Response to Paula Zahn and CNN's coverage of China's new International Adoption Policies:
After the recent controversies surrounding CNN's international adoption segments on the Paula Zahn show, it appears that further dialog is needed between families adopting internationally and opponents to international adoption. In an effort to shed further light on this subject, I hope you will consider my family story and thoughts on adoption when studying or discussing this topic.
Nearly six years ago, my husband Nathan and I went through a fairly difficult and traumatic pregnancy which produced a beautiful, though premature, little boy. Not only was I placed on bed rest, delivered via Cesarean section after a 38 hour labor and had a very difficult recovery – I was forced to watch my son through an incubator for the better part of two weeks prior to his coming home. After later consultations with both our midwife and a high risk obstetrician at a highly regarded university medical center, we decided, based on a congenital medical condition that I have and past pregnancy experience, that future pregnancies were not an option for us.
Soon after this decision, we began to discuss adoption. I began to research – heavily research – all of our adoption options. Not bound by culture, race or geopolitics, we were open to all of the possibilities. Initially, my husband was leaning toward domestic adoption, though I leaned toward international from the start. I knew at the age of 12 that I would some day adopt internationally and carried that hope into this process. After what I feel to be a thorough researching of the domestic process, we decided against adopting domestically.
Why? First, though private adoption agency criteria varies, many of them had at least one factor in the application process that would prohibit us from using them. Some agencies required the families to be infertile, having exhausted all fertility options. We are not infertile, we simply do not want to endure another dangerous pregnancy. Some agencies require a substantial portion of the fee up front, between $10,000 and $15,000. Though it would have been possible, it would have perhaps been too much of a strain upon our family finances to simply write an check for that amount all at once. Many of the agencies in my research require the parents to be of the Christian faith, which we are not. We are not Christian or Catholic, which for some agencies means we are not worthy of parenting. I am not entirely comfortable with the domestic adoption process. Knowing someone is advertising in the yellow pages or on-line for a baby for my family does not entirely feel right to me. Finally, after much soul searching, I (with support from my husband) came to the realization that I could not go through the process of essentially selling myself to a birth mother. I was not willing to think about birth mothers going through the adoption books and potentially passing us over in favor of other families.
In addition to looking at private adoptions, we did consider a state or foster to adopt program. To be honest, the lack of control and the lack of consistency in those programs really took those programs out of the running for us. Let me be clear – race and the possibility that our child would be African American (fully or partially) was of no consequence in this decision. Stories are abundant in the adoption community regarding the lack of willingness to place African American children with Caucasian families in an effort to be racially sensitive. These stories are not urban legend. I currently know a family – personally – who has had to look to other states with more liberal policies in an effort to adopt African American children through a state foster care program.
Through my research on domestic adoption, I consistently found that adoption agencies hold all of the power. I found that many people holding the power believe children who are in state care are better off in foster programs instead of with a loving family that may be of a different race. And, the I found that many agencies believe that Christians make better parents. Yes, I realize this a very jaded view. I know there are many many exceptions to these statements and that perhaps we did not completely exhaust all of the U.S. resources on adoption, however, all of these things together helped us to move toward international adoption.
International adoption, though much easier and much more predictable also presents problems. The red tape required in this country to bring a foreign child into the United States for adoption is considerable. Though I realize this ensures the child is adopted through legal channels, it is still quite formidable and not for the faint of heart. International adoption is also quite expensive (comparable to domestic adoption), but is more manageable as it is most often paid in increments throughout the adoption process. There are occasional stories of baby trafficking that come out of every country (those these stories are few and are not reflections of the greater picture). Furthermore, many IA agencies require the family to be Christian, as to place them in line with the often associated ministry or mission goals of the agency.
Despite these things, we felt the hurtles to international adoption to be much less intimidating and decided to adopt internationally with China as our choice of country. Our choice of China was made based on the following reasons: the China adoption process has been worked free of most kinks (even with recent changes to adoption policy); we would like to add a daughter to our family and we have a basic guarantee that we will be matched with a girl (based on our letter of intent and the fact that 95% of the children available for adoption are female); we are closely in line with Chinese culture and feel very connected to Eastern philosophies; we feel more comfortable providing a home to a child whose other options are to grow up in a crowded oprhanage sharing caregivers with several other children; and we were able to find agencies that would work with us despite not being Christian.
Truthfully, recent timetable changes to China adoption has been a challenge for us. When starting out, we hoped to have a daughter home with us by the end of 2007, now it seems to be closer to the end of 2008. We have considered switching to Ethiopia. However, we currently are staying with China as that is what we have been working for the past few months.
You see, though we do not care whether or not our child's skin is the same color as ours, China is where this adoption has led us. We do not feel that a daughter from China is more beautiful than any other child, smarter than any other child or more hardworking than any other child. We do not see African American, Hispanic or African children to be inferior or less attractive.
With those things said, I will tell you that we have examined and obsessed and reexamined ourselves in this process. Adoption as a whole brings up many emotional issues for most people that must be dealt with prior to signing your agency contract and may come up again during the process. Adoption outside of one's culture and/or race brings up even more issues. The most obvious issues revolve around what others think of us as they see us walk down the street with a child who is obviously not ours biologically. As white American's, we have wondered if we will be able to fully give any child not from our race or culture an understanding of who that child would have been, had they not been adopted. Many people going through this process wonder the same thing. We are told time and again by experts that we must expose these children to their heritage. Like most people we have met or read about, we agree. We are looking forward to Chinese classes in the Spring. I am learning to cook Chinese. It is already part of our normal lives to attend various cultural festivals and activities – just because we want to. We know that these activities will continue after our daughter comes home.
We also have wondered again and again about adopting outside of America. Like most countries around the world, American's are proud of our heritage and are quite nationalistic. We are indoctrinated from a young age that the USA is best and should always be first. So, how could we possibly consider a child outside of our own country when we have children here available for adoption? Is it possible that so many people were outraged by Paula Zahn's show and other such commentaries due to our own guilt regarding going abroad in search of children? Absolutely. But, I believe that the reason these things are possible are not because we have committed an act that should promote a feeling of guilt but because of these indoctrinations that we received from such a young age.
Many opponents to international adoption echo this “America First” philosophy. This thought process states we should help “our” children first in an effort to relieve American's social welfare system. To people who share that philosophy, I wonder what you are doing to not only promote that line of thinking regarding adoption, but in the rest of your life as well. It is surely not only in adoption that the people of America should come first. I would ask those people what type of car do you drive? Is your car made by a company who has closed American factories to move to a foreign country where the wages are much lower? How many of the unemployed auto industry workers faced financial hardship after losing their jobs? What type of clothing do you wear? Is your clothing made in the United States where the people who make it earn money to feed their children or is made in China? Do you own a computer supported by IBM or Microsoft – two companies who are not only cutting American jobs but sending those jobs to India and China in an effort to cut wages and increase company profits? What part are you playing personally to help prevent poverty in the US?
Current estimates state that there are 1.6 million orphans worldwide. Many, perhaps most of those orphans are not in orphanages, or are not available for adoption based on the country they live in. Many opponents to international adoption believe that Americans should be required to exhaust all domestic possibilities first. Have those opponents adopted domestically themselves? Have they gone against many of the blocks to domestic adoption? Why do these people place limits on loving an orphaned child?
Though I have given all of the intellectual reasons we are adopting from China, there is more. There is a less tangible feeling that we have toward our adoption. I believe that for whatever reason we are Spirit led, that a Divine force has led us down this path toward this child that is waiting for us. There are things greater than us that go beyond an intellectual discussion of right or wrong. There are forces in the Universe that could care less about geopolitical lines and cultural barriers.
Growing up in this country where hatred and discrimination abounds, my husband and I could have grown up reflecting racist or discriminatory attitudes, but we did not. We have an understanding of the greater picture of the world and all of the possibilities of humanity. People in the international adoption community are serving to heal many of the woes of the world. We are bringing Asian children into families where the grandfathers fought against Vietnamese and Korean soldiers. We are bringing Guatemalan children into families who call Hispanics “spics.” We are bringing Ethiopian children into families with deep seated hatred against all black people. Often family attitudes change after falling in love with the newly adopted children. We are doing are part in healing our world.
I have one final thought for you to consider. Could it be that instead of putting efforts into opposing international adoption, instead of saying that we should adopt domestically, perhaps your efforts would be better spent on commentaries and overhauls of domestic adoption policies? Perhaps it is domestic policies which should change in an effort to encourage families to adopt from within our own borders.
Though I do not write this letter in an effort to fully persuade you, I hope you will understand that this, like most things, is not a black and white issue. Grey areas abound in the process for each adoptive family.