November 18, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The National Review has this article on adoption (National Review, 11/17/18). Actually, it’s less of an article than a compendium of short pieces by people with various connections to and thoughts on adoption, foster care, etc. Adoptive parents and adults who were adopted as kids chime in with religious leaders, law professors and the like. It’s often moving, partly because kids needing adoption are in such precarious positions and those who adopt often do so out of such a strong sense of love and generosity.
And yet, out of the 14 people who contributed to the article, not one knows the dark underbelly of the adoption system in this country. Each person enthusiastically endorses adoption for all the obvious reasons. Their statements should be read and internalized. These are human beings who want to do good for children in need. Many of them already have and their stories are important.
But their passionate support for adoption needs more. It needs to be informed by the facts about our adoption system that unwittingly hamstrings the very movement the writers so strongly endorse.
As it happens, I’ve recently been talking to a couple of old friends who adopted an Asian girl 16 years ago when she was a year old and a Central American boy when he was five months old. The two are 17 and 15 today. Each is a stellar student and standout musician. To say the least, they owe their well-being and possibly their lives to their loving, nurturing adoptive parents.
The girl was malnourished, infested with parasites, weighed just 15 pounds and couldn’t sit up when my friends picked her up at age one. For the first 12 months of her life, she’d lived in an orphanage where she’d never been held, caressed, read to, sung to, cuddled. She’d been placed in a crib with another child, fed mostly sugar water and left alone. To devise a worse first year of life for a child would be a chore.
The couple’s Central American son had a better start. Essentially, he was fed reasonably well in the orphanage and was held and cuddled daily. His sister, now 17, still exhibits extremes of emotional trauma that stem directly from her lack of loving care in the first months of her life. The boy is better adjusted, although he has his own issues.
I recently had the opportunity to introduce my two friends to another friend of mine. She was adopted by American parents from an orphanage in Viet Nam in the mid-70s. Strangely, when her father was in Saigon, considering whether to adopt her and talking the matter over with his wife long-distance, their neighbors became interested in adopting as well. As things developed, four children from the same orphanage came to live in the same neighborhood in the U.S. with three different families. The four grew up together and now, as mature adults, remain close friends.
None of these adoptees have ever known their biological parents, whether they had siblings or anything about their origins or how or why they came to reside in orphanages. They will never know. But what is certain is that their lives have been immeasurably bettered by adoption. The comparison between what might have been and what has been is astonishing and scary. The difference between a healthy, productive and happy life and starvation in a cold, uncaring orphanage, no family and possibly premature death was, at one time, balanced on a knife edge. Would the American adults choose this one or that one? Would they change their minds and choose none at all? On such things little lives can depend.
The contributors to the National Review piece all grasp those things well. They endorse adoption and want to spread the word to others so that the millions of children in the U.S. and around the world will have a chance at the type of good lives my Vietnamese friend benefited from and my other friends have given their two kids.
I strongly agree.
But there’s a lot the writers don’t know. I’ll write about that tomorrow.