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The Joys And Struggles Of International Adoption

Writer John Seabrook was in the process of adopting a baby girl from Haitin when the country was hit by the massive earthquake in January. He writes about his own experience with international adoption -- and the history and perils of the practice -- in The New Yorker.


Other segments from the episode on May 13, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 13, 2010: Interview with John Seabrook; Review of Chick Corea's CD box set "Solo Piano."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
The Joys and Struggles of International Adoption


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Nowadays, people in the U.S. who want to adopt are likely to seek a
child from another country. It may be for humanitarian reasons, but it's
often just the calculus of supply and demand. It's hard to adopt a baby
in the U.S., where most of the 50,000 domestic adoptions each year are
of older children in foster care.

My guest, John Seabrook, a staff writer for the New Yorker, and his wife
Lisa, decided to adopt a child from Haiti. They were about two and a
half years into the process, and the child they were trying to adopt,
Rose, was a toddler, when the earthquake struck. Seabrook tells a story
of how he managed to get Rose out of Haiti and bring her to her new home
in the May 10th issue of the New Yorker. His essay is also about the
history and complexity of international adoption.

John Seabrook, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. JOHN SEABROOK (Staff Writer, The New Yorker): Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: And I should say congratulations on the adoption of your child.

Mr. SEABROOK: Thank you very much.

GROSS: When you decided to adopt a Haitian child, did you ever expect
that something like an earthquake would interfere with your plans?

Mr. SEABROOK: We never thought of an earthquake, no. We did think of
hurricanes, and there was, as you probably remember, hurricanes in 2008
that caused massive floods. We thought of political crises that might
occur. It seems like everything bad that can happen does happen in
Haiti, but we actually never thought of an earthquake. That was the one
thing, that and an asteroid strike.

GROSS: So what did you do first?

Mr. SEABROOK: Well, when the earthquake hit, of course the first thing
we wanted to know was, was Rose, our adopted daughter, who wasn't yet
officially adopted, she had been referred to us about eight months
earlier, was she okay? Lisa had met her in October, so three months

GROSS: This is your wife, Lisa.

Mr. SEABROOK: My wife Lisa had met Rose three months earlier at the
orphanage, and we knew that it was not in the middle of Port-au-Prince.
I was about 40 miles north, so we weren't horribly afraid of what might
have happened, but of course we were, like, incredibly concerned.

And there was no information that night. So it was on January 12, so the
night of January 12 was a very, very long night. And then in the morning
we got information from someone who was at the orphanage in Holt(ph),
that was relayed through Holt, that the children were all okay, the
caregivers were okay and the buildings were okay. So that was a huge
relief. And that was the first thing.

GROSS: But the building with the records of the adoption process, that
had collapsed, and with it went the records.

Mr. SEABROOK: Right. Our dossier happened to be in the National Archives
Building, which is where they store birth certificates, because the
government of Haiti had decreed that all children in the process of
adoption who were born after 2008 had to have their birth certificates
reexamined. So our dossier was there, and that building partially

So you know, and your dossier is, as I say in the piece, your paper
umbilical cord to your child, and it takes so long to put it together.
There's so many different records that you have to assemble. It was
horrible. I mean, it was, again, the feeling that, you know, there's no
way we can go forward from here.

GROSS: But the rules were modified in such a way in America and in Haiti
so that the process was able to go through for you, and when you heard
that, you flew down to Haiti. What condition did you find your
daughter's orphanage and your daughter in?

Mr. SEABROOK: Well, the orphanage is 40 miles north of Port-au-Prince.
So it did shake a lot, but it was a very well-built structure. It was
built by an American engineer from Oregon State. So none of the
buildings were damaged.

The children were outside playing when the earthquake hit, but I think
the caregivers had done a great job of kind of reassuring them. I think
if there was trauma, the trauma was in the caregivers who had lost -
some of them had lost family members in Port-au-Prince and the night
after the earthquake were learning of that, and there was a lot of
crying, and the children heard it, obviously.

So I think that might have been the most traumatic thing for the
children. But when I arrived, all the children seemed very happy. They
were outside playing. This was the first time I was going to meet Rose.
So my mind was focused on that.

Her caregiver had been told I was coming. So she had gotten her kind of
dressed up. She's 18 months old. She's a toddler. I had brought this
little blue bunny rabbit with me to give to her. The one thing that I
had in my mind that I was worried about was she won't come to me or
she'll cry, or you know, these are the kind of things that adoptive
parents obsess on.

And so I kind of knelt down, and she was there on the ground, and she -
I held out the rabbit, and she toddled over, and she took the rabbit,
and I picked her up and held her for a couple of minutes.

And then all the little girls who are sort of three to six - most of the
children are sort of three to six, seven - were watching, and, you know,
when I put her back down, they all kind of huddled around her and looked
at the rabbit and patted her. And it was just a very sweet moment.

And the children were just so affectionate, so sweet, and just wanted to
play. And so it was actually, in the context of this weird sort of
horrible disaster, a really very nice moment.

GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about what the moment is like, what the
moment was like when you saw Rose for the first time? Because you have
to be thinking, I figure, you know, of all the children in the world,
this is the child that's going to be your daughter. Is it the right
person? Is there such a thing as the right person?

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah, yeah. Of course there's feelings about is this the
right person and will she reject me or will there be this kind of
mysterious, almost kind of chemical bond that takes place? All those
thoughts go through your mind.

But actually, I really felt like it was a lot easier and a lot more
natural than I thought it would be. In some ways I feel like the
commitment had already been made.

You know, we had been referred this child eight months earlier. The fact
that her name was Rose, which is my mother-in-law's name, was - although
it's just kind of magical thinking, I suppose, but it just seemed like a
hugely significant thing, you know, because if we had had a daughter, we
would have named her Rose. That was huge.

So by the time I got down to Haiti and by the time I met Rose, I think
that my heart was already there, and the rest of the stuff was just kind
of familiarity and getting used to somebody.

But the big thing, which was that commitment and from the heart, had
already happened. So it actually felt really very natural.

GROSS: Your daughter, who is Haitian, was given up by her mother because
her mother was so poor. She already had several children. She didn't
have a husband. She didn't have a job. She didn't have education, and
she felt like she just couldn't support another child.

And what you saw when you looked at Rose was, among other things, that
her belly button was herniated, which was a sign of malnourishment as a
baby. So what are some of the things that went through your mind when
you saw that evidence of malnourishment?

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah, the belly button was the one thing. I mean, you
know, you - and it's almost like a mark or a scar of something that had
happened long before I got there, and it just sort of makes very real
the circumstances under which Rose came to be available for adoption and
gives you, in your mind, a picture of what it was like for her when she
was born and up until the time she was four months, when she really had
nothing to eat, and her mother couldn't feed her and actually said that
one of the reasons she relinquished her was that she couldn't bear to
hear her crying of hunger.

I mean, that sends a chill through me right now as I'm saying that, but
you know, it's a very strange thing because it's an incredibly happy
moment. You're meeting your daughter for the first time and yet you're
seeing signs of this very sad sort of tragic past. And so these
experiences and these feelings are all kind of tied up together in the
same very brief moment of meeting, joy and sadness, relief and a kind of
regret. All those things are telescoped down into a very sort of intense

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Seabrook, and he's a
staff writer for the New Yorker. In the May 10th edition, he has a piece
on the complexities of international adoption and his experiences
adopting a daughter from Haiti and bringing her home right after the
earthquake. Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some
more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Seabrook. He's a
staff writer for the New Yorker. In the May 10th edition he has a piece
on the complexities of international adoption and his experiences
waiting to adopt a daughter from Haiti and flying down to take her home
just after the earthquake.

You write in your piece that before the earthquake you and your wife had
never thought of yourselves as Rose's saviors, your daughter's saviors.
You say you wanted a child and Rose needed a family, so it seemed like a
fair trade. But after the earthquake, circumstances changed, and like it
or not the adoption became a rescue mission.

Do you think Rose had a - your daughter, who was 18 months - had any
idea that she was being rescued, that there had been an earthquake?

Mr. SEABROOK: I don't think Rose had any idea, no, about the earthquake.
You know, I think she knew something had happened, probably, and that,
you know, some of the other children were maybe shaken up by it.

I think the big thing was that all the children were leaving or almost
all the children were leaving the orphanage at the same time or within
several days of each other.

Under normal circumstances, only one or two children would leave at
once. So the fact that the orphanage was kind of emptying out and that
it was happening relatively quickly and that the children were going to
such disparate places in the United States was unique and rare, and I
think from the children's perspective probably the most difficult thing
to get their mind around.

I mean, for Rose, you know, she was one of 24 children. She was one of
the youngest ones. So it was like she had 24 big brothers and sisters to
play with, and she was very much the baby, and they sort of doted on
her. And suddenly to be sort of taken out of that context and put in a
very different context obviously has a huge effect on you, which maybe
when she's able to sort of articulate it, she'll let us know.

But it doesn't seem to have had a traumatic effect on her. She seems
really happy. In fact, she's amazingly happy. She's the happiest kid I
think I've ever met. So, you know, so far so good in terms of the trauma
of that.

GROSS: One of the issues with international adoption, if the child has
already acquired some language skills, is that you don't speak the same
language, and Rose's, the words that Rose knew when you adopted her were
Creole. You speak French but not Haitian Creole. So what has it been
like to teach her English? I mean, she was only 18 - she was, what, 18
months when you adopted her, or she's 18 months now?

Mr. SEABROOK: She was actually 16 months when we adopted her. She's 19
months now. So, you know, her English is still pretty basic. I mean,
she's got maybe 10 words of English. She's not putting them together. I
mean, she's learning the words for things.

But, you know, for the children that are slightly older, it actually is
a very sort of interesting part of the whole dynamic because it's a bit
like the children are these kind of Rosetta Stones. I mean, they have
the information about what happened to them and what they think about it
all inside them, but they don't have the language to communicate.

And their parents desperately want to know what those experiences are
and what happened to them and what they can do to make it better, but
they have to wait sometimes years until the child is able to, you know,
express him or herself to them. So that's a very sort of intense part of
the dynamic.

GROSS: Before we talk about some of the history of international
adoption, which you've written about in such an interesting way in the
New Yorker, why did you decide to try international adoption?

Mr. SEABROOK: We decided on international adoption because we felt that
we would have a better chance of getting an infant or a toddler through
international adoption than through domestic adoption because of our
particular circumstances.

We're somewhat older than the usual adoptive parents. We already had a
child. And in the U.S., in domestic adoptions, the birth mothers decide
who adopts their children. So you know, as a would-be adoptive parent,
you have to kind of market yourself, which is sort of not a particularly
pleasant thing you have to do. You sort of write up little sort of
profiles of yourself and send pictures.

And my experience in looking around at the websites and seeing who got
chosen, they tended to be younger people with a little bit more
conventional families, not necessarily living in New York City. And we
just felt that for our needs and our profile, international adoption,
where the agencies decide, and the birth mothers generally don't, we
would stand a better chance of getting an infant or a toddler. That was
the main reason we chose international adoption.

GROSS: In your piece in the New Yorker, you write a little bit about how
thinking about interracial families have changed. And you say in the
'60s it was considered progressive for a white family to adopt an
African-American child, but in the '70s the black social workers of
America called interracial adoption cultural genocide.

I'm wondering what impact changing thoughts about interracial families
had on your thinking in deciding to adopt a Haitian child.

Mr. SEABROOK: Our main motivation adopting from Haiti was that we had a
connection to Haiti. Lisa had spent - my wife Lisa - had spent time in
Haiti in another orphanage in the '90s in Port-au-Prince. She spent six
months there. I had been there with her for some of that time. We had
gone back on several occasions. We made lasting friends, both adults and
children, who we then kind of informally sponsored through their

So we had all these connections to Haiti, and we didn't have any of
those kind of connections to other so-called sending nations. So the
fact that Rose was black was, you know, less of a sort of primary
motivating factor for us than the fact that she was Haitian and we had
this connection to Haiti, and we felt that we had a better chance of
maintaining those cultural connections because of our friends and
because of the circumstances that we live in, in adopting from Haiti. So
Haiti was the main thing, and you know, skin color was a secondary

You know, the black social workers of America made that statement,
cultural genocide, and it does kind of ring down through the ages. I
don't know if there are that many people that are that sort of adamant
about it these days. I know there is a feeling, a strong feeling in the
States, that there are a lot of African-American kids here in foster
homes who need families, and why look abroad when, you know, we've got
children here?

But, you know, from our point of view, we weren't as interested in
adopting an older kid. We kind of wanted to adopt a younger kid, and
there are very few younger kids in those situations, so...

GROSS: You write about international adoption, the history of
international adoption, in the New Yorker, and you point out it's a
pretty recent phenomenon. You trace it to World War II rescue missions,
but you say it was popularized after the Korean War. What were the
Korean War baby lifts like? What was behind that?

Mr. SEABROOK: Well, what happened after the Korean War was that there
were a lot of children left behind who had American fathers and Korean
mothers, Amerasian children, and there was a lot of sort of race-based
bias and I guess political-based bias against those children, and nobody
really wanted them.

They were sort of languishing in these orphanages, and there was a
documentary made about them that an Evangelical couple from Oregon saw -
that was Harry and Bertha Holt - and they were moved to go over to Korea
and bring back - they brought back eight children that they adopted
themselves, and on that first trip I think they brought another four for
a couple of other families.

And the news was publicized in newspapers. Life magazine did a big
spread on them the end of that year, and suddenly there were all these
American families that said, hey, I would like to adopt a Korean baby

And so the Holts kind of organized these baby lifts. They went back over
to Korea. They did all the paperwork, and the parents would adopt them
by proxy, meaning that they would adopt them from the United States
without having met them, and then they would start bringing back
hundreds of children at a time.

So it was very much born of disaster, born of war. It was kind of the
good thing that comes out of a very bad situation. And that was really
very important in the whole sort of formation of the institution of
international adoption and the way it developed from there.

Disaster is kind of its cousin. You know, whether it's an earthquake or
whether it's desperate poverty or whether it's a war, it seems as though
there's always some calamity that is the kind of handmaiden of this
wonderful experience that comes out of that, and you just can't really
separate the one from the other.

GROSS: Now, you write that at first child welfare professionals in
America were contemptuous of the Holts, who had done the Korean baby
lifts, and of the Holts' approach to international adoption. Why?

Mr. SEABROOK: Because at the time, adoption was seen as sort of the
science of matching, that social workers were trained in trying to place
children with families that resembled a biological family. So they sort
of tried to match them based on skin color, based on educational level,
based on social circumstances, you know, class, more or less, and

And they didn't think that, you know, matching black children with white
families or Korean children with white families was a good idea because,
you know, it wasn't a match. And that was the ruling set of ideas in the
child welfare establishment.

So when the Holts basically were just saying, you know, if you have love
in your heart, and actually the Holts kind of insisted on, you know,
Christians, and in fact born-again Christians - you had to be saved
people - that was all, that was all that was necessary.

So of course to somebody that, you know, spends their lives, you know,
carefully putting together all these factors, to have somebody like the
Holts saying, no, none of that stuff matters, you can just, you know,
adopt these children if you love them, was, you know, both a radical and
a rather sort of contempt-making position to take.

GROSS: You know, I guess at the time, like in the 1950s, a lot of
adoptive parents didn't tell their children that they were adopted or
didn't tell them until later in life, and that might have been why there
was such an emphasis on trying to make it look like a biological match?

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah, I mean, there was a lot of shame associated with
adoption because, you know, usually was - the cause of it was you
couldn't have children of your own. You were, you know, infertile and
that that was something to be hidden and not to be shared with anybody

So you know, the moment when you told your children that they were
adopted was a huge moment in the whole process. You know, again, with
international adoption, particularly with interracial adoption, it's
kind of an open secret.

You know, there's probably going to be a moment when Rose sort of
realizes, hey, wait a second, my parents are white. But it's obviously
not going to be something that we have to sort of, you know, keep from
her in any way. It's just right out there in the open for everybody to
see. So it's very different from the way it was back in the '50s.

GROSS: My guest, John Seabrook, will be back in the second half of the
show. His article, "The Last Baby Lift: Adopting a Child in Haiti," is
in the May 10th issue of the New Yorker. Seabrook is a staff writer for
the magazine. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with John Seabrook, a
staff writer for the New Yorker. We're talking about the complexities of
international adoption. He and his wife were two and a half years into
the process of adopting a baby from Haiti when the earthquake struck.
His article, "The Last Babylift," in the May 10th issue of the New
Yorker, is about how they managed to get his daughter Rose out of Haiti
and about the history of international adoption in the U.S., a practice
he says grew out of orphan rescue missions in the wake of military
conflicts like the Korean War.

So if international adoption becomes popularized around the time of the
Korean War with, you know, Korean babylifts, how did that catch on and
become popular in other countries?

Mr. SEABROOK: Well, you know, it took a while. The Korean babylifts were
the first ones, and then Korea became sort of the institution of sending
children to the United States and other orphanages became involved and
other agencies became involved. Then the sort of international adoption
industry as we know it to began to grow. But there weren't any other
countries for quite a while until Vietnam. Vietnam in 1975 and the
Vietnam War under similar circumstances, thousands of children were
brought over in what was called, actually, Operation Babylift, almost
exactly 35 years ago now. Then Vietnam opened as a country from which
people could adopt children.

But it was really just Vietnam and Korea for the first, you know, sort
of 15 years, 20 years of international adoptions' existence. And then
Latin American countries began to open up in the sort of late '70s,
early '80s. And then, at the end of the '80s, with the fall of the
Berlin Wall, Eastern European countries began to open up, and then China
began to open up. But it all happened not in any kind of sort of well-
designed, you know, sort of rollout of countries but on very individual
cases by case basises(ph), and often what would happen would be
countries would open up, there'd be a rash of adoptions, there would be
corruption, then they would close, and then there would be a shortage of
children and then another country would open up.

So it was all a kind of catch-as-catch-can kind of an operation without
any sort of systematic overreaching control and actually is to this day,
more or less, a very sort of higgledy-piggledy kind of thing.

GROSS: You say a multi-billion dollar industry has grown up around
international adoption. Who's in that industry besides the people who
actually work for the adoption agencies?

Mr. SEABROOK: Well, there are a lot of adoptions in the U.S. - there are
at least 3,500. There are also lots of adoption attorneys. I mean you
have a choice. You can go with an agency or you can hire a lawyer who
will do your adoption - what they call a kind of independent adoption -
and that lawyer has contacts, you know, usually in one country in
particular, and works through what's called a facilitator to find you a

We didn't want to go the latter route because they're a lot more
opportunities for kind of corruption, shady practices, bribery. And
particularly when you're adopting from a poor country, you really want
to do everything you can to avoid any coercion of the birth mother. And
so certain agencies, like Holt International, our agency, have very good
longstanding reputations in this field. And we just knew that they would
never, you know, bribe anybody. So we went that way.

Anyway, so the industry is kind of composed of both sides and there's a
lot of money. I mean it's very expensive to adopt children from some
countries. Horribly, white children are more expensive than black
children. Russian children, you know, 50, 60 thousand dollars when you
get finished with all the travel and staying in the country for the
required amount of time. I mean these are large amounts of money even in
developed countries. They're fortunes in undeveloped countries, and
that's where this billion dollar industry comes from.

Now, again, you know, you hope the money that you're paying is going to
be spent pursuing in an ethical, legal way, and doing all the required
paperwork, but, you know, you hear stories about, you know, showing up
in places with suitcases full of cash and somebody hands you a baby and
you hand them a suitcase. I mean it happens.

GROSS: There's that recent story about the adoptive mother who sent back
the son that she adopted from Russia. She sent him back to Russia alone
because she claimed that he was unmanageable. Now, I don't think anybody
would say that she did the right thing in how she handled this.

But at the same time, I think her experience kind of illustrates a fear
that a lot of people have about adoption and maybe particularly about
international adoption - that you'll adopt somebody whose experiences
have maybe been shaped in a bad way by the experience of an orphanage
and that they're going to be unmanageable. They're going to somehow be
damaged from that experience, and then what do you do? And I know, you
know, I've read articles about parents who find that they haven't been
able to bond with the children that they adopted and it's, you know, a
nightmare for them. I'm wondering if you did much research into that.

Mr. SEABROOK: I did enough to have the hairs on the back of my arms
standing up. Yes, that happens. And in fact, you know, we're on a
mailing list now with other adoptive parents from Haiti who brought some
of the older children from Rose's orphanage into their homes and they
have a lot of hurdles to face with these children.

You know, I think whether it's Russia or whether it's Haiti, a child who
spends four, five, six years in an orphanage is going to have some
issues. Whether it's issues of anger or developmental issues that were
caused by the orphanage or issues having to deal with leaving that
orphanage, leaving their friends and being brought into a family, into a
country where they don't know anybody, there's definitely a lot of
serious, you know, there's grieving, there's wild acting out, there's a
sullen kind of silent pouting, and sometimes it can go on for years. And
so I think, yes, adoptive parents do need to really be prepared for very
difficult circumstances.

But in the case of the woman from Tennessee who sent the kid back, I
mean this is why there are social workers. This is why you have home
studies. This is why they have follow-up studies after the child is
placed in your home, so that if you're having problems you can reach out
for help, and there are people who know how to help. And if it's really
terrible, maybe they try to find another family to raise that child.

But you know, there are a lot of options short of taking your child and
putting him on an airplane and sending him back. So you know, I think
that she made a very bad parenting decision and it's too bad that, you
know, that became so publicized, because there are plenty of bad
parenting decisions being made, but something about adoption, people get
kind of queasy about it. When something goes wrong, they tend to like to
sort of build up those failures.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Seabrook. He's a
staff writer for the New Yorker. And in the May 10th edition he has an
article on the complexities of international adoption and his
experiences adopting a daughter from Haiti and taking her home right
after the earthquake.

Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is John Seabrook. He and his wife were in the process of
adopting s baby, Rose, from Haiti when the earthquake struck. In the May
10th issue of the New Yorker, he writes about how he managed to get Rose
out of Haiti. He also writes about the history of international
adoption, which he says got started with rescuing babies after military
conflicts like the Korean War.

You say that the stories that people tell about international adoption
have changed the rescue narratives, started giving way to kidnap
narratives as some of the children brought over in the '70s grew up and
told their own stories.

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah, you know, it's interesting when you think about it,
international adoption has been around for such a relatively short time
that the very first adoptees, were those Korean children brought over in
those babylifts, are really only now 55 years old - 54, 55 years old -
and they are still very much kind of the canaries in the coal mine. You
know, we don't really know. We haven't seen a whole life lived through
of an adopted, internationally adopted child yet, so it's still very
much of an ongoing social experiment.

And what's happened as the years have gone by is those children who were
adopted have grown up and some of them became writers and journalists
and filmmakers and have begun making works of their own experience, and
yes, they contrast quite vividly with stories told about their parents,
which were generally seen in kind of heroic sort of rescue terms, the
Holts themselves being kind of the archetype of that.

These stories are more about going back to the countries you were born
in, maybe trying to find your birth mother. I mean there's a whole
industry of kind of recovery of the birth mother and finding the birth
mother and then tours. You know, people organize tours, take adoptees
back to their countries of origin. And a lot of the stories that are
told about them, that is the kind of core of the narrative, that kind of
reunion with the mother and the sort of feeling of wholeness and
completing the circle that, you know, comes out of that experience.

Although it doesn't always work out that way and sometimes in some of
these stories the people are angry when they get back to their countries
of origin and, you know, realize maybe that it wasn't what they imagined
it would be.

GROSS: Is there a little part of you that's worried that some day your
daughter will grow up and become a writer or a documentary filmmaker and
she'll perceive her story in a way completely different than you do and
that she will somehow, you know, resent being taken from Haiti and will
identify as Haitian and want to return to her roots?

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah, I worry about that a lot. I don't really sort of
necessarily kind of think it's going to happen, at least not in the way
I probably imagine it might in a sort of dark scenario of just kind of
rejecting us. But, you know, Rose has a mother. Rose has five siblings.
This is one of the things that when you're thinking about international
adoption and - you know, Rose is an orphan sort of legally, because she
was relinquished, but she's a social orphan. And when you start thinking
about adopting an orphan, you don't really think about the idea that,
you know, that orphan is going to have - may well have parents.

Most orphans do have parents. And under normal circumstances we would've
met the mother. If the earthquake hadn't have happened, at the end of
the whole process we would've met her mother and, you know, we would've
seen for ourselves that she was okay with giving up her child. But the
way things actually went down, there was no time for that. So there's a
very big kind of unanswered question in our experience there which will
be answered one day but, you know, it's hard to imagine how that will
all unfold.

GROSS: So how much does Rose's mother know about what happened to Rose?

Mr. SEABROOK: When the operation, when this babylift, I call it the last
babylift, occurred, there was no time to tell the birth parents that
their children were leaving because, you know, most of them live far
from the orphanage. They don't have telephones. You have to sort of go
one by one and inform them. After the children left, the people at Holt
who work down there in Haiti did do that. We all sent them pictures of
their children with their new families, and they went around Haiti with
those pictures and they told them what had happened and showed them the
pictures. And I hope that they were happy.

But you know, part of the whole sort of - the other part of the adoption
thing is, at least in Haiti and in many other countries, the parents
have the option of changing their minds throughout the process. If
Rose's mother had decided, you know, a year or two from now under normal
circumstances that she was in a better spot, she could afford to keep
Rose, she could've come to the orphanage and taken Rose. Maybe she was
planning that in the back of her mind and then the earthquake
intervened. You don't know. You know, we don't know. We can imagine any
possible scenario and - but like I say, it's just going to be, it's one
of those things that's going to sort of linger as an unanswered question
until we do get down there with Rose and meet her and, you know, as of

GROSS: You expect to do that? You expect to do that?

Mr. SEABROOK: We'd love to do that. Because Rose doesn't have a
passport, she came under humanitarian parole, we can't actually leave
the country with Rose for another two years at least, until she's legal,
because if we left we couldn't come back with her. I mean, you know,
when that all happens and we get her passport, yes, we will go down
there and find her.

GROSS: Any thoughts you want to leave us with?

Mr. SEABROOK: You know, international adoption, I would just - I'll just
talk just one second about it as a political thing. It is closing up in
many ways right now. The numbers of international adoptions are dropping
rapidly. They say by 2013 there's going be only 6,000 and there were
24,000 in 2004. So that's 25 percent of what it was. And the reason it's
closing up is because there is no real sort of political organization
that supports international adoption. But there are quite a few kind of
political organizations or aid organizations that support, you know,
issues having to do with child-trafficking, issues having to do with
poverty in undeveloped countries. And from those people's perspective,
international adoption is, at best, kind of a bothersome thing, and at
worst, part of the problem that they're trying to, you know, improve.

So, you know, I just hope that in the future, as we go forward, we're
going to be able to sort of figure out how to make this work in a way
that makes everybody happy and that brings the various sort of interest
groups together at the same table and, you know, ensures that some of
these orphans - there are 153 million orphans in the world. A lot of
them are in orphanages and have no hope of getting out. And it just
seems like it would be a terrible shame if there isn't that option for
those children, some of those children, to be adopted by parents who can
give them loving homes.

GROSS: I guess that that Baptist group that was accused of trafficking
children in Haiti - and about, I think, 10 members of the group were
arrested. That probably really played into the fears that international
adoption is connected to the trafficking of children.

Mr. SEABROOK: Yeah. That literally - the news of that broke on the
morning, the very first morning that I went to the embassy in the U.S. I
was literally, like, standing in line, hoping for word about my
daughter, when I noticed a crowd of people gathered around the
television. And CNN was breaking the news that these people had just
been, you know, or the night before had been arrested for trying to
cross into the Dominican Republic, cross the border.

And so, from my perspective, I was like oh, no, no, no. No, don't. This
is going to mess it up now. But, you know, when I look at it now from
that - kind of the cool light of perspective, you know, a lot of those
people - I don't know about the leader of the group, but I think the
other ones were - they weren't bad people. I don't think they were
trafficking children in the sense that they were going to sell them for

I think they wanted to do the right thing and they were just poorly
informed, and they let their kind of religious and humanitarian impulses
take over from their sort of, you know, what should have been their sort
of sensible, legal understanding of the situation. But, you know, that
kind of thing happens, and that's one of the problems, is you've got all
these different impulses at work, and orphans and disaster tend to sort
of inflame these things. And it's very difficult to get everybody sort
of, you know, to work on the same page and do the right thing. It's just
hard to get all those people together.

GROSS: You know, in terms of the decrease in international adoption and
the number of children available for international adoption now, does
that also have to do with nationalism, of countries feeling like they
don't want to give up their children? Or that the number of children
that they are giving up for adoption makes them look inadequate in some
way? And then also, it seems like some countries have become much more
selective about who they'll allow to adopt. Like, China has all these
restrictions now - like you can't be obese and...

Mr. SEABROOK: Right. Yeah. Both those things are true, and there's one
other thing, but I'll just say that, yeah. I mean, no country really
wants to give up their children for adoption, because it is a source of
national shame. I mean, you can imagine if the situation were different
and we were giving up children for adoption to Russia or China. There
would be political hue and cry over it. And so whenever there is a kind
of an incident or a scandal, something goes wrong, the country that that
child was adopted from tends to get caught up in a political debate
about whether or not it's right for this to happen. That's one thing.

The other thing is that, yeah, countries have imposed more restrictions.
Like, China has imposed more restrictions on, you know, who can adopt.
They've - yeah. They've introduced restrictions even about, you know,
how much you can weigh and, you know, the state of your family, how old
you can be, whether you can have children or not. And other countries
have closed down because of scandals, you know, baby-buying scandals.

Vietnam closed, and Vietnam's been a mainstay of international adoption
for - almost since the beginning. Guatemala, which was a huge source of
children in the mid-2000s, Guatemala has effectively closed because of -
there were baby-buying scandals.

So, you know, it's both that sort of politics of adoption in terms of
like national shame, and it's that it's still pretty unregulated and
it's still pretty possible to buy children. And when this happens in a
context of child trafficking and a sort of heightened concern about
child trafficking, it becomes almost impossible to draw a clear
distinction between, you know, child trafficking, on the one hand -
which everybody agrees is a bad thing - and international adoption on
the other thing - which everybody sort of thinks is a good thing, or
most people do.

And - but you get into these kind of murky areas in between when money
is involved, and it's very difficult to sort it out. So that's another
big factor in why adoptions are closing down.

GROSS: Well, John Seabrook, I want to thank you for talking with us, and
I wish your family all the best.

Mr. SEABROOK: Thanks a lot, Terry. Nice to be here.

GROSS: John Seabrook is a staff writer for The New Yorker. His article,
"The Last Baby Lift," is in the May 10th issue of the magazine. You'll
find a link on our website:

Coming up: Kevin Whitehead reviews a mini-box set of Chick Corea's solo
piano recordings from 1971 and 1983.

This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Chick Corea: Two Sides Of The Same Coin


In 1971, Chick Corea had recently left Miles Davis' loud electric band
to pursue avant-garde jazz in the quartet Circle. A year later, he'd
formed his Latin-influenced, jazz-rock fusion band, Return to Forever.
In this transitional period, Corea went into the studio to record a
number of solo piano pieces. In 1983, he recorded a follow-up.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says these albums are some of the
improvising composer's best work. Later this month, they'll be reissued
in a new mini-box called "Solo Piano."

(Soundbite of music)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: The 1970s was a breakthrough decade for solo jazz
piano, with Keith Jarrett, Cecil Taylor, Andrew Hill and others using
the format to build cathedrals in the air. But solo piano is also a good
sketchpad for the improvising composer. It lends itself to informal,
impromptu music-making, almost like thinking out loud.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: In the early 1970s, Chick Corea was wrapping up one phase of
his young career and easing into another, moving away from so-called
difficult music toward more readily accessible stuff. On the 1971
sessions reissued as part of a three-CD solo set, you can hear Corea
drawing on music he'd already made, including the Latin jazz he'd played
starting out, and the percussive, telegraph-key rhythms he'd rapped out
on electric piano with Miles Davis. But Corea found a way to combine
drum-like, repeated notes with unabashed lyricism. He also sounds
inspired by a beautiful-sounding piano.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Chick Corea's "Solo Piano" mini-box on ECM starts with two
albums originally issued as "Piano Improvisations Vols. 1 & 2." That
title raises a question about what it means to call something
improvised. On pieces like that one, Corea's clearly using some
preconceived materials, even if he's sorting them out in real time. Of
course, jazz musicians improvise on existing themes, too, and Corea
plays a couple tunes by other composers. "Trinkle, Tinkle" is by that
godfather of percussive piano, Thelonious Monk.

(Soundbite of song, "Trinkle, Tinkle")

WHITEHEAD: By 1983, when Chick Corea made a sort of sequel to
"Improvisations" called "Children's Songs," he was doing formally what
he used to do informally. The pieces had the same kind of charm and
light touch, but instead of shaping them in performance, he came to the
session with 20 miniatures written out.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Corea says his untitled children's songs are meant to suggest
kids' playfulness and the way they always keep moving. Many have a
simple melodic quality, despite the technique they may call for. And
since children are compact bundles of energy, he keeps all the pieces
under three minutes. The shortest is barely 30 seconds, exquisitely
small, like dollhouse furniture.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Chick Corea's vintage solos show how composing and
improvising are two sides of the same coin. Whether he approaches the
keyboard with a sheet of music in hand or with an open mind, Corea draws
on his love of melody, his hard-earned keyboard technique and a range of
influences including modern jazz, Cuban music, jazz-influenced French
composers like Darius Milhaud, and even ragtime. And composed or
improvised, Chick Corea's solo pieces have this much in common: They're
designed to make the piano sing.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the jazz columnist for He reviewed
"Solo Piano" by Chick Corea, a reissue of his albums "Improvisations 1 &
2" and "Children's Songs." It will be released later this month on the
ECM label. You can download podcasts of our show on our website,

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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