Growing up, my family did not engage in any serious, contemplative discussions about the ethical and moral facets or ramifications of adoption. As a child, my understanding of my own adoption process was seen as a linear one; adoption was an orderly, tangible series of events that was contained between the two bookends of a starting point (my parents making the decision to adopt) and a clear definitive end result (my parents receiving a child). As a young girl, my explanation of the process went something along the lines like this:
"My mom and dad couldn't have any children by themselves. My parents really wanted a baby and they knew that there were babies in Korea whose mommy's and daddy's couldn't keep them. So they went to an adoption agency and spoke to a nice lady there who said she could help give them a child. They had to fill out a lot of paperwork, pay some money and a few months later, I came from Korea to be their daughter and now we are a family."
And honestly, I don't think that my oversimplified, child-like interpretation from thirty-some years ago is all that radically different than how many adults in the general society view the adoption process, or the act of adoption, today.
As a child, I understood adoption to be a very logical sequence of events that culminated into a very natural result. Parents wanted a child. A child needed a family. Good people helped to make this happen and families were created. Growing up, adoption to me meant that I ended up with a family who loves and adores me and that through adoption I have parents and brothers who I love and cherish beyond words. What could possibly be unethical or immoral about that? My parents are hard-working, honest people with a strong moral compass. Through adoption, we became a family. Who could possibly find the harm or the negative in that?
And so growing up, though my parents and I engaged in many other important conversations pertinent to transracial adoption, we never had any discussion about how my adoption - or the adoption of the hundreds of South Korean babies that were adopted out the same year I was - ultimately affected, and continues to affect, the country of my birth.
When my husband and I started the adoption process, I must admit - and I say this with a great degree of both shame and embarrassment - that I still had possessed such a limited understanding and incredibly myopic view of just how vast the collective social, economic, moral and ethical implications of international adoption has affected and forever impacted the country of my birth.
During the wait for our son, my thoughts were almost certainly occupied with how the process, how the system, how the bigger picture of adopting a child was ultimately going to affect me. I still held a very idealistic and narrow-minded view of what adoption meant and this no doubt severely impeded my ability to critically examine just what my role as a prospective adoptive parent meant in perhaps perpetuating the widely held belief here in the States that it is a perfectly normal, perfectly natural and a perfectly loving act for my birth country to be sending thousands of their children abroad as they have for the past several decades.
It didn't occur to me to take a step back and ask, why after thirty-some years after my own adoption took place, are there still so many Korean children who are placed for adoption overseas?
It didn't occur to me to step outside of myself and ask, how am I, as a prospective adoptive parent, contributing to the notion that we Americans somehow feel entitled to raising the children of a country who has been economically stable long enough to be able to sufficiently take care of their own?
Morally and ethically, I know I have fallen short to address these questions before now. And I know many might say, "Easy for you to criticize, judge and question the practices of adoption now that you have your child home" and to a certain degree, they would be justified in saying that. But with all due respect to my own parents and other adoptive parents who might feel the same way as they do, I don't want my thinking about the ethical and moral practices and consequences about adoption to cease simply because our child is now with us and to pretend that there aren't still very real moral and ethical issues surrounding adoption that need to be addressed in the country of my and our son's birth.
There have been several necessary and critical conversations in the adoption blogosphere lately about ethics and adoption by several people including, Jae Ran, Suz, Nicole, Margie and Claud - women whose blogs I follow regularly - and who were present at the recent Adoption Ethics and Accountability Conference. I'm late to the conversation, I know, and without making any excuses, the main reason behind my blogging absence the past couple of weeks has been because I've struggled to process, deconstruct and articulate my thoughts about my own personal accountability regarding ethics and morality (which I know is a completely different ball of wax, but it's been on my mind greatly) in adoption.
Many people, upon finding out that I, a Korean adoptee, am now a parent of a Korean adoptee, share what a wonderful, special and unique occurrence they believe this is. And without diminishing or negating anything from the incredible, life-changing experience of being able to be part of our amazing son's life, there is another way to look at this. Is it necessarily appropriate to be celebrating the fact that a country has been adopting out their children long enough for there to be two generations of adoptees in one nuclear family unit?
I realize there are people who have earned their advanced degrees by studying and examining the history of inter-country adoption, and the direct moral, social, ethical and economic implications that adoption has had on countries like Korea. I know there are people far more educated and well-read than I about examining and presenting these issues in a much more cohesive and coherent manner than what is evidenced in this particular entry. I know this specific post blurs the line between the personal and the political realities that exist. And I recognize that the questions that whirl around my head are far more complicated, far more complex than even I probably realize, ones with no easy answers.
- Can the act of adoption ever exist without some sense of entitlement on the part of the agencies and prospective adoptive parents? What emotional and psychological price is exacted because of that sense of entitlement by others?
- What part has my individual sense of entitlement played in the collective whole of what some may argue has been effectively enabling and even encouraging a country to continue sending their children abroad for over 50 years?
- What is my personal responsibility - both as a Korean-born individual as well as an adoptive parent - to help promote family preservation in Korea?
- Why is it considered immoral and un-Christianlike to covet another's spouse, home or lifestyle, but perfectly acceptable to covet and even feel entitled to having another woman's child?
As a child of Korea, I can't help but think of the enormous toll that five decades of adoption has taken on my birth country, and to the tens of thousands of first families who have lost their sons and daughters, their brothers and sisters and their grandchildren. I think of how pervasive the attitude seems to be in this country that Americans deserve to adopt from other countries, and how it continues to be glorified only as a "wonderful, loving, selfless act of love".
Personally, it's been a difficult and sobering experience to try and reconcile and explain to myself - and to others - that thinking about these kinds of issues does not in any way take from the love, gratitude and appreciation that I have for my family, including my adoptive parents and our son who happens to be adopted. I think sometimes when people (especially many adoptive or prospective adoptive parents) hear someone critically examining the process or the consequences of adoption, they are all too quick to personalize it and instead hear the questioning only as an interrogation and personal attack upon their decision to adopt.
To me, thinking about these questions and further delving into these incredibly difficult issues about the moral and ethical consequences about Korean adoption isn't about needing to justify the love I have for our son or my worthiness to be his parent. It isn't about going on the defense and saying, "Well, if I didn't adopt him, someone else would have, so why shouldn't I be able to do the same? It's not like things are going to change overnight. I'm just a person who wants a child and who can offer them love and a good home. What's so bad about that?"
For me, it's about looking at the bigger picture, something that I had failed to do for so many years. It's about asking the tough questions and holding myself accountable for past and future actions that I feel I owe to myself, our son and the country of our birth.