Being anti-adoption on world adoption day

Today is world adoption day and as someone who has just this week completed an adoption half way across the world, I am even more excited than the previous four year to participate.

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But, I am sad, too. I am sad for every instance that adoption is necessary. I am sad for every infant separated from the mother they shared a body with. I am sad for every child in foster care who asks “When can I go home?” until they ultimately stop asking, not because the loss has passed but because the loss has become their norm. I am sad for kids who lose their language and culture and country.  I am sad for every teenager passed over by family after family that ends up in a group home until they age out onto the streets and the statistics that follow them. I am so, so sad for every momma who thinks/knows, for whatever reason, that she cannot parent her child. That is the deepest tragedy.

I am sad that there is even a need for adoption.

We have a real problem in how we portray and perceive adoption in America, particularly in Christian circles. I often challenge those ideals and am regularly labeled anti-adoption, and I have settled into a middle place that feels comfortable… or rather, feels so uncomfortable that I know it is where I am called to rest. I know that my heart sings for every child without a family who finds a safe, loving place to forever lay their heads and hearts. I also know that I have come to identify disruption (“un-adopting” a child already adopted) before it happens from a few key ideals, mainly the idea that we are the answer, as parents, instead of one piece of many.

We have to stop pretending that trauma and loss can be cured with love, guys. We have to stop thinking that moving to America fixes everything. We have to stop thinking that showing the “love of Christ” and “living the gospel” means we, ourselves, are Christ and capable of redemption.

What continues to confound me is that this is offensive to people. And I mean… offensive. I cannot believe some of the things that have been said to me over this matter. From Christians. Who want to be left alone to “save the children.”

To say yes to adoption isn’t saying yes to saving a child. It’s saying yes to walking a road with that child paved in loss, pain, questions about identity and belonging, trauma. And guess what guys? That manifests itself in very unlovable ways. If you are believing that you can fix a child with love, you are setting yourself up for a very big let down and this is how we have a thriving “second chance adoption” industry… kids adopted with needs too profound for the parents. Kids that need love the most will ask for it in the most unlovable ways (and let us be honest here… there is plenty of culpability on agencies and the foster system in this problem). Yes, sometimes it is also a literal saving of a child with no future and often with no physical safety. Happy endings can still feel elusive if you don’t realistically define the success, though. Full healing may not happen this side of heaven.

I don’t share these things to scare or discourage. I just cannot think of any job where the only qualification is “love” and “faith.” Actively participating in adoption, whether you are a foster parent, adoptive parent or support person in the triad requires a fully stocked tool kit, and resources beyond your own. These are kids who need therapy, help attaching, processing tools, patience and understanding of trauma’s lifelong effects on a child.

What is particularly frustrating to me is when I share that I understand these kids in a way that many don’t because I am one of them and people dismiss everything I say because I am “bitter.” Chew on that for a second…. my educated, informed, lived opinion is worthless because I am an adult from childhood trauma. Despite my education and involvement in the system from nearly every angle, what I say is discounted because I lived it. When we think that the people in our churches patting us on the backs are more worthy of our ear than someone who emerged successfully on the other side, we have a very large problem. 

Adoption is the solution to many kiddo’s problem, yes, if we are only discussing the problem as being the absence of a family. Acknowledging that it’s so much more complex than that isn’t anti-adoption. In fact, I consider myself about as pro-adoption as a person could be… and part of that, for me, is to advocate for the whole family. Informed families are healthy families.

Here is what I will agree with: Adoption can change lives for the better. There are also a million other ways to do so. I often credit where I am today to a handful of exceptional adults who saw me, the me inside the me that acted like I was tough. Teachers. A coach. A professor. A nun.

In many situations, adoption is the only answer, too. It saddens me to see how few of these situations catch the attention of prospective parents, though. People are waiting years and years for situations they desire, while orphanages are full of children in dire need of a family, while in their own towns siblings are being separated and parceled out because no one is willing to take them all because some have more ‘problems’ than others. This is a separate conversation about accepting what you can handle, but it’s part of my ‘rethink adoption’ battle cry: we need to stop worrying so much about finding the child for our family and instead find a family for every. single. child. who is already existing without one. {I cannot speak to domestic infant adoption, I am not involved in it at all, but I know it can use a heaping dose of reform, as well.} That is when I will happily adopt (har har, pun intended) the “adoption is love” party line. Until then, I am still saying that we have some work to do.

Keep loving adoption, friends, but love it as a whole… the broken, the beauty, the hurt, the healing, the triggers, the sadness, the grief and the rising. As Glennon Doyle says… first the pain, and then the rising. When you walk with a child in the hurt, it will hurt you, too. But the rising is coming.

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