Tuesday 30 November 2010

Queuing for Starfish

Before you start: Read this background post first. And be aware that what I'm writing about here is the adoption of healthy infants. I don't know enough about other types of adoption to know whether much of this applies to them too. It may. It may not. But I know it's true here. Also, I'm assuming ethical adoptions; this post is long enough.

Oh, and just in case anybody thinks that I'm sitting up on my high horse to write this post, I want to remind you all that we adopted three month old healthy twins. Hear that? Three month old. Healthy. Twins. And one of the twins was a girl.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who we hadn't seen in a while. She's really nice, and she was telling us how lovely our babies are. I was lapping it up, of course. It was good. And then, she started talking about adoption in general. She said that one of her friends talks about adopting one day, she talks about adopting a baby girl from China. She wants to do this because she feels so sad about all those abandoned babies, all those children with no homes.

And I said 'well, if she wants to adopt from China it would be a very long wait'. And she asked why, and I said that there are fewer legally adoptable babies than parents waiting for them. And this is why there is such a long wait - essentially, there is a very long queue. And she asked me whether it was like that in Ethiopia too, and I said yes. The queue isn't nearly as long as China, but it's getting pretty long. There are a lot more waiting families than waiting babies. In fact, there aren't really adoptable babies anywhere in the world who are waiting for families. There is nowhere, at the moment, where there is a legal, accessible international adoption programme and a need for families. Nowhere.

Talking about this made me think about how I felt when we were waiting. I read blog after blog and saw little tickers marking out how long people had waited to be matched with their Ethiopian baby. Six months. Nine months. A year. More than a year. My heart clenched. I was not sure that I could bear that weight of waiting. I felt sad-sad-sad, but I also felt a teeny bit cranky. How could this be possible? Wasn't there a huge, gaping need? Weren't there millions of orphans? Why was mine taking so long to appear, if that was the case? Eventually, I came to face the fact that my imaginary orphan, the one who needed us, was a myth. He didn’t exist. Maybe he did, ten years ago, or maybe she still does, if she is thirteen years old and has severe health problems. But a healthy infant? There was no need there. These waiting times were getting longer because there was a queue- a huge queue - of people wanting to take one of these babies home. I realised what I said above - that none of the healthy infants available for adoption, anywhere on this planet, will grow up in an orphanage. I should have been happy about this. I should have been singing for joy. After all, who wants to see a baby grow up in an orphanage? I should have been happy, but I wasn't, not really. It turned out to be surprisingly hard to face the fact that there was no baby orphan waiting for us to rescue him. That was just a fantasy. There are children to adopt, but there was a queue in front of us and a queue behind. Joining that queue wasn’t a bad thing to do, but it wasn’t fulfilling James 1:27 either. I wanted a baby, but I also wanted to believe that I was doing something worthwhile. I wanted to know it was needed.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. I think that most of us - the adoption community, society, the media - have a 'starfish' view of adoption. This view says that there is a huge need - a global orphan crisis - and adoption is a way of responding that need, one starfish at a time. We are always quick to say that adoption isn't the answer to the crisis. We can never throw all the starfish. And it would be better if there were far, far, fewer starfish on the beach in the first place. But there's an unspoken assumption that deciding to throw a starfish will definitely help a little bit. It's this view that inspires people to write a hundred variations on this sentence:

"Adoption is not for everyone, so here's how to help orphans if you can't adopt!"

Because obviously, adoption is what will help the most. Obviously. Right? But I've come to think that when the motivation is to help, to give back, to care about orphans, then applying to adopt a healthy infant is actually more like looking for lost money underneath the streetlight.

Here's what I mean by that.

There are children in horrible, unbearable need around the world. In Haiti, in Pakistan. In Somalia. We see them on our screens. We read about them. We are haunted by them. We want to know how to help. And this is absolutely the right response - how can we go on living, unchanged, knowing that there are children who don't have enough to eat, who don't have clean water, who don't even have parents? It's unimaginable, especially if we start to think of our own children in that situation.

And so I think the logic goes something like this. I know that there are newborn babies abandoned in, say, Haiti with nobody to take them in. I can't bear it. I really, really want to help one of those babies in Haiti. Maybe I should adopt a baby. There is such enormous need, and I have so much to give. No, it's too expensive. No, it will disrupt my life too much. No, everybody will think I'm crazy. But the idea doesn't go away, and I continue to be haunted by the faces of the children who have nobody. Who am I to say no? How can I be that selfish? How can I know about the beach full of starfish and not take even one to safety? Okay, that's it. I have to do this. I will do this! I'm going to adopt! I can't actually adopt from Haiti, but there are babies to adopt in Ethiopia - there are lots of orphans there too - alright, I've made up my mind. We are going to adopt an Ethiopian orphan. Baby, here we come!

But adding your name to the Ethiopia queue doesn't actually do anything to help. There are children in the world who need families and can't get them, and that's awful. But those babies aren't in the Ethiopian adoption programme. There's a really good, transparent, seemingly ethical adoption system operating in Ethiopia that acts like a great big streetlight. This means that adoptable babies in Ethiopia are in no danger of languishing in an orphanage, waiting forever for a forever family. So going there in order to help by adopting an infant is like that man searching for his coin under a streetlight. Good idea, wrong place. Ultimately a bit pointless. All that is really achieved is that everybody behind you in the Ethiopia queue is going to wait a bit longer. Not the sentiment of which youtube adoption videos are made, perhaps. But true, I think.

I think that the problem comes in because we confuse a micro-need with a macro-need. (Look at me! I just made up some words!) On a micro level, at the level of each individual child, there is undeniably a need. A child without a family needs a family. But on a macro level, there is no need for families to come forward to adopt healthy infants because there are already so many waiting. And so coming forward as a way of helping seems - as I said - a little bit pointless.

Two statements I come across pretty frequently as reasons for adoption are "There are so many orphans and we want to give one a home" and "There is so much need, and we feel called (or some secular version of the same sentiment) to respond". But if those are your reasons for adopting an infant from Ethiopia, here's what I want to say to you: I get where you are coming from, and I honour your desire to help, but I would encourage you to reconsider your plans.

People often say - don't adopt, send money instead. And we respond by saying - you've missed the point, it's not about the money, what children need most of all is families. And this is true. But here's something - none these adoptable babies are going to miss out on families. Because of the queue. So if what you want to do is help, then it really would be more use to send the money. The money you send can help the other kids, the older kids, the kids who are about to become adults, the families, the mothers who have trouble affording food, the fathers who are out of work, the aunts and uncles who have taken in their sister's or brother's children. If you want to help, your money will do a lot more good than joining the queue.

Having just typed that, I'm a little shocked at myself. Am I really telling people not to adopt? Well, yes and no. I'm not saying don't do it, I'm just saying don't do it in order to help anybody.

I'm aware that this has different implications for those of us who are fertility challenged, and whose primary motivation is to have a family, rather than respond to an orphan crisis. It's only possible to do that ethically when there are children with individual needs for families, as I outlined earlier, but we shouldn't kid our selves that when we adopt babies we're doing anything grand, no matter what our fertility status is. I'm always a bit tempted to roll my eyes when people go out of their way to make sure others know that their adoption is not because of infertility - I sometimes suspect there is a bit of a subtext that says 'we don't need this baby, we could totally make our own. We are just seriously awesome people who love orphans'.

That makes me want to puke a bit*. But those of us starting families by adoption need to be careful too, about the way we think and talk about our children and what we're doing. If there is a saviour fantasy, a starfish fantasy, in adoption, the infertile are also pretty heavily invested in that. Sometimes I wonder if this fantasy is particularly appealing to the infertile because it seems so beautifully redemptive for us. I know that after months or years of having nothing, I wanted to believe that I was finally in a position to have something to offer. I was so needy for so long, I wanted to be rid of that role. If I can convince myself that there is a need, it takes me from supplicant to benefactor and of course that is appealing. We have been through so much before we get to this point - surely we are due something spectacular? Infertility is a deeply, deeply humiliating experience, and coming out the end of that ordeal as a humble supplicant – again - felt like more than I could bear. How much more attractive to see my situation transformed and redeemed – to see my pain eventually becoming the trigger for an action of pure good. And on a micro level, it is good. But that doesn't mean it's needed, in any kind of larger sense. I prefer the version of myself that is responding to a need rather than waiting in a queue. But I think the second is more accurate. By adopting, I get a family, but if I hadn't adopted, my children wouldn't have missed out. The worst thing that would have happened to them is that they might have ended up in Belgium. My self-concept doesn't like that fact, but I know it's true.

So if all of that is true... what then? Well, for a start, I don't think that we should be colluding with the starfish narrative, at least not when it comes to infant adoptions. We should probably get more comfortable with saying 'no, there wasn't a need. Actually, there was a really long queue. But we waited in that queue, because we really wanted a baby'. Because that's what's true, surely? And if that isn't true... well, why did you adopt?
*{edited to add: Just to be clear, because I probably wasn't clear enough above - I don't have any problem, at all, with fertile people who adopt! Frankly, your fertility is none of my business. My only puking issues are with people who NEED everyone to KNOW that they are fertile, and can't bear the thought that anyone might think they are adopting due to fertility issues and so make a big deal of it - there's a great big huge giant difference. Fertility issues are nothing to be ashamed of, and this attitude implies that they are, which really annoys me. This doesn't apply to ANY of my regular readers / commenters. Not even one of you.
Oh, and one gentle reminder to those who have adopted before ever trying for a baby - and this sort of includes me, since we came to adoption because of genetic stuff rather than textbook infertility - I'm sure you think you're fertile, and statistically you probably are, but you don't actually KNOW that you are. A lot of people who adopt due to INfertility thought they were fertile too, until they tried. But you knew that already, right? :) }


  1. first of all: wow. a lot for me to think through.

    second: you hit the nail on the head why I feel so odd when I respond "Well, Afghanistan wasn't open to adoptions" when people asked why we chose Ethiopia. There was no magical reason we chose Ethiopia. It just happened to be the most accesible street lamp for us.

    thirdly, and something dear to me: sometimes it's not adoptive parents that perpetuate the "healthy infant" queue being so long. sometimes social workers deem it best for first-time parents to have a healthy infant instead of, hypothetically speaking of course, an HIV+ child.

  2. I second Heather's comment about social workers having a part. They know better than anyone that most of us are far from prepared to adopt a healthy baby internationally and their job is to make sure a family that is put together stays together.

    Social workers are not keen on encouraging adopting older kids out of birth order because they know, again, that we don't know shit about what will happen to family dynamics once that child is home. (I am living that one right now.)

    Of course that interchange is a microcosm of what is really going on in the big wide world of adoption, and misses the point entirely about the need.

    But I do think social workers give us parents short shrift (is that the right phrase?) and with proper training, could instead expect us to step up. To the challenge of an older child. A child with a health issue. (notice how I didn't say special need) Siblings.

    But, honestly, I am very empathetic to families whose road to adoption includes infertility. There is SO much more to adoption than birthing. SO MUCH MORE. You have to know more. Your heart gets trampled more. You don't even get your child to yourself. It's a lot to step up to - even in the healthy infant scenario. You have to choose the difficult road after an already difficult road.

    Now I'm pretty much just rambling. Waiting for wiser words from others... over and out.

  3. Bravo, as usual!

    I had no idea that people felt "called" to adopt, or thought of themselves as "saving orphans" before I got in the line (queue) myself. I wanted to have a family, and adoption from Ethiopia was the way that was open to me.

  4. Very well said. Our referral ended up being for 6-week-old twin girls from Ethiopia, pretty much like hitting the lottery in the adoption world (we were approved for either gender up to a year old). They didn't need saving, from us or anyone. If we had turned down the referral, someone else would have said yes before the ink dried. And, truly, I have always proclaimed myself my daughters' sixth best option. We adopted because we wanted a family despite my having been in menopause since my 20s. It was a purely selfish act on our part. No starfish involved.

  5. This is such a great post. You "do" smart so well. I mainly stick to snarky because I can't pull off smart! Kudos to you. :)

    I've pointed out to people before as well that had we not adopted our daughter then someone else would have. It's just a fact.

    I definitely agree that the "as young as possible" request are not unique or saving a baby. I also do see a trend toward social workers/agencies limiting people to infants.

    However, in our situation (a toddler adoption) we were cheered on by our agency and social worker. However, due to our family dynamic, already having two young children I think that we would have been BETTER served by being told to adopt an infant.

    I think all in all (sorry for writing my own post here) that agencies and social workers are far too involved in just stamping approval for whatever people instead of actually THINKING about individual situations and what will really be best for the child-not what is going to make the parents the happiest.

  6. You almost had me convinced, maybe if you had used ALL CAPS... And I am sorry if I ever made you puke, because puking is disgusting.
    I believe there are kids all over the world that need homes, but in countries with well-established adoption programs there are plenty of homes lined up. I wish, wish, wish I had had the guts, energy, money, legal know-how, connections, determination, whatever it would have taken to propel us into doing an independent adoption from a country that does NOT have an established program. I also wish that I would have asked more questions and learned more about the "special needs" programs because that might have been a good fit as well.
    Adoption is so complicated, I think I need some Kool-Aid.

  7. hmmm- interesting.

    1- we chose ET because there was a need. we waited less than 3 months for a referal (not a REALLY long time, in my opinion- just long enough for room in the care center to open up so our babe could move in and be refered to our family).

    2- healthy infant adoption IS important. If there weren't willing and able parents adopting infants, these children would spend their whole lives in an orphanage. And then we'd have even more waiting older children.

    3- we're going back to ET (despite the longer waitlist this time around) because it's what's best for our family. We aren't in a position to have TWO cultures to incorporate in our family structure. Plus, we want our babe to have someone "like" him in our family.

    4- It concerns me when people want to help "the poor children" by adopting them. It sounds like they have a complex that they need children to fill. Those are BIG shoes for kids to fill (and unreasonable for the parents to expect)

    5- International adoption is NOT the answer. It's more of a "reaction" to a problem that already exists. The answer is to fix the reasons so many people are creating adoption plans rather than parenting their children (farmers that can't afford to after the drought? prostitutes w/o birth control/condoms? lack of health care? lack of maternity care? etc) You know that saying "give a man a fish- he eats for a day. teach a man to fish- he eats for a lifetime" Adoption is giving a man a fish for a day-- helping one child. We all need to be looking for ways to help "teach people to fish" .

    Amen. And that's all she wrote. Over and out. :)

  8. Claudia I just adore this post. I feel the very same way about our preschool girl adoption. If it had not been us it would have been someone else. I also agree that social workers need to be much better at getting PAP's prepared for everything the best they can. Our first social worker would have approved us anything and we know now, after using a different and MUCH better social worker for our second home study, that we would have been in very serious trouble if we had needed help or support. When I would bring up concerns she would brush them off. Luckily our family adjustment has been good.
    Thanks for the great post and for the great comments everyone!

  9. I have thought long and hard about these exact issues. I did not think about them prior to signing on the dotted line. Although I didn't have grand illusions that we were in some way "saving" a child, I did think that there were more babies than there were families in line. I quickly realized this is simply not the case. We too are an infertile couple with just adds a layer of emotional turmoil to deal with in terms of the whole 'why are you adopting?' question, both from strangers and internally. Well written and insightful. I hope those that haven't thought about these issues find your blog and learn.

  10. Such a great post and so much food for thought from you and the commentators.

    We also came to adoption because of infertility and Ethiopia was our choice because, as mentioned above, there were no other countries open to international adoption that didn't have year and years of waiting or serious corruption or allegations tied to it.

    It is true the social workers do persuade families who are adopting their first child to go young as possible but so do the governing bodies involved. In Canada, every single province has a different "modus of operandi" and they regulate the age, health issues etc. a potential family is allowed to consider...we aren't given our own choice to make...or even the benefit of knowing what we can handle at times.

    That being said...when we first started we certainly thought there were more children than families needed and this was definitely something sold to us by our agency. They sing a new tune these for sure. We did not ever think we were saving a child but making a family.

    The "call to adopt" scenario actually shocked me. For many reasons, which I won't go into, I don't like when people use this terminology and I don't really know why...it just bothers me...maybe I feel it is a bit condescending....I don't know.

    Anyways, what I am trying to say is

    Fantastic post!


  11. Thanks for this. I haven't had the guts to put these ideas out there in public yet, but the main concept you write about has definitely been informing my thoughts and decisions in our own adoption journey over the past year. I always hoped to adopt internationally - I grew up with people who had been adopted and always believed in it. And so we finally decided to start our family by adopting. We signed on with a new program, and one of the things we really liked was that adoption was not really being done in that country, so it felt like we were part of "making a difference". When that program closed, we signed on with another new program. And when that one closed, we waffled on our remaining "option" with our agency, which is Ethiopia. We have an open file, but have done no updating of paperwork. It was with the decision to switch to Ethiopia that I really started to have these thoughts about the real purpose of our adoption decision, and whether our being in the process was really going to "help" anyone...for the very reasons you cite. I suspect that our current route, looking at older age ranges, larger sibling groups, and some of the other things that come along with public domestic adoption, is the direction we will continue to head. Although, even though I do see a greater need for families in the public adoption system, there is still cause to pause and consider motivations, and ask tough questions to make sure we are not living with fairy tale notions, if those are not in fact the case.

  12. But here's the thing... did you visit any state-sponsored orphanages while you were in ET? Not just your agency's orphanage... the STATE ones. The ones with literal ROOMS filled with babies and ONE care giver? Really. NOT all those babies will be adopted. Really. They won't.

    Our daughter was one of the "lucky" ones b/c when she was dropped off at a state orphanage they didn't have another toddler bed, and so they called Gladney to see if they could come and get her. And that's how she got to live at the Gladney orphanage before she became ours. So... what if there HAD been a bed for her??? NOT all those kids get homes. The ones who are lucky enough to get affiliated w/ international agencies do. But NOT the ones who are in the state homes. Not all orphans are affiliated w/ international adoption agencies.

    I saw those homes. They were disgusting and smelly and FILLED with toddlers and babies and kids of all ages. Maybe some of them were not healthy, but some had to be. And some of those kids had literally been there for YEARS.

    I would love to know where you got your facts that say ALL Ethiopian healthy babies get adopted. All the ones that come through YOUR agency or MINE get adopted, but not all ET kids are in those homes.

    No, adoption isn't the solution. And yes, if we had not adopted our daughter someone else would have. But that's because she got lucky that there was not room for her in the place she might not have been adopted from.

    You must not have gone to the places we did while we were in ET. Really. Because if you had, I don't think you would be so sure that all needy kids in ET were getting adopted.

  13. Hey there. I told you that you needed to write this post, and I'm so glad you did. Cause like I said, if I were more articulate, I could have written it; I've had so many of the same thoughts.

    When we were in Ethiopia, an Ethiopian man who works with our agency (Gladney) took us to several of the state-run orphanages (adoption agencies in Ethiopia are not allowed by the government to run orphanages--they *are* allowed to work with stage-run orphanages to find children who are available for adoption and then bring those children into their foster care homes until placement with a family). These orphanages were had varied levels of cleanliness, structure, caregivers, etc. They were nowhere near as "nice" as the foster homes run by Gladney or any other adoption agency.

    That being said, this man who works with our agency, stood with us in the infant-room of one of these state-run orphanages (redundancy alert: all orphanages are state-run, there is no other kind) and said that he was not at all worried about where these healthy infants would end up. He said that *all* of them (at least the ones in Addis) would be placed with families for adoption. All of them. He then talked about how the ones with health concerns might not. He then talked about how once a child reaches the age of two, his or her chance of finding a family begins to drop "exponentially."

    It was because of this conversation that we decided to adopt a child over the age of two and why we stayed very open to health issues. We are not saviors. Like you, we had fertility problems and wanted to parent and infant. We knew thought that next time round, we just wanted another child and didn't want to stand in a queue for too long.

    So. This is way too long. I just want to say thank you for this post. It's wonderful. Thank you.

  14. Ah, this is exactly what I have been thinking about and what spurred on my post today. I can't read all the comments right now (lest my supervisor catch me and womp me over the head), but I can't wait to sleep on this, read more tomorrow, and say something that means something.

    For now, I love this.

  15. I just want to add one thing: my understanding is that the only reason any healthy infant in an Ethiopian orphanage is not adopted is because of a lack of documentation i.e. red tape involving the local 'kebele' where the child is from. Perhaps a birth parent cannot be found or perhaps there is a living relative who social workers cannot find. The reason Ethiopian adoption is more on the ethical side of the spectrum than some programs is that there IS a system in place to prove that any child who is adopted was placed for adoption as a last resort only. So again, my understanding is that certainly there are children who start out as infants in an orphanage and grow into big kids at an orphanage but that the reason is because of unfortunately being caught in a beaurocratic web.

  16. aaaaargh! wrote a big long post, lost it to the cyber gods... suffice it to say, Uganda is a straightforward country where you can adopt independently fairly easily, and there is a huge need. just ask my 3.5 and 1.5 year olds who just came home. :)

  17. Boo on the horrendous grammar (and spelling!) in my last comment! Sorry about that. I, do, in fact, have a degree in English.

  18. People may not want to hear it, but I think most (if not all) of what you said is true, or has a hefty dose of truth in it.

    I literally cringe when people start blathering on about how "wonderful and selfless and Christian" we are to be adopting...and from Ethiopia too! It's BS. I'm sorry, but it is. We are adopting, because it was either $20,000 for "maybe" with IVF or a "wait but with a definite 'yes' on the end" with adoption. Ethiopia was (in our opinion) the easiest, fastest, and one of the cheapest programs. That sounds harsh and cold and horrible, but it was all a large part of our decision...and it's true.

    There are the more gooey and mushy facts like we think Ethiopian children are beautiful and we are fascinated by the culture, but all of that would have been irrelevant if we had not been able to afford the program or if the wait were horrible (like, say, that of China).

    I don't know how or why these adoption myths got started, but they're out there. My own mother was adopted internationally in 1960...the stereotypes and myths behind her own adoption in the community were staggering. It seems to be no different now, 50-some years later.

    I can only speak for my husband and I, but I think that unless you have been struggling with infertility, I really don't understand why you should be favored for a healthy infant. I don't think you should. Some people will think that I'm being a b*tch (and maybe I am), but it makes me a bit angry to think that we struggled for a year and half to get pregnant and now we're having to wait in line behind people who have one or two or SIX healthy children of their own already.

    I don't know, maybe this post just hit a nerve with me since we're waiting and I'm (as you described so well) "sad-sad-sad"; but I agree with much of what you said, even if it is not the "flowers and rainbows" version that most people in the adoption community want to cling to.

  19. Gayla brings up an interesting point. I would add that the majority of vulnerable children are not affiliated with agencies.

    I think the real issue that everyone is confirming here is that if you want to adopt from Ethiopia, you really have no choice but to go through the set up channels - which means you are part of the system. You have no say in which orphanage your child originally came from before they were with your agency, the truth is you have no say at all.

    This realization is scary as hell and sort of makes me say to anyone who asks that I would not suggest they begin an adoption from Ethiopia at this time.

  20. This is possibly the best post I've read all year (will be linking to you this weekend for sure!).

    My husband and I ran into just this issue when we were starting up our current adoption. We kept going to informational meetings and realizing that all we would be doing by applying was bumping other childless couples further back in line. And we're already parents.

    So we picked adoption from El Salvador. Most certainly for an older child - or siblings. We don't know what will happen, but our family is available, should someone(s) need us.

    But I don't know if we'd have been brave enough for that if we were desperate to BECOME parents. That truly is different.

    Awesome post.

  21. I hate when people make comments about how we are such wonderful people for adopting. We didn't choose to adopt because we wanted to save children. That didn't cross our minds. We adopted for purely selfish reasons. We wanted a family and we wanted it now. Yes we had fertility problems and we could have chosen to undergo treatments but that wasn't a guarantee, but adoption was. We chose to adopt two at once because we wanted two children and didn't want to go through the process twice. We are now the proud parents of three.

  22. I dig Claudia and her brass ovaries. Thank you for posting this, thank you for sharing your thoughts, thank you. If I wasn't so dang tired right now I just might have more to say....

  23. I have not quite unwoven how my infertility has played a role in our adoption. I mean, of course, there is the obvious reason, I wanted another kid and wasn't able to make it happen. I look at family building as a spectrum. There are all kinds of builders out there. One chooses adoption. One chooses birthing all their kids. One chooses adoption after infertility. One chooses infertility treatment that goes on endlessly for years and years and gives up on ever having a family. There are many, many different scenarios. I used to feel all different kinds of things, that people think I am adopting as my second choice, that people think I'm wrong for adopting transracially, that people think I am the sixth or seventh best option for my adopted child, that I should not wait for a healthy infant....blah blah blah. Somewhere on the spectrum is where I lie in how I came to adoption. Lately I really struggle with why I am adopting, but it's a worthy process. I get a little more solid every day about it. These conversations truly do help me, Claudia.

  24. Great post Claudia. I'm a little troubled that the conversation is going into the realm of "the only people who should adopt healthy infants are infertile couples." We all come to adoption for different reasons. For us, we felt a moral and ethical imperative not to procreate biologically. The world is suffering because of over population. We wanted a family, but did not want to add to that problem. Just to be infertile as the criteria for adopting a healthy infant leaves out the necessity to be the type of person who can become educated about all of the amazing challenges that IA poses.
    Not to be seeming cranky (because in fact I do agree with so much of what you said) but so many of the babies in the care center where we were would not have survived without a family. I'm talking about serious malnutrition- even in those babies who were considered "healthy". The children were receiving only very basic health care.
    I guess I'm a proponent of more countries opening up for IA rather than less. After extensive world travel, I've come to believe that there are children who need families everywhere. It would be a wonderful thing if family planning could be an integral part of that equation. We're not only talking about human lives, but our earth's survival. It's all interconnected I think. :)

  25. This discussion just keeps getting more and more interesting! I wanted to balance my comments yesterday, to recognize that, indeed, I do believe there is a place for international adoption of healthy infants...if we all opted out of the "queue" then we would be back to a place of these infants not having families (mentioned, I believe, by an earlier poster). Obviously, a perfect ratio of family:infant will never happen, so it is up to us to look at what is happening in various programs, and make a decision about where we fit into the big picture. I would also love it if there was more information available from agencies regarding 'special needs' adoption. I think many of us go into adoption not knowing a whole lot about what kinds of issues are classified as 'special needs', which can be treated or corrected in well-resourced countries, and so on. I think more people might realize they are comfortable adopting children with some needs if there was easily accessible information on what is involved. That's a small tangent, but I just went with it...

  26. Thank you C. I recently left a christian Ethio adopt yahoo group because I was sick of all the people "called" to adopt, touting their adoption like a ministry or humanitarian effort.

    for many of the reasons you say here.

    Lots of good intentions out there. Lots of us learning together.

  27. Oh Claudia you are always starting something. Here is a tangent that will really make some people angry. I worked in animal shelters for years. In most parts of the USA is is very difficult to adopt a kitten between mid-January and mid-August. There is a que. But come September of every year all of the kitten-loving homes are full. And more kittens are still coming into shelters. By October there are kittens turning into teenagers before shelter workers' eyes. By December some kittens are now young adults. Waiting in the que for a healthy baby is strange, but if the que disappears all together babies will grow up in care centers. I do not know how to strike the balance and keep things ethical at the same time. But APs and PAPs talking about it has to be the first step - bravo Claudia.

  28. Okay, first up: I totally do NOT remember changing the text under 'leave your comment' to what it says now. Either I have a very cheerful hacker or a very bad memory.

    Secondly: congratulations on getting this far down the page, if you have managed to do that. Thanks so much for all the thought-provoking comments - people have brought up so many extra things to think about, which is great. I would love to respond in detail to each of the points but I've just had my first full day at work (last week was mini stuff) and I need to have some quality time on the sofa. But:

    Thirdly: I want to address one or two of the things people have brought up. Gayla, I'm not at all saying that every child in need will be adopted. I'm absolutely NOT saying that. I'm saying that the ones who are 'adoptable' (paperwork in place, and so on) are under a 'streetlight' and therefore more than provided for by a very high demand from parents, in Ethiopia at least. (Very interesting point about Uganda from Ms Kayaks... I know nothing about Uganda, so please direct questions to her!) I've amended one of my sentences to make that clearer - I originally said these babies aren't in Ethiopia - I've changed that to say that they aren't in the Ethiopia adoption programme, which hopefully clarifies that issue. I'm not saying there's no micro-need, just no macro-need. VERY different.

    Fourthly - I'm nervous about even commenting about this, but I'm intrigued by what people have to say about who should be 'allowed' to adopt healthy infants. I'm not saying that only the infertile should be allowed, just that the queue is there and we should think about the implications of that. I think Mindy (Planetista) makes a great point that there is a lot more to preparing yourself for international adoption than being infertile or not - I think one risk that would be run by saying only the infertile may adopt is that it makes infertility seem like an entitlement to a baby. I know that many adult adoptees see this as an issue already, and we need to be careful with that. Because, of course, none of us are entitled to a baby (but we already knew that, and I know that wasn't what any of you were suggesting, I'm just thinking out loud).

    Fifthly, I got the James reference wrong - there is no v28 in James 1! I meant the orphans and widows bit of course - It was meant to say James 1:27 - fixed now!

    Sixthly - right, the sofa calls!

  29. Okay, just saw your comment Kerry, I can't believe you mentioned KITTENS! You are in so much trouble :) But okay, you can have point number seven, which probably needed to be made anyway:

    I take your point, which is sort o related to what Emily said above. The queue hasn't always been this long, and maybe it won't always be this way. And if the queue drops to the point where there are no parents waiting, and a reverse-queue of healthy infants needing homes abroad (as a last resort, of course) I hereby promise to use this blog to call for people to step up. That's a solemn promise. I can't see that happening anytime soon, though, can you?

  30. In my USA centric world I would just like to say que/queue - whatever! I should have just said LINE... people are waiting in line. There I go trying to look all cosmopolitan and I just end up looking stupid (like some sort of kitten lover.)

  31. Rebekah made a great point about needing to go through the channels that are in place. I am sure there are babies in orphanages who will never be placed for adoption. There are also children in the adoption system who are not orphans. Relinquished babies have easier paperwork to process. Babies without any family being dropped off by a neighbor have hard paperwork to process.
    I know that this post was written with the assumption that the system is ethical and I will try not to derail that. We must acknowledge that some babies and young children are part of adoption system only because there is an adoption system. They would still be part of their families if not for the queue. If they did not fulfill an order made from afar. Sigh. Feel free to delete this if it is too far off subject. I would totally understand : )

  32. Hi Cindy,
    I definitely agree that the longer the queue, the more pressure there is to see ethics go out the window to meet demand. It's a hugely important thing to think about - but I wanted to separately make that point that even if every single adoption *is* ethical, the queue is still an important reality.

    The point about needing to go though the appropriate channels is exactly right - that's what I mean by the streetlight. Whether or not all the babies who are under that streetlight should be there is a very important point, and totally related, but not the point I was making in this post :)

    Hope that makes some kind of sense!

  33. It makes perfect sense! Love it : )

  34. OK, I have not read all the comments. And I plan to. But right now I'm at work and just spent a good several minutes reading the post, but here here.

    And forgive me for saying this, but this is exactly how we felt after we adopted our dog from the local animal shelter (NO, I'm not saying it's the same thing!!) Everyone always tells us how great it was we rescued a three legged chihuahua from a kill shelter. But before we could even finish filling out the form three other families lined up behind us for him. We picked him because we wanted a dog (a cute one!) and he stole our hearts the first time we saw him, and he was available. End of story. The same reason we picked Ethiopia--the children are beautiful, the line used to be a lot shorter and wait times were better, and we want a family. A baby. Very much so. We don't have any rescue notions about anything. But, we do feel very bad thinking that if poverty is what is making our future child 'available' to be adopted that we could give the amount we're spending on the adoption and lift the family out of poverty and allow them to remain together...that one is very very hard for my heart to take. Because I'm still left wanting a family. Very much so.

  35. This comment has been removed by the author.

  36. I'm back for round two! :) I'm loving the comments and discussion. Before my next paragraph, I don't want anyone think I'm making light of infertility in any means. It's a heavy and sorrowful thing.

    However, it's also a very nebulous term. It can't be defined as easily as one would expect.

    Would a person experiencing infertility who never sought treatment (so never diagnosed officially)count?

    What about a "fertile" mom who had her tubes tied after her second child?

    What about people with medical conditions that require medications that would negatively impact a baby? They're required to be on birth control because of the potential drug interactions, but might have otherwise been "fertile."

    Or families who voluntarily prevent birth due to familial genetic abnormalities that cause all male babies to die? (Sadly, that's a true scenario that led a friend of mine to adoption...not just making that one up for fun.) Should they have not been allowed a healthy infant because they could have "chanced it" and had a girl?

    I do know that some countries do require a diagnosis of infertility (at least they did when we started our process). Like Mindy previously implied, why should those children in those countries be limited to only "infertile" couples entering the line?

    Call me the queen of redundancy for the night, I guess!

  37. Holy cow, Heather! Those thoughts never even occurred to me. In fact, I had no idea whatsoever that some countries require a diagnosis of IF. That seems cruel to me, somehow. Infertility is such a cruel thing, to me, regardless of the cause. And then you have to go and present your diagnosis as part of the adoption application. All that aside, it also never occurred to me that I was in a line/queque behind anybody who did or did not have IF no who deserved to be where in the line. I know the suffering seems interminable when you just want a child, but I don't think IF entitled me to a child sooner than someone else. And where would someone who has one bio child (born after IVF) and then has secondary IF (with failed IVF's) fit on this line? Like me. For me, I fit right in there according to the date on my dossier paperwork just like everybody else.

  38. Great thought-provoking post Claudia! I started out in one boat and ended up in another within the world of adoption. I grew up wanting to adopt, to give a child a family that they might not ever have. And then after getting married we found out we had a little-to-no chance in having biological children. It was not about giving a child a family anymore. It was about having a child period. Thanks for getting me to think!

  39. This post struck a chord with me. We adopted from US foster care and are sometimes told how wonderful we are to have adopted our son and how lucky he is to have been adopted by us. I always answer that we're the lucky ones. Then people respond with "I know, I know, but he's still lucky to have you. You're all lucky." Without being rude, I can't seem to get through to those people that we aren't ALL lucky. DH and I really are the lucky ones, not P.

    My son was 12 months old when we were matched with him. 12 months old! Healthy/Non-drug exposed! Minimal legal risk! Do you know how many people would have been standing in line behind us if we had backed out? How many lovely couples in our MAPP classes would have knocked us down to get to him? On an adoption forum I frequent, there are always posts from PAPs asking if there are young children available for adoption from foster care with stories that their county told them they were only taking applications for children 10 or older. P would have ended up with a family. He was not one who was going to age out of foster care.

    WE are the lucky ones. We wanted a family. It wasn't going to happen biologically. We weren't saving anyone, except possibly ourselves.

  40. GREAT post.

    What kills me about this whole dynamic is that there are SO many countries in Africa, with full orphanages, where there is no adoption program. And then people lined up for other countries.

    I agree wholeheartedly that people should be aware of the line, and consider how they csn be involved in adoption harder-to-place children.

  41. Wow. Great post. So much food for thought. I will have to read a couple times to get the ful force of all that you have to say. I love how you have forced me to think on our motivation to adopt, but I am so glad we did. Our life would be missing an integral part if Bella were not in our lives.

  42. Wow. Great post. So much food for thought. I will have to read a couple times to get the ful force of all that you have to say. I love how you have forced me to think on our motivation to adopt, but I am so glad we did. Our life would be missing an integral part if Bella were not in our lives.

  43. This post gave me so much to think about, especially as we are wrestling with our recent adoption and answering the hard question of "What if something could have been done for her to stay with her first family?" or rather, "Did she really need us?" Our motivation to adopt was that we believe that every child deserves to grow up in a family, and we want to be a family, so it just made sense to us that we would adopt. But if our daughter didn't really need us, if something else could have been done for her family or community so that they could raise her, then does what we have done really fall in line with that philosophy? Well, no. So even though she wasn't an infant, and there wasn't a queue for her, still...to think that we are in any way saving her is not accurate.

    And we were, by the way, in the queue for a baby girl, and even though we were open to medical needs, we may well have ended up with a healthy infant girl. Totally not saving anyone there.

  44. i just wanted to come back and say how much i love you.
    and all the comments.

    and i love dandies who said you had brass ovaries.

  45. First, I am so glad I came across your blog today. I just received a gift through Global Giving from a family member for their Ethiopia water conservation project...great way to give back. Anyway, we have been off the queue ourselves for a year, brought our daughter home last March. You are right on the mark....there are families waiting, and encouraging that people support causes is so important. It is often too easy for us to forget about what is going on around the world when we aren't faced with it daily.
    Kudos to you!

  46. Very interesting and thought-provoking. I'm not saying I disagree with it all; there are some very valuable points. The "rescue" mentality is definitely an issue to struggle with and think over carefully. However, I'm probably one of those folks that made you puke a bit as I did not come to adoption because of fertility issues; like The Lost Planetista, it came from having no need to procreate in a world that already has too many parentless children. Someone mentioned the "dreadful" line in China. The "queue" there is due to specific desires by specific parents. There are approximately 2000 children waiting on the special needs lists. Perhaps if people could broaden their views on the child they were willing to adopt, there would be less queues, and less waiting children. Even in China, with a line more than 5 years long, there are thousands who will never be adopted. Some orphanages are still not a part of the adoption program. Some are so rural they don't know about it. My husband and I have sponsored a boy that we would have considered adopting when we knew him at age 2. He's now about to turn 5...and he's still waiting. No paperwork made available. There are children with needs that can be manageable, but would require sacrifice on the part of parents/families. Perhaps the "entitlement" issue comes not only with thinking we deserve _a_ child, but in thinking that we deserve a _healthy_ and "perfect" child. I don't know that such a thing exists in adoption anyway, as our children will forever bear the "special need" of loss, trauma, and unanswered questions. While our daughter would surely have been adopted by another family due to her extremely minor reported need, our son-to-be has been waiting nearly 4 years. No one was lined up. And while that makes us feel blessed that we get to be his parents, it breaks my heart for him that he had to wait this long. He shouldn't have had to. He is more than a faceless name with a list of medical issues on a lengthening chart. There are so many more like him. I realize this post was in regards to healthy infant adoption, but perhaps it is the narrowed scope that keeps us from viewing the queue in proper light.

  47. Holy smokes, Claud! 47 comments?! WOW!! I can't wait to sit down with a pitcher of coffee and read (I'm afraid that can't be today). BUT. In the meantime... I dig you, I dig you, I dig you. Also? I dig your edited stuff there at the bottom. Like, really.

  48. Thanks for putting so much thought into expressing what many struggle with, Claudia.

    I don't want to overlook the importance to some people of having the opportunity to experience "firsts" with their child. For a couple adopting their first child (for whatever reason), it would be a very different experience to adopt a six-year-old in comparison with an infant. So many people's hearts instinctively long for those moments of rocking our baby to sleep, seeing him/her smile or sit for the first time, walk independently. THe list could go on and on. There are so many valid reasons for wanting to adopt a baby.

    After years of struggling with infertility, we were blessed with the miracle pregnancy/birth of our (now sixy-year-old) son, and I loved those early days with him.

    Having that time with a baby allowed us, when we decided to expand our family through adoption, to consider opening up our age request to older children (up to 5), who are generally considered to be less adoptable.

    After waiting 31 months = 2.5 years for our referral (I cannot BELIEVE that some people think that waiting for 3-12 months for a referral is a long wait!), we received our referral almost three weeks ago: a five-year-old boy and his three-year-old sister. We're thrilled to be adopting older children to complete our family unit, but I do understand why some would prefer to experience those 'firsts' with a baby.

    Blessings, Claudia, and thanks for all of the great writing!


  49. Our dossier was submitted to Ethiopia for a healthy, infant boy. They received it on a Friday. Two weeks later, to the day, we got a call with an introduction to our 3 month old son's face. Two weeks. He was healthy and beautiful and amazing (and still is every bit of that today, at three years old). We went through court 1.5 months later and were in ET to bring him home a month after that.

    There were 300 kids living in his orphanage - babies to teen. There was one other family there to adopt at the time we were. Where were the people? I want to grab them all and run...

    For me, that's a need you can't deny.

  50. Awesome post, as usual I am left feeling like you crawled in my brain, made sense of the muddled junk, and wrote something far more coherent and intelligent than I could have. Brass ovaries indeed!

    The only thing I want to share is that we *did* adopt through a waiting child program in Ethiopia (YWAM Ethiopia), which did (at least as of 6 months ago) have a longer queue of healthy kids - including infants - than families. I know that if we hadn't adopted our son, someone else certainly would have... But if he would have had to wait 1 more month to be referred (and thus moved to Addis into the transitional home), that would have been 1 more month that he is taking up a 'spot' in the Widow & Orphan home where he lived. In the area where he is from, babies are left in the jungle and eaten by hyenas on a regular basis, *unless* the kabele can take them from the desperate mother (or sometimes find them before the hyenas do) and place them in a home like the one my son was in.

    That being said, I did not adopt to "save a child" and I am fighting the rescue complex mentality full-force. But I wanted to point out that yes, healthy babies get adopted, but some babies do die before they make it to an orphanage, simply because the orphanage is full in their time of need. Of course, this point only matters in the cases of waiting CHILD programs, which again ours was, but apparently most are not.

    Whew! Lots of words to make a small point that is mostly irrelevant to this discussion. Apologies for that, and again great post!

  51. So...I am looking forward to the ethics discussion now ; )

  52. this posting is amazing. one of my friends posted this on facebook and it blew my mind. thank you so much for being willing to step forward and tell these truthes. may the Lord bless and keep you as you share the words that need to be said.

  53. Wow. Wow. Somebody somewhere should have some brass ovaries made into a paperweight for you.
    Thanks for a really engaging thoughtful post. Wow. Wow.

  54. I love this blog for many reasons. I came across it by accident a couple of days ago and have read quite a bit of it already. (I know it was posted almost a year ago, but I read it today, OK... so give me a break :)

    I have read similar posts from many blogs of APs and really don't understand what the issue is if someone's motivation to adopt is to save a life. In many ways, it is true that quite possibly the life of that child may have been saved literally or otherwise. I would like to understand why the reason for adoption to help the children is wrong or offensive.

    Please know that I also would love to adopt someday. Please also know that I am from Ethiopia. My reasons for wanting to adopt are two - the main one being to give a child a chance in this world that they would otherwise not have because of being orphaned. Most people that know me probably don't know my desire. (This is to say, I am not out there advertising that I am an awesome person for wanting to do this).

    I am writing this to hopefully get educated. It seems this sentiment is everywhere and I am just not getting what the big deal is.

    Quite frankly, people whose motivation is to first and for most adopt to grow their families seem a little self centered to me. It sounds like it's all about them really. Quite topsy turvy in my opinion. Please, please educate me.

    A recent fan

    1. In terms of making a difference or helping, adopting a healthy infant seems about on par with having a biological child. There's nothing wrong with it, it is what it is. Adopting an older or disabled child through foreign or domestic adoption is something that will make a difference in their life.


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