Full disclosure: In the beginning, we were looking at international adoption because I believed a bunch of the common domestic infant adoption myths, including the whole “the birth parents can come back at any time” issue. However, once I learned the facts, I really wasn’t afraid of birth parents. Now that research is showing that open adoptions are better for adoptees, I’m especially glad to have contact with my children’s birth parents.
That said, I was talking about adoption on Facebook. One thread was in an adoption group, in which a person asked “Why did you choose to go international vs. domestic adoption or vice versa?” One thread was in a group completely unrelated to adoption, but in which an adoptive mom has been matched with an expectant mom, and people were wishing her well and asking a few respectful questions.
In the first group, someone posted that she wanted to know that the child she is adopting has no other parents. In the second group, someone posted that she chose international adoption so she could have closed adoptions.
I am not vilifying these people. I’m sure that their thoughts on adoption and birth parents are more complex than can adequately be conveyed in comments on a Facebook thread. However, it is those simple, sound bite thoughts that frustrate me when it comes to talking to new prospective adoptive parents.
You see, children who are adopted internationally do have birth parents. These kids didn’t just spring to life fully formed next to a river or on the steps of an orphanage. In international adoptions, people are finding that children who end up in orphanages do have at least one living parent, a lot more often than we think. It’s very complicated, and one of the reasons why international adoptions are plagued by ethics concerns.
But even if they don’t, even if they were truly abandoned or their birth parents are verifiably dead, children adopted internationally still have birth parents.
The difference is, they may never know who their birth parents are. Instead, they have an idea in their head – probably many ideas throughout their lives – of who their birth parents are/were. Adoptive Families has covered this a few times, and it makes sense to me. If kids don’t know who their birth parents are, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have birth parents. It just means that they have phantoms, or fantasies, that they live with in place of the blood and tissue birth parents that children in open adoptions have. Adoptive parents still have to honor the birth parents of children adopted internationally. Birth parents still need to be a part of the conversation.
Again, I’m not saying that the parents who made these comments are doing anything wrong. I think it’s hard to express one’s self in the comments on Facebook. That’s actually why I came over here to write a larger piece than a comment would allow.
Why would I bother? Because I think it’s easy for people who are new to adoption to assume that, if they adopt internationally, they won’t have to deal with birth parents. However, they do have to deal with birth parents, just in a different way. I think that I once thought of birth parents as something other, separate. Now, I see them as family, warts and all. I think that people who adopt internationally must also come to think of their children’s birth parents as family somehow, even if they never meet and don’t know who they are. I imagine that has to be very difficult for them.
My point? If you’re reading this blog post and thinking “Should I adopt internationally or domestically?” I urge you not to choose international adoption primarily because you won’t have to worry/deal with/have contact with birth parents. There are other reasons to choose international adoption, but my opinion is that the absence of birth parents shouldn’t be one of those reasons.