I never saw Philadelphia Story but when I adopted my daughter Lidia my mother would sing, “Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia? Lydia The Tattooed Lad. She has eyes that folks adore so, and a torso even more so. Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia? Lydia The Tattooed Lady.”
I don’t even know the rest of the words, but for some reason that stuck and I would belt out those lyrics randomly and my baby girl would smile, run to me and give me a hug. Good times. Then she became a tween. Parents who had or currently have tweens - I just heard you exhale. You know what I mean - moods that are subject to change without notice and eyes that roll at you sometimes just because you entered the room. Do I hear an “amen”?! Now when I sing the song no one runs and hugs me. Instead I hear a voice from another room yell “That’s just stupid!” It wasn’t very long ago that she thought “stupid” was a bad word. *sigh*
Still, she is my baby girl. And still, it is simply impossible to love her more than I do – even on the days I don’t necessarily enjoy being around her. As an adoptive parent I am thankful every single day for the selfless sacrifice that a birth mother makes to hand her child to a stranger in the hope that the baby will have the life that she dreams for her, the life that for a number of reasons she can’t provide. For the last few years I have been saying this gratitude out loud. I think it is in the hope that if I say it often enough and loud enough it will actually be true. It probably is…I have to believe it is. The alternative is just too horrible.
My daughter is a Mayan Indian from Guatemala. After a successful domestic adoption and two failed ones I decided to adopt internationally. I researched my options and selected Guatemala. At the time it was the only country that utilized foster homes instead of orphanages. I knew that if a baby was able to emotionally bond they would be more likely to be able to transfer that bond. That was important to me. I wanted to do everything I could to avoid reactive attachment and all of the other scary things that they tell you about when adopting. But what I later learned was far more terrifying than any attachment issues.
In 2012 I read an article that stated that Guatemala's adoption system had been the most corrupt in the world for over a decade. News organizations reported in detail, repeatedly, that the country's babies were systematically being bought, coerced, or even kidnapped away from families that wanted to raise them. I used a legitimate adoption agency, I read the social worker’s report on the birth mother, and I still have contact with the foster mother. How could this be true? It couldn’t be true for my Lidia…could it?
I wish I knew then what I know now. And I wish that I could “unknow” that in every human endeavor, there is a chance for abuse. For every legitimate agency and every mother in Guatemala who desperately wants a better life for their baby, there are also nefarious practices and families are deceived or coerced into giving their children up for adoption. Traffickers target the most vulnerable – children, those living in poverty, refugees and migrants – because they are often desperate. In Guatemala around 60 percent of children live in poverty. Criminals know that parents who are poor will have less resources and money to search for their missing children. In a related story, just this month the news reported that a 12-year-old boy was trafficked to England to harvest his organs.
Take Action: It is important to know that trafficking exists. It is important to know that there are those who are willing to hurt even babies and children for a profit. It is even more important to do something. Not sure what? The U.S.Department of State has 20 suggestions to get you started on your path to helping end modern day slavery: If those suggestions don’t work for you then give the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force a call and ask what you can do. But do something. Because I have to believe that the only thing worse than imagining that your child was taken from a mother who wanted to raise her is actually being that mother.
Jennifer Fopma, LMSW, is the Executive Director of S.A.F.E. Place, a multi-county domestic violence service organization and a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.