Adoption is a process which is fraught with the possibility of manipulation, coercion, and bribery. Faced with an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy, it must be difficult to decide that your child will be better off with another family, and money can often complicate the decision making process. The desires of adoptive families leave them vulnerable to exploitation, but also give incentive to exploit biological families. Third parties, such as lawyers and social workers, have their own agendas. With all of the competing interests and high emotions involved, it is not hard for one party to take advantage of another.
In some ways, we were quite lucky. We got to know Katja’s biological family before she was born. We were able to visit them several times a month—we shared meals with them, introduced them to our dog Nyx, attended medical visits, and talked about a wide range of subjects. Moreover, they had made the decision to adopt before talking to an adoption facilitator, so we were not concerned that they were being forced into anything. They knew what they wanted and they chose us to adopt their daughter.
We were unlucky in other ways. Our adoption facilitator behaved in a way that we feel, in retrospect, was unethical. He billed us at lawyer rates for tasks that could (and should) have been done by an assistant for far less, such as delivering documents and transporting the biological family to appointments. At one point, he informed us that “Birth parents are just not that bright.” This set off red flags for us, but we had already spent most of our resources, and had to make the decision to either continue working with him or give up on the idea of adoption altogether
It frustrated us that he referred to all of the people we met as possible matches as “birth mothers.” We knew the term was widely used, but until the final documents are signed, the mother is a pregnant woman considering adoption. The term “birth mother” sets up the assumption that the adoption will happen; it is no longer as much of a choice. The terminology is probably comforting to most adoptive parents, but it was not comforting to us. It gave us the feeling that biological families were not treated well by the facilitator, that their calls and requests were not respected unless the potential adoptive parents pushed, and that the facilitator was setting everything up to profit as much as possible from the process.
After the facilitator blew through nearly all of the trust account we established for the adoption in a month and a half, we tried to work with him to limit the cost of the adoption. We were told, point blank, that if we couldn’t continue to pay, the match would be cancelled and he would find another adoptive family. Happily, we had established a strong enough bond with Katja’s biological family that we were able to work with them directly, and were able to cut out the middle man. Still, it was incredibly upsetting to feel like we were being blackmailed.
We have been working through a lot of thoughts about adoption as Katja gets bigger. We want her to know her biological family, and we are trying to stay in touch. We want her to know that she was not abandoned and that her biological parents love her very much. We want Katja to know that she was “picked out special,” and that she is dearly loved by both biological and adoptive families. She is being raised in a family where two of her grandparents were adopted, as was her great aunt, so there is no question about whether adoptive family is good enough. We are Family, and she is part of it. She may not look exactly like anyone else in the family, but we’re an odd group anyway, so that should be all right. We will make sure that she is raised in an environment with as many cultural influences as much as possible. We are hoping to do some traveling so she experiences more than just one place and group of people.
Our daughter is a funny, smart, beautiful, strong, loving, and brave little person. She eats almost anything we put in front of her, including spicy foods, and she enjoys experimenting with combining different tastes. Unless she’s tired, she doesn’t cry when she falls down because there are too many other interesting things going on. She loves music and loves to dance, getting her whole body involved and clearly enjoying herself. She likes making noise with the piano. She’s starting to learn to talk and she is definitely communicating nonverbally; if she doesn’t like something, we have no doubt about it! We are incredibly lucky that she is part of our family.
Adoption can be good. We know that her biological family still feels this was the right choice. Obviously, we do, too. At the same time, I wish that our society had enough support in a wide variety of ways to make adoption unnecessary, to allow every family to make choices about parenting and raise their biological children in a safe, supportive way. I am glad that Katja is our daughter, though.
I will be writing about the adoption process, the ethics, and various other subjects as they come up. This particular post was inspired by a post at Peter’s Cross Station, here: http://peterscrossstation.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/by-special-request-10-red-flags-that-your-adoption-agency-might-be-coercive/ I have not addressed everything in that post, but it’s a beginning.