Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Open International Adoption - Is that a thing?

Part II

See Part I  first, please.

Hope with her older sister in 2012

During an adoption, please try to meet the birth parent if at all possible or allowed. If the child you are adopting is a true orphan, try to meet an aunt or a grandma or connect with the nanny that cared for him/her if possible. Take photos if allowed. After you adopt, please try to send them photos and updates once a year or more if at all possible or allowed. You may see no need for it, but it is a kind thing to do and it provides someone with less power a way to feel a little bit of peace. Most birth families just want to know the child is well. The cell phone and Internet make contact much less complicated. If sending photos by snail mail is your only option, try to do that. 

When our children grow up, they are going to ask us things about their first family. The more we can tell them, the better. Making contact after many years is more difficult than just having it from the start. (This is not illegal in Haitian adoptions. I cannot speak to the rules of other countries.) 

I urge you to see a documentary called Closure if you have not been exposed to adult adoptees wanting and needing to find their first family. 

I am only guessing, but I bet most adoptive parents cannot consider a trip to the country of their child's birth.  For those that can now, or think they might in the distant future, the questions below were posed by adoptive parents.  I don't know many of the answers. I am not going to make answers up, I can't answer all the questions.  

Every kid is different, every situation is unique. Most of what I have learned is from listening to my own kids and to adult adoptees and hearing them say that the information about their birth families mattered to them. I did not force my kids to meet their birth families. I waited for my kids to ask and be interested. 

In Part III I will share along with our two older kids, what this journey has meant to them and the things they have learned about themselves as a result of meeting their first families.

Prepping the kids:
  • Is it feasible to visit with formerly adopted kids? If the child you adopted has been issued a U.S. Passport and any required visitors visas, they should be free to travel back to the country of their birth. We have met numerous adoptive families as they stop in to say hello while on a trip to reconnect with a first family. There are adoptive families that have reconnected successfully with their birth-family. I have seen it work and have mainly been told it was a positive experience for them all.
  • Who decides when to come? In my opinion your child needs to be ready to come and needs to want to come. I am not a psychologist, but I don't think you should do this until your child has a desire to do it. Ask a psychologist or smart person.
  • If we are not ready to come, how can we send photos and an update? Do you have contact info for the orphanage you adopted from? Can you send photos to that orphanage in case your first family stops in asking for word of their child or children? If you have the ability to do so, (during an adoption) getting an email address of the first family or of a friend of the first family makes a lot of sense. Most (materially poor) people have a way to go access the Internet or have a friend that does. Sending photos digitally only takes asking which address you can email them to every so often. For example, our daughters first Mom does not speak English but she has a friend that makes calls for her to contact English speaking friends in the USA.  This same guy emails for her on occasion and can do so in English.
  • How do we prep the kids for experiencing Haiti? The kids are really worried about the poverty, how do we prepare them for that? It would be wise to talk about poverty and prepare them for what they will see. Adopted or not, poverty can be a hard thing for kids to see and process. Our daughters first came to Haiti at ages 7 and 12 and both struggled with the needs they saw. We spent a lot of time on those trips just talking about how they felt.
  • How do we portray Haiti (any country) factually, but positively, so that they understand that people may not have *things*, but that they are proud and strong? I don't know exactly how you portray things positively, but I do know that the media portrayal of Haiti hasn't been helpful. (I assume other developing-world countries have unfair and over-the-top media-spun images too.) Sometimes seeing poverty is so painful that we separate ourselves from it by deciding things about "those people". I think it is good for all of us to remember and teach our children that we are all so much more alike than we are different. Our basic needs for love, acceptance, food, shelter, etc are the same. The difference really only lies in our access to those things.

Practical considerations:

  • How easy/hard is it to find birth families if it has been a while since we've had contact? There are obviously situations that can make it very difficult to find a birth family. The earthquake in Haiti means that for those that adopted prior to 2010, it may be very difficult to locate a birth family. If you have a name and a photograph of a birth parent and a last known area where they lived, I would say that word of mouth is one of the most insanely effective ways of communication in the developing world. It has happened more than once that one person went into an area to say, "We are looking for this person", and within a few days the person was found. In some countries there are people that have made a business out of helping make a connection between adoptive and birth families. It is a great idea and something that a bi-lingual go getter could make a living doing.  We don't currently have anyone to refer adoptive parents that have adopted from Haiti to, but we have presented the idea to a couple of friends to consider. There would be financial risk involved - adoptive parents should plan to pay a non-refundable fee to begin the search and then if successful there would likely be fees to help make the appropriate connections to begin correspondence. Again, making these connections during an adoption is a lot easier then trying to find someone you lost contact with many years ago. 
  • When visiting Haiti, where do you recommend families stay? How would we do things like: hire someone to translate, get around, etc? Do you recommend that we have the birth families visit us at a guest house, etc?  Do you recommend that we visit the families at their home, if invited? Depending on your budget, there are options for where to stay. A guesthouse or hotel/motel makes the most sense. It is good to have a safe and calm place to return to at the end of an emotionally intense day and your kids will need the down time.  Again, the details are very much a personal choice. For the first three years of our relationship with our kids' families we met them at a neutral location. It felt like the right thing then.  Now, we will often go to visit them at their houses. Hope and Isaac have both visited their birth-parents at their homes. Depending on your child, you can decide if a meeting at a guesthouse or hotel makes more sense than visiting at their home. I don't have a list of drivers and translators (because we drive and don't use translators often) but I would guess that if you contacted people that work in the area you hope to visit (google search blogs of missionaries, ask friends, network) you could find someone that would be able to give you names of trustworthy drivers and translators. Hiring independent translators and drivers makes a lot of sense. It is good to meet with them first if you want to explain why you are visiting and build some understanding and trust with the translator. (This also helps you find out how good their English skills are.) 
  • Are there safety considerations we should keep in mind? I can obviously only speak to Haiti's security situation. If you are smart and careful, I don't think there are many risks to visiting Haiti. If you feel super afraid of coming, I don't think you should come until you can shake that fear and come with confidence and joy and anticipation. When I say be smart and careful, I just mean don't go for a walk alone at midnight, stuff like that. 
  • Would you recommend taking the birth families to a nicer place to eat and spend the day, or is it better to "keep it simple?" It would be very kind to take them to a meal. It would very much depend on what they are comfortable with. Depending on their economic level, they may prefer to do something simpler. You could ask them and give them the choice. In our experience, for kids that are not in their mid teens yet, three or four hours together is going to be emotionally tiring and you wouldn't necessarily want to plan for an entire day on the first visit. 

Cultural considerations when interacting with families:

  • What expectations might birth families have of us?(financial or otherwise)  If your kids have lost their language skills, it may surprise the first family and you'll want to prepare your kids for that. We have found that many birth families haven't really considered that aspect and it surprises them. If you have a way to have them know that in advance it will help lessen the awkward. I think each family will be unique. A lot will depend on what your orphanage told them. It is possible that they have been promised your help by someone else along the way. They may have been told that "someday" their child is going to return to help them. Be prepared to communicate in an honest and straight-forward way. It is okay to say, "No, I cannot buy you a house." They don't know what your finances look like and much like you and I cannot imagine trying to get by on a few dollars a day, they cannot imagine what having money means. There is a gap in understanding one another that can be filled with love as long as you try not to get mad at being asked. It is best never to say "maybe" about helping.  Say no until you know 100% that you can come through. Broken promises are a bad way to start a relationship and maybe means yes to a lot of people.   (I answered this as if the adoption was long ago complete and final. DO NOT give any gifts at all if your adoption is in process. Please know that it is illegal and while probably totally innocent - it could get you in a lot of trouble.) 
  • Hope with her niece, Judnah on the day she was born
  • How do you navigate a level of openness that you feel comfortable with?  For example, if they want to call, and we are not comfortable with that, but would be comfortable with pictures and/or updates. What expectations might birth families have of the kids?  What about helping birth families long after the adoption is done.  Should we? Decide in advance what you and the children you share are most comfortable with - go in with a plan to communicate that. Be honest. You can say, "No, we cannot take phone calls but we would love to email or send letters."  That might make some first-families mad but that is okay. For example, our first families have our phone numbers but they don't know where we live. When we first entered into relationship with them we did not give out our phone number. That came as trust was built. Like anything involving expectations, your role is to clearly communicate. If someone is upset over unmet expectations that is their issue, not yours. Honesty and being totally straight forward is best. 
Sometimes people just need to be heard.  If there is one thing I have learned it is this, just because someone tells you they don't have enough food or a way to pay for an operation or a house that keeps them dry in the rain, it does not mean they expect you to make it all better. They are sharing their life. Just the way you sit down and tell your friends that so and so is fighting Cancer and so and so just lost their job. Sharing our sorrows is different than expecting someone to fix our sorrows. Most of the time, people just need you to sit with them in their place of pain and need. They don't need your pity, they need your respect.

Disclaimer: I write from my experiences. They are all in Haiti. I cannot speak to detailed questions about other countries/cultures or cultural norms. Totally generalizing, but I think most birth-mothers think about their child and wonder frequently if they are okay. The point of Open Int'l Adoption is two-fold - 1. To help children have answers about their heritage and history and 2. To respect the sacrifice and emotional scars of the birth-family and provide them with proof of their child's well-being. Adoptive parents are wise to go into an adoption concerned about these things.