Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Adoption Guest Blogger Kristen Howerton

Kristen and Mark are parents to four beautiful children. Two of the four kids joined their family through adoption. They most recently adopted from Haiti and that is how we met and became friends. Kristen wrote this post about what she wished she could have had time to say on a June appearance on "The View".  To read the post and comments at her site you can go here. Kristen has graciously granted me permission to post it in its entirety here. 

Well, folks, my fifteen minutes on The View is up. Despite a slightly mortifying gaffe, I was glad to share a bit of our adoption story on a national media outlet.  Leading up to the show, my mind was racing with points I wanted to make about adoption.  It's something I'm so passionate about, and it's hard not to replay what I wish I would have said.  Here's a bit of it . . .

I wanted to talk about seeing an article in Time magazine when I was 12 years old that forever impacted my life.  I wanted to talk about how haunted I was of the images of Romanian orphanages, and the thought of children growing up without love or affection.  I wanted to talk about how I cut out the photo and had it in my bedroom for years, and how I always knew that I would adopt.

I wanted to talk about the research on reactive attachment disorder, and how common it is among institutionalized children.  I wanted to emphasis how insidious this disorder is, at the individual level as well as on  a societal level.  I wanted to talk about how it can form within the first few months of a child's life, if they do not bond with a parent.  I wanted to share the stories of families I know who are recovering their children from this disorder that is so damaging to the souls of children.  I wanted to talk about how this is a hidden disorder, because the children look so normal to the outside world.

I wanted to talk about the literature on institutionalized children, and how passionately I feel that the love of a family is a BASIC HUMAN RIGHT.

I wanted to talk about the effects of institutionalization I am seeing in my own home.  Even though my son is only three, and even though he was in an amazing orphange. 

I wanted to talk about how deep my love is for my adopted children.  I wanted to share the way I love them every bit as much as the daughters I have birthed.

I wanted to talk about how you can only "save" a child once.  After that, it's called parenting, and it is hard work.  I wanted to emphasis that while I think adoption is a piece in solving the orphan crisis, it should not be a considered a rescue effort at the familial level.  And furthermore, adopted children have the same right to be ungrateful and bitter towards their parents as biological children.

I wanted to say that while some internationally adopted children may choose to return to their birth country to give back in some meaningful way, some may choose to work at a local Starbucks or spend their 20's figuring out their career, and that's okay.  I wanted to challenge the notion that adopted children somehow need to "make good" or redeem themselves by being special, as that narrative is often pushed in entertainment.

I wanted to address the meme of adopted children as lucky. I wanted to point out that adoption results from loss, and that adoption loss is often deeply felt.

I wanted to talk about how poverty is not a reason to remove a child from their birth family.  I wanted to talk about how adoption should not be seen as a way of moving children from an "inferior" to a "superior" culture.  I wanted to talk about how children can grow up happy and loved in any country if they form secure attachments.  I wanted to talk about how a lack of affection is the most disgusting form of poverty, and how that happens right in our own backyard, even in the wealthiest of families.

I wanted to talk about the reasons women place their children in orphanages, and how we need to be looking into family preservation when possible.  I wanted to talk about education, and birth control, and access to medical care, and how proud I am of the work Heartline is doing on those fronts in Haiti.

I wanted to talk about the cultural stigma of adoption in sending countries.  I wanted to talk about why it is unrealistic to propose that international adoption be eradicated in favor of in-country placements, because of some of the barriers in specific countries.  I wanted to talk about the emphasis on blood lines and the stigma of both adoption and out-of-wedlock children in Korea, the one-child laws in China, and the restavek/child slave situation in Haiti.  I wanted to peel back the layers of the cultural issues that result in children being sent from one country to another.

I wanted to talk about the need for reform.  I wanted to talk about the business of adoption, and how agencies are charging exorbitant amounts to complete adoptions.  I wanted to talk about the disparity of costs between adopting healthy white infants and children of color.

I wanted to talk about how, when we called our Christian agency about a healthy African American boy from LA county who was in need of a home, we were told that they had no prospective adoptive parents willing to accept a placement of a black child.  NOT ONE.

I wanted to talk about race preference in adoption, and the fact that a minority status qualifies a child for "special needs" status in the US, regardless of age.

I wanted to talk about the discrimination Jafta has faced already.  I wanted to talk about how transracial adoption has opened my eyes to the over and covert racism that still exists in our country.  I wanted to talk about how frustrating it is when I discuss Jafta's experiences of racism and people dismiss me as being overly sensitive.

I wanted to talk about how, despite how much we long for it, we have had difficulty finding inclusion in the African-American community.  I wanted to talk about how, after two years of going to the same barbershop, the elderly proprietor  finally admitted to Mark that he was just now "cool with us".  I wanted to talk about the sting of wanting to immerse Jafta in his culture, while recognizing that having white parents may set him up for rejection.

I wanted to talk about the deficits that we will have as a white couple raising black children.  I wanted to compare it to a single mom raising boys . . .  how we will need help from others.  I wanted to talk about how painful it can be as a parent to know that, while I can empathize, I will never fully understand my sons' experiences as African Americans, or as transracial adoptees.  I wanted to talk about how every adoptive parent needs to suck up their pride and admit that we can't do it alone.

I wanted to talk about how much I have learned from reading the writings of adult adoptees, and how their experiences of loss and isolation inform me as a parent, and also break my heart.

I wanted to talk about the persistent question I hear asking why people adopt internationally instead of taking care of "our own kids" in the US.  I wanted to talk about how every child, in every nation, is deserving of a family, not just American children.  I wanted to say how petty I find this question.

I wanted to talk about the way our government renames orphans and calls them "wards of the state", and renames orphanages and calls them "group homes", and how we collectively turn a blind eye to the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of children waiting for families in the US.  I wanted to talk about how inefficient, unprofessional, and overworked the LA county social workers were.  I wanted to talk about how many times Jafta's adoption was stalled, during the course of three years, due to someone not doing their job correctly.

I wanted to talk about aspects of Jafta's case that I just can't share because I want to protect his privacy, but that would make your head spin in anger at the mismanagement of children in the system.  I wanted to share what it was like to spend three years wondering if my child, my first son, would be returned to someone who had proved, time and again, that she should not be trusted with children.  I wanted to talk about the ways DCFS lied to us, and the discoveries we made along the way, and the need for reform and funding for our fostercare system.

I wanted to talk about a system that requires foster children to be placed in an adoptive home for 6 months before terminating parental rights, regardless of an absence of reunification efforts by the birth parents.  I wanted to talk about how this scares away prospective adoptive parents, and hurts children by leaving them in a limbo even after years of no contact with birth family.  I wanted to talk about how children whose parents have failed to reunify should be made legally freed for adoption AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, so that more people would be willing to step forward and adopt.

I wanted to talk about the 18-year-olds I regularly see on adoption photolistings.  Kids like Percell who, despite being old enough to live independently, place themselves on national photolistings because they desperately want to be adopted.  Because, in Percell's words, he "wants to become a member of a permanent family".  I wanted to talk about what life must be like for Percell, and other kids like him, who age out of the fostercare system despite a deep desire to have a family even as they enter adulthood.

I wanted to talk about the 300,000 orphans that were not eligible for adoption in Haiti BEFORE the earthquake, verses the 900 that were adopted.  I wanted to talk about how many children around the world will age out of orphanages, due to lack of paperwork or other factors that make them ineligible for adoption.  I wanted to talk about how people who can't adopt can support these orphanages, and to share about some of the orphanages who are doing it well.

I also wanted to talk about the reality that, in third world countries, most orphanage conditions are deplorable.

I wanted to talk about what responsibility we have to caring for our world's orphaned and abandoned children, and the small part adoption can play in that effort.  I wanted to talk about how much we should all be bothered by the numbers of children in our world who are missing out on basic human needs.  Security.  Love.  Affection.

I wanted to say that we should all be doing something.  Not everyone should be adopting.  But we should be doing something.  And we should all be a little sick about it.


kayder1996 said...

Kristen-Your words are exactly what I was thinking as I posted last night to the previous post by Christine. You have seriously said what I was saying last night, just in a much more articulate way! And funnily enough my "adoption brain" started with Romania as well. Someone spoke at church camp my senior year and by the summer in between my freshmen/sophmore years of college, I was on a plane to Romania.

And here in Nebraska, kids must be state care 18 out of 24 months before having rights terminated. How crazy is that?

kaydee said...

Your last statment is something that really hits me. We should all feel sick that it takes so little to help a child and its family to survive. I hope you continue to do what your doing and many blessings to you and yours.


dona said...

I well understand your thoughts. I'm mother of two children that joined us from Bulgaria and Ucraina.
Bless you.

Kristen said...

Amen Kristen! Everything you said is invaluable information that speaks truth about adoption that I wish everyone could read(and they would have given you the whole hour on the View to share it!) Having done foster care for a child with attachment disorder and then adopting our amazing youngest son at age 7 from Haiti, we have faced many of the challenges (and joys) that you addressed. Through our journey we have come to believe, as you do, that adoption is not always the best alternative and that the systems and philosopies behind both domestic and international adoption need to be addressed at the root of the issue-empowering families to be able to keep their children if at all possible. Our family has been blessed 100 fold by adoption, but our passion and long term focus is to help empower families in Haiti to have the resources to be ultimately be able to keep their children. Kudos to John & Beth of Heartline and Troy & Tara for doing exactly that through your ministries.

Terri said...

Very, very well said.

ManyBlessings said...

Screaming AMEN!

Rebecca Barlow said...

Well said!

In preparing for what we've lovingly deemed "round two" of childrearing...I look back & am in utter awe of God and His sovereignty the past 12.5 years. With 4 international "older child" adoptions, 2 w/ severe attachment issues, and no veteran mentors, His grace alone carried us through even when we couldn't see it.

As a mom & as a child of God I lay in waste at times, but "love never fails". Not His love for me, or despite many failings, mine for them.

It's a beautiful thing to watch God redeem your children, only to wake up & realize He's been making you "new" as well!

It's true though, no matter how you do it...caring for one small child in His name, will absolutely change "the world".

In Black and White said...

"I wanted to talk about seeing an article in Time magazine when I was 12 years old that forever impacted my life." Thank you so much for that point, I think it could be the most important thing I've read in a long time.
I've felt for many years that I wanted to adopt some day but as I get older I've questioned my motives, convinced that a feeling that has it's roots in my college days can't be a "real" or "adult" choice. I'm still a way from even starting the process (I'm single and in no position to care for kids yet) but I find myself more and more drawn to blogs like this to learn more - and then feeling like a fraud! I kept thinking that when someday I bring up the subject with a partner or even an adoption agency, the fact that I've wanted to do this since before I was mature enough to understand what I was undertaking would be a giant mark against me.

But I'm 31 years old now, I've moved halfway across the world, taken on large responsibilities professionally, I live on my own, pay all my own bills and look after my own dog and fosters, I'm a trusted friend and loyal family member, I've loved and lost and grown a lot. Someday I'll be in a position to adopt and I no longer feel like I have to justify the fact that I've wanted to do so for such a long time. Thank you!

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