What I’ve Learned About Adoption (Part 1- Ethics)

Here we are in November again.  National Adoption Month.  I’m sure some of you enjoyed going to church last Sunday on “Orphan Sunday” to hear about how you should adopt a child.  I have a lot of trouble with this concept.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for advocating for vulnerable children and helping those in need find forever homes.  But, I think having a special day set aside to try to convince people to bring another life into their home may be oversimplifying things a bit.

So I decided that this month, I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned about adoption.  It’s been almost five years since we began our adoption journey.  Along the way, I’ve picked up a few things.  But please know that I am not an expert.  On anything.  What I want to share are my own opinions.  My own thought processes.  My own story.

I thought I’d start by talking about adoption ethics.  This is a post that I have started and stopped writing many times because I feel like there are a lot of people who have studied it more and said it all better than I will.  But here are my thoughts anyway.

First, the international adoption system is a huge ethical wasteland.  There, I said it.  I think it’s a mess.  There are millions (maybe…a lot of numbers get thrown around) of orphans.  And there a lot (no one ever counted these) families who would like to have another child.  So it seems logical that you could pair the two and voila, there would be a happy ending for everyone.  But wait.  There has to be a system to match these orphans with parents.  Enter the government.  There has to be a system in place to care for these orphans while the government does that work.  Enter the orphanages.  And there has to be someone to usher the adoptive parents through the whole process.  Enter the adoption agencies.  Now you have three entities who should have the child’s best interest at heart.  Yet, wait.  All of this costs money.  So now you have a system where the Haves and Have Nots are trading money for “services.”  But soon, the Have Nots catch on that there is money on the table.  They can ask for more money.  They can get more children so that the agencies pay them more money to care for them.  And if they need more kids, they have some options.  They can steal them.  They can pay women to breed them.  They can lie to other Have Nots who can’t afford to care for their children.  “Yes, we’ll send them to America.  It will be like summer camp.  And then you’ll get them back.”  Now they have more children and can get more money.  As long as the system is so one sided, with Haves and Have Nots flowing cash back and forth, someone will always try to scam the system.

So, if I see the wrongs in the system, why did we feed into it?  Why would we spend thousands of dollars into a corrupt system?  Why wouldn’t we have used that money for family preservation programs or to build schools or wells to help the Have Nots become Haves?

Well, we wanted more kids.  Yep.  That’s it.  Selfish?  Maybe.

The thing that amazes me is that there are so many in the Ethiopian adoption community who have completed adoptions and are now completely opposed to others doing the same.  I get it.  You learn a lot while traveling the road. But here’s the thing.  You adopted a kid through the system and now you expect others not to?  Huh?  Then you go to church on orphan Sunday and encourage people to adopt more kids because God wants them to care for orphans and widows.  Huh?  Yes, it makes my head spin.

So, because I am in an advice-giving mood, let me tell each of you what you should do.

If you are considering adoption.  Do it.  Make sure you do your research.  Choose an agency that has a strong reputation for ethics.  If you see red flags, DO NOT sign with that agency.  If an agency quotes you a significantly lower price or a significantly shorter wait time than other agencies, be suspicious.  I know it’s hard, because you really, really, really want a cute Ethiopian baby.  But do not ignore warnings and advice of those who have been before you.

If you have already adopted from Ethiopia.  Parent your child.  Do the best you can every day.  And find a way to give back to Ethiopia in a way that is meaningful to you.  Sponsor a child, build a school, give to family preservation programs, sell mittens, or build a well.  Whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  But don’t pick apart those who don’t make the same decisions as you.  We’re a community who should be supporting each other, not criticizing others because they didn’t do it our way.  Others will continue to adopt.  They will continue to do it from Ethiopia or from whatever the next Ethiopia may be.  Advocate for ethical reform, but not at the expense of others’ opportunity to build their family the same way that you were able to do.

If you have no idea what this rant is about.  Just enjoy this cute picture of my kids.

DSC_1070As for me, if I had it to do all over again, would I still adopt from Ethiopia?  Yes.  I still feel like our adoption was ethical, our agency was honest, and we got an accurate story of our children’s reasons for needing a family.  But I do recognize that each adoption like mine contributes to the ongoing ethical problems of adoption.  I wish I knew what the answer was.  I don’t.


3 responses

  1. “As for me, if I had it to do all over again, would I still adopt from Ethiopia? Yes. I still feel like our adoption was ethical, our agency was honest, and we got an accurate story of our children’s reasons for needing a family. But I do recognize that each adoption like mine contributes to the ongoing ethical problems of adoption. I wish I knew what the answer was. I don’t.” That’s exactly how I feel.

  2. Amen on the Orphan Sunday stuff and the summary of the ethical issues. The comment that Sue highlighted above really resonated with me as well. We hired a PI to do some finding/investigating for us and we feel that our story is accurate and that things were done above-board in our situation. I would do it again, too. However, while we will adopt again, it won’t be from Ethiopia(at least in the near term). That’s not because we don’t think anyone should adopt from Ethiopia – this, too, is a major pet peeve of mine, when APs scold PAPs for wanting to do that – but because right now we feel the children in need in Ethiopia do not meet our family’s needs. (We want to maintain birth order, primarily, which requires a young child.) If the agency we used to adopt were to open up again to a larger range of children, we might consider it, but I still don’t think we’d do it. I would love nothing more than to adopt from Ethiopia again, but right now, it is not in the cards for us because of both what we have learned and how the circumstances have changed over there.

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