A Response to Adoption Critics

I read a lot of, probably too many, adoption-issue blogs. I read from adoptive moms and get instruction and encouragement. I read from adult adoptees and gain insight to possible future struggles. And then I read the comments. Oh, those wonderful comments. It is there that I learn about some of the “other” issues in adoption.

There are always those who believe adoption is nothing more than a money-making business in which children are bought and sold like milk and eggs. These same people claim that most orphans exist around the world because of the evil westerner’s appetite to adopt. *Warning: this is highly emotional topic for me. Continue reading at your own risk.*

There is some truth in their comments. Where man exist, there will always be evil. Places do exist where babies are “purchased” and placed for adoption. The baby markets are discovered, adoption is shut down for a while, and new policies are put in place to protect both women and children. Not so long ago, Guatemala went through this process.

In recent years, the Ethiopian adoption world was also rocked by scandal. A prominent agency was found traveling through remote villages asking parents if they wanted to send their children to America to be educated. The parents thought it was a great opportunity and believed their children would be returned several years in the future, only to find out later their kids were adopted internationally.

Westerners are willing to wait 5-6 long years, to adopt a baby girl from China. Apparently feeding the adoption machine and leading to more women giving up their babies. “Supply and demand,” is shouted by commenters on blog after blog.

While these issues exist, they are not the norm in adoption. And, they are not the reason orphans exist in the world. Orphans exist because we live in an imperfect world, corrupted by sinful man. Parent’s get sick, families die, social, economic, and even political pressures, unknown to us in the West, lead to drastic decisions. And sometimes, life just isn’t valued. Adoptive families wait for months and sometimes years, not because of lack of orphans, but because most countries only allow a few to be adopted each year. Even so, children sit on “waiting lists” all around the world, waiting for someone to “pick” them.

In some Asian countries political and social expectations allow families to have only 1 or 2 children. If they only get to keep one or two, the parents don’t want a sick, disabled, or even a female child. These children fill the orphanages, not because of adoption wants, but because they are unwanted by their birth families. Others are tossed in garbage heaps and never make it to a place of safety. We worked in several orphanages in Asia where hundreds of kids were deemed “unadoptable” because of their race, region, or just because there were already too many on a waiting list that never empties.

There are some African countries were children are kept “hostage” by well-meaning humanitarian groups because the region receives money based on the number of orphans in their homes. Then there are those children who move to the city after their parents die and join gangs just to stay alive. Orphanages throughout Africa are filled with children who watch babies come and go to western families while they wait. Growing older, knowing their opportunity for a home is slipping away.

In Eastern Europe, the survival rate of children who age out of orphanages is usually only 3-5 years. That means if they age out at age 15, most have died by age 20 usually after going down the road of prostitution and drug abuse. Siblings and older kids often just resign themselves to the fact they are unwanted. And now, because of political posturing, Russia won’t allow Americans to adopt.

Many of these countries try to find nationals to adopt first, but the truth is, it just doesn’t happen often enough. The possibility of Asians adopting, even a relative, is rare. Very few Ethiopians adopt. Eastern Europeans don’t have a much better track record. The lack of local adoptions isn’t always linked to economics, either. Adoption is just not something that is done, or accepted, in many countries.

Adoption isn’t the evil culprit. It is part of the solution. No, I didn’t say it is THE solution, but is part of it. That is, when it works…when people actually adopt. One site, rainbowkids.com, has a photo listing of over 2,000 waiting children from countries all over the world (and this is just their current listing). Most are special needs, which means anything from a heart murmur or an older child to Hep B or HIV. Special scholarships have been set up in some cases, regulations have been waived by the countries to try to find homes for these kids.

Maybe the reason so many kids are waiting isn’t because the adoption machine fuels the problem, but because westerners have become too content with their neat, little lives. A house, 2 cars, 2 or 3 kids, jobs, security, retirement, entertainment, first world luxuries, daily or weekly Starbucks visits…normalcy.

I read somewhere recently that if the church, believers, would get involved, there would be no more orphans dying from neglect, malnutrition, or abuse. But what does it mean to get involved? It doesn’t mean that every person has to adopt a child. (But, more should and I highly recommend it. It is life changing and faith building.) Maybe you give to help another family bring their child home. Not just money, but your time. You invest in the lives of those kids so mom and dad can have a date night. Maybe you support a child in an orphanage so they can go to school, learn a skill, and become a productive part of society as an adult. Maybe you help an organization that supports local families and seeks to keep them together. Find a ministry where the majority of the money (or all the money) goes to the work being done and not to management. An orphanage in Asia speaks Truth into the lives of kids daily and needs help to provide schooling. A special school in Ethiopia trains orphans in vocational skills and provides needed jobs. Opportunity abounds.

If you’ve never stepped inside an orphanage, maybe you should. We were blessed to be able to work with disabled children for a short time in Asia. And by we, I mean all of us, small children included. To see my kids carrying a child who couldn’t walk, talking to a child with severe spasms, singing songs with kids who couldn’t speak, ignoring the smells, sounds, and drool was amazing. We may have encouraged and blessed those kids, but they did far more for us. They taught us lessons of compassion, not pity. They smiled, they loved on us, their faces lit up with joy that often first-world kids no nothing of. They stole my heart and we were blessed.

The Bible has a lot to say about the treatment of orphans (the fatherless) and widows. God isn’t silent on this issue. Because of sin, orphans, widows, and the poor will always exist. We can’t completely wipe out poverty and injustice, but we can help. James 1:27 says, “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

I did warn you, I get emotional when it comes to adoption issues. I’ve seen the kids waiting. I’ve heard the older ones ask if I knew of a family that would adopt them. I’ve seen the kids desperate for love and affection. Yes, I get emotional. I’ve held a girl as she sobbed because her best friend, her “sister” was coming home with me. Then I held my girl as she cried out for her friend during the night. Yes, I get emotional. I’ve seen the boy who would “never” walk, running into his house after school. I’ve seen the girl who couldn’t speak, whose mind they said was gone, sign to me that she understood the gospel, and loved Jesus. I’ve seen babies crying for attention and the toddlers clinging to nurses. Oh, yes, I am definitely emotional. But it isn’t only emotion that I feel. It is purpose and resolve, too.

I can’t help but feel sad when I see the complexity of orphan care reduced to outcries like “end adoption, stop the baby factories” or “stealing children away from their birth culture should be a crime.” In a one-dimensional world, life might be that simple. But that isn’t the world we live in. Healing comes after immense loss, victory from dark struggles, and treasure from great expense.

Getting involved is tough, it is challenging. But I am thankful for the incredible opportunity to walk the amazing, twisting road of adoption.

~ Regina

*Our first family picture with H.

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