Mothers

I was sick this weekend, but I’ll focus on the good parts – like how Freddy got to go swimming with his dad, and BB makes a mean chicken soup.

I haven’t posted much about adoption lately since we aren’t in the process, and we’ve been taking part in the greatest transition of our lives that never seems to end – failed adoption, pregnancy, birth, moving to Africa – you know, just a typical year in the life!

Adoption is on my brain again.  We are surrounded by adoptive families (yay!) and ministries that support orphans here in Rwanda.  Truly, one of the big reasons we wanted to come to Africa was to get a better picture of this orphan crisis we hear so much about in America.

I never referred to this article when it came out because I had a few other things going on (see first paragraph), but our story was highlighted in the NY Times back in June.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/01/us/moved-to-adopt-evangelicals-find-children-and-pitfalls-abroad.html?pagewanted=all

I was honored to be a part of this article on such an important topic and in such a widely-read publication.  Also, I’m relieved that the one (and probably only) time I’m quoted in the NY Times, it doesn’t involve me being mugged or an article about eating one’s weight in chocolate covered pretzels.

Last week I was humbled to go with a mother as she placed her 11 year old daughter at a boarding school for children with special needs. I lack the eloquence to describe this bittersweet moment, but it reminded me of so many conversations I’ve had (with myself and others) about birthmothers.  Spend enough time in the adoption world, and the issue of birthmoms relinquishing their kids will come up.  This came up with One World Adoption Services adoptions often because almost all the kids they adopted out had living birthmoms (and often two living parents, as we now know).

Since our experience, I’ve openly stated that if we ever adopted internationally again (and I hope we do!), we would not adopt a child with a living parent. While legal to do so, the standard for immigration in the US is that if there’s a sole surviving parent, the parent must be destitute and unable to provide for the child. Given what I know now, I’m not comfortable adopting because of someone else’s poverty. Reasonable people can disagree on this, but my personal opinion is that there are better ways to solve a person’s poverty than by taking her child away.

When I was with this mother taking her child to boarding school, I saw first hand the reasons why I couldn’t adopt a child with a living mother.

First, this mother was relying solely on word of mouth from other people in the community and her daughter’s counselors in deciding to take her child to this boarding school.  She doesn’t have the ability to do countless hours of research on schools to find the best situation for her daughter. There aren’t many schools to choose from, and her means and circumstances don’t allow her to make the inquiries we are used to in the developed world.  She has to go on trust.  In this case, she was given trustworthy advice.

A mother who takes her child to an orphanage does the same.  She hears things in the community or maybe someone encourages her to do so.  In some cases, it’s likely the right decision and gives the child a more stable environment with his or her basic needs being met.  In some cases, she may understand that her child is now an “orphan” according to international standards and looked upon as a child needing a family.  But how could I, as an adoptive parent, ever know for sure what this mother was thinking at this drop off?  How could I be sure that those who she trusted in making the decision were trustworthy?  Add to it the fact that, in our case (and many many like it), the orphanage director who was counseling mothers was making money off of referrals, and there’s no possible way that this mother had a trustworthy and objective counselor. If the orphanage has something to gain by a birthmom placing her kids with them or placing them for adoption, you can be 100% sure that any adoption would be tainted with corruption and coercion.

The second observation I made was when the school staff was informing the mother about her visitation rights. It reminded me of comments I’ve heard from adoptive parents (and things that I previously thought as well).  I often here well-intentioned adoptive parents justify adopting a child with living parents because if the parents were truly loving they wouldn’t take them to an orphanage and then not visit them.

I have no doubt in my mind that this mother I met loves her daughter.  I watched her wash her child’s feet before we left, nervously enter the facility, and hand the director her daughter’s blanket – her one solitary possession.  But I also can’t imagine the challenge it will be for her to visit.  Between finding someone to care for her other children, walking to the bus, waiting for the bus, paying for the bus, and walking up the mountain the rest of the way, the challenge overwhelms me.  If she doesn’t visit, it’s not for lack of desire or love.

Similarly, there’s no doubt that most mothers who place their children in an orphanage do it as a loving gesture – an attempt to provide a better life (at least by some standards).  Many do so with the intent of returning, but returning and visiting isn’t as easy as hopping in the car and driving over.  In the case of our adoption, the birthparents were a plane ride away on the other side of the country, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t long to see their children, and it also doesn’t necessarily mean that they no longer wanted to be the children’s parents.

I came to Africa to see this side of things.  It’s easy when we sit in our big homes in our cozy neighborhoods for us to judge the woman who leaves her child with strangers.  It’s something that almost never happens in the developing world.  Now that I’ve seen, I can start to understand a small piece of the life of a parent who struggles to care for her children.  I write this to memorialize the love of mothers for their children and to honor the love and trust that mothers have when they place their children in other people’s hands.  I want the world to know that an African mother loves her babies, just as mine loves me.  We need to do more for her so she can love them in her own home.

Thank you!

I can’t thank you all enough for your lovely notes, texts, FB messages and comments.  It’s lovely to feel so supported.  I started this blog as a way to remember the adoption and to process through all the crazy things that we were learning.  It’s evolved to a broader spectrum of topics and a way for me to journal all aspects of my life.  Thanks for reading!

I hope to keep blogging about adoption and orphans even though we aren’t officially in the process anymore.  We are currently researching foster care, and all options for growing our family and loving orphans continue to be on the table.  Our eyes and hearts have been opened to some big issues in the world over the past few years, and we feel a little overwhelmed about what our response should be.  In some ways we are just throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks.  We pray that God will continue to use our lives for his kingdom work, and we are open to anything. It’s possible that it will be something much different than adoption.

Currently, we are feeling God pull us into local ministry here in our neighborhood.  BB is reading Brandon Hatmaker’s book Barefoot Church (http://www.amazon.com/Barefoot-Church-Serving-Consumer-Exponential/dp/0310492262), and it’s safe to say that our Hatmaker love continues to grow.  One of the topics in the book is serving local needs and not necessarily through your church or other Christian organizations.  We live in a neighborhood with lots of needs.  It’s a neighborhood with lots of violence, drug use, prostitution, and homelessness.  The schools are under-resourced, and there is a large population of people with mental illnesses.  While it sounds discouraging, in all this hurt, there are so many opportunities to show God’s love.  We’ve barely scratched the surface.  We are excited to see where God leads us.  We’ve already formed some relationships with some of the homeless people in our neighborhood, and we have been beyond blessed by those interactions.

In the meantime, I’ll still be here blogging about the mundane things in my life, encouraging you to change the world by not purchasing mainstream chocolate (http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2012/10/the-inconvenient-truth-about-your.html), engaging in Jen Hatmaker-hero worship, talking about reducing our consumerism, and sharing my experience with pregnancy.  Keep reading!  I love being the center of attention!

 

Are we helping orphans or creating them?

This is such a hard post to write because I am still processing.  I will start by saying that I don’t have the answers, just the questions.  One question that keeps coming up in my mind is whether we are helping orphans through international adoption or creating them.  When we were in DRC (the fraud and legal issues aside), we kept asking whether we should adopt the children since it’s what the parents had chosen.  Didn’t they have the right to choose to relinquish their rights just as parents in the US do?

It just didn’t sit right with us.  We didn’t get into this to traffic children to the US.  We got into this to help orphans.  A child that has a parent or parents is not an orphan in my mind.  This is where it gets tricky.  The children we were trying to adopt were no doubt vulnerable children in a difficult situation, but orphans?  No.  This is why all those “147 million orphans” ads and similar statistics don’t sit well with me.  I know it’s advertising and the point is not accuracy but shock and awe, but why isn’t 17.8 million orphans shocking enough (that’s the actual estimated number of children who have lost both parents according to UNICEF)?

It’s worrisome to me that these parents in DRC (and probably many like them) placed their children in an orphanage to be adopted to the US.  This family has a home, a car, some members with jobs, food, health, and love.   It’s even more worrisome to me that the orphanage accepted them given those known circumstances and that One World Adoption Services, Inc. advocated and endorsed their adoption.

OWAS touted their orphanage as the best in DRC – healthy, loved kids with the best access to food, medicine, care.  We loved that about it and now it makes us sick.  Why were those kids so healthy and loved?  Is it because they came from families who loved them and were caring for them? It’s even worse that it’s what we wanted.  We wanted perfectly healthy, beautiful, happy, well-adjusted kids.  Um, that’s not generally what we should be seeking when we want to care for an orphan.  I may be so bold as to say that there is no such thing.  How could there be?

I can’t help but struggle with the question of what about the true orphans?  The street kids, the sick kids, the kids with truly no one to care for them.  Why aren’t they in the “best” orphanages?  Why aren’t they being sought in droves by us Christians?  Why aren’t they being adopted at the same rate as the healthy babies?  Why are there waiting lists for healthy babies if there are 147 million orphans?

I’m not trying to judge.  If anything, I judge myself.  We got into this saying we wanted to be “all in” for Jesus and “all in” for the orphan…so long as we could get a beautiful, perfect, healthy, infant because we didn’t feel “called” to care for kids with “issues.    (Apparently, we hadn’t yet read the Bible to know what our true calling is.)

If families with means can get their kids into orphanages and adopted to the US because their kids are young and healthy, that’s a grave injustice to the kids who will die on the streets alone.  We need to do more than adopt.  We need to do more than trust these agencies that make money when we accept a referral and are incentivized to “find” kids to meet our parameters (no matter what they say, that is what’s usually going on). We need to stand up for the least of these.

It’s an ugly world out there.  People in desperate situations do desperate things.  I don’t blame that family for wanting a “better life” for their children.  Of course, they should be free to explore all options for their children.  But, I also need to see what’s going on and say no when it crosses a line.  If we, having the mind of Christ, don’t say no, who will?