Monthly Archives: August 2014

Abandonment, or The Stories We Tell Ourselves


The other day Gregory (age 8) was playing with Leo in the living room while I sat nearby.  Gregory said rather randomly, “I like to think that Leo’s parents were poor.”  Gregory is the talker in our family so he went on to give a very long, but touching explanation.  He said “I like to think that they were poor and they gave him up because they couldn’t pay for a doctor for him but they wanted him to get better.  I don’t like to think that they just didn’t want him because that makes me sad.  Sometimes I think that when he’s older he’ll wish that he got to meet his parents.  I mean, I know that he was with them for a little while, but he doesn’t remember.  I think he’ll wish that he knew what they looked like and could remember being with them like when we visit Grandma and Grandpa.”

I am often surprised at how much my children think about adoption and all of the implications of it.  We talked about it a little and then we went on with the day, but I kept thinking about what he said.  I have no idea what Leo’s thoughts will be about adoption as he grows older, but I imagine he will think all of the things that Gregory mentioned.  He will want to know why he was abandoned.  I can tell him reasons why children are usually abandoned in China, but I won’t be able to tell him with certainty why he was abandoned.  I can assure him that he was wanted by our family, but I don’t know if anything I say can eliminate the fear that he was unwanted by his parents in China that he is sure to have.

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 2.37.17 PMIt occurred to me that the way adoptive parents approach this issue tells you a lot about their feelings about adoption.  A frequent criticism from adoptees is that adoption is all about the adoptive parents feelings, and this is true to a certain extent (this quote is a good example of that).
It seems that most adoptive parents take one of two extremes–either they make the birth parents into saints, or they demonize them.

Let’s look at the “saints” line first because that is what I find myself naturally falling into.  Like Gregory, it is difficult for me to even consider that Leo’s parents might not have wanted him.  I can only imagine giving up a child as being a huge sacrifice.  When I read articles like this, it plays right into that theory.  Leo was abandoned at ten days old, he had birth defects, and he was left in a very public place where he would be found quickly so it easy for me to think that his parents spent those ten days agonizing over whether to keep him or abandon him.  But I really have no way of knowing that.  Perhaps his parents spent the time arguing and one day when the parent who wanted to keep him was away, the other parent took him out of the apartment and left him.  That is the story behind one girl’s abandonment in Somewhere Between.  Or maybe his mother was a single college student who knew she could never keep her baby but managed to hide her pregnancy.  When she went into labor she found a safe friend to stay with, but after ten days when she was fully recovered from birth, she dropped Leo off on her way back to school and told everyone she had been sick with the flu.

In a way, one of the attractions of adoption from China is that you can make up any story you like.  There is no legal way to relinquish a child, so they are all abandoned.  If you adopt domestically, from foster care, or from other counties, in most cases you will know the reason why they ended up needing a family.  As I wrote in Family Preservation, it can be difficult for parents to choose adopt from a country where you meet your child’s family of origin and see for yourself that the reason their child is coming home to your family is poverty.  Poverty is the root of most of the abandonments in China, but it’s easier to pretend when you don’t know that for sure.  That reality stares you in the face when you’re hanging out with the birth mother at the orphanage day after day.

Maybe that makes you feel guilty that you are benefiting from the hard circumstances that the birth parents have.  callsmemomThat is probably why some adoptive families swing the other direction.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many children who end up being adopted because their birth parents made bad choices or were just not nice people.  Sometimes when you see that your child was left in a pile of trash on the side of the road, it’s pretty easy to conclude their parents didn’t want them.  I’m not really talking about those circumstances.  I’m talking about adoptive parents that I have seen make statements such as:

“It makes me so angry to think that they didn’t want her just because she was a girl.”

“They throw their babies away like trash in China”

“They didn’t want him because he wasn’t perfect.”

In most cases, the adoptive parents have no way of knowing this for sure.  I’ve seen multiple adoptive parents who are certain that their daughter was abandoned for being a girl even though their daughters had serious medical conditions that seemed like a likelier cause for abandonment (in order to try and obtain medical care for them) to me.  As I’ve written before, the situation in China is much more complex than “want boys, hate girls.”  But it must be so much easier to live with the happiness you feel with your child in your life when you can say to yourself that the birth parents didn’t want her anyway, so they don’t deserve her.  She is better off with you.

This can even lead to the sentiment that I frequently see, that “God planned/created her for your Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 2.32.54 PMfamily.”  I try to be respectful of everyone’s religious beliefs, but this one is hardest for me to understand.  I do truly understand why you would want to believe that God chose your child for your family, just as He would any biological child, only they were somehow born in a different country.  But this really glosses over all of the hard aspects of adoption.

Why would God intend for Leo to be abandoned, spend two of the most developmentally important years in his life in an institution, and then leave behind everything he knows to go live with strangers?  Yes, we are a  family now, but surely God’s plan would have been for him to grow up with the family he was born to?  And if you think too much about this idea, you start to wonder about all the other children who didn’t get the great plan.  The amount of children who achieve the “happily ever after” ending is only a fraction of those in state care.  Some die before they are adopted, some are never chosen, many never even have the chance to be adopted because they aren’t deemed “adoptable.”  They will grow up in state care, maybe spend their entire life in the same orphanage because they can’t live independently.  When we visited Leo’s orphanage there was an entire building for the children who were over 14 and were no longer eligible to be adopted by Chinese law.  The children under age two took up just a few rooms out of the whole complex.  None of them are any less loved by God than those who do end up in a family.  And I think that some children will one day begin to ask hard questions such as “Why did God choose a family for me but not them if he loves everyone?”

This is the point of the blog post where I’m supposed to wrap everything up with a little lesson and a happy ending.  But I think the whole idea I’m grappling with is that there aren’t easy answers here.  The stories we tell ourselves are ultimately about helping us come to terms with our feelings about adoption when, as the adoptees point out, it should be about helping our children come to terms with their feelings about their adoption.  We have to do our best to answer our children’s questions as they come up, to be honest with them and with ourselves that we will probably never know how or why.