It happened again this week. As it does every week. A little girl was left in China. In this case, the girl might not live long enough to find a new set of parents. I’ll be brutally honest–that happens. It also happens that older kids who are brought back to the orphanage age out before they find a new set of parents. Or that orphanages decide not to list a rejected child for adoption again. This is why adoption advocates argue so strongly against dissolution ever being considered a possibility.
Before this week’s topic of discussion occurred Hannah’s Story was published on the Red Thread blog, telling of the trauma one girl endured after she was rejected on adoption day. Becky of The Full Plate wrote a moving post called I Was Yours, And You Were Mine–The Day We Met. Faced with a screaming and delayed baby, contemplating whether she would die or have lifelong delays, Becky made the commitment to bring her home, no matter what. In response to this week’s disruption, Andrea wrote this passionate post on Facebook, remembering how she was presented with a daughter who was near death and chose to bring her home anyway, actually fighting China to be able to complete the adoption. Her daughter is alive today because of that choice. Finally, from NHBO An Uncertain Journey With A Certain Guide which is written from a faith based perspective on why you should continue on when your adoption seems harder than expected.
Everyone wants the number of in country disruptions to come down. It’s true that a small amount of these disruptions are because parents are presented with a child whose medical condition is completely different from what was included in the file. However, for the majority of in country disruptions the cause is that the parents have unreasonable expectations in two areas. Many parents are uneducated about the medical need that they signed up for. Parents have returned a child with albinism because they were surprised at the extent of her visual impairment, a child with dwarfism because his legs were bowed, a child with cleft palate because food came out of his nose, and a child with cerebral palsy affecting her legs because she walked with a limp. While these examples might be difficult to believe, they serve as an illustration of how many people can put on rose-colored glasses or listen selectively when given medical information.
The other area of unreasonable expectation is that the parents were panicked by the child’s immediate response to the trauma of adoption. They might be completely unprepared for the behaviors that an older child can come with. This is the sort of thing that should have been well covered in pre-adoptive training but is so easy for parents to forget when it is staring them in the face in the form of a child who is screaming for hours or is almost catatonic in reaction to being taken from everything they’ve known and handed to total strangers. Here are some good posts which address this topic:
One comment I hear a lot is “If this child was born into your family with special needs you wouldn’t have the option to disrupt. You would learn to deal with it because they’re your child.” I don’t think that’s exactly accurate. Americans abort 50% of pregnancies with major birth defects and 90% of pregnancies with Down Syndrome. Many people are scared when confronted with the possibility that their child is less than perfect and reach for abortion as a solution to this fear. Even when the child is born, parents can choose to not parent them. The National Down Syndrome Adoption Network matches adoptive parents with birth parents who have chosen to make an adoption plan for their child. Adopt American Network does the same work for children with any special need.
Disruption is the adoption equivalent. You might point out that if someone is adopting from the China special needs program then they should be open to parenting a child with special needs. However, I have seen countless parents ask “What are the most minor needs you have seen listed in China?” or “What are the easiest special needs?” Many people who adopt are clearly uncomfortable with parenting a child with special needs and have decided they can accept a limited range of possibilities. If they meet a child in China who falls outside of that range, they panic.
What we all hope will happen here is that when the panic wears off, things calm down, and the child starts receiving necessary medical care, therapies, and love, then the parents will bond with the child and feel that fierce love that makes a parent do anything they can to save their child when their child is in danger. This is the exact feeling that Andrea and Becky felt about their daughters when they penned the passionate posts that I linked to earlier. However, have we considered the range of outcomes if the parents adopt the child and don’t bond to the child over time?
Parenting a child with special needs can bring a lot of stress. While extensive studies haven’t been done on the various special needs, some have found that parents of children with autism have a higher divorce rate. When you add adoption to the special needs mix, we are creating a high stress situation for these parents. I know, you’re saying But what about the children, this isn’t about the parents! Bear with me. What I am saying is, I think that high stress parents with no attachment to the adopted child can be a lethal mix. How many times have you seen headlines about a child who died of shaken baby syndrome at the hands of a babysitter? Statistics show a clear correlation about abuse at the hands of a cohabiting partner, usually a man. When you do not feel a bond to a child, you are less patient and more frustrated with the challenges of parenting. I wrote in my first article on Adoption Dissolution that the biggest difference between the adoption stories of Katie and Shecki is that Katie feels a bond with her daughter that Shecki never felt with her son.
Would Lydia Schatz’s parents have spent hours methodically beating a biological child to death, or is that something that takes a feeling of detachment? What about Hyunsu O’Callaghan whose father said he wasn’t bonding well with him and was charged with beating his son to death after caring him and his other son while his wife was away for the weekend? Pound Pup Legacy has a full page of adopted children who died at the hands of their parents, if you have the stomach to read them. Of course, these stories don’t always end in death. The Harrises in Arkansas were recently in the news for keeping their two adopted girls locked in separate rooms before eventually passing them along to a friend who sexually abused them. Amy Eldridge who founded Love Without Boundaries tells of a similar instance in her post Disruption: Three Things For Parents To Consider.
I think that when Becky and Andrea write that when you adopt you should be committed forever, it is because it is impossible for them to imagine not feeling that bond with your child. Not having the fierce Mama Bear protective instinct kick in. I think that in an ideal adoption world all but a few parents would bring their child home with them from China. Take some time to see what your child is really like when the panic wears off. Your panic and their panic. Get their medical needs correctly assessed. Try faking it until you make it in the attachment area. But for some kids like Anatoly Z, dissolving the adoption and finding a family who is better equipped to meet his needs is the best course of action. Am I saying that if we don’t let parents disrupt when they’re scared than all of the kids will end up abused or dead? No, but when you say that disruption or dissolution should never be an option then you are condemning some of these children to a family where there is no love, and the entire point of adoption is to give them a loving family. When you say that if you aren’t prepared to parent any child with any need or you shouldn’t adopt from China then you are limiting an already extremely small group of potential parents.
I am glad that we are discussing adoption disruption and dissolution more now. I would like to see more people discussing the challenging aspects of adoption so that people are not so surprised when adoption day is not a blissful dream come true. However, I think that it is unrealistic to think that adoption will have a 100% success rate when biological parenting does not have a 100% success rate. Prepared prospective adoptive parents are the best way to create “forever families” and I think we need to keep working to help parents in the adoption process to be informed, have realistic expectations, and offer support when they are home deep in the trenches.
Do you want to join in the disruption conversation or get a view of adoption without the rose-colored glasses? Here are some Facebook group resources.