I seem to have contributed unwittingly to a controversy this week. It's not a position that I, trained mediator extraordinaire, am overly comfortable with.
As I've mentioned before, I'm a member of a yahoo forum whose members are Canadian families adopting from Ethiopia. This week, an adopting parent who works with the other Canadian agency that facilitates adoptions from Ethiopia (not Imagine) wrote that a concern had been raised by Canada Immigration as it processed the visa her child would require in order to travel home to Canada with her parent(s). The parent felt that she wasn't getting "the straight goods" from her agency, and she wondered aloud what to do. Several people posted responses, including me. My thought was that since other families with that agency have faced a similar issue with immigration, the agency should have some experience in this matter. I posted that her gut was probably right about not getting the straight goods, and I suggested that she pursue the agency for answers. In addition to appearing critical of the other agency, I think some readers (wrongly) interpreted my post to support the individual's idea of 'going public' with her issue. I admit that I wasn't having great day (in my defence, it was the anniversary of Imagine's bankruptcy, and I was rather grumpy from the memory-induced insomnia of the previous few nights). When I look back on my post, my tone was rather on the strident side; I agree with one person's private comment to me that I came across as rather militant.
At any rate, my comments prompted a fairly significant response...significant, at least, to me! Several people sent me private emails - understandably, all of them associated with the other agency. Some certainly felt the need to defend their agency, and one suggested that I was "bashing" it; a few have wondered out loud about my motives. Others have made reasonable arguments and have been gentler in their questions and criticisms. Oh dear...what a muddle.
Frankly, I've been more than a little shocked by the intensity of the response. I'd have to say that this is by far the strongest negative response I've ever had in response to something I've posted. I'm trying to keep my head balanced, but it's been a bit overwhelming. Yesterday morning, I woke up at 3:30 am with these emails on my mind and, unable to fall back asleep, went downstairs to read them again and start to draft some answers. I never did get back to sleep.
It's never a nice feeling to be misunderstood or to have one's intentions questioned; I've been hurt, angry, and bewildered by turn, over the past forty-eight hours. I suppose some of the senders of these emails felt the same way about my post. For a while I thought about taking a break from the yahoo forum, but decided that I could (at least pretend to) be mature enough to 'take it on the chin' and continue participating. I have a lot of friends on there that I'm not willing to take a break from. I've also debated whether or not I should post anything further on the yahoo forum to attempt to clarify what I was saying, but have decided not to. I am, though, taking some time to respond to each person's email, and hope that I don't make things worse. I am opinionated, darn it, I know it. And I was frustrated. And impatient. And that's probably not a great combination when it comes to attempting to express an opinion without sounding condescending or judgmental. I stand by the content of what I said, but do wish that I could change a bit of the tone of it.
One of my frustrations, generally, on the yahoo forum is the level of defensiveness that people (with both agencies) exhibit about the agency that they work with. It's like walking on eggshells if one wants to make a comment about either agency that might possibly be construed as mildly negative. In this particular situation, it so happens that the defensiveness has revolved around the other Canadian agency, but I think it could equally apply to families with Imagine - though I find since the bankruptcy that Imagine families are a little faster to question things or ask tough questions.
I admit that, pre-bankruptcy, I felt similarly defensive about Imagine. In the 'good old days,' I thought that Imagine was the cat's meow of the Canadian adoption world! I would not have thought anything wrong with someone calling me the Great Defender of Imagine, should anything be said that remotely smacked of something negative about Imagine. (That's a big of an exaggeration, of course, but not too far off from my own internal truth at the time.) When the other agency went through a publicly-recorded scandal in the spring of '09 my reaction (amongst other, more compassionate responses that I felt for the families) was one of relief that I was associated with Imagine. Well, it must be true that pride comes before a fall, because it wasn't more than two or three months later that we Imagine families were decimated by the bankruptcy of our agency amidst allegations of wrongdoing by the leadership team. Talk about humbling. My hindsight perspective is that both agencies sucked last year, and certainly did not contribute to a positive reputation within the international adoption community.
The whole bankruptcy experience left me, admittedly, somewhat jaded towards both of our Canadian agencies. For any Imagine families reading this, please don't mistake me here. To be specific, I have a lot of confidence in Imagine right now, for a few reasons. First, I think that there's an accountability system in place from the board and from the still-involved bankruptcy trustee that was never in place before the financial meltdown. Second, I have seen signs of the new Imagine acting with integrity and I feel confident about that aspect for the moment. Thirdly, I also feel comfortable about its viability as a business entity. But, that being said, I'm wary. On guard. Ready to sniff out the smallest possible infraction. It wouldn't take much to erode my fragile trust. And I will likely pounce on any issue that I identify. There's nothing like a bankruptcy that threatens one's dreams and family to drive home the point that one's agency is fallible and needs to be viewed microscopically in order to hold it accountable.
My motives are good here, people. I am not trying to bring about a closure of Ethiopian adoptions, nor am I wanting to 'go public' with concerns. I am not trying to wreck the opportunities of other Canadian families to adopt. Please understand that I have been in this adoption process for over eight years and our file has spent twenty-seven months in Ethiopia. I'm pretty darn close to finally completing that dream, to being able to begin the kind of family life that I have wanted since I was about fifteen years old. I am, frankly, desperate to complete our adoption. But here's the rub: I am equally desperate to ensure that my adoption, and every one that precedes or follows it, happens in a legal and ethical manner. I'm not saying that the other Canadian agency did anything illegal or unethical in this particular situation - I have no idea what the concerns are that Immigration identified, or what role (if any) that the agency played in it. My point is that we need to question our agencies on both the broader and the finer points and to help each other identify when red flags are raised or questions need to be asked. We need not to be silent and blind followers just because we're affiliated with an agency we like. We are the lookouts guarding the process and my child, our children, the future of international adoption, depends on us.
Those are, of course, merely words. It's easy to say that I want my adoption, our adoptions, to happen in the appropriate manner and to be willing to question things. But I'm willing to put action to it. For example, I support the actions that Ethiopia's Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA) has taken in the last several months. Though each of their decisions has impacted my personal dream through further delays and anxiety-producing thoughts, I have not complained about them primarily because I believe that they are taking the appropriate actions to protect those children we're trying to bring home, and the children that families in the future will bring home. As close as I am to a referral, if there was something further to be done to protect those oh-so-terribly-vulnerable children of the future, let it be done. I suspect many people reading this would be of like mind.
Moving forward, let's not let our personal support of our agencies cloud that objective. I don't think that we have to be quite so cautious and diplomatic about our agencies as the emails I've received would have me believe. Our agencies, while being the facilitators of the most precious kinds of delivery, are organizations: corporations; non-human entities...operated by, and here's the key, fallible human entities. International adoption these days is a hard, hard process to be involved with. It is important to be aware of what's going on and to ensure that we hold our agencies accountable for what they do - don't we as Imagine-affiliated families wish that we had done more prior to last year's bankruptcy? Oh, how I wish I had done something about the little red flares I saw at the side of the road begging me to pay attention to them. But I drove on by, ignoring them...and trusting those fallible human entities to provide the service that I had paid them a substantial amount of money to do and never guessing that they'd take off with my money. In trying to balance circumspection with diplomacy, I wish that I would have acted on the gut feeling I had that if something looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it may just have been a duck. I should have insisted on accountability a lot earlier. With that in mind, I fear that the days of blind organizational trust are over for me. My further fear is that I have just placed myself, again, in the centre of a maelstrom...which is not where I want to be.
* Thank you for the comments. Christy, I think we're very much on the same page!