From The Archives: A Reflection on Loss: Part One

by Dani

This post was originally published Aug 3rd, 2011 about a week after the death of my grandmother. It is reposted today on the third anniversary of her death.


I’ve had occasion to think about loss a lot over the last week.

I lost my grandmother a week ago. My children lost their great-grandmother, their beloved Grandma K.

So I’ve found myself thinking and talking a lot about family over the last week, about genealogy. And I find that I am in a rather interesting position.

On one hand, half of my genealogy, my ancestry, is almost completely unknown. The few things I think I know are not even proven. I can relate, even sympathize, with adoptees who feel the sting of closed birth records and birth certificates that tell lies. Part of my history is covered and changed or simply left blank.

My knowledge of another fourth of my genealogy and ancestry is severely limited. I know a few names and I know they are fact, but I don’t know stories or a real history. There is no relationship because that part of my family is mostly cut off from me due to the hurt and pain of others.

Three fourths of my story is so similar to the situation my children are in, to the information they have or more accurately do not have. I pray that this will help me in understanding their pain and loss as they grow.

But then there is the other fourth of my genealogy and ancestry, the part that passes through my grandmother. That part I know so very much about. There are numerous (and huge) books that can tell me all kinds of things about my ancestors. I can trace my roots back through 7, 8, 9, even 10 generations to the men and women who sailed across the ocean from Switzerland and Germany to escape religious persecution. I can claim to be a descendant from names like Treyer/Troyer, Hochstetler, Schmucker, and Klopenstine. I know names and details. My great-great grandmother died in childbirth at the age of 38 leaving 8 children. One great-great-great grandfather was an Amish bishop who’s writings were actually published. A historical fiction book was written based on the events in the life of one of these ancestors. And standing at the head of my grandmother’s grave I can see the graves of 2 great-grandparents, 3 great-great-grandparents, and 2 great-great-great-grandparents.

That’s crazy deep roots, ya’ll.

And when I think about those crazy deep roots, my heart hurts for all my children have lost.

From The Archives: Why We Are Not Adopting From Ethiopia Again

by Dani

In honer of the posts about the DRC and Ugandan adoptions I linked to in yesterdays post, I am reporting this post originally written Dec 29th, 2010. I stand behind every word of it still today.

We have been asked over the years why we aren't adopting from Ethiopia again. In fact, our social worker was surprised to hear we were returning to China but not Ethiopia. After all, don't we realize it is considered important by some for adopted children to have siblings who share their birth culture and racial heritage? Yes, we know this, and would love for Butterfly to have an Ethiopian sibling. Is it because we somehow dislike Ethiopia? Absolutely not!  Ethiopia holds a very special place in our hearts. In so much as one can love a country that is not your own, we love Ethiopia. Is it because we are somehow unhappy with Butterfly or "don't love her"? Don't be ridiculous!! If Butterfly had been born to us, we could not love her more!!

So WHY are we not adopting from Ethiopia? Short answer? There is far too much corruption, far too many unethical adoptions, and far too many other questionable gray areas for us to be comfortable considering Ethiopia. (Please note what I did not say. I did not say there are NO ethical adoptions from Ethiopia.) 

For sometime now we have not felt comfortable recommending Ethiopian adoption to anyone. If you ask us, we will tell you to look elsewhere. If you spend anytime in the Ethiopian adoption world, you will quickly learn there are a number of horrible agencies that are to be avoided. An Australian documentary called Fly Away Children helped with that. But we have known for a long time that the problems in Ethiopia run far deeper then "a few bad agencies". The agency we used in 2005 for Butterfly's adoption is still listed as an "ethical agency", one of the good guys. And compared to the worst of the worst, I guess they are. But over the years, we have learned story after story that forces me to put the word ethical in quotes when referencing them. (Because those stories are not mine, I am not at liberty to share them; please do not ask me to.  Those stories belong solely to the families who still suffer the effects to this day. Some of the stories are out there if you look for them.)

Honestly, even the few agencies who are still generally considered ethical (there are only 5) have stories connected to them that lead me to believe that any agency can end up facilitating an unethical adoption. And if you look at this PEAR post, it is obvious the problems are not limited to the US only. Even Ethiopia is beginning to admit there is a problem. In this recent article a judge admitted there is little the ET courts can do to prevent fraud, even when they believe the paperwork and witnesses in an adoption case are fraudulent. And if the recent information from Vietnam is any indication, the US embassy/USCIS is also relatively powerless to stop fraud and corruption.

Okay, corruption aside, (assuming you can actually stay clear of it), what about all the children in Ethiopia who do need new homes?  Well, we have come to believe that most of those children do not actually exist... at least not in the age range most adoptive parents are willing to adopt. By this I mean most children who truly have no family are over the age of 10 and most adoptive families want an infant or young toddler.  We see that many adoptees coming out of Ethiopia are "created orphans" (meaning that if international adoption, or IA, did not exist they would still be with their families) and few are "true orphans" (who have lost both parents to death or absolute abandonment).

In a recent article an Ethiopian official had this to say:

"Before 6-7 years (ago) there were not a lot of orphanages, like there are
now, so the increased number of adoption agencies brought about the
increase in the number of orphanages in Ethiopia," Mahadir said. "Most
of these orphanages are not orphanages. They are transit homes. They
receive children. They give to adoption. They are a (pipeline)."

This says to us that Ethiopia has reached a point where there is a culture of adoption, where children are placed for adoption because it exists. Very few children actually sit in institutions waiting for adoption. They are mostly coming straight from their first families and going straight to International Adoption.

We see adoption as often being a long term solution to a short term problem in Ethiopia. Yes, Ethiopia has a lot of issues and there is no social safety net, but we do not believe that adoption should be that safety net in most cases. If we can reach families to tell them that they can place their children for International Adoption, why can we not also reach them to help them with family preservation? (Yes, I realize this is all very complicated, and our beliefs are more nuanced than this but if I spelled everything out in this post it would be too long to post! Basically, we are not anti-adoption, but we ARE pro-family preservation!) Again, we believe adoption needs to be moved to its rightful place... the LAST resort. We realize there are many adoptive families out there who are okay with all of these gray areas. We are not.

We as a family have committed that we will only adopt a child who has no other option than international adoption to avoid life in an institution or on the streets without a family. This is actually part of a promise we made to Butterfly. Furthermore, we are Christians and as such try to follow the Bible. James 1:27 tells us we are "to look after orphans and widows in their distress".  We do not see how rushing in to take her child away forever is helping the widow in distress. We believe this is in fact causing her and her child great harm. Instead, caring for her, looking after her, and loving her as Christ would means helping her care for her child so she can raise that child right where that child was born.  We believe THAT is the religion which God "accepts as pure and faultless".

Due to these beliefs we hold, the gray areas mentioned above, and the high levels of corruption in Ethiopia, we feel that we can not in good conscience adopt from Ethiopia nor can we recommend the program to anyone else.

ETA: 8/15/11 Here is a blog that tells just a few of the stories coming out of Ethiopia. Ethiopian Adoption Truth

ETA: 4/30/12 A typical story involving the agency we used for Ethiopia. Inside Ethiopia's Adoption Boom 

Orphan Sunday

by Dani

So today is "Orphan Sunday". A day that many Christian churches "focus on the plight and reality of orphans around the world" as one website says.  While you will hear some mention of sponsorship or other care, the key focus has been and continues to be on adoption. You'll see some heart tugging pictures and hear some gut wrenching stories about "The Orphan". You'll see the "Happy Ever After" pictures and hear those stories. Depending on the group presenting, you'll get the feeling that you can't possibly be a Christian if you do not jump up from the pew and sign on with an adoption agency right then and there to rescue one of "The Orphans". You'll definitely hear some really, really big numbers thrown around... 148 MILLION or 153 MILLION  or even 160 MILLION ORPHANS!!! 

Lets stop right there for a minute. What is an orphan? If you're like me and English is your primary language (and you probably are) then I think we can agree that webster's is a good source for the answer to this question. 

  • a child who has lost both parents
  • deprive of parents
  • someone or something who lacks support or care or supervision
  • If you read wikipedia it goes on to say "In common usage, only a child (or the young of an animal) who has lost both parents is called an orphan." Hmm, yeah, sounds about right to me. Ok, lets check back in on that HUGE number of "orphans", that 148 MILLION or 153 MILLION  or 160 MILLION ORPHANS!  Well those numbers come from UNICEF. And UNICEF has a funky definition of an "orphan". Their definition is  "a child who has lost at least one parent". Wait, say what??  Yup, you read that right. The vast, vast majority (roughly 90%) of those 148/153/160/whatever-it-is MILLION "orphans" are not actually orphans at all!! And even fewer of those who are truly orphans are "lacking support or care or supervision" since they live with extended family of one form or other.  Ok, continuing on. 

    As you have probably guessed by now I am no fan of "Orphan Sunday" or people who refer to "The Orphan(s)".   There is a lot wrong with this in my opinion from the focus on adoption over family preservation, to the pressure placed on Christians to adopt (which can and does result in children being placed in unprepared homes), and the objectifying of the children, and the pressure placed on children who are adopted to be grateful, and to the misrepresentation both of the true numbers and the type of child needing adoption! The hard part is that there are children in need of new families, but they are almost never healthy, infant girls. Actually they are rarely either healthy or young. If the Christian church truly wants to follow the command of James 1:27 then they must stop ending the verse after "care for the orphans". They must start caring for the widow. If they will focus on that, very few orphans will need their care. 

    In case you happen to be interested in some good ways to support family preservation and avoid the whole orphan thing in the first place here are a few of my favorites: In Ethiopia, Because Every Mother Matters (facebook page explains more) and Embracing Hope and In China: Love Without Boundaries Unity Fund.