Adoption: Addiction?

About 24 years ago, it became fairly obvious that I was a member of an infertile couple. Problematic, as one of our main objectives was having a family. Since I was enlisted at the time, there wasn’t a lot of money to undergo expensive fertility treatments, so we decided to look into adoption.

Adoption is a complicated thing. Public adoption is generally the most affordable and safest. Safest because the birth parents relinquish their parental rights to the government; a disinterested party. Once the papers are accepted, there is no turning back, without protracted legal proceedings and really good reasons. It’s also a good option if you are looking for a special needs child, which includes not only children with disabilities, but minority children and sibling groups. But for the couple looking for a healthy, Caucasian infant, private adoption is about the only option, and even this can involve years of waiting … and a lot of money.

So I understand why some couples choose international adoption. My friend adopted from China, where female infanticide and abandonment remain fairly common. What I don’t understand, and what has kept my blood pressure pinging the higher end of the meter all week, is the situation Kathryn Joyce describes in the  MotherJones article, “Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession.”

I won’t deny you the dubious pleasure of reading the article (or the book), but it is a case study in “When Transracial Adoptions Go Wrong.” During the middle of the last decade, Ecumenicals went on a wholesale adoption spree in Liberia. Families with children were adopting three or more Liberian children at one time. I emphasized “with” because anyone who has more than one child (not multiples) knows how difficult it is to bring a new child into an existing home. So imagine if you have – say – three children at home already, and one day you show up with four more children, of different ages, from a different country, who cannot speak English. Certainly, ethical adoption agencies would evaluate these situations carefully, but as these adoptions were termed by the arranging agencies as religious “missions,” the adage of  “the more souls saved, the better” came quickly into play. Families would go to Africa with wads of cash and basically commence playing “Let’s Make a Deal” without the benefit of Monty Hall as mediator. As is the main objection to domestic transracial adoptions, everything was fine for a while, but once the novelty wore off, well … suffice it to say: African children. In the rural South. Yeah. Not good.

According to Joyce, while the “fever” seems to have subsided and Liberian adoptions have returned to close to 2004 (pre-fever) levels,  2011 adoption rates for Ethiopia and Uganda were 510% and 1,194% of 2004 rates, respectively. The only non-African nations in the top ten “sending” nations were Taiwan (90%) and the Philippines (15%). And even if the numbers have leveled off across the board, that does nothing to address the thousands of lives shattered by this inhumane practice.

It absolutely boggles the mind how – in the 21st century – Americans can sit back and allow this to happen. How adoption agencies identified as engaging in dubious practices can continue to operate. How the government facilitates the process by allowing these children into the country. It is unknown if all or most of the children adopted out by these agencies were even legitimately orphaned. And the lives of many of the children adopted during the “Rush” continue to be complicated by unclear immigration status.

I am livid. As the mother of two adopted children, this story alarms me because it makes it more difficult to change traditionally-held views about adoption in communities of color.  As an African American, this story infuriates me because it smacks far too much of the horrors of slavery. As a Christian, this story dismays me because – once again – we find self-proclaimed “Christians” acting in very un-Christian ways. Ecumenicals are very vocally pro-life, yet it appears – by this account – they have little concern about the spirits of these children. Ecumenicals are very vocally anti-immigration, yet here they have established and engaged in a system that flaunts the established system.

Hopefully, Joyce’s work will shine a light on this issue and force both adoption and immigration officials to address it in some meaningful way. Children are not puppies. They are not rare birds to be brought home and trotted out for the amazement and amusement of friends and family. They are not political statements. They are not missions. Children are people. People with psyches and souls that can be bruised when handled roughly.

Perhaps we need a twelve step program for adoption. Or at least a twelve step plan to properly regulate it.

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