As an adoptive parent, I feel very strongly that the voices of birth parents need to be heard and listened to, in our own families as well as in adoption legislation and policy.
A few salient quotes from an academic research report, Birth Families and Intercountry Adoption in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:
“70% of adopted children have a surviving birth parent in Ethiopia, making it painstakingly clear that most of these parents are not offered other types of assistance…
The conceptualization behind intercountry adoption obscures focus on the most inexpensive and highest quality option–enabling a child to remain with his/her living birthparent and assisting that birthparent to make a local plan for after his/her death…
Some of the most impoverished communities in Africa have proven capable of caring for orphans and vulnerable children, even in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, when nurtured by programs that identify and seek to repair the holes in the safety net…”
These excerpts are from a 2010 thesis written by (US citizen) Sarah Brittingham for her M.A. in Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.
Despite their obvious and vulnerable role in international adoption, birth/original/first parents have received too little attention in terms of academic work, and certainly in terms of post-placement services. This thesis sheds additional light, along with the MSW work of Kalkidan Alelign. You can read Ms. Alelign’s important thesis in my post, Ethiopian Birth Mothers After Relinquishment: MSW Research from Addis Ababa University.
Sarah Brittingham’s research has an extensive amount of references, including research on Marshall Islands’ adoptions that is remarkably relevant to Ethiopia: “If I Give You My Child, Aren’t We Family? A Study of Birth Mothers Participating in Marshall Islands–US Adoptions.” Brittingham’s research echoes that of the Marshall Islands, in that “Few (Ethiopian) participants showed an understanding of intercountry adoption as complete severance of ties with their children. Instead, adoption seems to represent ‘a link between two families creating a relation of kinship for support and expanded rights.'”
That notion of “a link between two families” is challenging to define, as it is a form of open international adoption. I believe that will be the model for the future of inter country adoption, a model that relinquishes fear and falsehoods. If adoptions are to continue, they must be ethical, transparent, and fair.
Here is a quote from an Ethiopian birth mother, comparing her experience to that of a close friend’s:
We both gave our children through the same agency, but I don’t hear about my children. When I went to the agency to demand information, they told me contact is based on the adoptive parents’ willingness and personality. Some want a picture, calls, etc., and some don’t, and they can’t do anything about it. It is up to the adoptive parents. But I think that if it is the same agency and the same law, it should apply to all parents…
I would love to hear the insights of adoption agencies on this, on what the agreements or inferences were and are regarding post-placement contact. My sense, based on anecdotes, is that increasing numbers of adoptive parents are reaching out and contacting Ethiopian birth families on their own, but I have no hard research on that.
I do feel certain that enormous confusion exists over what information the birth families were promised, following the placement of their children. There is great hope, even expectation, among many Ethiopian birth families that their children will go back to Ethiopia, and contribute to the country, and perhaps to the birth family as well.
One participant in the Brittingham thesis says “I wish for God to give me a long life so that I will be able to see (my children).” An adoptee “believed that intercountry adoption was the best way to help her mother, stating, ‘it’s better we go outside, and when we have something of our own, we will help you.’ ”
We–adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and adoption policymakers–need to hear these voices of Ethiopian original parents and of adopted persons.
We need to insist on additional research on intercountry adoption outcomes, especially as related to birth families.
We need to insist on improved, equitable services for all involved.
Many thanks to those who are researching these issues.
May those who are proposing new laws, policies, and funding genuinely hear the voices and the needs of marginalized first families.
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Thnaks so much for posting! I hope the CHIFFers will read and understand it.
Birth family contact is not straight forward. I fear people will go into it naively. These families who gave their children up for adoption usually have huge needs – that we cannot fill . As an adoptive parent who helps support my adopted children’s extended families I have experienced two things. a) It is extremely difficult to get them on-going help in Ethiopia …they will often die before they get it b) It is difficult and complex to have us provide on-going help from the US. I don’t think this is a sustainable solution. But once you start, and they have no other options, how to change the relationship back?
Please forgive my question if it is too forward. I too am an adoptive parent of two Ethiopian children, and have often thought about how can we give to the birth family. It was strongly discouraged by the adoption agency. We do send pictures and stories about the children on a regular basis, but we never know if these reach their intended target. Can you share what you do to support the extended family back in Ethiopia?