I have been reading blogs of fellow IA parents where they have had to defend their choice to adopt internationally. It is common for many people to look askance at you and wonder why you would travel thousands of miles to adopt when there are millions of kids in America in the foster care system, some who are available for adoption.
One of the first questions we were asked in 2006 was why not adopt here. We answered very simply; we wanted a little girl with Down syndrome, a specific little girl we had really fallen in love with.
However; when it came time for our home study, that desire was not enough. Our social worker really pressed the issue with us, why Ukraine? Why not adopt a child with Down syndrome here? So I will share the why’s and how’s of why we made our decision, you may not agree, you do not have to, we did not adopt to look good to others, to please anyone else, or even to get into Heaven, we adopted because we HAD to. We were called, the seed was planted in our hearts and heads and we let it grow.
Reasons we adopted internationally:
Number one: The children with Down syndrome here have hundreds of families waiting to adopt them, they are submitting home studies faster than you can blink and the birth parents have dozens of families to choose from, the need, the extreme life changing-life saving need for adoptive parents to a child with Down syndrome in America is nonexistent.
Number two: The children of Eastern Europe, Russia, India, China, etc, who are born with Down syndrome are often left at the hospital, parental rights surrendered, because these countries do not accept people with disabilities. It is easier to walk away that face the daily struggle alone, with no government support, no family support, and zero acceptance of your child. (When I use the word easy, I do not mean the parents were not heart-broken, I know they were, I know they loved their children, I know this because they had the courage to allow them to be adopted internationally, even though it meant they would never see them again. ) Some countries have emerging support systems for families who want to raise their children and I am prayerful they will continue to grow. These very brave parents will be able to change things slowly, but prejudice against people with disabilities is deeply ingrained in these societies.
Number three: The children with Down syndrome have no future outside of the institutions that house them. They are not allowed to go to school, and as adult (if they live that long) they cannot go to work, or get married. It is believed they have small brains and cannot learn, and since their societies believe this, many orphanages do not teach the children anything meaningful and the children become that which it is believed they are, someone who cannot do anything.
Number four: The children die untimely deaths due to abuse, lack of human contact, bad food, poor hygiene, poor conditions, and just plain neglect which results in failure to thrive. In the four years since we became aware of the plight of children with special needs in Ukraine, many children have passed away in the institutions they were sent to on their 4th or 5th birthdays, some within a year, and these children were not sickly, it seems that they simply gave up.
If you are one of the few people who read my blog, you already know all of this, if you are new to it, please let what I am explaining really sink in.
I have seen pictures of very well run institutions with laughing happy children, they are not plentiful and they are a relatively new idea in Eastern Europe; a 21st Century phenomenon. I have also seen videos and pictures of institutions that are barely humane. Pictures of row after row of beds with half naked or naked children, sores all over, many tied to beds, some with Cerebral Palsy frozen in pretzel shapes, limbs bent in positions no arms or legs should be in; I have seen 18 year olds the size of 5 year olds. I have wept many tears over these images and prayed many prayers for those children. America had places like this up to the 1970’s; so we are not all that different…we just stopped before these countries did.
Nothing about international adoption is easy. For some of us there is a lot of heartache and heart break along the way. Sometimes we have to take painful detours, some parents have to give up entirely, and some children we hope to adopt we cannot. We stress over getting county approval via home study and CPA checks, then state looks over both and hopefully gives us a certificate to adopt, then there is the FBI and Homeland Security for fingerprinting, and USCIS for national approval; all of these people do background checks to be certain you are worthy to be a parent, that you are financially, physically, and emotionally able to adopt.
You gather all the documents given by said agencies into your dossier and you submit your paperwork to the country you choose to adopt from, and you wait and wait and wait to hear if it has been submitted and rejoice when you get the news, and you wait again for an appointment date and you get that cherished travel date. The waiting gives you grey hair, you have done all you had to do to get to this point and all you can do is wait and raise money! Lots of money. It is extremely expensive, and you wonder how you will ever get the funds raised and somehow (via angels, miracles) the funds grow and you take this cash with you, nervous the entire time that you will lose it, or someone will rob you.
You finally travel to meet your child(ren) and they bring them in to you and all of the stress to get there falls away. It is just you and them looking into each others eyes, getting a measure of the other. You are in awe of them, and you know what a miracle it is that you are sitting there with them. Sometimes you are shocked by the appearance of your child, they are tiny, skinny, or seem younger than their chronological age. Oftentimes they smell rather bad because they do not get baths immersed in water. Nevertheless, you feel affection for for them; amidst the fear, the joy, the confusion, and the 10 pairs of eyes scrutinizing you, because even though you passed all the trials to get where you are, the orphanage doctor, inspector, and directors all have to approve of you too! They will be present at your adoption hearing to report that your child has bonded with you and wants to be adopted.
After living for many weeks in country (or waiting at home after that first, second, or third meeting) you come home with the child you dreamed of, or sometimes one God has chosen for you. You know you were part of a miracle, just as if you had grown your new daughter(s) or son(s) under your heart and warm in your flesh. You bond with and grow to love your sweet child and you expect everyone else to rejoice with you. Except sometimes with international adoption, it does not turn out that way. Sometimes extended family is slow to accept your new offspring. That realization can come suddenly or slowly and it is painful and you can be quite hurt.
During a visit a few months ago one of my sisters, whom I love dearly, voiced to me that children in America need families too, WHY did I have to go so far when I could have helped someone here. The accusatory nature of her comment felt like a physical blow, I could tell she had been holding in her feelings a while and that my choosing IA had made her angry and incredulous, and even though she wrote a letter supporting our adoption to the social worker, she did not wholly believe we did the right thing.
Earlier this month, as I was filling out Kara’s yearly adoption report for the Ukrainian embassy; there was a question asked about extended family and how they reacted to or supported our adopted child. I had no idea what to say. After a lot of thought I simply said that even though we rarely saw extended family, when we spoke they asked about Kara and sent her gifts, which is completely true. I also know that even though my sister does not understand IA, she still held and bonded with my daughters during that visit, that she is a loving giving person, and loves all children.
We are very well aware of the sad state foster care; my husband worked in the system in residential treatment facilities for over a decade. To be honest, the nature in which these children were abused would make it dangerous for them to be part of our family, as my husband knew all too well and why he hesitated to adopt at all, he felt I may not be prepared for the issues our children may have.
Parental rights are not severed easily in the USA, the system often places children back with biological parents where the abuse continues and escalates. When rights are finally severed, the children have suffered so badly many are emotionally scarred for life. I realize that some resilient children can escape their backgrounds relatively unharmed, but most cannot. They require a parent with knowledge and skills I feel I do not possess. I do not believe I have the patience or ability to raise one of these children.
We were not called to parent children in the foster care system; we were called to parent Kara and Amanda. Surely reason dictates that American’s should help American’s. However American’s, who have more money, food, and resources than most of the people in this world, have it within their power to HELP others outside of their country as well. We are all human beings, we are all God’s children, and all of us deserve to be loved in a family.
(to paraphrase) Once we become aware of the conditions that abused or orphaned children are forced to live, then it is our God-given responsibility to act. Some people are called to be foster parents, some to adopt troubled teens, or emotionally handicapped children, or kids with physical disabilities, the vision impaired, or hearing impaired. Our family was called to adopt children with Down syndrome; it is that simple and that complex.
Are we perfect parents, oh no, do we do our best, yes, and there is always love in our home, even when things go so nuts that mom needs to go in the back room to privately vent (scream) her frustration…after all, I am only human.