Sunday 14 March 2010

Our Day in Court

I've been meaning to write about this since it happened, back in October, and for obvious reasons, now seems like the right time.

Back in late 2008, we found out that the rules had changed for people adopting from where we live, and we were going to have to make two trips to Ethiopia. We were also going to have to appear in Court in person. What can I say? We were incredibly upset. All that extra time and money, not to mention the thought of having to meet a baby and then leave it behind. We got the news a long time ago, and a lot has happened since, but I do remember how awful it made me feel, especially when it came totally out of the blue.

I do remember that. But we did end up going to court, and here is something that I will never forget: A tall, older man, probably a grandfather, leading a tiny girl by the hand through the doors of the adoption court. Her, scurrying to keep up, chattering away to him and tugging on his clothes. Him, reaching down to touch her head. The love between them was palpable. I didn't see what happened to her, but I think I can guess.

Something else I will never forget: the sharp and obvious divide between those who seemed to be there to represent adoption agencies, and those who must have been there to formally relinquish their children. For one group of people, laughing and chatting to each other and a chance to catch up. Another day at work. For so many of the others, a quiet murmuring, or silence, and eyes cast down. A sense of disenfranchisement so intense you could taste it.

And something else: We were one of only three white couples there, and I think we three couples were the only PAPs in court that day. I know one other couple was also British, and the third seemed to be speaking Spanish. And that was it. And I knew we were only there because we absolutely had to be - I'm not claiming any kind of moral superiority, because we didn't make a choice, just did what we were told. But I did wonder. Why is it that birthfamilies have to be there, and on the whole, we do not? They are ushered into a room with a judge and make some kind of declaration, and relinquish their child - to whom? Where are these new parents? Why aren't we all here to promise these children a lifetime of love?

So. There are definite upsides to taking two trips. And I'll post more about those personal upsides another day. But appearing in court? Well, I think these new rules are right. Not because it benefits us, but because I feel we should be there, and be there humbly. It is an inconvenient journey. It is definitely expensive. It is, in so many ways, heart-wrenching. But not, surely, in comparison to the journey taken by these other mothers who are also there, the journey that ends with empty arms.

This is a very serious thing we do, taking somebody else's child. I think I'm only really realising how serious now. And if relinquishing parents have to be there? Well, I think we should be there too.


  1. I think you are right about that, most definitely. And I'm very glad you wrote about this because you are the one person who I really empathized with when you had to leave the babies there. But this perspective makes me feel stronger and calmer.

  2. Such a good point that I have never thought about before. It has brought me to tears. I am also just now realizing the enormity of this. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Great post, C. Thanks for offering that perspective - of someone who's actually been there in court. If it helps Ethiopian adoption become more ethical, and APs more responsible, I am all for it! Let's hope it does!

  4. This post just makes me so so sad. For everyone.

  5. Ditto Mrs. LC. I'm glad you are writing about it.

  6. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. This is a really important post. I can't imagine how hard it is, but I think there must be so much value in sharing the experience with the birth family.

    Your last paragraph summed it up for me. I blogged a while ago about my feelings about asking someone to give us their baby and was told that I shouldn't think about it like that. But I do. Because that's what adoption is and I think anyone who thinks otherwise is in denial.

  8. I can't even imagine what you guys adopting from Ethiopia are going through right now. The situation for APs from China is so different. Don't get me wrong, we've been dealing with situations that have deal with, but you guys have some shifting sands right now and it's hard.

    My heart is with you.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts C. I wish we could have been there too. I am glad you were able to be and I really appreciate you sharing your perspective on this.

  10. Thank you so much, Claudia. I appreciate this perspective.

  11. If this change in procedure does anything to cut down on corruption, then I am all for it. However, I think there are a few additional things to consider. Most ethical agencies these days arrange meetings between the birth family and the adoptive family, so I am a little unclear how attending the court date further helps the adoptive family be in touch with what the birth family goes through.
    Additionally, the added expense may be a deal breaker for many families. We already have our referral and are waiting for our court date. We may be grandfathered into the previous system and only have to make one trip - which I will be doing alone at a cost of approximately $1,900 usd. My husband will be staying home with our 2-yr-old. If we both have to go for court and then I have to go back for our Embassy appointment we are talking about $5,700 in airfare. Plus we will have to buy at least one domestic ticket to arrange for a family member to come stay with our child. Considering our Ethiopian son has no known birth family, the trip to court will not help us better understand their plight.
    We simply do not have this money. I know we will find a way to borrow it from someone, but it will be difficult. If we had been quoted a figure of $29,000 for the total adoption from the beginning, I know we would have had to seriously consider other programs.
    But, as I said at the beginning of this LONG comment, if it cuts down on corruption, it absolutely should be the law.
    I do enjoy your perspective on things. Thinking about how adoption is a "business" for so many people, and yet for others it is a journey of pain or love or hope, or all of those things rolled into one.
    Your children are so lucky to have a mother who saw through her own emotions to recognize the reality of the situation for all involved.

  12. We adopted from Guatemala but that system was also set up to keep the birth parents and adoptive parents separated. My daughter's birth mom had to go to court to be interviewed but we did not - actually we were told by our lawyer that we weren't permitted to be there. I found out later that wasn't entirely true and it was for the convenience of the lawyer that they kept us away. I so wish I had been able to look that young woman in the eye - to thank her, to assure her Sabrina was going to be loved and well taken care of. I wish I was able to hug her on what had to be one of the worst days of her life. I thought I understood then. I didn't. The enormity of what she sacrificed becomes more clear to me with every passing day. I do think it might be helpful for adoptive parents to look the birth parents in the eyes...although I don't want to cause the birth parents more pain. So hard to know what is best.

  13. this is a great post... and by that I mean it's a great perspective that I don't think anyone is talking about. I hope hope hope these changes make a difference.

  14. thank you for posting this!! It is so good to hear from the perspective of someone who has experienced it! And I agree, It makes sense and both a legal and emotional level. I really need to hear this!

  15. Not many things make me cry, but thinking about that grand-dad and how blissfully unaware the little girl was did it. As someone comfortably on the other side, I agree whole-heartedly and I wish I'd been there for court.

  16. So true. Thanks for posting this very important perspective.

  17. I really needed to read this perspective. Thank you.

  18. Faced with the two trip possibility, my husband and I are definitely looking at the positive aspects of this.

    Yes, it is more money out of our pockets and time away from work...

    ...but it is a chance to stand up in court and declare before everyone there that we are able and willing to care for this child they are so generously trusting us with.

    It is a an act of absolute trust on the part of the Ethiopian to allow people from other countries to raise their future generations.

    We will, as you say, humbly stand in court and hopefully look in the eyes of the birth family and thank them for allowing us to be part of their family.

    Not only that but we had worried we with young toddler we wouldn't be able to see as much of his birth country as we initially dreamed of - being first time parents reality sunk in pretty fast we wouldn't be touring the countryside...but now we have a chance to spend some time in his world, see the sights, smell the smells and hear the sounds. We will be able to share with him as he grows the slight knowledge we have of his homeland and give him the gift of reassurance that we will go back one day.

    Thanks for posting this!

    Would you mind if I linked from my blog to yours so others can read it.

    I think it is important for people to see a different perspective.



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