Our Journey to C – C’s Journey to Us

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It has taken me awhile to write this. Out in daily life, we get little in the way of strange reactions. And when we do, I don’t assume it’s about us adopting an Asian child – for all I know, folks are wondering if Mr. Coffee has noticed that son #2 doesn’t look much like him (they do sometimes give ME piercing looks, like they are wondering if son#3 – in utero – will look anything like Mr. Coffee 🙂 ).

On the internet, however, in trying to seek out various international adoptees’ experiences, I have found so many different opinions…which mostly reminds me to keep my mind and heart open and let C lead me in understanding what HE needs.

First I want to make clear that the things I write here are personal to ME. Someone else might have different experiences and come to different conclusions. I am not saying what was right for me and my family is right for everyone. And honestly, before C came home, I thought I knew many things that I am having to revisit as he and I get to know each other. That will probably never end. But of course, that’s the nature of trying to be a good parent –regardless of how a child joins a family.

When we first start taking the steps to adopt C, I spent a lot of time reading a blog with the laudable intent to help parents raise their children to NOT be racists (and to examine our own biases). But I rarely go there now. There was such hostility towards international adoptive parents (IAPs), with so many assumptions built into that hostility. It didn’t seem IAPs could ever speak for ourselves without everything we said interpreted through those assumptions.

It was assumed that all IAPs are over-entitled, rich people who think we should get to “buy” a kid. We shouldn’t be allowed the adoption tax credit. We shouldn’t be allowed to…do many things. Anyone adopting from an Asian country was assumed to think they were adopting a stereotyped “model minority” (because we are all that limited in our life experiences, I guess). People adopting from Ethiopia were accused of wanting a more “caucasian-looking” child (maybe I’m missing something here, but I doubt that ANY Ethiopian in the U.S. would tell you that he or she is perceived as “caucasian looking”).

There was also the built in assumption that anyone who is now middle class could never have been poor or working class – and the assumption that middle class people care more about education than working class folks. It’s not hard to understand why that bugged me.

But what this did do was get me thinking about how things can often be different from how we think they are. One commenter, a foster mother, felt that I was implying that foster parents do NOT protect their kids when I wrote that I didn’t think protecting my family from an at-risk adoption made me a selfish jerk. I can understand why she felt I was saying that and I was very sorry. I assume she did what was right for her family. I think we did what was right for ours.

Both Mr. Coffee (who was adopted) and M would IMPLODE if we bonded with a child who was taken away. Mr. Coffee was devastated when a friend’s domestic adoption was disrupted by the birth parents, and though my first inclination was look at the foster system, Mr. Coffee was very uncomfortable with how this system works in our state.

And yes, he did want to mitigate risks, as well as any possibility that birth parents would turn up without the CHILD wanting them to. Maybe that seems odd, but he was adopted and I was not. I don’t have to understand his feelings….just accept them. Telling him that these feelings were off base would be as wrong as him telling me what I should feel “as a woman.”

M had all ready lost one anticipated sibling in utero (he took it well enough, but he had been VERY excited). He has had to accept the loss of many people he had come to care about in the past few years – far too many for such a little guy. He has had to adjust to getting a nightly shot. And well, he is who he is – he doesn’t feel anything a little bit (neither do I). Everything is either wonderful or it’s the end of the world. Some of this is age-related, but some of it is just HIM, and I try to respect that as much as possible.

Additionally, yes, there are some realities I want to protect my family from. In my young adult years, I lived in such poverty that I had to sell off my dignity and safety to eat. I feel I can therefore teach my children to count their blessings without using others as “object lessons” (and though I am all for helping others, I do have issues with using others as teaching tools unless they agree to that, without coercion of any kind). And yes, I do want to protect my kids from what I experienced. I am not eager to relive any of it either.

But in reality, it was primarily Mr. Coffee’s feelings about how contact with birth parents SHOULD happen that turned us away from the foster system – he flat out nixed contact by birth parents NOT being the choice of the child (again, he was adopted – how would it be if I fought him on that?) So, I stopped looking at our foster system and began to look elsewhere.

And so…

The friend I mentioned above (with the birth parents who decided they wanted the baby back after 3 months) made us wary of commercial agencies. She was heart-broken of course, but she did not fight it – she did what she thought was right. And there were, if I recall correctly, upwards of $60K in fees that had gone where, exactly? And though things did eventually work out for her with another child, soon after we started our process, the agency she had used (which she told me NOT to use) was closed down by the police. And then another.

And then the folks who ran another agency in our state went to prison. The whole “advertising” aspect of trying to “get picked” by a birth mother always made me uneasy, and now it was looking like our state was a big mess as far private agencies went – coercion of birth parents, lies to hopeful adoptive parents, agencies paying themselves exorbitant fees – this did NOT look like a system for us. People think the US system is “clean.” Me, I am not so sure. Maybe it’s just this state, but I imagine that there will be some nation-wide exposure of some rotten things in the US private system in the next 10 years – BUT I do hope I am wrong.

So – I began contacting charitable agencies. Sometimes assumptions are made about IAPs picking an ethnicity, but I was never even allowed to say WHO I would adopt (healthy baby anyone?). These agencies didn’t care who I was willing to adopt – they didn’t want ME. I was too old, too fertile; all ready had a biological child…

And at that point, I thought “Oh hell, maybe I should look at other countries.”

At first I started with S. America, thinking not being an ethnic minority where we live might make things easier for a child. But these countries either had systems that were too messy, not transparent at all, or had lengthy residency requirements. Residency requirements are what they are and a country has a right to set them as it pleases, but it does exclude most folks in our economic bracket.

I looked at Ethiopia. The kids there are in orphanages, which was an issue for Mr. Coffee, but the kids appeared to be well-loved. However, I also read that the kids remained part of their community. If this was so, would they really be better of with me? The only trip we could manage would be the one to get the child, and I felt that if I was unable to make a trip to SEE this system, then based upon what I read, I could not assume a child would be better off with my family than in an orphanage in which they were loved and were able to remain part of their own community.

Right now, there is a lot of controversy around Ethiopian adoptions. People are finding out that some children they thought were orphans were actually surrendered by living parents due to poverty. My thoughts on that may be a bit different from many folks. My great-grandfather was surrendered to “the poor house” (actually an orphanage) at the age of 3, along with his older brothers. He was apprenticed out on his teens, and by all accounts, this was not a Dickensian existence. AND if someone had offered his family $ so they could “keep” him, I don’t think it would have gone over as well as if someone had offered to raise him as their own.

This is just my opinion, but I feel that the belief that financial support of the birth parents is the answer comes from a misunderstanding of the nature of poverty. It’s only partially about money. An organization like Heifer International has, I believe, the only workable answer to such an issue.

However, the reality of a child’s situation should never be hidden, and certainly the original family should be allowed to communicate, but it should not be assumed that the neither the birth parents nor the children are hoping for an adoption. Since I didn’t go down this path, I don’t know much about this, but I do hope someone is ASKING these kids and their birth parents what it is they want.

One night, when (as usual) I couldn’t sleep, I was watching “Adoption Stories.” I really don’t care for this show – the narration creeps me out – but I was curious and it was on. It was a show about a couple in our state adopting twin girls from S. Korea. The next day at work, a colleague came back from a business trip to S. Korea, and told me about a baby girl being escorted back on the plane. I am not a metaphysical thinker, but these two things together did lead me to look at S. Korea. The babies were in foster homes and well cared for (foster mother is a career in S. Korea), the system looked transparent, contact with the birth parents (if they choose to leave contact information) was at the discretion of the adopted child. And these kids were highly unlikely to be adopted in-country. That was everything that mattered to me and Mr. Coffee. Up until this time, I was thinking we’d adopt a girl, as we all ready had a son. But when I read that I was over the age limit for a girl and that the rules were less strict for boys because the boys were so hard to adopt out, my heart filled with the certainty that I had a son in S. Korea.

The first thing I did was contact a friend who emigrated to the US from S. Korea when she was 12 to ask if she knew if what I was reading was true. Yes, she said – she knew quite a bit. She had considered adoption, but when her mother went ballistic over the idea, she backed away. She explained that the system was started 50 years ago, after the Korean War, when there were many war-orphans with American fathers. She explained the cultural issues that, while assuring the surrendered babies are well cared for, keeps most of these babies from being adopted in-country. She explained the efforts to make things easier for kids to be adopted in-country, to make things easier for single mothers, and how far she felt there still was to go. And in the meantime, there were babies in foster care who, if not adopted by age 4, would go to live in a group home. She was encouraging and told me about the agency we ended up using. Her willingness to talk about this and her encouragement to take this path were significant.

Mr. Coffee needed a day to think about it, when I told him. I don’t think he realized that many of his feelings would make it hard for us to adopt in-country. But at the end of the day (and maybe after talking to the same friend – who is really his good friend), he said yes.

This process of finding a system that met my requirements for transparency and ethics and Mr. Coffee’s requirements for how the children were cared for and how contact with birth parents was managed took two years. We then endured the numerous background checks and questions about our upbringing. We attended days upon days of parenting classes (because all ready being a parent does not count). The social worker (who we love) came to our home several times. She asked us a lot of questions, including (for the first time) if the ethnicity of the baby mattered to us. No, we told her, it didn’t. She told us that while most of the birth mothers were Korean, some of the birth fathers were not, and that the baby could be, in fact, ANY ethnicity. Okay, we said. And I ended up praying for this, because due to the difficulties with in-country adoptions, these kids can be entered into the international process at birth and such a child would have come to us at a much younger age.

It wasn’t to be – as far as we know, C’s birth parents were both Korean, and it took FOREVER to get through the process (actually 6 months to C being assigned to us and 6 months to get through the process was not that long, but I understand it can be as little as 2 months to bring one’s child home – and it felt like forever). But when people accuse folks adopting from Asian countries of not wanting babies of a certain ethnic background, I want to holler. I am not saying that we what we did is unassailable. But once a person hears our story – that the adult who was adopted rejected the foster system, that the private agencies in our state looked…shifty (not to mention unfriendly to folks in our economic bracket), that the charitable agencies rejected ME out of hand – and that we spent 2 years looking for a reputable way to go about this (and a program would have fertile old me), then, is it still so easy to judge? And as for folks who simply wanted to avoid “at risk” adoptions, and I know several…who had suffered 6+ miscarriages, who had babies who died…is it still so easy to judge?

When we open our hearts and our lives to this process, regardless of which path we take, it is a strange road indeed. And we all try to do best by the people we love, which includes the new addition…for some people that will mean the foster system, for some, it will mean other paths. This is only ours. I hope and pray that all of us will do our damndest to do right by our kids.

All that said, I think the process could be more rigorous in many ways, and I think we could have been better prepared for C’s completely understandable freak-out when Mr. Coffee brought him home.

I will be careful to let C lead me in what he wants and needs, but I will also continuing listening to adult adoptees to keep me thinking. M and I are trying to learn to speak and read Korean, and to help C retain/learn some as well, and we’re doing OK. Some adult adoptees say being able to speak the language when they go back to their birth country is the thing they need most. Some say this effort is pointless, as they’ll never be fluent (though that argument could be made against trying to learn any language, and as a bi-lingual person, I feel that competency in another language is well worth shooting for).

We have other children in our life who were adopted from S. Korea, as well as adult role models who are willing to answer C’s tough questions about culture when they come (I am willing to try too, but since we have friends who have volunteered to do this, I think it may be best coming from a person who has lived this culture). We intend to take all of boys to Seoul when we can afford it and they are old enough to remember it – hopefully 3 times before adulthood.

C’s foster mother is not a young woman and I want him to meet her. If his birth mother left contact information and he is willing, I want him to meet her too. (Mr. Coffee simply wanted to take C back to the town of his birth, but it is a very small town and without knowing if his birth mother would like to be contacted, that makes me uneasy – as we don’t know if that would be an unkindness to this woman).

I have all ready made mistakes. I always knew C’s birth story was his to tell and yet I blurted it out to a few people once we knew it. Some of this was excitement, some of this was relief that his birth mother’s story would likely have led to adoption regardless of where she lived, and some may have been that, before he was in my arms and home, none of this was quite real enough to me. Now, I wouldn’t dare share his story – it is his and not mine, and I am embarrassed that I did so. But I am also sure it won’t be the last time I screw up either.

As we move forward, I am sure I will make more mistakes, but I will do my best to do right by ALL of my boys – M and C, as well as TBD. They will have some similar and some different needs, and I will work to respect each of them in the ways that matter to them the most. And I hope that they will trust me enough to tell me when they feel that I could do better by them….

If you come across this post, and feel so inclined, you are welcome to point out problems with what I have said here, but I do ask that you attempt to be kind in doing so…truly think about what I have shared here and trust that I am striving to be the best mother I can be to all of my boys….


5 thoughts on “Our Journey to C – C’s Journey to Us

  1. Pingback: Blessed « Momsomniac

  2. “I was about half in love with her by the time we sat down. That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty… you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are.” ~ J. D. Salinger

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