Monday, May 6, 2013

My New Teen and the Thoughts She Inspires on Adoption

When I met her, she seemed so far from this moment. She was at once a tiny wisp of a child and a solid soul, far smaller than her 22 months, but far clearer on her needs and wants, what she would surrender and what she would fight ardently to gain. She called me "Mamma" so easily. I wanted nothing more than to hear that title over and over again.
It would be easy, on this her 13th birthday, to consider my nearly all grown baby in verse after verse of pure poetry. She deserves that really. She is such a wise young lady, so lovely. She has those dimples that possessed me from the moment I held her, those eyes that sparkle like onyx and tell me everything I need to know about her. She is responsible beyond her years, sometimes too responsible, sometimes taking on the tasks and concerns that really belong to others. At this relatively young age, she will willingly practice her violin for several hours a day, alternating with her new attempts at playing cello, finish her school work without me ever needing to ask, do her chores with only the slightest of an eye roll, and read for hours on end. She is a delightful conversationalist when she is feeling extroverted, a loyal friend, and fun companion.
See? Poetry.
I almost hate to do this, but there is more. There is just so much more to parse when I reminisce on this birthday. It is never as simple as looking back on how much my sweet daughter has grown.
She was born into abject poverty in Haiti, lived in several orphanages from 14 months until we brought her home at 38 months, and has very little relationship with her family of origin (beyond the exchange of letters and pictures). There is nothing romantic or poetic about that and the older she gets the more it troubles me. Did we do the right thing by adopting her and her brother and taking them out of Haiti? I mean, did we do the right thing for everybody involved? I know we did what makes us the happiest. We love her so much our hearts often feel so full they ache. We know we made our little world a better place by bringing her into our family. We truly believe that she is healthier, safer, and better educated than she might have been otherwise. But did we do the right thing? Was it right for everyone?
Mother Jones recently published a provocative article about a challenge to our international adoption system: that a population of evangelical Christians are promoting adoption as a forceful tool for proselytization (Please read that as a criticism of the evangelical Christians in question and not all Christians, evangelical or otherwise**). Nothing in this article surprised me. I was, however, shocked by the reactions to it. Many people honestly have no idea that this is happening. Others don't see the problem if it is. That is perhaps why I have finally chosen to break my own relative silence on this auspicious occasion.
We experienced the problem first hand. Our adoption process was an education in corruption, religion at its worst, racism, and child abuse. While we waited for our paperwork to go from department to department, before we knew what was happening, but long after we had bonded with our children, we were admonished to "beat the Haitian out of" our children, to follow the Pearls and their abusive methods in parenting, and to affirm the notion that the tragedies that befall Haiti are due to their "Satanic practices and intellectual inferiority." At one point, we were locked into the iron-barred patio of the Americans managing the orphanage and made to listen to a letter written by the American evangelical pastor and his wife who owned and ran the orphanage about how they were "the only God your children have ever known." Shortly after that, a member of the orphanage board refused to speak to the local social worker we were working with to salvage the adoption because, in his words "As a man, I am your superior. I don't do business with women."
Our first response to all this was to find our children's first parents and ask them if they knew what it meant for us to adopt them and if that was what they wanted. Though they affirmed that it was and signed papers stating as much, I am still haunted by the idea that they might not have fully understood. What if they'd been lied to so greatly in the name of cultural annihilation and Christian conviction that anything we might have said would only serve to confuse them more? What if they had been made to believe that they really had no choice? Or more frighteningly, what if they had been brainwashed into believing that to deny the desire to find a way to parent their children instead of placing them for adoption would condemn them to hell? That they should do this in the name of Jesus? That not doing it made them unfaithful Christians?
Being considered an unfaithful Christian in Haiti these days, as some Christians** fight each other to save the most souls, is a fate worse than death, or more to the point, than losing a child to America.
So I battle, especially as I mull over my kids' birth stories, with the way this international adoption occurred. Who did we inadvertently deceive in our ignorance and eagerness to parent these children? Who did we hurt? There is no way to remedy what has already taken place and I can't conceive of the notion of causing greater loss by reversing anything. Nearly ten years after bringing them home, there have been deaths and tragedies that make even a modicum of reconciliation nearly impossible. Add to that that holding these opinions renders us outcasts in the community of people who have adopted from Haiti. Against our best intentions, the very nature of international adoption in Haiti has segregated them from their culture with a greater force than we have been able to fight. Essentially, by nearly saturating the international adoption scene in Haiti, the evangelical Christians** who are adopting-to-save have made it impossible for those of us who did not to integrate into the culture in Haiti and into the culture of families with children adopted from Haiti in America.
Our kids exist in the in-between. That is not fair to anyone. They should feel comfortable returning to Haiti someday, whether to visit or live. They should get to enjoy reunions and relationships with local families formed through adoption from Haiti (the last reunion we attended, in early 2010, was severely marred by the repeated conversations where parents stood with their arms around their Haitian children, sharing how sure they were that God had used the earthquake to punish Haitians for their many sins.).
I know of one family (their own public struggle with these issues has given me the courage to share our story) that has remained in Haiti after adopting. I wonder if they have made the best of the adoption situation in Haiti by doing this, if their route is perhaps the best for everyone. Their children can remain close to their first families and steeped in their birth culture. They can also affect change in adoption legislation from the Haiti side and work towards greater stability and understanding for parents who might be swayed towards adopting through the unethical use of spiritual guilt. They can carefully consider the needs of families of origin and help to remedy situations caused by poverty and oppression.
Of course, that one family, or even the families out there like ourselves who wrestle with adoption ethics, particularly with regards to adoption for the purposes of proselytization, are not enough to cull the trends that concern us. I think greater reform is required than can be achieved by a few families and a few blog posts or articles. How that might look is perhaps a topic for a future post. Truthfully, I do not even know myself.
What I do know is that on this 13th birthday of my eldest daughter, I am at once gratefully indebted to her first family for letting us parent her and woefully ashamed of the adoption system that might have let it happen with far too many casualties along the way.
**I hope readers can read this with an open mind and heart so that change can come. I write it as a self-identified Christian and do not mean to include all Christians in this analysis.
My daughter is almost three in the photo above.


Holly said...

Wow, thank you so much for your courage in writing this post. I too have been put on the outside of most adoptive groups by my thoughts about our adoption and adoptions that are currently happening (in DRC). It is really really hard, especially as I am also a christian, and it hurts the most when it is from other christians. I will always have questions about our girls' adoption, maybe less than some because there was a lot that wouldn't have changed about the reasons they were not living with their family even if the income of their family had greatly changed. I wrestle so much with all the points you shared. Are you okay if I linked your post? Here is one that I wrote as I started waking up to the corruption that often exists in international adoption.

Paula F. said...

Thank you, Holly. It has taken me 10 years to write this post. I have had to build steam to find a bit of courage. I just read your post. My heart breaks. Thank you for YOUR courage. Perhaps as more and more speak out, we might stir some change. Please do link here and I will link to your post on my FB page. Let's get the word out that we need reform.

Holly said...

Okay, I put a link up on my blog today. If you don't want to do it, no problem. Thanks for the encouragement. Your post was amazing and I really appreciated what you wrote and shared so honestly.

Paula F. said...

Thanks again, Holly. I am not seeing the link when I go to your blog. I must be missing it. I read through a little more today and can so resonate with everything you have written. WHat an important story you have to tell.

Holly said...

HI Paula, So if you go to the bottom of the post I wrote today there should be a little widget to link up. I saw one person did today so it should work. Thanks for the encouragement again!!

Julia R said...

Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts...I am a true outsider (not-identified-Christian and not an adoptive parent, but one who has had much experience working with families with adopted children, and I truly appreciate your honesty and willingness to think, discuss and share. So - again - thank you!

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