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There are a lot of sad stories in the news. People commit crimes, they fall victim to accidents and natural disasters, wars escalate, governments falter: all kinds of bad things happen on a daily basis. But this week, I heard what I consider to be one of the saddest news stories of all. It was the report that a little seven year old boy had arrived in Moscow alone. Evidently, his adoptive American grandmother had put him on a plane to Russia with a letter from his adoptive mother. Simply put, Torry Hansen had decided to send her son back where he came from. “Justin Hansen,” as he had been renamed, was just going to have to be Artyom Savelyev again.
Plentiful reasons were given. The adoptive mother cited mental instability and threats of violence, and accused Russian officials of lying about the child’s behavioral and mental health. Evidently, not long after the most recent social worker follow-up visit in January, there were many more incidents of hitting, kicking, and spitting, along with what Torry Hansen considered to be threats of violence. So, only six months after bringing him home, she bought him a one way plane ticket, and wrote, “After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.”
As an adoptive mother myself, I am not only horrified, but offended by what Ms. Hansen and her mother did to “resolve” the issues they encountered. Honestly, you have to wonder what Torry Hansen, a single 33 year old nurse, was thinking. What did she and her mother expect from a child whose life had been already so negatively impacted by abandonment, neglect, and the realities of institutional life for the entirety of his formative years? Further, there seem to be no reports of actively seeking help from mental health and family life professionals. Artyom never saw a counselor. Neither, it seems, did Ms. Hansen.
I suspect that Torry Hansen had no idea of what she was getting herself into when she decided to pursue an adoption. I’m not sure she had much of a clue of just how much parenting takes, let alone what it’s really all about. Whether we procreate or adopt, parenting isn’t something we receive, it is something we give. Nothing enriches our lives more than children do, but we ought not to have children in order to enrich our lives. We ought to have children so that we can enrich their lives, develop their talents and interests, and support them in learning how to make the most of their strengths and the least of their weaknesses. No one has a right to a child. It is the child who has rights. You can’t send an adoptive child back where he came from any more than you can send a biological child back where he came from. Children aren’t accessories to your life, or something you can return to the store after you got it home and decided it didn’t fit after all. Adoption is not child commerce or trafficking.
When this story hit the news media, I knew I would have to discuss it with our adoptive daughter. Even though she has been home for eight years, the look on her face as I told her what had happened to this little boy was one of both grief and uncertainty. Quickly reassuring her that we would never, ever, send her back to Russia, we talked about what children need and what every family is meant to give. And, we talked about the sadness we both felt for Artyom and for every child who has known the pain of not being part of a family.
I am frustrated by what a story like this does to how people view the adoption process, and how willing they might be to consider adoption themselves. For so many, building a family through adoption has been a joy well worth the issues that may accompany both parents and children. When you adopt, you do so believing that any problem your child may have or develop is something that could have just the same arisen in a child you birthed. It’s not that biology is irrelevant. It is that “love is as strong as death.” (Songs 8:6) Holy families, both adoptive and biological, make the commitment to face everything together. They must choose to love, and opt for one another.
Adopting our daughter has brought great blessings to all of us. Through adoption, we have learned how broad love can be, as well as what it means -- and what it takes -- to truly belong to one another. When I think back to the day we met Juliana, the day we took her out of the orphanage in Voronezh, and the day we brought her home, the words of the Old Testament Song of Songs ring in my heart: “Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. For winter is now past, the rain is over and gone.” (Songs 2: 10-11) May our Lord bring every child to the warmth and beauty of springtime. May God “wipe away all tears from their eyes,” (Rev. 21: 4 ) and may He who is the beginning and the end, “make all things new.” (Rev. 21: 22)
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.