Monday, March 22, 2010

Some views on adoption

Adoption is something that I have really come to change my mind about as I have become more informed and have come to know my daughter's story. Over the years I have been asked many questions about my daughter's adoption, both online and in real life.

1. Why did you adopt?

Obviously, it was not due to infertility and there isn't one answer, but rather several reasons. One is that I grew up in a small family, with little extended family around. I always envied my friends who had big family get-togethers and holiday meals with cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. I have a wonderful family which may be why I always wished there were more of us! I wanted a large family. I figured there were kids who needed a family, lots of them. Adopting was always something I had in the back of my mind that I would like to do. After having 3 boys, I really liked the idea of adopting a girl. I first became interested in adopting from Russia after watching a Dateline show about the plight of a little girl in an orphanage in Russia and how many kids were in the same situation. From there I did research on Russian adoption and saw there were indeed many children in orphanages in Russia. I was interested in adopting a preschool age child but our agency would not allow us to adopt out of birth order and Alex was only 2. So we brought Sara home when she was 1.5.

2. Why did you adopt internationally? Why not adopt domestically or from foster care?

I had no desire to adopt a domestic newborn baby. I wanted to adopt a child from an orphanage or foster care. However, I was leary of foster care because of the kids eventually leaving. The goal of foster care is return children to their natural family when possible. That is as it should be and I am all for it. However, I was afraid having kids coming and going would be too disruptive to my kids. My first priority had to be them. (Note: My hesitancy with adopting from foster care was based on the experiences of a friend of mine who had kids coming and going even though she was hoping to adopt. If I had to do it again, I would probably look a little closer at this option.)

3. Why was your daughter relinquished?

While I have shared my daughter's story with close family and a few people online who don't know us in adoption discussions, this is HER story and I don't generally share it with others. Let's just say her mother really did not have much of a choice. When your options are survival or possible non-survival, you do what you have to do. The idea that natural mothers always have a choice is false. My daughter's mother didn't really have a true choice and that is the case far more often than most people would like to think.

4. How do you know for sure why your daughter was relinquished? How do you know she was not kidnapped?

We hired a searcher who made face to face contact with my daughter's Russian family. Her mother verified and expanded upon the sketchy information we were given by the adoption agency. We have pictures and video tape of my daughter's family as well as her story as told by her mother (translated, of course, by the searcher).

5. Will you take your daughter back to Russia?

Yes, this is something we plan to do. We can't do it right now and although I know some people don't agree with this, it is our decision when it is the right time to go back to Russia. For better or worse, we have 3 other children and limited resources.

6. Did you know about your son's difficulties when you adopted?

NO! This question has been asked of me by people both IRL and online. I'll be honest, it kind of irks me. I'm not even sure I can articulate why. It feels invasive for some reason. But again, the answer is no. In fact, during our homestudy, the social worker needed to have the pediatrician make a statement on the boys' health and development. There were no huge red flags. Those of you with kids on the spectrum know the difficulties are not always obvious in infancy or even the toddler years. In fact, a recent study done by IAN (Interactive Autism Network affiliated with Kennedy Krieger) found that the average age of diagnosis for PDD-NOS is 3.7 and for Asperger's Syndrome is 7.2. At age 2 we knew that Alex wasn't yet talking, but we weren't overly concerned because our oldest son was a "late talker". Obviously, the fact that we were clueless when Alex was 2 is not unusual.

7. Would you recommend adoption to others?

When we adopted I was unaware of some of the things I know now. I honestly thought we were doing a good thing by adopting a child who was in an orphanage. I also erroneously thought my daughter would not "miss" her family since she had never lived with them. I always assumed she would be curious and want to find them someday but I didn't think she would feel "incomplete" or like she didn't fit in. Of course she is only 5 so I don't really know what her feelings about her adoption will be but I am aware they may be more negative than positive. She is likely to feel a great sense of loss for her family, her culture, her language, etc. This has nothing to do with us "giving her enough love". It would really have nothing to do with us. It is what it is. We cannot replace her original family no matter how good she has it with us. This is what prospective adoptive parents need to understand and it is something I didn't understand before adopting. Now I am not saying she would be better off in an orphanage, I don't believe that. However, there are many loss issues to consider. Adoption, of course, begins with loss. Without the loss of her original family, her adoption would not have taken place. She will need us to be supportive of her feelings, whatever they may be, and to acknowledge them. So...I would say to others thinking of adoption, please do some research. Read "The Primal Wound" by Nancy Verrier. Read some blogs by adoptees and first moms. It can truly be eye-opening. There is a definite negative side to adoption that the agencies will not tell you about.

8. How has your daughter "adjusted"?

For the most part, very well. She has some lingering issues. She is a food hoarder which is not uncommon in post-institutionalized children. She is also hyper-vigilant. This is also common. I have to be extra careful that I am never late picking her up from school and other places and that if I say I am going to be somewhere, that I am there! This is more important for her than for my other kids. Aside from that, she is also a bit delayed academically. I don't know the cause of this except to say that there is nothing "wrong" with her cognitively. She is bright and curious.

9. If you had to do it all over, would you adopt again?

Hmmm....that is a toughie. Knowing what I know now about Alex, probably not. But that is really the same thing as saying, if you knew the challenges Alex would have, would you have had any more kids? The fact is, I can't change the fact that we adopted and can't imagine my life without Sara any more than I can imagine my life without one of the boys. I feel guilt a lot - guilt that I participated in something that may one day cause her real pain (her adoption). And also that I participated in the "industry" of adoption. Because I have come to believe that the industry is corrupt. As long as there is demand for children, agencies will find children, one way or another. And charge high fees for their "services". I think profit should be taken out of adoption altogther. I think more effort should be put into keeping children with their families whenever possible. I also feel guilt similar to what I imagine a family feels when their loved one has received an organ from someone who has died. I imagine they feel tremendous joy for their loved one but a kind of guilt that their good fortune had to come from another family's terrible loss. I know my joy at having my daughter has come from a terrible loss suffered by her Russian family. It was easy for this loss to be kind of vague before we searched for her family. However, the tears in her mother's eyes and the sadness on her face were very real. I know that as the adoptive family, we have all the joy while my daughter and her Russian family experience great loss. That is hard for me to think about. I DON'T KNOW if I would have adopted if I knew then what I know now (even if Alex was NT). I need to take responsibility for our decsion to adopt and find a way to help change the industry for the better.


  1. Thank you Kris, I learnt some things about adoption that I didn't know from your post. I could say that we didn't know about our eldest son's condition before we had our other children, but I know what my instincts were telling me. For me, I wanted to experience everything about being a father and I have no regrets about having four children - a large family these days. They are all special and while it may have been easier for us with fewer children, I feel that we wouldn't be complete as a family. From what you've said your decision to adopt was made for the right reasons, not withstanding the flaws in the industry.

  2. I agree Kris, that taking the profit out of adoption would go a very long way in controlling the corruption.

    Thanks for the honest heartfelt post.

  3. "We cannot replace her original family no matter how good she has it with us."

    I wish more people would understand this and not take it so personally.

  4. The two are such different entities. Why isn't it obvious for some that it goes both ways? It's sort of what I meant on your blog Mei Ling. That the two are incomparable. Both called the same thing, family, but couldn't be more different, physically and emotionally. I think it's what you said, that it's taken personally, or as an offense. If in fact it's always adoptive families that take offense, perhaps presenting it as, "your role in the adopted child's life can't be replaced, how could the original family's role be replaced?" Just reading that makes me shake my head. They are not interchangeable because even though they're called the same thing, family, they are not the same thing.

    Maybe it's the term family?

    I think that's why, to me, differentiating the two entities with the term biological makes sense. And, from my point of view, having only ever known one person who's biologically related to me, my son, it's a very poignant term, very meaningful. Much more meaningful than birth/first/natural/original.