Mr. Harlow’s Monkey is in the field of marketing and so of course, we’ve got the book Freakonomics sitting on our bookshelf. I did read it, had mixed feelings overall, but stumbled on this earlier last night and found it very interesting. I’d actually already read that article Mr. Levitt links to his blog post from last Sunday in the New York Times and had planned to blog about it and forgot! So I am linking it here and on the Gazette.
One of the authors of Freakonomics is the parent of a daughter adopted from China. I read through Mr. Levitt’s blog post, and then all the comments after. Mr. Levitt tackles a subject I’ve not seen thoroughly discussed before – the choice that adoptive parents have to decline a child once they meet them.
I’ve also not really discussed this much before. I have very, very mixed feelings about adoptive parents deciding not to adopt based on some phone-in diagnoses to doctors in the U.S. (as one article alluded to) or as in the example by Mr. Levitt, based on the attachment of the child to the parents. Not to be redundant in bringing up Ms. Angelina Jolie again, but news reports of her adoption of Pax largely reported that Pax was very unhappy about being adopted and did not want to go with Angelina.
Of course, if the child is not doing well emotionally and the parents have an immediate reaction to the child’s personality in a negative way, I worry – more for the child’s sake than the parents – that the adoption will not go well.
What I have trouble with is that this isn’t just an adoption thing. If a parent has birthed a child and doesn’t feel "connected" to that child, are they going to "give it back?" Who would they give it back to? If their child whom they conceived and birthed biologically ended up with autism, down’s syndrome or a mental illness or some other kind of disability, would they give that child up? Or is this particularly an issue with the idea of spending $20,000 on a child and expecting that child to be the kid of your "dreams" or "fate" as I’ve often heard adoptive parents describe?
A while ago, I came across a blog by adoptive parents who went to adopt their daughter "Hannah" from China. In their earlier posts, Hannah is described as their daughter who was theirs by divine intervention. A lot of space was dedicated to how God had meant for this child to belong to these parents. However, the child was medically fragile and once the parents went to meet them, decided to return the girl. They ended up adopting another girl and named her "Hannah" as well. What really irked me was that not only did they name their replacement child the same name, they had the gumption to write that it was really God’s choice that they adopted this second girl after they found out the first was too medically fragile to be adopted. Eventually this couple closed their blog because of all the negative comments they received. And while I do empathize with the difficult decision they had to make, I was left with an overwhelming sense that if this child had been a biological child, the outcome would have been very different.
As parents, I think we all hope and wish for healthy children.
But I just can’t help but feel in my gut that there is something too much akin to returning faulty merchandise to a store.
Last week I blogged about the decision to abort when faced with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome. A
similar issue arises, perhaps in an even more intense way (if such a
thing is possible), with foreign adoption. When you adopt from, say,
China, they send you information about the baby that’s been assigned to
you, including health information that is not very reliable, to say the
least. When you arrive to pick up your baby, you never quite know what
you will find. If there are serious health issues or other reasons why
adoptive parents might find a child unacceptable, the Chinese
authorities will quickly switch the child.
On my first trip to adopt in China, I happened to sit at a table
next to another adopting couple from the United States. They were
older, with no prior children, and had been assigned a three- or
four-year-old girl. If memory serves me correctly, the father was a CEO
of a large firm in New Jersey. They seemed like very nice people. The
child that was assigned to them was very headstrong. She did not want
to go with her adoptive parents and proceeded to throw tantrums,
screaming, throwing things and spitting on and punching them for
several days. They decided they couldn’t go through with it, and the
girl was returned to the orphanage. My understanding is that she would
not be eligible for adoption (at least, not internationally) in the
The next day, the couple told me, another three-year-old was brought
over from an orphanage. The first thing she did when she met them was
say, in English, ”I love you, Mommy. I love you, Daddy.” The person
who had transported the child from the orphanage had taught her the
words. She had no idea what she was saying, but it didn’t
matter. Needless to say, this little girl went home with them to New
Almost seven years have passed since I shared breakfast with that
New Jersey couple, yet I think about them often, and when I do, my eyes
always fill with tears. I think about the little girl, now ten, living
in a Chinese orphanage never knowing the life she missed. Should a
three-year-old be punished for being attached to her caretakers in the
orphanage? What if the New Jersey couple had just held out a little
longer? Mostly, though, I think about how the second child learned
those words in the cab, and how different her life is now because that
first child put up such a fight. Strangely, I never think much about
the decision the couple made with the first child, or whether I would
have done the same thing myself. I only think about the children.
Not everyone makes the same choice as this couple. Yestersday The New York Times ran a wonderful, emotionally wrenching story about this sort of life-defining choice by another couple who had adopted from China. It is well worth reading.
Comments following the post on the author’s blog can be found here.