Adoption Stories from Adopted the Movie - A Feature Film by Barb Lee

January 15, 2008

New Demographic Anti-Racist Action Group Starting Jan. 28th!

New Demographic, the “antithesis of the typical diversity training company” founded by Carmen Van Kerckhove of Racialicious and Anti-Racist Parent, will be starting a new Anti-Racist Action Group on Jan. 28. The group is “a 9-week-long course that takes an in-depth look at race, racism, privilege, and stereotypes” which is done through 9 weekly 90-minute group phone discussions facilitated by Van Kerckhove and bi-weekly reading and writing assignments.

From the announcement:

What’s unique about the course?

You will engage in an in-depth study of race and racism. Taking a single workshop — even if it’s a day-long workshop — only allows you to scratch the surface. The Anti-Racism Action Group, on the other hand, gives you time to thoroughly explore and process new ideas.

You will actively engage with the material and think about how it applies in your life. It’s easy to space out while listening to an audio seminar or a diversity speaker. The Anti-Racism Action Group’s action-oriented format, on the other hand, ensures that you don’t fall into the trap of passive learning.

You will get to know your fellow group members, learn from each other and develop personal bonds. In a typical diversity training setting, the speaker drones on and on to an anonymous mass of people. The Anti-Racism Action Group’s discussions, on the other hand, are driven by your stories, experiences, and analyses.

Each Anti-Racist Action Group is made up of only 12 participants, so sign up now! If you are unable to join this action group, New Demographic has several a year- the next one starting February 27th, 2008- so sign up for their mailing list and stay updated!

January 1, 2008

Giving birth becomes the latest job outsourced to India

Filed under: Adoption,Adoption in Other Countries,Articles,For Parents — Tags: , — Catherine @ 11:29 pm


ANAND, India (AP) — Every night in this quiet western Indian city, 15 pregnant women prepare for sleep in the spacious house they share, ascending the stairs in a procession of ballooned bellies, to bedrooms that become a landscape of soft hills.

A team of maids, cooks and doctors looks after the women, whose pregnancies would be unusual anywhere else but are common here. The young mothers of Anand, a place famous for its milk, are pregnant with the children of infertile couples from around the world.

The small clinic at Kaival Hospital matches infertile couples with local women, cares for the women during pregnancy and delivery, and counsels them afterward. Anand’s surrogate mothers, pioneers in the growing field of outsourced pregnancies, have given birth to roughly 40 babies.

More than 50 women in this city are now pregnant with the children of couples from the United States, Taiwan, Britain and beyond. The women earn more than many would make in 15 years. But the program raises a host of uncomfortable questions that touch on morals and modern science, exploitation and globalization, and that most natural of desires: to have a family.

Dr. Nayna Patel, the woman behind Anand’s baby boom, defends her work as meaningful for everyone involved.

“There is this one woman who desperately needs a baby and cannot have her own child without the help of a surrogate. And at the other end there is this woman who badly wants to help her [own] family,” Patel said. “If this female wants to help the other one … why not allow that? … It’s not for any bad cause. They’re helping one another to have a new life in this world.”

Experts say commercial surrogacy — or what has been called “wombs for rent” — is growing in India. While no reliable numbers track such pregnancies nationwide, doctors work with surrogates in virtually every major city. The women are impregnated in-vitro with the egg and sperm of couples unable to conceive on their own.

Commercial surrogacy has been legal in India since 2002, as it is in many other countries, including the United States. But India is the leader in making it a viable industry rather than a rare fertility treatment. Experts say it could take off for the same reasons outsourcing in other industries has been successful: a wide labor pool working for relatively low rates.

Critics say the couples are exploiting poor women in India — a country with an alarmingly high maternal death rate — by hiring them at a cut-rate cost to undergo the hardship, pain and risks of labor.

“It raises the factor of baby farms in developing countries,” said Dr. John Lantos of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo. “It comes down to questions of voluntariness and risk.”

Patel’s surrogates are aware of the risks because they’ve watched others go through them. Many of the mothers know one another, or are even related. Three sisters have all borne strangers’ children, and their sister-in-law is pregnant with a second surrogate baby. Nearly half the babies have been born to foreign couples while the rest have gone to Indians.

Ritu Sodhi, a furniture importer from Los Angeles who was born in India, spent $200,000 trying to get pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, and was considering spending another $80,000 to hire a surrogate mother in the United States.

“We were so desperate,” she said. “It was emotionally and financially exhausting.”

Then, on the Internet, Sodhi found Patel’s clinic.

After spending about $20,000 — more than many couples because it took the surrogate mother several cycles to conceive — Sodhi and her husband are now back home with their 4-month-old baby, Neel. They plan to return to Anand for a second child.

“Even if it cost $1 million, the joy that they had delivered to me is so much more than any money that I have given them,” said Sodhi. “They’re godsends to deliver something so special.”

Patel’s center is believed to be unique in offering one-stop service. Other clinics may request that the couple bring in their own surrogate, often a family member or friend, and some place classified ads. But in Anand the couple just provides the egg and sperm and the clinic does the rest, drawing from a waiting list of tested and ready surrogates.

Young women are flocking to the clinic to sign up for the list.

Suman Dodia, a pregnant, baby-faced 26-year-old, said she will buy a house with the $4,500 she receives from the British couple whose child she’s carrying. It would have taken her 15 years to earn that on her maid’s monthly salary of $25.

Dodia’s own three children were delivered at home and she said she never visited a doctor during those pregnancies.

“It’s very different with medicine,” Dodia said, resting her hands on her hugely pregnant belly. “I’m being more careful now than I was with my own pregnancy.”

Patel said she carefully chooses which couples to help and which women to hire as surrogates. She only accepts couples with serious fertility issues, like survivors of uterine cancer. The surrogate mothers have to be between 18 and 45, have at least one child of their own, and be in good medical shape.

Like some fertility reality show, a rotating cast of surrogate mothers live together in a home rented by the clinic and overseen by a former surrogate mother. They receive their children and husbands as visitors during the day, when they’re not busy with English or computer classes.

“They feel like my family,” said Rubina Mandul, 32, the surrogate house’s den mother. “The first 10 days are hard, but then they don’t want to go home.”

Mandul, who has two sons of her own, gave birth to a child for an American couple in February. She said she misses the baby, but she stays in touch with the parents over the Internet. A photo of the American couple with the child hangs over the sofa.

“They need a baby more than me,” she said.

The surrogate mothers and the parents sign a contract that promises the couple will cover all medical expenses in addition to the woman’s payment, and the surrogate mother will hand over the baby after birth. The couples fly to Anand for the in-vitro fertilization and again for the birth. Most couples end up paying the clinic less than $10,000 for the entire procedure, including fertilization, the fee to the mother and medical expenses.

Counseling is a major part of the process and Patel tells the women to think of the pregnancy as “someone’s child comes to stay at your place for nine months.”

Kailas Gheewala, 25, said she doesn’t think of the pregnancy as her own.

“The fetus is theirs, so I’m not sad to give it back,” said Gheewala, who plans to save the $6,250 she’s earning for her two daughters’ education. “The child will go to the U.S. and lead a better life and I’ll be happy.”

Patel said none of the surrogate mothers has had especially difficult births or serious medical problems, but risks are inescapable.

“We have to be very careful,” she said. “We overdo all the health investigations. We do not take any chances.”

Health experts expect to see more Indian commercial surrogacy programs in coming years. Dr. Indira Hinduja, a prominent fertility specialist who was behind India’s first test-tube baby two decades ago, receives several surrogacy inquiries a month from couples overseas.

“People are accepting it,” said Hinduja. “Earlier they used to be ashamed but now they are becoming more broadminded.”

But if commercial surrogacy keeps growing, some fear it could change from a medical necessity for infertile women to a convenience for the rich.

“You can picture the wealthy couples of the West deciding that pregnancy is just not worth the trouble anymore and the whole industry will be farmed out,” said Lantos.

Or, Lantos said, competition among clinics could lead to compromised safety measures and “the clinic across the street offers it for 20 percent less and one in Bangladesh undercuts that and pretty soon conditions get bad.”

The industry is not regulated by the government. Health officials have issued nonbinding ethical guidelines and called for legislation to protect the surrogates and the children.

For now, the surrogate mothers in Anand seem as pleased with the arrangement as the new parents.

“I know this isn’t mine,” said Jagrudi Sharma, 34, pointing to her belly. “But I’m giving happiness to another couple. And it’s great for me.”

Read the full article here:

Foster care better for I.Q. than orphanage, study finds

From the International Herald Tribune:

The results of U.S. research in Romania, being published on Friday in the journal Science, found that toddlers placed in foster families developed significantly higher I.Q.’s by age 4, on average, than peers who spent those years in an orphanage.

Psychologists have long believed that growing up in an institution like an orphanage stunts children’s mental development but have never had direct evidence to back it up.

Now they do, from an experiment in Romania that compared the effects of foster care with those of institutional child-rearing.

The study, being published on Friday in the journal Science, found that toddlers placed in foster families developed significantly higher I.Q.’s by age 4, on average, than peers who spent those years in an orphanage.

The difference was large – eight I.Q. points – and the study found that the earlier children joined a foster family, the better they did. Children who moved from institutional care to families after age 2 made few gains on average, though the experience varied from child to child. Both groups, however, had significantly lower I.Q.’s than a comparison group of children raised by their biological families.

Some developmental psychologists had sharply criticized the study and its sponsor, the MacArthur Foundation, for researching a question whose answer seemed obvious. But previous attempts to compare institutional and foster care suffered from serious flaws, mainly because no one knew whether children who landed in orphanages were different in unknown ways from those in foster care.

Experts said the new study should put to rest any doubts about the harmful effects of institutionalization – and might help speed up adoptions from countries that still allow them.

“Most of us take it as almost intuitive that being in a family is better for humans than being in an orphanage,” said Seth Pollak, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, who was not involved in the research. “But other governments don’t like to be told how to handle policy issues based on intuition.

“What makes this study important is that it gives objective data to say that if you’re going to allow international adoptions, then it’s a good idea to speed things up and get kids into families quickly.”

In recent years many countries, including Romania, have banned or sharply restricted adoptions of local children. In other countries, adoption procedures can drag on for many months.

The authors of the new paper, led by Dr. Charles Zeanah of Tulane University and Charles Nelson of Harvard and Children’s Hospital in Boston, approached Romanian officials in the late 1990s about conducting the study. The country had been working to improve conditions at its orphanages, which became infamous in the early 1990s as Dickensian warehouses for abandoned children.

After gaining clearance from the government, the researchers began to track 136 children who had been abandoned at birth. They administered developmental tests to the children and then randomly assigned them to continue at one of Bucharest’s six large orphanages, or join an adoptive family. The foster families were carefully screened and provided “very high-quality care,” Nelson said.

On I.Q. tests taken at 54 months, the foster children scored an average of 81, compared with 73 among the children who continued in an institution. The children who moved into foster care at the youngest ages tended to show the most improvement, the researchers found.

The comparison group of youngsters who grew up in their biological families had an average I.Q. of 109 at the same age, found the researchers, who announced their preliminary findings as soon as they were known.

“Institutions and environments vary enormously across the world and within countries,” Nelson said, “but I think these findings generalize to many situations, from kids in institutions to those in abusive households and even bad foster care arrangements.” The study’s message, he said, is that children should be moved into more caring environments, ideally before age 2.

In setting up the study, the researchers directly addressed the ethical issue of assigning children to institutional care, which was suspected to be harmful.

“If a government is to consider alternatives to institutional care for abandoned children, it must know how the alternative compares to the standard care it provides,” they wrote. “In Romania, this meant comparing the standard of care to a new and alternative form of care.”

Any number of factors common to institutions could work to delay or blunt intellectual development, experts say: the regimentation, the indifference to individual differences in children’s habits and needs and, most of all, the limited access to caregivers, who in some institutions can be responsible for more than 20 children at a time.

“The evidence seems to say,” said Pollak, “that for humans, we need a lot of responsive care giving, an adult who recognizes your distinct cry, knows when you’re hungry or in pain and gives you the opportunity to crawl around and handle different things, safely, when you’re ready.”

Read full article here:

December 19, 2007

“When Adoption Goes Wrong”: Newsweek article on Peggy Hilt

From Newsweek:

When Adoption Goes Wrong; Most Americans who adopt children from
other countries find joy. But others aren’t prepared for the
risks-and may find themselves overwhelmed.

Peggy Hilt wanted to be a good mother. But day after day, she got out
of bed feeling like a failure. No matter what she tried, she couldn’t
connect with Nina, the 2-year old girl she’d adopted from Russia as
an infant. The preschooler pulled away whenever Hilt tried to hug or
kiss her. Nina was physically aggressive with her 4-year-old sister,
who had been adopted from Ukraine, and had violent tantrums. Whenever
Hilt wasn’t watching, she destroyed the family’s furniture and
possessions. “Every day with Nina had become a struggle,” she recalls now.

As the girl grew older, things got worse. Hilt fell into a deep
depression. She started drinking heavily, something she’d never done
before. Ashamed, she hid her problem from everyone, including her husband.

On the morning of July 1, 2005, Hilt was packing for a family
vacation, all the while downing one beer after another and growing
increasingly aggravated and impatient with Nina’s antics. “Everything
she did just got to me,” Hilt said. When Hilt caught her reaching
into her diaper and smearing feces on the walls and furniture, “a
year and a half of frustration came to a head,” Hilt says. “I
snapped. I felt this uncontrollable rage.”

Then Hilt did something unthinkable. She grabbed Nina around the
neck, shook her and then dropped her to the floor, where she kicked
her repeatedly before dragging her up to her room, punching her as
they went. “I had never hit a child before,” she says. “I felt
horrible and promised myself that this would never happen again.” But
it was too late for that. Nina woke up with a fever, and then started
vomiting. The next day she stopped breathing. By the time the
ambulance got the child to the hospital, she was dead.

Hilt is now serving a 19-year sentence for second-degree murder in a
Virginia maximum-security prison. She and her husband divorced, and
he is raising their other daughter. She realizes the horror of her
crime and says she isn’t looking for sympathy. “There is no
punishment severe enough for what I did,” she told NEWSWEEK in an
interview at the prison.

Hilt’s story is awful-and rare-but sadly it is not unique. Adopting a
child from another country is usually a positive, enriching
experience for both the child and the parent. Over the last 20 years,
foreign adoption has become more popular, and Americans now adopt
about 20,000 children from Guatemala, China, Russia and other nations
each year. (In the last few years, as restrictions and red tape have
increased in some countries, the number of overseas adoptions has
begun to drop.) Longitudinal studies show that most of these kids do
quite well, but in a small but significant number of cases, things go
very badly. Since the early 1990s, the deaths of 14 Russian children
killed by their adoptive parents have been documented. (That
disclosure was partly responsible for Russia’s decision in 2006 to
suspend its intercountry adoption program while it underwent review.)

Cases like those are extreme, but clinicians who specialize in
treating foreign orphans say they are seeing more parents who are
overwhelmed by their adopted children’s unexpected emotional and
behavioral problems. And though reputable agencies try to warn
parents of the risks, not all succeed. “In the past, agencies were a
bit naive,” says Chuck Johnson of the National Council For Adoption,
which is responding to the problem with a massive education
initiative. “Now we’re urging them to give parents a more realistic
message.” Some parents struggle to find effective treatment for their
kids. Others seek to give them up. Reports that a growing number of
foreign adoptees were being turned over to the U.S. foster-care
system recently prompted the Department of Health and Human Services
to order its first national count: 81 children adopted overseas were
relinquished to officials in 14 states in 2006.

Why do some adoptions go so wrong? Clearly, it’s not the kids’ fault.
Their behavior is usually the result of trauma, mistreatment,
malnutrition or institutionalization in their home countries-problems
more common in places like Eastern Europe. But “the country of origin
doesn’t matter so much as the child’s experience,” says Dr. Dana
Johnson, director of the University of Minnesota’s International
Adoption Clinic. Some are found to suffer from fetal alcohol
syndrome, mental illness or reactive attachment disorder, an
inability to bond with a parent. Prospective families undergo an
arduous screening process, including home visits, and specify how
much disability they can handle. But even families who specifically
request a “healthy” child sometimes go home with a troubled one. In
some cases, the mismatch is inadvertent. But in others, orphanages or
adoption agencies overseas-eager to find homes for difficult children
in their care-mislead prospective parents or fail to disclose the
full extent of a child’s problems or personal history.

Emotional and even physical problems can be difficult to detect at
the time of adoption, especially in infants, and often aren’t
diagnosed until months or years later. Hilt says that’s what happened
to her. She and her husband decided to adopt after being told she’d
probably never conceive. After passing their agency’s screening, they
brought home their first daughter from Ukraine in 2001, and that went
so well they decided to adopt two Russian sisters. But when they flew
to Siberia to meet them in May 2003, they were told the sisters were
no longer available. Instead, they were told, they could adopt
Tatiana, a lively 18-month-old, and Nina, a quiet, withdrawn
9-month-old. They visited Tatiana every day for a week, but officials
never let them see Nina again. “They said she had a bad cold,” Hilt
said. Nonetheless, they signed adoption papers for both girls. But
when they returned to finalize the adoption in January 2004, they
were told that only Nina was still available. The Hilts hesitated.
They suspected a bait-and-switch, especially when officials insisted
they sign papers testifying they’d spent many more hours with the
baby than they had. “The whole process didn’t feel right,” Hilt said.
“But we figured we could love any child. You convince yourself that
everything will turn out OK.”

But from the start, Nina “literally pushed me away,” Hilt said. Over
time, Hilt found herself resenting the little girl. “We’d been such a
happy family, and then Nina came and everything changed,” Hilt says.
“I began to realize that we had made such a big mistake.” (Tatyana
Kharchendo, the doctor in charge of the Little Sun Child Home #1 in
Irkutsk, where the Hilts adopted Nina, did not directly answer Hilt’s
charges, but insisted the child “was absolutely healthy and beautiful.”)

No one is exonerating Hilt or others like her. But Joyce Sterkel, who
runs the Ranch for Kids, a Montana boarding school for disturbed
international adoptees, says she’s come to see the parents as well as
the kids as victims in these tragic cases. “It’s a horrible thing,
but I understand how some people end up killing these kids,” she
says. “They have no empathy, no affection, no love. My heart goes out
to these parents because they don’t know what to do.”

When Sterkel, a nurse, first started working with international
adoptees in the early ’90s, she didn’t see many deeply troubled
children. But 10 years ago she adopted two Russian boys whose
American parents had given up on them. One of them, a 14-year-old
boy, had just been released from a juvenile-detention center after
trying to poison his mother. Over time, Sterkel was approached so
often about adopting other children that she decided to open her
camp. Today it houses 25 to 30 kids from all over the country, and
has a waiting list. The overwhelming majority are from Russia,
Romania and Bulgaria, but she also has had children from South Korea
and Colombia. Some were bullied or raped while institutionalized or
were the children of prostitutes, drug addicts or alcoholics. “I have
gotten calls from parents who say the child they adopted has killed
the family dog, threatened to kill them, and no one will help them,” she says.

Emotional, behavioral and physical problems are not unique to adopted
children. Biological children can have the same range of issues. But
adoptive parents often assume they know what they’re getting into
because they get the chance to meet their child in advance. That was
the case when Kimble and Shellie Elmore of Los Angeles met a
10-year-old Russian child named Tania in 2005. The director of the
orphanage proudly described her as an “angel.”

But as soon as they took custody of their new daughter, her behavior
changed dramatically. “She was completely out of control,” Kimble
says. Tania would scream for hours at a time, then fall into deep
sullen silence. After signing Tania over to the Elmores, the Russian
court handed them her file. They were stunned to find that she had a
history of violence and had been transferred from one orphanage to
another. They called their adoption agency back home, but were
mistakenly told that there was nothing that could be done, that Tania
was now their legal daughter. (The American Embassy could have
helped, if they’d known.) Seeing no alternative, they boarded a plane
and brought Tania back to California. By the end of the first week,
she was admitted to a hospital psychiatric unit. She came home a few
days later, but things grew worse. She tried to stab her father with
a spike and attacked a police officer who came to the house in
response to a 911 call.

Doctors diagnosed Tania with bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress
disorder and attachment disorder, and suggested she be sent to
Sterkel’s camp. In the past year the Elmores have exhausted their
savings and retirement funds trying to pay for private residential
treatment. “We know she’s just a child and we want what’s best for
her,” says Kimble. “But we don’t know how to help her. Adoption is
supposed to be a touchy-feely thing surrounded with the glow of new
parenthood. But no one says, ‘What if the worst happens?’ ”

Psychologist Karyn Purvis of Texas Christian University, who has done
extensive research on troubled adopted children, says many of these
kids simply don’t respond to stern lectures and timeouts. Lab workups
of her patients often reveal extremely high levels of cortisol, the
stress hormone. “The children, for the most part, were in safe homes
living with safe people,” Purvis says, “but those cortisol levels
told us that their children did not feel safe with them, even if
they’d been living safely with them for years.” Children like them
are almost constantly in a hypervigilant state, she says. They don’t
let their guard down long enough to forge affectionate relationships.

Over the past several years Purvis has developed new methods to
restore a sense of security and trust to traumatized kids. If a child
becomes violent, for instance, Purvis often responds with a “basket
hold.” She cradles the kids firmly but gently in her lap, facing
outward, with their arms crossed in front of their chests. She rocks
and quietly soothes until they calm down, then asks them to look her
in the eye and tell her what they want. Purvis’s assistants have
taken to calling her the “Child Whisperer.”

Sometimes techniques like these result in dramatic turnarounds. The
family of a 5-year-old adopted from Russia thought they had no choice
but to seek psychiatric hospitalization after she threw her baby
sister down the stairs. But after the parents adopted Purvis’s
methods, the little girl finally started talking about the serious
abuse she’d experienced. The child’s behavior changed markedly. But
her mother “changed even more,” Purvis says, “because now she has hope.”

Purvis is quick to say that her techniques don’t work with every
child, and older kids can take much longer than younger ones. “They
have to unlearn what they’ve learned,” she said. The next step, she
says, is for prospective adoptive parents to get more training before
and after they adopt. “Very few agencies are training parents to deal
with brain damage, sensory deprivation, aggression,” Purvis says. “A
lot of these parents are smitten with the hope that they’ll make a
difference in a child’s life, but they need very practical tools. I
consider myself very pro-adoption. But I’m also very pro informed adoption. ”

Peggy Hilt wishes she’d heard this message years ago. “If I knew then
what I know now,” she says, “I would have gotten help for Nina and
for me.” The best she can hope for now, she says, is that her story
will prompt others to seek that help before it’s too late.

Original article is here:

Woman Arrested for Killing Infant

Filed under: Adjustment Issues,Adoption,Articles,For Parents,Korean Adoption — Tags: , — Catherine @ 10:53 am

From the Korea Times:

An American woman has been arrested in the United States on charges
of killing a baby she adopted.

Rebecca Kyrie, 28, was indicted with physical detention on Friday for
murdering Chung Hei-min, a 13-month-old girl adopted from Korea about
six months ago by the accused and her spouse David, according to The
Indianapolis Star, a local daily published in Indianapolis in the
U.S. on Sunday.

The arrest came after a three-month-long investigation by the
Hamilton County Sheriff Department.

Chung was adopted by the Kyries in June through Bethany Christian
Services and was called Chaeli by her adoptive parents.

Bethany Christian Services is a not-for-profit adoption service
provider with offices in 30 states in the U.S.

Police said that Kyrie shook the baby girl so violently on Sept. 3
that it resulted in head trauma, resulting in her death the next day.
Her husband, David, was at work at the time, and her two biological
sons were with her.

Kyrie still denies the charges. Reportedly, however, her six-year-old
son has told an investigator that his mother told him not to say what
happened to the girl.

Kyrie was known among her neighbors for being a regular churchgoer
who even performed dance interpretations of Bible stories at the

“Kyrie offered no explanation for her baby condition when she called
911 on Sept. 3 and reported the child was frothing at the mouth,”
the daily quoted Maj. Mark Bowen, spokesman for the Sheriff
Department as saying. Later, however, she referred to personal
problems, according to evidence filed in court.

After the baby was taken to a hospital in Indianapolis, she was
diagnosed with a severe brain injury and placed on life support. But
Chung died after she was removed from life support equipment the next
day. The recently obtained results of an autopsy show that she died
from the so-called “shaken baby syndrome.”

The daily reported that she had not admitted to shaking the baby, and
her husband also claimed no knowledge of any prior abuse.

In an interview with Indianapolis-based TV news, 6News, her brother,
George Cooper said Kyrie, an extremely loving and caring mother,
would not have abused the child.
“There’s every possibility in my mind that this was a pre-existing
condition and that just took time to bear itself out,” he said.

The original article is here:

December 14, 2007

International Adoption, It’s a One-Way Dialogue

From Mother Jones:

When adoptive parents like myself try to keep the lid on controversy, we do
ourselves—and our kids—no favors.

by Elizabeth Larsen

November was National Adoption Awareness Month, and the
media—including Mother Jones, which recently published my story Did I
Steal My Daughter? The Tribulations of Global Adoption—have been doing
their best to bring fresh ideas to a much misrepresented topic. The New York
Times has joined the fray with, among other things, “Relative Choices,” an
engaging series of personal essays to which readers can post comments
online. As an adoptive mother, I’m delighted with the variety of
perspectives (though I do wish more birth parents had been included and feel
that the title “Relative Choices” is off tone—most adoptees don’t have
a “choice,” nor do birth mothers buckling under economic or societalpressures).

But there are viewpoints that aren’t given a lot of real estate, most
notably the perspectives of people—adoptees, birth families, adoptive
parents—who are deeply critical of adoption. Novelist Tama Janowitz’s
essay, published on November 12, unknowingly highlighted this disparity.
Intended to be a humorous look at generational resentment, the essay employs
the term “Mongolian” to describe her Chinese-born daughter’s features and
refers to a recently published book in which Midwestern adoptees in their
30s and 40s “complain bitterly” about their experiences and as a result
blame their parents. (The book, which Janowitz doesn’t name, is Outsiders
Within: Writing on Transnational Adoption.)

It didn’t take long before the blogosphere was buzzing not only about
the Janowitz essay, but also the fact that when some of those very same
“bitter complainers” tried to post their reactions, they couldn’t get past
the Times’ digital gatekeeper.

In its FAQ for posting comments, the Times makes it clear that its
criteria for allowing users to post comments are subjective and that
abusive, vulgar, or ad hominem comments are not tolerated. In the opinions
posted for stories that were not related to adoption, it is clear that the
website favors measured language over anything that tilts toward pissed off.
But how do you explain that a post that included the line “The term
Mongolian to describe Asian features went out of fashion the year your book
was published” was nixed when a response to an article about Camille Paglia
saying “Camille, dear. Return to your Madonna-lust and leave the rest of us
alone” did make it through? Several of the responses that were not published
are posted on Harlow’s Monkey, a blog by Jae Ran Kim, who was adopted from
South Korea and is now a social worker specializing in adoption. While some
of the comments might not be personally gratifying for Janowitz, none that
I’ve read are, in my opinion, anything that the general public needs to be
protected from. In the days that followed the flap over censorship, more
dissenting voices were included in the comments, including a posting by Kim.

The online scuttlebutt behind these omissions is that the “Relative
Choices” editor Peter Catapano, who is an adoptive father, is censoring
critical voices. I have no idea if Catapano had anything to do with the
filtering—neither he nor anyone else at the Times returned my phone
call or emails. But whether or not this incident was an example of an
adoptive parent censoring dissent, I think it’s vital that we recognize why
some adoption critics would not be surprised if it was so. The truth is that
it’s almost impossible to find those voices in American media. When The
Language of Blood author Jane Jeong Trenka—a Korean adoptee and
award-winning writer who tackles the difficulties she faced growing up in a
small Minnesota town with heartbreakingly gorgeous prose—tries to
submit her writing to magazines and newspapers, she gets virtually no
takers. Meanwhile, Korean editors print everything she writes.

Why? I think when it comes to adoption, American adoptive parents
(myself included) steer the discourse. We direct adoption agencies and think
tanks. We write the home studies of prospective adoptive parents. We are
policy experts and doctors and academics and journalists. We are passionate
about adoption—an institution that has given us so much—and
therein lies the problem: In our passion, we sometimes shield ourselves from
larger discussions about the toll that adoption can take, a discussion that
is in fact gaining traction across the globe. And in doing so, we are
preventing adoption from evolving.

When I attended a reading of Outsiders Within last winter, I was struck
by how much the intensity and the passion of the writers recalled the
pioneers of second-wave feminism. That movement upended our opinions about
marriage, and the institution survived for the better. Any adoptive parent
knows that the adoptive bond is not fragile. So why do we protect it from
the same kind of scrutiny?

Reading through the comments posted on “Relative Choices” and other
adoption blogs, it’s clear to me that if you are an adoptee and want to say
something critical about adoption, you had better make it abundantly clear
that you truly, absolutely love your mom and dad or you risk getting
berated. (A notable exception to these “quit whining” directives are the
respectful comments posted to Sumeia William’s “Relative Choices” essay
titled “I Am Not a Bridge,” the most hard-hitting selection in the series.)
In fact, expecting adoptees to publicly pledge their gratitude to their
parents is holding them to a standard no one else has to adhere to. Isn’t it
true that even if we hate our parents, we still love them?

Similarly, in some adoptive-parent communities, anything questioning
the current practices in the adoption universe leads to a virtual stoning of
the messenger. When UNICEF publicly states that they support intercountry
adoption—but only after all efforts to keep children in their birth
countries (through family preservation, foster care, or domestic adoption)
have failed—or the State Department weighs in with critical
assessments of Guatemalan and Vietnamese adoptions, tirades rain down.
Meanwhile, a Guatemalan adoption attorney who allegedly offered money to a
teenage birth mother’s father in exchange for the baby is praised by some
adoptive parents for her dedication.

I’m not saying that I want all adoptive parents to agree with the steps
UNICEF or State is taking to reform intercountry adoptions. But we need all
perspectives to get more space in the conversation—otherwise, we
parents are just patting each other on the back.

Since Mother Jones published my story, I’ve taken my own virtual
knocks. (Unlike the Times, Mother Jones only filters hate speech and
propaganda.) There’s not much reward in being called an egotistical
colonizer whose self-hating tendencies have rendered me a horrible mother.
But I will admit that even some of the more stinging criticisms have made me
pause long enough to rethink my assumptions.

This is a difficult time for transnational adoption, with troubling
news stories increasing and the future, at least in some countries, unclear.
But whatever the solutions may be, I don’t think we’ll find them by closing

Elizabeth Larsen has worked for both Sassy and Utne Reader. She wrote about
her daughter in this year’s Choice: True Stories of Birth, Contraception,
Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood, and Abortion, and in the current
issue of Mother Jones.

@2007 The Foundation for National Progress

Original article:

December 3, 2007

New York Times’ Relative Choices Blog

If you haven’t heard about it yet, the New York Times has recently started a new blog called “Relative Choices: Adoption and the American Family”, which features pieces by people whose lives have been affected by adoption in various ways. The authors include: Dr. Jane Aronson, founder and medical director of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation, as well as a mother of an internationally adopted child; Hollee McGinnis, policy director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and a Korean adoptee; Lynn Lauber, a birth mother and author; and Huong Sutliff and Adam Wolfington, who are teenagers and transracial adoptees.

The articles have been as widely varied as the authors. Topics have ranged from adoptive parents’ stories about traveling to meet their children and how adoptive parents react to questions posed by others about their children, to adoptees’ memories of first meeting their adoptive parents and helping the next generation of transracial adoptees.

July 2, 2007

Talking About Race

Dr. Joseph Crumbley, a therapist specializing in adoptive families, discusses the importance of talking about race with your internationally adopted child.


January 2, 2007

Asian Women as Exotic

Amanda Baden, a transracial adoptee and adoption psychologist, on the exotification of Asian culture.

One of the interesting facets of being Asian in American, an Asian woman in America is recognizing in our culture that there is a tendency to exoticize Asian women in this society. And so for parents who are raising children who are Chinese and adopted, their recognition of that may take on a different tone. They may not be aware of it in the same way that I, as an adult woman, am aware of it. And so, emphasizing the child’s tie to Chinese heritage and cultures is wonderful; but, there is also this tendency to sort of–there can be a fine line I guess I should say– between objectifying being Chinese and celebrating being Chinese. And so when we objectify and exoticize this Far East kind of place, then it doesn’t become real to us here in America. And it’s hard to incorporate that sense of what China is in our everyday experience. So for a child who only sees that being Chinese means wearing those silk jackets and doing line dances, may be an inaccurate way for them to think about it. And may not help them at all understand how they interact as a Chinese person in school or at work with their friends on the playground. So we have to sort of balance it much more carefully.

On Feeling Lucky to Be Adopted

Amanda Baden, a transracial adoptee and a counseling psychologist, discusses the view that children adopted from China are often viewed as "lucky" to have been adopted by American parents.

One of the real struggles in adoption has been that people who are adopted, particularly from China at this stage in the game is that, these girls are always talked about as lucky. They are so lucky to have been adopted. What a great thing your doing for them. Which implies then that they need to be grateful and that they should be thankful for what’s happened in their lives. Which, as we know, isn’t always the case. They didn’t ask to be abandoned. They didn’t ask to be adopted. That doesn’t mean that they’re lives aren’t better, that they don’t’ have positive relationships and real loving relationships with family. But what it does mean is when gratitude is expected for being a child of a parent it somehow says that they aren’t allowed to be angry. They aren’t allowed to have frustration and they might not– if they have any sort of dissatisfaction, its something that they have to keep to themselves and internalize. That it’s not a family issue. It’s an individual issue. And I think as a clinician it’s really a family issue a lot of times. If everyone can tolerate being able to look at themselves a little more objectively and with a little bit more of an eye towards improving rather than criticism, then it can be very effective for everyone involved.

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