Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A little more about the situation

One of the best parts about my job is connecting and educating folks who are coming into this adoption world completely unsure about the process. I truly love talking with people who come to me with a clean slate, ready to take all this knowledge in! This is why I’m in the process of developing the international consulting program with Christian Adoption Consultants. There is a need for people to learn about what’s out there, and it needs to be with someone as unbiased as possible and able to share the information. And I hope that person is me because I’ve been doing it in a way less organized and formal way for years! Let’s all keep a good thought.

As I started to think about some of the themes I’m hearing over and over again from people, I realized they were very similar statements that mostly revolved around this sentiment, “We want to adopt so we can give a child in need a loving home and good family. We know there are millions of orphans out there and we want to help.” That’s a very good place to start. So we keep talking and uncovering and find out that the wait for a healthy child from China is 7 years (today, getting longer every day), that you can only adopt a single child from Colombia who is 8 years old or older, and that most of the countries you talked about adopting from when you were in your 20’s are, in fact, closed today. So the conversation continues, frustration and deflation ensues, and we then learn that perhaps you thought there was an orphan problem in this world and that you wanted to help a child and build your family (win/win in your head, right?) but now that we’re talking here you start to think that maybe there isn’t an orphan problem. But then you hear me say that there is an orphan problem. There is an orphan problem. But if there really is an orphan problem then why are most options closed and those that are open are incredibly difficult? Ah, thus is the crux of the problem.

The problem isn’t that there are not enough children out there without parents or people able to adequately care for them. The problem is there are not enough paperwork ready children who are available for international adoption. And the problem is that those countries who are closed for adoption are mostly closed due to another battle or negative sentiment with the United States, very little of it having to do with the actual orphaned child.

This weekend I was talking with a male friend of mine and he told me that word around the gay community is that Russia is closed for adoption because Putin is against gay marriage and has stated that he will not allow adoptions from any country that recognizes gay marriage. Yet, word around the adoption community is that Russia is closed because that woman sent her son back to Russia with a note on his backpack in 2011 and then that other woman in Montana wouldn’t allow the Russian officials to barge into her house (where many attachment disordered children reside) when they made an impromptu visit in 2012. Yet word around the political community is that the country closure is due in large part to President Obama signing a law in December 2012, The Maginitsky Act, which imposes some travel and financial restrictions on those abusing human rights in Russia. Hummm. That’s a real head scratcher isn’t it? What’s really the truth? I’m voting for the latter, but at any rate, none of the reasons really say anything like, Russia is closed for adoption because they have a shortage of children available for adoption because they are doing a ton of domestic adoptions and have some great resources in place for children with Down’s Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  

So that’s what we’re dealing with here, politics and a good old chest-thumping match. Whose in the numero uno spot for world superpower right now? And might that country be quickly rising to that spot because they rock in manufacturing and quick exports? They sure are! And I’ll tell you one thing, they sure don’t want their biggest export to be their children. So they are controlling that number, preparing fewer and fewer healthy children for adoption every month and making people wait an excruciating amount of time to welcome their precious bundle of joy into their lives.

But we’re talking about children here, not an under-mount, stainless steel sink from Kohler.

I’m really not trying to all gloom and doom today, I’m just trying to be factual and help give the other side of this coin to those of you who haven’t thought about things this way. There are quite a few positives that have come out of this too, honestly. When international adoptions seem bleak, that can only be positive for domestic adoption. There are people who perhaps where adopting internationally because they were terrified of being chosen by birth parents and having them change their mind before the adoption was finalized, who now are giving domestic adoption a second glance. Perhaps there are people who are more aware of this issue and are sponsoring a child or a family in an impoverished country because international adoption isn’t an option in that country. Perhaps there are more people who are opening their home to foster children while they continue to wait their 3 years for their Ethiopia adoption to come to fruition. Perhaps there are other couples who were able to save up more money, so as to finance less, as they continue to hope and pray that Vietnam opens again soon and they will be super financially stable by the time the wee one comes to them. And perhaps there are others (let’s call them Brian and Nikki Pauls for illustrative purposes) who may be adopting a visually impaired 10-year-old from China who might not have considered that if healthy child adoptions in China, or Vietnam, or Timbuktu were booming.

So it’s really all good, the Lord is just blessing us in other ways and encouraging us to think about other ways to be blessed and bless others.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's the name game

Now that we’re well into the throws of this adoption, we’ve been getting used to some questions coming up over and over again. This is super helpful as it’s all fodder for blogs, so keep the great questions coming! But the questions we’ve been getting a lot revolves around names and naming adopted children. And it seemed like a good topic to broach today as we welcome more and more older children into our families.

For years, convention wisdom stated that you are not doing your internationally adopted child any favors by keeping their original name. It was hard to say, hard to spell, and let’s face it, most of the time completely arbitrary based on the name of the orphanage director or season of the year the child came into care. So respect for their culture or not, we basically viewed it as a good thing to change their name and give them a name that truly meant something to you. And then we encouraged you to keep part of their original name as their middle name. Thus the great Mia Elizabeth Zhong Smith years emerged. And that’s still all well and fine, but what about when you adopt a child who already knows and has a connection with her name? What to do? And what to do when that name is hard to say (for example, take Yiyi, that nobody knows if it’s yee-yee or yiah-yiah or yih-yih)? So then you have a conflict…keep true to their culture or add yet one more thing onto their plate that makes them different?

I think the answer to this question is to keep it flexible and see how it goes. Like anything else, there is no certain right or wrong answer. And like everyone else, your child will have a very special personality who makes him who he is. And you won’t know this until you have him. So why not just roll and see how it goes? I know this will kill some of you crafty moms out there who want to have their girl’s bedroom all ready with hand painted letters, embellished to the hilt, and up on the wall, as if to say “Welcome, Isabelle! I hope you like pink and zebra prints (because its done now and you sure better!)” Maybe Isabelle isn’t really an Isabelle at all. Maybe she’s Bella, or Lexi, or Grace, or Hannah, or yes, even Yiyi. And if you’ve committed yourself, and those around you, to Isabelle, there’s no going back. So try to keep it loose and do yourself a favor and just call her Mahalet until you’ve decided on what you are going to stick with. Because trust me, it’s a lot easier for people to go from Mahalet to Lucy, rather than the other way around.

This being said, I have a ton of kids on my caseload who truly want to have English names. I think this is part of their mental process of accepting their adoption and their new life in their new family. Like a new chapter starts with a new number, so their new chapter starts with a new name. I think it can be a really healthy thing for some. One family I’m acquainted with was able to connect with their 13-year-old as they were preparing to adopt her from China. In some of their correspondence, she asked what her name was going to be. They sent her a list of names they had been talking about and allowed her to choose. She is so very proud of her name and truly embodies the spirit of her sweet and unique spelling of her name. Another family of mine had selected a name for their child, but chose to be flexible and see what she wanted after the adoption. One of her first questions, five minutes after they met her in China (through the translator was) “what’s my new name?”  They told her, she decided that was sufficiently cute and started using it immediately. Fast forward to this last weekend when I’m at a post adoption visit for a family who has been home one year with their child. So I ask the child, “when people ask you what your name is, what do you say?” And he replied, first and last name, his original Chinese name. And yet others garner notoriety from their kids’ not wanting to change their names. Last summer, my dear friends enjoyed an all expenses paid night out to the T-Bones, food, drinks, tickets and all, thanks to sports radio 610, when they won an interesting name contest for their son’s name. When his dad called in and got on the radio he said, “He goes by Maja, but his whole name is Noble Majachasa*.” Clearly that was a winner! They had selected the family name, Noble, before they met him and then decided to keep his whole original Ethiopian name as his middle name, but continued to call him Maja. After he had been home awhile, he had figured out that some of his Ethiopian friends had English names, so he asked his parents if he had one too. They told him he did, and that he could keep being Maja if he wanted to (because by this point, this child was a Maja), but that his name was Noble. He wrinkled his nose, patted his chest and said “I’m Maja”. Oh buddy, yes, yes you are, and nobody can pull that name off better than you can!        

It just goes to show that every child is different and you can’t predict how each child is going to identify with his or her name. Because it’s really about more than the name, isn’t it? It’s about identity and them trying to figure out their place in this crazy world. And aren’t we all?  

*Chill out people, I got a release from my friends to use their son’s real name. I have some professionalism, wrapped in me somewhere, underneath those rolled up jeans and no makeup that I sport with you most of the time.            

Thursday, July 18, 2013

It's a bit of a Debbie Downer

I’ve been around for awhile in this world of adoption. I started working in international adoption in August 2004, not really knowing a lot more than what I had researched a bit for papers in graduate school. But somehow I knew this would be it. This would be what I would devote my life to, no matter what. Easier said than done. 2004 was the year for international adoption. The US Department of State reports that in 2004, the year I devoted my life to international adoption, the good people of the United States adopted 22,991 children from other countries into their homes and families. Since then, international adoption only has seemingly become more and more commonplace and popular, (for lack of a better term.) Since then, we’ve had more and more families adopting children internationally without fertility problems. Since then, we’ve had more and more dad’s going in for vasectomy’s and mom’s going in to get their tubes tied, only with the intention of continuing to build their families. Since then, we’ve had the couple struggling with infertility decide that maybe they do want to adopt a special needs five-year-old. Since then, we’ve had less people run into a transracial adoptive family at the mall and not wonder if the mom was really the babysitter. Since then, cities like Liberty, Missouri have become the epicenter for acceptance and support in adoption, hosting adoptive family support groups at megachurches, further normalizing what we’re doing. 2004 was it, the boom year. I look back on it with nostalgia and I can still call up those same feelings of excitement.  And that year my friends, was the beginning of the end.  

It’s such a paradox really. The boom year for international adoption, the year that we opened doors that had never before been opened, that was also the year that began the steady, and then more drastic decline in international adoption numbers.  According to the US Department of State, 2005 brought 22,734 children to the United States from abroad (not too bad), and then 20,680 in 2006, 12,744 in 2009, and 8,668 last year. Those are the numbers. I wish I was being all dramatic about it to make it seem worse, but I can’t. Just printing those numbers, straight from the government, are dramatic enough. 2004 = 22,991 children. 2012 = 8,668 children.

*Chart courtesy of Heather Williams - the graphic genius!

And if for one second you think that the economic crisis of 2008, the push for domestic adoption in some of these countries, the desire to keep one gender or the other for future marriage candidates to balance out some whack gender gap (I think we all know what I’m talking about here) or foreign governments abilities to care better for their own children have one thing to do with this drastic decline, you are sorely mistaken.   

The byline here in this Huffington Post article talks about the Hague Convention aiming to curb unsavory and corrupt international adoption processes which has resulted in falling numbers of children being adopted internationally. No matter what, (Susan Jacobs fan or not), I don’t think anyone’s goal was to implement the Hague and then have the fallout that we have had. I agree that Guatemala and Vietnam needed to be rehabbed. That’s a total understatement. So they signed onto the Hague fiesta and look at them now…still closed to the US. I pray that for every 1 US family who planned to adopt from Vietnam or Guatemala, there are 5 German or Australian families actually doing it today. I don’t even want to even think about what those orphanages would look like right now if not.

So we’ve got the Hague, its not going as we all thought it would (again, no matter what you think about it), and then we’ve got all the other countries who are not participating in the Hague (which is fine) and clearly corruption is happening there too. Oh, it’s not as overt as Guatemala circa 2001, but a few dollars here and there to move a child from an orphanage to a transition home, a request for a few more humanitarian aid dollars, requests for cash gifts to be given to the in-country staff, and no Hague to stop this, so its all good. And we are all going through the same old embassy interviews, answering the questions with the facts we have, praying that we will be able to tell our 8 or 12 or 14 or 30-year-old someday that we are 100% certain he/she was a true orphan and there were absolutely no options for that child to stay in his/her native country with an extended family member or kind neighbor.   

Then, I’ve got my sweet, sweet northland family who, back in the day, didn’t feel called to a domestic adoption because they didn’t feel they could deal with the heartache of the “what if?” in a failed adoption. So they planned to adopt from Russia. Adoption agency #1 closed their program down just before their dossier was submitted because they saw the writing on the wall. Adoption agency #2 took their dossier and promptly closed down. Adoption agency #3 actually served them, got them a darling referral, and got them on a plane to Russia on December 26, 2012. They met their little guy on December 27, fell in love, and left on January 3, 2013 knowing that they probably would never come back for this little man. They rejoiced for him the other day when they found out that little Sergei will be speaking Spanish rather than English, but are glad that he will have a forever family. Sweet people, loving people, blessed by a cutie biological son, still want to adopt. And what to do? They can’t imagine a life without adopted children but to say they are a little gun shy to jump back on that horse is an understatement. (needless to say, we’re revisiting our domestic adoption talks!)

My, my lands, there are so many layers to this. Hague convention practices preventing us from adopting in the droves we used to, corruption in all countries, hanging onto certain kiddos because they are going to “need” them, failed adoptions, countries closing, never to reopen…I could go on, couldn’t I? So it’s not easy, I think we all know that by now.

And there are those of us who say pish-posh to this factual information, throw caution to the wind, buy a can of paint, and get to working on our kiddos bedroom, holding our breaths until we’re wheels down and hoping we can add just one more to the 2014 US Department of State statistics. And, if all that happens, we have only just made it to the tip of the iceberg.

Real. True. Commitment. Unwavering. Faith.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Life and Work and Grief and Loss

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief and loss this week. A lot. There has been a lot in my world this week to make me realize how common a theme grief and loss is. And I’m not just talking about grief and loss in adoption (don’t worry, we’ll get there) but realizing that grief and loss is everywhere can only help us 1) identify it in our own lives, 2) find the signs to identify it in our adopted children’s lives, and 3) therefore help our adopted children to identify it in their own lives so they can work through it when we’re not there.

For me, it started late last week when my mom was informed that she lost her job. Anyone who knows Norma knows that hard work is her middle name. For those of you who don't know her, everyone, meet Norma Hardwork DeSimone. 

Norma has devoted 17 years, countless Saturdays, Sundays, and 60+ hour work weeks to her employer. And always with a smile, Christmas gifts for the 40 people who reported to her, and willingness to step in whenever necessary. And, as is common in the corporate world, she was thanked for that last Wednesday with a seemingly heartfelt thank you, a week to pack her junk, and an information packet about how to apply for unemployment. Today is her last day. And as of 4 p.m., Norma was still running around like a crazy woman, assigning work, answering emails and monitoring the phone queue. But in the middle of it, she did find time to commandeer a shred bin and tried to start going through her files and piles of paperwork. Files and piles that she tenderly cultivated, for 17 years, thoughtfully keeping everything important and always knowing just where everything was. And she realized yesterday that she could just dump them all in that shred bin and it really didn’t matter anymore. Because by Monday at 7:30 a.m., her cubicle will be occupied by someone else, her name will be off the switchboard, and her email address deleted from Outlook. And she will begin a new chapter of her life that quite frankly we all know will make her happier and more fulfilled than she has felt for the past 17 years, but don’t tell her that right now because she doesn’t want to hear it. 

I know this to be true, because this happened to me in 2008. Horrible day = one of the best things that ever happened to me. But even though these past five years have been better than I could have ever imagined and the scope of my work is touching so many more than it would have if my career would have stayed status quo, I have been dealing with some severe grief and loss issues this week. Really? Because my mom lost her job and I feel super fulfilled in work, somehow I’ve been holding back the tears this week because of something that happened five years ago that has made things better for me? That’s messed up when you break it down like that. Except its not. Its human nature.

Its called grief and loss.

So something that happened in my past (despite the fact that I’m better for it) has cropped up for me and slapped me in the face because something else has happened to someone else. These are the kinds of things we have to get better about identifying in our adopted children and hopefully teaching them to identify within their own minds and hearts as they get older.

Simply stated, grief and loss is a lifelong thing we all have to deal with. But for an adopted person, it’s so much more. I don’t care if you bring this child home from the hospital and you have the most open relationship with the birth mom and she comes to dinner every Tuesday night and never misses an event in your child’s life. This child will still have to deal with grief and loss just like a child adopted from China at the age of 10 will. It’s no more or less likely to happen in each of these children. So that’s why we have to be aware of these issues and cut our kids some slack when they start to struggle at various points in their lives. There are the obvious triggers: baby showers, family tree projects, stupid comments from people. But then theres the ones that are not so obvious. 

An adult adoptee told me once about the struggle she had in preparing for building her family. She was in her late 20’s and happily married and the obvious choice was for she and her husband to have a biological child. Much to her surprise, grief and loss (and a lot of guilt) slapped her hard in the face when the sweet girl recalled that if her parents never adopted her, her life would have been drastically different. And then she felt like it was her duty to pay it forward, so to speak, and to adopt rather than have a biological child. But she didn’t really want to adopt. In fact, she really wanted to have a biological child and for the first time in her life, have a blood connection to another human being known to her. But she struggled with this and was quite surprised that this cropped up 28 years into her pretty happy and good life. She worked through it and she has a couple of beautiful, and biological children today. And now she’s almost 40 and I’m certain this isn’t the last of this grief and loss nonsense she deals with.    

Let’s start to talk with and prepare our adopted children for these things to come up. It’s only going to help them. I know it’s not going to be pleasant. Honestly, I’m not that jazzed about it. It’s a lot easier for me to dish it out to you all than think about how I’m going to implement this in my family with my own child. Our girl seems pretty ok right now. She appears to be in a safe place, in a good foster home where she’s been for the past 5 years, and right now, she might not know that there are even options to possibly help improve her vision. But we’re going to head over there, pull her out of that, all under the auspices that we’re going to make it “better” for her. You tell me thats not going to yield a lifetime of grief and loss issues.    

Then, to further illustrate this point, a good friend of mine posted an amazing blog entry about grief and loss in her own child. And it was good. Really good. I hope you’ll read it. And her kiddo is going to be ok, and Norma is going to be ok, and Yiyi is probably going to be ok, but its sure going to help if we’re all more aware.