Friday, July 16, 2010

In The Eye of the Storm

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!  


  1. Dear Ruth, First of all, I want to know how much I appreciate every comments to write on yahoo board. Adoption world is very complex and I like your ideas to be more objective and put away our sentimental feeling. Do not feel bad about what you write. In my perspective, I never see any "bashing" but only some people who try to understand some unfair comments. Any agency are perfect but when someone come and write about having some problems because what happen last year I think it just normal that some people will react et try to show the other side. Because every story have two sides. Yes we need to be united but it need to be on both side.


  2. Been there, done that -- not with the Yahoo board, but with an impulsive (and thoughtless) blog post. It's an awful moment when you realize that you've started (or contributed to) a big controversial mess... and it takes far longer to clean up than it did to create!

    In any case, your posts on the group are helpful and insightful. The ruffled feathers will smooth out before you know it -- personally, I read over the thread, then promptly forgot about it in the excitement of the referrals.

    Hang in there, stay positive! You're going to get your referral VERY soon, and we'll all be cheering and patting your back. :)

  3. Good post Ruth.

    I agreed with your post on the board, but did not take note of any negative tone, but that must be because I'm with Imagine too.

    In assessing the "fallout" from that particular comment, and this post, I realize that I am guilty of the agency defence as well, and probably slanted peoples view away from a particular agency. I will have to make sure to remain fair in my analysis of either agency. No agency can be perceived as perfect, and these types of incidents allow us to realize that.

    Thanks Ruth. Great post.

  4. I agree with everything you said, Ruth. I know what it is like to have posted something that has been either misinterpreted or the tone has been implied. I had that happen a year ago and I was so embarrassed that I had offended a few people, but I was trying to get a point across that they just didn't get. Anyhow, I too lost a few nights sleep over it. Either way, I thoroughly enjoy your contributions to the boards, so keep expressing yourself. We (both agencies) are all in this together with a common goal of bring our kids home!!!


  5. I love so much about the boards (I don't think Imagine would be back up again were it not for the boards and technology enabling people to easily unite) but one thing is lacking and that is that whether through an e-mail, a blog post, or a post or reply on a message board, tone and intent are difficult to get across in print and therefore, every once in awhile, controversies erupt. Add in the mix that tensions are understandably high at the best of times due to this emotional rollercoaster known as international adoption and it's easy for people to go on the defensive! I have often wondered how I come across in the message board world! It's easy to form an opinion of people we haven't met and what may seem harsh may actually be a dry sense of humor, what may seem hurtful may actually be sarcasm. It's quite a minefield out there!!!

    Hang in there though. I know how things like this eat at me and can tell how much this is bothering you. It will pass over and soon, there will be another unintentionally started controversy!!!

  6. I've lost sleep over a number of my posts on the Yahoo group. Doesn't mean we should avoid posting something for fear of losing sleep. ;)

    But every time I've posted something I've lost sleep over, I've given it a very hard think after the fact. And I don't always feel good about how I've gone about it in the moment.

    Ruth, I agree with you. We MUST hold our agencies to account. I am most definitely not focusing this on either agency and am speaking only in general here, but both agencies MUST do right by children. IMO, one of our roles is to hold our agencies accountable and to never lose sight of our own responsibility as families to act in the interests of children who are waiting for families, most of whom we will never meet. And at the end of the day, we must all be able to look our children in the eye when they are older.

    Okay, I'll stop preaching to the choir here. ;)

  7. wow Ruth... how did you host a dinner and NOT say anything? How could you be so interested in me and mine and I not even sense a smidgen of all of this. You are amazing and I am needing to stretch my brain and heart and be more observant!!!!!!!!!

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