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Adoption Blog: Melting Pot Family

Adoption - My View Five Years Into the Journey

As Ethiopia contemplates more big changes to its intercountry adoption program, employees of an adoption agency were recently indicted, and we plan another family trip back, I found myself reflecting on how my view of adoption has evolved in the past five years.

I still believe adoption is a great option in a limited set of circumstances. But the focus always needs to be the child. I am a bigger believer in the Hague Convention and its focus on when international adoption is appropriate -- as a last resort.

I am learning each day how focusing on the child involves recognizing their past and the people they are connected to from birth and through their culture. I can't do right by my child if I don't acknowledge her first family and the circumstances that made international adoption a part of her life, as well as her future. Her pointed inquiries as she is growing up don't lend themselves to easy or pat answers.

Birth families need more of a voice and a place at the table, especially where poverty or unequal power are in the equation. Because we don't have contact, I need to channel their voice so it is not forgotten or ignored. I feel the weight of that responsibility every day.

Adoptees also need more of a voice and a place at the table, since so many choices were made for them at an early age. Adoptive parents should listen and learn. I am starting with those around me who are adult adoptees, in person and through online forums, as well as my daughter. Though still at a tender age, she has distinct thoughts and views on her path so far.

Meetings of the minds matter, as I've learned in many instances as an attorney by training. If all parties don't understand what will happen going forward -- and, more importantly, agree -- it will inevitably become problematic. Exponentially so when the issue involves children and the disconnect that can arise from cultural misunderstanding and unequal bargaining power.

Solutions are hard because of competing priorities. Getting kids in their families early in life is ideal, as I heard from many sources, including our pediatrician. But creating a demand for younger children or rushing a process with limited records leads to mistakes and worse.

Family still trumps culture and country, although all three are hugely important. But families must find way to connect with their children's culture and country to truly help them discover and develop their identities.

The problem is big enough that there is room for different areas of effort -- schools, family preservation, sponsorships, and adoption. We have gotten involved with all of the above, and the problem needs many more people to do the same.

No one has all the answers. No one should get to speak for someone else, no matter how well meaning. I see that every day with my daughter, who is finding her voice. One of her brothers, not wanting to see her sad, suggested that something wasn't as big a deal as she made it. She shot back, quickly and forcefully, "You don't understand." And she was right.

Everyone is colored by their personal experience and bias. I know this is true for me. And I see it everywhere. We can learn from each other, but first we need to acknowledge what baggage we bring.

Adoption involves pain and loss, as well as joy. Our daughter is a treasure, and has brought us more joy than we ever thought possible. But when she cries for her first mom, tears run down her cheeks as she tries to make sense of the incomprehensible. I can't deny that, for her, loss is a big part of her reality. It rips my heart out that I can't alleviate this suffering. If I am to truly walk this path with her, I need to feel the searing pain as she does. And work for a world where there is more equality and less poverty. We are on this journey together and, like the river, will follow where it flows.

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Ellenore Angelidis

Ellenore Angelidis

I have recently adopted or am adopting from...

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