Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Can Complex Adoption Issues Be Made Simple?

The older I get, the more I feel like Socrates: the only thing I know is that I don't know anything.  Having lived adoption for 46 years, as a mother of loss to adoption and an adoptive mother myself, I thought I knew just about everything there was to know.  For most of those years I was a strong advocate of placing children in need in families that wanted and could care for them.  Sounds simple, doesn't it?  What I have learned is that it is far from simple, and what I didn't know proved to be the source of much suffering--for my lost son, for me, for my adopted son, and for my other two children who grew up in the fallout.

I was told by people I trusted that relinquishing my son would be for his benefit, that, even though I was an adult with a good education, I was not fit to be a mother simply because I was unmarried.  To protect my family and provide for my son, I should do the "right thing" and give him to strangers to raise.  So far as my family, the adoption agency, and the adoptive parents were concerned, a problem was solved.  I'm sure they all felt certain that I'd "get over it" and proceed with the rest of my life untroubled and unencumbered.  That didn't happen.

I believed that love was all you needed to raise a healthy child.  I loved my first raised son and knew I could be a loving mother to a child in need.  I didn't feel capable of dealing with a disabled child, but I could easily love a child of a different race.  I would promote racial equality and rescue a baby from desperate circumstances by adopting a Black/Vietnamese child at a time when U.S. troops were scrambling to get out of Vietnam, leaving thousands of mixed-race children behind.  More problems solved.

Today I am in reunion with my first son and have discovered that there is nothing simple about forging a relationship with a stranger who just happens to be your own flesh and blood and who looks just like you.  There is nothing simple about the mother-child bond that persisted through 44 years of separation or the flood of grief that reunion unleashed.  There is nothing simple about my son's psychological and emotional difficulties or my adopted son's turbulent life.  There is nothing simple about my raised children's growing up with a single mother and no money because my first marriage broke apart, in large measure because of the role adoption played in it.

During the past three years I have had a crash course in adoption--its history, effects, and policies.  The more I learn, the more I realize the terrible complexities that arise when good people follow good intentions into thickets of unforeseen difficulty.  On one side (though, in truth, there are many sides), you have the pro-adoption advocates: infertile couples hoping to build a family, gay couples hoping for the same, altruists who want to make a real difference, and evangelicals who see adoption as a divine mission.  On the other you have the adoption-reform activists working toward legislation that would grant adult adoptees the right to their original birth certificates, mothers of adoptees who want to find their children, adoptees who want to find their mothers,  those hoping to curtail the rampant corruption in foreign adoption, and those who want to see an end to adoption altogether, at least as we have come to know it since the era of closed adoptions began in the 1940s.  There are many sub-groups, but these are the major categories of those pro- and con-adoption.

It's only human to stake out an opinion about a vexing issue, then marshall all your resources to defending your position.  Often this involves demonizing your opposition.  Despairing mothers-of-loss (MOLs) accuse their children's "adopters" or "adopteraptors" of greed and selfishness, and potential adoptive parents (PAPs) see themselves as heroes in a fight to save children from drug-addicted, juvenile, or rejecting mothers.  I follow several blogs and read many others, and I am amazed by the vitriol expressed on both sides.  MOLs feel their babies were stolen from them, and adoptive parents tend not to think much at all about the women who gave birth to their children.  Many contemporary PAPs assuage their consciences by opting for "open adoption," whereby they keep the mother informed about her child's progress and perhaps even permit some visits. 

Tolstoy famously said that all happy families are alike, and for decades adoptive families have presented a facade of typical domestic happiness.  Adoptive families were held to a higher standard, what with all the home studies and intrusions by social workers to determine their fitness, so the stories that got told were filled with sweetness and light.  What adoptive parent was going to admit there were difficulties?  Adoption was beautiful, even noble, and adoptive parents were special people.  Adoption was a story with a happy ending--every time.  That's what most people believed, and that's what most people wanted to believe.  But we live in more transparent times now, and adoptees who were helpless infants when they were placed are now able to speak for themselves, and not all their stories have happy endings. 

It turns out that adoption is more complicated than anyone knew.  Mothers who lost their babies suffered grievous, life-long consequences, and many adoptees, even "happy" ones, were left to wonder who they were and how they came to be with people they weren't biologically connected to.  Knowledge that most people take for granted was denied to those most intensely involved, and this abyss of unknowing and alienation was papered over with pretty pictures and sappy commercials that portrayed adoption as so beautiful it would bring tears to your eyes.

What I find regrettable these days is the inability of the various factions in adoptionland to understand each other and find common ground.  In my enthusiasm I became completely anti-adoption.  I still cringe when I hear the word, but I realize my reaction is personal and emotional.  I know that not all adoptive parents are selfish, and I know that there are children born into circumstances that require an alternative.  Perhaps adoption is a Gordian knot that cannot be untangled.  If it must be simplified, then let's determine the few things both sides can agree upon and proceed from there.

There are three things I believe all parties of good will should be able to agree to: 1. equal rights for adoptees, ie., easy access to OBCs, 2. an emphasis on family preservation and the end of adoption for profit, 3. the elimination of corruption in international adoption.  The first is easy and could be accomplished tomorrow with a Presidential order.  Failing that, we should work state by state to overturn antiquated adoption laws that discriminate against adoptees and their mothers.  Ending adoption for profit will be more difficult, because many agencies and lawyers have a vested interest in the status quo.  There is big money in adoption, and there is big money promoting it.  It is a David and Goliath contest, and Goliath has all the stones.  The corruption in international adoption is the most problematic for obvious reasons, but the United Nations, UNICEF, and the Hague Convention are all making efforts to ameliorate the desperate plight of too many children around the globe.  Much more needs to be done.

It's easy for me to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the adoption problem (for lack of a better term).  For things to change, I believe society itself will have to change.  The Left will have to give up its conviction that everyone has a right to be a parent, and the Right will have to concede that God does not make adoption plans in a game of cosmic bait-and-switch.  Mothers who relinquished babies in the BSE (Baby Scoop Era) will have to come to terms with the fact that they were never promised anonymity, and if that was their understanding at the time, well, times have changed.  Adoptees must own their own stories and not be afraid to tell them, and no one should assume that because Aunt Sally or the neighbor next door had a successful adoption there can be no other kind.  Those who abhor adoption, as I admit I do, must understand that for some children it is far and away the best option, but no one should be able to maintain the delusion that adoption is anything other than a tragedy for the child and, yes, for his mother.  Happy adopted children grow up to be adults with gnawing questions about identity, and relieved mothers who leave their babies behind may well wake up decades later, finally fully aware of all that they have lost.  We must create a space where everyone can feel free to tell the truth and free to determine the course of her own life, without the interference of "professionals" who profess to know better.  Shifting social attitudes is never simple or easy, but it can and does happen when enough people see the right thing and do it.  Slavery, racism, gender inequality, discrimination, adoption.  One down, at least four to go.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce

When I used to teach literature, I'd sometimes ask my students if a book had ever changed their lives.  I don't remember any answers, mostly the blank stares, as if in amazement that any book could change any life.  But for me at least there are a few I can point to as life-changing, not because they were great literature, though they might have been, but because they were somehow prophetic and changed the way I saw the world from that point on.  Brave New World and 1984 are on that list, along with The Brothers Karamazov and Middlemarch, which ARE great literature.  These are all fiction, though they deal with matters central to every life.  To this list I must now add another title, non-fiction this time, and having read it I will never be able to think about adoption the way I once did.  The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce (Public Affairs, 2013) is a book with the potential to change the face of adoption forever.

The subtitle, Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, gives an indication of the book's thrust, which is to expose the current trend of adopting domestic, as well as foreign-born children, by Evangelical Christians.  I am biased.  I have to admit it.   I lost my first-born son to adoption in 1968, and in 1974 adopted an infant from Vietnam.  I also have a son and daughter I gave birth to and raised.  Even though I may not be an entirely disinterested bystander, I have struggled to be honest--with myself above all--about the effects of adoption and my part in the damage done to my children by this "peculiar institution."

Adoption is not natural, and it is not traditional, at least not the way Americans practice it.  Until the mid-1940s, orphans or babies born out of wedlock were sent to orphanages or raised by family members, but after WW II there was an increased demand for babies to adopt, as many American couples scrambled to restore what they had feared might be lost forever: the happy, nuclear family.  Many GIs, returning from the war, had contracted venereal diseases and were infertile; that was one reason adoption emerged as it did.  Joyce does a good job of explaining the sociological and historical forces that led to the increased demand and the unscrupulous operators who capitalized on it, though she slights the roles of Georgia Tann of  Tennessee, who made millions by arranging adoptions, and Governor Herman Lehmann of New York, who colluded with her to enact legislation that closed all adoption records, thus ensuring that birth mothers and their children would never be able to find each other.  Everything was done to protect the adoptive parents, who were told their adopted children were no different than if born to them.   The stigma of single motherhood, and even the stigma of adoption, made every birth mother's lost child a dirty little secret and every adoptee's inevitable curiosity something to be dismissed out of hand.  Birth mothers were told they'd forget and go on to have other children (over half did not), and adoptees who asked too many questions were blamed for being angry or bitter.  These were what contemporary adoption professionals term the "bad old days."  Supposedly, things are more enlightened now that the stigma of single parenthood has all but disappeared  and there are many fewer healthy infants available for adoption.

The response to this diminished supply (and adoption agencies do think of children in this commodified way) has been a turn to international adoption, and this is where Joyce's extensive research is most illuminating.  After the Korean War, an Evangelical Christian from Oregon, Harry Holt, made a pilgrimage of sorts to South Korea, where he was overwhelmed by the plight of the thousands of half-Korean/half-American children our soldiers had left behind.  Although it was illegal to adopt eight children all at once, Holt was able to finagle the American government into allowing him to bring the first Amer-Asian children to the United States, where he and his wife Bertha adopted all eight of them, adding them to their already sizeable family.  And thus began the international adoption trade, which eventually spread to China, Vietnam, other parts of Asia, Latin America, India, and now finally Africa.  Joyce explains how what began as a humanitarian effort to rescue children created by a war that had left them desperate morphed into a multi-billion dollar industry that required an increasing supply of children to meet an ever-increasing demand from would-be adoptive parents.  The tail began to wag the dog, and the adoption propaganda machine went into overdrive to convince mothers in difficulties to relinquish their babies, whether born here or abroad, to couples who could "give them a better life."

For domestic adoption, the response to the dearth of relinquishing mothers was the novel concept of "open adoption."  Instead of trying to persuade a mother to give her baby to an adoptive family outright, adoption agencies assured the expectant mother that she would be able to have contact with her child after placement, receive regular letters and photographs, even pick the couple she wanted her child to go to.  The idea was to give the birth mother some sense of control, as well as the assurance that she was being selfless, even noble, in making this sacrifice for the benefit of her child.  It was never mentioned that open-adoption agreements are not enforceable by law, and, in fact, most open adoptions close once the paperwork is completed, if not immediately, within a few years, leaving the birth mother to grieve a second loss of her child. The birth mother would be shown videos and testimonials by other birth mothers who were pleased as punch with their decision to relinquish but never told that years later her grief would catch up with her and erupt in a volcano of pain.

Joyce mentions three important books by adoption-reform activists: Primal Wound and Coming Home to Self by Nancy Verrier, herself an adoptive mother and therapist, and The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler, an adoptee from the BSE who also made a widely praised documentary on the same subject, women who lost their babies to adoption in the Baby Scoop Era (1945-1972).  I daresay these books are not on the list of suggested reading offered by adoption agencies.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of adoption currently is a new form of Baby Scoop, the adoption of children born in third-world countries who are easy pickings for well-off Americans (and Canadians, Australians, and Europeans, who do the most adopting.  Australia has recently reversed progressive legislation, thanks to the efforts  of celebrities like Hugh Jackman and his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, who are working to streamline adoption and eliminate protections for birth mothers and their babies.)   Joyce's first chapter chronicles the disaster of the earthquake in Haiti, when hundreds, if not thousands, of children were hustled out of Haiti before it had been established whether they had living family members or not. 

Then there's the situation in Guatemala, where the "adoption boom went bust" in 2008 because of widespread corruption, and the country stopped all adoptions in an effort to clean up abuses and implement the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which was adopted by the U.S. in 2000.  When Guatemala shut down, agencies simply moved on to other countries where the Hague Convention was not in force.  Ethiopia became a new country of choice, sending a "total of 4,500 children abroad each year in both 2009 and 2010."  One local radio host, Ellene Moria, opined that children "were becoming the new export industry for our country." 

Joyce doesn't indicate whether she believes adoption, as an institution, is inherently good or bad, but she offers such an abundance of compelling evidence of the abuse and corruption the adoption industry has engendered that I, personally, can no longer support it, except in rare cases of extreme need or for older children in foster care.  As an alternative way to build a family, it is quite simply unacceptable.  When any industry swells to the extent that international adoption has, corruption is inevitable, especially in countries with shaky legal systems and very different cultural traditions of the family.  Adoption has become not the unselfish way to rescue children from harm's way but a recourse for infertile couples, gay couples, and Christian proselytizers to achieve their own ends.  According to Joyce, whose book is heavily researched as well as peppered with accounts of individual women who have been coerced in one way or another to relinquish their children, the myth of adoption as a "beautiful choice" is being disproved around the world everyday.

The deplorable orphanages in Romania that have become the template for orphanages everywhere in the American psyche are not the rule.  Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem--for both a mother in distressing circumstances and a country with internal challenges.  If we really want to help children, the way to go about it is to help their families, not by separating babies from their mothers or children from their native cultures.  The money spent on a single foreign adoption could support an African village for a year, could help build a school or a hospital that would serve not just one child but many.   The numbers of "orphans" around the world may sound staggering, depending on what sources you accept, but the truth is, many of these so-called orphans are not orphans at all.  It is not uncommon for an African family to send a young child to an orphanage during the harvest season or to get an education without ever intending to leave the child there permanently.  Joyce documents many cases where parents were misled into signing away their children in the belief that the kids would be educated in America, then would return to help their families.  The idea of adoption as a permanent, legal separation was not part of their lexicon.

When there is demand, a supply will be found to fill it.  If Americans weren't buying illegal drugs, we'd have no drug problem, but the demand is there, and the narco-traffickers exploit it.  The same is true with international adoption, and the opportunity for corruption is similar.  Of course, some children do need families, and for some a foreign adoption is the best or only option.  What we have, though, are facilitators and recruiters who search out vulnerable families, promise them the moon (which may be a few hundred dollars), and take their children.  These recruiters are paid by the agencies per child, so the incentive is to find more and more.  In Guatemala the situation became so bad that children were being snatched off the street and poor women were becoming pregnant solely so they could sell their babies.  Historian Karen Dubinsky calls this "a culture of 'missingness.'"  In 2007 nearly one out of every hundred babies born was being sent to America.  Documents are forged, uneducated people manipulated, and it's very difficult for Americans to be sure the child they adopt is genuinely adoptable.

What is the answer?  I know many, many adoptive parents who love their children and want the best for them and many adoptees who are content with their lives, or so it would seem.  Just because an adoptee doesn't ask questions or seem unhappy doesn't mean he  doesn't think about his birth family, especially his birth mother, wonder how he came to be adopted, or feel adrift in a world where most people have some idea of others in their family tree. 

In a speech given in Toronto in 2001, "Adoption and Loss--The Hidden Grief,"  (http://www.ccnm-mothers.ca/English/articles/Robinson.htm) Evelyn Robinson, herself a mother of loss to adoption, a social worker with extensive experience in grief counselling and an author, describes the dark side of adoption that most people never see: the unresolved grief of the birth mother and the loss of family and identity for the adoptee.  The very normal reactions to a significant life crisis are ignored or suppressed so that adoptive parents can get what they want and feel good about it.  Robinson lives in South Australia, which has undoubtedly the most enlightened adoption laws in the world.  At age 18 adoptees have full access to their personal information.  When a woman is in difficulties, she is not encouraged to consider adoption; she is asked what she needs in order to raise her child and that support is sought.  In the rare case where an adoption goes forward, no placement is made until after the baby is born and the mother has time to reconsider her choice.  No coercion is ever involved, not even the gentlest.  Robinson is appalled by the laws in the United States that allow an adoptive placement to be made before the birth, that close all records and fabricate new birth certificates, that disenfranchise fathers, and severely limit the time allowed for the birth mother to change her mind.  

For many years I was an avid advocate of adoption.  I believed in adoption as if it were a brand of faith.  I assumed I'd never again see my first son, and while I thought of him every single day, I didn't feel maimed by the loss.  Once I found him, however, I came to realize just how broken I'd been.  Having never properly grieved, I plunged into an abyss of despair that left me feeling totally unmoored.  I had not escaped my grief; I had merely postponed it--with interest.  While the emotional scars will never disappear, I do feel restored and whole as a result of my reunion.  Knowing what I know, having experienced the full weight of adoption loss, I cannot remain silent.  We each are responsible for charting our own course through life, but it helps to have a map drawn by someone who has gone before.  I offer The Child Catchers, Primal Wound, The Girls Who Went Away, the blog  GazillionVoices.com (Land of Gazillion Adoptees Magazine), and my own story as a beginning.  Adoption is not win-win; it is zero-sum.  Every adoption is predicated on loss.  We should never forget that.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Set Up To Fail--Adoption Rehoming

Accounts of adoptees being "rehomed" are cropping up more and more often in the media these days, indication of a disturbing trend in adoption, but many people who see these stories jump to the wrong conclusions.  (Leave aside those egregious cases where adoptees are abused by psychotic parents.)  It sounds so awful.  You adopt a child, then when he turns out not to be what you expected, you dump him on someone else.  Birth mothers are praised for doing the selfless thing, the noble thing, by giving up their babies, but adoptive parents who are unable to provide adequately for their psychologically damaged children are excoriated.

I am a birth mother and have written about my experience elsewhere.  I am also an adoptive mother, and I've wanted to write about that for the longest time but haven't been able to find the words.  This is another attempt to try to understand what happened in my family and explain just how difficult adopting any child, but especially a foreign-born child, can be.  The difficulty is not for the parents alone.  Any adopted child will face issues of identity and abandonment, but a culturally displaced child has extraordinary obstacles to overcome.

When I was 27 years old, I had already lost a son to adoption and given birth to another, Tanner, a beautiful blond, blue-eyed boy with an easy-going temperament.  Without going into all the intricacies of my emotional state at the time, I'll just say that being a mother was the most important thing in the world to me.  I was bubbling over with maternal instincts.  By the time Tanner was three, I was desperate for another baby.  I was also moved by the plight of Vietnamese orphans and felt America owed those children left behind by our soldiers something pretty substantial.  After all, it was because of the American presence in their country that they even existed.

My husband and I had little money.  He was an artist, and I was teaching high school English in Indiana.  We could barely make ends meet on my salary, but we were both confident that it was only a matter of time before Bob achieved success as a painter, if not fame.  He had dreams of being on the cover of Art News, and I had dreams of a house filled with children--well, three or four at least.  Infertility was not our problem, but I began to feel that my arms were empty without a baby in them.  All I had to do was see the photo of a baby available for adoption in the Indianapolis newspaper and my pulse quickened.  I remember one such picture of a black infant, "Mr. Curtis."  He was so tiny, and my heart went out to him.  We should adopt a black baby.  I knew black and mixed-race children were the hardest to place, and I believed that integrated families would lead the way to an integrated society.  We began our quest to find a child.

If you are paying attention, you will see that there are already plenty of red flags waving.  My husband was unemployed (being a struggling artist with no income is essentially unemployment).  We barely had enough money to support a family of three, even if Bob stayed home to look after the kids.  Contrary to what many black social workers were saying at the time, we saw nothing wrong with placing a black child in a white family, in a white community, in a not-so-covertly racist state.  This tiny baby, or one like him, would not be a cute infant forever.  He would grow into a teenager with attitude, a black male with no one to teach him how to get along in an often hostile world.  All I could imagine was holding a baby in a rocking chair, reading him bedtime stories, and filling my own emptiness.  I didn't bother to think about what I'd need to do to raise a black, male child.

Ultimately, we signed on with Holt International, the first adoption agency in America to place Korean children with American families.  Eventually Holt would bring children from all over the world, including, for a time, children from Vietnam.  The war was a horror any way you look at it, but all I could see were those babies abandoned and orphaned and in desperate need.  I admit it; I wanted to do something big.  I wanted to redeem myself for giving up my own son.  I'd given in to external pressures to relinquish him, and I had nothing left to lose.  I didn't care about what people thought any longer.  I knew what I believed, and having set aside my own instincts once, I wasn't about to do it again.  Let people stare.  Let people say, "I could never do what you've done."  Let black social workers argue that race does matter in forming a child's identity.  Perhaps I wanted to punish my mother, with her southern roots, for her role in the loss of my son.  I didn't think this consciously, but subconsciously I was screaming, "I can't have my own baby?  Well, then, how do you like this black one?"  I feel a pain in my gut as I write that.  Never until this moment have I allowed myself to face up to my own selfish motives, my own need for some kind of revenge.  I would take my revenge and force my very conservative mother to accept a black grandchild, and as I did I would be praised by all the good liberal Christians who underwrote the whole thing.

In the early 'seventies there were no pre-pacement services, nothing to advise us about what to expect when you adopt a baby from half a world away.  We were getting a baby, and that's all that mattered.  He was half black and a boy, the hardest to place, and we felt lucky to have been chosen to be his parents.  I knew enough to understand that the first year in a child's life is critical, but I didn't realize just how critical.  No baby is a blank slate, and a nine-month old baby from a war zone has suffered more trauma than you can imagine.  There were scars on his ankles where he'd been fed intravenously because of starvation.  He screamed if put down and clung to Bob and me like a terrified monkey.  His rage was overwhelming, and in frustration he would bang on his chin with his fist until I wondered if he were autistic.  He suffered from chronic diarrhea that lasted for years.  I didn't know that Asians are often lactose intolerant, and I kept pumping milk into him as fast as he kept splurting it out.

My son was intelligent and a survivor.  Described by the orphanage he came from as a "relatively crying baby," he was obviously not one of those passive, listless infants often found in orphanages.  This kid was going to get attention if he had to yell the place down.  I can never know what went on in his mind because much of his trauma occurred before he had speech, so his memories, though undoubtedly vivid, were not accessible to him.  He came to us a desperate, outraged child, and so he remained.  As he grew older, his behavior followed a consistent path of defiance, acting out, theft, and lying.  As a young child, he suffered from night terrors, when he would scream and flail and not be able to wake up.  If all this sounds as if I'm blaming him, I'm not.  

We did everything we could: had him evaluated by a psychologist, sought out family and individual counselling, and spent countless hours in conferences with his teachers.  By age twelve, he was out of control, stealing cars, staying out late, and finally getting in trouble with the police.  Thus began years of reform school, group homes, more counselling, and my marriage ended in divorce.  Bob's alcoholism had not made our family situation any better, and, though I was unsure how I would manage with Dabbs and my two other children (by now I had a daughter) on my own, it had to be better than managing the three-ring circus my life had become.  Never, at any point, did any counsellor or therapist address the issue of Dabbs's adoption.  A couple of the "family-systems therapists" we saw insisted upon getting Dabbs to identify with members of our extended family, even those who were deceased.  How on earth could a hyper-active, angry Black/Vietnamese boy identify with anyone in a family of middle-class white people? We were expected to adapt to the paradigm, no matter how ridiculous the fit.

Who or what is to blame for all this turmoil?  I am, first of all.  For whatever reasons, I took on a challenge that was beyond me.  I like to think I did my best, but I'm too aware of my failures to let myself off the hook.  But there are others who are answerable too, or should be.  The social workers who did our home study were as naive as Bob and I were.  We presented as a nice, educated couple, good parents to our little boy, so why wouldn't we be suitable adoptive parents?  The red flags I mentioned earlier did not get their attention.  In fact, the entire social-services enterprise was not yet ready to address the needs of adoptive families with foreign-born children, so it was a systemic failure.  When a system is at fault, who can be held accountable?

Now we read accounts of disturbed children whose adoptive parents can't cope.  I understand their desperation.  I understand that they love their children but cannot allow their families to be torn apart.  When parents have to lock their bedroom door, hide all the knives and hammers in the house, and sleep with one eye open, they might be forced to take steps that seem to others uncaring.  I tried to get help for my son and me, and it was all thin gruel.  As a teenager, Dabbs lived in five other places than with me: with his dad, in reform school (court ordered), two separate group homes (also court ordered), and with an earnest young couple who had befriended him during his stay at one of the homes.  Many kind and dedicated people tried to help Dabbs, including a black counsellor at a group home who had been a soldier in Vietnam.  Like so many others, this man took Dabbs under his wing, and like so many others he was ultimately let down.  Those defenses and survival instincts Dabbs developed as an abandoned infant morphed into a pattern of behavior that persisted as he grew older and, for all I know, persist to this day.  Every success was followed by a catastrophic event of Dabbs's own making.  I've always believed that Dabbs can't tolerate success, and when things are going too well, he self-sabotages.  
I don't want to rake over the past, but I have a few suggestions for social workers, adoption agencies, and prospective adoptive parents: Recognize that international adoption does not bring you a child who is a blank slate.  Every child, no matter how young, who is adopted comes from circumstances of trauma and will be affected by them.  When Dabbs was three years old, he told me he remembered soldiers coming into his house and killing his mother.  He couldn't have been more than a couple of months old when he made it to the orphanage, so how could he possibly remember such a thing?  Maybe he did, and maybe he didn't, but he believed he'd seen his mother murdered.  How could such thoughts not have a profound effect on his concept of self?

Be aware that it takes a great deal of knowledge and a lot of patience to parent a hurting child.  Professional training would not be amiss.  People who might make perfectly marvelous moms and dads under normal circumstances may find themselves overwhelmed by the challenges their adopted child presents.  The child should not be blamed but helped, and the parents shouldn't be blamed either.  In many cases a different living situation is what all parties need.  I am dismayed by comments like, "Well, you adopted him.  Now you have to make the best of it."  Each child has unique needs, adopted or not.  Most parents of biological children have an intuitive understanding of each of their children, but the parents of adopted kids don't have that intuitive connection, which is at its root a physical matter of cells and genes.  To blame desperate parents who can't cope with a traumatized child is as cruel as telling someone suffering from depression to snap out of it.

 Americans think of poor little orphans and want to scoop them up, take them home, tuck them in bed at night, and keep them safe, but international adoptees come with baggage they often don't understand themselves and may try to hide.  The best place for any baby is with his own mother, and every effort should be made to keep her there.  Now adult adoptees, many of them Asian, are writing blogs, forming support groups, and challenging our notions of what child-rescue ought to mean.   We need to heed their words and amend our ways. The best way to help children is to help families, as Jane Jeong Trenka, a Korean adoptee who has returned to her homeland to advocate for single mothers and their children, is doing.

The entire adoption paradigm must be re-examined.  No mother should be told to give up her baby; she should be asked what she needs in order to parent.  Cultures in crisis should not be mined for their children so that American parents can satisfy their desires.  Too often what passes for altruism is actually self-serving idealism.  I know this not because I have seen it but because I am guilty of it.  I don't blame adoptive families who already have children.  They did the best they knew how.  But we must wake up to our mistaken assumptions about what children, babies especially, need.  Youth and poverty are not necessarily permanent conditions and should not be reasons for relinquishment.  Temporary safe havens can see children through the crises of war and famine until better times arrive.   

Adoption is not simple or straightforward, and my attempts to cover all bases are admittedly insufficient.  Friends tell me that Dabbs is better off living in America than he would have been if he'd remained in Vietnam.  I don't doubt the truth of  that, so why am I now arguing against international adoption?  I find this hard to answer.  It would be unthinkable to send a Korean-American or an Ethiopian-American kid back to where he came from.  Dabbs is thoroughly American and would be no more at home on the streets of Saigon than I would.  But we should look at things the other way around, from the child's point of view.  Imagine yourself as an infant, put on an airplane with strangers, looking for whichever caretaker you had last lived with and not finding her.  Then imagine the magnitude of an American airport with strange-looking people who want to hold you and speak to you in bizarre accents.  Imagine being given strange foods that make you sick.  Imagine being a stranger in a strange land with no idea what's happening to you or why and no words to say what you need or to form memories you'll be able to access later.  You world has become a nightmare of gigantic proportions that  is terrifying but that you can't wake up from, so you cry yourself into exhaustion.  You feel abandoned when left in a crib but not comforted when held by someone you don't recognize.  You are a baby who is designed to feel and believe he is physically part of his mother, and this strange woman who keeps picking you up is not she, so you feel disconnected and adrift.  This is a feeling that will never leave you, even after you acquire language and coping strategies.  That dislocated, abandoned child is yours to keep forever.  That child is you.

Adoption is ALWAYS about loss.  To see it in any other way is to be emotionally and psychologically blind.