Adoption Disruption
April 5, 2011 8:44 AM   Subscribe

“We need to honor and recognize that adoption is different and not a replacement for birth children we never had. Not until then can we really embrace how adoption really is different and how we need to go about parenting differently. Social workers have to speak the truth about that.” An excellent, thorough, and even-handed article about adoption disruption.
posted by the young rope-rider (46 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great article, thanks for sharing.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:51 AM on April 5, 2011


Note: The article deals primarily with international adoption. Domestic, open adoption is very, different.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:53 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Of course, those of us domestically adopted in the 1960s are still dealing with the closed stuff.
posted by mwhybark at 8:57 AM on April 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Of course, those of us domestically adopted in the 1960s are still dealing with the closed stuff.
Don't lose hope.
I was adopted in 1958 and eventually did find my birthmom and her kids. I don't know about Washington, but in Indiana, there's a state-run adoption registry where adoptees and birthmoms can register and re-unite. Unfortunately, that came after I resorted to other methods.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:05 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The comments section here has a lot of thoughtful and insightful commentary as well.

Domestic adoption, specifically of older children, can have many similarities to international adoption, depending on the history of the child. Some children here have sketchy or nonexistent information/ medical histories and multiple (possibly abusive) foster placements in a short time.

The biggest difference would be the ability to foster a child; a disrupted foster-to-adopt placement is discussed in the article as well as a parent who has adopted three children from disrupted US adoptions.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:09 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


My child is adopted, we got him at age 1.5, and it's technically a closed adoption but it's a family adoption as well; his birth father is my nephew in law. We've never tried to keep his origin a secret, and one of his favorite stories is the story of how he came to be our kid. The unintended consequence of this is that, at age four, he's already pulled the "you're not my real dad" line when he got angry. I wasn't expecting to hear that until he was at least 6 or 8.

His birth mother doesn't visit, she's a crack addicted prostitute (yes, literally). But we know who she is and when he gets older it will be his choice if he wants to have a relationship with her. Since his birth father is my nephew in law they see each other on occasion (when he's out of jail).

The idea of keeping a child's origin secret from the child seems alien to me, borderline abusive even.
posted by sotonohito at 9:12 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Of course, those of us domestically adopted in the 1960s are still dealing with the closed stuff.

It went longer than that. My brother and I were adopted in the 70s, both in closed adoptions.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:24 AM on April 5, 2011


The idea of keeping a child's origin secret from the child seems alien to me, borderline abusive even.

As an adoptee with no recourse to find his birth parents, let me assure you it's not abusive at all. I was loved, and missed out on nothing by not knowing where the sperm and egg that produced me came from. It occasionally makes things difficult these days when asked for a medical history, but that's really the only downside I've ever encountered.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:29 AM on April 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


I like the comment from the mom at the end about the nannies in the back room ("What was I thinking? There was no back room."). We adopted our daughter through domestic infant adoption and ended up with a contested adoption (the birthfather sought custody). Through that process, I learned things about the birthmother and, more importantly, about our agency, that made me realize I had overlooked red flags and discounted my own feelings of discomfort at some point.

Harriet at the Fugitivus blog (it's inactive now, I think) talks about how agencies do not adequately prepare parents, or give them full information about the risks they're taking on when they adopt older children internationally. (Christine Ward Gailey's very good book Blue Ribbon Babies and Labors of Love documents this really well.) But Harriet also says that potential adoptive parents are told, but they don't hear. That people would call the agency she worked at saying, "Nobody ever told us!" and the agency could point to stacks of information they were given and say, "Actually, we did."

I've talked with adoptive parents who have either disrupted adoptions, or placed children in residential facilities, or who are living with teenagers who are violent, abusive, sexually abusive toward siblings, and all that. One mom who told me out right that after trying everything they were told to try, they are now just trying to hold on for two more years until their son turns 18 and they are no longer legally responsible for him. And one thing these parents say is that they could not have believed if they were told. Every story they heard of an adoption that didn't work out, they could think to themselves that the parents hadn't sought the right services, or didn't love the child enough, or in some other way did something wrong that they would never do.

I wrote pretty extensively about this on my blog; I worry that I mention it too much but there's a post here on this subject.
posted by not that girl at 9:35 AM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually scratch that - I have encountered one major downside, but that's not really the result of my closed adoption - it's a product of bureaucratic bungling when dealing with edge cases like mine. (I was a foundling, which is happily not very common.)
posted by deadmessenger at 9:37 AM on April 5, 2011


It was very hard for me to get through this article, it hurts my brain and heart to try to relate to either the parents or the kids.

When I was growing up, our neighbors adopted a Native American child into their family. He committed suicide as a teenager. I can't imagine what it was like for them -- this was a tiny town with few resources, and I'm sure most of their friends and family simply avoided mentioning it at all costs. I am so glad that people who are struggling with the adoption process from any angle now have such easy access to other people's support and stories, even if certain pressures still linger.
posted by hermitosis at 9:37 AM on April 5, 2011


Abusive is a strong word for parents who were doing their best (I include birth parents here).

From a policy standpoint, however, I could not be more in favor of protecting a person's right to know their biological origins and encouraging openness in families.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:42 AM on April 5, 2011


Deadmessenger - if you're a foundling, then your adoptive parents didn't have the information to share with you and couldn't possibly be said to have 'withheld' it. And I would generally feel more comfortable calling the circumstances that would lead a birth mother to abandon a baby as a foundling abusive (or tragic) than the action. Often we're not talking about meaningful choices here.

There is a long history of purposefully obscuring a child's origins, however, to the extent of even concealing from them the very fact of their adoption, that is, in my opinion, undeniably problematic. Abusive? Again, a strong word for people doing their best and following the conventional wisdom of the time.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:47 AM on April 5, 2011


I'm adopted, and also had put a child up for adoption, so i've seen both sides of this subject. While i don't agree with everything in the article, it was very interesting. I was put up for adoption, and have since found out my birth mother kept my older half sister, but put me up, and that's been something that wears on me when my depression gets deep. When i had to put my daughter up for adoption, both me and the mother were 21 and i had been hospitalized for self harm and suicide attempts before that and more since then so i knew she would be better off with parents who were ready for her, the experience gave me another view of the process. The mother wanted to meet the adoptive family (for the record, i consider my adoptive parents my parents, but the terms are a bit clumsy when talking about all this to me for some reason), and choose what "type" of family adopted her, like where they lived (size of town really, she wanted small town closer to a bigger city), and other things. I met them once, but felt the more i knew the more i'd want to see how she was doing and as that was technically illegal, i wanted to avoid that.

One of the things that drove me up the wall, were the people who called me "selfish" for putting her up and me saying it was the best decision i made. These were people with one or more kids, that they had their parents watch so they could go to the bars almost nightly. I've also been told adoption is "worse than abortion", for some twisted reason i still can't comprehend (i prefer adoption to abortion, but i realize there are reasons for each and being a male, i shouldn't force my feeling on those who have to deal with it)

One more side note, my brother and his wife adopted a girl from China after complications with several pregnancies after their first child was born. She had and still does have issues with the place she was before coming here, and some health issues too, but is thriving and growing well. I could be seeing what i expect to see, but sometimes it does seem their birth child is favored over her, and gets away with more. It could just be my perception though, i'm not sure.

he's already pulled the "you're not my real dad" line when he got angry.

When i was a child, i said similar, although it was more along the lines of "you bought me, why don't you just return me?", and i do regret saying it, but there were issues i was dealing with that were unknown at the time. Basically a lot of fear of rejection, attachment issues, the teasing of being adopted, and others, so it wasn't so much directed at them, but a feeling of dislike of myself and a feeling of being worthless. So i wouldn't take it personally, even though i'm sure it hurts, he might just be trying to prove that you do care or will prove him right.

It went longer than that. My brother and I were adopted in the 70s, both in closed adoptions.

I was adopted in 1970, and it's been a chore finding out more than basic things. Seeing a doctor is frustrating when they ask my family history, and deciding tests or what my symptoms may be based on that, so usually they are close to useless. I've also developed possibly genetic related health issues since putting my daughter up for adoption, and there is no way of letting her know what to watch out for, which is troubling.

I don't really need names, but it would be nice to know how much of my troubles are caused by nature vs nurture, and any possible history of "where i come from". One interesting thing, i don't really understand the love of genealogy, bloodlines, and "races" as such, and care more about how someone was raised and how they behave now. That may not be related to being adopted, but probably form thinking so much about.
posted by usagizero at 9:48 AM on April 5, 2011 [8 favorites]



Note: The article deals primarily with international adoption. Domestic, open adoption is very, different.


Not in some ways. There are plenty of cases of fetal alcohol syndrome here.
posted by Melismata at 9:59 AM on April 5, 2011


Deadmessenger - if you're a foundling, then your adoptive parents didn't have the information to share with you and couldn't possibly be said to have 'withheld' it.

True. They didn't have my brother's information either, though, and he wasn't a foundling. We were both adopted in traditional closed adoptions, and that information simply wasn't made available to anyone. My brother has talked a bit about looking for his birth mother (especially since our mother's death three years ago) but I don't think it's one of those all-consuming things that others have described, even in this thread.

And I would generally feel more comfortable calling the circumstances that would lead a birth mother to abandon a baby as a foundling abusive (or tragic) than the action.

Tragic, sure. Abusive, absolutely NOT - at least not in my case. When deciding to leave me where she did (in the lobby of a free clinic in Queens) my birth mother made what was certainly an agonizing decision, one of the toughest decisions any parent has ever had to make. Although I know nothing of her circumstance, one thing is clear: she knew that she couldn't care for me. She left me in a place where she knew I would be found and would be cared for. It took an enormous amount of courage to make that decision, and I am damn grateful for her act of courage and personal sacrifice. I would NEVER attach the word abusive to my birth mother.
posted by deadmessenger at 10:01 AM on April 5, 2011 [19 favorites]


Tragic, sure. Abusive, absolutely NOT - at least not in my case. When deciding to leave me where she did (in the lobby of a free clinic in Queens) my birth mother made what was certainly an agonizing decision, one of the toughest decisions any parent has ever had to make

Sorry I expressed myself poorly! I really did mean that the life circumstances that put the birth mother in a position to leave a foundling can be abusive - pregnancies that result from rape or incest, extreme poverty, etc.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:19 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


There've been a bunch of kids adopted into my family in the last decade; two from China, one from Guatemala, one Romanian, and at least three domestic adoptions I can think of right off the bat. (We laugh about the international & multiracial factor having one good aspect: it's easier to ID who's who than in a homogenous family's group photographs!)

The ones adopted from other countries are, from sheer distance if nothing else, effectively 'closed' adoptions. Two of the domestic adoptions are also closed: they were removed from abusive birth parents (for damn good reasons) & put in foster care. The other domestic adoption was/is technically an open adoption, but his birth mother has never, in his entire six years, shown the least inclination to meet or contact him. (Probably a good thing --- he was the third kid she put up for adoption, and for *ahem* "professional reasons" couldn't name any of the fathers..... Generally, I'd say that the younger any particular kid was adopted, the fewer problems; also while domestic agencies may lie to prospective parents, they don't lie nearly as much as overseas agencies will.....
posted by easily confused at 10:23 AM on April 5, 2011


When I was reading the article, what struck me was that several of these families had multiple children as well as the child(ren) with serious difficulties, and even that their children with problems were a threat to their other children. In the cases where the problems are known, why are they adopting when the situation could put their other children at risk? As for the family who adopted 19 children (and seriously abused some) why were they allowed to adopt so many?

My mother adopted my niece (her granddaughter). Obviously, this was an open adoption and both birth parents visit frequently. Nonetheless, children's services had many strict requirements before they would allow her to take custody: a private room for the baby, a registered childcare provider (not family or informal care), a pediatrician (not a GP) - because of the problems the baby had already had.
posted by jb at 10:24 AM on April 5, 2011


This is a fascinating article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by zarq at 10:25 AM on April 5, 2011


The other domestic adoption was/is technically an open adoption, but his birth mother has never, in his entire six years, shown the least inclination to meet or contact him. (Probably a good thing --- he was the third kid she put up for adoption, and for *ahem* "professional reasons" couldn't name any of the fathers.....

Why do you think she should feel this way? If a woman does not want to parent and gives up children for adoption, is it so bad that she chooses that her involvement ends at that point?
posted by asockpuppet at 10:33 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


asockpuppet --- as I said, it's probably a good thing she does not wish involvement. And believe me, we the adoptive family wish only the best for her and all the other birth parents, who gave us such marvelous gifts.
posted by easily confused at 10:39 AM on April 5, 2011


The comments in this post as well as the original articles ring true to me. I'm a 21-year-old who was adopted through foster care. I'm not sure what the circumstances were surrounding my birth, but I spend the first two years of my life living with an older couple. During that time, my name was temporarily changed from something less ethnic to one that is culturally acceptable. At 5, I was adopted by my current family. I remember banging the gavel that day to announce this celebration and receiving candy from the judge. My entire name was changed again that day. But the process, then the outcome, was sort of shamed. My parents never talked about it and the mere mention of the word 'adoption' often led to punishment. So I stopped asking. My adoptive parents ended up taking in over 60 children since 1995 and have since adopted my five brothers and sisters. My life has been bittersweet. I feel like apart of me was forced to give up a portion of my childhood to help my parents nurture of all the kids who come in. I have cried many nights when some of the children had to relocated. I still find it hard to let people in, because I'm afraid that if I do, they will leave. I would always hate how well-meaning people would come up to us and say "You should be grateful"...grateful for what?!

Every year, my parents attend a Christmas party for foster and adoptive children. It was amazing to hear many the adoptive parents discuss us as if we were objects, to be cultivated and groomed. For many, appearance matters, and the more exotic or white the child looks, the more likely the parent will consider adoption. Some would separate brothers and sisters simply because one appeared more "cuter" or "prettier". And money? It was not uncommon for a foster parent to drop the child off at the headquarters, since payment didn't arrive on time. I do not keep in touch with my fellow foster care and adopted young adults. But when I see them every now and then, they're almost shocked to find out that one of us made it to college.

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to meet my eldest stepsisters' children, who were also placed in foster care. I found it ironic how my parents, the ones who are praised by society, failed to take in their own. My nieces reside in impoverished neighborhoods like mine and have had similar experiences to me. The 19-year-old is battling with a drug addiction and the 17-year-old is only in her sophomore year of high school. I was relieved to find out that my 3-year-old nephew may have a chance at a better life than the rest of us. He was adopted by a younger couple who could not have children.

In my community, THIS is the face of adoption. Not some Angelina Jolie-esque fairytale in which children are given a second chance. We are taught from an early age to fend for ourselves and forgo love. However, there have been some good aspects surrounding these circumstances. I have learned to become self-sufficient, and this form of "diversity" has gotten me a four-year-scholarship. I'm sitting now with the name of my birth mother (obtained through the County of Records), and I'm still afraid to begin the search. What if I'm not accepted by her, either?
posted by nikayla_luv at 10:40 AM on April 5, 2011 [37 favorites]


nikayla_luv: I wish I could give you a hug right now. It is unfair that you've had to go through so much in your short life.

Adoption is something I am considering, but it would be a while before our family was ready. My 4 year old son has autism spectrum disorder and needs all of my attention right now, at least for the next few years. It kills me to think that if for some strange reason all of our family died and he was put into foster care he would be considered "special needs" and therefore "difficult to place". It makes me want to open my home to a child like him later on down the road.

On the other hand, I worked for 8 months in a level 14 treatment facility for severely emotionally disturbed adolescents. From that experience, I know for an absolute fact that I could not raise a child with the behavioral and emotional problems that many of our kids had. Our kids had histories like the ones discussed in this article - FAS & prenatal exposure to street drugs, physical & sexual abuse, neglect, witnessed unbelievably violent traumatic events - and had spent most of their lives in the system. Some had histories of setting fires and harming younger children, some had histories of killing animals, some had histories of sexually abusing other children in previous programs. Some were incredibly violent, and a good day at work was usually a day where I had only been punched or kicked once. That job broke my heart and eventually my mind. That experience makes me hesitate when considering adoption and I feel a little ashamed of that.
posted by echolalia67 at 11:36 AM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow, after gorging on Fosterhood in NYC for the past week and starting to think, gee, fosterhood might be hard but there's no reason why we couldn't make some sacrifices and do it and really make a difference for someone, this article was a huge chaser of reality. I would definitely need to have my eyes fully opened to RAD and the potential for sexual abuse of other kids before taking this on. I'm not giving up but I need to get educated.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:28 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Carol called her state’s child protective services (CPS) department. They told her that unless the children were more than two years apart, it wasn’t considered abuse.

What the crap is this crap?
posted by Gator at 12:28 PM on April 5, 2011


Well, children engage in sexual play. It happens a lot, and it is often tough to tell what is playing doctor and what is abuse when both parties are very young. It can be really tough to tell who instigated it, even.

Even though sexual play is normal, I think it's really important to keep an eye on kids and not let it go on, which was a tough conclusion for me to come to since I want to be a sex positive parent. But the idea that my kids, or anybody's kids, for that matter, could get mixed up in some sort of sex abuse allegation is enough for me to make sure that everybody keeps clothes on and hands to themselves.
posted by Leta at 1:29 PM on April 5, 2011


Sorry, I was expressing myself poorly. Certainly the people withholding information about birth parents, or even trying to keep the adoption itself secret, are/were doing what they thought was best.

I think "profoundly philosophically disturbing" might be a better way of saying what I was trying to get at. It seems so inherently dishonest. I can't even bring myself to lie to my kid and tell him that Santa Claus is real, lying about his origin just seems deeply wrong.

usagizero Since he's four, I think when he says stuff like that mostly he's just expressing a momentary fit of pique. One time, after he'd been visiting his grandmother, he asked for ice cream and when we told him we weren't getting any he told us that next time he went to his grandmother's we shouldn't bother picking him up because he liked it better there. I think the "I wish I lived with the woman who grew me in her tummy" comments are along the same line.

We adopted him via our state child protective services agency after a complex and soap-opera worthy series of events (including the CPS people telling us that we'd be getting him on a particular day, buying the necessary stuff, my wife getting an impromptu baby shower from her co-workers, followed by CPS saying that no one had ever said that, that he was never going to be ours; we were pretty emotionally devastated by that. Then 5 months later phoning us up and asking if we wanted him. I'm still pissed about that.) The good side of all that is that we have the complete medical records on both birth parents so we have no questions about his medical history.
posted by sotonohito at 1:37 PM on April 5, 2011


Thorzdad: "I was adopted in 1958 and eventually did find my birthmom and her kids. I don't know about Washington, but in Indiana, there's a state-run adoption registry where adoptees and birthmoms can register and re-unite. Unfortunately, that came after I resorted to other methods."

Oh, it's not a matter of hope or hopeless. I was adopted in Arizona, though, which at the time had very strong laws governing adoption information and currently uses a double-permission system which requires a 'confidential intermediary' to mediate contact and secure permission to view the original birth certificate.

It is the wrong time and place for me to go into it, but I am in the process of engaging a firm in Arizona. Kinda backburnered until taxes are done, but I'll get there. Seattle peeps, I will tell you all about it at the meetup. The decision to engage with the process was based entirely on reading Astro Zombie's blog entry, "A conversation with my Mother."
posted by mwhybark at 1:39 PM on April 5, 2011


I've written and re-written this comment three times.

We met our daughter's birth mother six weeks before the due date, and we were in the delivery room when she was born. Our daughter has never known any other parents but us. Our family and friends have welcomed her with open arms from the start, and she's fifteen months old and smiles and laughs and knows there's an airplane flying by before she can see it 'cause her ears are so sharp and it makes my heart burst with love. I am so glad things worked out the way they did, and I'm glad that we have stayed in touch with her birth mom and hope we continue to. I hope they have a relationship, and that it's healthy for both of them.

But I am a worrying worrywart, and this article just set me off with even more worrying. One of the things that's always gnawed at me about being an adoptive parent is that it feels like we got an extra dollop of Things To Worry About on top of the You're-Responsible-For-Another-Human-Being sundae every parent gets served. Becoming a parent is a hopeful act. I hope for our daughter. I hope for the kids in this article.
posted by RakDaddy at 2:20 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd have liked this article a lot better if it wasn't poorly predicated on this strawman and filled with efforts to draw parallels that just don't pass the sniff test. The opening anecdote talks about the judge setting up this family as identical in the legal rights and protections and then uses that as a basis to smack around this supposed myth.

I'd cut her some slack for that if she wasn't the one pushing this myth harder than anyone else in the story. My wife is adopted and we're at a stage in looking into adoption where we've been to several agency open houses to talk about the options and challenges. Attachment challenges get discussed. The reality that children from foreign adoption are older and can come with issues that the foreign organizations may/will gloss over? Discussed. What resources you may or may not have available to you if there are challenges? Discussed. Along with dozens of other potential issues. And this is just in agency open houses, not during the home study.

Is it possible we got lucky? Picked better agencies? Have better agencies, on average, because of the standard of living in this area? I might think that if the author's own stories didn't often include tales of the extraordinary help some of these people got. Patty and Wyatt's story, which we get at the end of a block about attachment disorder, includes a team who comes and works with them and "spent every waking moment for the first week" working with them. Carol and Henry? They've found Henry another placement where he'll be better able to deal with his challenges.

That story works against her cause, I'd assert. Siblings molestation happens in genetic families and those families find themselves hard-pressed to get help. We know someone who had had to navigate the system when her much younger brother behaved inappropriately with her daughter. They had to involve the law because it was the only way to compel treatment and keep her child protected.

Contrast that with the re-placement of Henry with another family with different age dynamics. Could you expect that in a non-adoptive situation? A genetic family might have to send that child to live with other family members. Henry will be legally adopted and become a full legal member of that new family. It's not exactly a triumphant and joyous story but to point to it as if it's a story of something unique and inherently worse because it's adoption just doesn't wash.

The same goes for so many other bits in this story. It's maddening. This is otherwise all good information and worth paying attention to. There are indeed unique challenges in adoption and we should have a system that is prepared for them and in many ways we do. The story talks about many of them even while it attacks this non-myth.

So many things in here are the same problems as a family with an all genetic story. Patty mourns for the family she thought she would have. That's a counter-argument to the non-myth that adoptive families are the same? Every birth parent to a special needs child suffers though that. Everyone whose child suffers through a debilitating accident has to adjust to changed expectations and demands.

This is a story about how much impact the early years have on a child and how important it is we recognize those needs and address them. I wish it had been written that way.
posted by phearlez at 2:39 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


This article was heartbreaking to read. Every case is so unique. One of my high school friends found herself pregnant in her late 20s and placed her child with parents in another city. She is not the type of person that one thinks of when you think birth mother. She said open adoption was the best choice, although it has been a rollercoaster ride over the past seven years as the family hasn't kept in touch as much as they promised. My friend did not receive enough post-adoption counselling and has been grieving ever since. Her life is just not the same and there is just no way of fixing the damage to her. It was only until this happened to her that I learned about the many angry and sad birth moms out there on blogs and forums. I really wish this process could be easier for all involved :\
posted by Calzephyr at 5:05 PM on April 5, 2011


phearlez: "This is a story about how much impact the early years have on a child" ...

Indeed, it is this which is at the heart of adoption and the shifting ways our culture, and others, deal with it. Clearly, adoption happens in myriad ways. How we construct an ethical framework for it now deserves constant and critical attention.

FWIW, without knowing the parameters of my birth family's inclinations and proclivities, I put my desire to remain emotionally distant from everyone - my wife, my parents, you people whom I value but instantiate as pixels on a screen - down to a mix of being adopted, being raised by a family with a history of moving far, far away from parents, and constant travel when I was a child.

I love my parents deeply, and they never have been anything but exceptional and loving; I never experienced a crazy-shouty-messy homelife growing up. But I trust no-one. I may love you, but I will never trust you.
posted by mwhybark at 5:33 PM on April 5, 2011


Of course, those of us domestically adopted in the 1960s are still dealing with the closed stuff.

I was adopted in 1969 in a closed adoption, and have not once in 40 years felt the urge to find my birth family. Is that unusual? Truthfully, I'm also glad they can't find me... the family I have is fine, thanks.
posted by Huck500 at 9:00 PM on April 5, 2011


"I might think that if the author's own stories didn't often include tales of the extraordinary help some of these people got...Carol and Henry? They've found Henry another placement where he'll be better able to deal with his challenges."

I happen to read Carol's writing about her family quite a bit, and this glosses over the situation to an incredible degree. She and her husband had to involve the law, as your acquaintances did. They have nearly bankrupted themselves, have continually fought government agencies to get the funding needed to pay for Henry's care, and still have other children at home who have severe attachment issues. They've had to fight hard to get Henry freed for legal adoption by another family.
Carol hasn't gotten extraordinary help from her agency -- she's scraped it together herself, helping other parents of children with attachment disorder while she's at it. The incredible grind she (and other parents like her) go on a daily basis is nearly impossible for me to grasp, and goes far beyond anything I've read from adoption agencies about "possible attachment issues". Their agencies all too frequently seem ready to blame them for their children's problems, or are at best ill-equipped to deal with the child's issues.
I'm not going to argue that the article couldn't have made its point better, but I think the thing that makes adoption inherently different from raising one's own biological children is precisely those first few years of life. Nobody sells you on having a baby and then surprises you with a child who's been abused or neglected for most of their life; you know how your baby has been cared for their entire life. The issue with adoption, especially adoption of older children from orphanages or from abusive situations domestically, is that the agencies sell you with photos of lovely, happy families, or beautiful, parentless children, and many of those agencies do not adequately address the child's possible past history. As Carol's story showed, even parents who go to the orphanage may not understand what the conditions are like on a day-in, day-out basis, and how they affect a child's emotional attachment.
posted by katemonster at 9:55 PM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'd contend that what is described in the article is extraordinary help by the standards that Joe Average gets in mental health coverage; it just happens that our safety nets in that arena stink and some problems are herculean. However I did fail to clearly make my point well - that this family had access to and a relationship with an organization by virtue of this being an adoption. It's something a family that birthed that child and experienced these issues purely internally wouldn't necessarily have.

I think we mostly agree, but I still have a major issue with what the article is predicated on and think it fails to support it. You say "the agencies sell you with photos of lovely, happy families, or beautiful, parentless children, and many of those agencies do not adequately address the child's possible past history." But I can tell you that from my experience that couldn't be farther from the truth.

In our first 'open house' visit we were actually the only two people meeting with this firm. They're an organization that does exclusively foreign adoption, primarily from Russia. The subject of the age of these children was raise by them. The multitude of potential medical issues because of pre-natal care was part of the presentation. The issues that arise because of the age of these children was raised by them. The fact that the adoption process in Russia involves a medical certificate that may be mostly fiction was raised by them. We spend a good fifteen minutes out of a 90 minutes informational session talking about the strategies to deal with this, ranging from finding other doctors overseas to having domestic experts look at the reports and attempt to read between the lines as well as looking for patterns from previously used foreign experts. Their information packet here, a PDF under "adoption information," includes multiple links under the MEDICAL header including info on fetal alcohol syndrome.

That's just an anecdote but it's more than the author gives us. The article instead talks about these snap judgments made by the adoptive parents and how they opted to look past potential warning signs, but it never backs up its assertion that this is a result of a system that asserts there's no difference between adoption and genetic birth. Where's the backup for this claim that it's a result of cultural glossing-over?

Like I said, otherwise it's good stuff. The pieces are fine but they've been mis-assembled into a jumbled picture. It gives short shrift to hard working organizations that are doing the right thing. Maybe the author just didn't want to be hard on these people who have opened up and talked about their challenges. But choosing instead to make a bad guy out of society and the agencies is wrong factually and morally. If there are some doing this - and I'm prepared to believe there are, certainly - then find some supporting data. Get some quotes. Name some websites. We get none of that - no singular proof. Instead it's a blanket slur.

All I can provide are three data points, but all three directly contradict the author's unsupported assertion. The stories the author presents don't jibe with unprepared organizations that are ignoring real problems - they had structures in place to deal with problems. If they're inadequate structures that's a different assertion. If some of these problems simply cannot be prepared away, that's a different assertion.

Given that the article ran in a magazine devoted to thinking parenting it's not like this couldn't have been structured differently. It would have been a better article if it had.
posted by phearlez at 7:56 AM on April 6, 2011


Huck500 I'd imagine it's different for everyone. I've known some adopted people with your attitude, I've known others who very much wanted to find their birth parents.

And, of course, there's the medical issue. It's incredibly useful to know what disease history your genetic parents had.
posted by sotonohito at 8:37 AM on April 6, 2011


Further anecdote: this was in my mailbox just now from one of the other firms we attended an open house with.
Attachment 101: Online Seminar

Tuesday, April 12
8:30 pm

REGISTER

The relationship between a young child and their primary caregiver provides the foundation for all future relationships. For children to develop trust in the world, caregivers must meet their needs in a loving manner and provide them with a safe and secure base. But what happens when attachment is compromised due to factors such as abuse, neglect, or inconsistent caretaking?

Because adopted children frequently experience insecure or disrupted attachments early in life, it is imperative that adoptive parents have a strong foundation in attachment parenting. Love is not enough. The reality is that adopted children may take longer to forge trusting relationships, and they are counting on you to know what to do to ease the transition. Building a healthy attachment is a process that evolves over time through patience, consistency, attunement, and sensitive responsiveness to your child. The good news is that adopted children can form strong emotional attachments when parents arm themselves with appropriate information, resources and support.

Attending the Attachment 101 online seminar is an important step in becoming an informed parent who not only understands the importance of attachment, but can better address the emotional and behavioral issues that adopted children sometimes present. Preparation and knowledge are the building blocks for success.

Join us on April 12 to learn more about how you can build and sustain a healthy attachment relationship with your child. The online format is convenient, affordable, and easily accessible and allows you to receive expert advice from the comfort of home. What could be easier than that? Investing in the emotional well-being and stability of your family will be well worth the time.
The parents cited in this article may or may not have been well served by their agencies - no proof one way or the other is provided. But the above is not indicative of a system that isn't owning up to the realities.
posted by phearlez at 10:18 AM on April 6, 2011


phearlez, your last link is interesting. One thing I notice in the e-mail is that it says adoptive children "may take longer" to form attachments, and that you can "learn about how you can build and sustain a healthy attachment relationship." Also that learning how to do this will be easy--"what could be easier than that?"

I've seen a lot of similar stuff on agencies' websites and the implication always seems to be that a healthy attachment will be formed. Things like that seem to acknowledge the problem but present it as one that will be overcome.

One thing that was interesting about the book I mentioned above--Blue Ribbon Babies and Labors of Love--is that adoptive parents are prepared for things to "take longer" or for it to be "rough for awhile." What adoptive parents interviewed for the authors' study talked about was that for many of them there is then an adjustment period when they start to realize that the attachment they thought would "take longer" is probably never going to happen.
posted by not that girl at 11:00 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Most ethical international adoptions will be of older children (certainly over 2yo) or children with significant medical issues (or both). A 4-year-old child will very likely have significant attachment issues. "May" have attachment problems or saying it might take longer to form an attachment is understating it. I think that email overflows with hope, which is understandable, but not as helpful as realistic planning for needed social and professional support.

I also feel that if a parent doesn't have time/energy/motivation to receive critical education and has to be gladhandled into doing it online then...maybe adopting in this particular way isn't for them. And I feel that agencies should be doing a better job of screening prospective parents if this is the attitude they expect.

If this is an international adoption agency doing healthy infant adoptions, then the issue is primarily ethical. Everywhere US adoption agencies go with massive fees and intense demand, corruption and even child trafficking are almost sure to follow.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:24 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find myself revisiting this thread, worrying about Henry.

Because I understand why he is going to a family with no younger kids, and I think his adoptive mother has really worked hard to get him the help he needs.

But just because there aren't other kids in his immediate family doesn't mean he won't seek out younger children in the community. What do we do about that? Henry has a right to privacy, he's a minor and he's troubled...but I can't help but feel that just placing him in another home is akin to moving a pedophile priest to another parish.

Do child molesters who go through therapy have lower recidivism rates? Will Henry ever be rehabilitated?

It's such a sad situation.
posted by misha at 1:53 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huck500: "I was adopted in 1969 in a closed adoption, and have not once in 40 years felt the urge to find my birth family. Is that unusual? Truthfully, I'm also glad they can't find me... the family I have is fine, thanks."

No, I wouldn't say that's unusual. The ethical justification for the closed-adoption policy was to both encourage birth-to-adoption, presumably over a back-alley abortion, and also to encourage attachment by removing the 'not-my-real-parent / not-my-real-child' justification for resistance to forming a real familial bond. I don't think it's accidental that it may also have made adoption more attractive to prospective adoptive parents.

Until clear reasons came up to provide me with an objective, unsentimental reason to seek my birth family, my attitude about my adoption was not unlike yours. Now I'm more-or-less irritated that I have to pay people to verify or reject information I have myself obtained via research. I guess not all that irritated but if I didn't have a spare [amount redacted] lying around I would be pissed. Only well-to-do people get to open their adoptions.
posted by mwhybark at 6:06 PM on April 6, 2011


phearlez: "Attending the Attachment 101 online seminar"

I find this amusing. I love interacting online because I don't have to bother with actual face-to-face interaction.
posted by mwhybark at 6:09 PM on April 6, 2011


I want to clarify here for prospective adoptive parents: I'm by no means down on you for seeking adoptive parentage, nor do I regard my adoptive parents as anything but my real parents.

But I'm pretty sure my attitudes toward family and children are not what they were hoping they would be, and after thinking about for 45 years, it seems likely to me that my adoptive status plays a role in those attitudes.

It's beyond unlikely I ever experienced anything more traumatic as a child than being separated from my birth mother; certainly no caregiver abuse or if any it must have been restricted to the short period between my birth and adoption, which my birth certificate records as one week.

I love my parents, but they are not getting grandchildren, and not because they did anything wrong.
posted by mwhybark at 6:18 PM on April 6, 2011


"What could be easier" was referencing taking a class over the internet. It was a hook to encourage prospective parents to learn more. Perhaps this is tracked, and those who opted out of learning more are the ones who aren't accepted as adoptive parents. One hears so much these days on how hard it is to become an adoptive parent. (I'm probably more 'amen' to that than might be expected, seeing how things worked badly with my adoptive parents).

But if I was the adoption agency, I'd seriously avoid American families anyway. The situation there with regards care resources makes them particularly unfit as stable families. How can you be at all sure the adoptive family won't loose a job and end up in a tent, with no access to medical care? Where does the idea come from that American families are so special? Talk about myths, let's be clear, there are myths on both sides of the equation. Or maybe more correctly, ideas need to be updated to modern reality. I mean, look at Missouri there, trying to undo laws on child labor!
posted by Goofyy at 9:10 PM on April 6, 2011


I think that email overflows with hope, which is understandable, but not as helpful as realistic planning for needed social and professional support. I also feel that if a parent doesn't have time/energy/motivation to receive critical education and has to be gladhandled into doing it online then...maybe adopting in this particular way isn't for them. And I feel that agencies should be doing a better job of screening prospective parents if this is the attitude they expect.

Remember, this is an email I got from an agency who has me on a list of people who have expressed some interest in this avenue of adoption. This isn't something they're offering for people who have even started the process of a home study, it's stuff they send to prospective clients.

So does it fail to strongly express just how bad it could go and that attachment might never work out? Sure. But it's a summary of something being offered early in the process for folks. They may well be adopting a younger child or not confront severe medical issues. As I said, my experience was that the agencies did not soft-sell potential issues.

Could they be more aggressive in describing potential issues? I suppose. I don't have the stats to determine whether they are under-representing the likelihood of a problem. All I was endeavoring to present here is a counter-argument to the article's assertion: that there's an institutional portrayal of adoption being exactly identical in challenges and risks to genetic children.

I offered up my counter-argument and evidence. I don't think the article made its case or offered any evidence. Good stories and information, but not a cohesive whole.
posted by phearlez at 10:48 AM on April 7, 2011


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