Friday, March 22nd, 2013
In the last 30 years, nearly 100,000 children from China have found new families around the world, thanks to one of the most stable and popular international adoption programs. And I’m the mom of two of them. My family was created there, when my husband and I adopted our two amazing daughters.
But a lot’s changed over the past eight years, since we first met our oldest daughter in a Civil Affairs Office in China. Since then, China and the U.S. both signed the Hague Convention governing international adoption, which required checks on the histories of all children, to determine if they are truly orphans and available for adoption. (This is to help prevent the child trafficking and corruption that has occurred in some international adoption programs, including China’s.) China instituted new limitations on the parents who would be eligible to adopt from China—though the parents who met those new limitations are still stuck waiting to be matched with their children (six years later and the wait is still growing, thanks to a 20,000+ backlog of parents hoping to adopt from China). China’s wealth has been increasing, which means more children are being adopted domestically, and more parents manage to afford the fines the Chinese government levies on families who go over the one-child limit. And China may be holding still other children back in their orphanages, hoping to take care of their children within their own borders.
And so, it was no surprise to me that the numbers of international adoptions from China had dropped precipitously yet again. Last year, only 3,311 were adopted internationally from China throughout the world—compare that to 2005, when we adopted our oldest, and 7,903 children came home to the U.S. alone. And the other number that was equally interesting—75 percent of the children adopted would be classified as special needs, as they were older or had known medical issues. In fact, that is how we managed to adopt our second daughter—we would still be waiting for a match, six years later, if we hadn’t found her on our agency’s “special needs list.”
Adopting a special needs child is currently the only viable option for most parents looking to adopt from China, as the wait for a “healthy” baby continues to grow—and will likely reach nearly a decade of waiting within the next few years. But it’s not an option for everyone—many countries won’t even allow their citizens to adopt special needs children.
We are thankful that it was an option for us, and that we’ll be celebrating five years with our youngest daughter later this year. But for many other prospective parents, the China adoption program seems to be another door closing, and another option for building a family gone.
Friday, March 1st, 2013
If you haven’t, grab the tissues. Published in yesterday’s New York Times Opinionator column, We Found Our Son in a Subway tells the story of a man who found a baby in a subway station, and was given the chance to adopt him by a kindly judge. When the man and his partner married, they could think of no one more appropriate to pronounce them a family.
We first shared this family’s story here at Parents nearly a decade ago, not long after their adoption became final.
It’s a powerful story. For families created by adoption, it often feels as if fate may have played a hand in bringing you together – whether you are chosen by the birth family, matched with your child by bureaucrats half a world away who you will never meet, or you find a baby in the corner of a subway station. Somehow, by luck or chance or happenstance, you find each other, and you find love and you find family. And the judge in the story obviously saw the perfect family waiting for this little boy in the kind couple who found him and fought for him.
It’s an incredibly touching tale, and one that’s definitely worth the read. But what’s even more beautiful, at least in my eyes, is that the comment section is overwhelmingly filled with positive and loving messages toward this family. I think even a decade ago, this heartwarming story would’ve been met with a lot of hatred and homophobia – and to me, that’s almost as powerful as the story itself.
Let me know what you think after you read it! I’d love to hear your take on the update – and on our original story.
Image: Drawing from Matthew Jacques/Shutterstock.com
Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013
International adoption is always a hot button issue—and my recent post about Russia cutting American families out of their adoption program was no exception. Inevitably, any story about international adoption brings out a slew of people commenting that “American families should just adopt from the U.S.” (And just as inevitably, those people are rarely people who have adopted or plan to adopt themselves.)
But domestic adoption isn’t the best choice for every family—and it cuts thousands of children from around the world off from the possibility of a loving family. Here’s why international adoption matters, to my family and the thousands of others who were created that way.
Domestic adoption can be challenging. Most families who adopt domestically eventually succeed. But the time frame before you’re picked by a birthmother is completely random—some families find a match within days of putting their information out there, while others wait for years. And many families have at least one “failed placement,” when the birthmother decides she wants to parent her child. (Fabulous for the birthmother and child—but heartbreaking for the potential adoptive parents.) My husband and I simply couldn’t deal with all of those unknowns.
Today, most adoptions in the U.S. are open, which means the birth family and adoptive family maintain contact. Open adoption is much better and healthier for everyone involved—especially the child. But there are some families who aren’t comfortable with that, and international adoption is a more closed option.
Foster adoption can be even more challenging. People point to the number of children in foster care in the U.S.—463,000—and say that we should all simply adopt from foster care. But keep in mind that some of those children do end up being reunited with their birth families weeks or months later. For those who remain in foster care, sometimes it is possible to adopt young children, but in many cases it’s older children who are available, many of whom have seen and experienced things no child should have to experience. These children need a special kind of love and support that some families are simply not equipped to provide.
All children deserve a loving family. Does our capacity for love and kindness really end at the border? Ideally, children in Russia or China or Ethiopia should find a loving family nearby, to help them preserve their connection to their birth culture. But many of these children—especially those with special needs—have few prospects for finding a family within their own country. If there are willing and able parents somewhere in the world who want to raise them, why should we stop them?
Life in the orphanages is devastating to a child’s future. Institutional care is always subpar, no matter how “good” the orphanage is. There is no replacement for a loving family—and it bears out in research, which shows that a baby who is raised in an orphanage loses a month’s worth of development for every three months she spends there. (Which means that an 18-month-old sitting in an orphanage is much more like a 12-month-old.) Children in orphanages often have limited opportunities for education, and are sent out into the world as young as 14 years old, left to fend for themselves.
Until you have personally visited an orphanage, you simply can’t understand how devastating it is. I do.
Imagine a classroom filled with 30 cribs. The cribs have no mattresses, and the babies all lie on wooden slabs in the cribs. Every single crib is filled except for one by the window (which is where your new baby rested her head until a few days before). There is one single attendant charged with caring for all of these babies, and she walks around with the same dirty rag to wipe the babies’ noses—it seems that all of the babies are horribly sick with colds.
The babies all stare at you, and reach out to you. You touch their hands, and wish you could simply scoop them all up and take them out of there. There are no toys (despite the fact that you and other adoptive parents have donated plenty), and nothing to stimulate these babies as they lie in their cribs day after day. Most of them (including your baby) have huge flat spots on the backs of their heads, due to lying on their backs for months. They are fed the same thing every day—a mix of rice cereal and formula, put into a bottle. The attendant has too many mouths to feed, so the babies aren’t held when they’re fed—the bottle is propped up for them.
This is where my daughter would have spent her days. Because she has a small medical issue, she would have had little to no education—despite the fact that she is incredibly bright. If she was lucky, she would have gotten a job at a nearby factory after the orphanage left her go. If she wasn’t….well, I shudder to think about that.
Foster care isn’t ideal, but these warehouses of children are far, far worse. This is why I chose to adopt internationally—not once, but twice. And why I continue to support charities that work with the orphanages, so that the kids who are left behind can go into foster care, get an education, and get proper nutrition.
Maybe someday, we will get that perfect world, where kids can stay with the parents who gave them life—or with friends and family nearby. Where anyone who wants to be a parent can make that dream happen. But until we get that perfect world, we have to make the best of the one we have.
Photo: Mother and child by AISPIX by Image Source / Shutterstock