Thursday, March 1, 2007

Adoption and HIV

For the past couple of months I have been trying to learn as much as I can (and have time to) about Ethiopia and its orphan crisis. Our children will be two of Ethiopia's six million of orphans. Just two. Does providing a home for two children make a difference? Is it the right answer? Are we helping at all?

Overall, no....I don't think we'll be helping the orphan crisis by selfishly providing a home for two of Ethiopia's orphans. We'll get two children out of the deal - but what will Ethiopia get? Two less mouths to feed. Two more open places in an orphanage that will likely be filled before we even leave orphanage grounds. We'll be providing a little bit of money (but once the money is used to pay our adoption fees it is likely that any money left over will be negligible). If we travel to Ethiopia to pick up our children, we will provide a little bit of money to Ethiopia's economy. We'll stay at hotels, buy food, and stock up on souvenirs for our children and ourselves. But, any amount of money that we have to spend is pretty small in the grand scheme of things. Will this money make a difference? Probably not.

We are expecting to spend a fair chunk of change on this entire adoption process. Thousands of dollars, in fact. I suppose if we took the money we would spend on the adoption and donated that full amount to a charity or to the World Orphan Fund, we might make a difference. We could purchase ARV medications for kids with that money to help them live a healthy life despite their infection with HIV. We could buy all sorts of clothing, medications, and equipment for orphanages so that kids in the orphanages will live more comfortably. If we were REALLY wanting to make a difference to the maximum number of people possible, adoption would NOT be the answer.

Our children will most likely be AIDS orphans. They will have witnessed far more death and sickness than any small children should ever have to witness. If their parents died of AIDS, does it mean that our children will be infected with HIV? No...

How is HIV transmitted? I think a lot of people think that because the AIDS crisis in Africa is so widespread it means that HIV is transmitted relatively easily. But, its not. It is transmitted ONLY through blood, semen, and breast milk. For children born to HIV+ mothers, there is a 5-10% chance that they will contract the virus during pregnancy, a 10-20% chance they will contract HIV during childbirth, and a 10-20% chance that they will contract HIV through breastfeeding. MOST children born to HIV+ mothers do NOT contract HIV as a result.

However, it is possible to choose to adopt HIV+ children; and many would argue that these are the kids who are in the most need of finding loving homes. Without access to life-saving ARV drugs, their futures are grim. However, if these kids lived in loving homes and had access to ARV drugs, their futures are bright. Yes, they will always have HIV. But, in the U.S. and other developed nations HIV is a chronic, but manageable disease. Children born with HIV here are growing up to live happy, healthy lives. They are getting married and having families of their own. In Ethiopia, HIV+ kids would never reach adulthood.

I would love to say that I am strong enough and brave enough to become the mother of an HIV+ child. I would love to say that I could handle the challenges associated with HIV. I would love to say that I could handle handing out meds twice a day and holding my child during blood draws and doctor visits. I would love to say that I could handle being an advocate for my child; that I could handle dealing with the fear and discrimination that might follow an HIV+ child. I would love to say that Z and I are surrounded with a group of people who would be open to and supportive of this endeavor. I would love to say that I wouldn't have any health insurance concerns and that funding ARV drugs wouldn't be a hardship for us. I would love to say that I am ABLE to do it all. The truth is, I'm not sure that I am brave enough, confident enough, strong enough. Its scary to think about bringing this into my life. And at the same time, I can't imagine the fear that must be associated with this disease for those little children. Who holds their hands and tells them it will all be ok? Who helps them dream about the future? What opportunities do they have?

I don't know what our final decision about this will be. And when we make it I'm not sure we'll share our decision with very many people. I don't know if we can handle this now, or ever. But I do know that I have a heart for these children, the children who are so often "forgotten" by the majority of the adoptive community. These are the children who are "unadoptable" for so many people. This has to change. We (as a society) have to make this a priority.

I am reminded of a quote that I read a couple of months ago on my friend Anita's blog ( He doesn't call the qualified, He qualifes the called.


Jenn said...

what a beautiful post! we are working through very similar issues right now. it is so very good to hear we are not alone.

JenniferC said...

We'll support you in any situation. Good luck and thank you for caring.

7,812 Miles said...

Jennifer-thanks! Your family has been awesome in all of this - I'm glad you've been following the blog!

Erin said...

I tried to leave this comment yesterday and it didn't work, so I am trying it again.

The thing about parenting is you do what you have to do.

No mom or dad likes to see their child get blood draws or take medicine, or need stitches, or break a leg, or have a bloody nose, or throw up, or feel sick in any way. But you do what you have to do for your child.

It is true that by choosing to parent a child that is HIV+ you are choosing to have to deal with certain things, and yet you just never know what any given child will require you to deal with.

Our son was expected to be a healthy newborn, and his health ended up to be so complicated that I had to learn how to do all sorts of things I NEVER would have thought I could do (like change a feeding tube out of a hole in his stomach...ICK ICK ICK) and definitely NEVER would have chosen to deal with. But he is my son so I have done what I have had to, and I would not change a thing.

As you know, we chose to adopt our daughter even though we knew she was HIV+. The thing you need to know is that we didn't adopt her because we are strong enough, confident enough or brave enough. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to be her parents.

we are not heros or superhuman parents in any way, and we did not make huge sacrifices or take on massive struggles to be her parents. Yes, I give her meds twice a day. It takes less than five minutes total. Yes, we go to doctor appointments four times a is not a big deal. Yes, we will have to deal with social issues as she grows because she is HIV+, but we will deal with things to the best of our ability because we love her.

It is easy to get caught up in the "scariness" of HIV, but the reality is that parenting our daughter is very, very, very slightly different than parenting our other kids. HIV is just a miniscule part of who she is and what is involved in being her mom. The happiness, joy, fun and eight million other blessings that she brings far outweighs the other litte things that the HIV brings.

When it comes down to it, the overwhelming majority of the time you are parenting a child with HIV, you will be dealing with the "normal" every day challenges and blessings of parenthood.

I hope this all comes across ok... I just want to let you and everyone else know that it is not a huge sacrifice or burden to parent these kids, and you don't need to be strong, brave or confident "enough". You just need to love them, and to be willing to commit to doing whatever it takes for your child to be happy and healthy. That's what every parent has to do.

There will be added issues that HIV will bring, but I can promise that the blessings will far outweigh the challenges.

7,812 Miles said...

Thank you for the comment, and for providing some perspective. It is absolutely true that when it comes to your children (biological or adopted) you find a way to deal with the challenges they bring. And ALL children come with some sort of individual challenge (expected or not).

To me, the medical "stuff" associated with parenting an HIV+ child does not seem so scary. I think (I know) I can handle that. But, some of the other stuff associated with parenting an HIV+ child might be harder. More social issues than anything else. But, I also know that we would find a way to deal with them and to me they are not reason enough for us to decide not to adopt a particular child. And they certainly wouldn't affect how much we love our child. After all, transracial adoption in itself brings a lot of social challenges into the family that we will have to deal with - so its not as if we won't already have some social issues on our plates.

But, they are issues that require careful consideration. As you know, we have gotten some "resistance" on this issue from family members. We need to carefully weigh whether or not we are willing to change some extended family dynamics. I have no doubt in my mind that if we chose this path, our families would eventually come around. But, at the same time, we have to be prepared if they don't.

I keep having to remind myself that this is all so new to them. As if international adoption weren't a big enough issue for them to understand, now we add more to the mix when we think about HIV or other special needs adoption. I have to remember to give them time to get used to the idea and educate themselves about the issues.

Thanks Again Erin!

Erin said...

I totally understand... I am positive that MOST of our family and friends would not have been supportive if we had told them or discussed things with them before we committed to Belane.

Obviously you have to do what is right for you and your husband and I didn't mean to say that adopting a child with HIV is right for everyone, because I certainly know that it is not.

I also didn't mean to minimize the issues in any way, but yet at the same time, I know how overwhelming it can all seem when you are still "considering things", and reality has been so much different than I imagined things when we were deciding if this was something we could or couldn't do.

You are smart to think that it is highly likely that the social issues will be bigger than the medical issues, and yet, in the last week I have spoken with two moms who have HIV+ teenagers (18, 15 and 13 year olds) and all of them are happy, healthy successful kids. Of course they have faced adversity and complications to life because of being HIV+ (much like as you pointed out, many kids do because of being adopted or in a transracial family) but they have all thrived despite it.

For me, it is really encouraging to hear these stories and experiences. It reinforces my feelings and beliefs that I can help my daughter grow up to be a loving, happy, healthy, strong, confident, self-secure woman, who also happens to be black, transracially adopted and HIV+.

Good luck with everything... I appreciate how much thought you have put into all of this and how much info/educationg you share on your blog. Whether you end up adopting a child that is HIV+ or not, you have helped a great deal, just by working to dispell myths and misconceptions and educating some of the people around you.

Best of luck!

7,812 Miles said...

Thanks again, Erin! Your blog has been an incredible wealth of information for me. And the example that you and your family provide give inspiration to lots of families who may have otherwise thought they couldn't deal with these issues. I love that you have told your family's story and that you have shared Belane's story in the hope that it will help educate others. I'm so glad that you have been such a great source of information and support for us in this!

And, I'm so glad you've taken time out of your busy day to read our story, too!

Thanks Again!