One mother did. Her 5-year-old son, whom she adopted from Haiti, was having temper tantrums. So she had him “re-homed.”
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Last Thursday, Yahoo! Shine/Good Housekeeping posted a story about a 41-year-old woman, named Stacey Conner, who had adopted a 5-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl from a Haitian orphanage. But by the time she got the children, she was pregnant. And after two months, the 5-year-old, who appeared to others charming and engaging, would pinch. And hit. And have temper tantrums. According to the Good Housekeeping writer, Amanda Robb, Conner “felt like she loved one child less than the others.” She didn’t like him. And when he’d accidentally smashed her nose with his head during a tantrum, she’d decided to call it quits and find him a new home.
As if he were a yippy, bite-y pet dog that just didn’t work out.
I read this account with horror—as a human. As a mother. And as an adoptive mother, a descriptor I am using only for the purpose of this article because my child is my child, my heart, my life, my everything. I’ve been trying to understand her mind-set—I’ve read stories about families who’ve adopted children who suffer from severe attachment disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome, and are extremely violent as a result. I can’t imagine relinquishing the care of my child, especially if he or she has already experienced surrender before. But I can understand the fear and the desperation in an extreme circumstance such as the one described that would drive someone to consider doing so. And yet the nagging question remains: If he were your biological child, would you put him up for adoption? You know the answer is no. You wouldn’t. And guess what—that person you adopted is your child.
Each paragraph of Stacey Conner’s story infuriated me more than the last until I found myself outright despising her. When the little boy started pinching her other children, she told Robb “it provoked an anger in me I didn’t know I had. I worried I’d lose it and spank him.” So why didn’t she discipline him? When, by her admission, he accidentally hit her nose with his head during a tantrum, she likened his behavior to “domestic violence,” and said, “if their dad had done this, I would take our children somewhere safe.”
But he’s not an adult. He’s a small child. Children are prone to outbursts. And likening his behavior to domestic violence is not only unspeakably offensive—remember, the child is 5—but also to those who actually live in domestic-violent households. Based on this account, his behavior sounded like, well, typical of a small kid making so many adjustments, especially one having to make way for new baby siblings: exuberant, prone to outbursts, hardheaded, jealous. Not to mention the fact that he lived in an orphanage and might very well have experienced some attachment disorder, though it would appear from this account to be a rather mild case. What he didn’t seem to exhibit was exceptionally abusive behavior. And we return to the question of what would she have done if her biological child had pinched the children she adopted. Or the next child she bore. Would she have put that son up for adoption? Would she have publicly admitted to loving him less? To not liking him as she has this child?
Conner says she’d volunteered in a Haitian orphanage in 2005, and altruism took hold. “The world is a big place with a lot of children in it,” she said, and “we wanted to bring some of those into our family, to give our love to kids without it.” So she and her pharmacist husband decided to adopt two children. But the process was “so slow” that by the time they got their kids, Conner had given birth to a son. You can feel where this story is going, can’t you? “Having a multicultural family was magical for about two weeks,” said Conner.
What she didn’t say: that she longed to be a parent. That she appreciated that he was a just a little kid. That she knew other little kids acted out, had temper tantrums, pinched, and hit. That she wanted him to know he was loved. And that he was safe. That she appreciated that she and her husband and had taken a vow to be his parents, and accept the responsibilities, and were now reneging. I hope for her other children’s sakes that they are on their best behavior. I’d hate to think she’d kick them to the curb.
It’s been seven years since the Conners abandoned their son, and—what?!—they’ve become foster parents. And “by all accounts” the young boy “is thriving with his new family”—now isn’t that deliberately vague? I hope there is some veracity to that claim, for the child’s sake. God knows he’s been through enough.
The Conners’ is not a unique story: The writer Joyce Maynard admitted on her blog in 2012 that she’d gotten a secondary placement for the two young daughters she’d adopted from Ethiopia, without elaborating on the details. And though it appears that most of the families who choose to end adoptions are rare, ranging from 1 to 7 percent, according to one study, it increases tremendously with older children: 5 to 20 percent, says Zia Freeman, an adoption counselor in Seattle. What’s even more disturbing is that there are no state or federal laws specifically prohibiting “secondary placements”—relocating children to a new home. And “state laws that restrict the advertising and custody transfers of children are often confusing and rarely spell out criminal sanctions,” reports Megan Twohey for Reuters, so it’s very easy to re-home a child—which can lead to disastrous consequences, landing the children in the hands of sexual predators. Those may be the exceptions, but nevertheless, the fact that it happens at all is unspeakable.
I can’t stop wondering how the Conners were afforded the privilege to adopt these children in the first place. When my wife Meredith and I pursued domestic adoption, we were vetted within an inch of our lives. And though it was grueling to be subjected to regular home visits by social workers, and criminal background checks, psychiatric evaluations, and submit all of our financial information, we felt that the promises we made to our son’s birth mother were backed up as much as they could be. Here’s proof that we aren’t messin’ around—this isn’t a whim, we went through a million steps to prove we were serious about wanting to adopt a child.
And yet, it’s not such a rare occurrence that a black woman will shake her head at me, a white woman, as I stroll my black toddler down the street. I’ve even been called “Angelina.” I want to scream, “It’s not like that! You don’t know our story!” But I get it. She’s talking about the Stacey Conners of the world. She’s thinking I am some mindless white liberal chick who thought it’d be fun to have a multicultural family as some kind of political statement.
It’s not for me to tell our son’s story, but I can share this: From the moment Meredith and I spoke with his birth mother, we knew we were to be his parents. For life. It was a decision the three of us made together—three mothers, who spent a lot of time thinking about this, who were invested in the decision, committed to it. And we promised her that we’d give him the best life possible, no matter what. And when he was born, we signed the birth certificate. He is our son, through sickness, through tantrums—through everything.
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