Within a week after the news that Torry Ann Hansen had put her 7-year-old adopted son alone on a flight to Russia carrying with him her resignation letter, we received a thick envelope from our adoption agency. I thought it was a request for a donation, so when I read the contents, my stomach dropped.
The World Association of Children and Parents (WACAP) is one of two agencies that facilitated Hansen's adoption. That it initiated a conversation with its families about the controversy speaks volumes about the organization. WACAP is renowned for its integrity and rigorous practices. It is one of the most—if not the most—highly regarded agencies in a business whose regulation can be slippery.
While reading the material WACAP sent addressing the situation, I thought back on our vetting experience. Our adoption was domestic, so I'm not too familiar with the protocol for international adoptions, and I wondered about the similarity between Hansen's approval process and mine. In retrospect, like a woman who gets an epidural, it didn't seem that painful. Yet, given what I knew, the connection between Hansen's actions and WACAP's requirements simply didn't add up.
I scoured the Internet for more information. I rushed to dig out our paperwork, kept above Ruby's closet in boxes stacked behind a plastic bin of family photographs and one crate filled with dusty books from college. I went to the computer archives and opened file after file, each containing some part or another of six months' worth of information diligently culled as proof we were qualified to parent.
I was scavenging half-a-year of my life, every detail of which had been agonizingly but necessarily white-gloved, gold-starred and notarized. Looking back, I remember being at times resentful of the invasion of privacy and at others straight-up angry. I had, it turns out, forgotten the pain; to this day I adore the quaint remark, “If I can't get pregnant, I'll just adopt.”
Sam and I had to answer—separately—51 multi-part essay questions. We exposed every aspect of our lives from the time we were children (describe your parents' marital relationship while growing up, what you feel was missing in your childhood and what you would do differently) to how we view ourselves (discuss your experience with counseling, therapy or personal growth practices). They even excavated our sex life (discuss your efforts to conceive biologically, including infertility, diagnosis, assisted reproduction therapies and their results and how you have dealt with your inability to have a child).
We were asked to defend our future parenting style (discuss how you plan to discipline your child and how you will spend quality time with him / her) and contend with possibilities (what is your understanding of your responsibility / commitment to an adopted child in whom special needs have developed following a placement and what do you think being a good parent means?).
We got letters of reference and medical exams. We were fingerprinted, background checked and interviewed—together and individually—multiple times. Meanwhile, 14 women I knew became pregnant, three by the “Oops!” method of family planning. When we finally brought our baby home, we had to send a Personal Letter of Acceptance. “We did review all information about Ruby that was provided to us,” I wrote, “and have no reservations about taking on the lifelong commitment of being her parents.” At that point, all the other stuff fell away. We had a daughter. We were in.
And so was WACAP. They continued to follow up intermittently for a year with additional visits from our social worker, plus phone calls and e-mails making it known they were available if we needed anything. They underscored the network of support. Based on my experience, and though our circumstances were different, I have little doubt that Hansen's vetting by WACAP was equally as thorough.
In a column on boston.com last week, E.J. Graff wrote of two tragedies in this story. “The little tragedy is what happened to Torry Ann Hansen's 7-year-old son…. The big tragedy is that Russia may respond by suspending adoptions to the US.” Already, Russia has temporarily suspended WACAP adoptions, leaving matched children and adoptive parents in limbo. To be sure, waiting to hold the child you've been matched with, who has taken up residence in your heart, is the most excruciating part of the process. But to Graff's tragedies, I would add another—the (misguided) bias against adoption—as a possible third. People turning away from adoption because of misperceptions would be the worst thing that could happen.
In 34 years, WACAP has brought nearly 10,000 children home to their forever families. Of those adoptions, only 1 percent has resulted in disruption. Of course, zero would be the more preferable percentage, but we don't even see that statistic among biological parents—see the U.S. foster-care system for proof—and the media isn't exactly clamoring to cover this story.
WACAP is doing good and important work. But the process isn't perfect. How honest prospective parents are with their agencies is only going to be as honest as they are with themselves. It's tough to vet for that.
As for Hansen, who knows what her story is? I'm going to say she got in over her head—that she was too scared, too stressed or too embarrassed to seek the help that was there for her. This doesn't excuse what she did, and the repercussions of her deplorable choice remain to be seen. It is my hope, though, that people will recognize that Hansen's unhappy ending is not the norm. It's our happy one that is.
To read WACAP's full response, visit www.wacap.org and click on “Recent News.” Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.