' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: The Dark Side of Overseas Adoption

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Dark Side of Overseas Adoption

Talk about birth mothers and adoptees not being able to get away from media adoptamania...on the way to getting a haircut on Thursday I heard part of Fresh Air on NPR, but in this case I was glad to hear what I did. Terry Gross was interviewing journalist Scott Carney, who had written a piece about a particular child who was kidnapped in India and sold into adoption in America. It's in the current Mother Jones.

Carney apparently located the parents of one child--Indian name, Subash--being raised in the Midwest and knocked on the family's door with photos, police and agency documents, and the story. Though the adoptive parents reluctantly listened, they are unwilling to open up the adoption to the boy's natural parents. The boy's mother, Sivagama, and father, Nageshwar Rao, do not want to uproot the child who has no memory of his native tongue or India itself. They realize is it probably too late for him to return to them. Carney says of the boy's (birth) mother:
After Subash disappeared [in 1999], Sivagama fell into a deep depression. Ten years later, she's still fragile, her eyes ringed by heavy dark circles. At the mention of her son's name, she breaks into tears, dabbing at the corners of her eyes with her sari.

"Why should we pay like this," she pleads, "for what criminals started?"

Indeed. They only want their son to know that he was not abandoned and to have some contact with him. Even though the connection was made many years later, the boy's father picked him out of a photo lineup immediately. But the American adopters--yes, in this case I am going to use that word even if some find it offensive--refuse. Nor will they submit to a DNA test. They will not tell Subash what is going on. He does not know that on the other side of the world from Wisconsin--I'm guessing here but the adoption agency in this country was located in Portage, Wisconsin--there are two other people who love him and with whom he is intimately connected by blood. They are not genetic strangers; they are his natural mother and father.

Subash's adopters--solid, Midwestern folk--are abominable people. They are the kind of adopters who make me crazy, who only care about getting a baby or a toddler at all costs. They are the kind of people who do not want to adopt children languishing here in the United States because they are too old or not cute enough, or have some noticeable problem. They want fresh blood. Cute toddlers. Kids without "issues."

I am a birth mother who relinquished a child to adoption and I hate these people who go overseas and take possession of children who were kidnapped off the streets in India, Guatemala, China, Nepal, wherever. In their ignorance, they are just as criminal as the person who actually steals the child. If you buy an art work on the international market, honest people demand a clear provenance of how the painting came to be available; those who buy without such documentation can have the art work reclaimed without compensation. Yet one can purchase a child, and that is that. Subash's kidnapper has admitted to nabbing the infant when he was left unattended for a few moments very close to his home, and selling him for 10,000 rupees ($236) to an orphanage that paid cash.

The Hague Convention that was so touted at the recent conference on international adoption at NYU, does nearly nothing to stop this type of child trafficking, Carney writes:

The Hague Convention on intercountry adoption, which addresses this type of criminal exploitation, was ratified by 50 countries—the United States signed on in 2007—but the pact is toothless, according to David Smolin, a law professor at Alabama's Samford University who has adopted two children from India. "The Hague itself has the weakness of relying on [the] sending countries to ensure that the child was properly relinquished," Smolin told me via email. "Receiving countries cannot afford to simply take the sending country's word."

Smolin is a hero to me. He is an adoptive father of two sisters from India who discovered that his children were placed in orphanages in Andhra Pradesh by their birth mother to receive an education—not to be sold into adoption. According to the story in Mother Jones, their illiterate mother was tricked into signing surrender papers and was later turned away when she tried to get the girls back. The girls, 9 and 11 at the time, had been coached to say their father was dead and their mother had given them up. After Smolin learned the truth from the girls once they learned English, he tracked down their mother, but six years had passed. The girls could not speak their native tongue anymore, and I believe he said they are now college students in America. (Smolin was also interviewed in the same segment on Fresh Air. I've tried to find it at the NPR site so we could link to it here, but have been unable. Help, please. If anyone can find it--it was last Thursday's program (3/12/09), please post the link below and I'll put it here.)

Smolin described the emotional meeting between the girls and their birth mother full of compassion for her, while Terry Gross, the interviewer, focused almost entirely the feelings of the adoptive parents. To her, the birth mother barely mattered. She apparently does not have the heart to comprehend that adoptive parents like the ones Carney wrote about are no better than kidnappers here in America who steal children because they can. Yet we give them no sympathy.

Smolin is now one of the nation's leading advocates of adoption reform. He says the Hague Convention is deeply flawed because it does not cap the fees paid by rich countries for children. In this case, ignorance is not enough of an excuse. Carney writes:

"If you don't sharply limit the money, all of the other regulations are doomed to failure," Smolin says.

Police, lawyers, and adoption advocates in India echo this sentiment. "If you didn't have to pay for a child, then this would all disappear," says Deputy Superintendent S. Shankar, the lead investigator in Subash's case (who requested that his full name not appear in print).

Yes, there are some children who need families and homes, but the demand has pushed the system way beyond need, since so much money changes hands, corruption and dealing in human trafficking--which is what this is--will not only continue, it will flourish.

As a final note, the Midwestern adopters above have two other children from India, most likely from the same agency in Portage, Wisconsin. The entire piece is worth your time, and you will also find at the site a follow-up interview with Carney about the latest developments, ie, more stone-walling from the adopters. There's also a place for comments, please add your own.


The reason for a possible name change of FirstMotherForum has to do with letting our views be heard by people fresh to the concept of reunion and adoption reform. They know the word: birth mother. First mother may be more politically correct, but it's not what the world uses. Google birth mother (with our without the space between birth and mother, and you'll find lots of ads for adoption agencies looking to buy "birth mother" product. Ya know, a baby.

One more note, apparently one of the people on the committee in South Dakota who received our letter was the prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Nygaard. Email him your thanks at



  1. A sad twist on international adoption. The State of Oregon (and presumably other states) sends children who parents' rights have been terminated out of the country to live with relatives if there are no in-country relatives able to care for them. In most cases, the receiving country is Mexico. Sunday and Monday, the Portland "Oregonian" had articles about a four year old girl sent to Mexico in 2004 who was severely abused and then murdered by her Mexican aunt and uncle. The girl's teachers reported the abuse to the Mexican authorities who told Oregon officials everything was going well. The Oregon officials did not do their own follow-up.

    I have always supported family preservation even if it meant sending children to another country. Now I'm not so sure. I am aware that children placed in foster or adoptive homes in-state can be abused as well. The state does, however, have a greater ability to monitor children in-state.

    I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I think it comes down to the fact that governments, State of Oregon, Indian, Chinese, whatever need to do much more to keep children with their original families.

  2. Lorraine, I am 100% with you on this one (Don't faint from shock:-)
    "Adopters" perfectly well fits those people, as does "selfish shitheads".This is an important story that shows the worst kind of corruption engendered by greed in adoption, greed for money and greed for children. I had seen the Mother Jones article earlier, but thanks for bringing this to everyone's attention.

  3. :-)Back at you Lorraine!

    As to the name change thing, you wrote:"The reason for a possible name change of FirstMotherForum has to do with letting our views be heard by people fresh to the concept of reunion and adoption reform. They know the word: birth mother. First mother may be more politically correct, but it's not what the world uses. "

    Amen!! That is exactly why I use the word birthmother, and no other reason. I don't love the word or identify with it more than any other term for us, but birthmother is the current usage most easily understood by the most people and best word to use when dealing with the rest of the world. Among ourselves, the other terms are known, but not to the general public."Natural Mother" is more graceful but it sounds archaic now.

    The bottom line: communication is more important than being politically correct and only getting to preach to the choir.

  4. But I do think it makes a difference--subtle but real--to make the word TWO. We don't write adoptivemother the way we write grandmother...so keeping MOTHER as a stand alone word retains for us some shard of identity as a mother, plain and simple. Not just a birthmother.

  5. "They will not tell Subash what is going on. He does not know that on the other side of the world from Wisconsin. . .there are two other people who love him and with whom he is intimately connected by blood. They are not genetic strangers; they are his natural mother and father."

    Actually, I'm thinking that the boy will get wind of this himself. How is anyone going to stop him? He must know something's afoot. They have Internet in Wisconsin.

    It was a shame how the a-parents agreed to listen initially and then shut down. I would definitely want to know. Some a-parents of children adopted internationally are now seeking. And here this opportunity just slipped through their hands. Yuck.

  6. I don't know how these people can live with themselves, knowing what they know and doing what they're doing.
    ' "To him, India does not exist," she says.'
    And they intend to try and keep it that way.
    It is quite wicked.

    I don't care for the term birth mother either, in whatever form. Though I do prefer it when the two words are kept separate.
    It's like "The cheese stands alone" ;-)
    The composite doesn't do that.

    Anyway, I think it's great that the forum has been re-named to include it.
    Smart realistic move, IMO.

  7. Osolomama said "Actually, I'm thinking that the boy will get wind of this himself."

    Quite right. I'm sure he will, poor kid.
    Not only are the adopters appalling people.
    They have to be stupid too.

    Hard to believe they "know not what they do".

  8. But what is the boy going to google? He doesn't know his new name, that he was not abandoned ...you get the drift. there is nothing for him to look up, but if he does find out someday...look for a very angry adoptee.

  9. I dunno, Lorraine. I really think the odds are good that he'll find out sooner or later. Either by accident himself, just googling around - or a friend will see something and alert him to it, not being sure it's him. And then he'll start to figure things out.

    I'm sure it 'will out' eventually. I just feel it.
    I hope they change their minds and help him reunite with his first family before that happens.

  10. I'm fine with birth mother as two words, just used to writing it the other way after years and years:-)Two words works as well, and really is more commonly used I think.

  11. Just a thought here, about adding b
    mother, I am sorry I can't actually say it.

    why not put first mother as the first name, and b mother as second, name after all WE were mothers, first or first mothers, before we were b mothers.

    According to the agencies we were b mothers, before we even gave birth!

  12. The previous post is an example of the ridiculous mythology that has risen around the innocuous term "birth mother". That someone feels they cannot even write the word is just bizarre and sad.

    YTS, it is not a word that cost you your child or caused your pain or mine. It would be just as wrong to call a pregnant mother a "first mother" or any other term for a mother who has surrendered a child, because she has not surrendered and until she does is just a mother or expectant mother.But once a mother has surrendered, it is just one more term for us, generally a neutral one and the time it came into vogue in the 70s considered nicer than "biological mother."

    When I surrendered in 68 I was called a "natural mother, that was the word on all the legal papers and agency discussion. "Birth Mother" had not come into any common usage then. Did the nicer word make for nicer treatment, or mean I did not lose my child? NO!

    In fact the number of adoptions has (thankfully) declined greatly in the years since the term "Birth Mother" became more common. This is not to imply that there is any causative link either way; it is just one more term, no more wonderful, magical, or sinister than any other.

    Anyone who does not like the word "birth mother", don't use it; there are now plenty of alternatives, but being unable to even write it is misguided to say the least.

    The word won't and can't hurt you,unless you have developed some irrational phobia, and using another word won't and can't stop the unscrupulous players in the adoption industry from plying their nefarious trade. It is not a magic word like the name of the evil wizard Voldemort (He Who Must Not Be Named) in the Harry Potter books.

    The term "birth mother" has no special power unless you choose to give it power, for reasons I cannot imagine. Hate or love it or be indifferent to it, but don't be afraid to say it or write it!

  13. "YTS, it is not a word that cost you your child or caused your pain or mine."

    Actually, it was a term created by the adoption industry as Positive Adoption Language to demean the connection between mother and child.

  14. Lately I've taken to using the term "birth" mother when talking or writing to legislators. Everyone knows what I'm talking about and I feel like I'm saying a little more.



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