At issue | Oct. 3 column by Jordan Cornett, "Help children of Haiti; UNICEF wrong to make adoption difficult"
My heart was pierced as I read Jordan Cornett's piece on Haiti's orphans. I had felt this pain before:
■ In Cambodia, as we visited the dumps of Phnom Penh where children, bloated and gaunt, scavenged for shreds of plastic to sell or bits of food to sustain them another day.
■ In Laos, while visiting indigenous tribes where half-naked children scurried along gullies snatching up snails and grasses to eat, smiling at us with rotted teeth and telltale signs of fetal alcohol poisoning.
■ In Vietnam and Thailand, where we walked past posters warning of child trafficking and my husband endured the suspicious stares of locals while holding the hand of our Asian-born daughter.
■ In China, as we visited beautiful, sad-eyed children who appeared starved for any attention, clinging to me and seemingly willing me to take them home.
Yes, I have felt this pain, and wanted to, as Cornett encourages, bring them home to feed, educate, love. But as an adoptive mother, I know that it is not that simple.
Children like those she cared for in Haiti, have been through traumas beyond our comprehension. Traumas that have left a mark not only their hearts but also on their brains. While some of these children are resilient and will bounce back, or shall I say forward, into their new lives, many will not without significant help.
Help such as trauma-sensitive psychological counseling and therapeutic parenting by parents trained in the signs, symptoms and processes necessary to heal trauma's often hidden, at times life-long, scars.
Our nation faced ridicule and the possible cessation of Russian adoptions when an ill-equipped and overwhelmed adoptive mother "returned" her Russian-born son, suitcase in hand and note pinned to his chest, because she was not able to parent him.
Calls for better international adoption policies, including honest, in-depth pre-adoption education and increased post-adoption support, as well as enhanced agency regulation still echo in Washington D.C.
Child abduction and trafficking are also an ongoing concern. It is now clear that during China's overseas adoption boom, some children were kidnapped and trafficked into orphanages. This has been a devastating revelation to many families with children from China.
More specific to Cornett's issue of Haitian adoption, news reports indicate that well-intentioned and overzealous Americans have attempted to remove children from Haiti before properly identifying that they were in fact orphans with no living relatives to care for them. This is, in part, what has driven the policies that are now in place in Haiti.
As the mother of a child who still deeply misses her birth mother, I can say that it very likely will matter to these children one day if they learn they had family living in Haiti who could have cared for them, albeit in an impoverished way, until it could be determined whether they should be put up for adoption.
The situation in Haiti is horrendous. Thousands of children are wandering alone and in need of life's basic necessities. And Cornett is right, a willingness to adopt, either locally or internationally, should be supported.
However, this willingness must be tempered by caution.
Caution for the children who have already been through so much tragedy and change.
Caution for the birth families that may still be seeking their lost or kidnapped children.
Caution for the adoptive parents who may in a moment of emotional haste, rush to rescue a child who perhaps they are not yet prepared to parent.
UNICEF and Haitian officials want the best for these children. Unfortunately, this may involve taking the time to prevent further tragedies in their young lives. Rather than asking our legislators to widen parameters on Haitian adoption, we should, among other things: financially support orphans in Haiti and elsewhere; support entities like Ethica (a watchdog organization for ethical adoption); and call for improved adoption regulations.
International adoption truly is a wonderful and blessed experience. Our family knows this and I hope that in time Cornett's family gets to experience it.
However, adoption can also be a complex, traumatic and corrupt thing. Let us act with expanded understanding and proper boundaries to best protect the children of Haiti.