Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Would You Rather Have Grown Up in an Orphanage?"

When we challenge adoption practices and policies, sometimes people become confused about why we do so.  Adoption provides homes for kids, why change it? People have gone so far to assert that those who want to change adoption must not want needy children to have homes..  People must assume that there are adoptees who make these opinions consumed by their own pain, not considering the needs of children, and haven't done their homework.

In reality, many of us have been those children.

I spent the first 4.5 months of my life in a foster home.  I do not know the names of my foster parents or where I lived.  I don't have any pictures or any real information about my life.  Since my state reformed its access laws 14 years after my birth, I now have my uncensored adoption file.  I know that I lived under a false alias and received medical care as an infant at a doctor's office where the agency presented my identity to my health care providers as being this false alias.  An adoption worker noted that I will get sunburn if you don't put sunblock on me and that I am sensitive to dairy.  I guess nothing else about me was important enough to be written down.

People have suggested that if I dislike adoption it must mean that I would have rather stayed in foster care for the rest of my youth, rather than be adopted.

But they're forgetting that I was not magically materialized within foster care.  I was born to a mother; I had a family.  Why was I in foster care to begin with?  Why did I need to be in foster care for almost 5 months when my mother signed off her rights less than a month after my birth?  I can make an educated guess but I will never really know.

My parents adopting me out of foster care is also not what I have a problem with.

If we sought to address the reasons why children are entering into orphanages, we can prevent so many losses from happening.  Why are mothers "abandoning" their children in orphanages in countries abroad?  Why are they disenfranchised by terrible poverty?  Why aren't there social welfare programs to help keep families together?

Adoption is a reaction to a problem.  It will not keep the problem from continuing.  It does not address the problem at its roots.  Adoption will not solve the problems of all of the children in orphanages.  But addressing the reasons why orphanages are being used will.  Not having kids growing up in orphanages is the goal.  Adoption is an institution that impacts vulnerable populations globally.  We have to question its policies and practices and continually shape them.  If we do not, we will never meet the needs of children and families.

"Women in developing nations who place children for adoption abroad usually do so because they are disadvantaged by terrible poverty and/or by the stigma of illegitimacy." --Fisher, A. (2003). Still not quite as good as having your own? Toward a sociology of adoption. Annual Review of Sociology

Photo credit: Maggie Smith


Priscilla said...

You are so right, Amanda. I firmly believe that, if we encourage mothers and fathers with in-home caregivers and sponsors, with parenting classes, nutritional counseling, etc., to become better parents, society wouldn't need to remove children anywhere near as often as we do. If we spent as much time and money helping parents as we do taking children away and placing them in foster care and adoption, the long-term problems associated with separation -- for both the parents and children -- would be alleviated. Case in point: My daughter became a teen mother. Our family supported her and baby for five years while she finished h.s., began work, eventually married. To be honest, there were a couple of times I thought about severing her parenthood (typical teen acting-out spells), but I knew that if I had done that to her, she would have lost all vestiges of self-respect and self-esteem she had left (remember, I *know* what that's about having lost my first-born to adoption). So we patiently hung in there, encouraging her, supporting her, and eventually she grew to be a wonderful mother -- in fact, a better mother in many ways than I ever was. I'm not saying all cases would be solved so easily, but we could certainly preserve more families and perhaps, in the process, show parents how to step up to their responsibility and become good parents and role models. If we take their children away, and strip them of self-respect and a reason to "live right," what options are left for them?

Jennifer said...

Beautiful post. Jennifer

Von said...

So many children in orphanages are not orphans, they have parents.
I still don't understand why in America if couples are approved to adopt why babies aren't always directly placed with them and go to foster care,increasing the trauma with two changes.
Adoption is so much about poverty, relative and absolute poverty, all of it preventable.

Mei Ling said...

I get that question too: "Would you rather have grown up in an orphanage?"

My response: "Does *anyone* refer they would have had to grow up in an orphanage? No, I would rather that my parents had been HELPED."

Carlynne Hershberger, CPSA said...

Absolutely true, excellent post. I'm grateful for your last paragraph about adoptive parents who are supportive of reform. This is what I've been saying. I truly don't understand people who are working for reform but are so resistant to adoptive parents helping. I do believe there are adoptive parents out there who, if they had been told the truth about the pain the adoption caused, would be horrified and would help work toward change. Wouldn't it be better to have more and more people on the side of change? Yes, the more people supporting us the better.

Mila said...

"My parents adopting me out of foster care is not what I have a problem with when it comes to my adoption...What was unethical is the method by which I entered into adoption in the first place. My Original Mother never should have been denied resources...Adoption is a reaction to a problem. It will not keep the problem from continuing. It does not address the problem at its roots. Adoption will not solve the problems of all of the children in orphanages. But addressing the reasons why orphanages are being used will."

Ooo, girl--Amanda, great post. So well-stated, so clearly stated. If you don't mind, I would love to quote/link you.

HollyMarie said...

I came here from Melissa's blog (yoonsblur) and I hear exactly what you are saying. And I do think that everyone who has even an inkling of the truth of all this should advocate. My question is where do we start, practically speaking? A couple of my friends and I have been discussing this very thing.

For example, internationally, (my girls were both adopted internationally)how can we help prevent the move to the orphanage? I mean, sure, we sponsor 2 kids through compassion and 1 through a nonprofit in Ethiopia that works to prevent this very thing: kids are able to stay w/ their families rather than end up in orphanages thanks to sponsorship and start up loans for single moms, etc. BUT, so many kids are still ending up in orphanages because their mothers (or fathers) are stuck in poverty with no one to help them; they do not live in an area reached by a social services non-profit of some kind or another (so we cannot help them even if we want to). So then what?

Once these kids are in the orphanages, how can we help them reunite with family who live in an area that is not serviced in any way by any kind of social program? Is it possible? Should we not adopt them because the sole reason they are in the orphanage is because of poverty and sickness, not for lack of love or desire to parent by the parent? What is the answer?

We all talk about reform and we say amen! and we know it is needed, but it is so very complicated in this situation, and I am not hearing any real solutions being presented by anyone. In many ways I feel very helpless to do anything.

After the adoption of our oldest, I was able to do research and contact her first mom through a non-profit in D.C. I was able to learn more about her situation and I was able to provide a start up loan for a small business for her as well as sponsor her and her other children for 6 months while she got the business off the ground (all through this non-profit who allowed me to use their name to channel the help through). But there was no way for me to do that prior to the adoption, no way for me to prevent her daughter going to the orphanage at the age of 5. And once in the orphanage and later referred to us, nothing I could do to reunite her with her mother.

Katharine said...

Brilliant, as ever.

I don't think that my situation would have changed had my fmom had support and guidance, but we'll never know. That sucks.

I was like you, and languished in the hospital and foster care for 10 weeks after my birth, even though the adoption agency had identified my aparents. It makes no sense. I had no consistent caretaker for the first critical weeks of my life. Why? Probably because there was a deal to make money off an infant. My aparents should have taken me home directly from the hospital. You make a good point that many of us *were* foster kids.

I also like your point about us being labeled "anti-adoption" for saying anything that doesn't hew to the rainbow script. We're not allowed to have opinions or ideas. We're second-class citizens. I've also noticed a propensity on many blogs to say that there are millions of adoptees, and thus millions of experiences and opinions. How dare we speak for others? The same old story of labeling and dismissing. Divide and conquer. What's even more troubling is a trend for people to say that we overstep our boundaries by daring to speak up for adopted children. How can we know what an infant thinks or feels? We've only lived it, but then we're back to there being millions of opinions. Maybe an infant *wants* to be separated from its first parents! Uh huh, that makes a lot of sense. *sigh*

suzanna said...

I gave my son up in the state of Penna. in 1978. The reason he went to foster care was to give me plenty of time to change my mind, and to not put his adoptive parents thru the anguish of losing him. Even though I had all that time no one contacted me or offered the help that was available. At that time the only " help" was welfare. 8 weeks later I went in front of a judge and the file was closed. He went to his aparents clean and free of me , new birth cert. I was told it was one foster mother who took care of him. But all that time. How horrible for him

Eastiopians said...

I was about to cut and paste the same paragraph of yours that Melissa did above. WOW! Well said. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

(new blog is

d28bob said...

In my case, I was almost a year old before I was adopted; I spent my first year in an orphanage, so I was separated first from my neonatal environment, then again from whatever caregivers I had at the orphanage. I have visited the site, looked at the neighborhood which I would have seen looking out the windows where the building once stood- I am haunted by not knowing more about my first "home." I wonder sometimes how that formative first year affected me in so many ways...