Wednesday, January 04, 2012

When international adoption is hard

Meeting Mekdes in her orphanage for the first time


There's been some online drama discussion recently about when international adoption goes awry.  About when, for any number of reasons, the placement is deemed not to be a good fit, or a referral must be refused, or when a family decides they are ill-equipped to parent a particular child.

I must confess that there was a time when I truly believed that most everybody over the age of 10 ought to be adopting children.  This was back in what I call my "Brian-McLaren-social-justice-activist-phase".  When I'd first become jaded with evangelicalism.  (And read books by people in the emergent church movement.)  I wanted to know the point of this religion I'd practiced my entire life--not a crisis of faith but a seeking to understand faith's context and the Christian life's purpose.  (Just thinking back to that time makes me unbelievably grateful for God leading us to the Catholic Church, and for the doctrine of vocation.)

We'd returned with our sons from Ethiopia and, days later, while sitting in church singing Chris Tomlin songs, I couldn't shake the feeling that nobody but me cared about the orphan crisis.

Because, you know, I was magically able to discern precisely what people cared and prayed about, and where they gave their money, and what God wanted them to be doing. 

Ew.  That level of arrogance is embarrassing to admit!

Now though, roughly six years after making that first (of three) trips to Ethiopia, I'm beginning to see the nuances to the global orphan crisis.  I can see the challenges inherent in international adoption, and I can see that there is such a thing as a poor fit.  We'd begun our own adoption process this time around with two particular girls in mind...but had to switch gears when it was revealed that the older of the two had been sexually abusing other children at the orphanage.  Clearly not an acceptable placement for a family with five young children already in the home.  Clearly not an acceptable placement for a girl who needs time and space to heal.  Thankfully we had signed no paperwork, nor did the girls know there was a family considering them.  We were in no way committed or official at that point.  It was all very sobering.

And of course international adoption in general is not easy.  Not at all.  The beginning transitional period is hard, there are usually residual challenges, and sometimes you wonder how in the world it's all going to work out.  Yes adoption is an amazing peek into the redemptive heart of God, and something we are blessed to experience, and OH MY GOODNESS I love my children, but it is surely not easy, not always peaceful, and doesn't always (ever?) go like the books say it will.



And sometimes it feels and looks more like this than the sweet picture at the top of this post. 

So these days I find myself having more and more compassion for families who must make difficult decisions regarding adoption.

Now do allow me to say that I DON'T think a family should take any of these things lightly (most don't), or go into a country expecting a "healthy, young-as-possible-child" because they don't want any "issues."  Because that's naive.  ANY child who has:

been abandoned or relinquished
had a revolving door of caregivers
been undernourished or malnourished
lived in an institution
been born to a woman in a high-stress situation

is going to have great potential for "issues."  Doesn't matter how young they are at the time you take custody.  They may have attachment struggles.  PTSD.  Learning delays.  ADHD.  Sensory Processing Disorder.  Undiagnosed medical conditions.  Heart defects requiring open heart surgery.  Past history of sexual or physical or emotional abuse  You.just.don't.know.

And I am of the opinion that stable families ought to at least consider and pray about adopting a waiting child.  There is great need, and there is great blessing.  That being said, not everyone ought to adopt, and those who do must go in with eyes open.  Consider what YOUR particular family may be a good fit for (and how much you can be stretched--usually more than you think).  Then find where you can best meet that need. 

Once our initial adoption ideas fell through, we had to re-group and begin the discernment process all over again.  Through research and prayer we realized our happy little family had the potential to be a good fit for a child with Down syndrome, and lo and behold there was a need.  As a result, we have added two beautiful daughters to our family (both born with Trisomy 21). 

One of them, unable to do much at all with her legs three months ago, is now attempting to climb from her highchair onto our kitchen table.  The other, who struggles with balance and walking, made her own bed and dressed herself for the first time this morning.  Precious victories for our girls.

When I read about families who change their minds or have to back out or who end up actually disrupting an adoption, I am reminded that adoption and parenting and poverty are a messy business.  When I'm tempted to judge, I think back to 2006 and about the Chris Tomlin songs and how I thought I had a lot of things figured out.  I think about how our own process in 2010 changed course in the blink of an eye due to things not in our control.  And I'm reminded that I can't know your heart, or your limits, or what God has for you when it comes to adoption.

It's a funny balancing act because I DO long to advocate for the waiting child and oh how I want people to know that they are more capable than they think, and that fear ought not hold them back.  I especially want people to know that there are so very many waiting children with Down syndrome, children who need parents, and that this just plain should.not.be.

But I have a lot of friends who are raising really difficult children.  And I have a lot of friends who have disrupted their adoptions.  The truth is that where there is adoption, there was first loss.  And where there is loss, there is pain.  Brokenness.  Unpredictability.  Don't go into adoption looking for a quaint Norman Rockwell painting.  Because it's more like an abstract work-in-progress.  Don't expect your friends with adopted children to look like the Brady Bunch.  Chances are, they've been through some challenges and will continue to need support and acceptance.  Sometimes those friends will need to regroup or make a decision that doesn't make sense to you.  Seek to understand.

In the interest of full disclosure, all of our adopted children have been overall sweet, loving, and willing to attach.  From day one.  We have had a relatively easy go with adoption.  Our family is happy and everybody works well together.  But I admit that in spite of all that, it's still been hard at times.  Not necessarily because of my children, but because of my own need for control and order, and my impatience.  I unfortunately get frustrated when a child refuses to use the toilet, takes a long time to grasp what I see as a simple concept. 




Suffice it to say, being a mama is humbling.  And having children from the hard places will profoundly change your life.  I am incredibly blessed to have each of my four Ethiopian children, and am ever so glad that in God's grace He led our family to adopt them.  And all I can say in response to the online brouhaha is that I find myself increasingly humbled and grateful that He continues to give us the strength and faith and hope and love for this sometimes-difficult journey.

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