Last year, I took part in the Adoption Interview Project for the first time. The project is hosted by Heather at Production, Not Reproduction; she is also the woman behind Open Adoption Bloggers, a group of writers exploring adoption from all sides: birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees, and others. The group frequently has writing prompts to promote discussion of adoption-related topics. Check out all the participants in the 2012 Adoption Interview Project here.
This year, I was paired with Sharon of Whatever Things Are True: the Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the World of International Adoption. She’s a mom of three through international adoption, and her blog focuses on child welfare, child rights, and promoting healthy, happy families worldwide. Her writing has appeared in various adoption-related print publications. It was a pleasure to interview her, and I look forward to getting to know her better in the future. Thus, without further adieu, here’s Sharon:
1. What first led you to the decision to adopt? Were your family and friends supportive?
My husband and I started out adoption efforts way back in 2000. It sounds naïve now, but we heard a radio program about the need for families for girls from China, and started talking about international adoption from there. I had a pretty chaotic childhood that led to me being raised by my grandparents, so I felt tremendous empathy for children born into situations where their parents just couldn’t care for them. We chose to pursue adoption first, but we expected that we’d eventually have a biological child too. That never happened, but we love the family we have now.
2. I read that you’ve adopted children from India and Ethiopia. What factors influenced your decision to pursue international adoption? What advice would you offer to someone attempting to decide between international, domestic infant, or foster adoption?
We became interested in adopting from India because I have relatives of Indian heritage, and we thought it would be good for our adopted child to have that cultural and ethnic tie. Unfortunately, our first adoption attempt from India fell through in a heartbreaking way (another long story.) After that we looked into domestic and foster adoption, but having spent time in several orphanages in India during our first adoption attempt, we felt compelled to adopt from that kind of setting.
My advice to families starting out is to research all your options and talk to parents who’ve adopted all different ways. Interview agencies and attorneys. Go to the foster adoption info night. See what feels comfortable. And know that no matter what form of adoption you choose, it’s complicated, and you will need to understand and honor the child’s tie to her first family, even if you don’t have an ongoing relationship with them.
3. What led you to those specific countries? What advice would you offer about finding ethical agencies and strong programs to someone interested in pursuing international adoption?
How we ended up with children from India and Ethiopia is kind of a long story, which I include in the About section of my blog. As I said, we had our first adoption from India fall through. The Ethiopian adoption program was still fairly new (it was 2005) and fast-moving. We were able to adopt a 3-year-old boy and his 2-year-old sister in a process that took about 6 months total, which is impossible now that the program has grown so big and popular, and developed problems. Despite the sadness of our first failed adoption from India, we still felt connected to that country. We were able to adopt a 5 year old girl from a different region of India where adoptions were better managed and monitored than our first attempt.
My advice for finding an ethical international adoption program is, once again, research. Talk to families, in person and online, about their experiences with various. Don’t take an agency’s word on their approach to ethics; if several families tell you an agency is known for ethical problems, take that seriously, no matter how nice the person at the agency seems. Check the US State Department website for country information and alerts. Also keep in mind that large countries like India or Russia can have issues crop up in one region of the country while other regions are running smoothly. You need to ask your agency how long they’ve worked in a particular region and if there is any history in the region of ethical allegations, or judges who refuse to process adoption cases, or any other problems. The way your agency responds to direct questions tell you a lot. An agency that responds respectfully and without defensiveness, and doesn’t try to brush off your concerns, is one you want to work with.
4. Many worry that adoption, especially international adoption, is cost prohibitive. What would you say to someone with these financial concerns? Also, what are your thoughts on the ethics of adoption fundraisers?
Adoption through foster care fits any budget, and if you live in an area with a good local program, it can be a great option. International and domestic adoption is expensive, but so is fertility treatment, surrogacy etc. We completed our last adoption almost 6 years ago, and what we paid back then doesn’t come close to the cost of fertility treatments now. I also think agency costs vary more than you think, and it pays to shop around. We had so many false starts with our adoption efforts that at a certain point our homestudy agency stopped charging us for homestudy updates because they were worried about how much we’d spent. The problems we has were completely unrelated to their work for us, but still they reduced their fees to help us out. That is a good agency.
I haven’t quite made my mind up about adoption fundraisers, since these weren’t as common 8-9 year ago when we started pursuing adoption. Probably something I should research more and write about on the blog.
5. Do you plan to adopt any more children in the future?
At this time, we don’t have plans to add more kids, but you never know. About a year ago, we unexpectedly heard of two Ethiopian girls in need of a home following disruption, and we talked about stepping in. My oldest child didn’t want to add anyone to the family who was older than her, so we didn’t pursue it (but those girls found a great family.)
6. What’s the weirdest/most infuriating/most wonderful thing someone has said regarding your transracial family? Is the area you live in diverse? What steps do you take to seek more diversity in your lives?
I think the hardest thing for me is having people tell me I must be a good person for adopting. That really bothers me on so many levels, but most of all because there’s kind of an implication that only a saintly person could love a child from a rough background. That’s kind of disrespecting the child, in my opinion. I know people don’t necessarily intend that kind of comment to be upsetting, but I think it reflects a stigma against adopted people that is embedded in our culture. My children have overcome challenges and adversities that many adults have never had to face, and they’ve done so with grace and strength. They are the good people; they are my heroes.
We live in the San Francisco Bay area, which is a great place to be a multicultural family. My kids have plenty of friends and role models of their same race and ethnicity. I think it must be a lot harder for adoptive families living in less diverse settings.
7. On your blog, you cover a variety of news stories relating to adoption, and you don’t shy away from the horror stories. How did you decide on this unique focus for your blog, and what do you hope people gain from your blog?
Oh, gosh, what a question. Sometimes I feel like this blog hasn’t accomplished anything, even though I’ve been at it for years. There’s a lot of polarization in the adoption community, that breaks down to pro and anti-adoption camps. I wanted to bridge that gap with a blog that looked at adoption issues and policies in a balanced way. A lot of people think that if you’re “pro” adoption you don’t care about ethics, and if you’re “anti” adoption you don’t care about orphans, and for most people, that’s not true. But folks do love to cling to their ideological positions, and the two camps rarely have productive conversations.
I’ve been trying with this blog to put the needs of children at the center of the discussion. What is truly best for children? Unethical adoptions aren’t good for kids. Rotting in orphanages isn’t good for kids. Pretending that there isn’t a problem with adoptee abuse isn’t helping kids. Can we get beyond the usual talking points and think more deeply about how to protect children? Some days I feel really discouraged. People tend to see adoption based on how it has played out in their own lives, and it’s really hard to get people to move beyond that initial emotional response. But I keep trying, because I can’t help myself.
8. When it comes to stories like the Barbour abuse case from Pittsburgh, what do you think went wrong? Are there changes that could be made in current adoption practices that could prevent such occurrences?
Wow, this is BIG question that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Many of these high profile tragedies seem to involve large families with many young children in the home. Sometimes two unrelated kids have been adopted at the same time, and I have to wonder if parents are just taking on more than they can handle. In the case of the Barbours and also the Williams family in Washington, who are on trial for murdering their Ethiopian daughter, the families were homeschooling four or more kids and living very isolated lives. Many agencies have a policy of not placing two unrelated children at the same time, and I wish all would follow that rule. Siblings need to stay together, but placing unrelated kids at the same time comes down to pleasing parents who may be eager to create a family and underestimating how hard the adjustment process may be. I hate to single out homeschooling families, since I know most homeschoolers are doing a great job, but when it comes to adoption, maybe these families need to be monitored more closely during the initial adjustment period to make sure families aren’t isolating themselves to the detriment of the kids. The state of Washington is currently evaluating new regulations for international adoptions, with new monitoring requirements, because of the Williams tragedy.
9. What do you feel have been the greatest challenges in adopting older children? What advice would you offer to someone considering older-child adoption?
It’s important for people to realize that when you adopt an older child, you’ve got a lot of nurturing work to do. Your child may have no experience with life in a family, and you need to be patient. It’s unrealistic to expect your child to trust you right away; earn her trust, and be patient. Take the long view; it takes time to create that feeling of family, but if you stay calm and keep trying, you’ll get there. Find a therapist you can trust. Experience with adoption issues is less important than finding someone who knows how to help kids who’ve experienced trauma – pretty much any child who is available for adoption at an older age has been through trauma. Expect challenges, and try to have empathy for what your child has been through.
10. What resources (blogs, books, etc.) have been most helpful to you as an adoptive parent?
The staff at the International Adoption Clinic at Oakland Children’s Hospital has been a great resource. Our kids all had health and neuro-psych screenings there when they arrived, and I kept in touch for years with the staff, and checked in when I had questions about the kids’ health i.e. one of them needed a medical specialist. They helped me find therapists, cardiologists, even tutoring for learning issues. I really recommend seeking out an adoption clinic like this if you have one nearby; a great resource.
Other organizations I’ve found helpful are: Families Adopting in Response (FAIR Families), PACT: An Adoption Alliance, and African Cradle. These are all Bay area organizations, but you can access info and resources on their websites from anywhere. Attending culture camps and adoption conferences that include adoptive parenting seminars has been incredibly helpful. My favorite speakers of all time were Jaiya John, an adult adoptee who wrote BLACK BABY, WHITE HANDS and Regina Kupecky, who along with Dr. Gregory Keck, wrote the series on ADOPTING THE HURT CHILD. Jaiya John really stressed having empathy for your child, and Regina Kupecky’s advice boiled down to “Nurture more, control less.” The more you try to nurture your child vs control your child, the better the results.