Archive for March, 2011

Archbishop of Guatemala on family planning and brutality against women

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Last week, I mentioned the two-part PBS television series on Guatemala, which focused on brutality against women and maternal health and family planning. The segments were hosted on March 7 and 8 by Ray Suarez, reporting from Guatemala, and funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The PBS blog contains several interviews by Suarez that were not included on-air. One was with Guatemala’s Catholic Archbishop Oscar Julio Vian Morales of Guatemala. The Catholic Church, along with Protestant churches, commands a position of influence and authority for many Guatemalans. I was pleased to read that the Archbishop acknowledges a need for family planning, including ”all the methods that within the family they decide is best for them.” The Archbishop also promotes the use of condoms to stop the spread of disease.  This is news not often reported. Here is the exchange between Suarez and the Archbishop:

RAY SUAREZ: When American officials look at Guatemala they see a country with the fastest growth rate in population in the entire hemisphere, and they see women who wouldn’t necessarily want to avoid having  children but would like to space them better.  Is there in the family context an acceptable reason for using birth control?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: Our governments as well as other international institutions attack birth directly, but they never attack, or help us to educate people in a way which people start becoming conscious  of how many children they should have, because the church  is not opposed to family planning. It must exist and it must be compulsory in all facilities.

The problem is how or the methods that are used in this planning, like forcing families and many times sterilizing them for life. In regard to this matter  I think we should insist and the foreign governments should insist  not that much on family planning to have less children, but in that conscious planning in each family in a responsible manner.

Therefore, they should insist more on education, health, work that our families need so much in our Guatemala.

RAY SUAREZ: You say that the Church is not opposed to family planning. What methods would be ok, what methods would be approved and which are not?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: The method we approve is the one we all know as the Billings method, and all those methods that  within the family they decide is best for them. For example, the condom, many times it is an obligation for people to use it. And it is an obligation for people who have AIDS or any other disease.

In that case, it is not that this is a sin, but it is a sin not to do it, because other people are being harmed. In all this methods what must always be present is respect for the human being, for it not to be harmed. We do not accept any  methods which may harm the human being.

In another part of the interview, the Archbishop recognizes that any conversation about family planning or violence against Guatemala’s women must begin with Guatemala’s men. Without a change in attitude among men, no real and lasting change can begin to occur.

RAY SUAREZ: I ask about the Catholic church because there is also a great problem that is violence against women and girls, and in fighting them, can the Catholic church tell men, order them: stop beating their wives,  their mothers their sisters the women of this country?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: Yes, constantly, be it through the sermon or preparations| that we have in the parishes, we are insisting on this issue. Even more, in each church we have the so calledPastoral de la Mujer  [Women’s Pastoral] to help them on this matter.

In fact they are becoming more conscious of their own rights, by attending these groups that have been created. Now, not only do we help change the heart but the mind of us men who, many times  don’t know how to treat  women, because of that culture, in other countries they would call “machista” , and that certainly also exists here in our country.

A man is the first who has to attend this Pastoral de la Mujer, to know how to treat her and give her the place she really deserves.

As the PBS series illustrates, to live free from brutality and to control reproduction are two rights not possessed by all women in Guatemala. May this unfortunate reality change soon.


Korean children in foster care and the Ethiopia Adoption Alert

Friday, March 11th, 2011

For anyone interested in Korean adoption, here is an article about Korean-American children in Los Angeles who are living in foster care. More Korean Kids Ending Up in Foster Care was posted on the New America Media site on March 10, from the Korea Times.

“…According to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in Los Angeles, the number of Korean children in foster homes has risen steadily in recent years, an effect of the increasing number of divorced or single parents choosing to give up their kids for adoption.


Kim is a 20-something Korean mother who left her child with DCFS a week after giving birth. An international student, Kim, who asked that her last name be withheld, says her family back in Korea never learned of the pregnancy. “I had no choice. I don’t have the capacity to raise the child and could not bring myself to tell my parents.”


In a similar case, Ms. Park, a young mother, left her one-year-old daughter with DCFS following a bitter divorce from her husband of three years. Although she was given custody of the child, the 30-year-old divorcee said her daughter would prevent her from ever being able to remarry and start a new family.

Efforts by DCFS to reunite the daughter with her father were unsuccessful, officials said, as he had returned to Korea and remarried soon after the divorce, showing no interest in taking responsibility for the child.


Chung Ja Kim, a social worker with DCFS, says it is becoming more common for her to come across young Korean mothers looking to give their kids up for adoption. “Last year I worked on 10 cases involving single Korean mothers who were unwilling to raise their children, three of whom were newborn infants,” she noted.


Experts say the issue of adoption remains an awkward one within the Korean community, where the emphasis on blood ties remains strong. Soon Ja Lee is a practicing psychiatrist in the Los Angeles area. She says that compared to other ethnic groups, “Koreans tend to lay a great deal of stress on blood relations.”

Kim with DCFS says that in recent years there has not been a single Korean family that has approached the organization seeking to adopt. She adds that many Koreans harbor preconceived notions about the nature of abandoned children.

And while there is a consensus among adoption experts that abandoned children do better when adopted by parents from the same ethnic group, statistics show that on average the number of adoptions among Korean-American families remains miniscule at best. DCFS adds that there is not one Korean family registered on their list of eligible foster care homes.”

On a separate note, as predicted, the U.S. State Department has issued an Ethiopia Adoption Alert, which announces the 90% cutback in processing adoptions that will begin today. Dawn Davenport has posted an analysis on the subject, Drastic Cutbacks to Ethiopian Adoption: Are They Necessary and Effective?, on her blog, Creating a Family.


From Ireland, a radio broadcast

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

From County Cork in Ireland, adoptive mother Jools Gilson sent me the link to a radio broadcast she made for RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland – Documentary on One – the home of Irish radio documentaries. Los Preciosos tells the story of Gilson’s family: an English mother, an Italian father, and two Guatemalan children, all living in rural East Cork. Here’s the description:

“Los Preciosos means ‘the precious ones,’ and this documentary follows the story of years of assessment by domestic social workers, monumental bureaucracy in Ireland, England and Guatemala, and eventually traveling to bring the child home. And then there is another child…”

What I love about this broadcast is the warmth, perception, and honesty of the voices–Jools’s and her husband Vittorio’s–and the laughter of their children. In all the debate and controversy about international adoption, what often gets lost is that adoption is about family, and love, and a place to call home. Listening to this broadcast reminded me of how adoption transforms lives. We cherish our children, whether we live in County Cork or California.


Adoption from Honduras

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

The Fort Worth, Texas-based Gladney Center for Adoption is one of four U.S. agencies recently approved to process adoptions through Honduras, the Forth Worth Star-Telegram reported yesterday, in an article by Anna M. Tinsley titled Gladney Center OK’d for Adoption. This could be good news for potential adoptive families who feel an affinity and connection to the culture and heritage of Central America. In 2010, Honduras finalized nine cases for international adoption. In the article, Tinsley writes:

“We haven’t advertised this yet because we don’t have 100 percent of our ducks in order,” said Marshall Williams, Gladney’s vice president of international adoptions and family services. “But we have had a remarkable number of people contacting us, indicating their interest in adopting from Honduras.”

Williams is in Honduras this week to hire an attorney and facilitator, the last two employees needed to get the effort under way.

Gladney initially applied to handle adoptions there about two years ago. After a change in government, the Honduran agency that oversees international adoptions recently approved Gladney and three other U.S. agencies to facilitate adoptions of Honduran children.

“There are many thousands of orphans in Honduras that would benefit from intercountry adoption,” said Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council for Adoption. “In 2010, there were only nine intercountry adoptions.”

“There is definitely interest in adopting from Latin America. My hope is that the Honduran government can provide oversight to the intercountry adoption process and work with quality U.S. adoption service providers.”

Last month, a Honduran delegation visited the Gladney Center, meeting local staffers and observing how the adoption process is handled in the United States, officials said.

In 2009, there were four children adopted from Honduras, compared with 11 in 2008, 22 in 2007, three in 2006 and 10 in 2005, federal records show.

So far, Gladney officials are compiling a list of people who want to adopt from Honduras.

“There are fewer families in line, so it might go faster in the beginning,” Williams said.


Ready for spring

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

In this house, March and not April is the cruelest month, probably because in our school district, March is the month with no holidays. Winter is over, but Spring is not yet here. For weeks, we had looked forward to our trip to Guatemala, and now the trip is over. It’s tough for the kids to play outside. Every day, it rains.

Is the situation much worse for everyone else–in nearly every part of the country, if not the world? Of course it is! My sister in Boston sleeps in a down vest and wears gloves six months of the year. Friends in Pennyslvania defrost the seats of their cars before they can sit down. And do I have to mention conditions year-round in Guatemala, bad weather or no? Enough said.

Nevertheless, the past few days have been tough. The mornings especially. The kids don’t want to get out of bed, after not wanting to go to sleep. Breakfast is a battlefield. “The cereal is too soggy, too much jam on the bread. This egg is overcooked. I hate pancakes!” Teeth are haphazardly brushed; hair combed only sort-of. My single goal becomes “Just get shoes on and let’s get out the door.” (I cringe when I realize that last sentence was said at a very high decibel-level). Yesterday, we had to run down the hill and almost missed the bus. Today, we made it, but by 7:30 in the morning, both kids already had cried.

Some days are like this, even some weeks. No “mother of the year” awards for me. No gold stars. Just our family muddling through.

Tomorrow is another day. Breathe.


Winners of Mamalita book giveaway

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Posted by Sharon Van Epps on her blog, Whatever Things Are True: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful in the World of International Adoption:

Wow! I’m absolutely overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to my very first giveaway! Thanks to everyone who commented and signed up to follow on Twitter and Facebook. If only I were Oprah, I could give books to everyone…and a new car, too! If you didn’t win this time, I hope you’ll decide to stick around for more great giveaways and interesting posts to come.

The lucky readers who have each won a signed copy of MAMALITA: AN ADOPTION MEMOIR by Jessica O’Dwyer are:

Jennifer Zilliac and Jody Navratil. Congratulations!

Winners, please send an email  by March 14 with your contact info to:   whateverthingsaretrueblog(at)gmail(dot)com

Please list the name of your prize in the subject line. 

Thanks again, everyone!



Adoptions from Ethiopia to be cut 90%

Monday, March 7th, 2011

On Friday, Voice of America reported “Ethiopia to Cut Foreign Adoptions by Up to 90 Percent.” The U.S. State Department promises to issue an Alert about the subject, but so far, none has been posted.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll just ask again “Why is it so difficult to regulate international adoption?” The article states:

Ministry spokesman Abiy Ephrem says the action was taken in response to indications of widespread fraud in the adoption process… Investigations have turned up evidence of unscrupulous operators in some cases tricking Ethiopian parents to give up their children, then falsifying documents in order to claim a part of the large fees involved in inter country adoptions.

The situation was the same in Guatemala. Everyone from Embassy officials to adoptive parents meeting their childen in hotel lobbies knew the identities of the “unscrupulous operators.” Why weren’t these unscrupulous operators arrested and stopped? Instead, the entire system was shut down.

And what exactly does “falsifying” documents mean? Does it mean changing an address to protect a birth mother’s identity? Or even changing her name? In my opinion, those kinds of falsifications are very different from falsifying the answer to the one question–the only question–that matters: “Did this birth mother freely relinquish her child for adoption?” 

For families in process, the next few months could be uncertain and unpredictable. I send you my prayers.


After the visit

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

What I want to talk about is what it feels like for me after I visit birth family in Guatemala.  Not what it feels like for anyone else, because I’m not qualified to speak to that, but what it feels like for me.

And I don’t mean to imply that making contact with Olivia’s birth family is not the greatest thing I have done in my life. Because, really, it is. If I do nothing else in my life, I’ve done that. For my daughter, for her birth mother, for the rest of her biological family. And it feels huge.

But there is a sadness attached to it. The sadness of life’s realities. That circumstances are hard, that life is not fair. That situations are unstable. That some have so much while others have so little. Relationships end. People get sick. Wars happen, and people are killed. Illnesses wipe out entire families. Nine children are born, but only three survive.

When we go to Guatemala, when we insert ourselves into families’ lives, we change their perception of the world. We represent “elsewhere.” Another possibility. Someplace they’ve heard about, maybe from the man in another family who left and never came back. Who sent money for a while, then stopped sending it. Or the mother who sends it, but is still gone.

This is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing. Either way, it’s not simple. There is love, there is loss. There is longing. We each have something the other doesn’t.

We have changed the lives of Olivia’s birth family, as they have changed ours. I’m grateful and humbled.

Every visit brings back the emotions I felt the first time I held Olivia. Simply being in Guatemala triggers many memories of her adoption–good and bad. It takes a while to process the experience. Today, I give myself permission to be quiet and just feel.


The “Who am I?” question

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

During one of my readings for Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, a woman in the audience, “Sula,” said she cried when she read the book’s dedication: “To my children and their other mothers, with love.” Sula and her husband had chosen to create their family via egg donation. My dedication, and the parts of the story that highlighted the role of Olivia’s birth mother and my subsequent search for her in the highlands of Guatemala, triggered something deep within Sula. She said because of my book, she now views the role of her egg donor in a different, more substantial way.

I was reminded of this episode today when I read this article by Tom Blackwell in Canada’s National Post, published in the February 2011 edition of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute Newsletter. The abstract reads:

A pending case in Vancouver will determine if donor-conceived individuals in Canada will have a right to learn the identities of the people who provided eggs or sperm for their conceptions, Tom Blackwell reports in a January 28 National Post article titled “Genetic Rights: The Other Half of the Family Tree.” Although opponents of disclosure argue that raising the curtains on donor identities will decimate an already-small pool of gamete providers, the suit emphasizes the importance of finding one’s identity and roots, and points to the success of mandatory disclosure in Great Britain.

In the same edition, the Adoption Institute posted a report on adoption’s lessons for assisted reproductive technologies (ART), “Old Lessons for a New World.” The summary states:

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute released this Policy Perspective brief in February 2009 which suggests that the knowledge derived from adoption-related research and experience can be used to improve policy and practice in the world of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as sperm, egg and embryo “donations.”  Old Lessons for a New World” identifies several areas in which adoption’s lessons could be applied, including secrecy and the withholding of information; a focus on the best interests of children; the creation of “nontraditional” families, particularly as more single, gay and lesbian adults use ART; the impact of market forces; and legal and regulatory frameworks to inform standards and procedures.

Clearly, as an increasing number of people turn to assisted reproduction as a method of forming families, the lessons learned from adoption will become even more critical.


Back from Guatemala

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

After a wonderful and emotional visit to Guatemala, we’re back to our own reality. Everything looks a little different after even a short trip across the border.

First, an announcement about how to win your own autographed copy of Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir. To enter, click on this link to the blog Whatever Things are True: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful in the World of International Adoption, written Sharon Van Epps, adoptive mother to three children. Then add a comment on Sharon’s blog answering this question: How has being a mom or dad drawn out your inner strength? Or if you’re not a parent, what important relationship or situation has demanded that you act with courage?

For multiple entries, you can follow Sharon’s blog or link to it, become a fan of Whatever Things are True on Facebook, or follow Sharon on Twitter and tweet about the contest. What could be easier? The Mamalita giveaway closes on Sunday, March 6. Enter today!

Second, here’s a link to an article about Hollywood legend Jane Russell, who was discovered by billionaire Howard Hughes in the 1940s and died last week at age 89. As John Cave Osborne writes on Babble, Russell “… was not only one of Tinseltown’s leading ladies, she was also among its more memorable sex symbols of all time, turning heads with sultry performances in classics like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

But, more than that, Russell was an early pioneer of adoption.

Russell was unable to have children. For that reason, she and her first husband, Bob Waterfield, adopted and raised a daughter and two sons. Taken aback by adoption’s inefficient paperwork requirements, and amazed at how long the process took, Russell spent much of her downtime finding ways to make adoption easier.

In 1952, Russell founded the World Adoption International Fund (WAIF) to do just that. The group eventually facilitated more than 50,000 adoptions. In 1953, she testified before Congress in support of the Federal Orphan Adoption Bill which allowed for foreign children who were fathered by American soldiers while abroad to be adopted by American parents. In 1980, she was an integral part of the lobbying efforts for the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act which served to reimburse parents for the medical expenses they incurred by adopting handicapped children.”

I wasn’t aware of Jane Russell’s adoption activism, and was glad to learn of it. May she rest in peace.

Finally, PBS News Hour is broadcasting segments by Ray Suarez about Guatemala on March 7 and 8. When you click on the link, be sure to watch the trailer for the series on the PBS website. As the reporters note, Guatemala is not front-and-center on the world’s political stage, covered “above the fold” in the daily newspaper. Perhaps segments such as these will help change that. From the website:

Senior correspondent Ray Suarez, just back from a reporting trip, describes Guatemala as a land of exquisite beauty, but also of exquisite agony. Violence against women is systemic and widespread – part of an overall pattern of violence that the citizens of Guatemala, who have endured several civil wars in the last 50 years, are suffering. The country is also hard hit with malnutrition and has one of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the hemisphere.

Ray spoke with Hari Sreenivasan about his trip and the challenges Guatemalans faces on a daily basis.

On March 7-8, the global health unit will air two stories from Guatemala on the NewsHour, focusing on family planning and maternal health and violence against women. The NewsHour will also air follow-up discussions with representatives of NGO groups working in Guatemala and government officials. President Obama will visit Central America in mid-March as part of a three-nation trip.

On the NewsHour‘s web site you can read a reporter’s notebook from Ray on the complexities of preaching family planning in a traditional and religious society. Two reports from the field look at the the high levels of violence against women and efforts to provide young girls with education on how to protect themselves against violence. There is also a look at the high rates of malnutrition among Guatemala’s children and the health implications of the condition later in life.

Watch for much more as our series begins March 7. Web features will include a slideshow on indigenous communities in Guatemala, a timeline of historical events, and features on drug cartel violence in the region and gang-related crime in Guatemala City.