Friday, August 5, 2011

Trafficking: Child adopted without mother's consent

We researched for months before choosing a placement agency. I asked the "tough" questions. We decided to go with them based on others' reports that they were ethical. They provided Lifebooks for the children. They facilitated birth family meetings. They had all the right answers. We met with our social worker and decided "what we could handle." We convinced ourselves that we would only be suitable parents for a healthy infant. 

Shortly after signing on with our placement agency, the wait time increased from 6-9 months to 12 months. Then months later it was extended to 12-18 months. Then, again to 18-24 months. Each time the estimated wait increased, my husband and I talked about whether or not we should stay with the agency or look elsewhere. Each time we convinced ourselves that it would be better to wait longer and be with a "good" agency. Why take chances switching to a smaller, faster (in our minds, therefore shadier) agency? We will have to answer to this child one day. So we waited. 

Along the way I became an advocate for PAPs to demand that audio recording of the birth family meetings should take place. One more way to keep things transparent. They eventually agreed, and I took that as reinforcement that they were doing this the "right" way.

When we finally got the call, we were overwhelmed. The 20 month wait was worth it! We had a detailed history for our son, and we would be meeting his mother when we traveled in order to verify it. We passed court (before the two trip rule) and got set up for travel.

Once we arrived, we were told that we wouldn't be receiving our son's lifebook until after we got back home. The rain had made the roads impossible, and they were unable to make it out to where his mother lived. But they would do it, we would just have to wait until the weather was better.

A few days later we took the long ride to a "neutral" place to meet with our group's children's birthfamilies. Hours later we arrived and our name was called first. The social worker pulled us aside and said that our son's mother could not be found. We would not be meeting with her. We were devastated. We had our tape recorder. We had our list of things to talk about. Pictures of our son to give her. A map to show where we live. We didn't even know what she looked like. 

At our Embassy appointment a few days later, we were asked several questions, one of which was "Did his mother appear at court?" I had always heard that if the family members didn't show, the court date was rescheduled. So I was shocked to hear the social worker with us answer, "No, she did not." I felt like I had been punched. I also felt I could say nothing. We had been warned that one wrong word at the window and we wouldn't be bringing home our son. As soon as we were done I cornered the woman and demanded to know how we had passed court if his mother was not there. She said she only knew what was in the file and she couldn't help me.

I was eventually told by another social worker that his mother had not been seen since she relinquished him, and they did not know where she was. I asked how they could promise me that a lifebook was coming if they didn't know where she was. They said they would find her and take care of it. They promised to look through our son's file and try to find at least a picture of his mother.

On our last evening in country, we met with the head of the the Ethiopia staff for what was obviously supposed to be a pat on his back. He asked the group about our experiences, and we were supposed to say how wonderful it was. I broke down and said that we were very upset that we didn't even know what our son's mother looked like. He seemed put off that I was upset, and answered that if people disappear, there is nothing that can be done. Someone gave us a picture of our son with his mother, obviously taken at the time of relinquishment. So now at least we knew what she looked like. 

When we got home, I called the agency repeatedly demanding they try to find his mother, as the Ethiopian staff had promised. I was told they do not go searching for families. That would be inappropriate. I told them I was infuriated that one of the main reasons we chose them was because of the birth family meetings and the lifebooks. No one ever said there was a chance you would get neither. Six months after we came home we were sent a lifebook full of people who knew our son's mother. If I had not thrown a tantrum, I am sure we would have never heard from them again.

We have felt wrong about things since we left Ethiopia. A few months ago we started researching searchers. We finally decided on one and hired him. In two days he was able to locate my son's mother and father. 

Some of her story matched what the referral information said, mostly identifying information. But all of the important information was fabricated. Someone she didn't know met her and found out she was struggling and told her about an orphanage miles away that would "educate and take care of" her son. She took him there right away. They paid her a small amount of money and put her up with a job in the same town. She was told she could go to visit him and breast feed him, but when she tried to do just that, the orphanage staff told her she was coming too frequently. A few times when she went she was told he was in Addis having specialists take care of him. The last time she saw him she felt pressured to stop coming, so she said she wanted to take him back. They convinced her to leave him since he was asleep. She saw him sleeping that one last time, and the next time she went to visit she was told that he was adopted to America.

Our son's father never knew she was pregnant. She did not want him to be involved in our son's life. She wishes that we not stay in contact with him. She has since married wishes that her new husband not know about all of this. Some other major things have changed since her son was taken from her, all of which add up to: he cannot be returned to her. 

I have since examined our son's court paperwork, and it appears his case was processed as though he was abandoned, even though the agency knew his mother.

We are sick and still processing what all of this means to our family. There are not words to describe the hell that we are in. I am sure that is also true for his mother. We hope to one day find some kind of peace. I guess I felt the need to share our story (even anonymously) so that people will know there is no "right" way to do this. Even the "good" agencies aren't good. The ET staff is a completely separate entity than the US staff you are talking to. 


  1. Thank you for sharing your heart-breaking story. I have a question for you. When we started the adoption process, I thought I asked all the right questions to determine if our agency was ethical. Looking back, I would have asked different questions. So, with that being said, would you be willing to list the "hard" questions you asked and what you would ask now?

    tamara b
    AP since May 2010

  2. I do not know if the OP will come back to answer you, if the OP would like I can post a reply to keep his/her anonymity.
    However, Tamara, I think you have missed the moral of this story which is there are no questions that the OP could have ask that would have changed the outcome. It was the intention of the agency to lie and cover the corruption in this adoption from the beginning. As the OP said "there is no "right" way to do this. Even the "good" agencies aren't good."

  3. Oh boy, your story sounds scarily familiar. Ours has a few different details, but our daughter's birth mother also "disappeared" and did not attend court. We also had no idea about this until we were already in Ethiopia for embassy. It was, at the very least, discouraging. I am so sorry that you have gone through this. I am glad that you have truth to share with your son when he is older.

  4. This is the reply to the first commenter by the original poster of this story:

    Ethiopian Adoption Truth posted my thoughts exactly. There are no "right" questions. The US side of these agencies have no control over what is happening in ET. We were told they are counseling the children's families about IA, that children are only placed as a last resort, that the family has the right to change their mind until court (have you heard of ANY family losing a referral in ET because of that? That's a red flag right there.), I could go on. That is obviously not happening. I don't think our story is the cookie cutter way that our agency is committing fraud. I think it is happening systemically, but I think each story is adjusted in it's own way to fit the mold needed for IA. I don't know that every case is full of lies, but I think once that line starts to be crossed, it is going to keep happening. Our case isn't a fluke, this was no accident. People were blatantly lying to us in country. Looking us in the eye and lying. I used to think there were good agencies. That this could be avoided by going with a "good" one. Ours was one of the "good" ones. Everyone said so. And here I am.

  5. Thank you to the OP for sharing this story. I don't know if you will see this, but I wanted to say I have felt really good about our agency for a lot of reasons, but will admit, in my heart of hearts, some of the orphanage staff in ET made my stomach turn a little. It's heavy, and horrible, and I am so sorry for your situation. I hope somehow the contact and relationship you build over time can bring some kind of measure of peace.