I'm on vacation with family this week, so I'm a little late posting about the dramatic news out of Guatemala, where on July 29 a judge ordered that a Missouri couple return the girl they adopted four years ago. Loyda Rodriguez Morales of Guatemala believes the now 6-year-old child is the beloved daughter practically ripped from her arms by a kidnapper five years ago.
The Associated Press has reported on Morales heartbreaking five-year search for her daughter. The court ruling has given her hope and she is already decorating a bedroom in her home for her lost child. Meanwhile, the adoptive parents, identified in the court order as Timothy and Jennifer Monahan of Liberty, Missouri, have thus far maintained public silence, although independent journalist Erin Siegal sort of claims to have contacted Jennifer Monahan by phone; the woman who answered the phone at the Monahan home when she called would not give her name.
Adoption blogs are lighting up with emotion over the story. Adoption critics hail the court's ruling as a victory for ethics, though many skate over the toll a transfer will take out the child, focusing instead on the inevitable suffering that will result if the child learns her personal history but is not returned. A few commenters here and there have tried to claim that the little girl is better off in the US, with access to education, economic security etc. That belief that "America is better" is objectionable for many reasons, including the fact that the Morales are a solidly middle class family more than able to provide for their child.
Many have attacked the adoptive parents as complicit somehow in the fraud. According to Erin Siegal and others, the child's adoption case was originally presented as a relinquishment, but then the DNA test for the child and the woman claiming to be her birth mother wasn't a match. The Monahans were apparently told about the failed DNA test, and encouraged by their adoption agency to give up on the baby. Instead, the Monahans opted to wait for the child to be declared legally abandoned and then resumed the adoption pursuit.
The Monahans decision to stay the course is being called selfish, unethical and worse. Why didn't they just walk away? Here's what adoption's most adamant critics can't understand: Walking away isn't easy, and hanging on isn't always about arrogant entitlement. The Monahans could've moved on to another baby after the failed DNA test, but perhaps they would've always wondered about that first little girl they left behind in an orphanage. Would the Monahans have imagined five years ago that there was any chance for the child to be reunited with her first family? Probably not. Walking away might have felt like abandonment of the child they'd claimed emotionally. Given what they knew in that moment, they might've thought they were doing the right thing. The moral thing. The loving thing. The picture is different now.
Of course I have no way of knowing what the Monahans were thinking, any more than their critics do. And here's what I DO know about international adoptions: kidnappings are rare, but they happen. After my husband and I adopted our three children, we took steps to verify that the stories we'd been told about their placement were true. Thankfully, they were, and because our kids were older at placement, we had the added peace of mind that our kids could tell us their stories themselves. We were lucky.
What happens now, what should happen now, is unclear. The Monahans have been given two months to respond by the court. The US State Department has yet to weigh in on what is sure to become an international incident with sweeping repurcussions. Personally, here's what I'd like to see happen: First, a fresh DNA test. If there's a match, then let Loyda Morales and Jennifer Monahan sit together in a room and talk about finding what's best for the little girl they both love.