuing to grow exponentially it just would not have been possible.

Without the one child policy there would not be as many abandonments in China and there may not be as much of a need for international adoption. I think there still would be a need, just not the level where it is now. There are many countries without population control policies that adopt almost as many children internationally as China does. Even children from the United States are sometimes adopted internationally to Canada and Europe.

Our guilt comes in because the policy that causes families to abandon their babies inadvertently benefits us as adoptive parents. Our joy in adopting a baby will be a result of a huge loss, a family having to abandon their child because the law says they can have only one. Adoption is supposed to be about finding families for children, not finding children to make families. Per the Hague regulations on international adoption, every attempt should be made to place orphans with their extended family. If that is not possible they should be adopted domestically. As a last resort orphans can be adopted internationally. All seem to agree that these are better options than growing up in an orphanage. In order to have a free conscience we as adoptive parents have to assume that the Chinese government is doing all they can to place orphans domestically before internationally and that they are running an ethical, corruption free program. No program is perfect but I do believe the the Chinese government does all it can to keep their program as ethical as possible. If we did not believe this as true we should not be adopting from China.

The dichotomy is we as adoptive parents gain the most, we get a child. The child has lost her birth parents and by adopting her we are taking away her country and her culture. Many adoptive parents will argue that they are giving the baby a better life by taking her out of the orphanage, and giving her more opportunities. I think we do still have to acknowledge that the adoption will affect her someday. Her adoption won't be the root cause of her loss and pain, her abandonment is, but we will have to support her while she deals with any identity issues.

The anti-adoption folks would argue adoption damages a child so rather than adopt we should be providing money to families so that they can raise their children themselves. This argument doesn't really work with China as most babies are abandoned due to the one-child policy. The anti-adoptionist would then say we should put pressure on the Chinese government to end the one child policy. But ending the one child policy would cause the population to explode and many more children would starve and die. There are no easy answers here, if we lived in a perfect world it would all be easy, but we don't.

To be honest we chose to adopt from China primarily for the benefits to us. We wanted a family and the China program seemed like the best option. We didn't adopt domestically because we didn't want to deal with the unknowns and pain of a failed adoption. We chose China because we thought the timeframe was short. Our other reasons for choosing China were the babies are young and relatively healthy. All benefits to us. But ultimately if we do not do what is right for us or something we are not comfortable with that will not ultimately be beneficial for our child. Not all of the reasons were benefits for us though, we also chose China because they run a program that is thought to be less corrupt than other countries. Also because there is a great support network here for children adopted from China.

Since we started the adoption process I have tried to read not only the fluffy, happy adoption blogs but also blogs and writings by adoptees who are not so happy. I am currently reading "Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew". The book brings up some pretty difficult subject matter but I think it is important to examine. Always good to take a good look at yourself and ask yourself if you are ready to deal with the questions that will ultimately come up. By doing this we challenge ourselves. If we answer our own questions honestly we will be better prepared someday when we get questions from our daughter.

One of the interesting phenomenons I have been noticing more and more lately is how many adoptive parents' perspective changes once they have completed their adoption from China and don't plan to adopt again. Most waiting parents are pretty careful about what they say that is critical of China. The last thing we want is for some story to pop up and cause the program to slow down even more or shut down completely. We just want our babies home. I think once a family is home though they no longer have this romanticized idea of a child. They have a living breathing baby that will someday have to come to grips with how they came to live in America (or wherever) and it scares them. I think they can then more clearly see the issues that their child will be dealing with. Some become very critical of international adoption and may even take an anti-adoption stance. We waiting parents can't help but feel betrayed by this change of heart. We say "They have their kids, they got what they want, now they don't care about the rest of us". Maybe we, as waiting parents, can't see the forest for the trees. Maybe we close our eyes to any potential red flags or corruption because we don't want to see it. I am interested to see how my thoughts on the matter change once we are home.

I think we are going into this adoption with pretty open minds and as much knowledge as we can get. We have a pretty clear conscience that we are doing the right thing for ourselves but more importantly for Grace. We know things won't be perfect but we will do our best.


Julie Siegel said...

Steve and Jen,
Where do I start? I don't want to sound patronizing, but I'm glad you're thinking about the hard questions. It's the right start. You're right; there are no easy answers. Your perspective certainly changes enormously, in so many ways, once you are a parent, and not a prospective parent. I don't ever think you'll have all the answers to the questions, but it's important to keep asking the questions.

We've done a lot of thinking about all these issues over the last four years, and will continue to do so. It's a work in progress. I think a lot of times, people in the world of IA become hypersensitve to the issues surrounding cross-cultural adoption. I'd like to be sensitive to our children's needs, but not make adoption the central focus of our lives. At the end of the day, you have to just be a family and live your lives.

You certainly didn't cause the abandonments to happen, and I don't believe for a second that we're "creating a market" (if you can excuse the vulgarity) where one didn't exist. The need was there, and all of us families were simply available to meet it. I loathe the "supply and demand" discussions, as though human beings were a commodity.

As for what's gone on in Hunan, I think this is re-hash of old news. Believe me, I have read every word written on this subject. The system isn't perfect, but I do not believe children are abducted for international adoption. Yes, children are abducted. Those kids are remaining in China. It's a losing battle, but I keep fighting the good fight to get the word out that NONE of the kids involved in the so-called Hunan scandal was abducted. Trafficked, yes. Paid for, yes. It's abhorrent. But they weren't abducted. That was well established at trial.

Apologies for the length of this response, but you raise a lot of good issues, many of which I wanted to respond to. I'm sure we'll talk more in the days ahead....

Mike and Rhonda said...

We have been pondering these same thoughts. It is a very complicated but one that we must wrap our head around. One day, the most precious set of eyes will be looking at me for answers, very tough answers. I agree with you, we have to be prepared to guide our children through these difficult emotional issues.