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A Blessing and a Curse
September 27th, 2010

Or perhaps, rather, a curse and a blessing.  For in this situation it seems that the blessing arrives eventually, but only once the curse has run its course.  A little background…

GAP and I have long wanted to adopt.  He has a brother and sister who were adopted and it was only a few months after we started dating that he confessed to me his desire to also adopt one day.  It had never occurred to me until then, and it wasn’t something for which I shared his passion initially.  But as I got to know his family; as I watched the video of his brother and sister joining their new family for the first time; and as they became my own family I grew to share GAP’s passion for adoption.  Since we got married our tentative family plan has always included two biological children and two adopted children.  That plan has also included children who are adopted outside of their infancy, since GAP’s brother and sister were older when they were adopted and he has a particular soft spot for kids he believes might otherwise be overlooked.  We believe – strongly – that adoption is one of the best things we can do.

Given all of this, you must imagine the sucker-punched feeling that developed in my stomach as I read this blog post over at NYT’s Motherlode.  It discusses one book and one documentary which speak some painful truths about this act which we like to believe is unilaterally positive.  Of course I understand that expanding your family via adoption carries with it some very different and pronounced growing pains.  But in all of my visions of a future with adopted children I’ve never played any role but the good guy.

However, adoptive parents (particularly in the world of international adoptions where the kids tend to be a bit older – just the kind of adoption we intend to enter into) are not always seen by their adopted children as the good guys.  As it turns out many of these children no longer hail from orphanages, but from foster homes.  They may spend the first two or three years of their life with a single set of foster parents, who, by the time they are adopted, are the only family they’ve ever known.  I know a lot of two- and three-year-olds.  They know exactly who their parents are.  They know exactly what “home” is.  They know when things feel strange, and unfamiliar, and frightening.  I cannot imagine the traumatic horror that must ensue every time a little [insert nationality here: Chinese, Russian, etc] child is yanked away from their whole known world just because some nice white lady in the States will be able to provide him orthodontia send him to a four-year undergraduate program.  And yet, that is exactly what I plan to do.

Yes, that last sentence is probably a bit dramatic.  In the long run most internationally adopted children are far better off in their adopted homes (with health care, safe housing, education, and a constant, supportive family) than they ever would have been as a product of the foster care system.*  But as a mother I can only imagine what my son would experience if he were handed over to another set of parents on another continent merely because their ability to provide for him surpassed my own.

I’m struggling with this.  I do not have a tidy conclusion for you.  I believe that adoption is a good thing.  I believe that I am a good person trying to help make someone’s life better.  But I cannot yet reconcile the fact that for me to do this thing I believe is good, I must first do this thing I believe is horrible.

If any of you has any experience in this realm (I’m looking at you, Jane!) I hope you’ll see fit to offer it here.  I’m really feeling quite lost at the moment.

*I mean no disrespect to foster parents.  Most of them are saints, doing hard work in imperfect circumstances.  I mean only to assert that the stability of a permanent family is almost always preferable to the uncertainty of most foster programs.

12 Responses to “A Blessing and a Curse”

  1. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Wow. I’d never thought about that.

    I guess my silver lining would be: foster care is just that–foster care. If it wasn’t you adopting that child, it would be someone else, eventually. And you know that your home is safe and loving and welcoming, and that you have a lot to give.

    As always, you make me think!

  2. Meg Says:

    ditto to kitchenwitch

  3. Amber Says:

    I watched my sister place her first baby for adoption. It was so painful. I have also watched as that little boy has been brought up in a wonderful family, exactly what my sister was looking for. To see him loved and cared for makes her feel so much better. The pain is still there, but she is grateful that he is well taken care of.

    In another matter (and probably completely unrelated), something that is happening more frequently is the returning of adopted kids to their families. Especially when they have come from foreign countries in which the orphanages are not so great. These kids develop Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) far before they are adopted and, therefore, have a difficult time fitting into their adoptive families. Because of the difficulties (and they are extreme difficulties), many of these parents will send the kids back. My husband works in a facility in which troubled teens are housed and has witnessed the result of kids who were adopted and then sent back to the state. It is awful.

    So, I don’t know where I was going with that but reading your post reminded me of these girls and boys that my husband works with.

  4. Gale Says:

    Kitch – I hadn’t thought of it that way. You’re right, though. Foster care is not meant to be permanent. Ideally all these kids will be adopted by loving families. I cannot control any of the other homes they might go to. But I can control mine, and make sure that they’re given everything they need, even if it is hard at first.

    Amber – Thanks so much for your comment today. You highlight something very important, which is that failed adoptions can be even more damaging than the short-term pains of successful ones. We have to be so cognizant of these hardships when we enter into an adoption. We have to be ready for uphill battles and rough days and weeks and months. I really appreciate this perspective because it reminds me that I need to be aware of all of this before walking into adoption.

  5. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Gale, I have no words of wisdom, just support for you as you and GAP struggle with how to make this choice work for your family.

  6. Laura H. Says:

    KDWH and I have long discussed adopting. In college I developed a philosophy about only replacing myself (and KDWH) in this world after personally witnessing the devastation of overpopulation in particular third world countries.

    Since college, as I’ve watched and discussed international adoption with friends of mine who have sought it (for infertility or age reasons), I have come to the conclusion that international adoption is not for me. Many countries have actually closed their international adoption programs because they don’t have a means to ensure the children being given up are being given up by their actual birth parents. And the foster parents basically make a lot of money to care for the babies who will be adopted internationally. Thus a financial incentive to put a child up for adoption. I am aware that Ethiopia and South Korea are still open. I think China is still open, but its process ground to a halt during the Olympics to ward off international criticism, and I don’t know that they’ve gotten back on track.

    I’m not sure if we will adopt at all, as our life feels very full with the 2 biological children we have, and I now know the delight of pregnancy (mostly), the birth experience, the new baby scent, the nursing experience, etc. and I have to admit that I yearn to repeat all that again. But if we do look towards the adoption route I think we’ll do it with a child here in the United States. I may still be the white lady who plucked up a child and gave him/her braces and a college education, but at least my child will have approximately the same “American” upbringing with similar traditions and values that he or she may have had in a lower class, struggling American family.

  7. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    “I’m struggling with this.” That you are admitting this, that you are acknowledging your confusion and emotion is so critical. Like Kristen and the others here, I hope that you are able to find some clarity as you and your boys worth through this big decision.

  8. Cathy Says:

    As always, you make me rethink things I had so many assumptions about. You have a lovely blog. Come check out my post – and your award. :-)

  9. Christine Says:

    Interesting that I should read this now. Over the weekend when my husband I flew home from a vacation I had the lovely experience of watching a family be reunited. They had clearly travelled from an Asian country to adopt and were returning to integrate their newest member into a family with two older children. They were there waiting with grandparents and balloons and clearly a lot of love at the aiport. It made me cry. There I was, in the middle of the airport sobbing as I waited for my bags. It was an amazing experience to watch. This issue is on our radar too. We’re considering a third and the idea of adopting a child has been discussed. We’re still a long way from any decision. The only thing I can offer is to say that you know you will love any child you adopt and to me, when it boils down to the hard truth, that’s all that matters. Very interesting discussion!

  10. Jane Says:

    Sorry I’m so late in responding to this heartfelt, honest post. As an adoptive parent of two children from South Korea and one biological child, I have experience and opinions in this area. At risk of hijacking your blog I will try to keep my thoughts brief.

    I highly disagree with the opening premise of the NYT article ““I have faced the fact that my daughter is only mine because I have more money than her birth mother.” That is a simple reality of adoption, she says, and yet it is so rarely spoken aloud.”

    Sure, financially, many adoptive parents are more secure than the biological parents. But it takes more than money to raise a child. It takes emotional and spiritual maturity. It takes desire to be a parent in the first place. Timing is involved. But that isn’t the main point of your post so I’ll stop there.

    When my daughter first entered our home, and I mean first – as in the first 48 hours – she cried. Almost every waking moment. I could feel her grief and no comforting seemd to help. I cried, then, too. I cried because I felt I had ripped her from the only familiarity she had known and how horrible I was to selfishly do that just so I could parent a child.

    And just last week she turned 18. And she is beautiful. And bright. And confident. And secure. And so much more emotionally mature than I was at that age.

    You will hear and read and find blogs by angry adoptees. Lots of them. So many that you may end up feeling adoption only screws kids up. And then I found this young woman, Stephanie. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTBBVkx8q9A) She has posted a series of videos on YouTube talking about her adoptive experience. I wrote her about my concerns with my own daughter and what I’ve been reading out there. She was so sweet and she shared that she feels many angry adoptees are very vocal. It’s their way of working through their issues. But because she feels happily adjusted, there is no need for her to publically complain about her life.

    Thank you for addressing some of the harder issues adoptive parents face. Thank you for your honesty. And thank you for letting me leave my (lengthy) contribution!

  11. Gale Says:

    Jane – Thanks so much for your thoughts here. I really appreciate your perspective as someone who has walked this path that stretches out in front of me in the shape of a question mark. I especially appreciate the heads up about angry adoptees, because I know that I would not have expected to find such voices out there. (It makes sense now that you mention it. I just wouldn’t have thought about it.) I will be sure to check out the YouTube videos you included in your comment to hear the other side.

    I also appreciate your comment about all of the other things that parenting requires – stability, desire, love, maturity, etc. I think most adopted kids aren’t raised by their biological parents because either they (the parents) or someone speaking on the child’s behalf (the state) determined that the child would be best off raised by someone else.

    Lastly, congratulations to you on your daughter’s 18th birthday. It sounds like she is a delightful young lady who is flourishing. I’m sure both your sons have similar futures in front of them as well!

  12. Kathryn Says:

    Adoption is such a tough issue. I have given it some thought myself but am leaning toward the safer side and not doing it. I think for children who are in a really terrible situation, picture child in a refugee camp, and this is what I imagine when I think of adopting, it is an obvious humane, loving, and right-thing-to-do. But you’re right that it gets tricky when a child actually does have some stability (at least in their minds). I have known quite a few adopted kids throughout my life and all of the ones who were not adopted in infancy struggle with the pain of having been given up. I don’t think that kind of wound ever completely heals. But yet like your husband says it is so important to love and take in kids who might otherwise be overlooked.