An arrest

December 18th, 2014

The government of Guatemala has arrested Nancy Bailey, the founder of the orphanage Semillas de Amor, according to this article in the Associated Press. From the AP:

Guatemalan authorities have arrested an American accused of human trafficking and participating in illegal adoptions.

Prosecutors say Nancy Susan Bailey was apprehended in El Salvador and turned over to Guatemalan authorities via Interpol at the border between the two Central American countries.

The arrest warrant for Bailey was issued in 2008 and charged her with taking children and putting them up for illegal adoption for fees as high as $40,000, according to a statement released by prosecutors. She was arrested Tuesday.

Bailey founded the orphanage “Seeds of Love” outside the Guatemalan capital in 1996.

Guatemala’s International Commission Against Impunity issued a report in 2010 saying it found 3,342 irregular adoptions, mostly to U.S. couples.

The commission described networks of child-trafficking in the country for the purpose of illegal adoptions.

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Organizing, continued

December 12th, 2014

We don’t get real weather out here, not like the East coast where I grew up. But yesterday it rained and rained and they closed the schools, so the kids were home. Then the electricity went out at Tim’s office–they’re not a hospital, and thus no hospital-level emergency generators–so he came home around lunch-time, too.

While Olivia did Olivia things in her room and Mateo watched too many movies (current favorite: the Sherlock Holmes series, with Basil Rathbone), Tim dragged out the plastic containers of 1,000+ photos that I had stashed downstairs and forgotten, and declared we must sort them into categories: “Us, before kids, aka: Man, we were young,” “biking pix,” “our wedding,” “JOD Family,” “Tim family,” “Olivia in Guatemala,” “Us in Antigua,” “Mateo,” “birth family visits.” ETC.

I set up a Costco table and chairs in the living room and for the next five hours we arranged the pictures into stacks. (Yes, I do photo books. Another ongoing project! Most of the images I’m talking about here predate digital.)

At the end of the five hours, Tim and I looked at each other and said, “We have a life together. A history.” Even after all this time as a family, that felt like a revelation.

And that’s how we spent our rainy day. xo

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Update on the Karen/Anyeli adoption case

December 4th, 2014

The Limits of Jurisdiction, by Erin Siegal McIntyre (“Finding Fernanda” and the “Embassy Cables”), offers the latest update on the adoption most commonly known as the “Case in Missouri” or the “Karen/Anyeli” case. Karen has lived in Missouri with her adoptive family since December 2008. But a family in Guatemala remains convinced she is their kidnapped daughter, Anyeli.

Every time I re-read the facts of this case–which I just did again–and take in the magnitude of it, the amount of time, the number of players involved, the years representing a percentage of a person’s life time, I am left breathless.

Here’s an excerpt:

For the past six years, the child known as Karen has lived in Missouri with her adoptive parents, Timothy and Jennifer Monahan. But Loyda Rodríguez and Dayner Hernández, a young Guatemalan couple, are convinced the child is their daughter, Anyelí, who was kidnapped in November 2006. Although a Guatemalan judge ruled that Karen should be returned to Guatemala in 2011, the Monahans have kept her.

Today, both families hope to do what’s best for Karen. But understanding what that means is just as complicated as understanding what actually happened to the child.

In Guatemala nearly a dozen people, including government officials, have been charged with serious criminal offenses related to Karen’s adoption, including dereliction of duty, human trafficking, and falsifying documents. Two women, a nursery director and a lawyer, have been found guilty and are serving jail time for their involvement with the child.

The case pits American against Guatemalan interests, a family against a family. It can be seen as a study in the failure of cooperation and international diplomacy, or as an examination of influence, wealth, and power. The situation forces questions about the definitions of what is right, what is moral, and what, exactly, is criminal.

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Intercountry adoption now

November 26th, 2014

EJ Graff, who writes often about inter-country adoption, authored a summary of its current state as seen through the lens of Ethiopia (mainly). The article is thorough and well-researched, although the title, to me, feels gratuitously offensive: They Steal Babies, Don’t They? (Is that the way to open a productive conversation? With an insult? Note to EJ Graff: You lost a big chunk of your potential audience right there.)

In any case, Graff’s main idea confirms that inter-country adoption, as it was practiced in the past (by some), is over.

“It’s been 14 years since the U.S. Senate ratified our nation’s entry into the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Slowly, the State Department and Congress have put into place the rules, regulations, and laws that make it possible to keep open international adoption agencies that do their work carefully and respectfully—while at the same time closing agencies that “find” children for adoption through bribery, deception, coercion, and kidnapping. With the right kind of oversight, international adoption may be able to shed some of its systemic problems. It will never be perfect, but it can return to its roots as a system that finds families for needy children, instead of looking for children to fill families.

“In 2004, the peak year for international adoptions, Americans adopted nearly 23,000 children from other countries, according to the U.S. State Department. For years, those numbers had increased every year, mostly infants and toddlers. By 2012, Americans adopted only 8,668, and a larger proportion were older and special needs—the children who most urgently do need new homes abroad, according to international child welfare experts. And as surprising as it may sound, that’s good news, for families and children around the world.”

My wish for 2015 is that folks who write and think about adoption could acknowledge this paradigm shift and move on to discuss the new challenges in front of us. Such as: The lives of our children who are here now and how they navigate two worlds and cultures; and the lives of present and future children conceived through assisted reproduction and embryo transfer, and their natural and inevitable questions around identity.

Yes, remember the past. Look at the past. Learn from the past. But move on and move forward.

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Thoughts on “Flip the Script”

November 14th, 2014

A movement to “Flip the Script” on what some people perceive as “pro-adoption” thinking is underway for National Adoption Awareness Month. Following is a quote by Laura Barcella, from the NY Times Motherlode blog: ”

Flip the Script, a new YouTube video by an adoptee writing collective, The Lost Daughters, attempts to combat the damaging cultural narrative that centers exclusively on shiny, happy adoption experiences… For years on end, our culture has whitewashed adoption (both domestic and international), only telling the story from the rapturous perspective of adoptive parents while ignoring the darker realities adopted children can face.”

My reaction on reading: We searched for and found each of our children’s birth mothers, maintain contact, and visit them in Guatemala annually. Thousands of parents of children born in Guatemala (the community with which I am most familiar) do the same.

I may be in the minority (?), but I don’t see adoption simply as a “shiny, happy” experience. Nor do I know anyone who does. Adoption is far, far too complex for that. Adoptive parents like me–I hope–have learned from the experiences and writings of those who have gone before us–adoptees and birth mothers and fathers–as well as by living every day as adoptive parents.

We don’t simplify adoption. Our reality prevents us from simplifying adoption. Sometimes I wonder if people think we don’t “see” the challenges our children face. The struggles imposed on them by adoption. We get it. Or at least I do. And I don’t think I’m alone among adoptive parents.

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Thoughts on “Gotcha Day”

November 5th, 2014

For National Adoption Month, the Huffington Post is running a series of articles on the subject, written by different members of the triad. Here’s a link to a very thoughtful piece by a young woman adopted from China, about the implications of the term “Gotcha Day.” (We don’t use this phrase in our family, just so you know.) The third paragraph is quite profound. Here’s an excerpt:

“Gotcha Day is one of those times when we think about our past and how little some of us actually know about it. We think about our biological parents and wish we knew them and could ask them why they didn’t keep us. We think about what our lives would be like, where would we be, what our futures would look like, had there been no Gotcha Day.”

Gotcha Day Isn’t a Cause for Celebration by Sophie Johnson

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“Twin Sisters” on PBS

October 25th, 2014

Twin Sisters, a PBS documentary about identical twin girls abandoned in a cardboard box in China and adopted to families in Norway and the United States, will be available for viewing until November 19 by clicking on this link. If you’ve ever doubted the power of DNA, this film will convince you we are who are from the moment we’re born, wherever we grow up. Our essence is hard-wired.

While viewing the movie, I thought about my children’s biological families. We searched for and found them in Guatemala, and every visit, I witness my children’s joy and ease at being among relatives who look, move, and laugh the same way my kids do. My children sense they belong on a blood level, and it shows. The girls in Twin Sisters behave the same way: whether running toward each other for a hug, holding hands, or brushing their hair, the twins “know” each other. That kind of familiarity, especially among children, can’t be faked.

Watching the film also confirmed for me how vital community is for adoptive families. Not everyone can find a biological sibling or parent. But we can all reach out to the adoptive family in our town, our school, our sports team, our place of worship. The longer I’m an adoptive parent, the more convinced I am that connection is key to the well-being of our kids, and us as parents, too. We need to be around families like ours. Our children need to be around others who share their specific experience.

The two sets of adoptive parents in Twin Sisters have given their girls a great gift: a relationship with each other. I hope the filmmaker plans a sequel. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Kathryn Ma’s “The Year She Left Us”

October 24th, 2014

 

I just finished reading Kathryn Ma’s novel about a young woman adopted from China, “The Year She Left Us.” It’s a masterful story, brutal in many parts for this adoptive mother to read (recognizing myself as the well-meaning but undoubtedly often-misguided and annoying embracer of all things “cultural” and “adoption-related”), that captures the rage and hurt and confusion of protagonist Ari–a singular and unforgettable voice. Usually, I resist any book written by someone not directly related to the “triad,” but in this case, Kathryn Ma’s work is so powerful, I allowed myself to be taken in. Here’s a review from the NY Times, July 2014.

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The giant kites at Sumpango

October 16th, 2014

Last year at this time I was en route to Guatemala to find out more about the country’s Day of the Dead celebration. My sister, another adoptive mom and I hired a driver and spent the day at Sumpango, the site of an annual festival of giant kite flying. As you probably know, one element of Guatemala’s Day of the Dead observance is flying kites–the belief is that the string serves as a conduit between the person holding the string  and those loved ones who have gone before.

Teams of locals spend months designing and planning their kites’ themes and designs. The frames are constructed from bamboo, and covered with colorful pieces of tissue paper, cut and glued.

Afterwards, we visited a cemetery, which was filled to overflowing with families eating, drinking, arranging flowers, listening to music, and in at least one case, dancing to marimba.

 

 

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SF Chronicle on Adoption and the Border Surge

October 6th, 2014

I’m always honored to be included in any dialogue about adoption from Guatemala, including this article by Kevin Fagan in the SF Chronicle, Halt in Guatemalan Adoptions May Be Fueling Border Surge. The reporters did a thorough job, with quotes from Elizabeth Bartholet, David Smolin, Nancy Bailey, Bay Area adoptive parents, and two young men who grew up in orphanages in Guatemala.

Thanks for reading. ~

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