“Stuck” Documentary

We saw this documentary last night.  I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.  Rather than summarizing a work of heart-wrenching impact, watch the trailer.  Better yet, go and watch the whole thing.  I found it to be incredibly informative, deeply moving, and…dare I say, personally motivating.  And it’s that last bit that kept me awake last night.

There are so many compelling, well-told stories of adoption.  I’ve personally seen several.  This documentary fits into that category, but it’s far from alone.  The question I’ve always had after watching things like this is, “Okay, what can I do?”  A potential problem occurs when we’re stirred emotionally but are unable to respond in other meaningful ways.  When this happens, we become desensitized to the “call to action.”  Eventually, we stop paying attention altogether.  It’s human nature.

I’m experiencing “Stuck” differently.  Beyond the portraits of earnest, loving people struggling on their adoption journey…or the stories of adorable orphans longing for a home, and, failing that, perhaps just a simple hug from a stranger…or the tragic recounting of birth parents forced to give up their children…this documentary hones in on a broken system.  It reveals a system of bureaucracy that is mind-numbing in its ineffectiveness.  It calls out a system (and even individuals), whose purpose is to advocate for the most vulnerable and helpless of society, for not only failing in its mandate but sometimes even working against their best interest.

“Stuck” points one finger of accountability squarely towards The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (THC) and another towards the U.S. State Department.  While the documentary’s expert interviewees clearly affirm the ideals of The Hague Adoption Convention (ex. the elimination of corruption, child trafficking, and forced adoptions), they also cite statistics and examples of how the implementation of The Hague is not working.  In fact, it is failing.

I first become aware of THC in 2009, when we submitted our dossier to China for our adoption.  At the time, I understood that THC would make our process more complicated and slower.  Given its intended purpose, however, I also saw it as a good and necessary thing.  While I readily admit that intercountry adoption is an extremely complex process involving multiple governments and laws, I find the math of these numbers to be simple and undeniable.  When it comes to convincing arguments, I’m a numbers guy.

776398_40868655There are over 10 million orphans in the world.  That’s 10 million children living in institutional facilities, without homes and families.  The Hague Convention was established in 1993.  The U.S. signed the convention in 1994 and it became U.S. law in 2000.  The assumption of lawmakers like Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who helped write the legislation, was that after a few years of slow-down in intercountry adoptions in order to implement the standards of THC, adoptions would pick back up and even increase due to better systems.  Instead, international adoptions in the U.S. continue to drop.  In the last five years, these adoptions have dropped by 50%, from 19k+ to a little over 9k.  The purpose of THC was not to decrease intercountry adoptions.  The purpose was to clean up a system of corruption and abuses IN ORDER to better serve the orphans.  Yet, 13 years after it became law in the U.S., we see fewer and fewer of the over 10 million orphans worldwide find a home.  Instead, they languish in orphanages and state-run institutions, most literally wasting away.  I’d say that the orphans, as a whole, are not being served and something is not working.  Mary Landrieu seems to agree, saying as much while interviewed for “Stuck.”

Similarly, “Stuck” aims criticism towards the State Department for its unwillingness to lead internationally in this area.  Intercountry adoption obviously involves other national governments beyond our own.  According to the State Department, the consistent drop in international adoptions is due to the failures of “source” countries to clean up their systems and adhere to THC, not to any failure of the U.S. State Department.  While there are serious problems abroad (some examples referred to in the documentary include Guatemala, Vietnam, Haiti, Ethiopia, and Cambodia), it is beyond naive to think that our government does not also suffer from its own serious inefficiencies.  The documentary cites some examples, too.  Moreover, it’s this unwillingness to take responsibility and accept accountability, driven by indifference and political expediency, that makes the State Department complicit in this failure.

The United States government throws its weight around internationally all the time in order to get what it wants.  For better or for worse.  Every country, to the extent they are able, does this.  This is at the heart of foreign policy and diplomacy.  We choose to do this in the name of national security and economic prosperity and numerous other aims.  Not, apparently, in the name of the orphan.  The U.S. is far and away the biggest player in intercountry adoption.  The U.S. adopts more children internationally than then next 4 countries combined.  The U.S. is THE major player in this drama.  Pressure from the U.S. gets things moving, gets things that are seemingly stuck to be unstuck.  IF it chooses to apply it.  Instead, the State Department seems to default to assigning blame elsewhere to justify their own inaction.

Rather than limiting our influence to building military bases abroad or securing favorable trade terms, can the U.S. also use it to help some of the 10 million orphans find homes and families?  Rather than limiting my own responses to the plight of the orphans as emotional reactions (however heartfelt), can I channel that into some type of meaningful action?  Those are some questions that “Stuck” left me with.

Okay, lots of words in this post.  Thanks for sticking around until the end.  The “Stuck” documentary will be on its 60 cities in 80 days tour and if it comes around to your town, do check it out!  In the meantime, I’m going to write some letters to my own senator, John Cornyn.


It All Began…(Part 1)

…with a simple prayer.  We’re referring to our adoption story, of course.  It is not “THE Story,” but it is a story.

June of 1999 – Tonight is our date night and we arrive for dinner at the not-quite-famous Novotel, one of only two hotels in town that serves “Western” food.  A Summer Project missions trip in East Asia can be a damper in the romance department.  We’re looking forward to getting away, for a night, from the responsibility of leading our team.  At this time (and in this place), nothing spells “romance” like a dinner of faux spaghetti and meatballs at the Novotel!  We notice a large group of foreigners dining together. Americans, probably.  Clearly, these people are not long-term residents.  Those ridiculous fanny packs are a dead give away.  We also notice that these foreigners all have small Asian babies with them.

“Hey, I think they’re all here to adopt those kids,” I lean over and whisper to Carita, mastering the obvious.

“Yeah, isn’t that cool?  Do you ever see us adopting?  I’d love to adopt someday.  Look at them…they look so happy!” Carita gushes.

“Well, I’m not sure.  I haven’t thought much about adopting…maybe after we have our own kids?  We can pray about it, I guess.”

That night, back in our rooms, we pray a simple prayer.  Carita wants us to pray that God would, according to His will, allow us to adopt.  That is way too specific (and, frankly, determined) for my taste.  Preferring something more ambiguous, I simply pray that God would show us His heart, to do what was necessary to help us know Him better (and if it maybe, possibly involved adoption in some way, I’d consider it).  Only one year into marriage, we have no idea what He has in store. Be careful what you pray for, though…

February of 2002 – It’s a cold, rainy day in Hong Kong.  We make our way from the Causeway Bay MTR stop to the high-rise jungle above, searching for what seems to be an especially hard-to-find address of one Dr. Tsai.  We’ve been having problems conceiving since the Fall of 2001.  In fact, Carita is not ovulating and, after a few months, seeing a specialist seems like the quickest way to solve our problem.  We have a plan, after all.  According to our schedule, we were to start a family last Fall, wait a couple years, and have kiddo #2…and so on.  Living overseas in East Asia makes finding doctors challenging, but Dr. Tsai turns out to be a pretty funny guy, telling us stories about his years living and practicing medicine in Chicago.  Overall, it’s a very positive consultation and we’re feeling hopeful that the medication he prescribed will get things “back on track.”

“Falling behind a little bit in our master plan is okay, but Lord, would you please allow this visit to the doctor to fix whatever is wrong?”

May of 2007 – One of the reasons for coming back to America in 2003 was to start a family.  The doctor’s office calls and informs us that, after a surgery and subsequent procedure, our first fertility treatment failed.  We waited eleven days…eleven very anxious days…to hear that our now-five-year-plus struggle for children would continue.  We wonder when it’ll finally be our turn?  Most of our peers are years into parenting by this age.  Watching as couple after couple experiences what we long to experience ourselves…can we keep the seeds of bitterness from taking root?

“Lord, what are you intending here?  Are you even there?  Do you hear us at all, see the pain we’re in???  We know that there’s a choice here: to trust you or to curse you.  We believe in your goodness; help our unbelief.”

June of 2009 – We are finally finished with our adoption “dossier” for China.  With all the paperwork prepared, we’re about to drop this all-important dossier in the mail.  Our minds drift back to the Summer of ’99 and that fateful date night at the Novotel and later, when we prayed for the first time as a couple regarding adoption. The excitement is palpable and we’re both sensing the significance to the moment. By sending this out, we’ll officially be in the “process of adopting” a child from China!  Thoughts of parenthood run rampant in our heads.  We’re expecting about a 2-year wait…but after seven years of infertility, two years seems hardly worth noting.  Besides, we have one last fertility treatment…maybe this time, the result will be positive!

“Oh, Lord, after all this time, will you finally answer our prayers for a family?  Long have you known our heart’s desire.  Would it be so that this chapter of our lives draws to an end.”

July of 2009 – Spending a month in California sounds awesome, in theory.  But not under these circumstances.  We just spent the last few weeks in Orange County, undergoing our very last fertility treatment with yet another doctor.  The last in several attempts over the last two years.  After this, no matter how it turns out, we’re through.  Finished.  All done.   That is something that we both agree on. There is only so much money, time, and energy  that we have to give. That doesn’t even take into account subjecting ourselves to disappointments and Carita to the pain of nightly shots and other medical hardships.  The doctor calls us this afternoon.  Carita’s blood work is back and, no, we are not pregnant.  Bitter disappointment, again, for what feels like the thousandth time.  This was to be the last stop on the last train of our infertility journey.  This was supposed to be when God would, finally, answer the prayers of so many.  It would’ve been a very dramatic story.

“After seven years of trusting you, submitting to your timing and your will, we feel like you’ve left us with nothing to show for it.  Don’t you think you owe us more than this?!?  The fact that we are now also waiting to adopt from China provides a small comfort, but it’s hard NOT to wonder how else you might frustrate those plans, too, given how you’ve stymied everything so far…”

February 19, 2011 – Recent updates from China put our “turn” in the Endless Wait that is China Adoption at still two years away. Even so, Carita wants me to attend yet another Adoption Conference with her.  She thinks there might be more we can learn. My attitude, on the other hand, falls along the lines of, “I’d rather not learn anything else…it’s been two years already…until it stops feeling like a pipe dream and actually starts to feel real.”  Unsurprisingly, Carita wins that contest of wills and we attend the Conference.  What was surprising, though, was that we sit in on two optional breakout sessions about Domestic Adoption and Fostering To Adopt.

Something was changing within our desires to adopt, to have a family.  It’s been gradual, taking place over the last few years. Having children is still our dream and adoption was a way to attain it.  But, we find that our desire for kids now shares center stage with a desire to see God bring redemption into this world through adoption.  The Gospel is an adoption story, after all. Early on, our desire for kids was our near-singular focus.  That it happened to be considered a “good cause” was a convenient thing.  Somewhere in the last few years, it’s become much bigger than just what we want.

“We’ll check out those sessions about Domestic Adoption…but surely you’re not calling us to do that.  I mean, we’re locked into an International Adoption from China.  You started this in 1999.  Yeah, it’s taking much longer than expected, but that’s your department, isnt’ it?  Surely it’s what you have planned for us all along…right?”

We had no idea that on the following Tuesday, February 22nd, we would receive a call that would change everything…