Somewhat lost among the news stories last week about the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, appeared the story about YouTube Influencer Myka Stauffer and her now former son, Huxley. Yes, that’s a weird statement isn’t it? Former son.
I find social media influencers problematic. Many of them love the stardom; companies see money in their followers. The influencers don’t seem to understand the responsibilities they have as people and influencers. Last week, after going through the onerous process of adopting a son from China, Ms. Stauffer and her husband James decided they could not keep Huxley in their home. Huxley has autism; the Stauffers have four other children.
So after “influencing” people about adoption and children with disabilities, the Stauffer family bailed on their child. I know; that sounds harsh. But after understanding the adoption process, one might conclude this never had to happen, and that Ms. Stauffer didn’t understand the responsibilities of adopting a child. Nor did she even consider the message in the book: Adoption is For Always.
My husband and I were among some of the first Americans to adopt from China. We traveled in the spring of 1995 to meet our daughter and bring her home. The process to adopt then was challenging; it has become more so over time.
One thing was abundantly clear then and is clear today: If an adopting family has one or more children, that family has to be ready to take a special needs child from China. That’s just China’s rule. When Ms. Stauffer adopted–something she said she always wanted to do–that notification was in place. She had three children at the time. She should have been told her chances of having a special needs child placed with her were quite high. And, because Chinese sons have enormous status in a country which for decades promoted a one-child policy, boys who are adopted out of China almost always have some sort of special need.
In order to complete an international adoption, families most often work with an adoption agency. Agencies ensure families are ready to bring a child into their home. A social worker came to our house and spent several hours with us and our then 6-year old daughter. The social worker wanted to make sure we were ready, willing and able to care for another child. (So many kids should be so lucky, no?) He asked why we wanted to adopt; the answer was not: it was always something we wanted to do— like a bucket list item. The answer was: we want another child.
At the time, due to our ages and other factors, we were very limited to where we could adopt, even here in the United States. We searched domestic options first. There was a 7-year waiting list at the local Catholic Charities in upstate NY because we wanted to parent an infant or young toddler; we didn’t want to disrupt the birth order. We were willing to adopt a mixed-race child; we would have welcomed a black child into our home. We were told by agencies white parents could not adopt black children–even mixed race children.
China had recently opened for adoptions, so we started to explore that option. Our older daughter loved Sesame Street and thanks to the video Big Bird in China, she learned about the country. Big Bird also taught her how to say hello, goodbye and I love you in Chinese. We looked at the glorious photos in the book: A Day in the Life of China. She was ready for a sibling; we were ready to grow our family. My cousin was married to a woman born in the Philippines; they had two children. We told our daughter her new sister would look more like cousins Marybeth and Brian. No problem.
The interview with the social worker was the easiest step. The blessing of the papers, as I called it, seemed never-ending. We essentially had to prove to the Chinese government we were upstanding citizens. We had to provide a slew of legal documents from birth certificates to our marriage license. We had to open our bank accounts to show we could afford another child. We had to have physicals to document our health. We had to be fingerprinted and a background checked. And all those documents had to be notarized by the county clerk. Then the papers had to be sent to Albany, NY so New York State could verify the county clerk was legitimate. Then the papers had to be sent to the Chinese consulate in New York City for review. After all of that, the papers went to the adoption agency and then to China. We had to get passports in order. We had a lot of time to think about what we were about to do; there were many points along the way where we could have decided adopting was not a good idea.
We also did our homework. We joined adoption groups. We talked to adoptive parents about challenges. We read. Our older daughter came home one day told us about all the kids in her school who were adopted. We went into this adventure with eyes as wide-opened as possible. And we reminded ourselves that there are never any guarantees when having a child. A couple can easily give birth to a child with special needs.
We traveled to China, the three of us. I had spent many hours on the phone trying to find an agency which would let us take our older daughter to meet her sister. One agency actually asked: What will your daughter eat in China? My response? What ever Chinese kids eat! We traveled through China via plane, train and automobile to get to the hotel where we would become a family of four. That adventure is yet another story. Suffice it to say, somewhere in China is a document with two red thumb prints on it which says my husband and I will love and take care of our Chinese-born daughter.
So when I read this week that two years after adopting their son from China, Myka Stauffer and her husband were “rehoming” the child, I was taken aback by the very public announcement and the term: rehoming. We don’t rehome children. Adoptions can disrupt, but we should not use the language of animal adoption to describe what is happening to a child. And Ms. Stauffer has said she didn’t use the term “rehome”. But the media did for some reason, making the story all the more sensational.
Unfortunately, the disruption and the alternative placement of Huxley had to be public and somewhat ugly, because Myka Stauffer had painted herself into an influencer corner. She earns a living being an influencer. She had documented her adoption journey on YouTube. All of a sudden, her influence started to crumble.
This whole situation raises so many questions for me. Did the adoption agency make this family go through the typical adoption process; or, seeing an opportunity to highlight adoption, did Ms. Stauffer get a pass in some areas? Adoptions from China now days require deep pockets. It can cost $50,000 or more. (And no, it was not that expensive when we adopted.) Did companies “sponsor” her adoption journey? And what about poor Huxley? Ms. Stauffer actually said he was okay with what was happening.
The influencer videos Ms. Stauffer made about her adoption journey are gone. BuzzFeed identified the agency she used as WACAP–World Association for Children and Parents. WACAP has now merged with Holt International, a well-respected agency in the adoption field which has been in existence for almost 65 years. WACAP apparently started in 1976. Both agencies should be counseling parents on the what ifs of adoption. What if your child has autism, handicapping conditions? Are you ready to take on those challenges?
Adoption disrupts are fortunately not common, but they do happen. We were contacted about adopting an 11-year old girl; but again, did not think disrupting the birth order was a good idea. Friends of ours opened their home. A grad school classmate and his wife adopted from China. They had no other children. Their daughter nearly died from a heart condition which was not disclosed to them, or maybe not even detected in China. I actually know a Catholic priest who adopted two sons from China–both with challenges; one of the sons is missing part of an arm. Life happens; it doesn’t matter if your child comes to you via birth or via adoption.
Adoption is forever. I never refer to my daughter as anything other than my daughter. Adoption is just a different kind of arrival date. It’s a moment in time, not a life-long label. (And as an aside, don’t get my daughter started on all the juvenile literature blurbs which begin: So and so was an orphan.)
To the parents who have come out in support of Ms. Stauffer saying they too have found alternative placements in facilities, that’s different to me. Those parents still take responsibility for their children. It’s one thing to say: I need help; my child needs different care because those parents still pay the bills, interact with the agencies, see their children.
In the case of Huxley, he has essentially been very publicly readopted. Or has he? Apparently, authorities want to talk to Myka and James Stauffer about the child’s whereabouts.