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The Joys And Struggles Of International Adoption
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The Joys And Struggles Of International Adoption

Latin America

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Nowadays, people in the U.S. who want to adopt are likely to seek a child from another country. It may be for humanitarian reasons, but it's often just the calculus of supply and demand. It's hard to adopt a baby in the U.S., where most of the 50,000 domestic adoptions each year are of older children in foster care.

My guest, John Seabrook, a staff writer for the New Yorker, and his wife Lisa, decided to adopt a child from Haiti. They were about two and a half years into the process, and the child they were trying to adopt, Rose, was a toddler, when the earthquake struck. Seabrook tells a story of how he managed to get Rose out of Haiti and bring her to her new home in the May 10th issue of the New Yorker. His essay is also about the history and complexity of international adoption.

John Seabrook, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. JOHN SEABROOK (Staff Writer, The New Yorker): Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: And I should say congratulations on the adoption of your child.

Mr. SEABROOK: Thank you very much.

GROSS: When you decided to adopt a Haitian child, did you ever expect that something like an earthquake would interfere with your plans?

Mr. SEABROOK: We never thought of an earthquake, no. We did think of hurricanes, and there was, as you probably remember, hurricanes in 2008 that caused massive floods. We thought of political crises that might occur. It seems like everything bad that can happen does happen in Haiti, but we actually never thought of an earthquake. That was the one thing, that and an asteroid strike.

GROSS: So what did you do first?

Mr. SEABROOK: Well, when the earthquake hit, of course the first thing we wanted to know was, was Rose, our adopted daughter, who wasn't yet officially adopted, she had been referred to us about eight months earlier, was she okay? Lisa had met her in October, so three months earlier.

GROSS: This is your wife, Lisa.

Mr. SEABROOK: My wife Lisa had met Rose three months earlier at the orphanage, and we knew that it was not in the middle of Port-au-Prince. I was about 40 miles north, so we weren't horribly afraid of what might have happened, but of course we were, like, incredibly concerned.

And there was no information that night. So it was on January 12, so the night of January 12 was a very, very long night. And then in the morning we got information from someone who was at the orphanage in Holt(ph), that was relayed through Holt, that the children were all okay, the caregivers were okay and the buildings were okay. So that was a huge relief. And that was the first thing.

GROSS: But the building with the records of the adoption process, that had collapsed, and with it went the records.

Mr. SEABROOK: Right. Our dossier happened to be in the National Archives Building, which is where they store birth certificates, because the government of Haiti had decreed that all children in the process of adoption who were born after 2008 had to have their birth certificates reexamined. So our dossier was there, and that building partially collapsed.

So you know, and your dossier is, as I say in the piece, your paper umbilical cord to your child, and it takes so long to put it together. There's so many different records that you have to assemble. It was horrible. I mean, it was, again, the feeling that, you know, there's no way we can go forward from here.

GROSS: But the rules were modified in such a way in America and in Haiti so that the process was able to go through for you, and when you heard that, you flew down to Haiti. What condition did you find your daughter's orphanage and your daughter in?

Mr. SEABROOK: Well, the orphanage is 40 miles north of Port-au-Prince. So it did shake a lot, but it was a very well-built structure. It was built by an American engineer from Oregon State. So none of the buildings were damaged.

The children were outside playing when the earthquake hit, but I think the caregivers had done a great job of kind of reassuring them. I think if there was trauma, the trauma was in the caregivers who had lost -some of them had lost family members in Port-au-Prince and the night after the earthquake were learning of that, and there was a lot of crying, and the children heard it, obviously.

So I think that might have been the most traumatic thing for the children. But when I arrived, all the children seemed very happy. They were outside playing. This was the first time I was going to meet Rose. So my mind was focused on that.

Her caregiver had been told I was coming. So she had gotten her kind of dressed up. She's 18 months old. She's a toddler. I had brought this little blue bunny rabbit with me to give to her. The one thing that I had in my mind that I was worried about was she won't come to me or she'll cry, or you know, these are the kind of things that adoptive parents obsess on.

And so I kind of knelt down, and she was there on the ground, and she -I held out the rabbit, and she toddled over, and she took the rabbit, and I picked her up and held her for a couple of minutes.

And then all the little girls who are sort of three to six - most of the children are sort of three to six, seven - were watching, and, you know, when I put her back down, they all kind of huddled around her and looked at the rabbit and patted her. And it was just a very sweet moment.

And the children were just so affectionate, so sweet, and just wanted to play. And so it was actually, in the context of this weird sort of horrible disaster, a really very nice moment.

GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about what the moment is like, what the moment was like when you saw Rose for the first time? Because you have to be thinking, I figure, you know, of all the children in the world, this is the child that's going to be your daughter. Is it the right person? Is there such a thing as the right person?

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah, yeah. Of course there's feelings about is this the right person and will she reject me or will there be this kind of mysterious, almost kind of chemical bond that takes place? All those thoughts go through your mind.

But actually, I really felt like it was a lot easier and a lot more natural than I thought it would be. In some ways I feel like the commitment had already been made.

You know, we had been referred this child eight months earlier. The fact that her name was Rose, which is my mother-in-law's name, was - although it's just kind of magical thinking, I suppose, but it just seemed like a hugely significant thing, you know, because if we had had a daughter, we would have named her Rose. That was huge.

So by the time I got down to Haiti and by the time I met Rose, I think that my heart was already there, and the rest of the stuff was just kind of familiarity and getting used to somebody.

But the big thing, which was that commitment and from the heart, had already happened. So it actually felt really very natural.

GROSS: Your daughter, who is Haitian, was given up by her mother because her mother was so poor. She already had several children. She didn't have a husband. She didn't have a job. She didn't have education, and she felt like she just couldn't support another child.

And what you saw when you looked at Rose was, among other things, that her belly button was herniated, which was a sign of malnourishment as a baby. So what are some of the things that went through your mind when you saw that evidence of malnourishment?

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah, the belly button was the one thing. I mean, you know, you - and it's almost like a mark or a scar of something that had happened long before I got there, and it just sort of makes very real the circumstances under which Rose came to be available for adoption and gives you, in your mind, a picture of what it was like for her when she was born and up until the time she was four months, when she really had nothing to eat, and her mother couldn't feed her and actually said that one of the reasons she relinquished her was that she couldn't bear to hear her crying of hunger.

I mean, that sends a chill through me right now as I'm saying that, but you know, it's a very strange thing because it's an incredibly happy moment. You're meeting your daughter for the first time and yet you're seeing signs of this very sad sort of tragic past. And so these experiences and these feelings are all kind of tied up together in the same very brief moment of meeting, joy and sadness, relief and a kind of regret. All those things are telescoped down into a very sort of intense moment.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Seabrook, and he's a staff writer for the New Yorker. In the May 10th edition, he has a piece on the complexities of international adoption and his experiences adopting a daughter from Haiti and bringing her home right after the earthquake. Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Seabrook. He's a staff writer for the New Yorker. In the May 10th edition he has a piece on the complexities of international adoption and his experiences waiting to adopt a daughter from Haiti and flying down to take her home just after the earthquake.

You write in your piece that before the earthquake you and your wife had never thought of yourselves as Rose's saviors, your daughter's saviors. You say you wanted a child and Rose needed a family, so it seemed like a fair trade. But after the earthquake, circumstances changed, and like it or not the adoption became a rescue mission.

Do you think Rose had a - your daughter, who was 18 months - had any idea that she was being rescued, that there had been an earthquake?

Mr. SEABROOK: I don't think Rose had any idea, no, about the earthquake. You know, I think she knew something had happened, probably, and that, you know, some of the other children were maybe shaken up by it.

I think the big thing was that all the children were leaving or almost all the children were leaving the orphanage at the same time or within several days of each other.

Under normal circumstances, only one or two children would leave at once. So the fact that the orphanage was kind of emptying out and that it was happening relatively quickly and that the children were going to such disparate places in the United States was unique and rare, and I think from the children's perspective probably the most difficult thing to get their mind around.

I mean, for Rose, you know, she was one of 24 children. She was one of the youngest ones. So it was like she had 24 big brothers and sisters to play with, and she was very much the baby, and they sort of doted on her. And suddenly to be sort of taken out of that context and put in a very different context obviously has a huge effect on you, which maybe when she's able to sort of articulate it, she'll let us know.

But it doesn't seem to have had a traumatic effect on her. She seems really happy. In fact, she's amazingly happy. She's the happiest kid I think I've ever met. So, you know, so far so good in terms of the trauma of that.

GROSS: One of the issues with international adoption, if the child has already acquired some language skills, is that you don't speak the same language, and Rose's, the words that Rose knew when you adopted her were Creole. You speak French but not Haitian Creole. So what has it been like to teach her English? I mean, she was only 18 - she was, what, 18 months when you adopted her, or she's 18 months now?

Mr. SEABROOK: She was actually 16 months when we adopted her. She's 19 months now. So, you know, her English is still pretty basic. I mean, she's got maybe 10 words of English. She's not putting them together. I mean, she's learning the words for things.

But, you know, for the children that are slightly older, it actually is a very sort of interesting part of the whole dynamic because it's a bit like the children are these kind of Rosetta Stones. I mean, they have the information about what happened to them and what they think about it all inside them, but they don't have the language to communicate.

And their parents desperately want to know what those experiences are and what happened to them and what they can do to make it better, but they have to wait sometimes years until the child is able to, you know, express him or herself to them. So that's a very sort of intense part of the dynamic.

GROSS: Before we talk about some of the history of international adoption, which you've written about in such an interesting way in the New Yorker, why did you decide to try international adoption?

Mr. SEABROOK: We decided on international adoption because we felt that we would have a better chance of getting an infant or a toddler through international adoption than through domestic adoption because of our particular circumstances.

We're somewhat older than the usual adoptive parents. We already had a child. And in the U.S., in domestic adoptions, the birth mothers decide who adopts their children. So you know, as a would-be adoptive parent, you have to kind of market yourself, which is sort of not a particularly pleasant thing you have to do. You sort of write up little sort of profiles of yourself and send pictures.

And my experience in looking around at the websites and seeing who got chosen, they tended to be younger people with a little bit more conventional families, not necessarily living in New York City. And we just felt that for our needs and our profile, international adoption, where the agencies decide, and the birth mothers generally don't, we would stand a better chance of getting an infant or a toddler. That was the main reason we chose international adoption.

GROSS: In your piece in the New Yorker, you write a little bit about how thinking about interracial families have changed. And you say in the '60s it was considered progressive for a white family to adopt an African-American child, but in the '70s the black social workers of America called interracial adoption cultural genocide.

I'm wondering what impact changing thoughts about interracial families had on your thinking in deciding to adopt a Haitian child.

Mr. SEABROOK: Our main motivation adopting from Haiti was that we had a connection to Haiti. Lisa had spent - my wife Lisa - had spent time in Haiti in another orphanage in the '90s in Port-au-Prince. She spent six months there. I had been there with her for some of that time. We had gone back on several occasions. We made lasting friends, both adults and children, who we then kind of informally sponsored through their education.

So we had all these connections to Haiti, and we didn't have any of those kind of connections to other so-called sending nations. So the fact that Rose was black was, you know, less of a sort of primary motivating factor for us than the fact that she was Haitian and we had this connection to Haiti, and we felt that we had a better chance of maintaining those cultural connections because of our friends and because of the circumstances that we live in, in adopting from Haiti. So Haiti was the main thing, and you know, skin color was a secondary thing.

You know, the black social workers of America made that statement, cultural genocide, and it does kind of ring down through the ages. I don't know if there are that many people that are that sort of adamant about it these days. I know there is a feeling, a strong feeling in the States, that there are a lot of African-American kids here in foster homes who need families, and why look abroad when, you know, we've got children here?

But, you know, from our point of view, we weren't as interested in adopting an older kid. We kind of wanted to adopt a younger kid, and there are very few younger kids in those situations, so...

GROSS: You write about international adoption, the history of international adoption, in the New Yorker, and you point out it's a pretty recent phenomenon. You trace it to World War II rescue missions, but you say it was popularized after the Korean War. What were the Korean War baby lifts like? What was behind that?

Mr. SEABROOK: Well, what happened after the Korean War was that there were a lot of children left behind who had American fathers and Korean mothers, Amerasian children, and there was a lot of sort of race-based bias and I guess political-based bias against those children, and nobody really wanted them.

They were sort of languishing in these orphanages, and there was a documentary made about them that an Evangelical couple from Oregon saw -that was Harry and Bertha Holt - and they were moved to go over to Korea and bring back - they brought back eight children that they adopted themselves, and on that first trip I think they brought another four for a couple of other families.

And the news was publicized in newspapers. Life magazine did a big spread on them the end of that year, and suddenly there were all these American families that said, hey, I would like to adopt a Korean baby too.

And so the Holts kind of organized these baby lifts. They went back over to Korea. They did all the paperwork, and the parents would adopt them by proxy, meaning that they would adopt them from the United States without having met them, and then they would start bringing back hundreds of children at a time.

So it was very much born of disaster, born of war. It was kind of the good thing that comes out of a very bad situation. And that was really very important in the whole sort of formation of the institution of international adoption and the way it developed from there.

Disaster is kind of its cousin. You know, whether it's an earthquake or whether it's desperate poverty or whether it's a war, it seems as though there's always some calamity that is the kind of handmaiden of this wonderful experience that comes out of that, and you just can't really separate the one from the other.

GROSS: Now, you write that at first child welfare professionals in America were contemptuous of the Holts, who had done the Korean baby lifts, and of the Holts' approach to international adoption. Why?

Mr. SEABROOK: Because at the time, adoption was seen as sort of the science of matching, that social workers were trained in trying to place children with families that resembled a biological family. So they sort of tried to match them based on skin color, based on educational level, based on social circumstances, you know, class, more or less, and intelligence.

And they didn't think that, you know, matching black children with white families or Korean children with white families was a good idea because, you know, it wasn't a match. And that was the ruling set of ideas in the child welfare establishment.

So when the Holts basically were just saying, you know, if you have love in your heart, and actually the Holts kind of insisted on, you know, Christians, and in fact born-again Christians - you had to be saved people - that was all, that was all that was necessary.

So of course to somebody that, you know, spends their lives, you know, carefully putting together all these factors, to have somebody like the Holts saying, no, none of that stuff matters, you can just, you know, adopt these children if you love them, was, you know, both a radical and a rather sort of contempt-making position to take.

GROSS: You know, I guess at the time, like in the 1950s, a lot of adoptive parents didn't tell their children that they were adopted or didn't tell them until later in life, and that might have been why there was such an emphasis on trying to make it look like a biological match?

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah, I mean, there was a lot of shame associated with adoption because, you know, usually was - the cause of it was you couldn't have children of your own. You were, you know, infertile and that that was something to be hidden and not to be shared with anybody else.

So you know, the moment when you told your children that they were adopted was a huge moment in the whole process. You know, again, with international adoption, particularly with interracial adoption, it's kind of an open secret.

You know, there's probably going to be a moment when Rose sort of realizes, hey, wait a second, my parents are white. But it's obviously not going to be something that we have to sort of, you know, keep from her in any way. It's just right out there in the open for everybody to see. So it's very different from the way it was back in the '50s.

GROSS: My guest, John Seabrook, will be back in the second half of the show. His article, "The Last Baby Lift: Adopting a Child in Haiti," is in the May 10th issue of the New Yorker. Seabrook is a staff writer for the magazine. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with John Seabrook, a staff writer for the New Yorker. We're talking about the complexities of international adoption. He and his wife were two and a half years into the process of adopting a baby from Haiti when the earthquake struck. His article, "The Last Babylift," in the May 10th issue of the New Yorker, is about how they managed to get his daughter Rose out of Haiti and about the history of international adoption in the U.S., a practice he says grew out of orphan rescue missions in the wake of military conflicts like the Korean War.

So if international adoption becomes popularized around the time of the Korean War with, you know, Korean babylifts, how did that catch on and become popular in other countries?

Mr. SEABROOK: Well, you know, it took a while. The Korean babylifts were the first ones, and then Korea became sort of the institution of sending children to the United States and other orphanages became involved and other agencies became involved. Then the sort of international adoption industry as we know it to began to grow. But there weren't any other countries for quite a while until Vietnam. Vietnam in 1975 and the Vietnam War under similar circumstances, thousands of children were brought over in what was called, actually, Operation Babylift, almost exactly 35 years ago now. Then Vietnam opened as a country from which people could adopt children.

But it was really just Vietnam and Korea for the first, you know, sort of 15 years, 20 years of international adoptions' existence. And then Latin American countries began to open up in the sort of late '70s, early '80s. And then, at the end of the '80s, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern European countries began to open up, and then China began to open up. But it all happened not in any kind of sort of well-designed, you know, sort of rollout of countries but on very individual cases by case basises(ph), and often what would happen would be countries would open up, there'd be a rash of adoptions, there would be corruption, then they would close, and then there would be a shortage of children and then another country would open up.

So it was all a kind of catch-as-catch-can kind of an operation without any sort of systematic overreaching control and actually is to this day, more or less, a very sort of higgledy-piggledy kind of thing.

GROSS: You say a multi-billion dollar industry has grown up around international adoption. Who's in that industry besides the people who actually work for the adoption agencies?

Mr. SEABROOK: Well, there are a lot of adoptions in the U.S. - there are at least 3,500. There are also lots of adoption attorneys. I mean you have a choice. You can go with an agency or you can hire a lawyer who will do your adoption - what they call a kind of independent adoption -and that lawyer has contacts, you know, usually in one country in particular, and works through what's called a facilitator to find you a child.

We didn't want to go the latter route because they're a lot more opportunities for kind of corruption, shady practices, bribery. And particularly when you're adopting from a poor country, you really want to do everything you can to avoid any coercion of the birth mother. And so certain agencies, like Holt International, our agency, have very good longstanding reputations in this field. And we just knew that they would never, you know, bribe anybody. So we went that way.

Anyway, so the industry is kind of composed of both sides and there's a lot of money. I mean it's very expensive to adopt children from some countries. Horribly, white children are more expensive than black children. Russian children, you know, 50, 60 thousand dollars when you get finished with all the travel and staying in the country for the required amount of time. I mean these are large amounts of money even in developed countries. They're fortunes in undeveloped countries, and that's where this billion dollar industry comes from.

Now, again, you know, you hope the money that you're paying is going to be spent pursuing in an ethical, legal way, and doing all the required paperwork, but, you know, you hear stories about, you know, showing up in places with suitcases full of cash and somebody hands you a baby and you hand them a suitcase. I mean it happens.

GROSS: There's that recent story about the adoptive mother who sent back the son that she adopted from Russia. She sent him back to Russia alone because she claimed that he was unmanageable. Now, I don't think anybody would say that she did the right thing in how she handled this.

But at the same time, I think her experience kind of illustrates a fear that a lot of people have about adoption and maybe particularly about international adoption - that you'll adopt somebody whose experiences have maybe been shaped in a bad way by the experience of an orphanage and that they're going to be unmanageable. They're going to somehow be damaged from that experience, and then what do you do? And I know, you know, I've read articles about parents who find that they haven't been able to bond with the children that they adopted and it's, you know, a nightmare for them. I'm wondering if you did much research into that.

Mr. SEABROOK: I did enough to have the hairs on the back of my arms standing up. Yes, that happens. And in fact, you know, we're on a mailing list now with other adoptive parents from Haiti who brought some of the older children from Rose's orphanage into their homes and they have a lot of hurdles to face with these children.

You know, I think whether it's Russia or whether it's Haiti, a child who spends four, five, six years in an orphanage is going to have some issues. Whether it's issues of anger or developmental issues that were caused by the orphanage or issues having to deal with leaving that orphanage, leaving their friends and being brought into a family, into a country where they don't know anybody, there's definitely a lot of serious, you know, there's grieving, there's wild acting out, there's a sullen kind of silent pouting, and sometimes it can go on for years. And so I think, yes, adoptive parents do need to really be prepared for very difficult circumstances.

But in the case of the woman from Tennessee who sent the kid back, I mean this is why there are social workers. This is why you have home studies. This is why they have follow-up studies after the child is placed in your home, so that if you're having problems you can reach out for help, and there are people who know how to help. And if it's really terrible, maybe they try to find another family to raise that child.

But you know, there are a lot of options short of taking your child and putting him on an airplane and sending him back. So you know, I think that she made a very bad parenting decision and it's too bad that, you know, that became so publicized, because there are plenty of bad parenting decisions being made, but something about adoption, people get kind of queasy about it. When something goes wrong, they tend to like to sort of build up those failures.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Seabrook. He's a staff writer for the New Yorker. And in the May 10th edition he has an article on the complexities of international adoption and his experiences adopting a daughter from Haiti and taking her home right after the earthquake.

Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is John Seabrook. He and his wife were in the process of adopting s baby, Rose, from Haiti when the earthquake struck. In the May 10th issue of the New Yorker, he writes about how he managed to get Rose out of Haiti. He also writes about the history of international adoption, which he says got started with rescuing babies after military conflicts like the Korean War.

You say that the stories that people tell about international adoption have changed the rescue narratives, started giving way to kidnap narratives as some of the children brought over in the '70s grew up and told their own stories.

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah, you know, it's interesting when you think about it, international adoption has been around for such a relatively short time that the very first adoptees, were those Korean children brought over in those babylifts, are really only now 55 years old - 54, 55 years old -and they are still very much kind of the canaries in the coal mine. You know, we don't really know. We haven't seen a whole life lived through of an adopted, internationally adopted child yet, so it's still very much of an ongoing social experiment.

And what's happened as the years have gone by is those children who were adopted have grown up and some of them became writers and journalists and filmmakers and have begun making works of their own experience, and yes, they contrast quite vividly with stories told about their parents, which were generally seen in kind of heroic sort of rescue terms, the Holts themselves being kind of the archetype of that.

These stories are more about going back to the countries you were born in, maybe trying to find your birth mother. I mean there's a whole industry of kind of recovery of the birth mother and finding the birth mother and then tours. You know, people organize tours, take adoptees back to their countries of origin. And a lot of the stories that are told about them, that is the kind of core of the narrative, that kind of reunion with the mother and the sort of feeling of wholeness and completing the circle that, you know, comes out of that experience.

Although it doesn't always work out that way and sometimes in some of these stories the people are angry when they get back to their countries of origin and, you know, realize maybe that it wasn't what they imagined it would be.

GROSS: Is there a little part of you that's worried that some day your daughter will grow up and become a writer or a documentary filmmaker and she'll perceive her story in a way completely different than you do and that she will somehow, you know, resent being taken from Haiti and will identify as Haitian and want to return to her roots?

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah, I worry about that a lot. I don't really sort of necessarily kind of think it's going to happen, at least not in the way I probably imagine it might in a sort of dark scenario of just kind of rejecting us. But, you know, Rose has a mother. Rose has five siblings. This is one of the things that when you're thinking about international adoption and - you know, Rose is an orphan sort of legally, because she was relinquished, but she's a social orphan. And when you start thinking about adopting an orphan, you don't really think about the idea that, you know, that orphan is going to have - may well have parents.

Most orphans do have parents. And under normal circumstances we would've met the mother. If the earthquake hadn't have happened, at the end of the whole process we would've met her mother and, you know, we would've seen for ourselves that she was okay with giving up her child. But the way things actually went down, there was no time for that. So there's a very big kind of unanswered question in our experience there which will be answered one day but, you know, it's hard to imagine how that will all unfold.

GROSS: So how much does Rose's mother know about what happened to Rose?

Mr. SEABROOK: When the operation, when this babylift, I call it the last babylift, occurred, there was no time to tell the birth parents that their children were leaving because, you know, most of them live far from the orphanage. They don't have telephones. You have to sort of go one by one and inform them. After the children left, the people at Holt who work down there in Haiti did do that. We all sent them pictures of their children with their new families, and they went around Haiti with those pictures and they told them what had happened and showed them the pictures. And I hope that they were happy.

But you know, part of the whole sort of - the other part of the adoption thing is, at least in Haiti and in many other countries, the parents have the option of changing their minds throughout the process. If Rose's mother had decided, you know, a year or two from now under normal circumstances that she was in a better spot, she could afford to keep Rose, she could've come to the orphanage and taken Rose. Maybe she was planning that in the back of her mind and then the earthquake intervened. You don't know. You know, we don't know. We can imagine any possible scenario and - but like I say, it's just going to be, it's one of those things that's going to sort of linger as an unanswered question until we do get down there with Rose and meet her and, you know, as of now...

GROSS: You expect to do that? You expect to do that?

Mr. SEABROOK: We'd love to do that. Because Rose doesn't have a passport, she came under humanitarian parole, we can't actually leave the country with Rose for another two years at least, until she's legal, because if we left we couldn't come back with her. I mean, you know, when that all happens and we get her passport, yes, we will go down there and find her.

GROSS: Any thoughts you want to leave us with?

Mr. SEABROOK: You know, international adoption, I would just - I'll just talk just one second about it as a political thing. It is closing up in many ways right now. The numbers of international adoptions are dropping rapidly. They say by 2013 there's going be only 6,000 and there were 24,000 in 2004. So that's 25 percent of what it was. And the reason it's closing up is because there is no real sort of political organization that supports international adoption. But there are quite a few kind of political organizations or aid organizations that support, you know, issues having to do with child-trafficking, issues having to do with poverty in undeveloped countries. And from those people's perspective, international adoption is, at best, kind of a bothersome thing, and at worst, part of the problem that they're trying to, you know, improve.

So, you know, I just hope that in the future, as we go forward, we're going to be able to sort of figure out how to make this work in a way that makes everybody happy and that brings the various sort of interest groups together at the same table and, you know, ensures that some of these orphans - there are 153 million orphans in the world. A lot of them are in orphanages and have no hope of getting out. And it just seems like it would be a terrible shame if there isn't that option for those children, some of those children, to be adopted by parents who can give them loving homes.

GROSS: I guess that that Baptist group that was accused of trafficking children in Haiti - and about, I think, 10 members of the group were arrested. That probably really played into the fears that international adoption is connected to the trafficking of children.

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah. That literally - the news of that broke on the morning, the very first morning that I went to the embassy in the U.S. I was literally, like, standing in line, hoping for word about my daughter, when I noticed a crowd of people gathered around the television. And CNN was breaking the news that these people had just been, you know, or the night before had been arrested for trying to cross into the Dominican Republic, cross the border.

And so, from my perspective, I was like oh, no, no, no. No, don't. This is going to mess it up now. But, you know, when I look at it now from that - kind of the cool light of perspective, you know, a lot of those people - I don't know about the leader of the group, but I think the other ones were - they weren't bad people. I don't think they were trafficking children in the sense that they were going to sell them for profit.

I think they wanted to do the right thing and they were just poorly informed, and they let their kind of religious and humanitarian impulses take over from their sort of, you know, what should have been their sort of sensible, legal understanding of the situation. But, you know, that kind of thing happens, and that's one of the problems, is you've got all these different impulses at work, and orphans and disaster tend to sort of inflame these things. And it's very difficult to get everybody sort of, you know, to work on the same page and do the right thing. It's just hard to get all those people together.

GROSS: You know, in terms of the decrease in international adoption and the number of children available for international adoption now, does that also have to do with nationalism, of countries feeling like they don't want to give up their children? Or that the number of children that they are giving up for adoption makes them look inadequate in some way? And then also, it seems like some countries have become much more selective about who they'll allow to adopt. Like, China has all these restrictions now - like you can't be obese and...

Mr. SEABROOK: Right. Yeah. Both those things are true, and there's one other thing, but I'll just say that, yeah. I mean, no country really wants to give up their children for adoption, because it is a source of national shame. I mean, you can imagine if the situation were different and we were giving up children for adoption to Russia or China. There would be political hue and cry over it. And so whenever there is a kind of an incident or a scandal, something goes wrong, the country that that child was adopted from tends to get caught up in a political debate about whether or not it's right for this to happen. That's one thing.

The other thing is that, yeah, countries have imposed more restrictions. Like, China has imposed more restrictions on, you know, who can adopt. They've - yeah. They've introduced restrictions even about, you know, how much you can weigh and, you know, the state of your family, how old you can be, whether you can have children or not. And other countries have closed down because of scandals, you know, baby-buying scandals.

Vietnam closed, and Vietnam's been a mainstay of international adoption for - almost since the beginning. Guatemala, which was a huge source of children in the mid-2000s, Guatemala has effectively closed because of -there were baby-buying scandals.

So, you know, it's both that sort of politics of adoption in terms of like national shame, and it's that it's still pretty unregulated and it's still pretty possible to buy children. And when this happens in a context of child trafficking and a sort of heightened concern about child trafficking, it becomes almost impossible to draw a clear distinction between, you know, child trafficking, on the one hand -which everybody agrees is a bad thing - and international adoption on the other thing - which everybody sort of thinks is a good thing, or most people do.

And - but you get into these kind of murky areas in between when money is involved, and it's very difficult to sort it out. So that's another big factor in why adoptions are closing down.

GROSS: Well, John Seabrook, I want to thank you for talking with us, and I wish your family all the best.

Mr. SEABROOK: Thanks a lot, Terry. Nice to be here.

GROSS: John Seabrook is a staff writer for The New Yorker. His article, "The Last Baby Lift," is in the May 10th issue of the magazine. You'll find a link on our website: freshair.npr.org.

Coming up: Kevin Whitehead reviews a mini-box set of Chick Corea's solo piano recordings from 1971 and 1983.

This is FRESH AIR.

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