Sunday, April 18, 2010

Adoption Reality?

By now, everyone has probably heard about the 7 year old boy who was adopted in September from Russia and recently put on a plane, by himself to be returned  to his homeland. He returned to Russia with a note from his new mother, which explained to the Russian officials that she felt that her son was mentally unstable, that she had been deceived by the officials who handled the adoption and no longer wished to parent her son. By all accounts she did not reach out for help, she obviously felt as though she was in over her head and just wanted to quickly undo what she must have felt was a horrible mistake.

I keep thinking about this little boy. I don't know what his life was like in Russia, but can imagine it was difficult. I also believe that some of the problems, his adoptive mother, Torry Hansen, described were very real.

What was it like for him to arrive in the United States, to have a new home, a new mother, lose everything that was familiar, to be called by Justin instead of Artyem? The transition must have been disorienting and scary.  I am sure his adoption began with the best of intentions, with excitement and visions of a life together, mother and son.  I don't know what went wrong, but I do know that it was handled horribly and that the media circus surrounding this story is very bad for adoption.

Equally bad for adoption is the story that followed a few days later.  A woman who adopted a 3 year old girl from China last summer wrote an article, seemingly to open up an honest dialogue on the particular difficulties of adopting an older child.  The title of the article did me in, "I Did Not Love My Adopted Child" with the subtitle (completely pushing me over the edge),  "The painful truth about adoption".  THE painful truth about adoption?   Her experience is not the truth.  The story is her truth.  I accept that.  Not all adoption are easy, and yes, there are built in challenges in adopting an older child. An older child has had real life experiences, all involving loss and hardship, before coming into their adoptive families, we cannot simply give them a new name and what we see as a fresh start and a life that is seemingly better than the one they left behind and expect everything to be fine.  

The Beatles were wrong..."All you need is love" is a lie.  You need much more than love, you need patience, empathy, understanding and commitment. You need to remember that love is not just a feeling it is a verb. Sometimes what we are feeling doesn't really matter, we are parents, we have a job to to, kids to love, whether they are particularly lovable at any given moment or not.  Adoption involves risk, just like having a child by birth. I don't think any parent looks at their child, whether by birth or adoption  and thinks, "this is exactly what I expected".  For me, all my kids are a mystery and a surprise, it is harder yet better than I could ever have imagined.

The writer of this article says that "even the best adoptive parent is just the clean up crew".  I find that insulting and resent her speaking for all adoptive parents.  I have never considered myself the clean up crew for my adopted children.  I don't think my parents considered themselves the clean up crew for my brother and me after they adopted us.  They simply considered themselves our parents, just like Kurt and I do for all of our kids.  Yes, we deal with issues surrounding our boys and the lives that they had before they became ours.  I am okay with that.  I will also admit that Kurt and I have been incredibly lucky with our adoptions, our boys bonded quickly and deeply to us and were open to and ready for the love our family had to give to them.

To me, these stories don't accurately reflect the complex realities of adoption.  They are simply two stories, two women's experiences about what adoption has been for them. No secret reality has been exposed. Families are complicated, our stories are happy and sad.  One person's adoption story is simply that, ones person's story.


  1. Alison, as you know I am trying to become a foster parent for children with special needs. I purposely have chosen the 12-17 year old group. I realize these children have had lives before (hopefully)entering me, probably lives that have been difficult at the very least. That would never stop me from opening my home and my heart as others have done. I firmly believe I am meant to do this and have wanted to for a long time. For me this is not a job, but my heart's desire and in answer to my most asked question...YES, I will consider adoption if the occasion arises. How these women ever did what they did makes me sick at heart. I have chosen to do this, as they chose to adopt. Give them back.....NEVER!!!! TRM

  2. **line 4 should say before (hopefully) entering mine...TRM

  3. Alison, the story about the Russian boy disturbed me. I have no experience with adoption, but I would imagine you have to prepare yourself for anything. The same is true with biological children. You never know what you will get. It takes love, patience, understanding, discipline and you must be STRONG. You cannot give up on them. I have two wonderful children but there were many, many ups and downs (sshhh, only with one)to get where we are today. I'm not sure what that woman was thinking when she put him on that plane. It's sad that she didn't have anywhere to turn or didn't seek out help. There are so many wonderful people looking to adopt. My hope is that these negative actions and views will not cause (too much) harm.
    P.S. Love your blog!

  4. Having never had experience with adoption OR my own biological children, I can't comment either way. I have always been a "step" parent, which comes with it's own, very different set of circumstances... so my only comment here is... very well written. :o)


  5. Hi Alison, I couldn't agree more with you that those stories may be those peoples truths but not representative of adoption accross the board. We adopted our youngest son and it was a beautiful, emotional, and wonderful life experience and such an incredible journey that we cherish every day. Our oldest son (by birth) just adores his baby brother as we love and adore each of them so much.