What if everything you knew about adoption was wrong?

Writing about adoption and Kathryn Joyce’s The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption in Al Jazeera this week, and looking at the ways the Evangelical claims of an orphan crisis hurt kids and families. A bit:

Joyce’s book tells many stories of families taking in children they are simply not equipped to help; the end result can be all-out abuse, neglect or a failed adoption, where the child is uprooted yet again. Failed adoptions are so common that they are now a regular topic at Christian adoption conferences.

Children are not the only ones who can be severely traumatised by adoption. Many women who place their children for adoption report being coerced into relinquishing and living with the grief of having lost a child. The rights and needs of mothers do not register particularly highly with adoption agencies or pro-life groups who claim adoption is a simple alternative to abortion. Many women, whose children were adopted, report that the emotional aftermath is life-long and, because of the lack of closure, worse than a loved one dying.

Joyce is incredibly even-handed and fair in her book, emphasising the good intentions of most people involved. And most people surely do not want to take children from living family members; they certainly do not want to further traumatise children and their biological mothers. But good intentions do not forgive willful blindness, and that is at the root of many of the problems with the adoption industry.

There are of course a great many legitimate adoptions, where the child was genuinely bereft and without living family members willing or able to take him in, or where a mother relinquished a child for adoption fully consensually and without coercion. But there are too many of the other kind, where mothers faced enormous pressure to place their child for adoption, or where the Western demand for adoptable babies led to the creation of an adoption economy in developing nations.

Where children are a good in demand, and where there is a lot of money coming in to pay for that good, bad actors will of course get involved to keep the supply coming. Such an exploitative situation is made even worse when the people on the supply side believe they have god and a religious duty behind them, and where there is a pervasive belief that a Christian home in the US is the best possible home for a child – better, universally, than living in a poor nation, even with a loving but struggling family.

You can read the whole thing here.

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36 comments for “What if everything you knew about adoption was wrong?

  1. Kasabian
    May 1, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    God help me for defending the fundies, but this seems to be symptomatic of a larger cultural belief in north america that “Ours is better than Theirs.”

  2. rox
    May 1, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    The reasons families get torn apart are complex, and to really provide services to families, it would make sense to have knowledge of how to help parents in poverty, parents with disabilities, and parents in need of specific resources to parent well.

    This whole aspect of serving families often gets skipped in adoption advocacy, both on foriegn nations where Americans pressume the children will be better in America because DUH, but even in America, the pressumption that poor mothers, single mothers, or mothers with disabilities or special needs that impair their income and resource access don’t deserve their needs to even be addressed before adoption is plopped on the table as the RIGHT and GOOD option… (if the women is pregnant and about to produce a highly coveted infant)….

    And of course women who have sex before marriage are bad and deserve to suffer in silence for the rest of their lives anyway right? I think because many women are comfortable with abortion, we forget that women who aren’t comfortable with it have unplanned pregnancies too and their needs may be different than women who feel comfortable with abortion.

    In any case, Jill you are brave for tacking a contentious social issue (of course one that is dear to my heart) and I thank you, my lady knight in shining armor.

    Once upon a time I tried to deal with the masses tacking this issue and they shredded me. “Should have kept a quarter between your legs then huh? Don’t like having given up your baby, well shouldn’t have signed the papers then! Should have gotten an abortion if you had the nerve to want your own child!”

    I am tired and I am weary. My body hurts. I miss my child that I did not want to place. I was being abused and raped against my will and no I didn’t want an abortion, but neither did I want to lose my daughter. I needed resources that weren’t there and when you look at the money involved in adoption it’s NOT going to improving resources for women pregnant by rape or abuse, or services to help mothers with trauma or other difficulties and poverty to be good mothers. That’s not where the mony goes. It goes to advertising and training to get more adoptions and to perssuade women to place rather then help them be the good mothers they want to be.

    People say “biological parents are meaningless! Their love doesn’t matter! Doesn’t make them real parents!”

    And it’s celebrated. You don’t know that you stab my heart every time. I did not want this.

  3. TomSims
    May 1, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Does this mean Angie and Brad can’t adopt anymore kids?

    • Kristen from MA
      May 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm

      Actually, Madonna is a worse offender. Both of the kids she adopted from Malawi had living relatives that were too poor to care for them. (That she did it once was just awful, but then she did it again!)

  4. Yan
    May 1, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    Even taking the questionable practices of “creating” orphans and “creating” young evangelical Christians out of the equation, adoption is much more complicated for those living its reality than anyone much cares to know.

    Adoption, at its best, is making the best of a situation involving a great deal of loss — the adoptive parents’ loss of a biological family, a mother’s loss of her child, sometimes a father’s loss of his child (though not all fathers are fully aware they have a child out in the world, which is my case), and a child’s loss of her biological identity.

    There is a need. There are children who can not be parented by their biological family, for whatever reason. But there are few resources for parents who are considered “inferior” (single, young, poor, minority, 3rd world), and many for those considered “desirable,” (well-off, white, suburbanite, Christian), and this doesn’t benefit the children.

    One thing to remember is that adoption isn’t an event. It’s a lifetime. It’s a lifetime for the adoptee, for the biological parent(s), and for the adoptive parents, and the adults involved in the original arrangement should be much more fully aware of that than they generally are.

    • orangecat
      May 2, 2013 at 1:58 am


      I was a poor single mother and my baby was stolen from me by children’s services. They told me that if the baby’s father was involved then they would not have taken him, but because i was depressed at the start of my pregnancy and had a history of depression (from years before) my son was taken from me. It was the worst pain I have ever felt and I don’t know that I will ever truly recover from the grief.

      I fought for my son, even though I had no one on my side and I did eventually get him back after 8 months of suffering (all the reports showed that there was no need to take him in the first place) but that loss still haunts me. There is so much I will never know about his first year of life.

      There really is a need for more services for poor single mother’s so that they can keep their children. I wasn’t even offered any help or grief counselling at the hospital when he was taken and i was in fact penalized for being sad about it. I feel like I have no voice and no where to talk about my loss. I cannot imagine how it would have felt to lose him completely. They threatened that he would be adopted out if he wasn’t returned within the year and the main reason it took so long was that they stalled the psychological testing of me that they wanted done.

      I agree about how much it hurts when people talk about how biological parents don’t matter.

      The first family my son was with did not love him. They made comments about how he was a baby and didn’t do anything and when he got sick they abandoned him at the hospital saying that he was too much trouble. He was 3 months old and he spent a week in the hospital sick and alone before being shipped off to strangers. I don’t know how anyone could do that to a baby.

      Sorry for the long post, this topic brought up a lot of pain for me that has already been surfacing due to mother’s day coming up.

    • (BFing)Sarah
      May 2, 2013 at 5:21 pm

      Thank you so much for this comment. I agree 100%. Well said.

  5. rox
    May 2, 2013 at 11:46 am

    orangecat– you can feel free to email me at nostalgicrainbowdrop@gmail.com

    I don’t check that e-mail often but I will make sure to check it within the week. You are not alone and the experience of being deemed unworthy of ones own child, and unworthy of the plentiful resources available to women with money including depression and mental health help, relaxation activities such as yoga, meditation, and mothering support groups– healthy prepared meals that are healing and wholesome for the body and ready to eat when you’re fatigued and stressed, exercise coaching and access…

    There are many health services that are not extended to poor mothers and this is an aspect of women’s rights and justice that has been too long neglected because women’t rights activism has been dominated by women with education and money and frequently simply don’t understand what it really means to be disenfranchised and have your very humanity destroyed in a way that we wouldn’t do to women who are socially acceptable.

    How many wealthy women have done drugs before yet we don’t ban then from motherhood? How many wealthy women have had mental health problems yet are perfectly capable of being good mothers when they have the right emotional and psychological supports? How many wealthy women have been through trauma and needed support and healing in the form of body work and emotional support and guidance that their finances (or their FAMILIES finances) paid for to make them capable of being good mothers?

    Some women don’t love or want their children and some women are too damaged to use support service to get better.

    But we don’t actually know which of these women we’ve taken children from is which because there is a population of women living in poverty who are disconnected form the resources they need to heal and be healthy loving mothers. Without that access, placing the burden of destroying their own motherhood because they need resources that aren’t there is just another way a brutal class system demeans and dehumanizes women who are already struggling and in need of more support.

    • IrishUp
      May 2, 2013 at 12:01 pm


      Thank you so much for your contributions here. I haven’t figured out how to write publicly about my experiences on these axes, so I don’t much. But I am reading in recognition, solidarity, and gratitude.

      • rox
        May 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm

        Doing the little advocacy I still do has come at a great cost to me. I long for the day when differently abled, low income, and single mother advocacy is done by women’s rights advocates as a whole and not just the women who are already carrying the trauma of societies disdain for their motherhood and love of their children.

        It shouldn’t fall ONLY on the backs of trauma survivors who are already disenfranchised to convince society to stop adding to the weight they already carry.
        Adoption reform does NOT mean allowing violent or sexual abusers to keep their children. If we could provide mental health services, emotional support, and financial resources to mothers who are capable of being nurturing mothers with assistance, we could focus the money we have available in the foster/adopt system toward making the services superior for the children who do need to rely on adoption or foster services when necessary.

        It means encouraging adoption in the interest of the child (not in the interest of adoptive parents) and this means promoting older child adoption and spending funds on supporting adoptive/foster parents and their children finding the health and healing to be supported and live fulfilling lives while being permitted to grieve their losses and express their true emotions.

        It means understanding epigenetics and mental wellness and how traits can be passed on to offspring both genetically and epigenetically and that some of these alterations can heal with a supportive environment (epigenetics involves the study of alterations to gene functioning that are not permanent but can last at least four generations depending on variables that heal or increase the alterations).

        It means acknowledging that as humans we are interconnected with our ancestors and our ancestors journeys are part of our own (as we learn about health it is becoming more and more relevant to know our ancestors traumas and experiences and how those effect who we are today, just us our own life journey has shaped the selves we have now).

  6. rox
    May 2, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Also orangecat I was going to email you some resources but I want to let you and any other mothers living with these issues know there are some support groups available online who will validate and support your motherhood and love for your children. While you were able to get your child back, the trauma of losing your child and being told by your entire society that you are legally not good enough to hold and love your own child is horrible in and of itself.

    Resources for women who have lost children to the adoption industry:

    “Origins-USA, the voice of mothers who lost children to adoption, is a national tax-exempt non-profit organization standing up to the adoption industry. With support from members, Origins-USA works to increase public awareness of how adoption separation affects mothers and families.”

    There is a support forum available at Origins Canada and in the past they have opened membership to the forum to USA members. I was present in the group when a US woman was going through the same thing you did orangecat and through advocacy and interaction with the people who had attempted to use illegal means to remove the child we were able to help her get her infant back within a few weeks. (They had pressured her to relinquish using safe haven while she was still on drugs from the birth and not in a shape to relinquish with full consent).

    You may also find this blog comforting

    Claud has been an advocate for adoption reform for many years and lost a child to adoption “the right way”, the way adoption is supposed to be. But the rosiness wore off and the pain remains. You can tell your story on her website. You can also email her just to chat because she is really nice.

    First mother forum is a place where many first mothers can share their voices and you may be permitted to post your story through the site (I’m not sure). You might be comforted from the community and ideals.

  7. rox
    May 2, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Oh also:

    first mothers reunited is a group for women who are in reunion with their placed children mostly who placed prior to the 1980s in what is often referred to as “the baby scoop era” when it was common for single or young unmarried mothers to have their children removed at birth and forcibly placed for adoption simply for being unmarried.

    The group is open to women who have placed more recently but the focus is on women who largely did not want to lose their children to adoption but were pressured, coerced, or forced into doing “the right thing” (as this still happens to this day, whether by professionals, peers, or family members- there are many women who may find this group very supportive who placed or lost children more recently).

    Many of the narratives told by members of society and adoption advertising campaigns are very biased toward adoption and many women are “coerced” by the social attitudes they are surrounded by regarding the “rightness” of adoption placement if they need resources to be good mothers and feel ashamed to use or need the resources that may already be available in their communities to help them be good mothers (such as foodstamps, housing support, financial assistance, women’s shelters, abuse and trauma support and more).

  8. Leslie
    May 2, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    On 4/28, Melissa Harris-Perry led an excellent discussion about the issues raised in Joyce’s book. This story of an Ethiopian girl adopted through trickery and coercion implicates adoption agencies in a neo-slave-trade industry: http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/04/28/adopted-against-her-will-one-woman-shares-her-story/

  9. Mztress
    May 2, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    The idea of failed adoptions is just as worrisome to me as the idea that children are being stolen from caring relatives who wanted them. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that a child was legitmately given up for adoption (due to being truly orphaned, or the parent(s) not being able to provide adequate care, etc.), then fully adopted.

    In that case, how the hell does the adoption “fail?” Obviously, it’s possible to accidentally conceive a kid, but it’s *not* possible to accidentally adopt one. So, do the adults–who have had *plenty* of time to think before signing on the dotted line–decide later that the child isn’t working out for them, then return the child like it’s a defective television?

    If so, why is that allowed? Biological parents can’t “return” a child whom they perceive as being too much trouble to care for, so why should adoptive parents be allowed the luxury of such a cop-out?

    • jemand
      May 2, 2013 at 2:40 pm

      OMG, I mean, yes it indicates a huge failure on the part of the parents, but the solution should NEVER be to just disallow it and stick the child with them for even longer! That’s a recipe for abuse and neglect.

    • EG
      May 2, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      Biological parents can’t “return” a child whom they perceive as being too much trouble to care for,

      But can’t they give the child up for adoption? Don’t get me wrong, I think doing so would be cruel, but it is possible, isn’t it?

      • Donna L
        May 2, 2013 at 6:29 pm

        But can’t they give the child up for adoption? Don’t get me wrong, I think doing so would be cruel, but it is possible, isn’t it?

        Other than at or shortly after birth, I do not think that it’s very easy for biological parents to give up a child and also relinquish their legal obligations to provide financial support.

    • IrishUp
      May 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      Mztress, if you haven’t read Harriet J.’s post “Adoption Sometimes Gets All Fucked Up” @ Fugitivus, she provides some insight there.

      A) PLEASE reconsider the blamey attitude. Shit gets fucked up.

      B) Actually, in many ways, biological parents have more avenues if they find themselves unable to actually cope with parenthood. Extended family consider their kids family and will take them in. Adopted kids often do not get the same treatment from extended family, as an example.

      C) More supports are available to bios for JUST that attitude; “You shouldda known!” is NOT helpful to adoptive parents who find themselves unable to cope with parenting for $_Reasons. But they are often less likely to get support services than “real families”.

      That’s a short list.

      • May 2, 2013 at 5:54 pm

        Yeah, so much to say about failed adoptions. There are multiple problems, some of which happen at once and some of which only happen in particular cases. But among them are:

        1. Unprepared parents who have been told that there’s an “orphan crisis” and they can make room for one more child and love will be enough. Love is not enough when many of the countries targeted for international adoption have recent histories of conflict or natural disaster, and many of the children coming into these homes have suffered series psychological traumas — witnessing extensive violence, seeing dead bodies or people being killed, etc.

        2. Love is also not enough to work with a child who has come from an institutionalized setting, and may have severe developmental and emotional problems, including trouble bonding or displaying affection, aggressive or violent behavior (sometimes toward the other children in the house), hoarding or gorging on food to the point of illness, etc etc. If there are other children in your home and a newly-introduced child is a consistent physical threat to their safety, that causes adoption failures.

        3. Adoptions have also failed when older adoptees learn English and explained to their parents, actually, I have a family back in X country.

        It is not always the fault of adoptive parents. But many failed adoptions are the result of adoptive parents not realizing (or not being told, or not understanding/believing) just how profoundly difficult it is to adopt a child with traumatic events in their past. Adoptive parents are fed a line that what they’re doing is the most loving, generous, wonderful thing and they’re creating a new happy family. The day-to-day reality is often much more complex and much more difficult.

        The problem, of course, is that failed adoptions are devastating for children. It’s far worse to place a child for adoption and have that adoption fail than it is for the adoption to simply not take place in the first instance.

    • Octolol
      May 3, 2013 at 11:05 am

      I have a cousin who is in the process of adopting three children who are sisters. They have been together for close to two years now, and are finalizing the adoption process for the older two siblings. The youngest, however, has had serious troubles adjusting and is extremely emotionally jealous of her sisters, demanding all of my cousins’ attention and throwing fits, being destructive, and even running away whenever she sees them being affectionate to her sisters. (This is far beyond any normal degree of temper tantrums typical for her age.) They tried multiple solutions, therapy, etc., but it didn’t help.

      Last month, my cousins had to make the sad choice that it would be best to put her back into foster so she could be adopted as a solo child. Everyone was devastated by this decision, but she is doing much better, and my cousins make sure they all visit her frequently. She is doing much better in the new environment.

      Sometimes adoptions fail despite everyone’s best efforts, and despite the wishes of everyone involved.

  10. pheenobarbidoll
    May 2, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    We put the kibosh on them adopting Native children, so they turned to other countries. Adopting Stealing the children of brown heathens so you can buy your way into heaven with their saved soul as your ticket is nothing new.

    • A4
      May 2, 2013 at 4:41 pm

      This is incisive as hell!

      • rox
        May 2, 2013 at 4:47 pm

        When the action DO amount to taking wanted children from struggling communities instead of rendering aid to heal families– it is questionable whether these acts of “charity” are humane or just plain greedy and heartless.

        Shortsighted and heartless at best toward the community surrounding the cute small humans. Why don’t you save the whole family and not just the ones you can fill your family with to serve your own needs?

        I’m not saying all adoptive parents have wrongfully adopted, but until we make agencies and charitable orgs more accountable they ARE feeding a corrupt system and that bears a certain degree of willful participation.

      • A4
        May 2, 2013 at 7:45 pm

        I agree with you. Not sure why you wrote that to me, but I appreciate it anyway. I’m one of the people who everyone expects to adopt a child. It’s just sort of casually floated my way in conversation “Oh but you can adopt…” and I’m just like “Can I?” because it really just sounded like they told me I can just buy a baby from the baby market because ACTUALLY that is how adoption is portrayed in mainstream media and has been perpetrated and it’s a culture of shame that is just not helpful to anyone and now I’ve fallen into stream of consciousness.

        My point is that people are absolutely thoughtless about adoption in the face of some really glaringly bad idioms being widely used to describe normative adoption processes.

    • Donna L
      May 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm

      Stealing the children of brown heathens so you can buy your way into heaven with their saved soul as your ticket is nothing new.

      The basic idea has been around for even longer than you’re probably aware. Religious Christians (with the aid and approval of the Church) had a very bad habit of stealing babies and children from Jewish families at every opportunity in order to raise them as Christians and save their souls — whether those families were alive, or had been slaughtered — from almost the beginning. A practice that continued at least to the latter half of the 19th century, with the most famous late example being the kidnapping of the 6-year old Edgardo Mortara in 1858, because a housekeeper had supposedly “baptized” him when he was sick.

      • trees
        May 2, 2013 at 10:37 pm

        This makes me think of Sao Tome:

        The king wanted to colonize the islands of Sao Tome Y Principe (to “whiten the race,” as he put it), but the Portuguese did not relish settling in the fever- and crocodile-infested islands. When it was seen that there was very little likelihood that the majority of the Jews would pay the demanded tax, the king deported their young children, aged 2 to 10, to Sao Tome Y Principe. In the port of Lisbon, no fewer than 2000 children were torn from their parents and herded onto boats as slaves (Samuel Usque reports this in his book, Tribulations of Israel ). Within a year, only 600 of the children remained alive. Usque recorded that when the parents of the children had seen that the deportation was inevitable, they impressed on the children to keep to the Laws of Moses; some even married them off amongst each other.

        The entreaties of the parents apparently had not gone in vain, as reports reached the Office of The Inquisition in Lisbon that in Sao Tome there were incidents of obvious Jewish observance. The local church was greatly incensed. The bishop appointed in 1616, Pedro da Cunha Lobo, became obsessed with the problem. According to an historical source, on vimhat Torah 1621, he was awakened by a procession, rushed out to confront them, and was so heartily abused by the demonstrators that in disgust he gave up and took the next ship back to Portugal.

        Judaic Research Continues in Balearic Islands and Sao Tome
        By Gloria Mound

      • pheenobarbidoll
        May 2, 2013 at 11:20 pm

        I’m aware Donna,not sure why you think I wouldn’t be.

      • Donna L
        May 3, 2013 at 12:15 am

        I was just guessing, pheeno. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t know about things like that. I’m glad you do know about it.

      • pheenobarbidoll
        May 3, 2013 at 1:10 am

        I’m well versed in the horrors Christians perpetrated and continue to perpetrate. They still try to get their hands on native children, and whine about how unfair it is to prevent them from adopting. Turns my stomach. I am aware in part because I believe in “know thy enemy” and to know how they act means going back to their beginning. Most people who don’t know,don’t know because they don’t have to. IMO a anyway.

      • foxy
        May 3, 2013 at 2:32 am

        @donna,are there any statistical evidence to your claims.

      • Donna L
        May 3, 2013 at 11:02 am

        You expect statistical evidence from 1000 years ago? What did you have in mind, exactly?

      • Donna L
        May 3, 2013 at 11:04 am

        I like to assume good faith, but that was a highly dubious question.

      • Li
        May 3, 2013 at 11:27 am

        Oh oh.. foxy’s back. I wouldn’t be presuming good faith any time soon..

  11. May 2, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    We have been writing about the the corruption in international adoption for some time, and are thrilled to see The Child Catchers get some attention.

    Adoptive Parents Decry UNICEF’s Humanitarian Position about Adopting Overseas

    Abuses in International Adoption: The Lie We Love

    We are two women who write about the pain of giving up our children in the sixties and who try to reform adoption today so that people can find out why they were when they were born. Oh Yes, we right about how fucked up modern adoption is.

  12. sabrina
    May 3, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    So how exactly is the best way to deal with the situation? The fact is there are always going to be infertile couples who want children and there are always going to be children whose parents are dead/do not want them. Adoption in and of itself needs to be seen as a positive thing and because of corruption it’s currently being widely abused. I guess what I’m asking is how do we as potential adopters (I am infertile and my husband and I would like to have a family one day) know what organizations to work with whether it be for US adoption or international. Should we only stick to adopting from the US or are there tangible ways that we can support good international adoption?

  13. MH
    May 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Just wanted to put out there that I do think these issues are important. I’ve never been pregnant, so I’ve never been in this situation, but I do empathize.

Comments are closed.