After reading through the letters above, we were shocked to say the least. There are so many directions I want to go with this post and my reactions, so rather than ramble on and on, I am going to try to break it down into a few succinct posts. Therefore, if I do not cover something today, don’t assume I won’t get to it tomorrow, but at the same time feel free to ask your questions and then perhaps I will be sure to follow them into further thought.
One of the main reasons we chose the Ethiopia program was the possibility of maintaining a contact or relationship with our child’s familial relations. Granted, there is a possibility that our child may be abandoned and we would not have this opportunity anyway, but if you review the 2007 CHSFS placement stat’s there is a decent chance, 85%, that our child will have at least one parent living or was relinquished. Of the 306 children adopted through CHSFS in 2007, 47 were abandoned, 190 have 1 or no living parent (may have extended family), and 69 were relinquished. Just for clarification, the definition of relinquishment is: a voluntary consent to the termination of one’s parental rights. Also, even in the cases of abandonment, there remains a possibility to connect with who found the child or even temporarily cared for them.
The issues that sparked the letter above seem to lie with the majority of Ethiopia adoptions. I know I am stating the obvious since there would have to be a birth family to meet for there to be a problem with the meetings, but there may be a slight difference if a child was relinquished or if they fit in the 0 or 1 living parent category. The real hang up seems to be in the definition of an orphan. I will come back to this point in a future post when I discuss the possible cultural misunderstandings. It is an important point, but was one I came to after lots of contemplation and discussion with our diversity staff where I work.
There are many reasons why birth family contact is important. Some of these reasons I admit I may not even have thought of since I am not the lucky bearer of a referral. Even though we are seeking an infant referral, our child will have a life before they came to our family. They will have a family that most likely loves them very much. This love does not dissolve when a child is placed for adoption. If fact, it is often quite the opposite, a child is often placed for adoption out of the purest form of love. Their family may not be able to care for them, to feed them, or they may be terminally ill. These are all issues that can be hard to grasp from a western experience where even at our most desperate state, survival for women and children doesn’t involve not having access to any food or shelter. I am not saying these situations do not exist here in the US, they certainly do, but in a very different proportion. If our child leaves their born culture in Ethiopia shouldn’t they still have access to that familial love that still exists, perhaps even have the opportunity to reciprocate?
There is no doubt in my mind that at some point our answers as to why our child came to be part of our family will no longer suffice. This can manifest itself in many ways, most likely based around questioning and further searching for clues surrounding identity. We do not plan on keeping any secrets from our child, but rather weaving together their story in familiar pieces that are never sprung just explained in greater detail, if detail is available. There will be questions that I may not know the answer to. There may be questions our child’s birth family may not know the answer to, but having the opportunity to fill in the blanks is a gift for all parties involved. Perhaps we may need to find some of these answers together – all parties involved. I will admit that the possibility of maintain birth family contact was a security blanket for us while adopting a child internationally. Selfishly, I was cold when this blanket was ripped away. How would we help our child understand without this tool? I later came to realize that we would be fine, but our child is the one to suffer. This is their family, their memories, their experiences. Through assumption our child’s family becomes our family and together we all lose. Who can determine that just because a family may exist our child is not an orphan? Or not an orphan yet?
I guess this is where I am going to end it for today. This decision has complex consequences, as is evident by my ramblings above, but I can not help but wonder how I would feel if I had a referral in hand. If I had a child, with a story, and with parents, I think I would be very angry. Angry that some hang-up in terminology would prevent me and my child from connecting with those who may love them dearly. Out of that love they had the courage to allow me to parent their child. Shouldn’t I at least have the opportunity and respect to thank them for that?