Monday, January 14, 2013

A Ugandan Adoption Story

Can I share a little story with you?

It is a cautionary tale about an adoption that almost happened and how if we had allowed it to proceed, it would have been a huge mistake. Recently there has been a whole lot of buzz in the (adoption) world about families risking and sacrificing all to parent a child that the US governing entities has not allowed them to bring home... while this is horrifying and tragic, and my heart breaks for the adoptive parents dealing with this, there are things that are even worse... Christian families placing the end of  "adoption" above the means of justice. I wanted to share our story, not because we did it all right and perfectly (and not because I want to reprove others who have found themselves in a difficult spot with an ethically compromised referral), but because adoptive families need to understand the great privilege and responsibility they have. One that can, at times, do great injustice instead of great good.

No one, especially potential adoptive parents want to hear about adoptions that don’t work out… but please read this! And please take time to read it all... Thanks!

The Need for Adoption?
It all started exactly two years ago. On January 14th 2011 we got these photos of a precious baby boy, who was about 4-6 months old. We were smitten from the moment we saw him. Furthermore, we knew he was our son; his name at birth was Ezra… the very name we had planned on naming our next son… we were sure it was God’s plan for him to be ours!

Isn't he amazing!

A pastor who runs a child/family support ministry told us about Ezra and his evident need for adoption. He told us this baby’s aunt had approach him and was no longer willing to care for him due to a violent boyfriend who was basically putting the child’s life at risk. She was seeking out removal and adoption, because she felt like situation was unchangeable. Ezra’s "uncle", (the aunt’s boyfriend) was a drug addict and repeatedly acted in violence to anyone that crossed him. Even the Pastor, who was a local and had grown up in slums, was afraid to go near the home because this man was so violent. Everyone in the home was sick and Ezra was slowly starving, they couldn't get money to feed themselves due to the drug issues that ate up all available resources. It seemed hopeless. Removal from the home and adoption seemed like the best solution. At the time domestic (Ugandan) adoption wasn't a known thing, so it didn't even cross people's minds.

We had several people (about 5 different people) go on different occasions and investigate the situation to confirm the need and lack of options. Everyone who had been involved with helping him and his family had said the same things, "This is the worst situation I have ever seen! Something must happen to help him, or he will die."

This is Ezra with quarter and nickle sized boils on his upper chest,
running a fever and with nothing to eat.

Months went by… the baby was still with the aunt and uncle… I began to wonder if something unethical was taking place. Were they trying to bribe us? Why weren’t they getting him some place safer if the situation was so dire? Was it a stunt to get money/resources from the ministry to get drug money for the Uncle? After a few months of nothing in his situation changing I had an opportunity to go to Uganda and to investigate what was taking place. My whole hope was to clear up whatever ambiguity was present in the situation and personally ensure they were offered options (other than adoption) because I wasn't sure to what extent that was being done in either of our cases.

Some of the things we tried to ensure, or where in the place of processing...

  • His aunt was the first to reach out to the Pastor and suggest adoption. 
  • No one sought them out, paid them or tried to convince them to "give him up."
  • Other options were discussed, including sponsorship of Ezra. He was, in fact, already being supported by the NGO.
  • I did not go to see them to try to "talk them into" adoption, in fact, the grandma asked us to visit prior to her leaving the following day. We went to just verify things and offer to support, adoption was a possible solution, but not the end goal.
  • Everything was handled rightly, with the desire to respect and help this family and give them every available option.

This trip would forever change how I would view adoption, bio family rights, and child rights to be placed paramount in adoption. The term “orphan care” was redefined in my mind from an adoption based approach to viewing the child through the perspective that they personally have rights: rights to bio family, domestic placement and finally international placement in a family best fit for them. 

How I Learned a Lesson
I landed in country and immediately got a frantic call from the Pastor… “We MUST go NOW to see Ezra…” He took me to meet the aunt and grandma, who had just arrived from a village to check on Ezra. We wound up through shacks and rubbish to a hovel leaning dangerously on the side of a hill. Inside, two kind-eyed women welcomed me. They wore torn tee shirts and a swatch of fabric as a skirt. They were honest and real people, not at all what I imagined. I knew that the aunt must not be too much older than myself. I sat on a chair that had a large lump in the middle and I perched on that lump. I smiled and thought, “I am 100% unprepared for this moment…”

Then they brought Ezra out. Someone asked me later that night what I thought about him, I told them, “He was marvelous! Just wonderful in every way!” He was. He was a baby, like any other, but he was amazing to me! I was in love. He had sores on his body was covered in impetigo. But he was beautiful!

I talked with his aunt and grandma… they both really wanted Ezra to be safe and healthy. Grandma also shared that she felt grieved he wouldn't be able to be involved with his culture, extended family and heritage. I felt that, it saddened me too. I really liked them. They were honest. I could see the difficulty of their situation, but also their love and hope for Ezra. It was also evident that hope was not all lost in their family.

Recently, there had been a shocking turn of events in their family. The abusive/addict uncle had beat up a woman so badly that he had been arrested… horrible, but also a good thing for the aunt and for Ezra. He was gone and the aunt intended to stay away from him now. Hope remained. As they told me this I realized that the WHOLE reason they had sought out adoption was because they feared for Ezra and felt hopeless, but not because they didn’t want to raise him. I knew we must allow them to sort out all these details in their time and with the freedom to make choices for Ezra however they felt best. And for us, that meant walking away and leaving it alone.

The Happy Ending
That night I went back and a dear friend prayed with me for over an hour… mainly that the will of God would be done in Ezra’s little life and that we would respond in obedience and grace with whatever took place. The door closed. All I really wanted for amazing little Ezra was a family who loved him and cared the best they could for him… and he already had that, they just needed support doing it!

During that time we had people advise us we should take Ezra by force, we should bribe them, we should get the law involved, we were told we needed to make a case to them and try to convince them why we would be “a better family” for Ezra. While, that seemed tempting for a moment, we also knew that this wasn’t the reason we were seeking to adopt. I remember thinking very clearly, "Perhaps God had us learn about Ezra NOT to adopt him, but to ensure that his family was given a chance to care for him, with some help. What if another family had be referred him, would they have been willing to "fight for him" to adopt him wrongfully?" I know if I hadn’t met Ezra and his family we wouldn’t have had the perspective that these people were REAL people who had all the love and motivation in the world to raise up their nephew, even if they lacked the resources.

About six months later, while I was back in Uganda bringing home our other kids, through a series of sort of amazing events I literally bumped into the Pastor (in a city with a greater population than my home state, yeah.) He told me the sweet news about what had transpired for Ezra and his family. He said, "It is really a good thing. The aunt was able to not live with her bad husband any longer, he is gone. They are safe now. I look in on Ezra, he is doing better and is growing some. They are glad that you came, because it helped other family members to realize how bad a state they were in, and now the family is helping them... if you had not come, they would never have taken such note of Ezra." God had used us in Ezra's life, but not to adopt him, but to help him maintain his birth family! 

Family Preservation & Adoption
In Uganda (and I assume around the world) there are kids who need to be adopted, but there are some who don’t, yet still reside in orphanages. Some just have complications in their families that need time to resolve themselves. Those families needs to be supported, not torn up and hindered from doing what God has entrusted them to do… raise their child. Unfortunately, often, adoption is what tears up families who just need time and support. 

There is a great misunderstanding that most adoptive families have prior to adoption; adoption solves the problems of poverty.

Poverty doesn’t mean lack of love.
Poverty doesn’t disqualify from parenting.
Poverty does mean others in the family can’t or won’t care for a child.

I was always really curious when I met fellow adoptive parents in Uganda who were adopting children with known mothers and fathers, and siblings. I wondered if adoption really was the last resort for this child, and why... or were they simply adopted because they had been placed in an institution for some time and no one had bothered to seek out other options for them? Furthermore, when an adoptive family adopts a child with known biological family this is not only an injustice to that child and family, but to the child who doesn’t have known or willing family members and doesn't get to be adopted because other children are adopted in their place.

To this day, Ezra lives with his aunt, is cared for, provided medicines, food and in the future schooling via a family preservation sponsorship program. There are many programs in Uganda that promote and protect FAMILY... but not enough. Oddly, instead of promoting, supporting and making more family preservation ministries, donors in the western world are coming over to Uganda (and I assume other African nations) and stacking up more and more unnecessary and poorly run orphanages. While good temporary homes are needed for some children, more need to have their family of origin assisted. We don't need to take kids away from families, we need to support them in keeping their kids!

This is Ezra one year ago.
I love how his aunt is looking at him.

The Front Line Against Wrongful Adoptions… Adoptive Parents
You, adoptive parent, must OWN the adoption you participate in!

You must be on the front line, make hard choices and even walk away from a child you are smitten with because it is the right thing to do for everyone involved!

You must do this on your own and not rely on agencies, baby homes or lawyers to make this call for you and your potential child! You must refuse to work with people and places who are using orphans to fund their lifestyles.

God has called you to family preservation just as much as He has called you to adoption. They go hand in hand.

We are so thankful to have seen such a perfect case right before our very eyes of what families CAN do, despite all odds to care for and protect their children... when we step back and give them the chance and tools to do it!


Resources for Family Preservation and Sponsorship Programs 
That Support Children In Their Families:


Ali said...

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!! Being infertile I have known for a while we would be adopting. The past year has been full of educating ourselves and prayer. We are actually knocking on a door of an international job for my husband in Zambia (he spent time there before, and I spent time in Cameroon so Africa has always been on our hearts) ... but we have never felt peace about adopting a child whose family want them but just needs support in parenting. This is one big reason we want to move to Africa - to be support to families and to support true orphans and if God opens a door we want to be willing to adopt. It is a challenge to give up dreams (for me of having a young baby) and allow God to open our heart to WHATEVER He wants - even if that means we never have children to call our own. I really needed to hear this tonight.

Ali said...

Thank you so much! This is exactly what I needed to hear tonight. We are in the process of applying for international teaching possitions in Zambia (my husband spent time there a few years ago) ... we cannot have biological children but we have never felt right about adopting children who have families that want them but just need support. So we are stepping out in faith, giving up our desire for children to call our own. We want to support needy families and help true orphans and if God leads we may adopt - but we know that cannot be our goal. Adoption should NEVER be about finding a child for a family - but finding a family for a child who truly has no other options. We also wanted to move to Africa because IF we ended up adopting we didn't want to rip a child out of everthing they know. But this is really hard, and on a day like this when a close friend of mine just gave birth to a baby and my heart is just aching for one too ... I just really needed to hear this reminder. It isn't about me.

GeonHui's Bakery said...

Wow! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! This needs said again and again.

Nancy @ Ordinary Miracles & The Crazy 10 said...

What a WONDERFUL post. And a wonderful series of events that now can be shared and have impact on many others. Thank you for sharing your story!

Athalie Miller said...

Hi Marci!

I stumbled across your blog while searching for stories of people who have adopted from Uganda. I haven't read anything about "independent adoptions" before and am curious if I could email you to find out more about how it works. There is an agency in our city that does Ugandan adoptions, but it is solo expensive. If you'd be willing to chat, I would so love it! Thanks for sharing your beautiful family!


Marci said...

Athalie (what a lovely name btw), I'd love to chat... can you leave me your email in a comment? It will not be published and I will just trash the comment. What I would say is that independent adoption is most likely not going to be an option by July 2014... but no one is really sure exactly how the new changes will effect things. All that to say at this time it is probably wisest to work with an agency that is well known for making ethical adoptions their focus. And... most agencies working in Uganda aren't doing that right now. :-( Sad, but I am pretty convinced of this. I would love to share with you some ideas however.

Jess said...


Jen said...

What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing it with the world! We are just beginning the journey to adopt internationally, and this was exactly what I needed to learn. You've opened my eyes to a new reality of what can happen, and I am so grateful for that.