Before we get into broken adoptions (when a child is re-homed or placed back in the “system” after being adopted once), I have a standard 2020 disclaimer: It’s been a while since I’ve posted. ‘Cause 2020 reasons. You know, end of the world; apocalypse; pandemic; civil rights crisis; murder hornets; wildfires…. So this most recent broken adoption story is somewhat old news at this point. But it’s worth talking about so let’s dig in.
In a non-2020 year, I’d venture to guess we probably all saw it. You know, the “YouTuber” mom who, with her husband, tearfully announced she was “re-homing” the four year old autistic boy they adopted from China almost three years ago. But it’s 2020, and a LOT has happened in the last month, so in case you missed it, here’s the gist:
In a video that has since been taken down, Mommy lifestyle youtuber Myka Stauffer and her husband, tearfully announced in a video to their followers that they were “rehoming” four year old Huxley. They explained that Huxley had “a lot more special needs that we weren’t aware of, and that we were not told” of these special needs during the adoption process.
“After multiple assessments, after multiple evaluations, numerous medical professionals have felt that he needed a different fit in his medical needs. He needed more,” Myka said in the video. “There’s not an ounce of our body that doesn’t want Huxley with all of our being. There wasn’t a minute that I didn’t try our hardest… Do I feel like a failure as a mom? 500 percent. So when we get insidious, hurtful comments, it really makes it hurt worse.”
And they got a lot of insidious, hurtful comments. And they, predictably, lost a number of sponsors and followers. Perusing through the comments, I saw a lot of vitriol: calling out the Stauffers for being lazy and selfish; noting that you can’t just give up a biological child (although, you certainly can but I get the point); decrying the damage this would do to poor Huxley.
I read about the underground market for re-homed adopted children in various news publications years ago. Like this article from Reuters that profiles, among others, a Wisconsin couple that, after deciding to give up the 16 year old they’d adopted from Liberia, found replacement parents for her in less than two days and handed her off to them a few short weeks later.
Those “replacement parents” had had their own biological children removed by child welfare authorities due to their “severe psychiatric problems” and “violent tendencies” and had been accused of sexual abuse by children they were babysitting. But without any social worker or government agency involved, it seems they could easily adopt another child on the black market. On her first night in her new home, the 16 year old was made to sleep with her new parents in their bed (where her mother slept naked). The story and others profiled in the article are disturbing. The 16 year old girl was ultimately rescued by the FBI and returned to her original adoptive family.
I was horrified. I hated these adoptive parents who could so easily cast aside their adoptive children. That’s how I saw it: casting aside their adoptive children. Like a toy that you are tired of playing with.
But years later, as I was preparing to become a foster parent, I started hearing another side to this story. I heard about the medical and psychiatric conditions that sometimes lead to a child being placed with another family or in a treatment center. I read more and more about reactive attachment disorder and other heartbreaking challenges that adoptive children and their families sometimes face.
I think the day I stopped having so much hate in my heart for those who disrupted their adoption was the day I listened to a podcast interview with a woman who had done so herself. She had unexpectedly become pregnant in the months before she had adopted her son. Her adopted son was relatively young but struggled with violent rages. She spoke about how there were times she would lock herself in a closet with the baby and just listen as he turned the house upside. She explained he had injured the baby and she couldn’t protect him, herself, and the baby from harm. Ultimately, the adoption was disrupted and the boy was sent to live elsewhere where he could be an only child and get more help to deal with his emotions. (I wish I could find that exact podcast – if I track it down, I will update this post to link it.)
“If you think love conquers all, you’re not paying attention.” Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which studies adoption issues, is quoted as saying in this Time article. He went on to say that post-adoption support services are shamefully inadequate. “Unless we support the new family and provide them with services and resources and support and mental health facilities, we’re just setting them up for failure.”
Then, of course, we had our own trial with Marcus, our failed foster placement who required in-patient psychiatric treatment and, thus, couldn’t stay with us during his time in foster care. To be clear, we did not and were not planning to adopt Marcus. We had simply hoped to care for him in our home until he could be reunited with his family. As those who read this blog know, he was ultimately reunited with his family.
I am now, myself, the adoptive parent of a child with special needs. Even the thought of him being taken away from me would be terrifying. I would worry every minute of the day about whether he had the right nightlight so he could get enough sleep; if he had his favorite lemonade in the morning; if someone was there to read to him when he was upset; if he was okay. The idea of not raising my son makes me sick to my stomach because I love him so much.
So when a friend shared this article in the NY Post on her Facebook, I was intrigued. Adoptee voices are often left out of adoption conversations, even though they should be the most important of all.
Hearing her perspective made me think harder about the complexities of adoption – particularly international adoption. “If I wasn’t rehomed I would probably be in an institution.” Ana says, “I think about it a ton. I was escalating worse and worse every year in Maryland [with her first adoptive family].”
I have lot of mixed feelings about re-homing, the lack of resources and on-going support for adoptive parents, and the “system” in general. In fact, I have so many mixed feelings, I’m not sure I can articulate them here.
One thing I do feel strongly though is that our decisions must be, first and foremost, in service to adopted children. Isn’t that the whole point, after all? As an adoptive parent, I sometimes feel uncomfortable when well-meaning, kind people tell me how lucky my son is or how amazing my husband and I are. Once, someone called us heroes. These were such genuine, well-intended, compliments.
But they are wrong. We aren’t heroes. We are people. We love our son more than anything. He is my favorite thing about my life. But we don’t always do a good job. We react in the wrong way sometimes. We sometimes do the wrong things. What parent doesn’t? We aren’t perfect, but we try to be the best parents we can be. We say frequently how miraculous it is that the universe or God or whatever you want to call it seemed to send us the exact child we were meant to parent. But what if things turned out differently?
So, when it comes to a child situation like Huxley’s or Ana’s, what would the “better” parent do? Stick it out? Keep fighting the good fight? Refuse to give up? Or recognize that something is out of your league? Admit that maybe you aren’t the best parent for this child? That maybe you are doing more harm than good? Throw in the towel?
I don’t know the answer.