In the last several days, I seem to have become the local spokesperson for adoption, Russian adoption, and special needs adoption. Everyone who has heard the story of Artyem Savelyev and also knows our story, wants to know what I think. An event as stunningly awful as the actions of Torry Ann Hansen has raised the profile of Russian adoption in some unfortunate ways.
Piper has a co-worker who adopted a little girl from the same agency we used. Said co-worker showed up in Piper's office last week, asking "Why can't they show adoption in a positive light?" An NPR commentator posed much the same question. PunditMom is upset about the coverage for a slightly different reason.
There's not much more I can say about Torry Hanson that hasn't already been said. I'm horrified by her method of handling the situation, and by the impact her actions have had on the delicate diplomacy of Russian adoptions.
Hansen indicated in her letter to the Ministry of Education that she had been misled by the Orphanage Director about the child's mental health; but it is widely known in the United States that the health problems of Russian orphans are often exaggerated with bogus diagnoses so that the courts will release them for international adoption. Since our own adoptions, I've heard that it is more difficult to get advanced information on your assigned referral, but even the smallest amount of reading could have told Hansen about developmental difficulties these children often experience, and the behavioral challenges they can present. It's also very possible that, given the rigid structure of orphanage life, the behavior the Hansen's described never happened there. Remember, Artyem* may have gained a family back in September, but he lost everything else he depended on.
The public facts of the case are slim, but it's clear to me that the mother did not do enough research into the likely struggles of an older child living in an institution for most of his life. It's also evident that, when faced with the almost predictable behavior the child displayed, the Hansens did not reach out for help. Artyem had been with them for six months; long enough for the novelty to wear off and the testing to begin. Let's face it, Torrey Hansen didn't even realize that, by law, her adopted child became an American citizen the moment he stepped off the plane in the States.
Too often, I think, society views adoptions the way it does getting married. Marriage, or more precisely, a wedding, is looked at as some long-chased dream; a goal, rather than the beginning of a journey. Almost all of those adoption stories we read, or see on TV, end with the child coming home. The focus of the adoptive family is on the challenges that went before; struggles with infertility maybe, or a miscarriage, disappointing cycles of IVF, or just trying to navigate international bureaucracy. There is no discussion of the struggles of adjustment, the boundary testing, learning to live together. No one speaks of Reactive Attachment Disorder; or the unfillable emptiness in the adopted child. It's all supposed to be better now. Now they are a family.
A story in the New York Times this weekend, presented the challenges of adoption in what I thought was a sensitive manner. The reporter interviewed some families who struggled with the transition and worked through it. The article discussed the need for adoption agencies to be more forthcoming about the challenges of institutionalized children, and the need for more support. It talked about the reality of disruption.
None of us ever really knows what we are getting into before we become parents. That goes for all parents, not just adoptive ones. There are days and weeks and years where we are completely overwhelmed by what we have taken on. We are horrified when we have to ask for help; guilt-ridden at not living up to society's expectation that we manage everything all by ourselves. We are afraid to admit when we can take no more. One good thing about blogging mothers is that we are all starting to admit that things aren't perfect. Perhaps this kind of openness will one day lead to a discussion of the need for more support.
For me, the struggles of dealing with the boys' adjustment issues were wrapped up indistinguishably with the adjustment issues of my own late motherhood. There were difficult and very dark days; particularly in our first year as a family of four. But as difficult as things got, and as much as I might have wished for my old life back, I couldn't imagine giving the boys up.
This May, we will mark 7 and 5 years of having the boys with us. The first six months, heck, the first few years, were extremely challenging for us. But part of our jobs as parents is to observe our children, learn their reactions, compare with other people's experiences, and research when something doesn't feel right. Hansen is reportedly a nurse, and probably had better access to information than most people do. It's not always easy, but one thing we probably do better than most countries, is make services available to children with special needs. It's the law. What kind of services will be available to Artyem now?
Russians are already unhappy with the phenomenon or foreign adoption. No matter how many children die in the custody of Russian orphanages, it is the death of an adoptee in the States that makes the news across Russia. Our Russian facilitator has been asked by his neighbors if Russian children were sold to Americans for organ harvesting. They want to believe the worst.
Every time something like this happens, I wish that I could find a way to say to the Russians; "Our boys are alive and well, they are here to stay. When they come back to Russia, it will most likely be with us, to learn about where they came from, to see their history come to life. They are in good hands, really."
I will also say that Torry Ann Hansen has not helped us adoptive parents with our American neighbors either. The people who live around us already speculate how hard we have it, how they couldn't do what we do, and how our kids must be damaged. They wonder if their kids should be playing with ours. My boys are good kids, but now their sometimes odd behavior will forever be connected to this story. Read any of the comments on the news posts about this incident. The terrible, prejudicial, opinions people have about Russian adoptees have been bolstered by this woman's actions.
We'll probably never know what will happen to Artyem or to Torry Hansen, and that's really too bad. The media is great for plastering bad news everywhere - not so good on depth or follow-up. We need to know that she gets prosecuted, and we need to know that he finds a home and the support he needs. We also need to see many more postive stories about adoption, struggles and all, well after the kids come home.
When we were still in the paperwork stage of our first adoption, my doctor, an adoptive parent himself, had this to say; "Adoption is not just a decision that you make; you have to reaffirm that decision at every step in the process."
That includes after the child comes home.
*Although Artyem was given an American name, he will probably no longer be using it. Also, before this story broke, whenever I have previously seen this name translated, it has been spelled with an "e" rather than an "o."