Adoption is always the result, one way or another, of the fact that our world is fallen. In the most innocent and purely tragic case, adoption can be the result of parents' death, which need not be anyone's fault at all.
More often, adoption results from fornication, when a child is conceived out of wedlock. Sometimes, out-of-wedlock birth comes together with drastically difficult physical conditions. In the case of transnational adoptions, a child may face a life of poverty and malnutrition or a life in a crowded orphanage without any parents at all if he is not adopted. In some countries, children face a life of being bounced from home to home in the foster care system, forming and breaking bonds over and over again until they forget how to love.
But the fact that adoptions are always the result of non-optimal circumstances should never be confused with the proposition that a child's adoption is itself sub-optimal for the child, given the child's circumstances at the time of adoption. Far from it. In a very great number of cases, adoption is far and away the best possible gift the child could be given.
Therefore, statements like, "It's better if a mother can keep her child rather than placing him for adoption" are facile at best and misleading at worst. In a perfect world, an unfallen world, there would be no adoptions. But by the same token, in an unfallen world a lot of adoptees would never have been conceived in the first place. It is in many, many cases not better for a mother--particularly an unwed mother--to keep her child rather than placing him for adoption, and rhetoric that implies in general terms that adoption is an unfortunate or second-best choice for the child and that discourages adoption is not rhetoric that should be left unchallenged.
Full disclosure: I was adopted as an infant of seven months old.
I do not mean to imply that Laura is generally negative about adoption. In fact, my impression (based on some comments I seem to recall about the Bristol Palin case) is that she is in favor of adoption in many cases for children conceived out of wedlock. She is, however, generally negative about transnational adoption, and my foregoing comments were meant to set the stage for a similar critique of her comments about transnational adoptions, which seem to me to have the same facile and misleading character as do negative generalizations about adoption itself. She does not deny altogether any value to transnational adoption but does see it as a trend to be discouraged:
Many thousands of transracial adoptees have found loving homes in the West. That’s an undeniable fact. But it’s important to be honest. It would be far better if fewer women were infertile. And it is ideal for children to be raised within their native cultures. To say this is not to lose sight of the happiness, love and good fortune many foreign adoptees have experienced in Western homes.
These children are now full members of Western society and it must wholeheartedly embrace them. But the future of this trend should be placed in check. [Emphasis added]
But to say that it would be "ideal for children to be raised within their native cultures" seems to me to be, by and large, not true--at least when we are talking about the reference class of children being considered as potential adoptees. In fact, it is a lot like saying that it would be "ideal for children to be raised by their biological mothers." Actually, given the very circumstances in which many children placed for adoption were conceived, it would not be ideal for them to be raised by their biological mothers. Once again, in a perfect world, no children would not raised by their biological mothers, and no children would need to be adopted away from the place where they were born. In fact, in a perfect world, there would be no adoptions at all. And in a perfect world, there would be no illegitimate children, no abandoned children, no parental death, no Communist China, no corrupt African rulers keeping their people dirt-poor, no children raised in false religions, no malnutrition, and everything would be wonderful. But by the time we live in such a world, there will also be neither marrying nor giving in marriage and no new babies being born, so there isn't much point in talking about it. And meanwhile, it makes little sense whatsoever to make sweeping statements like, "It is ideal for children to be raised in their native cultures." Depending on the native culture in question, no, it often isn't.
Laura W.'s posts on transnational adoption seem to have been sparked by this article about this study of Korean adoptees. Evidently the study found that these Korean adoptees have had some difficulty with their racial identity. Of course, being adopted very young, they were completely Americanized and "thought of themselves as white." But they were sometimes teased by classmates. Some suffered some sort of insensitive comments from teachers. When they were grown, they sometimes made trips to Korea to try to connect with their cultural roots. In one case, the trip was not very successful, as the very grandmother who had placed a boy for adoption berated him for not having learned Korean before coming to the country to visit her.
Now, I'm not trying to say that all of these experiences were absolutely nothing, and maybe some were worse than others. But I am trying to say that in the grand scheme of things, this stuff I'm reading about from this study just isn't that big of a deal. Let's get a big picture here: Most or all adoptees have some questions about their identity. Some of them have difficulties occasioned by the genetic differences between themselves and their adoptive families. These differences, even when they are not racial, can be fairly noticeable, including differences in appearance, aptitudes, and intelligence, in many different directions. Often adoptees want to find or at least have the opportunity to make contact with their birth mothers, and while I think that the "open adoption" movement has some real problems, I have no problem at all with services provided by adoption agencies whereby adult adoptees and their mothers may have contact with each other, only after the child is an adult and only by common consent.
It is, however, very easy for an adoptee to blow any such matters of identity out of proportion, and such a blowing out of proportion is nothing less than a potentially harmful form of self-centeredness, a confused idea that one must undertake some sort of pilgrimage to find one's identity (as though one has no access to one's identity otherwise), and that by thus "finding oneself" one will solve deep mysteries and perhaps even heal oneself of psychological problems. To all of which, I say a robust, "Balderdash. Don't spend your time in identity angst. Get a life instead. It may be perfectly legitimate to get to know your birth mother at some point and to find out things about yourself. You may profit from it. But keep the whole thing in balance and in perspective."
And this is just as true for transnational adoptees. Naturally, in our highly race-conscious country--particularly a country that makes so much of the roots and the wonderfulness of non-Westerners--children of non-Western descent are likely to hear that "their heritage" is the ethnic heritage into which they were born. This can be highly misleading. As Americans from infancy, they should be instead encouraged in their original, spontaneous sense of themselves as full-fledged Americans, as much heirs of the American culture as any child born here originally. Assimilation in such cases can be complete and highly satisfactory, and interfering with such assimilation by some sort of attempt to generate a strong identification with the country of the child's birth and a strong race consciousness is, in my opinion, a mistake, though one to which I can imagine that liberals are almost certainly going to gravitate.
To see conservatives, then, thinking of the birth country of a transnational adoptee, adopted as an infant, as his own country, his own, native culture, etc., and implying that he would be better off had he been left there, is particularly frustrating. As conservatives, we should decisively eschew both cultural relativism and shyness about the advantages of our own country. Let's be honest: We have the greatest country in the world. Imagine a Chinese baby girl, abandoned (as many are) because she is a girl, and taken into an over-crowded, understaffed orphanage in which she is lucky to survive. She has few prospects of anything we American conservatives should regard as a normal life, a little girl's heritage qua little girl, a life with a loving mother and father, plenty to eat, individual attention, decent health care, and no stigma because she is a girl. If she gets all of these things, she should thank God every day for her blessings. A few funny looks from people on the street who notice that she is Asian and her parents are Caucasian, some teasing at school (which most kids who go to school experience anyway about one thing or another), and even a few questions in adulthood, are a miniscule price to pay for all she has received.
And the more appalling the conditions in the child's country of birth, the stronger this point. One of Laura W.'s readers brings up Madonna's adoption of an African child. Celebrity adoptions are a red herring anyway, because there are serious grounds for questioning the fitness of Madonna and a lot of other celebrities to be parents at all, which are a fortiori grounds for refusing them the opportunity to adopt any particular child. IMO, Madonna shouldn't be allowed to adopt a kitten. So let's keep her out of it. But the concern here seems to be that Madonna's African adoptee will lose contact with his father, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. If a child is old enough to have developed strong bonding with particular adults, and if those adults are willing and able to continue raising him, there is of course a reason to consider the psychological trauma of breaking those bonds as part of the overall decision about what is best for the child. This is as true for in-country adoptions as for transnational adoptions. But my impression is that this little boy's father, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents preferred that he go to America rather than that he be raised in Africa. And assuming that the issue is merely that of contact with biological relatives per se, let's put it brutally: If we're talking about avoiding a lifetime of rickets, other effects of malnutrition, and deep poverty vs. frequent contact with your aunts, I think frequent contact with the aunts should go to the wall. In my opinion, even a biological mother in dire poverty might quite legitimately consider placing an infant child for adoption, if he could go to a loving, normal home.
Here I must come to the strangest and most distasteful part of Laura W's position. She says,
I say it is ungodly not to recognize the order of God’s creation, and that part of that order is distinct races.
Well. What can I say, other than that I disagree strongly? She doesn't seem to mean by this that transnational adoptions are intrinsically wrong, but apparently there is supposed to be some connection or other between this statement about the races and the subject of transnational adoptions, and perhaps this explains her recommendation that transnational adoptions be "checked." Of course, if you believe that transnational adoptions are somehow unnatural and contrary to the will of God, there's little point in discussing the practical pros and cons for the child. But since religion has been brought into the discussion, let me just point out an explicit and unambiguous command from Our Lord Himself:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. (Matt. 28:19-20)Let's remember that a child in a non-Christian country is less likely to learn about Christ and come to know Christ than a child even in secular America. And if the adopting parents are Christians, then their act of taking in this child and raising him in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is one of the best, most loving, and most thoroughly generous forms of evangelism there can be. As far as I'm concerned, so far from manifesting an "ungodly" refusal to recognize God's "order of creation," such an act is just one of the many possible ways to carry out our Lord's commands. There is also this consideration:
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in....Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
A disturbing aspect of Laura W.'s whole approach to this question is her unstated assumption that transnational adoptions are carried out chiefly for the benefits they confer on the parents. Hence, she discusses infertility, tries (though not very hard) to show sympathy for infertile women, and ends up by implying that if women wouldn't delay childbearing they wouldn't have this problem and wouldn't be taking poor little Asian and African children away from their culture to America. So in her view, feminism is to blame for the growth of transnational adoption--one regrettable movement arising out of another, as it were. Her brief comment to the effect that she is not "losing sight" of the happiness gained by children in transnational adoptions notwithstanding, this emphasis does downplay what most of us first think of when we hear of a transnational adoption: the incredible benefits to the child. If Laura W. thinks these are outweighed by the purely cultural and racial fact that the child will be raised by Caucasian parents in the United States rather than in China, Africa, or Korea, she is going to have a hard argumentative row to hoe. Moreover, several transnational adoptive families I know of do not have a fertility problem at all and adopted their beloved Chinese children on top of their own biological children out of pure generosity of heart, pure love.
For each of us, life is a gift. That is true of the air we breathe, the food we eat, and what the Prayer Book calls "all the blessings of this life." So much the more is it true of what the Prayer Book goes on to call "the means of grace and the hope of glory." Adopted children who have been granted by Providence to be adopted into loving, two-parent, Christian homes from broken homes, fatherlessness, dire poverty, abandonment, or any of the other backgrounds of sadness, sin, and misery with which this world is littered have the opportunity to realize in a special way that their lives are a gift. Nothing should be allowed to obscure that realization, least of all racial politics, whether those of the left or those of the right.