I hate to read news like the story that rolled out of Guatemala yesterday and splashed into the adoption world like a boulder into a quiet lake. A judge in Guatemala has ruled that a six-year-old girl should be returned to her biological family. Because she was kidnapped and wrongfully placed for adoption. There are no winners in stories like this one, but the ripples of this ruling and subsequent news coverage will -- or should -- have far-reaching effects.
I hesitated to write about this story myself, coming from the birth mother point of view. I will be honest in saying that if any of my children (and not just the daughter I relinquished at birth) had been kidnapped, I would have acted similarly to this mother and fought, tooth and nail, to bring my child home to her rightful place at our table no matter how long it took. I like food a lot, but I would have staged a hunger strike as well to get to see the documents as she did. The crime of kidnapping isn’t magically absolved by the crossing of a country’s borders and the supposedly-legal process of adoption. Kidnapping is kidnapping. When a child is found, the child should be returned. End of discussion.
But I know that the grey areas in this story matter, more than I want them to. Years have passed. The child feels at home where she is and returning her to her rightful home will involve more trauma, learning of a new, though native, language and other hardships. And yet -- let’s be honest -- what adoptive parents want to answer this question when their child is old enough to ask the hard stuff: Why did you keep me after you knew I was kidnapped and my biological mother was suffering? I wouldn’t want to answer that one.
Back to kidnapping: Why was there ever a question about whether or not this child should be immediately returned? Is it because of the idea that American life is better than Guatemalan life? Is it because of the belief that more money equals better parenting? Is it because the adoption industry is so in need of ethical reform that no one even knows what to do or think when an obvious case of unethical practice smacks them in the face? Let’s be honest here: The people that are claiming that the child is “better off” in America anyway need to let go of their ethnocentric, egotistical beliefs that money means a better life and that we Americans automatically win some parenting award of superiority. This little girl quite obviously has an amazing, strong, loving and smart biological mother waiting for her in Guatemala. She would have been just fine living the Guatemalan life with her original family.
I would say that the adoptive family is not to blame and just got caught up in a bad case of the adoption industry’s woes, but they didn’t exactly go about things on their end in the proper ways either. As the piece on Slate points out, the couple is “rumored” to have known about the DNA question for years. For those who don’t know about adoption procedures in Guatemala, a DNA sample is taken from every child and mother. If they don’t match, it’s a huge red flag that something is not on the up-and-up. For families who want to go about ethical adoption, accepting a child who has a DNA ping wouldn’t be an option. But they pursued the adoption... and here we are. With more questions, no answers and a child whose life will be turned upside down whether she is returned to her mother or remains with an adoptive family who will one day have to answer her questions. There is no win, not even for the mother who may one day get to hold her child again. She has lost years of her daughter’s life.
Reaction, as you might imagine, is wide and varied and... angry. In all directions. At the parents. At the adoption industry. At the judge. At the people now in jail who participated in this flubbed adoption. At God. I say this anger is warranted and could be used for good if we get to see some change in ethical adoption procedures. Only time will tell.
Here’s some of what’s being written.
Lanita M, who shared a bit here on BlogHer, wrote about the issue on the Guatemala blog at AdoptionBlogs.com. She is also an adoptive mom whose daughter is originally from Guatemala. The story has given her a feeling of unease.
After reading stories about Baby Richard and birth mothers changing their minds and wanting their children back, my husband and I decided to adopt internationally. We assumed that once the adoptions were final…they were final, and we needn’t worry that one day, someone would come back and demand the return of our daughters.
When I read about the family in Liberty, I had a disconnected feeling about the case. It was happening to someone else and it had no effect on me personally. But, then I thought…wait…I have a Guatemalan daughter and she is six. Could something like this happen to us?
I get sick at the thought.
At knot-them-again, another adoptive mom writes about her disgust at others’ reactions, problems with the adoption industry as a whole, her fear as they wait to find their other daughter’s birth family and her belief that an adoption that starts with a crime will be forever flawed.
Today the forums were filled with adoptive mothers vehemently supporting the adoptive families actions! One woman even went so far as to say she would "Go Branch Dividian" to hide her child from Interpol [whom the judge has called upon to find and return the child to Guatemala] because "I am the only mother he has known since he was a baby and he is MINE now"....really? I cannot even believe the number who are of the opinion that the grief of the biological mother at having her child kidnapped was NOT of equal value to the grief they would feel at having the child returned. REALLY?!?!!? How long can you keep your head in the sand? How long before you open your eyes and see the number of children kidnapped to satiate the desire of wealthy foreigners? More so, at what point do you EVER acknowledge that just because a birth mother showed up to court and DNA appointments is not an absolute assurance that she was WILLINGLY participating in the adoption? I can state with personal knowledge that at least TWO children of which I am more than just an acquaintance were placed by birth mothers who were blackmailed into completing the steps...at the threat of having bodily harm done to family members! Yet countless adoptive parents deny the possibilities and claim absolute rights to THEIR CHILD.
Momof6 covers the issue as well, including the information that the adoptive family knew about the DNA ping, and has some words about the plight of this little girl.
We can all stand on our own moral high ground and state that without a doubt, the right thing to do for this child would be to reunite her with her birth family… as soon as humanly possible. But I doubt that this 6 year old sees it that way. And while we can say that is too young to have a “say” in this decision, she is one that is going to be uprooted again, for the third time in her young life, and asked to begin her life anew. The emotional consequences of her situation are staggering to me.
In conclusion, all I’ve got is this: This sucks. Stories like this should not be happening in 2011. It’s a perfect example of what fellow Contributing Editor Shannon LC Cate wrote about last week regarding the way we view children as commodities. Stories like this can stop happening when people who should know better -- attorneys, agencies, facilitators, government officials -- stop allowing them to happen.
Photo Credit: Sean and Lauren.
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