Born abroad, adopted teens find home in multiple lands

Jan 23, 2012

Americans have been adopting children from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America in growing numbers since the 1950s, with the trend peaking in the mid-2000s. The Soviet Union?s collapse opened up new adoption horizons, with many would-be parents spurred on by reports of horrific orphanage conditions in former Eastern bloc nations. After a report on Romania?s grim institutions, Americans adopted more than 5,000 children there, according to State Department statistics. Since 1992, U.S. citizens have adopted more than 75,000 children from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Many of these adoptees are now trying to reconnect with the places and people they came from. Chat with Post reporter Tara Bahrampour, who detailed the lives of those who were adopted from abroad in the DC area. Share your own stories, ask questions, and give Tara your opinion now.

Hi everyone, thanks for joining the chat. I look forward to seeing your questions and comments about adoption.

To say the least, it bothers me that Deanna was kidnapped as an infant, that her birth family was told she was dead. They did not give her up for adoption. Someone in the neonatal unit probably made a lot of money off this crime. - Post commenter Iconodule

Hi, thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world this kind of thing has been a problem, with unscrupulous people looking to make money, sometimes by lying to the birth mother. In some countries this became so prevalent that the countries shut down international adoptions entirely. In other countries, the government has stepped up its regulation of international adoptions and made it harder for people to cheat the system.

Do you know approximately the number of children that are returning to their birth countries each year and deciding to live there?

I don't believe there is a tally of these cases, since they tend to be done on an individual basis. But The Ties Program, which has been arranging home country visits for 18 years, has seen an increase in business, from 300 families a year several years ago to 500 families a year now.

do you have numbers of adoptions from Middle East countries into US (e,g, Afghanistan, Iraq) since the beginnng of the wars between US and Iraq/Afghanistan? Do you know if such data exists? Thanks!

Good question. The State Department keeps statistics on countries that are significant sources of international adoptions, going back to before these wars started, but the list that they sent me does not include Iraq or Afghanistan. That probably means that the numbers from those countries were low, and were put into the "other" category. But it may be possible to get them by contacting the State Department.

How easy, difficult, impossible would it be for an American couple to adopt a baby from Iran?

Also a good question, which I don't have the answer to. American couples were able to adopt children in Iran before the 1979 revolution, but since then it has been much harder for Americans to get visas to Iran, and I don't know what the current adoption laws in Iran require. Across the board, many countries that are significant adoption sources have tightened their criteria on who can adopt, but I don't know where Iran fits into this.  

This story is sad on many levels and eventually these children will realize that for all their "aloneness" here in the US they are far better-off here than they would have been with their parents. Yet still their parents passed over millions of orphaned children to get to these pretty young blonde blue-eyed things in Kazakhstan, the Ukraine and Russia, which is a statement about them as well. - Post commenter twistypurple

Thanks for your comment. I don't think that the teenagers that I talked to necessarily felt "alone" here in the U.S. Both Natalie and Deanna said they were grateful for all they have here, and Natalie in particular said that being adopted was the best thing that had ever happened to her. For Deanna, the biggest impetus for searching out her birth family was a gut feeling she had always had that she had siblings out there. For her, finding out about them and meeting them solved an unanswered puzzle, but she too seemed well aware that her home is here with the mom and dad she grew up with.

As for adoptions from the former Soviet Union, it is true that the children from these countries are Caucasian and that held appeal for Caucasian couples who wanted children who looked like them. But Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, says that in the past decade Americans seeking to adopt have been less concerned that the children look like them. She attributes this to a growing acceptance and openness about adoption in the U.S. -- a movement from the days when it was something to hide to a time when it is something to be proud of. And as more Americans see other Americans (including some prominent celebrities) adopting children of different ethnic backgrounds, they have become more open to doing it themselves.

FYI: I am an Iranian adoptee (from pre-1979), and since then have done research to find out how difficult it would be to adopt from Iran. You have to be of Iranian heritage (at least one parent) and devout Muslim (presumably Shi'ite). I am not Muslim so I ceased in pursuing such an option.

Ah, thanks for weighing in on this. That rule does not surprise me, considering the emphasis on Islamic faith since the revolution. I'm sorry you were not able to pursue it.

How did you find the two young ladies you wrote about?

In the case of the Hulses, Chris (Natalie's mom) contacted me to talk about an issue they'd encountered regarding citizenship - some countries continue to consider children adopted from those countries to be citizens of the birth country, even though they were adopted, moved to the US, and became US citizens. Natalie, like many others, did not know this until she began looking into visiting Russia, and was surprised to learn she was still a Russian citizen. So I started looking into the subject of adoptees seeking to return to their birth countries, and I contacted a listserv for parents of adoptees from Russia and Ukraine. My request to talk with families led Roger (Deanna's dad) to contact me. Both families were extremely generous with their time and open with the details of their lives and the adoptions, which was great.

Thank you all so much for your comments and questions. It's been nice chatting with you --


In This Chat
Tara Bahrampour
Tara Bahrampour has been a staff writer for the Washington Post since 2004. Based in Washington, she covers immigration, and has also reported for the Post from North Africa, the Middle East, and the Republic of Georgia. She is the author of To See and See Again: A Life in Iran and America, a memoir about revolution and growing up between two cultures.
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