Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Child Snatchers: Doing God’s Work?

Review of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption by Kathryn Joyce.  NY: PBS Public Affairs, 2013. Review by Mirah Riben.
Kathryn Joyce is a hard-hitting, award-winning investigative journalist. She became interested in adoption through her in-depth probe of the Christian Quiverfull movement[1] Christian women bearing as many babies as humanly possible, many of whom now feel called or “commanded” by God and their pastors to add to their broods by adoption, some of which are akin to an unlicensed group homes often including children with special needs.
While Joyce was getting interested with the evangelic push for adoption, in May 2007, Evangelical Christians organizations such as Focus on the Family and pastors from across the nation were holding a three-day summit in Colorado to promote adoption. Among those present at this event was Tom Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption, the largest lobbying organization of the adoption agency industry, with major funding coming from The Church of Latter Day Saints, as was reported in Adoption and the Role of TheReligious Right (Countercurrent Nov. 4, 2007).
With no personal stake in adoption, Joyce (and Erin Siegal, author of Finding Fernanda and E.J. Graff) offer purely objective professionalism to the passionately polarizing positions and different points of view about adoption practices. On one side are adoptive and hopeful adoptive parents and the practitioners who earn their livelihoods meeting their demands, and now these churches and the agencies and programs they sponsor. On the other side is UNICEF which is mandated to uphold local laws, international treaties, and reduce corruption and exploitation, as well as NGOs such as SOS for Children, Against Child Trafficking (ACT), with no financial or personal incentive other than the best interest of the world’s children.
Oddly enough, both sides actually have the same goal: to provide care for the worlds’ children in need. But the former believe this objective to mean “the end of orphans in the world” “via adoption first, second, and last”[2] meaning adoption by Christians in America and Europe.  The later believe the priority is family preservation first, domestic adoption second, and international placements last.
Whereas in the war on cancer, prevention and treatment co-exist, in adoption there is much demonization of those who seek prevention by those who seek to continue the flow of children for redistribution out of a misguided desire to help and also by those who have a financial stake in doing so.  As with the pharmaceutical, oil, and gun industries, there are mega-billion dollars at stake in adoption, and powerful lobbyists who work hand-in-hand with the movers and shakers of the evangelical adoption movement.
Some call the push for adoption by churches “from Methodist to charismatic Christian to parachurch groups to homeschoolers” misguided. Instead of seeing dwindling numbers of adoption placements as an indication of a healthy society that does not need to resort to stranger placements of its young, these missionaries and adoption industry practitioner’s with a financial incentive, call it an “adoption crisis” and claim adoption to be “under siege.” They “blame familiar scapegoats like UNICEF” and the Hague Convention calling them  “evil and anti-child.” At a Christian pro-adoption meeting at Saddlebrook Church in 2012, Joyce reports Chuck Johnson as identifying all who prefer to help families in crisis and reduce the tragedies that result in loss and separation of kin and culture as “forces that take great delight in the suffering of children.” This obscene, vitriolic rhetoric is intended to – and succeeds in – riling up the faithful to get out and keep snatching up babies and children for adoption.
Joyce cites instances of churches setting goals or quotas and pro-adoption church leadership ignoring or acting as if they are above the law.  They seem to see themselves as Freedom Fighters like those who committed civil disobedience to free slaves. The difference is that the slaves requesting them to help them escape. These are children that may or may not want to be taken from family or home lands.
In Child Catchers, Joyce provides an impeccably well-researched window into the world of Christian adoption. Joyce shines a light on the well-meaning who fail to accept – and those who serve them fail to care – ­ that they are too often taking children who have families and are unintentionally increasing an already over-burdened demand that in turn proliferates kidnappings and deceptive practices to fill orders. With their hearts filled with love, salvation and desire to aid those in need, they mistakenly believe that “tickets to America for a handful of children are an appropriate fix for an entire culture living in poverty.” Pumped up with religious fervor they are blinded to the fact that the tens of thousands spent to take each child could be put to far better use helping an entire village build a school, dig a well, purchase school books or buy medical supplies.
The book opens with a literally earth shaking event: the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti and the rush to adopt it engendered. Joyce focuses immediately on the infamous case of Laura Silsby’s band of bible-thumping pseudo missionaries from Idaho who were arrested trying to leave Haiti with 33 children and charged with kidnapping. Silsby and her Reverse Robinhoods felt justified and self-righteous, about taking from the poor to give to the rich, even building a resort in the Dominican Republic for adopters. A fit beginning to describe the zealousness that drives evangelicals to “save” children physically and spiritually.
In the end, many if not most churches dissociated themselves from Silsby after she was charged with kidnaping.  The adoption industry and adoption advocates put the incident, like all adoption horror stories, in a neat little box labeled anomalies and continue right along, business as usual simply moving from country ad they close adoptions in order to end the corruption. Not unlike claims that women cannot get pregnant from “legitimate” rape, Chuck Johnson at the Saddlebrook Church, argued that claims of fraud had been blown out of proportion, saying: “We have no indication of real, true corruption.”
But, Silsby was not the first nor was she the last to exploit a tragedy to obtain children to meet a demand, albeit in the name of doing good. The tsunami in Indonesia brought out the same baby seekers prior to the earthquake, as did the historic Vietnam Baby Lift operation. These “rescue” missions are reminiscent of an old folk tale about a Boy Scout trying to earn his merit badge: The scout spots an old lady standing at the corner as cars whiz by. He gallantly rushes to her side and assists her safely to the other side of the street. He feels quite proud of himself until she asks that he return her to where she came from and wanted to be. Ah, the roads to hell we pave.
The book is excellent and needed albeit with a title Joyce chose as a mid-ground between the saving and the snatching sides of adoption. “Catching” however suggests and implies something is dropping or falling; being thrown or tossed away.  In some instances adoption is analogous to the image of a fireman catching a child tossed in utter desperation out the window of a burning home.  But more often, it is a child snatching cloaked in pseudo-humanitarianism.  All too many adoptions involve running in and grabbing children from a simmering political or natural disaster firestorm. Instead of pouring water on these fires and attempting to save all the victims, as we would want done for us, children are grabbed leaving the rest behind in the same situation with the addition of a grievous lifelong loss. The age-old “women and children first” is disregarded. In fact, Joyce reports that Haitians were warned not to try to flee in the aftermath of the tragedy and their needs ignored as adoption took center stage in the aftermath mayhem in Haiti.
Tom Benz, an Alabama missionary who also attempted to hustle children surreptitiously out of Haiti on a wink and nod pretext of an English-language educational cultural exchange program all the while recruiting adoptive parents[3] said:, “every child that is adopted gets snatched out of horrible possibilities” [emphasis added]. Indeed, even those doing the snatching know it for what it is. Why not? The King James Version of the bible which  uses the word “pluck” in Job 24:9 has often been translated as states it as: "The wicked snatch a widow's child from her breast, taking the baby as security for a loan.”[4] Or: "Others snatch the orphan from the breast, and against the poor they take the pledge.”[5] Clearly, snatch – or even grab – is a better translation for “pluck” than “catch.” The book title, like the entire process, verbally annihilates the mother from whom the child was clearly “snatched.”

Joyce delineates clearly how the adoption industry enables – nay incites – religious do-gooders by reinventing the word “orphan” to include so-called “paper orphans” and “half-orphans”, i.e. children with a living parent in order to intentionally inflate numbers of orphans in need. Worldwide, 90% of children in orphanages targeted for international adoption have at least one parent as orphanages provide temporary care, food, education. These children often have large extended families and there is no intent for them to be given away permanently.
The only children “languishing” in orphanages, like the children in US foster care who could be adopted, have a disability or are older than those seeking to adopt are prepared to accept. Some are sibling groups. We often hear those who are pro-adoption bemoaning a “shortage of available” children for adoption, and in fact demand far outstrips the number of children that fit the popular criterion for adoption. Thus encouraging well-meaning congregants to add to the demand is counterproductive. Additionally, pushing people to adopt often causes them to take in children they are not equipped to handle and Joyce cites several cases of terminated adoptions which inflicts lifelong on vulnerable children.
The industry uses terms such as “parentless” all in an effort to create visions of children in need, isolated and all alone, as opposed to members of a community who all need assistance. Repeating phrases like “every child deserves a family” obliterates the reality that every child is born into a family – families intentionally kept invisible and silent. Often deceived, not told the truth, or hearing what they want to hear, would-be adopters identify with a photo that becomes of a child who they think of as “theirs” early on. When thwarted by efforts to slow down or halt the process in order to document a child’s orphan status, waiting adopters take their pleas to politicians to help them “reunify” and bring “their” child “home” to unrelated strangers in a strange land.
The media, as Joyce notes, describes children being snatched up in Haiti “as though they had no unique past, no personal history deeper than their evident need” or the tragedy that brought their existing plight to public attention. And yet is this not the plight of every adoptee?  They are as if just waiting in suspended time and space to be plucked from their cabbage patch by those who believe themselves to have been chosen by God to covet them as their own.
American adoption practice in fact deliberately and intentionally erases any and all past connectedness in order to provide the paying client a child with no strings attached who will know, love and be grateful to only their adopters and no other. Adoption destroys all ancestral and genetic ties; obliterates heritage and lineage which pro-adoptioinist Professor Elizabeth Bartholet[6] has called “over-rated” – easy to say when you know yours.  Adoption creates bundles of joy eagerly waiting to be taken like shiny cars in a showroom. Each cleverly devoid of familial attachment (linguistically and often aided by fraudulent documents), not unlike the way we dissociate young enemy soldiers in war, never thinking them of them as someone’s child.
As for adoption meeting the goals of evangelicals, it certainly succeeds in increasing the flock. Not by proselytizing or even conversion but by a process painted as adoption which in many cases verges on or crosses the line into abduction.
Obviously international adoption does nothing to reduce abortions. Domestically, the lives of the unborn could be saved and their mothers helped to raise them. The only reasons to do otherwise are: 1) judging unwed mothers as sinners and thus unfit; 2) to maintain an ample supply of newborns for adoption. Encouraging single mothers to relinquish children for adoption is the antithesis of the teachings of the birth of Christ to a woman who may or may not have been married at the time of conception, depending upon the translation of the word “betrothed” which most take to mean promised or engaged. “Adoption not abortion” slogans turn mothers into incubators, suggest that children who relinquished were unwanted, and hurt those adopted by creating an illusion that those adopted were more likely to have been aborted than any of us, even those born into intact families.
Believing God has preselected a child specifically for someone other than the parents God chose to birth them is preposterous and egotistical and implies God makes mistakes. Like all fundamental religious fanatics, those who use the bible and teaching of Christ to promote adoption are selective in bible quoting. They ignore or somehow misinterpret Matthew 1:27 which asks that we visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (or distress) and keep ourselvesunspotted from the world (avoiding false teachers and doctrines).” Some translations suggest that we are obligated to care for orphans. But nowhere, in any translation, does the bible say visit the fatherless and take them, covet them as your own. Viewing adoption as “God’s work” or “God’s plan” ignores the need to address and help eradicate the root causes of social and economic injustice and in fact proliferates the suffering by creating increased demand for adoption which triggers corrupt means of obtaining them.
The bible which begins with who begat whom indicating the importance of bloodlines, focuses on a pivotal adoption story, that of Moses, a text book case of a devoted, loving and capable mother - Jochobed - surrendering only in utter desperation when it was it the only way to save her son’s life. The bible names this woman and makes her struggles very real and poignant for a reason. The baby she sets adrift is not a nameless, unidentifiable, abandoned child floating on a raft needing to be saved. Even the child’s sister plays a role. Moses never forgets his roots but lives to be reunited in a way that was extraordinary for millions of people and forever changed world religious history. He was not converted, erasing the faith of his forefathers.Moses was raised to be familiar with his background as a Hebrew.[7]  But alas, we will not change people’s religious beliefs.
I highly recommend this book. The only thing that concerns me is that beyond the inner circle of the adoption reform community, it will be ignored as being specific to one peculiar niche of adoption. I fear that those considering adoption – and more so the general public – will not read it and even if they do will fail to see how much of the pro-adoption tactics impact all adoption, not just adoption by Christian evangelicals. The failure of the book to not make that crystal clear is for me the biggest loss. Buy the book. Read it. It will be a treasured addition to your adoption library.

[1] Quiverful: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement
[2] Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback, one of the largest churches in America attended by twenty thousand weekly.
[3] When Benz plan failed in Haiti, he simply played the same façade in the Ukraine, proving it was never about rescuing children from an earthquake and ignoring the fact that the Ukraine was trying to reduce International adoptions and increase domestic placements for their children in need. This “Christian” man who openly lies about his true intentions not only has adopters paying high fees for adoption, he also has donors coughing up thousands for his temporary excursions in his alleged cultural exchange hoax. All dollars which could instead provide direct aid to impoverished nations.
[6] Joyce accurately identifies Bartholet as “one of the most polemic adoption advocates in the field.” With no claim of doing God’s work she is a zealot who speaks for those whose livelihood is heavily if not solely reliant on adoption.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The "Not Good Enough" Legacy of Adoption on Mother's Day

At the height of our adolescence when we are struggling with self-awareness many adoptees and mothers who have lost children to adoption are struck a lifelong traumatizing blow.

For the adoptee who has been told they are adopted, adolescence and biology classes bring a new awareness of the flip side of having been chosen. Someone - the most important in our psyche - didn't want me, gave me away, rejected me. The result can be anger, depression, denial, addictions or a need to over-achieve and difficulty forming relationships.

For mothers, it is often around this time, or early 20s, that we are facing losing our children which all too often in the past was accomplished through dehumanizing us as sluts, an embarrassment to our families, and not fit to parent. Undeserving, even selfish to think about it. Today, the messages are subtler and put more of the onus on the mother allowing her to feel more in control by making decisions like to whom she hands her most precious child, so she may even greater regrets and less others to blame later on. Many mothers relinquishing today are also faced with out and out deception and feel betrayed, but that's another issue for another blog post.

We too suffer from all the above named, from anger to addiction, to deep depression, to lives of having to prove ourselves and surely difficulty with relationships.

For myself I see the lifelong scarring these negative messages has done as deep and powerful as the loss itself - a loss we weren't even allowed to grieve! A loss we were made to suffer in silence, acting as if nothing had happened which only worsened it's traumatic effects.

No matter what I accomplish in life, those voices of my not being good enough remain crystal clear. I can over shout them at times, ignore them, but they are always there, albeit on the back burners of my conscious mind.

Our adult lives are built on a foundation of UNWORTHINESS and SHAME because adoption is so surrounded with secrecy and unworthiness are shame are extremely TOXIC, traumatizing messages.  They are insidious and effect every aspect of our lives.

MOTHER'S DAY for me is a constant reminder of my failure as a mother of my firstborn, while for adoptees it holds it's own special painful reminder of the woman who didn't scale the tallest buildings to keep her.

As this dreaded weekend approaches, I wish all my peeps the best it can be. 

My wish for all of us is a toast of forgiveness. Forgive all of those who caused us pain. Forgive all who tear families apart. Hold them responsible for their actions, and keep healthy boundaries, but try to forgive to lighten your load.

And most of all forgive ourselves!!  No sappy cards or gifts. Just be kind to yourself and know that your E-N-O-U-G-H  just the way you are!!!

Affirm yourself. Empower yourself. Take back all that adoption has taken from us, emotionally. Our family tress are irreparably broken, but just as Katrina and Super Storm Sandy victims rebuilt lives, we too can work to rebuild our storm ravaged psyches. For most in New Orleans that did not mean ever coming back home. Their homes have never built rebuilt and never will be. Their pasts and everything they had totally destroyed, annihilated like and adoptees pasts, genealogy, lineage.  It meant starting over. And we must, too.

Know that you are no more responsible for having been given away than any child is responsible for any childhood abuse or neglect. Mothers, know that you did the best you possibly could with what you had at the time in terms of physical and psychological support as well as knowledge of what it all would mean down the line. Forgive yourself for not being a psychic and seeing the future, for, for many of us that would have meant fighting harder.

REJECT THE SHAME and RECLAIM YOURSELF as a wonderful human being.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Mother I Wish I Had

About a year and a half ago I moved to a "retirement" over 55 community. One of the treasures I met here is MY 95-YEAR-OLD FRIEND, Betty.

She told me today that she had a bad day the other day: Hard time thinking, which is very odd for this very sharp and active woman. She said she thought if this is the end, not so bad. She got ready for bed and put on her flannel nighty. Then on second thought, she took it off and put on her finest lingerie!

She said if they found her in bed in the morning, she wanted to look good! 

Ya' gotta love this woman!! I am so glad I have made her acquaintance. She is a font of marvelous stories and has a great spirit. A former school teacher and long time political activist, she collects clothing for the needy and went with me to a state assembly vote on gun control! 

My very own personal Betty White!

She is priceless! She stands 4' something, exercises 5 times a week and moves better than women young enough to be her daughters. I wish you could all see the sparkle in her eyes!  Her vision is her only problem and she doesn't let it slow her down. I am glad to drive her anywhere she needs to go, she is such a delight to be with!

She's the mother I wish I had and didn't!

RussiaToday Apr 29, 2010 on Russian Adoption Freeze

Russi Today: America television Interview 4/16/10 Regarding the Return of Artyem, 7, to Russia alone

RT: Russia-America TV Interview 3/10

Korean Birthmothers Protest to End Adoption

Motherhood, Adoption, Surrender, & Loss

Who Am I?

Bitter Winds

Adoption and Truth Video

Adoption Truth

Birthparents Never Forget