A while back (quite a while, actually), a reader asked me about my thoughts on Ch*na's policy on not allowing people with facial deformities to adopt. I do have some thoughts on that, but that has also broadened into thoughts about raising a child with a facial deformity, in general.
If you do not live in adoption-world, you may not be aware that there is a strong and active anti-adoption movement. Some of you may have caught some of it on the comments that started on a post I wrote about adoption and homeschooling for another site. The main gist of the comments stated that a child should never be removed from her country of origin to be adopted; the loss of culture is so great it trumps the benefit of living with a family. As you can imagine, I don't buy this argument, though I also believe that inter-country adoption is a third option, with the first two options of staying in the family of origin and adoption by a family in the country of origin being far better solutions.
But sometimes those first two options just don't work.
I think that Ch*na's policy on facial deformities in adoptive parents says a lot about the value people with that condition have in the society as a whole. It does make me a bit sad that if H. ever wanted to adopt a child from her country of birth she would not be allowed to, but it makes me even more sad for what message that country is sending her. The message of, 'You have no value, ' comes through loud and clear.
Now I want to be clear. This is from society as a whole which is different from the individuals which make up that society. When we were in country, I was braced for a lot of negativity. I had friends who had traveled with children with extremely minor facial differences and had some pretty ugly interactions. I had no idea what we would face. Instead, we met some extremely gracious people and didn't experience a high level of unpleasantness. This isn't to say people didn't stare, but when we were walking around, there was a lot to stare at, not just H.
I do know that H. was far more aware of the staring than I was. One of the first things she communicated (when she could really start communicating with us) was that she liked it here because people didn't stare at her. As a result, her overwhelming need to have surgery abated a bit in the time between coming home and having surgery a few months ago. She still wanted surgery, but because she wanted her face to look like everyone else's, not because of the staring and comments she faced every time she ventured outside. It had become a personal choice and not one of mere survival.
I have also mentioned before that both J. and I were surprised that in a very short time, we ceased to be aware of the differences in H.'s face. Once you start to know the child, you see who the child is and not so much what they actually look like. I suppose that is why every so often, once we were home, I would be surprised by people's reactions.
There have been a few times when other children have not reacted terribly well to H. While this makes me sad for H., I am willing to give the child a pass... they are a child after all. Some just need more information and that's fine. I would rather answer questions and talk about it than the child cowering in fear and not interacting. (Yes, it's happened.) But I guess what I want to say to other parents is, if your child is afraid of someone with a visible difference, it is not the person's job with the difference to ease your child's fear. You cannot 'inoculate' them to what they are afraid of by merely trying to have the person with a difference hang around. This is the parent's job. You need to have the conversations, look at pictures, etc. in the background. You need to talk about how the other person might feel if another person acts truly frightened by them. Yes, getting to know people with differences is good and teaches that they are people, but forcing a relationship without any preparation for a child who is truly fearful isn't going to help and is certainly going to make the other child (and her parents) feel pretty rotten. I mean, who really wants to be invited somewhere just so the other child, 'Can get used to her'?
OK, vent over.