' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Demand for babies leads to adoption abuses

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Demand for babies leads to adoption abuses

It is the rare adoptive parent who, after adopting from overseas, can wrap her mind around the idea that "her" baby might have been stolen, sold or bartered to fill the huge demand for adoptable infants in wealthy nations, of which she herself was a part. 

There are some. They have come to First Mother Forum and we are heartened to hear from them. But most adoptive parents do not want to think that. How much more comforting it is to believe that their children were "rescued" from an awful fate of growing up in a grim and loveless state-run institution, leading to a life of crushing poverty and its twin components, illiteracy and prostitution. 

For some children, this is unquestionably true. Adoption into a loving, middle class family--even far way from the child's culture and extended family in a foreign county--is indeed a lifesaver. But because there are so many childless couples, straight and gay, who desire children to "complete their family," and because they read and hear stories of others who have done so, the notion that there is an inexhaustible supply of such needy, available children in places such as China, Nepal, Ethiopia or Guatemala--when there are not--has taken deep root in our culture. 

When we talk to our friends and acquaintances about this, they generally look upon us with disbelief. If this were so, surely the media would be covering it, surely they--smart people who read The New York Times and watch 60 Minutes--would know about this. They dismiss us as harpies who only say these things because we are mothers who gave up children. We are "only birth mothers" who can hardly be believed; because of our personal circumstances, we are biased. How much more comforting to listen to heart-warming stories of the trials of a foreign adoption that has a happy ending, and, Oh dear, that brings us back to Scott Simon, adoptive father and author of Baby We Were Meant For Each Other: In Praise of Adoption, who stated in his letter to us* that his own adoptions of two Chinese girls surely has nothing to do with wholesale corruption and child-trafficking in inter-country adoption.

If only that were true. International adoption today is largely a crap shoot. While it certainly saves many children, the overreaching demand for children available for adoption leads to horrible, incredible abuses, like the one we read about last week, and it is nearly impossible for adopting parents to know if their children come to them untainted by corruption. For example, last year a Mother Jones reporter tracked down a boy living in the Midwest who had been stolen from his parents from India. 

And last week?  In Nigeria officials arrested 32 pregnant teens and accused them of planning to sell their babies for between $160 and $190 to a doctor who was accused of offering to sell the babies to childless couples for up to $6,400. Where does the corruption begin here? With the girls? Or the demand that leads to this kind of sick situation? It begins with the demand for babies in the international market, as Mirah Riben has written so forcefully about.

The Stork Market: America's Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption IndustryThis comes on the heels of reports of kidnappings in China, and massive corruption in Nepal and Ethiopia. And all these, dear reader, are the result of feeding the huge demand for babies in wealthier nations where infertility seems rampant. (We note that much, but not all, of the infertility we hear about seems to strike career-minded, college-educated women and men who delayed conception until they were past their most fecund years.)

In the meantime, we also read reports of the abuse of adopted children. We believe this is rare, we know sometimes biological children are mistreated, but it strikes us as doubly horrible when people who were allowed to adopt from a foreign country turn around and abuse those children. 

Thus we were horrified to read that a Longview, Washington couple, Jeffrey and Rebecca Trebilcok, have been arrested on charges of starving their four daughters adopted from Haiti, along with their biological son. The children told detectives that they were punished if they tried to take food from the kitchen. They resorted to eating dog food, goat food, and dandelion leaves. All five children have been removed from the home and placed in protective custody.

Last year the adoptive mother of a Russian child placed her seven year old son on a plane back to Russia because she could not control his behavior. Other Russian children have not been so fortunate. At least 14 have been murdered by their adoptive parents. These are, of course, extreme cases. However, the lack of scrutiny over those seeking to adopt, and little follow up once the child arrives, create conditions that allow abuse.

Corruption and abuse, even if they are only a small part of international adoption, cannot be ignored just as “collateral damage” (the killing of civilians) in a war zone cannot be ignored.

FMF joins with Ethica, PEAR, and others working for more stringent regulations both in the U.S. and abroad. We applaud reformers like Jane Jeong Trenka, a Korean adoptee who grew up in Minnesota, working to change cultural norms that cause women to give up their babies. We encourage efforts to improve conditions for women in developing countries to alleviate conditions that cause mothers to surrender or abandon their children. (See Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn.)

All of these efforts, however, will not be effective unless we also reduce demand for children to adopt. But that cannot occur until people in wealthy nations of the world are forced to abandon their idealized attitudes about how they are "saving" children, saving them, that is, to "complete" their families.--Jane and Lorraine
 See also:


  1. From Nigeria, another point of view, "Wives, have you considered adoption?":

  2. I certainly hope abuse in adoptive families is rare. And compared to bio families sure, but when you see headlines all the time, you start to wonder how rare it really is in the adoption community when 2% of the population are adopted.

    Pear, Ethica, AP's that speak out, etc - all have my thanks. Talking about corruption is the first step to finding the solution. Hiding your head in the sand is NOT the solution.

  3. Beautiful entry. There is one thing that I have discovered regarding adopted/foster children.... it is not that abuse is more rare, but that it is rarely reported unless it becomes so horrendous that the authorities must take action. In fact, I found a report by the USAJ's office that stated emphatically that children of either adoption or foster care are 5 to 7 times more likely to be abused in the new homes as their original homes, even if the natural home was abusive to start with.... abuse is labeled to include death. I believe there is a link in last year or the year before entries on my blog.

  4. It seems logical that if you can't conceive a baby then you can't have a baby. But, I'm probably just saying that because I'm a "bitter adoptee." ;)

  5. And of course there are some who believe all adoption is abuse, the loss of attachment, placement with strangers etc as well as loss of country, language, family, culture as well.

  6. I appreciate your post here. I am a mother getting paperwork in order, hopeful to be adopting a child in the future. I am not infertile. But, I do believe there is a real need for families for the currently orphaned children. I am seeking to educate myself & link with groups who are fighting adoption corruption. I care about keeping first families together & send money through solid organizations to sponsor children & families.
    But, there are true orphans. They need a family.
    When you talk about reducing the demand for babies, are you referring to the request for healthy infants?
    Thank you for what you do!

  7. Erin, We respect the care you are taking as you explore adoption. Yes, when we talk about reducing the demand for babies, we mean healthy infants. Of course, if these children truly need families, we want them to have them.

    The foreign children most in need are older children and those with disabilities.

    While you're exploring adoption, we encourage you to contact your state's child welfare program. There are over 100,000 children in foster homes in the US waiting for adoption. Many of these children will age of of foster care and will have no family support.

  8. Hey, quite some of the SN-kids are VERY healthy, some are just blind, deaf, one-handed or so, but in perfect health. So no need for PAPs with hospital-related phobias to avoid them.

  9. Abuse in adoptive families is NOT rare...quite the opposite.


  10. I'm an adoptive mom who has seen the light.

    I've commented before, but to reiterate, I have three children (going on four)--one biological, one adopted internationally, one adopted domestically (open, with special medical needs) and we are moving forward to adopt a child from foster care who was severely abused and is now severely disabled as a result. I am not infertile, at least not to the best of my knowledge.

    I hope everyone will understand what I mean when I say that if I had the chance to do it all again, I wouldn't follow the same path. Part of me cringes in horror with saying that because I sound ungrateful--which couldn't be further from the truth. I love all my children so much and can't imagine life without them...

    That said, I've done a lot of research to find out as much as I can about my internationally adopted child's first family. I've found a little bit, but am always hunting for more. The agency--surprise, surprise--was little help, but a fellow AP was able to provide me with leads. As much as I'd love to believe there's no chance my adopted daughter was stolen, coerced from her young mother, robbed of the life she could've had with her family, and the like, I know it's a real possibility.

    I recently lost a friend I respect very much when I said that--if I found out my daughter was stolen from her mom--I would relinquish if that's what the first mom wanted (which is, of course, what I assume would be the case). I would probably die, yes, but I would relinquish. I was accused of being a "bad mother", "uncaring", "a heartless b*tch", etc.

    While I'm nowhere near perfect, I don't think I'm any of those things. I think the biological link is stronger than anything and gets NO respect (or little) in the adoptive world. I have done my best to encourage all prospective AP's I know to look into foster care and not move forward even then unless there is absolutely NO family willing/able to care for said child. Problem is that many still want the "perfect" baby. I know I was there once too, but it frustrates me beyond comprehension to hear it.

    Anyway, I love this post and this blog all around. I've always felt very welcome here and for that I am most grateful.

  11. My comment isn’t directed at you Erin. In fact, I applaud your openness, your research and your support of NGOs in other countries that work to keep families together.

    Overall, the naivete of the media and PAPs about intercountry adoption is almost shocking. It’s assumed that there is an unlimited supply of infants or very young children who are orphans. There are very few sources, FMF and Mireh Riben excepted, that point a finger at the corruption and profiteering that often goes hand in hand with intercountry adoption, and link the individual media reports of corruption together to show a systemic problem. Thanks for that Jane and Lorraine. And thanks for noting the number of children in the US foster care system in need of homes.

    When it comes to child maltreatment, until there’s evidence to the contrary, APs are people too. They love, hate, work, follow sports, lie, practice a religion, drink, gamble, eat, enjoy movies and otherwise live life at the same rate as the rest of the population.

  12. Holy cow, Courtney, you are just the kind of adoptive parent we dream about. I know adoptive parents some times find our blog bracing, to say the least, and we are soooo glad to hear from folks like you.


  13. Courtney,
    Your honesty floors me. I do know bio links
    are so strong in fact they cannot be broken.
    As a mom from closed era who found my son
    In 92 I know my bond was always in me and
    him too. It's blood ties and that old saying is
    trueblood is thicker than water.

    Thank you for your truth. I bet you are hated
    by the adopters as they swear that they love
    the kid they adopted like it was their own.


  14. Thank you Jane! I am new in the first mother & adult adoptee blog world. But, I feel like your blog is balanced & respectful.
    We did look into US foster care & are still open to it in the future, but because of our current family size/house size, we do not qualify. How do you feel about the foster care strict requirement for bedrooms/house size? Maybe all the reasoning is valid. I feel sometimes as if it is judging the parental qualifications based on their class level. (Which goes back the same issue of convincing a single young woman that she is not fit to be a good mother).
    Anyway. The short of it is, we don't have the proper bedroom count for foster care & we are not in a situation where we are able to sell this house & get a different one.
    And, so we are going oversees. Where their are many children who are indeed orphans, in need of a home & familial love.

  15. @Lorraine: Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words! To be entirely honest, I've felt more welcome here than at many other AP-centric blogs. BM,FM is one of my favorite blogs--one I was "cautioned" about some time back by--surprise, surprise--an AP social worker from a big name Chicago adoption agency. And so many AP's seem to maintain adoption isn't big business and is ethical and justifiable and a "good" thing to do...UGH. Many thanks to both you and Jane for all you do!

    @Mother: Thank you also for your kind words and (belated) congratulations on your reunion! I love all of my children to the moon and beyond, but it pains me to know so many AP's deny the connection a child has to his/her mom, his/her family, his/her roots. I think a lot of it changed for me in the adoption of my youngest child. She has special needs and we have an open adoption. Seeing her and her mom together--I really can't describe how it makes me feel. So many times I was cautioned that I might feel jealous as an AP in OA, but jealousy was never one of the emotions I've felt. The love between a mother and her child is so powerful that even now, as I think of watching my daughter and her mom together, I have a huge lump in my throat (sorry if it sounds cheesy, but I don't know how else to put it).

    Thank you both again for your kind words...

    And @Theodore: You are SO right on. My youngest was born with a rare condition and part of it is severe visual impairment. While the future could hold anything for her (as is the nature of her disorder), right now she is perfectly healthy in every way. SN kids aren't as "sickly" as people tend to make them out to be. I couldn't agree more with your point.

  16. @Courtney,
    It is wonderful to read comments from an a-mom who gets it. I believe you have commented at FMF before.

    Mother wrote:
    "Thank you for your truth. I bet you are hated
    by the adopters as they swear that they love
    the kid they adopted like it was their own."

    Have to say I disagree. I do believe that APs can love an adopted child as much as a bio-child. I know that I could.
    However, love is not the only issue. The adoption industry wants to make us believe that love is all it takes and that as long as the APs are loving the child will be fine. But being raised in an adoptive family is very different from being raised in one's original family and love is not enough to make up for all the pain and loss.

    I thought in previous generations that if a couple married at a later age and/or had an infertility problem that they just didn't have kids. It seems an entitlement has developed where everyone (single or married, straight or gay) who wants a kid is supposed to get one.

  17. Thank you Erin,

    What a shame the state turned you down for not having enough bedrooms. The reasoning of child welfare officials is sometimes hard to understand. They exclude people who would make excellent parents. Meanwhile standards set by adoption agencies are often low, or in some cases non-existent, particularly in international adoptions.

  18. Courtney:

    "Cautioned " about our little blog?

    That means we are getting under the skins of some in the adoption business. I take it as a feather in our caps!

    Thanks for that tidbit.

  19. Erin,
    I recently met a young woman in her early 20's who was adopted from an orphanage in Russia. She told me it was a wonderful thing in her life. She was 14 years old when she came to the United States. The state had removed her from her home some years earlier. She has two adult brothers in Russia. One of them is in prison. The other one signed the release papers for her adoption. Her best friend from the orphanage was adopted into the same home. "We are now sisters," she told me with joy. She spoke happily of the love she has found in her adoptive home in America. She has overcome many obstacles, including starting high school without being able to speak or read English. But she graduated with her class and recently completed beauty school. (She gave me a fantastic haircut last week!)

    She still lives at home but is planning on moving out on her own soon. Her Russian friend-sister is getting married this summer. I think the family who adopted these two teenage girls must be very special.

    She keeps in contact with her Russian family through Facebook.

  20. "All of these efforts, however, will not be effective unless we also reduce demand for children to adopt." Well that's throughly depressing. My adopted kids were born in Korea, where the VAST majority of adoptions occur because the mothers are not married and therefore have no support. I've been supporting organizations that help "unwed" mothers because there is no reason on earth that a child who is wanted by his mother should be given up simply because his mother isn't married.

    BUT. Your comment here makes me realize that even if single motherhood becomes wholely embraced by Korean society TOMORROW, that will not erase the DEMAND for healthy babies and will likely just create MORE corruption in another country.

    This is a problem that must be dealt with on the whole, and not one country at a time. When one area's practices are cleaned up, corruption crops up somewhere else. Make it stop!!!



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.