International adoptions have made headlines over the last few months with the cruel political gamesmanship going on in Russia right now. It’s nothing more than using orphaned children as pawns in a high stakes poker game with the United States.
A fellow adoption blogger in New York, Tina Traster, writes more extensively about the Russian ban on her blog, www.juliaandme.com. She and her husband adopted their daughter, Julia, from Siberia about a decade ago. If you are interested in this subject I urge you to visit her site.
I’d like to talk about Poland because that’s where we received Casey.
Our international adoption journey began in 1990 when there were relatively few channels available – Latin America, South Korea and then Romania. Erika and I believed at the time that our adopted child would have a hard enough time with her identity and self-image – the standing in the checkout line at the Safeway test – so we figured Romania, a European country.
It was only by chance that we learned through the adoption grapevine that a couple in nearby New Haven, CT. (we were living outside of Hartford at the time) had adopted a 2-year-old girl from Poland. That seemed like nothing less than a moonshot to us. Erika was of Polish decent and still had family there. Thus became our journey to Poland, and the rest as they say is history.
International adoptions from Poland are very rare. During the first decade of this century, roughly 45,000 children were adopted from Russia and 69,000 from China. There were only about 1,000 from Poland. There are many reasons for this. First, by comparison to Russia or China, Poland’s population (some 30 million or so) is relatively small, about the size of Canada. It’s a deeply Catholic country with strict abortion laws. Children end up in the orphanage system for a variety of reasons – unwanted pregnancies, shame, a perceived handicap, family dysfunction, substance abuse, or even temporary room and board for some families financially strapped. Poland has worked very hard to find homes for children where they believe they belong – in Poland. Otherwise, they look beyond their borders. It was only through this loophole that we found Casey. She was perceived “special needs” because she was a weak preemie, but there was no data to back that up.
International adoptions have become a political hot potato with accusations of Westerners “stealing” children, bribing local officials with money. That wasn’t the case for us in Poland and for many, many other adoptive parents. But to be fair to all sides, these concerns are legitimate. After all, we’re supposed to be looking out for the best interest of the children. But that doesn’t sit well with an adoptive parent who’s bonded with nothing more than a photo of their (hopeful) child to be. Trust me, we’d been there. Midway through our process with Casey, we’d heard grumblings through our attorney in Warsaw that the Polish Parliament was considering putting the brakes on all foreign adoptions of Polish children. Erika and I went into an emotional meltdown, having bonded with Casey through just a photo and some fragments we’d heard about her. So I truly empathize with those adoptive parents of Russian children now caught in limbo. It’s a terrible place to be, as though your child and your hopes have died.
In Part 2 I’ll talk about what Poland is doing for its orphans.