Tuesday, May 08, 2007

You Know I'm Normally About Nuance

But you're not going to find nuance in this post. Maybe it's because "adoption versus institutionalization" is too often a hypothetical argument, and I'm not holding a hypothetical child. She wasn't hypothetically failing to thrive, isn't hypothetically catching up in growth. She didn't have a hypothetically bloated belly, she doesn't carry with her hypothetical grief, and she hasn't hypothetically blossomed before my hypothetical eyes.

Margie is hosting one hella challenging conversation over at ThirdMom. I encourage you to go back and read a few days' worth of posts to catch up. In just a short time, all of the old concerns of international adoption (stealing versus salvation, both equally problematic, both also ugly notions) re-emerged, and Margie managed to manage many points of view.

In her most recent post, she acknowledges a (hopefully) transient need for adoption in some current contexts. She provides the example of the origins of Korean adoption to the United States, and indicates that the need that drove those adoptions is no more. We might consider the conditions of contemporary Ethiopia similarly: temporarily adoption from Ethiopia to the United States (and to the few other nations with significant numbers of Ethiopian adoptions and to ex-pat families) can be lifesaving. But we'd need to intervene in the causes (in this case, the top immediate causes include AIDS, malaria, and high maternal mortality rates) and re-evaluate the need, something that has only been done recently with respect to Korean adoption, much on the initiative of KADs.

But then, Margie wonders, is it possible that life in an orphanage is preferrable, given that it preserves culture? "Not being an adoptee, I can't answer that," she says.

But I'll venture an answer because I'm not so sure that any identity guarantees a better answer to a question like this. Those who were adopted can and do tell us the problems with adoption, but what of their experience with an orphanage? Of real poverty?

My daughter was at the best care center in Ethiopia, of that I'm sure. My husband saw first hand that she was very well-loved, as were all the children. But it was a care center, with shift workers (a high nanny to child ratio, but even so . . .) There was never enough, and there never could be. No one at the care center or in Ethiopia suggested that they believed children, their most precious resource and greatest gifts, would fare better in an orphanage than in a transcultural family. No research suggests that mental and physical wellbeing are better managed in an orphanage than in a family (it all says otherwise, while agreeing that the healthiest placement is with a healthy family of origin). Did you know, for example, that young children who are institutionalized fall one month farther behind in growth for every two to three months in institutional care, as compared with their same age counterparts raised in families (a friend refers us to Gunnar et al in Development and Psychopathology 12)? That children institutionalized for long periods of time show brain differences on MRI (and she refers us to Chugani et al in Neuroimage 14)? But did you know that most children adopted by toddlerhood/early childhood catch up by preschool?

If the goal is preservation of culture of origin: How can we really preserve a culture in an orphanage? The parts of a culture that really matter? Even those who vehemently opposed Madonna's contested adoption of David advocated for guardianship over orphanage life. Further, my daughter's culture -- a rural minority culture, with a home language other than that of the capital and the care center, local traditions and local religion -- is being lost to her and to others, and it isn't through adoption, but through the original cause of the separation.

If the concern is the "deceit" of adoption: My daughter's records are not closed, there has been no lie, she knows and will know what is known (her language of origin isn't a written one and records are not routinely produced for birth). I feel strongly about open records, so it frustrates me that this might be the basis on which opinions about the value of an orphanage versus an adoptive family might be formed, and I want that to be very clear. And obviously, international adoption -- like domestic adoption -- needs reform. The Hague is one step toward that, but paparent and aparent attitudes toward adoption must be reformed first and foremost (if you're a longtime reader you know my committment to this, and if you're not, you may wish to review my archives).


When we look at this from the perspective of health (mental, physical, developmental) this is really a non-choice.

I'll look forward to other opinions on Margie's blog, but the only one that matters, in the end, is my daughter's. I look to blogging adoptees because they are the closest I have right now to the adult Miss I, to whom I will be accountable for all these choices, and I admire so many so greatly. But on this issue, whether life in an orphanage is preferrable to life with my family, I will defer for now to those who know life in an orphanage, and later, to Miss I.

I may not be able to give my daughter roots, but I can and will give her wings when no one else could. I don't want her to be grateful, I just want her to fly.


Third Mom said...

Abebech, thank you for the thoughtful look at this issue. Really, this is a question we should be spending a lot of time talking about, because we all have a piece of it, a perspective that comes from our experience, or in the case of adoptive parents, our children's.

I'm going to put up an open mike on this so others are encouraged to speak their minds, since the post I just put up was still a response to the previous dialog.

Thank you for adding to the dialog, we need others to do the same.

justenjoyhim/judy said...

Abebech, thank you. You say it beautifully and with an eloquence that I admire.

"I may not be able to give my daughter roots, but I can and will give her wings when no one else could. I don't want her to be grateful, I just want her to fly."

I second that -- just inserting "son" and "him." And that makes me all-a-teary-eyed. Darn you.

~ Judy

tina said...

Are ya kidding me? This isn't gracious? It's beautiful.

Swerl said...

Well said. Persuaded me!

As I said in my own response to your comment that reflected back on your response to Third Mom's post... (whew) I think it's a moral imperative to do everything possible to try to end the economic disparity between the "first" and "third" worlds, end the legacy of imperialism and end extreme poverty.

That said, I also reject that we are truly motivated by altruism. If my family didn't want to have a daughter added to it, she wouldn't be coming into our family.

Math can be a bitch. You start adding up the number of orphans, the number of AIDS cases, etc., the math gets very hopeless.

I think that we need a seachange in how Americans view the world.

Although, again, that's not the reason to adopt, acting as witnesses could be a great way to support and empower our kids while helping to really foment change.

Laurie said...

Very well-said!