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Friday, September 10, 2010

Wo Ai Ni, Part 2

What's interesting to me about the documentary Wo Ai Ni (I Love You), Mommy and the subsequent discussions all over the blogosphere is that so many seem to focus on the family and what they did poorly or failed to do. While there were moments in the film where the actions and words of Donna Sadowsky and her husband made me cringe, I actually didn't judge them as harshly as some of you might expect.

I judge the process.

I think it's natural to want to look for the right and wrong actions of another, but that seems to me to avoid the point. I think doing so helps us distance ourselves from the real truth... the real truth being that the entire process of international adoption strips our children of their culture and language. Yes, there can be gentler ways of doing it. Yes, it doesn't have to be at warp-speed. But no, we can't really stop it from happening. We might be able to minimize things, but we can't stop it.

We just can't.

Wo Ai Ni (I Love You), Mommy is different because it lays it all out there for us to SEE it happening. It's painful to watch, isn't it? I found it painful. Like many of you, I cried through most of the film. We know that our children will lose their birth cultures and "become American," but this documentary shows us the impact that has on a child. It forces us to really SEE the impact of international adoption on a child. When we distance ourselves by pointing fingers at Faith's adoptive parents, we strive to reassure ourselves that our children felt less pain because we did it "the right way." But really, that's like saying there is one right way to remove a band-aid. Are you the type to slowly and steadily ease the band-aid off, or do you believe in the rip-it-off-quickly method?

Does it change things when you look at it that way?

As I said yesterday, not every child will feel as much pain as did Faith, but some will. Some will experience more trauma. Some will experience less, or even little to no trauma. The problem is that no one has any idea how a child will react to such a drastic change until the wheels are already set in motion. And then it's too late to stop it.

And that? Is a painful truth about international adoption.

This is why so very many people are so out-spoken against international adoption. They don't believe that the gains are enough to balance out the losses. I respect their opinions. That does not mean that I agree completely, but I do absolutely understand where they are coming from. And it is why I absolutely believe that international adoption should be a LAST RESORT for a child. I try not to whine too much on my blog or in real life or even in my own mind about our long wait because I want China to take care of its children in country.

I want international adoption to be the last resort.

I believe that being internationally adopted is better than life in an orphanage. But it's not better than domestic adoption. I'm not even sure if it is better than a permanent foster home. But yes, I do believe that international adoption is better than life with a series of foster families, with no stability, and no guarantees for a safe transition into adulthood. And yes, I believe it's definitely better than life in an orphanage.

But that doesn't mean it isn't hard.

Really hard.

And there is little we, as adoptive parents, can do to minimize that. We can walk beside our children as they grieve. We can do our best to help them navigate the transition. But they have to live it. They have to cope.

And that? Is asking a lot of an eight-year-old. Or a three-year-old.

Or a one-year-old.

30 comments:

sara said...

Well said, as always. I think I definitely have an easier road ahead of me, in some aspects, becuase my adoption was domestic. Pie has been with us since the moment she was born. I was in the delivery room. We will face the transracial parenting issues...but again I think it will be a smoother process because she is not obviously a different race.

We had assumed we would go the international route, but I think you're right...it's a really tough road and should be saved as the last resort.

Kris said...

I agree with you on international adoption. I also think it should be a last resort but one that should be considered when life in an orphanage is the only other alternative. I basically agree with the UNICEF position on international adoption and like you agree that whatever we as APs do the pain and loss will still be there - no matter what we do or how well we do it. My daughter is from Russia and at 6 has asked if we can go there - she feels it already and it breaks my heart. Your post struck a chord with me because in my opinion you hit the nail on the head.

Diane said...

TM- I don’t believe that ripping the band-aid off should even be an option when dealing with a child in mourning. Yes she has lost her language and culture AND she just lost an entire family...again. Being able to communicate via skype through a translator down the line doesn’t minimize the trauma and loss of being removed from yet another family. I can think of no situation where making demands on a grieving child is ok- whether they just lost a beloved puppy...or their entire world.

Suzy said...

I really love this post. Some times it's difficult to articulate what you felt and why you believe you felt that way, but you've done a masterful job of it in this post. It wasn't easy to hear her foster father say it was better for Faith to come to the US, but he stated it baldly that she did not have a good future in China. Clearly, they LOVED Faith, and it had to be difficult to watch her go (although I won't say "let" her go, I don't believe they had a choice). There is just so much pain involved in the whole process - yes, there's love & beauty, too, but boy, is there a grand canyon of pain.

Anonymous said...

Domestic or international...adoption is painful for a child.

To imply that international is more painful is to sugar-coat domestic adoption.

Adoption is universally painful, no matter where it occurs or how far a person has to travel on the globe to experience it.

lmgnyc said...

I'm with you Tonggu Mommy. I'm stumped why so many people are focusing their wrath on the family in the movie. To me the movie was all about Sui Yong. All I could focus on was her and her journey.

I know I'm not a perfect parent--Lord knows what I would look like if the cameras were pointed at me (I just shuddered!)but what I was watching was the process of Sui Yong losing her language.

I am close friends with one of the families featured in the film "Adopted". I was with them throughout the filming and I know how much film was shot and how much editing goes on. I have seen for myself how careful cutting and snipping can totally change the way a person looks on film. Anyone who allows the camera to follow them around on such a personal journey has courage. That's all I can say and everyone else should just be aware of that when they jump to conclusions.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog on and off for over a year now and love your honesty. I especially like the way you talk about international adoption being a "last resort" in this most recent post. I am curious if you'd be willing to share either publicly or privately how you've come to the decision(s) to adopt internationally rather than domestically? Just curious. Thanks.

a Tonggu Momma said...

Anonymous, I don't disagree with you that domestic adoption is painful. I do, however, feel that international adoption - especially transracial international adoption - has inherently more loss. Domestic adoption and international adoption both deal in loss, but in international adoption, the child also loses a culture and a language. And when it's transracial, their families are more visibly adoptive families. Just my two cents though. I'm not an adoptee.

a Tonggu Momma said...

Oh, and my comment above was in response to the first Anonymous. I value what you said and understand why you pointed it out. I didn't mean to minimize the losses felt by domestic adoptees. I also want to respect the additional losses experienced by international adoptees.

a Tonggu Momma said...

Anonymous #2 (when you woke up this morning, did you think someone would call you that? *grin*) ... this answer is actually hidden in my archives. You can find it here:
http://ourlittletongginator.blogspot.com/2009/01/why-adopt-why-china.html

If we had known then what we know now, I don't know that we would have gone the international route, but I don't regret it at all. How could I when the Tongginator has blessed our lives so greatly?

As for this second go-around... we want another child. And it's important to the Tongginator to have a same-race sibling. As complicated as I feel it all is now, I won't apologize for our decision. And the extremely long wait helps me to feel more confident that China truly IS trying to make international adoption a last resort.

Anonymous said...

Can I be Anonymous #3?

Knowing ONE perspective of domestic adoption (multiple generations of domestic adoption actually), and having 2 daughters from China...I can tell you that their loss and transition was more intense (could be their age). They will also have to deal with quite a bit MORE than just "I was adopted" when it comes to friends and school. While the "I was adopted" identity crisis IS tough, it has not been as intense as the "I was adopted" with "I am a different race than my parents" and the "I was born in another country and WHY couldn't I stay in that country" issues as well. Then, in addition, having to learn how to deal with the criticisms around them here in the US about China itself (saw on facebook recently, "you mean China-mart don't you...with that red star in the middle, doesn't it make you think" and "oh I don't buy any foods made in China, you just don't know what they put in them and it could kill you" which while we know WHY they were said, it still HURTS to hear for my girls. The domestic adoptees? They don't have to deal with those kinds of comments because they ARE in their birth country and most of us don't bad talk the USA in the same manner the Americans I know bad talk about China.

Is it HARDER? I can't tell because it's like pain...what one person feels as painful can not be fully measured. We all feel pain at varying degrees. Dealing with adoption issues is hard no matter what, but in my life, my daughters have it much harder than the domestically adopted people in our family ever had even growing up in the time frame where adoption was big time taboo.

Dawn said...

What I thought the film did well was to show Faith's side of the adoption...being pushed to speak english and tell her feelings (when she is trying to understand how she feels or what she if feeling!) being torn from her sister in China and being given a new sister who was there "First" and who is younger and harder to relate too. "Yanking off the band-aid" was a good way for you to put it! Faith's mom is a tough mom...expecting her to succeed in her new life and desiring it so much that she forgets about her daughters handicap to the extent she forces her to do things she can not...
Then after Faith does adapt to her new life which includes learning English and becoming "Americanized" she is
berated by her China foster family for forgetting Chinese...POOR KID how can she win? But she does! with two sets of imperfect parents who love her the best they can...Faith seems to know this in the end cause she tells her foster sister it will all be okay and she will like being adopted...
How strong this girl is! International adoption is not for the weak or for those who will give up...parents or kids...

Carla said...

wow TM...great post. I have not managed to watch this yet (must stream online), but I want to this weekend. I do know, that my 2.5 year old has really struggled with the transition, and after 3 months we have noticed a shift from the intense grieving. I know that I as her Mom have NOT been nearly as supportive of her as I should have been...all that button pushing she has done to push me away so she didn't have deal with me...oh...wow.

Watching her transition really reminded me of HOW VERY DIFFICULT this is for any child. She didn't ask for it. She had no control...and I remember hearing from her foster MOm about how she had nightmares daily before coming into our family about joining our family. WE were her nightmare come to life. Oh how my heart aches to think of that. Dh and I? were NIGHTMARES...what I equate to monsters in her eyes...yet she HAD to come with us, live with us, and we expected her to LOVE us.
*sob*

Dana@AdoptionJourney said...

We are in China right now adopting our seven year old son. Wo Ai Ni Mommy was shown the night before we left for our trip. I didn't get to watch it and haven't been able to watch it online because my son is always with me at this point. I agree that international adoption should be the last resort. I have really struggled through the process about whether this is best for our son or not. Ultimately, I feel that coming to our family is so much better for him than orphanage life but I hurt for the losses he'll experience in order to gain a family. I've been trying to blog honestly through the process.

Number 6 and no more counting! said...

thank you, for this post TM. Outstanding and thought provoking for me. It's funny, I have not ever been bothered by the wait in a big way. I have always tried to think rationally about it. But, this puts another spin on in for me and I like it. I have ordered this video from the library.

Lea
xo

Michal said...

Well--- and there you have said what I have been struggling to find the words for.

I will admit that when we adopted Ev, we were younger and more naive and really did not consider her as much as we considered ourselves. I know that I knew it would be hard on her but I think that there was no way that I could have possibly understood her loss to the fullest. I know that more knowledge would not have changed my mind, it just might have made me be better for her from the start.
I too found this movie difficult to watch. I just wanted to stop everything and hug that little girl. But you are right- it's the process. Not every parent is perfect, not every family runs smooth. I would not even want to read what folks would have to say about me if I had cameras filming my every moment. Heck I wouldn't even want to watch the footage myself!
Being a parent is the most difficult and personal thing that there is.
What I think is good about this movie is that it has alot of people talking and thinking and viewing things in different ways.
Great post TM!

OneThankfulMom said...

I agree that adoption should be a last resort - both domestically and internationally. However, I'm thankful that my children, particularly my girls (who were older at the time of adoption and have special medical needs), will not spend their lives in an orphanage. Their future was not bright in Ethiopia. We are definitely struggling with grief, loss, and trauma, and we are doing all that we can to help them heal.

Wendy said...

I am not saying this because I'm partial... ;o) But you have definitely written one of the best reviews of this documentary that I have read. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

As an international adoptee I'm not comfortable saying I have it harder than domestic adoptee, because I see that as a way to minimize their losses. I do have it different than domestic adoptees and they have it different than me. We have similarites,too.

"Rip the bandaid off" - I agree with the mom who said you DON'T rip the bandaid off. I agree with you that the pain is still there no matter what. The person has been wounded no matter what. But choosing to rip off the band aid is a different matter.

I think people who are critical of the adoptive mom are just saying she could have done things differently. And we owe it to future adoptees to be able to give that feedback.

Denise said...

I just watched it last night and sobbed through most of it. Seeing Faith struggle with so much at such a young age was very difficult, as was watching her family not truly know how to help her...because I was there. I am glad that a camera did not follow me around that first few months after Maggie came home...I made so many mistakes. I too expected her to just adapt more quickly. I appreciated too that Faith was able to keep in contact with her foster family, and that upset me also because we have not been allowed to contact Maggie's foster family at all. I would love to be able to send them pictures and for Maggie to have some of them...but at this point I really don't even know if she would remember them. All in all, it made me realize that I may be less willing to adopt an older child if we adopted again, even though all of them grieve and have "issues". Thank you for your frank discussion her about this topic.

Debbie said...

I think it just has to be an infinitely better option than life in an orphanage. How can you compare the unconditional love of a family to that?

Patty O. said...

You are so, so right. And I think the fact that you are aware of this and don't try to ignore or deny that it is hard, is what is most going to help your kids deal with that pain. I really admire you, because my first instinct is often to avoid talking about or dealing with those unpleasant realities. I am trying to learn to be better about this, because denial does not help your kids deal with painful situations.

Though I am not an adoptive mom, so much of what you discuss (especially on this topic) really resonates with me. I am learning a lot about how to improve as a mom. Thanks!

April said...

One of the main reasons we chose our adoption agency is because their first goal is to A) reunite the child with biological family if it is possible B) exhaust all measures to have the child adopted in their home country C) adopt internationally as the last step in finding a permanent home for an abandoned child.

One of the problems that no on likes to address is that Asian countries do not believe in or understand adoption. It is a rare occurrence, especially when there are feelings of shame associated with out of wedlock children and even sexual assault. My husband is from Vietnam. His entire family did not understand why we just didn't have another biological child. Why take on the burden of some one else's kid when we could have our own? These were the questions we were asked constantly. My brother in law actually told me that he could not love someone else's child the way he loves his own. Did it make me angry? No. It made me sad b/c this is a very common attitude towards adoption-even within ones own family in much of southeast Asia.

I am not trying to stereotype but this is a reality. There is a reason why there are so many orphans in these countries. When you base the worth of your society on status and gender this is the result. Unwanted children. If my daughter's grandparents or extended family had been willing to care for her, instead of hiding her mother away in shame until she gave birth, she would not have experienced the trauma that she has from adoption.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for the last few months. I absolutely love your honetsy, but this is a bit touchy.

Many domestic adoptions are transracial adoptions and in that sense they will be losing out on many things as well. They will have the same problem of not looking like their family. The same way of having to explain they were adopted. I think it can be equally as hard knowing that you live in the same country as your bio family and for some of these children they're # 2, 3 or 4 and yet their bio family kept the first children. why not them? Many of these children also have the confusion of growing up with bio mommy and adoptive mommy.

My son is already 5 months old. He is African American and doesn't look a thing like us since my husband is white and I'm white/mexican. He is getting rude comments, I'm getting rude comments and its quite noticeable that he is not biologically ours just as your daughter isn't yours.

We are making an effort to learn things from the AA culture. I'm learning to properly care for his hair and pray to God I don't mess it up too horriblely so he's not embarrassed. I hope that when he's older he's not upset that he didn't have AA parents raise him. I hope that he's not embarassed his father is a giant white guy.

Adoption is hard. Its hard whether they come from another country or another race. They ALL feel a loss when they look into our faces and don't see themselves.

I honestly don't believe one is harder than the other. All children feel loss, each family they're with is more than likely culture shock in its self.

Please don't devalue our children's loss just because yours comes from across the ocean.

April said...

I don't believe that TM is devaluing the loss of domestically adopted children. I think she is recognizing that a child adopted from another country loses language, culture, food, religion and traditions that would have been a part of their identity-especially for children adopted at an older age who have already experienced all of these and then transition to something completely different.
Yes, you may adopt a child of a different race from this country but you are not introducing them to a completely different culture.
Saying that one form of adoption MAY or MAYNOT experience more trauma does not devalue the trauma experienced. Different does not mean that the WORTH is different. It just means it is different and that difference can make one more difficult than the other. I believe that toddler and older child adoption is more difficult that adoption that takes place at birth. Does that mean that a child adopted at birth will in the future deal with less adoption related trauma or issues? No. But it does mean that a two year old coming from a different country is going to experience trauma in a completely different way and that can be extremely difficult as we experienced with our daughter.
Everyone is so eager to make their point of view the right one. What does it matter how you qualify another person's view on adoption? Your own personal family experience is all that matters. To judge another family from 50 minutes of footage does not further the discussion but fan the flames.
I think TM was spot on with her review. You go girl!
April

Yoli said...

This film was from the perspective of the mother. Faith had no choice. Like everything in her life, being filmed was out of her control. So I do take exception with the mother on her decision. As to who has it harder that is a question that goes back to race as well as adoption. If you adopt domestically from your same race, it is easier. Same country, same values, same people that look like you. If you adopt transracially, it is trickier and a lot more goes into it. Same grief regarding losses but now you compound it with loss of racial identity.

You should watch "Off and Running." Whole different perspective.

a Tonggu Momma said...

I very much look forward to watching "Off and Running," as well as "In the Case of Cha Jung Hee." They are set in our DVR. I think they are both recording this week, maybe early next.

I really appreciate the discussion generated by this documentary and specifically this post. I want to clarify two things that I feel are important though.

The first is that I happen to be of the "gently ease off the band-aid" camp. I think my post "Love and Adoption" speaks to that viewpoint specifically. I also understand that not everyone is of that camp. I guess what upset me is that so many seemed to really point angry fingers at Donna Sadowsky, yet shrug their shoulders in disappointment (and with sad compassion) when the orphanage workers applied the same philosophy... remember, that very first day, that first HOUR, they told Faith she must accept her new name, must say "I love you" to her new mother, must not contact her foster family. People can say they expected the mother to know better, but shouldn't people also working in the adoption industry do so as well? But I think people respond to that question with, "well, they are Chinese. In Chinese culture..." And that was partially my point. I believe it's largely a question of culture.

But yes, as Diane said, when a child is grieving... yes, I was absolutely upset. It's one of the reasons I cried throughout most of the film. But, as parents, especially those experiencing such challenges, we're all going to make mistakes. Because it IS hard on us, too. Of course it's harder on the child. Of course it is. But it doesn't change the fact that it's hard for us, too. And so yeah, the mistakes we saw also spoke to character as well. But how many people spoke up and said "I wouldn't have wanted them filming ME during that time." I know I wouldn't. I made a ton of mistakes. Y'all just didn't see them aired in a documentary.

My second thing is really a clarification. There are two ways to use the word loss. I think some of y'all may have thought I was speaking of and to the emotion loss, that sense of feeling loss. And y'all are right - we can't measure that. It's not fair; it's not productive; and - frankly - it's not accurate. How do you measure emotional pain?

But there is another way to use the word loss. It's empirical, able to be counted. That is the loss I was speaking to. As Yoli, April, Anonymous #3 (*grin*) and several others pointed out - a child that is transracially, internationally adopted does experience the most loss - things they lose (culture, food, probably religion, language, family, traditions, and on and on). And a child that is domestically, transracially adopted is going to experience more loss than a child adopted domestically by same-race parents. They just do. I stand by those statements, as upsetting as that may be to some of you.

But... BUT... that does NOT mean that they always or even most of the time experience more emotional loss. Some international adoptees will shrug their shoulders and move on. Some domestic adoptees will feel crippled with pain. And everything in between. You are right in that, definitely. It is not right, nor wise, nor good to measure emotional pain. But I know I'm not the only one measuring empirical loss. It's why international adoption is legislated in many places to be a last resort for a child.

ALL adoption is HARD on a child. Goodness, it's hard on an ADULT adoptee. I truly am sorry that I sounded dismissive of that fact to several (many?) of you.

Sandy said...

I just watched the film through the eyes of a closed era domestic same race adoptee...

When the mother was telling Faith that she had choices and Faith said she did not have any choices - that was the disconnect I saw from my bias pov between the AP view and the Adoptee view. The mother was in the present and the adoptee was in the totality of being an adoptee with no say in what happened to her...

While each type of adoption has different layers to it, what is also important and seems to be lacking is that each adoptee is unique and will experience it different based on who they are inside, different coping skills, personalities, survival mechanisms so trying to determine which type of adoption has it harder or easier kind of takes us back to the theory of my era where we are all blank slates...

The orphanage comments also trigger the question of whether or not any country would not work harder to put services in place to reduce the numbers of children in orphanages IF there was not a convienent lucrative solution in IA...

Enjoy your blog as a lurker TM and appreciate the thoughtfullness in your words on a very complicated tension filled subject.

3 Peanuts said...

Love all of this discussion TM...Good job getting it going. I have this DVR'd but have not watched it yet. I will admit....I am kind of afraid to watch. Could you let us know the network and or details of the others you mention so I can DVR those too.

Okay...I am off to watch it now.

Aus said...

Morning TM - sorry I'm late getting to this....because it is BRILLIANT! Not that this is a surprise...

Sorry I'm getting long winded here - it just happened! Please allow me to throw just a touch of salt into the soup....

Some things we learned via International Adpotion (X3)...

It's not a perfect solution...
There's no right way to do it...
The kids will all 'react' differently....
The kids attitude about it will change over time....
The kids 'feelings' about their culture will change over time too...
The adoptive parents have to come to grips with their feelings about being a 'privileged americans' (this one caught us by surprise)...
The loss our kids suffered will re-appear over and over again....

And many more things - but the number one thing we've learned is this....

What worked (works) for us and our child works for us - not for you (OK it might - but just because it worked for us doesn't mean it WILL work for you)...

I can't be critial of any adoptive parent that acts in the best interest of their kids, I just can't. I guess what I'm saying is that just because I wouldn't do (or say or show or whatever) something when dealing with my child doesn't mean that they shouldn't. What's missing from this documentary is the same thing that's missing from any TV program - and that's everything else that happened that wasn't covered in the 60 minute program! Without knowing - no - without having LIVED through all the rest of that - I find it hard to sit in judgement of a single act out of context.

FWIW - it still provides some insight into what our kids think and feel - but (as some of your comments show) it also provides some insight into what the world thinks about us and our decisions to adopt internationally. I'm just kind of putting that out there...and I'm feeling a blog post coming on....

hugs - super work -

aus and co.