What's wrong with foreign adoption?

By Barb Reinhold

Published October 3, 2000 7:18PM (EDT)

Read the story

Barb Reinhold realizes she is selfish. I hope she realizes selfishness won't get her far in motherhood. I don't think there is anything wrong with realizing she and her husband aren't up to the task of adopting a special-needs child. But she seems to be looking for a trophy child to reflect his or her parents' achievements and attractiveness. That is a big burden for the little Russian orphan (or a biological child) to carry.

-- Rebecca Chiao

Barb Reinhold should be aware that many foreign adoptions, especially those children from a deprived environment, also have "special needs." One of the most prevalent birth disorders in Russia and eastern European nations is fetal alcohol syndrome.

Fetal alcohol syndrome occurs when the mother drinks during pregnancy and is extremely difficult to detect unless one is a trained dysmorphologist. Many families who have foreign adoptions from Europe have been assured that their children are healthy, only to find later they have handicaps.

Adoption is no guarantee that a child is healthy and unless one is prepared to be the parent of a child with special needs, do not assume that the child you will get will be 100 percent healthy.

-- Peggy Oba

Perhaps the author should hold off adopting at all until she has A) resolved her infertility issues and B) researched Eastern European adoption more thoroughly.

I am a single lawyer who adopted five special needs children domestically but I readily concede that foreign children need homes too. What I don't think foreign children need is a family that wants only blond-haired, blue-eyed children who will grow up to be college graduates. What scares me are potential adoptive parents who think that foreign adoptions are problem-free. Has the author read anything about the abysmally high disruption rates in Eastern European adoptions? Usually the children get blamed for being too damaged but I always wonder about adoptive parents who weren't paying attention in their single-minded search for a child who looked like them.

-- Julie Stevens

I'd like to add another view about foreign adoptions: I hear Reinhold saying that she wants to adopt a child that looks like her, and will "fit" into her family, AS IF it were her biological child. As an adoptee, I want to point out that from the child's point of view, they are in fact not biological offspring, and to make them conform to that illusion in order to satisfy the needs of their parents requires them to deny their own biological, cultural and racial origins.

Foreign adoptions are suspect to me because many prospective adoptive parents seem to find it attractive because the babies are so cut off from their biological families they will be able to pretend that their babies don't come trailing their own histories, that they will never need to find out about their birth family. This flies in the face of the need adopted children have to know their own stories and be rooted in reality.

Children up for adoption in this country often have birth mothers who want an open adoption, which I feel is the healthiest solution if the interests of the child are paramount, not those of the adoptive parents. Adoption is seen as an altruistic act, and foreign adoptions even more so, because of the terrible conditions the children are in, but altruism should never trump the needs of the child. Love makes families, not secrets and lies.

-- A. Lauer

I would have had more sympathy for the author before my wife and I (both white) adopted three biracial children. I'm now much more able to see the inherent racism in the amount of time and effort adoptive parents spend to avoid non-white children. The children she is talking about are not necessarily "special needs" -- they are for the most part just not white. Believing that children of color are more likely to be problematic, and lumping them in with developmentally challenged kids, is just racial stereotyping.

The author is absolutely right that hypocritical biological parents have no right to pass judgment, and calling them on it is entirely appropriate. It is better to provide a loving home for some child than no child. But those of us who have adopted transracially know that she is spending tens of thousands of extra dollars to avoid non-white children (like our children). So don't whine when we call you on it.

It is true that you lose your white privilege when you adopt transracially. However, what you gain is a powerful view into the world that you would have never seen on your own. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

-- Dan Schreiber

I was amazed to read that some people have the gall to condemn others for adopting foreign children. These people need to place more emphasis on humanity and less on being politically correct busybodies. What kind of person would have the arrogance to tell other people whom they should adopt?

I recently rode on a plane from Moscow to the U.S. with a woman who had just adopted a baby from Uzbekistan. This was her third child from the former USSR. She had also adopted two kids from Korea. She and her husband had spent thousands of dollars to give these helpless children good homes.

American child? Russian child? Who cares?

I am not sure, but I every time I looked at this adoptive mother, I was pretty certain I saw a halo above her head.

-- Bryce Boucher

I was so happy to read your article on adopting from Russia. I adopted my 3-year-old son one month ago from Moscow. I have been told the same things for a year. I have two bio girls who are 8 and 9 with blond hair and blue eyes and I wanted a son who looked like them. I was told by the agency doing my home study how wrong I was to not take a black child. How the state of North Carolina had so many children in foster care and I could help these kids. I told them how important it was that my girls felt good about their new brother. Both said they did not want a black, Asian or handicapped brother. Kids are mean and my girls wanted a "cool" brother. When I told my case worker this, she was upset with my girls. She tried to scare my girls by saying the little boy we had chosen could die in the orphanage or some Russian family could take him. My girls had nightmares for two weeks about their brother dying in Russia.

Your article tells what everybody knows but won't admit. I now have two daughters and one son with blond hair and blue eyes. I was even told by the Russian judge that my son looked like me. It is every mother's dream to have people come up to you and say what beautiful children you have or they look just like Mom or Dad.

There is one thing about adopting that is different from giving birth. When you adopt you must fall in love with the new child. When you give birth you are already in love with the child. When you adopt and must fall in love with your new child it helps if he/she looks like the family. I know my whole family fell in love with my son by watching his videos and seeing his pictures all the time.

Cameron is now a typical 3-year-old fighting with his big sisters. They tell me what a pain he is and yet never let the poor kid have a moment's peace. They carry him around, change him, play on the swings with him and even gang up on me with him. The change in our family has been great and I feel it is because he "fit" into our family so well.

-- Margaret Shope

Regarding Barb Reinhold's article about adopting a child from Russia, please let her know that I support her decision.

As a childless wife of a former case worker from Illinois, in any discussion with my husband where adoption is brought up he refuses to even consider a child from the U.S. This man was a case worker. He loves kids. The system is so screwed up in our state that the odds of someone's parental rights being terminated and then reinstated post-adoption are really high.

Go forward. Love a baby. Be strong.

-- Amy Knoll-McCormick

Oy. As the adoptive mother of a "defective" child I believe that everyone has a perfect right to decide what and what they can't take. My child has physical handicaps. I couldn't have raised a mentally handicapped child. I knew myself.

However, that isn't cause for congratulations. Being honest about the fact that you don't have enough patience and want your child to be "perfect" doesn't mean you are laudable.

By the way, my daughter is now 19, finished with high school and doing her Israeli National Service (in lieu of army service). Not "perfect," but wonderful.

-- Sharon Saunders

Not only is Barb Reinhold right in knocking down the "logic" of people who can have their own biological children (but who are scolding her for looking into foreign adoption), she doesn't go far enough.

She asks them why they don't adopt a special-needs child in addition to having their own; I say why don't they forgo having their own biological children altogether and adopt? Why bring more children into a world where we can't adequately care for the ones we have?

In this day of overpopulation, pollution and shrinking natural resources, having your own children is nothing more than extreme egoism, narcissism and bourgeois arrogance.

-- Steph Mineart

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------