Monday, February 23, 2009

Adoption – now there’s a feel-good story. Everybody wins, everybody’s happy, right ? Well, like just about everything else in life, it’s not that simple.

I am frequently asked what has surprised me the most about the move from the corporate world to the non-profit arena. And my answer may surprise you ! I have discovered that the adoption field has its share of controversy.

Nowhere is this truer than in international adoption (what we now call inter-country adoption). Most developing countries do not allow inter-country adoption or they make the rules so restrictive as to have the same effect. This is partly because they don’t want to be seen in the community of nations as unable to care for their own, although frequently they cannot.

The controversy around inter-country adoption is even more deep-seated, however. In many nations, inter-country adoption is viewed as baby selling / child trafficking. On the surface, this sounds ridiculous, because our perspective is that we Americans are simply trying to provide homes and opportunities for disadvantaged orphans.

It turns out that there are a number of bad actors out there who are in fact simply looking to profit from inter-country adoption. This is disgusting, to say the least.

So how can you tell when your agency or facilitator is doing the right thing ? One way is to understand their commitment to the countries where they are working. How invested are they emotionally and financially ?

At the Gladney Center for Adoption, we raise substantial sums of money each year in humanitarian aid to improve the quality of life for the children left behind in every country where we operate. We focus attention as well on the children who are about to age out of the orphanages, not because there is any benefit to us, but because it’s the right thing to do. At Gladney, we seek to impact 100 children left behind for every one child who finds a permanent family.

Another way to determine that your agency or facilitator is doing the right thing is to understand their priorities. In every country where Gladney works, our priorities are 1) family preservation, 2) domestic (in-country) adoption, and then 3) inter-country adoption.

We are not alone. Several other leading agencies share these priorities and share in our desire to invest in the countries where we work. Collaborating with the “good actors”, working with the Joint Council and National Council for Adoption in their advocacy roles, and all under the umbrella of the Hague Convention regulations, we can weed out those who attempt to profit from suffering and improve the perception of inter-country adoption, so that it is widely recognized for the good intentions and positive work of the majority.

A Tribute to Birthmothers

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It is not uncommon for anyone who has been touched by adoption to refer to “the courage of birthmothers”. But what does this really mean ? As a 53-year old man, it’s somewhat difficult to identify with a young woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, but I’ll give it a try.

After she gets over the initial shock of discovering she’s pregnant, she is faced with a very difficult choice. Society (and maybe friends and family) tell her to take the easy way out – abort and move on with your life. Her own heart may tell her initially that she can parent; that she can somehow make it work. But ultimately she decides to make the most selfless decision imaginable – putting the interests of her baby ahead of her own. She takes the high road – and this is courage.

She goes through the pregnancy – putting her life on hold for 9 months; getting sick; enduring stares; perhaps creating distance with friends – and for what ? So she can eventually place her baby in the arms of a couple who is not able to conceive, but is ready and able to parent. To persevere through pregnancy and delivery must take great courage. (Courage isn’t lack of fear. Courage is facing the fear of the unknown and moving forward anyway. I imagine any woman about to deliver her first baby qualifies as facing the fear of the unknown.)

And then she comes to the most painful moment – relinquishment. What must that be like ? She’s carried this baby for 9 months. She’s felt it kick. She’s completely re-oriented her life around her baby only to get to the point where she relinquishes. She leaves the hospital empty-handed. Here, I can identify a bit. As Rebecca and I struggled years ago to have a family, our biggest setback was the delivery of a still-born girl we named Jessie. The pain was enormous and the most difficult moment of all was wheeling Rebecca out of the hospital carrying flowers in her arms rather than our baby. We didn’t choose this, but birthmothers do. Birthmothers probably understand sacrifice better than any of us. (And courage is built upon sacrifice.)

And then the final stage – the months after delivery. Again, through our experience with Jessie, we can identify somewhat. People all around you offer well-meaning, but often misguided, words of advice. Usually along the lines of: “you’ll be fine; now it’s time to move on”. Well, it’s not time to move on. It’s time to grieve. And facing your grief takes courage.

I want to encourage everyone, especially us adoptive parents, to make sure that when we applaud the courage of our birthmothers that we don’t do it lightly, that we really think through everything that their courage entails – from their initial choice to the ultimate letting go associated with the grieving process.

Rebecca and I are forever grateful for the courage of Phillip’s and Hayden’s birthmothers. Our experience is multiplied thousands of times over each year. So, we celebrate the 2 birthmothers who changed our lives and the countless others who through their acts of selfless courage have given to so many the gifts of families.