Friday, December 14, 2007

Adoption Gone Wrong

Biological connection has been on my mind this week.

It started with the episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit where the man finds out that his wife has been having an affair and the son he adores, the child who is the center of his life, is not his biological son. It ended badly, with the lover asking for custody (um, the kid is three and you are only now interested because it turns out the sperm that made him was yours? What about the man who has raised him?) and then the father (the real one, the one who tucked the boy in at night and hugged him when he had nightmares) killing his wife when she told him she was taking his son away. I was angry and bitter, despite the fact that I knew it to be fiction, at the notion that biology meant something, that anyone would suggest that taking a child away from the father he knows simply because he doesn't share the same DNA is a good thing.

But then, the pitfalls of foreign adoption seem to be this week's big news. First, there was the Newsweek article detailing how some adopted children have severe emotional and behavioral problems. Then came the story about the Dutch diplomat and his wife who have abandoned returned the South Korean girl they adopted seven years ago (when she was four months old) because she has failed to adapt to their culture. Finally, Guatemala has approved the law which will tighten the requirements for adoption, but will allow pending adoptions to go through.

While my gut reaction to the Dutch diplomat's story was "there has to be more involved than what has been reported" I have changed my mind and decided these people are selfish and awful people. They adopted this child at four months and she has lived with them for seven years. Any failure for this child to integrate into their lives is theirs and not hers. Because it defies logic that a four month old baby would already have absorbed so much of its natal culture that it would be unable to adapt after seven years of living in another one.

Still, I would rather the child be given back to the adoption agency than that she be in the care of people who do not want her. Because surely being raised by people who do not want you is worse than being raised in an orphanage, no matter how well off the people may be. You don't want this child to end up beaten or dead because the parents couldn't cope with raising her.

I used to say that I wanted to adopt children, that I didn't see the point in making more children when there were so many children in this world in need of homes and families. But who can say that the love I would provide would be greater than the love an individual child may experience at a particular orphanage? I have met an adult foreign adoptee who remembers the orphanage before adoption and has extremely positive feelings about the place. Isn't it arrogant to assume that the life one can offer in America is superior simply because we can offer more a child more material wealth? What surprised me about the Newsweek article was how few of the profiled parents who adopted older children (and by older, I mean children over the age of two) mentioned seeking out therapy/family counseling before having problems. Personally, if I was suddenly gifted with a toddler, I would seek out some help not simply because the child may have problems stemming from what he/she experienced prior to arriving on my doorstep, but because the transition must be a terrifying experience for this child and I am not sure that simply providing hugs and kisses would be enough.

All this is making me wonder if I am an imperfect person and an imperfect mother. Julian had nine months to leave a physical mark upon me before we ever met and then for years after as I fed him milk created by my body, from my blood. As Julian grows, I am struck by all the ways he is like me and not like me, all the ways he is like Fred and not like Fred, all the memories of my own childhood which rise to the surface due to something Julian does, and all the physical similarities which cannot be ignored. To love one's biological child means loving someone to whom one has a tangible physical connection that all can see. To love one's own biological child is a form of self-love.

So while I do believe that I could love any child, what if I am wrong? Obviously being a parent means so much more than simply providing genetic material and a warm place to grow, but what if, for whatever reason, I couldn't love another child as much as I love Julian? This isn't the sort of thing one learns about one's self until the deed has been done.

Am I being too hard on all those adoptive parents who have returned their adoptive children? They must have entered the relationships with high hopes and the belief that they would love this child with all their heart. Something went wrong along the way. But regardless of what happened, it is hard not to judge them harshly because they were adults and had some control over the turn of events, whereas the children involved were completely helpless. While there may be no clear villains, it is clear who the victims are.

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