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International adoption... it is NOT altruistic!

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After years of trying to have a child, my wife and I discovered that we are infertile. Testing confirmed that we would need expensive medical intervention to achieve a successful pregnancy, and the chances of a successful fertility treatment were not high enough for any level of confidence. So, faced with the prospect of spending tens of thousands of dollars to (hopefully) have a child, we thought through and discussed our options. We came to the conclusion that it did not matter if a child was genetically related to us, that it was the value of raising a child, not necessarily giving birth to a child, that we wanted.

Thus we arrived at the conclusion that adoption, specifically international adoption, was the proper course of action to form our family. We have chosen to adopt a little girl from Ethiopia, and are in the process of waiting for the referral. According to current adoption time lines we estimate we will travel to Ethiopia to pick her up in approximately eighteen months. We do not have a referral for a specific child yet; as we have requested a girl under twelve months of age, our future daughter has not yet been born.

We are prepared for the novelty that will result from our adoption, my wife and I are both Caucasian and our daughter will of course be black. This will undoubtedly lead to questions from people we know as well as from strangers. We are ready for those questions, and are even ready for potential hostility from people with hateful racist beliefs.

What surprised us somewhat was the motives that many people ascribe to our adoption decision. We do not seek anyone's approval with our adoption, we do not hope for any kind of prestige or to make a fashion statement or hold any such second-handed consideration. We are not trying to "be like Angelina Jolie." Our extended families are overwhelmingly supportive of our decision, so we are fortunate to not have to encounter racism from those close to us. But many people have expressed that they are "proud of us for what we are doing." They say that we are "doing such a good thing" and showing "a great deal of charity" in "saving a poor orphan" and that our future daughter will be "very lucky."

Without saying it explicitly, many people are ascribing altruistic motives to our decision to adopt. I frequently make the argument that we are not adopting as an act of selfless charity, but we want the selfish pleasure of raising a child with our values. We want the joy of having a family, and we do not care if our child is not genetically related to us. But our families, being generally religious and various degrees of collectivist, basically brush off what we tell them.

I wonder if I should brush off these sentiments as inconsequential, or if I should lay down the law and let it be known in no uncertain terms that we are not adopting out of a sense of charity. It seems to me that I shouldn't care what others think of our adoption, I don't seek approval from anyone and I don't want to start now. But I guess it still bothers me that people would hold such ideas where it involves our lives and our future daughter. I don't want anyone to tell our daughter how "lucky" she is, or make her feel she should be "grateful" for having been adopted by us.

I say that international adoption can be a rational choice. Thanks for reading my post, and thanks in advance for any thoughts on the subject.

Edited by SaskBigPicture
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Well, let me ask you some personal questions. Why not adopt a child in Canada? If not Canada, why specifically Ethiopia? Would you not consider adopting a child from Manitoba, or France? Russia or Liberia? She may wonder when she gets old enough.

Good questions, all. In Canada, domestic adoptions are a provincial matter and provincial boundaries form a legally impenetrable wall with regards to adoption. If we personally knew a Canadian citizen who chose us to adopt her child, we could proceed with a private adoption, but it is actually illegal to seek out a birth mother for this purpose. In our province, there is a waiting list of approximately eight years...to get onto the "official" waiting list which is another five to seven year wait. Plus the birth parents have up to a year to change their minds and reverse the adoption. These are but a few reasons we did not go the domestic route.

We chose Ethiopia for a few reasons, namely that the process is very streamlined compared to some other countries and the pre-adoption care in the transitional homes is actually very good, far better than Russia which has large orphanages with a very low number of caregivers.

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A couple of my acquaintance who adopted from abroad told me that they did so because they judged it to be:

  • the less administratively cumbersome route, and
  • having less risk of the biological mother laying a claim on the baby at a later stage

I don't know the details of the administrative hassles while adopting locally, but a close relative who adopted from India (mainly for race-based reasons) found the process to be very smooth.

As for the second reason, I assume the risk is miniscule, regardless of where one adopts. However, the consequences are so serious, that I can understand people trying to mitigate against even the smallest possibility.

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I had to look at this thread twice because some friends of mine recently adopted a baby daughter from Ethiopia and they're considering getting an older child (7-9) as well. From what I understand, they're quite satisfied with the entire experience. In fact, my friend Aaron now likes Ethiopian food.

I wouldn't worry about what your friends and family think as long as you make your reasons clear to your child and act in a manner that backs them up.

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For someone who loves happy healthy children, it is not at all altruistic to adopt. if it were, all those low-lives screaming to give tax money to orphanages would have adopted. Adopting comes from the selfish love of teaching a child and the joy that having your own family gives.

the fact that the child is a different color should not even be an issue in our times, and if anyone ever mentions it weather because they think you are "so wonderful" to do it or weather it's in a bad racial way, should be ashamed of their stupidity

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For someone who loves happy healthy children, it is not at all altruistic to adopt. if it were, all those low-lives screaming to give tax money to orphanages would have adopted. Adopting comes from the selfish love of teaching a child and the joy that having your own family gives.

the fact that the child is a different color should not even be an issue in our times, and if anyone ever mentions it weather because they think you are "so wonderful" to do it or weather it's in a bad racial way, should be ashamed of their stupidity

Great point, it brings to mind another phenomenon that I didn't mention in my first post. Since we have entered the adoption world we have met several other couples and families who are going through or have gone through the same process. Most of the other couples we have met have been pleasant enough folks, but there is a not-inconsiderable number that hold some tragically mixed premises. For one thing, "Western guilt" and "white guilt" seem to be a common thread among many of the adopting couples. While I certainly didn't expect it to be an Objectivist club, the level of sheer loathing of Western civilization was unexpected. Some of these people seem to view adopting a child from Ethiopia or another poor country as a form of restitution for "exploitation" of the Third World. Some of the couples we have met are also heavily religious, and have said explicitly that it is their Christian duty to "save the orphans". Yikes. That makes me shudder in disgust.

I find it very interesting, and somewhat unsettling, that the adoption community has revealed itself to be a microcosm of the disastrous beliefs that are so widespread in our post-modern world.

Thanks Marty and Jenny for your insights, and thanks to everyone who has asked questions on this topic. I of course have no intention of letting anything anyone might say stop us from adopting, but it is great to hear the opinions of rational individuals on this issue.

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In Lithuania, there are about 350 orphanages(for 3,5 million population), so the number of orphans somehow increases. The only ones who get adopted are blond girls with blue eyes, because their future will be easier because of attention from boys then they reach maturity. That's very egoistic, from my opinion.

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... another phenomenon that I didn't mention in my first post. ... For one thing, "Western guilt" and "white guilt" seem to be a common thread among many of the adopting couples. ... and have said explicitly that it is their Christian duty to "save the orphans".
I've come across some Christian-duty adopters, but didnt realize western-guilt was another factor. Truly disgusting.

I think it makes sense to be as explicit as you can -- with repetition -- in stressing to your immediate circle of friends and family who might think you're being charitable, that your choice of Ethiopia is practical and selfish, and that you're really fortunate such an option exists.

All the best to you and your wife.

And, let's have photos when youir daughter is home.

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But many people have expressed that they are "proud of us for what we are doing." They say that we are "doing such a good thing" and showing "a great deal of charity" in "saving a poor orphan" and that our future daughter will be "very lucky."

You can always try to comply with their views, then see how they really like them. You know, you could say something like "Of course it's charity and we want nothign mroe than to save a poor orphan. We don't like her, particularly, nor do we really want a child in our lives. But we undertake to raise this child out of pity rather than love."

But that's really too confrontational and the child should not be used as a pawn in an argument. So my advice is so what you're planning to do and if other people have the wrong ideas about it, that's their problem. You can state your terms, and you should, but there's no need to do anything more.

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You can always try to comply with their views, then see how they really like them. You know, you could say something like "Of course it's charity and we want nothign mroe than to save a poor orphan. We don't like her, particularly, nor do we really want a child in our lives. But we undertake to raise this child out of pity rather than love."

But that's really too confrontational and the child should not be used as a pawn in an argument. So my advice is so what you're planning to do and if other people have the wrong ideas about it, that's their problem. You can state your terms, and you should, but there's no need to do anything more.

I'm sure some people would get the absurdity of their statements if I framed it in such a fashion. I have been known to use particularly venomous sarcasm to make points when I was embroiled in discussions with irrational people in the past. If I were making the argument five years ago, before I was an Objectivist, I might have gone the sarcastic-tongue-lashing route. But now that I understand my own moral code and philosophy in a much more complete way, I will say what I mean, positively and emphatically. Especially when the day comes that little ears and a rapidly developing mind are listening.

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I'm sure some people would get the absurdity of their statements if I framed it in such a fashion. I have been known to use particularly venomous sarcasm to make points when I was embroiled in discussions with irrational people in the past.

I did not mean it as sarcasm. But looking at how I phrased it, I can see it can be taken that way. I meant it literally. Of course, when taking altruistic positions literally, stripped of sucar-coating, it does almost always sound sarcastic.

But now that I understand my own moral code and philosophy in a much more complete way, I will say what I mean, positively and emphatically.

It's better that way.

In any case, I do see that if others don't accept your explanations, or don't believe them, then it's their problem and not yours (so long as you're clear).

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  • 1 year later...

I have a female friend is committed to adopting a Chinese girl. Why? Because, she tells me, she wants to help a suffering child to have a better life (and she also thinks Chinese girls are cute).

Something to me definitely seems off about this. Something phony or disgusting, but I can't put my finger on it. The way she takes pride in it bothers me to no end. But it seems monstrous to tell her that helping a child is wrong, or even wanting to do so, or regarding it as a good thing.

Can someone please help maybe clarify the issue and give me peace of mind? My thoughts are somewhat clouded here.

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I have a female friend is committed to adopting a ... ...
I wonder if you're overdoing the painting of her altruism. If someone wants to have kids, I don't see anything wrong with thinking "I might as well get one who would otherwise be in an orphanage". And, if you add in the thought: "I get to choose a kid who I judge as cute", I think that's sensible as well. A really dedicated altruist would choose the ugliest -- perhaps deformed -- baby in the orphanage, because that's the baby nobody else will take. Does your friend want to do that? If not, perhaps she's not as altruistic as you suspect. Edited by softwareNerd
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Regarding the OP, I take a slightly different position. Its not anyone's business what your motivation is. You aren't obligated to disclose it nor are you obligated to correct other's misconceptions. I can see it being necessary to prevent undue influence to your child, since its almost inevitable that someone will expose her to the nonsense of others. Even then I wouldn't think much more would be required than "We aren't raising our child to feel that she was a nameless face plucked from the lottery we held to do our part for the world. We chose her because we personaly found value in this person. We do not wish her to view herself as a lucky victim, nor us as virtuous saviors. Do not expose my child to what you are saying."

As to the friend adopting a Chinese girl, if you are in a context where it is appropriate to offer your opinion, it might be helpful to straight out ask if she wants a child, to wear the white hat, or just a cute token.

I would like to add that removing someone you don't know from a bad situation is not necessarily altruistic. It seems to me that one can hold values that support such an action besides "duty" or belief that sacrifice for others is a moral imperative. Sometimes I give a bum a dollar if it genuinely appears to be someone who just got some bad circumstances or was victimized on the sole basis that a human being has potential value and this human being doesn't appear to have done it to himself. I would likely attempt some form of defense for a victim of violence. This would be assuming I believed I could do so without sacrificing any of my other values. Part of my perfect world is the irrelevance of capricious fortune and impotence of the evil of initiation of violence. I act to make it so when it doesn't impact more important goals and values.

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I do know that helping people you don't know is not necessarily altruistic, nor is using that reason for selecting the origin of a child to adopt. However, the problem I have is really in the way she takes pride in it and almost brags about it. Something about that seems off to me. Furthermore, she does often bring up how she wants to be a humanitarian in this context. And if it makes a difference, I will also specify that she talks about it a lot and seems too concerned with it for a girl her age (19).

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Well, if you're the advisor I would discourage if you believe this kid is a token. Also, a 19 year old likely has nowhere near the experience or development to make a decision like that. Honestly, I would probably tell a friend like this to stop talking about it please, as her motivation seems toxic and disgusted me. I would also evaluate why exactly this person was considered a friend.

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Well, if you're the advisor I would discourage if you believe this kid is a token. Also, a 19 year old likely has nowhere near the experience or development to make a decision like that. Honestly, I would probably tell a friend like this to stop talking about it please, as her motivation seems toxic and disgusted me. I would also evaluate why exactly this person was considered a friend.

As for our relationship, I don't want to get off-topic, but it may be relevant as a background: I'm not sure what you mean "if [i'm] the advisor". This person has been a close friend of mine for over 9 years and we share many common interests. We watch many of the same sort of movies, play the same sort of games, do the same sort of activities, laugh about the same sort of things, etc. But we do tend to disagree whenever a discussion starts to become philosophical. Most of the time, we really enjoy each other's company. But there are things I see in her I don't like. These are in the minority, however. For example, another thing that bothers me about her, which may be relevant, is in the way she wants to be admired. One time she applied for a job at a bike shop, saying to me in a similar bragging fashion, "There are a lot of attractive guys there." I replied, "You have a boyfriend [not me]. Do you really think you should be lusting after other guys?" She responded, "Not me after them. Them after me!"

Anyway, as for the adoption situation, even though it bothers me, I'm not even sure how to talk to her about something like this, because I'm having difficulty sifting the rational and the irrational reasons and communicating how the latter is so to a non-Objectivist. For instance, she will deny that she's using the kid as a token, and she may not realize that she is. Also, I'm not even sure I understand this "token" concept.

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By advisor I mean you have a relationship where your input is requested and valued AND you desire to give it. You do not have an obligation to give someone advice, nor is it your business unless concern for her affairs and guiding her to better action is part of your relationship with this person. You didn't mention the context of your friendship so I didn't want to give a blanket statement when someone else's affairs aren't necessarily your's to guide.

By token I mean using this child as though it is an object to signify that she possesses some sort of virtue or status. Similar to the way many famous people use foreign adoptions. This is a human being that she will be entering into the most personal and sensitive of relationships with, not a "certificate of goodness", a showpiece, or a talking point for praise. A college degree is a token you can point to indicating you put in the work and have the indicated knowledge. A quarter is a token signifying value. You are describing this as though she expects to present this vulnerable person as a token of her virtue, for the express purpose of garnering praise .

Not to overuse the applying fictional character traits, but the behavior you describe feels oddly similar to Keating in that she seems to be chronically focused toward the opinions of a nebulous "them". From the limited information given it seems this isn't even a desire for validation from others, because yourself and her boyfriend are "others" and apparently your opinions of her are pretty irrelevant when weighed against the crowd.

As to the rational or irrational, in addition to considering the appropriateness of even attempting to sway someone, it may be helpful to do an assessment of whether this person is rational or not, which may be tough since you are emotionally tied to her. Its important though because you will never be able to sway an irrational person via rational argument, probably not even by presenting obvious negative consequences. Will it ever be profitable to present an opinion when she believes the opinions of others hold much more weight? Consider doing a little relationship triage. It may be time to judge and act on your judgement. How does this person fit into your goals and hierarchy of values? Is the sole appeal of this friendship shallow recreational interests and emotional connection based on habit? Depending on your answers, and a wealth of information only you know, it may be time to ask how much is gained by attempting to prevent the probable disaster you're describing.

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