October 27, 2008

Ethics in Ethiopia

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:48 pm by Erin

I don't think I've ever said this to anyone other than J: I worry that K's adoption was unethical.

Not to the level of horror stories that people hear.  I do believe that T really is K's firstmom–they look too much alike for me to believe otherwise.  I don't think K was stolen from T.  I don't think she was paid to relinquish him.  I don't think she was threatened if she did not bring him to the orphanage.  But I worry that she also didn't make a completely free choice. 

We have a "lifebook" DVD for K that our agency makes.  It is a precious, wonderful gift.  It contains video of T and a lot else that I will not share here since it is for K to see when he is older.  It also contains video of T nursing K.  At least part of the video was taken before he was relinquished–I know this for a fact, because I asked about it while we were in Ethiopia, when the video was first taken.  I was horrified to think that they might have brought a traumatized child back to his grieving firstmom solely for the purposes of videotaping them together.  I couldn't imagine what that would have done to either of them. 

But if she was still nursing K and he hadn't been relinquished yet…did she feel like she still had a choice about whether to bring him to the orphanage after an adoption agency had already videotaped them?  Was she told that there were people who were rich and would do everything for him?  That he would have a "better life"?  Was she told that he would come back someday?  Was she promised that we would send her money?  These are things I've heard from some other Ethiopian adoptive families.  Not a lot, but I have heard them and they make me worry.

It makes me think even further back.  Our agency, until recently, worked very closely with only one orphanage in Hosanna (at least, that's my understanding).  Almost all of the children that they've referred were from this one area and came through the orphanage.  How did they find out that T was considering relinquishing K?  I have no idea how that works and the more I think about it, the more I realize that none of the possibilities are particularly palatable.

As I see it, the possible ways it happened are:

1. She brought K to the orphanage and they had her bring him back home so that they could be videotaped together.

2. She went to the orphanage to get information about relinquishment, and they came to videotape the two of them before a decision had even been made for certain.

3. She decided to relinquish him but was not allowed to until they'd been videotaped together.

4. She decided to relinquish him and had signed paperwork about it, but had the option of being videotaped with him before she had to let him go.  (This is the only one I can really stomach–if it was her choice.  And if it was, let me say that I am supremely grateful that she made such a choice so that we have that precious footage of the two of them together.)

I suspected that we were not being told everything as early as our meeting with T, though I should have started wondering the day before when we saw this video.  The meetings are done in Hosanna, with a translator provided by the agency.  At the meeting, she most definitely said things that were not translated–both J and I agree that we believe this to be true.  Perhaps she was asking for money, and the translator decided that shouldn't be passed on (because of rules against giving money to first families for fear that it looks like you're buying a child).  Maybe she was asking when he would come home.  Maybe there was something else in there that we needed to know but weren't told, because our translator was being paid by the agency and had instructions on what to translate and what not to translate.

Adoptions should be completely transparent.  Completely.  There should be nothing hidden, even if it was a request for money that we would have been bound to say no to.  We should have been allowed to record the meeting, with T's permission, so that we would always have a record of what was said.  So that we could have it independently translated if we'd wanted to do so.  Honestly, I see no reason NOT to allow audio recording if they're being fully transparent and honest at these meetings.  We should be allowed ongoing contact.  The laws say that first families cannot expect contact after relinquishment.  They say nothing about the adoptive families not being allowed to offer contact to the first families. 

I genuinely feel like T made the best choice she could for K, to keep her child healthy and safe.  I felt her hug, I saw her tears.  When she met P (after the individual meeting with us), P ran over to hug her and then she kissed me on the mouth…this was in contrast to the traditional cheek-kissing we'd done before, which is familiar-but-not-too-familiar.  A kiss on the mouth was different and more serious.  I got the impression that she was very grateful that we'd brought P with us, to see that we have already been raising a son who is loving and accepting.  That maybe it brought her some happiness at such a sad time in her life.  And I'm probably reading too much into it (maybe I want to read too much into it?), but I didn't leave feeling like she felt duped.

J and I have talked off and on about hiring a searcher, to open communication with T if she would also like that.  We have all the information about T that we could possibly have in terms of locating her–I can't imagine that a search would be too difficult.  We haven't had the money up until now.  But we've suddenly got a bit that's not already spoken for.  And I think that tonight I'll ask J what he thinks about using some of it for this purpose.

The more I learn about international adoption, the more I feel like I was completely naive when we brought K home.  I think back to how much I felt like I'd learned by then, but it was a drop in the bucket.  International adoption has a sharp learning curve.



  1. My Reality said,

    It sounds to me like her kiss on the lips was her one way to communicate with you through the language barriers. If she wasn’t grateful for the life you would be giving K, she wouldn’t have been so expressive in her emotions.
    I hope that you find a peace of mind in this situation.

  2. JessPond said,

    I agree that it sounds as if she wanted you to know things were as ok as they could be. MR said it best…she wouldn’t have been as expressive otherwise.
    You KNOW how I feel about openness in adoption. For ME, if I had the option, I would definitely try to search for her! Think of all you stand to possibly learn, and if you’re not successful you’re not worse off…and you did all you could for your family. If she didn’t want contact, you don’t have to be hurt…it’d LIKELY be because she just felt like she coudln’t at this time, and you could make sure she knows that if EVER she wants, you’re available.
    I think this is terribly exciting. Good luck figuring out what’s best!

  3. clare said,

    I’ve been really touched to read your story. It is so clear how much your wondering and thinking. It is so hard to know what is what, particularly with the language barrier and the distances involved. I can’t imagine a much steeper learning curve than international adoption… I have a friend who is flying to Ethiopia this week to meet the son they are adopting and find myself thinking over and over again what that would be like– to pass out candy for Halloween and then board a plane the next day.
    Best of luck with the journey…

  4. Mel said,

    It’s so hard because without clear answers, it is a lot of what ifs. And those what ifs can eat you alive. If you can afford to get those answers and they’ll give you peace of heart, I think you should go get them.
    All hard questions, sweetie.

  5. Rachel Inbar said,

    I know nothing, so this is based purely on the way I’d imagine it. (Please forgive any lack of political-correctness, that concept doesn’t really exist yet in Israel, so I’m not sure what one is allowed to say.) T decided to give K up for adoption, but she also really loved and cared about him, just couldn’t keep him long-term. Once she had made her decision, she got in touch with the orphanage/agency who videoed her while she was still caring for him, something she wanted to do for as long as she could. When she couldn’t care for him any more, she brought him to the orphanage.
    If you discover there is no way to know the truth, you may want to consider psychodrama. From my experience it is very powerful.

  6. Samantha said,

    I think you really did what you could prior to the adoption, and a lot of what you are considering is speculation. Situations that at the time didn’t seem problematic are now seeming more threatening, but they don’t have to be. The translator could have just been lazy and paraphrased what he/she felt like was duplicate information. The agency may have discouraged videotaping because they found it impinged on the contact between first families and adoptive families. There could be benign reasons for everything that is now looking suspicious.
    That said, I think if you want to pursue more contact with T, it could really help put your mind at ease.

  7. Jenn said,

    Oh Erin…
    What if they gave a copy of the same videotape to T? It’s quite possible that you both have the tape for very different reasons.
    I think it’s wonderful if you would like to have an open adoption as far as letting T know about K’s progress. I just don’t know that I personally would dig much more beyond that as far as the circumstances behind the relinquishment itself.
    I hope you find peace within you about all of this… You read a lot about all of the happy things about adoption, but I think it takes a large mental toll on the parents as well… good and bad.
    I’ll be thinking of you. 🙂

  8. beagle said,

    I think the questions you are asking are good ones. And not to be glib . . . but someone who had engaged in an unethical adoption wouldn’t even be comtemplating any of this.
    I believe the thoughtfulness you bring to this is exactly what does make it ethical. No one can control all these variables but at the heart of it you have your son’s best interest in mind and so did/does T.
    Establishign ongoing contact may be a really wonderful thing for all of you in the long run.
    Whatever happens I hope you find peace of mind.
    Even in domestic adoption, I worry about similar things.

  9. Mayhem said,

    Search… Go for it.
    We have a somewhat similar situation in our adoption of our oldest son from South Africa five years ago. We just got back from a visit to South Africa a few weeks ago. I had hoped to get more answers about his relinquishment, his first family and his time in a foster-type home. I was amazed how many of the connections I thought would be in place are just gone… The baby house, his foster mother, his hospital records, the social worker who knew his mother… It has been very sad to realize that those possibilities for information are gone. (Thankfully, much more sad for me now than for him.) We have MUCH more information than is typical for international adoption and I’m very grateful for that. But he’s my baby, and anything less than 100% seems like not enough.
    I’m sure you’ll decide what’s right for you and your family, but based on our experience I’d recommend finding out whatever you can while the possibility still exists.

  10. Rachel said,

    I’m not sure that domestic adoption is any better….
    Can’t wait to see you tomorrow!

  11. anymommy said,

    I struggle with these questions all the time. And more. What is free will? Is there any free choice in a starving country? The money we paid to adopt our daughter (not from Ethiopia, but internationally) would have paid to keep her with her mother and feed them both, probably for life. But, I do think, within the situation that existed, that her firstmom made a free choice.
    There’s no easy answers. It’s wonderful that you have such a record of his first family. I think that is a true gift.

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