Friday, 26 September 2014

Orientation Meeting for Prospective Adoptive Parents (Flashback Friday)

The gorgeous image is by Brett Davies, taken from here.

This is a post I wrote over a year ago, and it has been sitting in my draft folder because I was worrying about potential invasion of the privacy of the other people I discuss. After a log time thinking about it, I'm confident that it would be impossible to identify any individual mentioned here, so I am publishing it.

It’s interesting how telling people we were adopting opened floodgates of infertility stories. I wonder how many Japanese couples are struggling to conceive while feeling like they are the only ones. One teacher I worked with who had recently had her first child told me that she tried for eight years, another for five. One of my naginata friends and her husband were never able to have a child. I feel like an interloper in this world of private pain and monthly disappointments. I’ve never tried to conceive and have no reason to believe that I couldn’t. We are adopting as our first choice, not as a last resort after all else has failed, but the people around me always assume the latter. Early in our exploration of adoption in Japan we attended an orientation meeting with a private adoption agency. It was a pretty eye opening experience. Our cheerful responses about looking forward to adoption seemed incongruous in the atmosphere of sadness. At the start of the meeting we all introduced ourselves, and the other attendees all discussed the length of time they had been trying to conceive and the fertility treatments they had tried. After the introductions we realised that the majority of couples there were not potential applicants but successful adoptive parents who were there to help with the orientation. In fact, only one other couple was there for the orientation, which was the only meeting in Kyushu that year and was compulsory for applicants with the agency.
After the introductions we watched a video about the agency that outlined their policies, after which we were expected to give 感想, responses or impressions. There seemed to be an expectation that we would object to the policies, for example not being permitted to request a specific kind of child (age, race, sex or ability). We then watched a second video about a couple whose adopted daughter experienced some delays in her physical development, and how they felt about it. Again we were asked for feedback, and again there was a heavy expectation that we would be uncomfortable with the possibility of adopting a child who may be disabled. When we responded that if we conceived a child naturally we would have no control over sex or ability either, there was some surprised murmuring around the room, as though the comparison hadn't occurred to anyone else. I learned later that the government agencies (CGCs) often prefer to keep infants in institutionalised care until they are old enough to access if their development is "normal" before placing them for adoption; a policy that becomes a sort of self-fulfilling-prophesy since it is a well documented fact the institutionalisation in early life causes developmental delays.  After running through the policies in greater detail and also going over the costs, we broke for lunch.

The afternoon session was "small group time", and we sat with a group of parents who had successfully adopted through the agency. Most had brought their children with them, and the kids had a fine time playing together while the adults talked. This ongoing support network was the thing we most liked about the agency, although we later learned some less positive information and are happy that ultimately we did not proceed with them. After telling us about their experiences the "sempai" parents then asked us some questions and encouraged us to ask them anything. In a slightly humorous moment, one gentleman asked us earnestly if we were comfortable with the agency's policy that required us to tell our hypothetical future child s/he was adopted. Trying to keep a straight face I responded that a Japanese child with two white parents would probably not find that to be particularly shocking news. This led to some questions about race; were we really OK with not having a say over the child's race? One woman explained that while she was OK with the rule when it came to disability, she had difficulty agreeing to accept a child of any race. "What if the baby were black?" She asked. "I mean I don't mind, but other people might be so cruel and I really worried about if I could handle that."

In the late afternoon we merged back into a single group and the two prospective adoptive couples were asked, again, to make some comments. We said we'd enjoyed seeing all the children playing together and that this ongoing support was wonderful. The other couple said they had decided to try a few more rounds of fertility treatments before revisiting the idea of adoption.
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  1. It's the same in North America, but not in Europe. In Canada we're anomalies, i.e. not adopting because of infertility issues, but in Europe, many people (especially those with higher education) will have a mix of bio and adopted children - as we do.
    The pain of infertility is excruciating, but to me it's the amount of money spent on expensive ivf failures that is shocking. A biological child at all cost shows the fertility "industry" to be bigger business than what the much criticized adoption "industry"works out to be. For the cost of 9 ivf procedures (I met a woman who went through the horrors of that!) in Canada, you can adopt 2-5 children internationally, depending on the program you can access or choose, counting in travel expenses, living expenses in country and your fees to the non-proft organizations that run the programs.

    1. I guess the difference is that when we talk about the adoption industry the concern is that the amounts of money can create a supply and demand situation that leads to human trafficking. But yes, I find it hard to wrap my head around the ethics of the extreme end of assisted reproduction, especially when you get to the point of "donated" eggs, sperm and then a third person as surrogate.

  2. One woman explained that while she was OK with the rule when it came to disability, she had difficulty agreeing to accept a child of any race. "What if the baby were black?" She asked. "I mean I don't mind, but other people might be so cruel and I really worried about if I could handle that."

    I am not surprised to hear that at all, and I'm kind of surprised that it was your first encounter with that particular form of racial prejudice in Japan.

    I met one woman who had considered adoption, but failed the interview process because she refused to consider adopting a black child. Handicapped was okay, just not dark-skinned.

    I halted a promising friendship with another Japanese woman because one day when we were taking about the topic of reincarnation, she told me that she would rather die at birth than be reincarnated as a black person.

    And many, many Japanese women have told me that they don't mind their daughters marrying outside the race, as long as it means marrying Caucasian men, or at a desperate pinch, light-skinned Asians. African or Afro-American is out of the question. (Of course, for women from these kinds of families, adoption would be out of the question anyway! Perhaps it's just as well.)

    1. Thank you for your comment!
      It's certainly not my first encounter (you may remember some experiences I wrote about at ), but I have also encountered a lot of discrimination and stigma against people with disabilities, so I was extremely surprised that she began with saying that she wasn't concerned about that possibility.


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