The writer/adoptive mother, Elizabeth Foy Larsen, and her family--who ups and visits Guatemala so that their daughter can visit her natural mother--clearly has the wherewithal to prevent at least that single adoption. The amount of money spent merely getting everyone down there and in a decent hotel--adoptive mother, adoptive father, their two biological children, the two adoptive grandmothers--(unless they used frequent flyer miles, of course) would have undoubtedly lifted the natural mother from the crushing poverty that kept her powerless to keep her daughter. The girl's birth mother, after all, "scrambles to find jobs that pay a living wage" while her replacement family lives in a four-bedroom with remodeled bathrooms. I'm guessing but there's probably lots of marble there.
The piece reiterates the feel-good baloney that unfortunately has made international adoption seem like a good thing for people who just want to share the wealth by raising a child from a poor country with poor parents. Foy Larsen and her ilk are the problem because they create the market that fuels the billion-dollar adoption industry. And when there is a market--even for humans--people will find a way to feed it.
ASSUMPTION #1: ADOPTION IS SO MUCH EASIER IN AMERICA
While Foy Larsen says they wanted to give their daughter real answers to her questions about adoption and "not rely on a fable made up by Walter and me about a woman who lived far away and loved her daughter so much that she wanted her to have a better life" what else is the reader to take from the story except that fable? The only difference is that now that story has a real face and a true story of crushing poverty, as well as the shame of an unintended pregnancy, even in 2006 in Latin America.
Foy Larsen talks about how much easier adoption is for mothers in this country because today in almost all adoptions the unfortunate mother-to-be has the opportunity to meet-and-greet the people who hope to claim her baby. While a truly "open" adoption is better for the natural mother, today we know that a great many such adoptions are only marginally open, in that the mother does not know who the adoptive parents are in real life, or how to contact them directly. Furthermore, anecdotal information indicates that a great many--very likely the majority--of "open" adoptions close within the first few years. Adoptive parents frequently are not asked to disclose their real identities and addresses, and never do; or move away, no forwarding address or phone number. The Internet is rife with stories of heart-broken birth mothers who were lied to, and have no idea where their children are.
ASSUMPTION #2: OPEN ADOPTION IS BETTER FOR ALL
Another part of the equation is whether open adoptions are a true boon for the adopted. We are just beginning to hear from adoptees on the matter of open versus closed adoption, and it is not at all clear that an open adoption is any easier or psychologically healthier than the old system of closed adoption. We now hear stories of the difficulties of not growing up with siblings--full or half--and always being aware that you might not have grown in the "wrong" tummy, but instead might be living in the "wrong" family.
ASSUMPTION #3: BIRTH MOTHERS HAVE A TERRIFIC SUPPORT SYSTEM
Foy Larsen also implies that today there is a great support system for first mothers in the U.S. with "ethical domestic adoptions [having] social workers, psychologists and studies...to help guide birth parents and adoptive parents," but people involved in international adoption are on their own. These "ethical" domestic adoptions appear to be the exception rather than the rule. The majority of domestic adoptions are independent, that is handled by attorneys or unlicensed "facilitators" and these practitioners provide zero support. In terms of "support" for birth parents, perhaps Foy Larsen means the retreats and meetings held by groups such as Origins-USA, Concerned United Birthparents, American Adoption Congress, and some adoption agencies. Go to one, and Foy Larsen would find find women who relinquished not only a year ago, but ten, twenty, thirty years ago, sitting around crying into their hankies. Yes, we first mothers do move on from that horrible first few months after relinquishment, but the wound endures and can be torn open by the smallest of incidents.
To her credit, Foy Larsen is grappling with the realities of adoption in ways that a great many adoptive parents ignore because they can. She admits that even sharing a photograph of the girl with her natural mother is difficult, as it takes her weeks to send a photograph to the other mother, even though doing so only requires her to drag an image into an email. She says that meeting the girl's mother gave her a "renewed" love for the woman, and that it will break her heart if the girl does not feel the same way. Pretty words, I thought. What if the girl in question--your shared daughter--were to ask you to let her spend the summer with her natural mother, grandmother, and her biological brother? In Guatemala? Would your ability to stretch your heart "beyond any boundaries" let her do that? Would the adoptive grandmothers who got in on this visit also willingly go along? I wonder. Given past experience, I doubt it.
ASSUMPTION #4 ADOPTIVE GRANDPARENTS CAME ALONG FOR LOVE
Foy Larsen writes that both adoptive grandmothers jumped at the opportunity to be included on the trip to Guatemala; while the writer talks about their only wanting to "know the entirety of what is precious to them," those words rang false and hollow. Call me cynical, but I suspect their motives were much more layered: a chance to get a look at the girl's poor mother, the way they would inspect a side of beef, and undoubtedly conclude that their son and daughter are the better parents, isn't the little girl lucky? Plus, they had a reason for a vacation in a foreign country with a warm climate; and would end up with a most interesting story to tell at their weekday bridge club or around the pool at their condo.
And the girl's real grandmother? She is so broken up by the fact that her granddaughter has been adopted away from her family that she does not even attend the meeting. She cannot bear it. The writer does understand "that when it comes to adoption, grief can ripple through generations," an insight that few, very few, adoptive parents fathom or even think about.
The piece ends so very sadly, and gives lie to the title--Untying a birth mother's hands? How and from what? Now this mother is not going to grieve because she knows her daughter is loved and being raised by parents who are sensitive souls and have remodeled bathrooms? The woman doesn't even feel she has the right to walk down the street holding her daughter's hand. She wants to ask the six-year-old to forgive her for not being brave enough to keep her.
Perhaps adoptive parents and the editor of Modern Love found this a touching, sensitive story. In reality, it is a sweetly written paean to the tender feelings of the author and her family while ignoring the larger issue it celebrates: the "right" of wealthier people to take the children of the poor. This was not a child in an institution, or a waif on a street corner in danger of being sold into prostitution one day. International adoptions such as this one ought not to happen.--lorraine
From the Times: Untying a Birth Mother’s Hands
For more on the dark side of international adoption from FMF and what kind of business it is:
Guatemalan Army Stole Kids for Adoption
Kidnapped in Guatemala, 'adopted' in America
UN finds irregularities in Guatemalan adoptions--no surprise there
Abuse in International Adoption, Part 2 with new commentary
Doubly Damned by Adoption turns Victim into a Fighter
Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother (left) is what it says. I found parts of it irritating, not surprisingly, but it does cover the territory without ducking. The jacket design--two pears between an apple--does show that genetics matter. The paperback has pages of good reviews from birth mothers, adoption workers and of course adoptive parents. Click on image to go to Amazon.
And to explain the story of international adoption to a child, Families Are Different written and illustrated by Nina Pelligrini (below) is apparently much better than the newer one on the same subject, You're Not My Real Mother! by Molly Friedrich, which blithely skims over the answer of the question why a child looks different than he does. I'm going on what other folks said, haven't actually read either one.