I've been trying to write this post for a long time. I always start out giving facts and links, and then it doesn't seem right. Because what I really want to do is to speak from my heart, as a mother of a child who has another family half a world away. So many of us are parenting children who were relinquished for adoption due to issues rooted in poverty, and I want to talk about it. In this particular case, I am going to speak mostly of Zinashi. Elvie's adoption was medically necessary for her in the most urgent way possible. I have a clear conscience when it comes to knowing if anything could have been done to keep her in Ethiopia. The answer is no. Full stop. But for Zinashi, it's a lot more complicated.
When we searched for Zinashi's family, we had some fear of finding that the facts of her paperwork were not actually facts, and the two questions we wanted answers to were these:
1. Did her family understand what international adoption entailed when they made the decision?
2. Knowing that, was it their desire to have her adopted?
The answers came back as yes. In some cases, for some families, the answer has come back as no. We are lucky that it didn't come back as no for us. So lucky.
But that's not all there is too it, of course. The question I have asked myself over time is if there was anything that could have been done for Zinashi and her family so they could have stayed together. I've had commenters ask it here in an accusatory manner, and I think the reason it stings so much is that I've asked that question time and again as I watch my daughter struggle. What is our responsibility when a family is so destitute that international adoption seems a much better option to them than keeping their children in their families? How can we sort through the multiple issues that lead to relinquishment and make sure that children who could stay in their families with help get to do that? How do we understand culture and resources and frankly, desperation, when we ourselves have not experienced those things in the context in which the families of our children experience it?
We had no idea when we adopted Zinashi just how complicated things could get. When we traveled to adopt her, we were just starting to hear rumblings of searches revealing a different story than the official paperwork told. Indeed our documents for Zinashi's adoption contained errors, some small, one large. What we know now is that this is not the exception, but the norm in Ethiopian adoptions. Sometimes it's the agency that falsifies documents, though that was not the case for us, and sometimes it is entities earlier in the process or even the families themselves. By adopting Zinashi, we stepped into a grey area we had no idea existed. And now we live in it, figure out how to parent in it, figure out how to help her heal and trust in the middle of it.
The research we've done into her family's situation and the resources available to them lead us to believe that adoption was the best option available to get Zinashi what she needed at the time she was relinquished. We don't think it's fair that it was the best option, but it was, and we can't go back and change that. What we can do is work to make sure it's not the best - or only - option presented to families in similar situations in the future. Answers to poverty itself seem fairly straightforward to me, as we are seeing lots of success with family preservation from organizations that provide child sponsorship and micro loans. The bigger questions that I have trouble with, which were both applicable to Zinashi's situation, is how do we ensure better medical care (or medical care at all) in vulnerable areas, and how do we combat issues leading to families in crisis which are political in nature?
I think it's important that we ask these questions. For me, it is born out of love for my first child. If I could prevent the loss she experienced and the struggles she faces for another child, then I want to spend my time and energy doing that. I think there are solutions to be found. I think the first step is admitting that in some ways, we were part of the problem, that our desire to do good fueled a system that has done many things that are terrible for children and families.
Some of your will ask why we would adopt from Ethiopia again after finding out what we found out about Zinashi's story and asking these questions. I mean, honestly, how could we? The answer to that question is that we felt that, knowing what we know now, we could enter into an adoption situation better informed of what to look for. For our children's sake, we felt that a shared culture would be advantageous, and if at all possible, we wanted them to come from the same place. We believed then and still believe now that there are children in Ethiopia that have needs which cannot be met within their home country at this time. We set out to adopt a child with a true need, and we did that in adopting Elvie. We would not have pursued her adoption if there had been a way for her medical needs to be met while still residing in Ethiopia.
One more thing, which I intend to explore further in the future is this: as I've explored the question of whether or not Zinashi truly needed another family, or if something else might have been done for her and her family, I've struggled with feeling of not deserving to be her mother. I can't say enough about how detrimental that is to attachment. If you are asking similar questions, I think that you cannot do enough to guard and nurture your relationship to your child. Even when I experience guilt feelings for having what her family did not but should have been offered, I cannot let that get in the way of mothering my child. She needs me to be all in. She needs me to own motherhood, to grab on tightly to her and not let go. Part of being a good mother to her is being honest about her story, about the injustice in the gap between rich and poor, but what is going to matter more much of the time is if I can give her what she needs now, with her story as it is.
I know that many of you are living out similar stories in your own homes. I'm sure the opinions on this matter are many and varied. I welcome all comments as long as you can keep it respectful, even if you disagree with me or with each other. If something comes across as unhelpful or accusatory, then I'll delete, not because I desire to deny culpability in a very broken system, but because the rules of our house are that we use respect and don't hurt one another on purpose. I'd love to hear from you. Let's talk about this.