By Amy Castle | Post Adoption Services Intern
During my four years working at Holt, I’ve held several different positions within the China program: college intern, pre-travel and post placement assistant, dossier assistant, and my current position as the family case coordinator. I’ve learned about each part of the China adoption process, and I’ve loved every moment of it.
In 2013, I began a Master of Social Work program through Portland State University. I chose PSU’s distance MSW program because it allowed me to continue working at Holt while attending school. This past September, in addition to my China team job duties, I began another new role at Holt: MSW intern with the post adoption services department. The purpose of this internship is to gain experience different from my regular job. Even though both of my roles are within Holt, they look very different. The people I work with in post adoption are usually adult adoptees rather than adoptive parents. In post adoption services, we also focus on serving and advocating for birth parents, whenever possible. Since China doesn’t have a legal relinquishment process, the children we match with families are found abandoned. We never receive any birth parent history for them, beyond maybe a note confirming their date of birth. Because of these unknowns, the China program is less equipped to offer adoptees insights about their past or about their birth families as some other programs — such as Korea, Ethiopia or Thailand, where overseas staff work directly with birth parents. As a result, I rarely engaged with this essential part of the adoption community. In post adoption services, however, we regularly assist with birth parent searches, correspondence between birth parents and adoptees, and birth parent counseling for domestic adoptions. It is important to emphasize the rights, perspective and role of birth parents in the broader adoption conversation.
Searching “adoption” online gives nearly 200 million results. An image search shows countless photos of happy children surrounded by smiling parents, usually kissing the child on the cheek or looking lovingly into their eyes. To me, these communicate that adoption is beautiful (and it is!). Other photos show young children staring forlornly into the camera — obviously in need of parents to love and care for them. These photos make me feel sad, because I truly believe that every child deserves a family.
But in the pages and pages of images I click through, I don’t see any photos of birth parents. Flipping through an adoption magazine yields the same results. There are photos of smiling children and happy parents. But I don’t see photos of a pregnant woman, perhaps a man with his arm around her, looking heartbroken. Without birth parents, adoption wouldn’t exist. Many adoptees grow up dreaming of their birth family: Do I look like my birth mother? What is my birth father like? Do I have any siblings?
Considering the perspective and experience of birth parents is not something that brings joy. The act of relinquishing or abandoning a child for adoption is filled with immense sorrow and loss. As a whole, our society doesn’t know what to do with those types of emotions. We tend to brush those feelings aside and focus on what makes us happy instead. In a world that sees most everything in a black and white way, we have no idea what to do with anything that falls in between — the gray. We concentrate on what is easy, rather than diving in to what is hard. We consider our own perspective first and foremost, and not because we’re terrible people, but simply because that’s how our brains operate. It takes energy and effort to consider a new perspective. But, doing so is vital to understanding the complexities of life, and especially the complexities of adoption.
A friend of mine who recently completed the adoption of his son from China said it best in his blog: “I’m learning the disorienting contradiction of adoption: when the worst news becomes the best news, when an orphan child really has two sets of parents, and when the joyful mourn.” Adoption has many facets. It is something filled with terrible loss, but also great joy at the same time. We must remember to consider multiple perspectives, even when (and especially when) it isn’t easy.
Amy, wonderful! Thanks for sharing these insights into Holt and the complexities of adoption.