Adoption Interview Project, 2012

by Camille on November 14, 2012

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.

Jenn Hodges November 14, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Nice article! Has Sharon also adopted domestically?

It always amazes me when I hear or read about international adoption. I’ve always been quite cynical about it, really… Much like my opinion on foreign missionary work, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around why anyone would go outside the US to adopt (or to do mission work, though my cousin in currently a missionary in the Canary Islands), when there are so many children in the US that need families. I may have never walked through an orphanage in India or seen the horrendous conditions in which some children outside the US live, but I just don’t get it. Having spoken to agencies who aid in both domestic and international adoption, the fees associated with international adoptions (the agencies I’ve researched anyhow) are EXORBITANT. Its not just the agency fees (I understand they need to be paid for all of their hard work) but the Country fees, in some cases, depending on the Country, can be up to $30k or more. Not to mention the travel fees, taxes, and Cultural training classes (who can ask off for 6 weeks of work??) – this all in ADDition to the agency/atty fees, missed work, and general preparations. I just can’t help but think that there are sooo many children in the States that need families, who are perhaps not being adopted as a result of the surge of international adoptions. What are your thoughts?

Camille November 15, 2012 at 10:50 am

Thanks for commenting. 🙂 Sharon has adopted from Ethiopia and India.

It’s a complicated issue, for sure, and I appreciate the chance to discuss it. We’re not called to adopt internationally (at least for now) for several reasons, but I know many who are. Partly, I think the “seeing it” has a lot to do with their decisions. Several friends have decided to adopt after spending time abroad and realizing how vastly different the definition of “poverty” and “orphan” is between America and other countries. Here, a foster child will be provided with food, medical care, clothes, a counselor, a social worker, education, court-appointed advocates, etc. Certainly, there are serious (and often horrific) flaws within the system, and reform is needed. More adoptive families are desperately needed for these older children. But at least there is a system.

In so many countries, thousands of children die before their first birthday from malnutrition and lack of medical care. For millions of orphans worldwide, adoption is a matter of life or death.

Also, as you know, domestic adoption comes with its own set of complications. The availability of infants or younger children who already have their parental rights terminated is rare; blogger Kristin Howerton from Rage Against the Minivan adopted her first son from foster care. They brought him home as a six-month-old, but it took three years to finalize his adoption. ( She said she didn’t think they could go through that uncertainty again. For people who want to start their families with younger children rather than a 7-year-old (and since parenting older children is an entirely different calling…most do), international adoption may seem like a less risky and more timely option.

I agree the financial aspects are daunting, but when you put it into perspective, how much is a car? A few vacations? I don’t think providing a loving family and a future to a child who didn’t have one can be measured in monetary terms. I do wish countries and agencies would work together to better control fees so that more people could adopt.

Also, you said, “I just can’t help but think that there are sooo many children in the States that need families, who are perhaps not being adopted as a result of the surge of international adoptions. What are your thoughts?” I guess I think that all kids need homes, and I can’t think of a reason why U.S. kids should get to be at the front of the line? Does that make sense? I’m so grateful that we have Ellie, but in reality, her life isn’t more special or more deserving than the little boy in Haiti or the girls in Honduras. I believe God created all of them and wants all of them to be safe and loved.

I hope Sharon sees this and offers her thoughts. 🙂

amber d. November 16, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to catching up on all the other interviews!

Nancy November 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I loved this interview — thanks for sharing it. We also struggle with how to respond to the “you’re a saint” kinds of conversations — and we usually try to simply state the truth, which is that a.) we are just ordinary people (you don’t have to be a saint or a Jolie/Pitt to adopt!), and b.) she is as great (or a greater!) blessing to us as we are to her.

And what you said in response to Jenn’s comment is certainly partly true for our decision to adopt from India. There are no “safety nets” in that country — no free education, no medical care, etc. like there are here in the US. ALL children need to grow up in safe, loving families . . . it doesn’t matter where they were born.
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Camille November 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm

This comment is from Sharon, the blogger I interviewed above. She can’t comment due to some technical glitch, so she e-mailed her response.

Hi there Camille and Jenn,
I’ve tried to comment a few times here — hope this time will work! Jenn, it’s true that adoption fees are high, but there’s quite a range. The country fees for India are capped by Indian law at $3,500. My Ethiopian children were adopted together as siblings, and so our per-child fee was reduced. At that time, in 2005, there weren’t a lot of families waiting to adopt 2 and 3 year old siblings and they wanted to encourage families to consider them. Neither of our adoptions approached anything like $30K, and so when I hear about couples spending $45K for egg donation, my jaw hits the floor…but no one asks couples pursuing fertility treatment why they don’t adopt children from foster care, or sees those choices as contributing to the plight of foster children (although well-meaning friends who don’t understand why a couple wants to pursue a bio child so badly may breezily encourage them to “just adopt.”) As Camille said, I think ALL children deserve a loving family; I would add that everyone is entitled to form their families as they choose, so long as they don’t break any laws in the process. I think families are drawn in the direction that feels right to them, whether that’s a certain kind of adoption or a type of reproductive assistance.

After our first adoption attempt from India failed, my husband and I went through 24 hours of training to become foster parents in Calif, in the hopes of adopting, but we dropped out for several reasons. The emotional risk of becoming attached to a child and not being able to adopt her felt too great for us, given that we’d already lost a child we hoped to adopt in India and felt devastated by the experience. There were foster parents in our training class who were updating their certifications who described things like having to return a child to parents who’d abused her, only to see the abuse flare again. Part of the training we received included how to answer when a child asked “How long do I get to stay with you?” We were coached to say, “I don’t know, honey, but I’m glad you’re here now.” So the foster parenting that you do while waiting to find out if you can adopt the child in your home is a JOB, and the county is your boss; you have to do what they tell you to do, and accept it when a child who is dong great with you is randomly moved to another foster home for bureaucratic reasons. At that stage of our lives we didn’t want to be county employees, we wanted to be parents. We are keeping the door open to foster parenting in the future. Now that we’ve had the experience of raising kids who are “ours,” I think we would be better able to tolerate the uncertainties of the fostering process and better prepared emotionally to engage with the important mission of reunifying the child with bio family as the first priority.

One last thing I would add: there’s a foster care group home in my town, and the kids who live there go to the elementary school my children attend. In first grade, my son had a girl from the home in his class. She had the same heartbreaking sadness in her eyes that I’d seen in children I’d met in orphanages overseas, and that really brought home for me about how this is a global child welfare issue. Kids everywhere want, need and deserve a family, and no child should live in an institution. (That particular little girl left the school before the year was out, when a placement was found with relatives out-of-state.)

Lori Lavender Luz November 26, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Regina Kupecky’s advice is so simple yet so profound. Something I could stand to hear every day.

I really like your answer to #7, about focusing on the child and helping people to see past their own anecdotal evidence.

Thanks for an insightful pairing, Camille and Sharon!
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