I love to celebrate the successes of our population of intercountry adopted children in New Zealand. We have over 1,000 kids adopted by New Zealanders via ICANZ, many from Russian and Romanian orphanages, others from Thailand, Lithuania, Philippines and India. The numbers of boys and girls are very similar, with large numbers already young adults.
I am thrilled when I hear of the incredible things these kids are doing. Just in my own small circle of friends around the country I can think of so many wonderful success stories.
Like the boy, who, adopted at age four from a Romanian orphanage, would bang his head against the pavement in a rage of frustration while out with his family. Unable to run, climb or talk, he seemed intellectually disabled. This same boy, now a tall, handsome teenager, was later described as gifted, both academically and musically.
Or the incredible success of not one but two girls; one from Russia and one from Romania, who represent their regions in top grade young women’s soccer. Considering that there are only a handful of internationally adopted girls in their age group, it is quite extraordinary that both should reach such heights. It is a testament to their health, fitness and level of determination that they have achieved this. There is no stopping girls like these.
How about the Romanian boy adopted at age two who stars in musical theatrical performances and absolutely steals the show with his wonderful voice, his sweet nature and his enormous ability to perform.
Or the four year old girl who was practically blind with cataracts. After simple operations, she now hardly needs glasses.
Then there are at least three others who came at around a year or so of age, weighing little more than newborn babies. Fully expecting lengthy hospital stays and high medical bills, their parents have been amazed at how they have thrived in their new environment, never needing hospital care or expensive therapy. Some children just will not survive an institutionalised setting. They need more human contact, good food and a family life. I am sure that all three would have died had they remained in an orphanage - if you could just see them now!
And, there’s the boy who, because of cerebral palsy, has a speech difficulty and is a little uncoordinated. Does that stop him taking his place in his soccer team? Nor did it stop him scoring a goal last season, much to his and his family’s delight.
Detractors of international adoption would have us believe that children from institutions have little hope of leading a normal life. That they are somehow permanently damaged. Where are those people when that boy scores a goal; or when the other boy steals the show singing his heart out as Tom Sawyer?
I have never heard a parent say, “I wish I had not adopted that child.”
But I have heard dozens and dozens of times over, “I would love to go back and adopt another child.”
Here is a scenario that I have witnessed so many times. A couple, full of fear, expectation, joy, sadness and a whole mixed bag of emotions begins the roller coaster ride of international adoption. They have heard it all; the horror stories of children who have huge issues, countered by the realities of the children they have seen who have been adopted and are thriving. Which scenario will it be for them? They visit the orphanage full of fear and hope. They meet a child. They play with that child, they dress that child, they care for that child, they feed that child. He or she becomes their loved son or daughter. Forgotten are most of the fears and concerns they have had. This is their child, all else can be overcome.
I don’t believe that we as parents adopt a child thinking that this child will be perfect. We would hardly dare to do that with a birth child. We are well aware of the likelihood of poor pre-natal care. We know that food in the orphanages provides far from optimum nutrition. We understand that lack of stimulation and contact with loving adults will compromise their development. But, we also know that this poor start does not necessarily mean a lifetime of issues to overcome. I believe that we hope for the best, prepare for the worst and usually end up very happy with somewhere in the middle.
A child perceived as perfect by his family may not appear so to outsiders; to health or education professionals. But that child is absolutely right for that family. So many times I have heard a parent say, “It was amazing, we just felt that this was our child, that he had been waiting for us and we for him.” Like the wee girl who had had so many operations in Russia that she looked like the victim of a horrific shark attack. She now leads a full, active and perfectly normal life. Ask those who love and care for her if they think she should have been given a chance to live a full life with a loving family.
It is healthy to be very cautious about adopting a child. It is sensible and wise to educate yourselves about issues that institutionalised children face. It is not sensible to proceed with an intercountry adoption without a great deal of preparation and learning. When reading, listening and learning, keep a balanced view. Don’t give one person’s viewpoint too much weight until you have heard many other viewpoints, studied the literature, read the research and talked to adoptive parents.
If I was a child waiting for a family in an orphanage, I would say to you, “Please give me a chance. Here my future is grim. With a family, in a new environment, who knows what heights I can reach. Go and meet those kids who have gone before me to see how my life might become. Give me wings to fly, give me a chance.”