Sunday, February 25, 2007

Choosing words carefully

Many times I have begun to talk to my son about his birth and his life before he met us, and come up empty as far as the right words. Adoptive parents frequently talk about the fact that we want to keep lines of communication open with our children, and with regard to their adoptions, we want them always to know their beginnings and how they came to be in our families. Paula brought all of this to mind again last week with her post, When is Too Young? ** Her post was a good reminder and a (gentle!) kick in the pants for me.

It's not that I haven't made any previous attempts at this - it's that every time I say anything to my son about his birth, his Omma, Korea, his foster family, I immediately sense that whatever I'm saying is just plain inadequate. I am very enthusiastic about the idea of making it possible for these discussions to be a regular occurrence in our family, but when it comes right down to it, it seems like another instance where I have good intentions, but then quickly realize that I can't possibly do justice to the actual task at hand.

Right now my little guy is only 2 years old. I've been murmuring his story to him as we rocked or snuggled together almost since he came to live with us. Many times I just ramble on while he listens quietly, sometimes he seems very interested and wants to talk. This is a snippet of what went on several months ago:

[snuggling in bed at night]

Mommy: Did you know that you were born in Korea?

Baby brother: [big smile] ME!

M: Yes! You were born in Korea.

B: OH! ME! [points to self, nods, does little squirmy-happy dance]

B: Tum-tum? Mama? [pats my abdomen]

M: No - you weren't in Mama's tum-tum; you were in your Omma's tummy - your Mommy in Korea - your Omma.

B: Om-MA! ME!

M: Yes!

B: Born? [still smiling]

M: Yes! You were in your Omma's tummy and then you were born.

B: Choi?*

M: No....Mrs. Choi* is not your Omma. But you lived with Mrs. Choi when you were baby, and she loves you very much, too.

[Can I say confusing?! And also here is where I get all tongue-tied about how I am going to make the connection between Omma and Mrs. Choi.]

B: OH! [smiling] ME! LOVE! ME - HAT!

[he loves the pictures of him riding in his foster mom's podaegi, and he is always wearing one of several cute baby caps in the photos]

M: Yes - Mrs. Choi took good care of you when you were a tiny baby, and she gave you a hat.


M: Yes! We will take you to Korea soon - in a few years - and we will take you to visit Mrs. Choi.

[mentally slapping self for making promises I only hope I can keep. Not so much the trip itself, but the possibility of not being able to meet with his foster mother]

B: OH! Thank you, Mama! ME! GO! ...............

So, that isn't too exciting (well, you can see it was exciting for my son, hence the ALL CAPS) or too difficult. I haven't included other, more difficult (for me) conversations, because I fear being criticized (sorry!). Still, I think all of this is of utmost importance, so here I go. Have pity on me and give me some suggestions. I'm talking word-for-word, if you don't mind. What do I do when we get to the hard parts? These are some things I've actually said, for better or worse:

"Your Omma loves you very much"

"You were such a handsome and sweet baby! Your Omma loves you very much. But, when you were born, your Omma did not know if she could take care of a baby." (I have also added, at times, "....your Omma was sad because she didn't know if she could take care of you...her baby."

"Your Omma thought it might be a good idea for you to come and live with Mama and Papa."

I don't know. I want to be completely honest (hard to do when I don't know all there is to know about the situation), I don't want to project my feelings into the conversation, I don't want to assume I know how his mother might have felt (but I almost can't help myself in saying that she was sad and that she loved him), most of all I don't want to say anything patronizing or disrespectful when talking about his mother.

I'll leave it at that, for now. Critiques, and especially suggestions, welcome.


*The little guy can't pronounce "Mrs." yet, so he refers to his foster mother by her last name only (yikes!). Also, her real name is not used in this blog.

**Ugh- I see I can't get embedded links to work tonight - here is the link for Paula's post:

Monday, February 19, 2007

The money.

Most adoptive parents are never going to admit that they 'bought a baby'. Many can't conceive of the idea that a child would actually be used as a commodity in the world of adoption. I do feel sad for adoptive parents who have just begun to conceptualize the reality of adoption as a money-making industry because, while there certainly are some people who would not bat an eye at willfully paying whatever large sums of money were demanded in order to get a child, there are many of us out there who are being/were bamboozled by agencies' explanations of 'adoption expenses'.

I'm not going to go off on a tangent about how 'vicitimized' adoptive parents are - but I do think that those of us who have spent a decent amount of time considering adoption ethics should be willing to show potential adoptive parents that we/they, too, are being used by agencies in various ways - to the end of financial profit. I think the manner in which agencies explain away the money/'adoption fee' aspect is one aspect of international adoption (and domestic adoption, for that matter) that we should make sure to discuss with potential adoptive parents. There are plenty of people considering US domestic adoption who (not because they are greedy or inherently evil) haven't even considered that they should never agree to pay expenses for (or directly to) a woman who is considering adoption, for example. They don't understand why, when agencies present it as a matter of 'need', it is 'wrong' to comply. As much as I have complained about certain AP behaviors, I think it is really only fair (and compassionate) to try to understand that one can not possibly know about the maneuvers of adoption agencies until one has experienced it or has the good fortune of participating in a fairly in-depth discussion about ethical practices. Instead of always claiming that people should 'know better' - we have to understand that society sets up agencies who 'help children' as being about as close to an altruistic institution as anything could be - so the average unsuspecting potential AP really has no reason to think otherwise; it's just not common knowledge.

As for me, as I've said in the past I started the adoption process with the idea in mind that there were children who needed homes, and that adoption agencies today were operating out of largely 'altruistic' intentions of helping children in need. Therefore, unfortunately it didn't strike me as being unreasonable to off-set the costs of providing for those needs by the way of paying adoption fees. Back then, it was all part of the package that was supposed to be about providing and helping and doing good. I believed that whatever fees I paid were directly related to defraying the expenses of providing day-to-day care and medical care for my son over the course of seven months. I can't bring myself to declare with any certainty that any individual agency representative in Korea acted out of greed, but these days it is just not easy for me to justify the costs of international adoption - and even if I don't accuse any one individual, there is little doubt left in my mind that there is an industry at work. Other countries' fees confound me even more than those levied by the Korean agencies -but I'm not here to claim that one amount is okay and another is over-the-top....the point is that if a country genuinely can *not* care for its own 'needy' children, then simply having someone else take financial responsibility for those children should be the only 'profit' of an international adoption (and even that concept has its own very real problems) - but that is not what is actually occurring.

Some international adoption agencies say that some of my money is used to help other needy children that will not be placed for adoption. Again, in the beginning that sounded good to me. Until I realized that the bottom line of that concept is that some children are, in effect, used, for the benefit of others (if in fact that claim is true). I was willing to pay to adopt my son....multiply by 1,000 or so, and a country can better afford to care for some of its needy children. So IA must continue in order that all the children will be provided for? Honestly I don't understand all of these concepts, and I highly doubt that I could ever get my hands on an itemized break-down of the fee that my US agency paid (my money) to my son's Korean agency, but it still doesn't all add up, to me.

People who consider international adoption might ask questions about the fees. Instead of giving the good ol' (defensive) stand-by response ("It doesn't cost any more than what you would pay for medical care for a pregnancy, birth, and newborn care if you didn't have insurance..."), let's encourage people to question their agency about the fees and to really consider whether they are 'okay' with paying thousands of dollars related to adopting a child. Also, we can encourage them to consider (or reconsider) the US adoption tax credit which refunds nearly $11k worth of paid taxes to a US couple or single AP who adopts (domestically or internationally). So, a government that could not afford to help a mother take care of her own child, can afford to help someone else take care of that same child.

Any insights or other thoughts, anyone?

Monday, February 12, 2007

What If...

Dear [B.O.] birth-Omoni,

Anyeong Hasseo! Thank you for taking the time to read all about our [perfect] life as you consider what is best for your baby. We know how hard this must be for you, and we want to thank you for being such a selfless and courageous person by choosing life and by allowing your baby to come to America! [Now we hope you will choose us!]

We are Jimbo and Trudie [two white folks who hope to become ‘color-blind’]. We have been happily married for many years and have one child of our own [and we hope to make your child our own too!]. We both have great jobs – Jimbo is a world-renowned brain surgeon, and Trudie is a school-teacher who just completely adores all kids but will be quitting her job if we are able to adopt [just because she can] so that she can [show off her Korean baby to all the snobs] devote herself completely to her children’s every need. We have a gorgeous home and a multitude of wonderful friends. Our families [secretly think we are crazy and are afraid we won’t have any more real children and can’t remember if we are trying to adopt from Japan or China] can’t wait to [see an Asian up-close] meet and welcome another child into the family.

We can have more children of our own, but we feel called to adopt because we have heard all about the plight of [the poor Korean] children in your country and it just breaks our hearts like you can’t imagine! [We would try to rescue a needy American child, but the B.M.s have waaaaay too many rights over here and we couldn't stand to have our hearts broken if one somehow manages to keep her baby! Besides, we feel a special connection with Korea]. We have so much respect for your strength of character in choosing an international adoption plan. [Every child deserves a loving family!]

In our family here in America, your baby will have a great life [we have the best of everything over here!]. We are really excited about becoming Korean-Americans and have already started collecting Asian things so that your child will feel at home here. We [can mangle several words in Korean] are learning the language as well. We are in awe of the [strange and exotic] rich traditions of your country and are excited to experience some of them through this great blessing of adoption – we plan to try out chopsticks first! [And say things like “anyeong hasseo!” whenever we see anyone who looks Asian - - woo hoo this is sooo cool!] We are even planning on getting ["hand-bocks"] hanbok for our whole family [won't Halloween be fun!].

If you pick us to receive this most precious of gifts, we will have your baby escorted [right to our own doorstep, since we are afraid we might accidentally eat dog meat if we traveled to Korea and we are also terrified of being surrounded by Korean people everywhere] to America. We plan to return to your beautiful country when your child is old enough to really appreciate it [riiiiight].

We are so thankful to be able to give you this glimpse into our heart for adoption. Writing this letter is the hardest thing we have ever done and we hope [you choose us!] it will help you move on with your life and have peace in knowing that you have given your baby a chance at a better life. We would be so [proud] honored to [call ourselves do-gooders]/[get a Korean baby] give your baby a forever family.


[two CWPAPs wishing upon a star]

Jimbo and Trudie

Thursday, February 08, 2007

No big deal?

What are adoptive parents saying when we say, “biology doesn’t matter to me at all” - when we declare this idea (while projecting complete conviction) that biological ties to people in our lives are of absolutely no importance?

I find it a very curious statement, at best – especially when most of those who make these comments have a least one or two, if not tens or even hundreds of biological connections in their lives. The world is literally made up of people who have biological connections – and for the vast majority of folks, these connections are present in on-going, every-day relationships. So how is it that some of us can so easily disregard the significance of being connected to life in such a way?

In adoptive-parent circles, we are usually discussing whether or not we love our children by adoption as much as we love (or would have loved) our children by birth – and since we feel that we couldn’t possibly love our adopted children any more than we already do (i.e. even if we had given birth to them or were biologically related to them) we write off ‘biological connection’ as if it is some strange, backward concept that people make way too big a deal about.

By the way, I think these proclamations about biology also shine the light of truth on adoptive parents’ excitement over surprise sibling referrals. Because if biology is of absolutely no meaning to us, then these highly-desired surprise sibling referrals are of no more significance than ‘getting’ another child, everything else be damned. Actually, maybe biology is completely meaningless to some APs – because if it weren’t, we would ALL realize that, when sitting around and hoping, praying, and wishing upon a star for our coveted “sibling calls”, we are actually wishing horrible misfortune upon our beloved children’s biological mothers.

Mostly I see people alleging the insignificance of biological connections in attempt to validate adoptive-family structures. It’s fine for us to say that we couldn’t possibly love our (adopted) children any more than we already do. But to declare ‘biology’ to be a falsely-revered connection in our societies, I wonder if the message some people are sending is that our children’s roots are no more important to us than yesterday’s garbage. Not to mention how hurtful it must be for first mothers to know that (some) adoptive parents quite frankly don’t care two whits about adoption loss and suffering. After all, losing a simple ‘biological connection’ isn’t any big deal??