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Opinion: Author, Lecturer Mirah Riben Responds to St. Michael Patch Adoption Series

Noted author and lecturer Mirah Ruben of Advocate Publications weighs in on our National Adoption Month Series with this warning: Not everything is as it seems.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed through this column are those of Ms. Riben, and do not represent those of St. Michael Patch, Patch.com or our parent company, AOL.

In response to the article: “National Adoption Month: Faux Pas

Some people are genuinely rude and thoughtless, and at other times we may be over-thinking, or being overly sensitive. People are curious and anything out of the ordinary is fuel. Mothers or fathers of red-haired children–with nothing to do with adoption–are often asked, for instance: “Where did he (or she) get that gorgeous red hair?” Many comments need to be put into that type of context.

If you have adopted more than one child, why wouldn’t people be curious if they were a sibling group or adopted separately? Is it wrong to ask? Of course, the general public lacks knowledge of sophisticated language and unique vocabulary known to those within the adoption community. Acceptable language also changes over time.

People who choose to adopt trans-racially have (hopefully) thought through how their family will be forever changed into an inter-racial family and as such will garner looks, stares and questions other more homogeneous families will not incur. I often find curious the dichotomy of adoptive parents some of whom get up in arms when newspaper articles note adoptive status and bemoan attention, while others–such as politicians, celebs and just plain regular folks–seem to thrive on it, wearing their adoptive parent status as a badge of honor and pride. I have had strangers volunteer to me that their child was adopted, without my ever asking. Some in front of their children.

The response: “I did not buy my children, I paid for services to adopt my children” may be comforting to the adopter when asked about payments and fees, but may be a semantic game akin to adoptive parent Jerry Sandusky [allegedly] saying he did nothing wrong, just “horsed around” with [according to testimony] naked boys in the shower!

In the documentary "Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy" the prospective adoptive mother is in a hotel in China counting out cash for bribes. She comments that some might think this wrong, but it’s “the way things are done here.” 

When adoptive parents turn a blind eye and justify such obvious criminal activity, they are very much part of the problem. No child trafficking for adoption would exist without demand and no one willing to pay the piper. When such blatantly questionable disregard for ethics are flaunted as they are in this film, it unfortunately reflects on all adoptive families, and leaves every adoptive parent in a position of needing to defend adoption and their role in it.

We live in a time when not all stories about adoptions are warm and fuzzy with happily-ever-after endings. Reports of corruption and child trafficking have emerged from all corners of the globe: China, Spain, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Vietnam, Cambodia, Samoa. The public is seeing behind the curtain and viewing adoption in its full nakedness and the glaring truth it is not always pretty. Such cases shatter the once impenetrable image of adoption as a win-win act of altruism.

Caring, intentional adopters such as the Smolins and the Rollins are speaking out after having unwittingly and unknowingly adopted stolen children from India. David Smolin in fact has become the leading media “go to ”expert on the subject of child trafficking and child laundering for adoption. We–and the public–are now aware that children are passed off as abandoned or have falsified DNA and women other than their mother posing for pictures and even stating that they voluntarily placed their child for adoption.

Adoptive families cringe at questions headlines about Timothy and Jennifer Monahan, who have been ordered to return a child who was kidnapped from Guatemala, and tremble with fear of facing the same crisis. No matter how ethical or reputable a U.S. adoption agency is, none can guarantee that children being placed have been acquired fully legally, and the mother was not coerced and all extended family have been located and were unable to care for the child being placed. Some have subsequently been able to meet their child’s mother and feel confident, others are unable to.

Adoptive parents must toughen up and prepare themselves for tough questions as the veneer is peeled away and the lies and corruption that is endemic in adoption is exposed. And so too must the children you have taken into your lives.

Finally, I would like to point out that it is a faux pas and an insult to assume that any mother made an “adoption plan.”

No mother (other than a paid surrogate) intentionally conceives a child, carries it for nine months, labors and birth with the goal of giving to strangers. Every adoption – domestic or international – begins with a tragedy, not a plan. To suggest it was a plan might ease and comfort those who have adopted, but it is offensive to all mothers who have lost children to adoption and to the every adopted person.

Sensitive language needs to be sensitive to ALL the parties in adoption.

MIRAH RIBEN is author of two internationally acclaimed books, shedding light …The Dark Side of Adoption (1988) and The Stork Market: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry (2007) and numerous articles.

Former Director of the American Adoption Congress, Riben has been researching, writing and speaking about the need to reform, humanize, and de-commercialize American adoption practices since 1979.

Erica Gindele December 01, 2011 at 09:28 PM
Dana, I am an adoptee. My life is not perfect, but it is beautiful and full of love. Your situation sounds horrific, and although I don't know the details I certainly can feel your pain. It is obvious that what we have learned through this discussion is that our system is not perfect, and perhaps we need to find a way to bring it to the attention of our government for reform.
Liz Edw December 01, 2011 at 09:34 PM
Erica, I knew you didn't mean any malice. I have several large support groups made up of other adoptees. The new passport rules require a long form birth certificate or signed affidavits and other things that an adoptee of a closed adoption doesn't have and has no way to get. An amended birth certificate or one missing both parents names will no longer be accepted. I know of at least two international adoptees who were deported back to a country they knew nothing about when they applied for a passport because the weren't legally adopted and therefore not legally an American.There's also the question of medical history being denied to us. I have breast cancer. I may have other health issues that are genetic. Doctors write adopted on our charts and they don't check for things as they would if I could say for instance my father dies of a heart attack. We're just out there, Outside normalcy.
Tracy Calmer December 01, 2011 at 09:36 PM
I am an adoptee as well....and yes, adoption is a tragedy. And I experienced a "good adoption". Being taken from my family and having them replaced with another, then changing my identity was not and never will be ok. I'm reunited with my natural parents now for 20 years and we're never able to get those years back. I'd like to ad THIS HAS NOT A THING TO DO WITH MY ADOPTIVE PARENTS who are wonderful people. Please implying that just because one has a "good experience" in adoption that there isn't a loss. THERE IS. I will never, ever, ,ever support adoption. It's a permanent "solution" for a temporary situation. I believe all children should be parented by their natural parent and if that's not possible, a family member. As a last resort guardianship with always having full disclosure to the child's natural family. Giving (selling) a child to strangers, changing it's identity then sealing the very document that holds one's true identity is disgusting and shame on anyone who supports it.
Mike Schoemer (Editor) December 01, 2011 at 09:38 PM
Keep the comments above the board. Thus far, I don't see anything on a personal attack level that warrants deletion, but let's try to keep it clean.
Karen Lehner Dawber December 01, 2011 at 09:45 PM
The tragedy for the natural family is that they were, more often than not, cast by the wayside, not given complete information on how they might receive financial support to raise their child themselves or told about kinship care or guardianship. More often than not the natural fathers are not even aware that their child is being considered for adoption. More often than not, the single young mother's are coerced illegally to surrender their babies because they are much younger, much less educated and with much less financial support than the prospective adoptive parents. The tragedy is that once the baby's relinquishment papers are signed, while often times the natural mother is still sedated by drugs and under many hormonal imbalances from having just delivered, it is too soon for her to have made a educated decision. There are no federal adoption regulations but each state has differing regulations which are complex. The tragedy is that no matter what the prospective adopters were told by the agency, the adopted baby and adult will always feel abandoned. They can speak for themselves now that they are adults so you need to listen to them. No one can guarantee that the adoptive parents will remain in a better financial position in the future or that even the adoptive parents will remain married to each other. There are many children in foster care that desperately need loving homes. Once the baby is signed over the natural family trauma just begins. That is tragic.
Jennifer December 01, 2011 at 09:47 PM
"I am the product of a domestic adoption, and I'm quite happy that my parents "purchased" me. " I assum this is sarcasm, but what if you were an and adult adoptee who learned they were literally purchased? Is that not a "tragedy" on many levels? And what makes purchasing a person morally and ethically okay? What are you defending, exactly? No one is attacking the love your parents showed you, and one has to wonder why the defense? My point is, that while YOUR adoption may to YOU be wonderful and loving, there are many, many others that are NOT. The media spends the vast majority of time propping up adoption and showing only one side, all too often, yours. But there are many (like myself, and adoptive parent) that take strong opposition to your assertions that adoption is a bed of roses, because that's an easier pill to swallow, isn't it? It takes brave, courageous voices like Mirah's, to stand up against the tide of opposition to express the thoughts and feelings of those who are continually silenced.
Erica Gindele December 01, 2011 at 09:51 PM
I just read the passport requirements on travel.state.gov, and I see the ammendment. I was part of a closed adoption as well, but I have birth certificate with my adoptive parents names on it. If you are a domestic adoptee, don't we all get reissued a birth certificate with our adoptive parents names? I don't know, I'm just curious. And I have a previous post under Adoption Faux Pas, that completely agrees with you. I have no medical history or access to my birth parents identifying information; it is my right to have this information. I feel it is all of our right to have access to whatever information is available surrounding our birth and heritage. Especially with all we know about diseases that are hereditary. But, to be honest, I have done nothing in the way of lobbying for reform on these laws. So I don't feel like I can really complain, when I've personally done nothing to make it better.
Liz Edw December 01, 2011 at 09:52 PM
I really like the way you put that. "It's a permanent "solution" for a temporary situation." That's exactly right.
Liz Edw December 01, 2011 at 10:06 PM
Yes, Erica, most of us do get new birth certificates if we are adopted at birth, but there is a time limit involved so if you are adopted later as a child you have a really hard time.. If the birth certificate is changed after that time, it is not considered valid for identification to get a passport. I'm going to post the rules here for other people. *A certified birth certificate has a registrar's raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar's signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar's office, which must be within 1 year of your birth. Please note, some short (abstract) versions of birth certificates may not be acceptable for passport purposes. Beginning April 1, 2011, all birth certificates must also include the full names of the applicant's parent(s). For more information, please see New Requirement for all U.S. Birth Certificates. So many of us don't have this or the ability to get documentation to work around this. I was speaking with a man this morning whose daughter wants to go to college in Australia and he can't leave the country to see her graduate. He also has to turn down internationals projects offered through his work. It's a mess and things may change eventually, but not soon enough.
Liz Edw December 01, 2011 at 10:07 PM
New U.S. Birth Certificate Requirement Beginning April 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of State will require the full names of the applicant’s parent(s) to be listed on all certified birth certificates to be considered as primary evidence of U.S. citizenship for all passport applicants, regardless of age. Certified birth certificates missing this information will not be acceptable as evidence of citizenship. This will not affect applications already in-process that have been submitted or accepted before the effective date. For more information, see 22 CFR 51.42(a). To obtain a new birth certificate, see the CDC. In addition to this requirement, certified copies of birth certificates must also include the following information to be considered acceptable primary evidence of U.S. citizenship: Full name of the applicant Date of birth Place of birth Raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal of issuing authority Registrar’s signature The date the certificate was filed with the registrar’s office (must be within one year) If you cannot obtain a birth certificate that meets these requirements, please see Secondary Evidence of U.S. Citizenship.
Erica Gindele December 01, 2011 at 10:24 PM
Yes, I took offense to Mirah's implication that all adopted children are essentially purchased. I absolutely agree that there is much reform needed in adoption, domestically and internationally. No person should be stolen from their parents or denied access to information about their birth and history, just as no child should have to be raised in an abusive home (whether or not that home is with their natural parents). There are good parents & bad parents in all types of families. Just as there are as many unhappy biological children as there are unhappy adopted children. I can only assume that my birth mother was conflicted about her decision to put me up for adoption, and that she loves me. However, it is not ALWAYS the case. I personally know a woman who found her birth parents, only to realize they were married with children when they had her, were still married, and had another child after her. They told her they simply didn't want a girl. Everything is situational, everything. I have not walked a mile in your shoes, nor you in mine. The point should not be to generalize any of our statements. Adoption isn't always a tragedy, nor is it always a joy. We should be informing people, not casting judgement.
Mirah Riben December 01, 2011 at 11:36 PM
Jessica - I have no idea who Michelle Berglund is or where she is mentioned in my blog post.
Mirah Riben December 01, 2011 at 11:59 PM
There are happy adoptees, content, grateful, etc. And there are unhappy adoptees, some because they have been abused, some because - no matter how well loved and cared for - they have no right to their own birth certificate in most states. That some adoptees are happy is a moot point, however. I am divorced and happily so, but I do not go around promoting divorce as a solution without the knowledge that divorce divides a family, causes separation and loss and much consequence especially for children. It is not something to be taken lightly and should be a last resort only when it is the only alternative, despite the fact it often leads to new family creations. The same should apply to adoption but it doesn't. Adoption is praised, sold as "win-win" when it is a trade off. It's promoted & encouraged with federal tax credits etc. as if all adoption were equally altruistic, which they are not. The majority of getting tax credits are used to take children from foster care - as that incentive was originally intended - but rather to adopt internationally at tax payers expense, leaving tax payers still supporting the children in foster care. So the happiness or not of adoptees is not the point - or at least not MY point! For me, the issue is the adoption INDUSTRY and the corruption that the gvt does nothing to control. For me, the end does not justify the means. And for me, even one child stolen or kidnapped for adoption is one too many.
Mirah Riben December 02, 2011 at 12:05 AM
Does it help if I say that RELINQUISHMENT is a tragedy (not adoption)? That a mother not being able to support or care for her child is a tragedy? THAT is what I mean when I say every adoption BEGINS with a tragedy. Without a mother loosing her child - a tragedy to most moral people in a sane culture - there would be no adoption. And that applies to so-called "voluntary" as well involuntary relinquishments. is it not a tragedy when a child is removed because he has allegedly been abused? So, can we agree that relinquishment is a tragedy?
Mirah Riben December 02, 2011 at 12:44 AM
Ya'll might want to check out this radio interview podcast: http://www.tinyspark.org/podcast/adoption/
Michelle December 02, 2011 at 01:23 AM
To help you remember: This is a quote from your article: 'The response: “I did not buy my children, I paid for services to adopt my children” may be comforting to the adopter when asked about payments...' This is a quote of Michelle in the article you referenced. I full heartily agree she deserves an apology. You are correct, you don't know who she is. Maybe you should personally introduce yourself and meet her wonderful family and then apologize in person.
Mirah Riben December 02, 2011 at 01:51 AM
Michelle - Thank you for clarifying that for me about Michelle. If you note the title of my piece above it is an OPINION! I do not feel the need to apologize for having a difference of opinion. We are ALL entitled to have our opinions, and we all have to accept that not everyone will agree. From my perspective, as one who has researched adoption for more than 30 years, there is little regulation over fees paid for adoption and internationally and it has been found that in many instances some of those fees go to baby brokers and child traffickers, as I have indicated, often without the knowledge of those adopting or even their agencies. I think it naive to believe that there is ever any way of knowing for 100% sure that any adoption is free of all coercion or exploitation, except as I have indicated when birth parents are met in some case after the fact.
Samara Postuma December 02, 2011 at 02:02 AM
Mirah, I'd be curious to know what you suggest as an alternative to a birth mother who is not in a position to be a parent. There are many women who find themselves pregnant and are unable to care for that child due to various circumstances, if adoption isn't an option for these women what is the alternative? Having a child raised by their, what you call, "Natural" parent who is perhaps not capable or willing? Is it better for a child to grow up in a home that cicumstancially was not prepared to have a child than to be raised by adoptive parents who are overjoyed, prepared and willing to be parents?
Mirah Riben December 02, 2011 at 02:20 AM
Samara, First, my concern is child trafficking, exploitation and corruption...not necessary or truly unpressured voluntary placements. Secondly, I have not used the word "natural" herein. To answer your question, neither I nor anyone I know of, support forcing anyone to be a parent who is not able or willing. That would be utterly absurd and quite dangerous. I advocate Family Preservation...seeking to secure whatever help and assistance a family in crisis needs: financial support, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, anger management, parenting classes, whatever. States that offer this "in-home" care instead of foster care find it more cost effective with far more successful outcomes for the children than foster care removals, some of which lead to adoption. Part and parcel is exploring the extended family of both the mother and father. Family Finding finds double digit extended family members for children aging out of foster care. If they did the same for children going IN, many family separations might be unnecessary, saving tax payers money in addition to saving a child from foster care - statistically known to be an unsafe environment. Indeed, adoption is all too often a permanent solution for a temporary problem, and far to many are unnecessary. Further adoption holds no guarantee of a "better" life, only a different one and trades off one set of issues - usually financial - for other issues such as identity and feelings of abandonment.
Mirah Riben December 02, 2011 at 02:28 AM
You might be interested to know that the major reason worldwide for adoption placements is poverty. Poverty far outweighs all other reasons, i.e. abuse or neglect COMBINED! You might also be interested to know that 90% of children in orphanages worldwide are not orphans but have at least one parent or extended family who visit, often bringing food. Most have been placed in order to provide health care, education or regular meals, but their families plan to reunify - as was the case with the two children Madonna adopted. Many people in the world have no concept of the permanence of adoption as we practice it here in the US. Many such people who cannot read or write sign papers thinking their children are coming tot he US for an education. They are duped. The position of the UN and many NGOs that work on the ground in impoverished nations is that adoption should be a last resort for these children. Taking children one at a time does nothing to ameliorate the poverty of their family, village or nation. The tens of thousands spent on each adoption could instead dig a well, or buy medicine, or build a school or buy books. THAT is altruism. Adoption may be, but as I have said, it's a trade off and many adults who have been internationally adopted are speaking out about it how it feels from their perspective to have been torn from their culture.
Mirah Riben December 02, 2011 at 02:40 AM
I highly recommend books by Jane Jeong Trenka: * The Language of Blood, Graywolf Press, 2005 * Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, South End Press, 2006 * Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee's Return to Korea, Graywolf Press, 2009 There are also some good documentaries about Latina adopted adults trying to find their roots, and other Asian adoptees. Most, like Trenka, are grateful but also angry. The other thing that the high fees Americans pay, is that it makes it more difficult for those within these culture who want to adopt to compete. IA is far more profitable to foreign orphanages and effects who gets approved to adopt. Money, by its very nature, is corrupting and thousands of dollars is HUGE in a poor region of the world. Again, not to recognize this is pure naivety or defensiveness creating a blind spot. ** None of this is to disparage the love and caring adoptive families offer. ** Those who adopted in the past before all of these realities came to light are not to blame....however, to continue to promote or encourage adoption knowing what we know now is simply wrong, IMO. Australia has apologized for forcing unwed mothers to relinquish and now practices Family Preservation as any moral society would. It is wrong to encourage family loss and separation unnecessarily or simply to meet a demand. Adoption today - by all who have studied it - is demand-driven.
Mirah Riben December 02, 2011 at 02:40 AM
“Regrettably, in many cases, the emphasis has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing a needy parent with a child. As a result, a whole industry has grown, generating millions of dollars of revenues each year . . .” The Special Rapporteur, United Nations, Commission on Human Rights, 2003.
Samara Postuma December 02, 2011 at 02:43 AM
If your concern is child exploitation, trafficking and corruption and not "unpressured voluntary placements" why the issue with the faux pas and the series? The stories/comments shared were/are all "unpressured voluntary placements" I respectfully disagree with you and the approach you've taken in sharing something that is obviously very important to you. I am positive there is adoption corruption and room for improvements but I also can see the way adoption has created families. I don't know your definition of Family Preservation but mine is having people that love and support you through life whether that is biological relation or not.
Mirah Riben December 02, 2011 at 02:50 AM
My definition of Family Preservation appears here: http://familypreservation.blogspot.com/p/what-is-family-preservation.html
Mirah Riben December 02, 2011 at 03:08 AM
From Philanthropy.com via ETHICA - an organization of adoptive parent sconcerned about ethical adoption <http://www.ethicanet.org/exposing-corruption-in-international-adoption>: Tiny Spark is new podcast on the business of doing good. The first installment takes a look at corruption in international adoption and how it has caused problems despite the generous impulses of many parents. Amy Costello, a freelance reporter and radio producer, hosts and produces the program. In the past decade, American parents have adopted some quarter of a million children from Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Nepal, and elsewhere. And in all of these countries and others, fraud has been uncovered. Pressure from children’s advocates and others are leading to changes. But problems persist. For insights about how the process of trying to place needy children in good homes can go so wrong, Ms. Costello talks with Jennifer Hemsley, who spent years trying to figure out whether a child she tried to adopt from Guatemala had been kidnapped from her birth parents. She also interviews Erin Siegal, author of the new book, Finding Fernanda, a new investigative account of international corruption in the adoption system in Guatemala.
Mirah Riben December 02, 2011 at 03:26 AM
Perhaps the individual who said they did not buy a child, they paid fees to adopt, knew in their particular individual case that there was no coercion. I never made any personal attack on the individual. I commented on the overall fallacy of beleiving that in general. Adoption fees are the incentive for baby brokers and adoption facilitators who in turn find babies or pressure mothers to MEET A DEMAND. No fees, no demand, no coercion, no exploitation. No Johns, no prostitution and no trafficking of women and girls for that purpose. Do you get that? I'm sorry if that feels hurtful. As i said, those who adopted in the past and didn't know are not be blamed. Many of them share my views and fight to create change and stop the corruption going forward.
Mirah Riben December 02, 2011 at 04:49 AM
"Over the past decades, hundreds of thousands of large-hearted Westerners—eager to fill out their families while helping a child in need–have adopted from poor and troubled countries. In many cases—especially in adoptions from China or former Soviet bloc countries—these adoptions were desperately needed, saving children from crippling lives in hard-hearted institutions. But too few Westerners are aware that in too many countries, there’s a heartbreaking underside to international adoption. For decades, international adoption has been a Wild West, all but free of meaningful law, regulation, or oversight. Western adoption agencies, seeking to satisfy consumer demand, have poured millions of dollars of adoption fees into underdeveloped countries. Those dollars and Euros have, too often, induced the unscrupulous to buy, defraud, coerce, and sometimes even kidnap children away from families that loved and would have raised them to adulthood." The dollars INDUCED the corruption. Not my words. http://www.brandeis.edu/investigate/gender/adoption/index.html
Liz Edw December 02, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Exactly, that;'s the crux of it. It's turned into an industry for the adults who want gratification instead of being about the needs of a child. Hence, so many unnecessary adoptions. It's a business.
Steve Osborn December 06, 2011 at 11:42 AM
what do you think of this phrase? " In a perfect world, there would be no adoptions."
Steve Osborn December 06, 2011 at 11:50 AM
Jessica; The point Mireh was making was that when one pays an exhobitant price, inflated by market pressure ( high demand, for instance)....that is a purchase. To say otherwise is saying something is good, when it is not. The analogy re Sandusky is a classic one of using an extreme example of this tactic to help reinforce the ludicrous nature of the argument.

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