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Exchange between two male characters:

Character 1: (holding a doodad that is of critical importance to the plot) Doesn’t look like much.

Character 2: Well, remember. Troy fell because of a woman.

‘Cause women ain’t much.

My bear’s workplace has started a health contest as some sort of education/motivation/happiness mash-up. People are put into teams. Everybody gets a little scorecard that lists a variety of healthy behaviors, and each behavior has a point value attached. Every day, you record your total points and the total points for your group. At the end of the contest, there will be group prizes for the highest-scoring group, individual prizes for the highest-scoring individuals, and individual prizes for the people who managed to make the biggest sustained and positive change in their point value. The points are assigned for actually healthy things with realistic and incremental effects. You get points for eating five servings of fruits and vegetables. You get points for taking a walk. You get points for a full night’s sleep. There aren’t negative points – nobody gets penalized for eating a cookie.

From what my bear says, this has actually inspired some neat changes in the workplace. Suddenly, people who used to bring in frozen meals or go out for lunch are swapping recipes in the breakroom, or making collaborative stews that simmer in a crockpot all morning. People are reading labels and talking about vitamins and fiber. A juicer has shown up next to the coffee machine, and people are stocking the fridge with communal fruit (my bear, ever the individualist, eschewed the fruit and DRANK A FUCKING ONION. His conclusion: nasty-ass shit cleared up his allergies for DAYS). A little group has instituted a lunch powerwalk in the wooded area near the office. People are biking to work.

Somebody at his job has a friend who has just recently gotten whatever degree you need to get to be a nutritionist. To get practice, the nutritionist volunteered to come in and set up shop in the breakroom, teaching people about portion sizes and creating a meal plan and yadda yadda. So my bear wanders into the breakroom one day to see her setting a big doughy pile on a table. “What’s that?” he asks her. “That…” she says with a practiced snake oil sheen. “That is five pounds of fat.”

Bear picked up the offending mass and looked it over. “Oh,” he said, finding the label. “It’s vinyl.”

“Yes,” the nutritionist said, “but not really. It’s the equivalent of five pounds of fat.”

Bear found a place on his body where he is pretty sure there is more chunkerbutt than five pounds and held up the hunk of beige vinyl. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess this is flattened out when it’s in a body, but this is about the size of my torso. Three of these would make up my entire body.”

“Well,” the nutritionist said, “you could weigh it and see if it’s five pounds.”

“I could weigh it,” Bear said, “and it might be five pounds. But that would be five pounds of vinyl.”

“Yes, but it’s five pounds of fat.”

“Made out of vinyl.”

“It’s meant to represent five pounds of fat.”

“Is vinyl the same mass as fat?” Bear was willing to believe this – he does not know what the mass of vinyl or fat is.

“Well, that was made so it would be an accurate representation of five pounds of fat.”

“So vinyl is the same mass as fat.”

“It’s an accurate representation.”

“So vinyl isn’t the same mass as fat.”

“That’s what five pounds of fat looks like”

Some other people came into the room and started making, “OHHHHH! DISGUSTING!” noises at the fat mass. The nutritionist preened at finally getting the proper reaction. Bear decided to stop arguing. He’s often been the lone guy having a feminist meltdown at work, and just didn’t feel like being Fat Guy vs. Everybody Else’s Fat Shame today. He also figured, this is just what they taught this nutritionist; she’s parroting back the shame she’s supposed to ladle out about the DISGUSTING MASS OF VINYL in your fat, fat body, and she thinks that’s a healthy thing to do. Though, as he pointed out later to me, one would hope that a person smart enough to acquire a degree is somebody smart enough to apply critical thinking, and one would hope critical thinking would include a basic understanding of mass and volume.

Instead, Bear got out a post-it and wrote down the name of the manufacturer and the product number. When he got home, he googled them up. Sure enough, he found the FIVE POUNDS OF FAT “educational” tool, along with a FIVE POUNDS OF MUSCLE product that was, from what he could view, a much more reasonable hunk of vinyl. He pulled the two products up in separate tabs to compare the product specs. Can you guess what he found? I am betting, with your critical thinking skills, that you can:

FIVE POUNDS OF FAT: Approximate shape and weight of five pounds of fat.

FIVE POUNDS OF MUSCLE: Exact shape and weight of five pounds of muscle.

This is not to say I really believe the muscle hunk is exact – the business that sells LOOK LOOK AT YOUR DISGUSTING BODY tools does not seem to be a business that employs a rigorous scientific principle. I’d be just as willing to bet that the muscle hunk was toned down significantly, so no enterprising fatty could get it in their heads that they could possibly be large AND healthy, for god’s sake.

In the space of the day, Bear met one individual (let’s set her intentions aside) and one business that wanted nothing more than to make a living off stoking his self-hatred into pathological levels, unmoored by the basic physics of reality. Make no mistakes about it: fat hate is profitable, it is an industry floating atop tears of shame and butter. If you wonder why America is suddenly in a terror about the VINYL EPIDEMIC, follow the goddamn vinyl money.

Trigger warning: This post discusses adoption and disruption in light of the recent news story. It may contain issues that are triggering to adoptees, biological parents, or adoptive parents.

Additional Note: Yes, I know I didn’t include a link to the news story and I spelled the boy’s name wrong. Someday that kid is going to grow up and google himself, and I just don’t want to be a part of that media blitz for him.

Having worked within adoption (and still working fairly close to it), I can tell you that it is the least simple thing ever. There are no easy lines to be drawn about what is definitively good and bad. Adoption is a lifelong experience – for adoptees, for birth parents, and for adoptive parents, aka the adoption triad – and there is never a crystallized moment in time against which all mistakes, accomplishments, intentions, and actions can be measured, though we sure do try. The temptation is to choose one snapshot and say, “You see? You see? This is what adoption leads to!” The snapshot may be a happy adoptive family, or an abusive adoptive family. It may be a happy reunified birth family, or an abusive birth family. The snapshot may be poverty so entrenched that its existence makes the rest of us who live comfortably seem demonic. The snapshot may be a very angry adult adoptee, or a very happy adult adoptee. It may be a group home full of violent, traumatized long-term foster children. It may be yet another international agency indicted for massive fraud. The snapshot may be a birth mother coerced, manipulated, lied to, isolated, shamed, and ignored. It may be a birth father desperately searching for the child he never knew existed. Or it may be both birth parents speaking to their child over the phone because they are a part of an open adoption.

Of course, a snapshot is just that: one single view into one single moment. People grow. People change. They uncover new knowledge about themselves, or others. They increase or decrease their awareness of others. They have troubles, and they get better. The poster child for “adoption is the best” could easily become the poster child for “adoption is so fucked-up” if you just take the snapshot a few years later and change the background music to panicking violins. The simplification of adoption into goodbad creates a calming moral superiority that puts the heart at ease on even ground. When you really dig into how adoption goes right and how adoption goes wrong, you find it has a wide umbrella. You can’t really discuss the good and bad of adoption unless you’re also willing to touch upon racism, sexism, class disparities, the national economy, the global economy, abuse, drugs, homelessness, xenophobia, violence, abortion, employment, First Nations, history, policy, LGBT rights, religion, natural disasters, disability, etc. etc. ad nauseum. AND THEN, you have to discuss how YOU (yes, YOU) have contributed to each and every one of these things, and what YOU (yes, YOU) should be doing to make these things better. Because if you don’t want these things to be better, what right do you have to complain about them? And, more importantly, if you don’t want these things to be better, what right do you have to parent a child whose existence was shaped by these things? That’s a very personal thing to say. A lot easier to look at one horror story or another and say, “Well, I would NEVER” or look at one inspiring story or another and say “Well, I would ABSOLUETLY.”

There are people much more qualified than I am to dissect the latest news story, such as other adult adoptees, who, let me put this out here, should be your FIRST source for information on adoption – if they’re not, you’re not actually interested in learning about adoption, and might want to spend some time reconsidering what it is you’re actually interested in. But after watching the general state of discourse surrounding this goddamned news item, I do think I have some education I could offer on the basics of Adoption Sometimes Gets All Fucked-Up. This information was acquired by spending more than three years working with an organization involved in the adoption field, and, more specifically, answering the phones in said organization. I have fielded weepy/angry/opinionated/crazy/frightening calls from just about every person in the adoption triad, not to mention a few agencies, and that taught me a lot about just how fucked-up adoption can sometimes get, and why.

So, here are some things I think you, Joan Schmoan, ought to know before you start talking about this story in public.

Trigger Warnings Are For Everybody

Since most people come to my blog because they’re interested in discussing rape, I’ll use an example that may be relevant. Imagine this: you are a rape survivor and/or somebody close to you is a rape survivor and/or rape is on your goddamn mind and a painful and personal topic, for whatever reason. A news story makes the rounds: a woman has accused a celebrity of rape. You cringe, because you know what’s coming. For the next several months – more if there’s a trial – you are going to be hearing about this in detail. You, for whom rape is a very painful topic and a personally relevant experience, are going to turn on the TV and hear a news anchor discussing where sperm was found on the alleged victim, and in what quantities. You will turn on the radio and hear a radio personality call the alleged victim a whore, and describe how the (detailed, sickening) vaginal tears we know about because they were released in the leaked police report couldn’t possibly indicate rape because. You will read a blog and there will be a leaked photograph of the alleged victim’s face, possibly with a comment thread inching into the thousands where internet people are hashing out the finer points of “hit it or not.” You will go to work and your co-workers will be at the water cooler, discussing how sad that case is but really this is why they teach their daughters not to drink or wear low-cut blouses, and let me tell you, their daughters know better. You will be eating lunch in a restaurant and you will hear the people next to you talk about their shared love for said celebrity, and how the alleged victim is obviously mentally unstable and should be locked up, or at least grateful for the sexual attentions of said celebrity. And then, if the case is dismissed, you will be treated to a ringing Greek chorus on the bus and on the street and at family reunions and out with friends about how she was a stupid lying slut who probably deserved it (even though she was lying and “it” never happened???).

General people may very likely understand why a rape survivor would not enjoy the fuck out of your “objective,” ignorant opinion on rape (even if they think it’s stupid or the rape survivor is wrong, it is not a FOREIGN CONCEPT that rape survivors exist and some of them have lost their sense of rape joke humor). Adoption issues – and the existence of people in the adoption triad – have not reached a very public saturation yet. Most people aren’t aware of the fact that when they publically discuss a case like this, there is every chance that they are doing so within earshot of an adoptee, biological parent, or adoptive parent. And any one of those people is likely to have a much more nuanced, experienced, and personal interpretation of events than your idle water cooler jabber can evince. Imagine what, “That mother must be evil,” sounds like to an adoptive parent who had to place her child in a residential treatment facility because he attempted to slit her throat. Or imagine how “That poor kid’s going to be fucked-up the rest of his life,” or “Oh, he was from Russia? Yeah, all their kids are fucked up,” sounds to the adult or child adoptee. Or, try, “That poor kid, first his real mom abandons him and now this,” around a birth mother.

For the next few months, daily triggers are going to be completely inescapable for adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. Be sensitive to that. If you don’t know how to be sensitive to that, learn. Put trigger warnings on blog entries. Do not make assumptions as to the mental stability, ability to love, or life experience of ANYBODY in this news item. And if somebody from the adoption triad speaks up around you, SHUT UP AND LISTEN. You don’t know what it’s like to be involved with adoption. And if any of this news story has come as a surprise to you, then you really don’t know.

Everything About Adoption Hurts

This is not to say that everything about adoption is wrong, but everything about adoption is painful. For our modern, legal concept of adoption to exist, families must be broken. Adoption is not, and can never be, a best-case scenario. It relies upon the worst-case scenario having already come to fruition. From there, you’re working with what is instead of what should be. That should be will never go away. For the entire lifetime of everybody involved in adoption, that should be exists, and it hurts. What is can still turn out to be wonderful, beautiful, incredible, but what is will never be what should be. It is that should be that necessitates education, sensitivity, and trigger warnings, because it never goes away.

When a story like this arrives, the impulse is to compare it to the opposite and compare it to more of the same. The news drags up stories of other Families Gone Wrong, and Families Gone Inspiring As Hell. A false dichotomy is implied: there are adoptions that go right and adoptions that go wrong. But the truth is, behind every adoption is a family that went wrong. Behind every adoption is a tragedy so horrific that it should not have existed. Every adoption that occurs is a black mark on the humanity of the rest of us, because every adoption represents parents who were unable to acquire the assistance, resources, or community necessary to raise their children or plan their families.

I know that sounds really harsh. Again, to tailor things to my usual audience here, I’m sure there’s a lot of you that have experienced some form of abuse or rape. In trying to survive, get your life back on track, and go on living, you have probably had to learn a lot of new lessons and skills. Those lessons and skills may have perhaps become invaluable. You may have found that your trauma has brought you to places you otherwise would not have gone, and you’ve found priceless moments, feelings, or people there. The good I have now does not justify the things that were done to me. Nor is it appropriate to ask the flip side, if I would give up the good I have now if I could have not been abused. The two do not weigh each other out, and never will. They are connected only insofar as one is cause and the other is effect; justifications, balance, or “worth it” doesn’t come into it at all. They simply are. I have lost what should have been, and I will never stop grieving that, even as I celebrate what is.

Because I want to get on with my life, I don’t spend all my time seething about what I lost. What I lost is unknown and inaccessible; what I have is known and can be acted upon. And sometimes, in that realm of what is known, something comes up that I know I didn’t do before, that I know wouldn’t be an issue if only. And I get sad, or I get angry, or I write a big fucking blog post. I do something to acknowledge that I lost something I had no choice in losing, and to acknowledge the fact that behind every lesson I learned, every gift I have, every way my life is different now — good or bad — there is an inhumanity that should not exist. And the fact that that inhumanity does exist is a blight on the humanity of all of us.

My main point here is to warn everybody against coming up with – and expressing out loud and in public – black and white assumptions about how good or bad adoption can be. Adoption is not easily judged as good or bad, because adoption itself is a symptom of something else. If the origin of adoption is the destruction of a family, then nothing that comes from that can be explicitly good. At the point where adoption is a viable option, we have already failed to do our best, and all alternatives are an equal failure of the village that should have been raising this child.

To be more concrete, avoid sentiments such as, “You would rather zie should have…” As in, “You would rather he stayed in the orphanage?” or “You would rather his adoptive mom be arrested?” or “You would rather he be in American foster care?” There is no perfect option; they are all painful, and they are all wrong, because none of them should have to be options. I would rather this child lived in a world where his biological parents were able to raise him. Compared to that, every other option is crap.

International Adoption Is Fucked-Up

Yes, I know that’s a blanket statement. I’m not going to change it. International adoption is fucked-up.

That’s not to say that everybody involved in international adoption is evil, exploitative, racist, stupid, mean, greedy, or what-have-you. Some of them are, I would personally wager many. Some are truly well-intentioned people who want to find homes for children; they enter the field because it is full of children and that is who they want to be with, help, understand, love. But international adoption is also about money. It is one of the most expensive things you can do, outside of going to college or buying a house. And any industry with that much money flowing through the pipeline also attracts people for whom money is a primary motivator. And yet, for some reason, Joan Schmoan is shocked — shocked! — whenever the newest international agency scandal hits the news, and still considers the scandals to be wild exceptions rather than constant possibilities.

If we were talking about, say, tennis shoes, you would not REEL in SHOCK and HORROR to discover that an industry that generates billions of dollars for a product in demand is also full of people who are interested in maximizing that profit by exploiting human beings. Sweatshops? Okay, old hat, everybody knows sweatshops exist, I mean, DUH, companies want to make money! What kind of fantasy world do you live in where companies who want to make money DON’T exploit human beings at every possible opportunity to do so?

Yet you say these same things about international adoption — it’s an industry that generates a lot of money for a very wanted product, and will exploit human beings to maximize that profit — and people LOSE THEIR MINDS. Because international adoption involves BABIES, so the people involved in the industry couldn’t possibly do evil things, right? IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT THE PRODUCT IS; a company that funnels tremendous amounts of money is going to exploit human beings to maximize profit. Oh, yes, but not YOUR international adoption agency – they have POLICIES about ethics and they ASSURED YOU that they only trade with authentic orphan products, no baby-selling here. Also, they will ALWAYS be honest with you, because that’s what people who are asking you to sign a check for 30k are, first and foremost: HONEST. (Note: I’m not addressing domestic private adoption agencies, because while they get up to some heinous shit, they are operating under a very different set of laws than international agencies.)

Let’s all give international adoption agencies the biggest benefit of the doubt in the entire world. Let’s say all the employees involved are really, truly unaffected by vast quantities of money and the possibility to acquire more. Let’s say all the employees want nothing more than to find homes for children. First, they have to find those children who need homes. And international adoption agencies are not social services. In the United States, if you want to adopt a child, you can go to social services, because social services is where children go when they can no longer live at home. If you’re adopting an international child, you are not adopting them from the organization that takes charge of them when they cannot live at home. You are adopting from a third party who has somehow acquired access to a product. And the ethics of the adoption rest entirely upon that “somehow.” Was that “somehow” legal? How does that “legal” compare to your morals? After all, the law isn’t morality, and it’s legal in other countries to do things that I find morally repugnant. It wasn’t so long ago that it was legal in this country to rape your wife. So it may not mean much that an orphan was acquired “legally” if you don’t know what “legal” means. How stringent is the paperwork that proves the legality? How trustworthy the procurer of the paperwork? Did the agency confirm the legality, independently and with their own staff? Did they confirm the “official” story of events with the child? So, already, you have a benefit-of-the-doubt adoption agency that has perhaps acquired a child that is coming from a very different circumstance than they’ve been led to believe. What the agency knows is what they will pass on to the adoptive parent, and that knowledge is what the adoptive parent will use to make a decision, but the agency may not know everything.

Let’s continue to give international adoption agencies the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say they uncover something unseemly about the adoption. Perhaps they suspect the child is not an orphan, or was not willingly relinquished by their parents. Maybe the child begins to act out in ways that indicate past sexual abuse. But this adoption is SO CLOSE to going through, and they know that if they tell the potential adoptive parents about this new discovery, the whole thing will get derailed. And if the whole thing is derailed, this child that the agency worker has such compassion for is going to remain in an orphanage when they could have been in a family. The agency worker has met the potential adoptive parents. Zie feels that they are strong, good, smart people. Zie is sure they will be able to deal with the child’s new issues. And so zie continues the adoption, never mentioning these pesky new issues that have cropped up. Zie is sure they will be worked out. And, really, isn’t it better this way than the alternative, to let the child languish in an orphanage? (See my point above: there is no “better this way” – all these options are bad, and once money and lies are involved, they are steadily getting worse).

International adoption agencies run a shady fucking business, by definition, even if they mean well. Even if I assume that all people who work for these agencies are truly good-hearted and well-intentioned (and I don’t), there is nothing that is going to go smoothly when your business model is babies and children being traded for a staggering sum of money. There will be lies, there will be deceit, there will be corruption, and then there will be a family that has been brought together with these methods. This is not to say that parents who want to adopt internationally are bad people. I am highly suspect of their motivations (discussed more here), but the way a person starts on a journey isn’t how they end. A parent who wanted to adopt an African child because they somehow thought that would be fundamentally different than an African-American child is starting their journey as a racist asshole, but they can end that journey as an anti-racism advocate and white ally who has done tremendous work (uh, please note, white people: you can do this any time, you don’t have to wait until after you’ve transracially adopted). But this is to say that it’s not at all inconceivable that the international adoption agency in question lied to Artem’s mother about his state of mind and state of health. The state of international adoption is fucked. She probably was lied to, or had some truths sugared. That’s what happens when you’ve got a wad of cash you’re flashing about.

Adoptive Parents Don’t Listen

Now, let’s throw international adoption agencies the biggest doubt-benefit party they’ve ever seen. For the sake of argument, let’s say they did everything “right”, or as right as can be. They check and double-check with biological families to be sure they had made an informed and capable decision. They acquired staff that got to know the adoptee in question well-enough to write up an accurate file. They informed the potential adoptive family of EVERY SINGLE possible issue the adoptee might have, including issues zie hadn’t exhibited but were common to children of his age and predicament. I will bet you five billion space dollars that I know just what his parents said:

“I will just take him home and love him and it will all work out.”

I will bet you five billion space dollars that you have said something like this, too. Parents, before you had kids, how many of you looked at some children acting up in a restaurant and said, “GOD, why don’t they just do X, then their kids would do Y. I WOULD NEVER BE LIKE THEM.” And then it’s five years later and you’re covered in spaghetti and you’re like whatever, Me From the Past, I can’t even describe how stupid you were because it would be like describing the color blue to a blind man. YOU CAN’T EVEN COMPREHEND.

Adoptive parents do this, too. Even the ones who are/were social workers and know stories about children that would make your stomach turn. There is understanding trauma, and there is parenting, and then there is this narrow little Venn diagram strip in between where very few people reside, and all of them were very mistaken about what they thought this would be like. I have spoken to adoptive parents who were told, very clearly, what issues they ought to expect. They attended training classes. They got certified. They read books. They had social workers with bitter, bitter laughs and horror stories that they did not hold back from telling. And yet, they would call me and they would say, “NOBODY TOLD ME!” And I would say, “What about these 50 pages in your case file that say, ‘WE ARE TELLING YOU WHAT THIS WILL BE LIKE?’ “ and they would say, “Yes, but I didn’t realize it would be like THIS!” They’re not lying, and they’re not being deliberately difficult — they were told what it would be like, and they could not conceive of it.

I’m not insulting adoptive parents. Like I said, everybody does this. You can’t know what you don’t know. And no matter how many times adoptive parents are told what to expect, they still believe that they will be the one family in all the billions of families that won’t have to deal with that shit. They will be smarter. They will love harder. They have discovered the secret that all the people before them did not, and that secret is being them which means they’re just naturally special.

So you combine that natural tendency of all parents with any amount of embellishment, withholding, or outright lies from an agency, and you get a completely unprepared, surprised, resentful, and shamed household… with a kid that very much needs love and permanence and support caught in the middle. This is maybe one reason why, during this whole news story madness, you will hear people saying that you can’t blame Artem’s former adoptive mother — she didn’t know. That’s probably partly true — she probably didn’t know. That doesn’t mean we can’t blame her.

The Village Needs To Step Up

Have you ever had a friend that, like, has a headache? And they keep complaining about how much their headache hurts. They interrupt you to describe how much it hurts. You are trying to talk to them and they are not listening, because they are holding their head. And you tell them, here, have some ibuprofen. And they say, no, no, it’ll go away, and then jam their thumbs into their temples and go “OOOOAOAOAAUGH what were you saying about the otters now OH GOD THE PAIN.” And eventually you snap and say, “Either take something for it or shut the fuck up! You don’t get to just sit here whining!”

Here is something horrible for you to know: people do this to adoptive parents.

Bioparents, they get to vent about their kids. Even if their kids get up to all sorts of heinous shit, they get to go to their other adult friends and talk about how hard it is to be a parent. And there is usually sympathy, or support, or just a shoulder.

Adoptive parents? People – really and truly – will tell them to either give the kids back or shut the fuck up, as if they are nothing more than a headache you are obnoxiously complaining about. Because these children aren’t theirs, the pain caused by raising them is optional. Which means adoptive parents don’t get to complain, because in the minds of non-adoptive parents, they could always take the ibuprofen. Every time an adoptive parent attempts to vent – a very normal and necessary human interaction – they have to first step back and judge What This Will Say About Adoption. The other person – the ventee – may decide that what the adoptee does is so wild, so perverse, so outside the norm that all adoptees are damaged goods. They may go around espousing this, out loud, to others, a la “Oh, no, don’t adopt! My brother adopted and all adopted kids totally fuck cats.” Or, the ventee may decide that any adoptive parent with a difficult child has brought this upon themselves. You chose to adopt, and you choose to keep this kid that’s not even yours, so you don’t get to complain anymore. Take the ibuprofen, or shut up. If your biokid was fucking cats, you could probably find somebody who knows you and respects your abilities as a parent and will say, “I don’t even know how this could have happened, I know you always did your best. They must be so angry or hurt to do something like this; did something happen that you don’t know about? You’ve got to get them some help.” But if your adopted kid fucks cats, it will be, “What is wrong with that kid? They should count themselves lucky that you’re willing to put up with that. I don’t know why you are. Are you going to keep them? I can’t see why you would, the grief they give you.”

Can I tell you something? I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP. I know it sounds too evil to be believed, that people would say this. I will also tell you this: I thought it sounded too insane to be believed when I first heard that white people dig their fingers through black people’s hair without permission or even the briefest of acquaintance. When I first heard about racial profiling, I thought it was probably a little bit exaggerated. But I have the privilege of never having to experience these things. If I hear about them, it’s through a watered-down media report or anecdote through another privileged person. Unless I have actually taken the initiative to educate myself, by listening to the people who experience these things, I would not know that they happen as frequently and severely as they do.

So I am telling you, THIS REALLY HAPPENS, and if you know adoptive families and haven’t heard about it, it might be because the adoptive parents in your life have judged you against the What Will This Say About Adoption standard and have decided that you are not a safe bet for Getting It.

I am also going to tell you something else horrible: Even social services will do this. Adoptive parents at their wits’ end will call social services and be told, “You adopted this child. I don’t see why we should help you. What’s wrong with you, that you can’t raise your child? Don’t you love them enough? Why did you adopt this child if you’re so unstable you can’t handle them?” I AM FOR REAL. THEY SAY THIS TO PARENTS. And, I mean, best case scenario: you find a sympathetic social worker who directs you to a place to get a voucher for therapy, since you can’t afford the intensive therapy your kid needs. But the only therapist in town really doesn’t get adoption issues, or maybe is just ineffective, or maybe is actually detrimental. Is there a support group? Maybe three towns over. Can you get a babysitter, so you can at least get a night off to clear your head? Ha! Who’s going to babysit for the kid who fucks cats? Maybe your family will babysit? Oh, hell, no. They don’t get why you haven’t just given the kid back yet, for god’s sake, it’s not like he’s family. Eventually, you find a place you can just barely afford that offers intensive services. It’s a residential treatment facility, and it’s in the next state. So, you take your child who already has intense abandonment issues and you drive them one state over and leave them in the care of strangers, all the while promising that you are not abandoning them.

Adoption disruptions are not some strange, sick, perverse concept that cannot be understood. Adoptions disrupt for the same reason that adoptions exist: because we as a society have failed to exhibit our humanity by providing assistance, support, and a community to help a family stay together. You really cannot judge just from the words “disruption.” I know the easy, knee-jerk reaction is to assume that the adoptive parents involved in a disruption are weak, lazy, unloving, or have horns growing out of their butts. Okay, probably some do. But you can never know what has gone on in a home to cause this ultimate decision; you can rest assured, there was something horrible and it ought not have happened. And, here’s the important part: IT’S NOT ABOUT THE KIDS. People can learn to adapt to all kinds of situations they didn’t think they could handle, especially when their children are involved, but they cannot do these things if it jeopardizes their (or their child’s) ability to eat, sleep, or generally be actually, physically safe. Adoption exists because a parent found their need to eat, sleep, and be safe could not co-exist with their child’s need to eat, sleep, and be safe. That’s also why adoption disruption exists. Somebody tried their best, but without the support they needed to keep on eating, sleeping, and being safe, their best wasn’t good enough.

I have been cringing throughout this media debacle every time I hear somebody say, “You can’t really blame her.” I can, and I will. While I understand that disruption is awful, and that you cannot judge what happened to bring a parent to that point, I can judge how she chose to disrupt. I have worked with a family that disrupted because the only way their son could receive the services he needed would be if he became a ward of the state. This isn’t uncommon — there are generally more accessble and affordable services available for children living without families than there are for intact families desperately trying to stay together. This kid was old enough that they could explain this to him, and naturally, he did not believe them. He perceived what they did as a rejection, an abandonment. But you know what else they did? Every weekend, every birthday, every holiday, they visited him at the group home where he’d been placed. They wrote him letters. They bought him CDs and clothing and books. They helped him with his homework. He was still a part of their family; they just weren’t capable of providing him with the day-to-day parenting he needed. They could still provide him with the love, with the sense that somebody out there in the world cares enough to make a significant effort toward your well-being, and they did. There are a million ways to manage a disruption, and this mother chose a way that maximized all possible damage to her son while minimizing all possible damage to herself. I can blame her for that. She may not have had a choice but to disrupt – I won’t judge or blame her for disruption, because I don’t know what happened – but she did have a choice in how to accomplish that disruption, and I will blame her for that.

But I will also blame others. In fact, I will blame every adult involved in this child’s life. Every single adult bears responsibility for what happened to this child. That includes you and I. It takes a village, and the village failed. Every time you say, in public, where somebody with an intimate connection to adoption can overhear you, “Well, you know, I hear those kids from Russia are all sociopaths,” you are shitting in the middle of my village. You are shaming adoptees, you are insulting birthparents, you are shutting the mouths of adoptive parents who now know that you think their family is wrong. I am quite certain that in the years that Artem spent in America, there were multiple adults that could have reached out and made a difference, to him or to his adoptive mother. There were likely services they were turned away from. Therapists and teachers who knew nothing about adoption, and didn’t educate themselves. Other adoptive parents who refused to listen to what grown adoptees say, and spread about horrible advice for his adoptive mother to pick up. There was an entire family network that refused to take Artem in when his adoptive mother couldn’t hack it anymore. There were neighbors that did not offer to help.

When an adoption disrupts, you do not get to say it was the fault of the child. It wasn’t. But you also do not get to say that you can’t judge the parents, you can’t really know, you can’t really understand. You can, and you do. Because you’re doing it right now. Adoptive parents in the US start with the same beliefs, the same thoughts, the same feelings you do. You know how they feel, because you feel it, too. You feel that children from other countries are probably really messed-up, and so did she. You feel that you don’t get to blame her, and so does she. You feel that you don’t really get to blame anybody, and so does she. You feel that she is a horrible beast, and likely, so does she. And, I’ll put this out there, if she had not disrupted and kept him, and he acted out in public, she would have been a horrible beast then, too.

There is a lot that is complicated about adoption, a lot that requires education, but adoption doesn’t exist in a world that is separate from you. You can begin to understand how this happened right now by understanding that everything you say and think about adoption contributed to this adoption disrupting. What you believe is not radically different from what the people who were actually in a place to stop this disruption believe. What you believe is not radically different from what the people who were in a place to eliminate the necessity for an adoption to even happen believe. If your understanding of adoption and disruption ends at, “Some kids are fucked-up” and “Some mothers are evil,” now you know how such a thing could happen. It’s because other people – people who are in a position to help children and help mothers – believe exactly what you do.

A Pre-Emptive Note on Comments:

I have seen too many adoptee blogs have comments go off the fucking rails to not put this out here before the post goes live. Adoptive parents: CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE AT THE DOOR. The world is already full to the brim with people who know how you feel about adoption, and there are plenty of other internet communities where your voices can be heard. Adoptee and birth parent voices are given priority here. This doesn’t mean you can’t comment, but DO NOT argue with adoptees about how they feel, DO NOT step in here without having done your Racism 101, and DO NOT cast aspersions on birth parents. The phrase “angry adoptees” is an auto-ban.

Sorry about this disclaimer to the adoptive parents who are awesome; I’ve met you and I know you’re out there, though you’re generally not the ones kicking up a pity party on the internet, so you don’t end up with big fat disclaimers at the end of posts.

Blog Administration

Sometime this week (hopefully!), the blog is going to be down briefly as I make the final transfer of data from this blog to my new domain. I don’t want anybody mucking about adding new comments while I’m making the transfer, so it’s going to be down until it’s all set, however long that takes.

The new domain does not yet have all the features I want — like the discussion board — but it’s got enough to get started with, and until I get this off my plate, I don’t seem to be able to focus on making any posts. So, it’s just gonna happen, nice or no.

So, no worries! If you come here and it’s private, I will be back, with a link to the new domain.


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