Friday, December 22, 2006

Don't knock Guatamalan adoption

Criticism of Guatamalan adoption system unfair
Johnson, Amanda and Julie Erwin. Lexington Herald-Leader, August 7, 2006, pg. A8.

At issue
July 30 Associated Press article "Adopting from Guatemala about to get harder; international treaty to take effect mid-2007"

As adoptive mothers and advocates for international adoptions, we are disturbed by the article about Guatemalan adoptions.

Although the article is correct that the Hague Convention will undoubtedly slow down and change the face of Guatemalan adoptions, it is incorrect about nearly everything else.

Because Guatemala is predominantly a Roman Catholic society, women are not encouraged to use artificial birth control. Even if they were, a lack of education would make it hard for many rural Guatemalan women to understand birth control methods or their effects on the female body.

The vast majority of women and children are in such poverty that even food to feed their family can be scarce. So, for many women, adoption is the way for them and their children to survive.

The decision to place one's child for adoption is never made solely on one factor, but rather on a host of them.

When I was in Guatemala in February, I met a young woman who was studying to be a kindergarten teacher. Like nearly everyone in that country, she had to walk to and from her home to the bus depot to catch an old 1970s renovated U.S. school bus to take her to school. While walking to the bus station one day, she was raped.

Knowing the dishonor that an out-of-wedlock child would bring to her family, she decided to move to the city and have the baby. When the baby was born, she placed her for adoption.

Do you think she made that choice in a split-second, single decision? No. She knew that if she returned home pregnant and brought dishonor to her family, her father would kill her and her mother for allowing it to happen.

Other than attempting to abort the child herself, going to a back-alley doctor for an illegal abortion or taking her own life, what choice did she or any other young woman in her shoes have but adoption?

Would not any mother choose a life of love and prosperity for her child, especially if she were not able to provide that sort of life?

Unfortunately, women in the Guatemalan culture are often mistreated and abused. In such a machismo society, men frequently abandon women who admit they are pregnant. Many of these women already have other children, and another child would make their $70-a-month paychecks (the average amount a service worker makes in Guatemala) evaporate.

And what happens when a newborn needs medical help? Mothers often can't pay for medical care or transportation to doctor appointments, get paid time off from work or have a husband's support.

Guatemalan women choose to place their children for adoption for a variety of psycho-social, physical, emotional and societal reasons. Least of these is money.

Between our two families, we have eight children, all of whom have been internationally adopted. Five of those children were born in Guatemala. The Guatemalan adoption process has never been easy, nor have any corners been cut for us.

There are a multitude of reasons that American families adopt Guatemalans. It is not because of the streamlined process or because birth mothers are located by notaries "to meet the demand." American families adopt from Guatemala because the majority of the children are cared for by foster families, not orphanages where children outnumber the staff 10 to 1.

Families choose Guatemala because DNA testing to prove maternity is a required part of the immigration process. This ensures that the mother is placing her legal child for adoption. To our knowledge, no other country does DNA testing.

Another reason is the relatively short travel time. It takes about four hours to fly from Atlanta to Guatemala City, as opposed to the 13 hours or more it takes to get to most Asian countries.

We are proud of our children, their heritage and our families. Articles that distort the reality about international adoption bring unnecessary criticism of a system that is trying its best to do right by the children and birth mothers.

We take offense when anyone carelessly insinuates that our children or the countless number of Guatemalan children we know are products of a "baby farm" or a corrupt system.

The Guatemalan adoption process has its faults, as do all international adoption programs. It is a true shame, however, that the article painted only half the picture.

-AMANDA JOHNSON of Danville is the adoptive mother of three.
-JULIE ERWIN, adoptive mother of five, is executive director of Adoption Assistance Inc.


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