The Madonna Effect

If you haven’t heard by now, Madonna’s appeal to adopt Mercy James from Malawi was approved. And I think it sucks.

You can read my thoughts about it here, but please also check out Christina’s post on Voices for Vietnam Adoption Integrity and this piece titled “Misguided Madonna’s just helping the baby traffickers.”


24 thoughts on “The Madonna Effect

  1. Very sad.
    I can’t even imagine how David and Mercy will feel when they are older and discover the circumstances surrounding their adoptions.

  2. I’m not understanding the issue here. Isn’t the most important thing that the child gets a loving home with a parent and siblings. She was in an orphanage and now she has a home, what is wrong with that. I realize that money must have been involved and maybe corruption in the Malawi government too and I agree on that point, it is despicable. But she is safe and happy, she will have an education and a chance in life that she would not have had if she stayed in the orphanage. I feel the child’s well being is more important than the circumstances of her adoption. I know I am stirring up a hornets nest here but this is how I feel.

    • The issue is that this particular child already had a family who loved her and wanted her. In a country with a million true orphans with no families at all, this child had a family and a future. This child who was set to leave the orphanage in three years literally took the place of a true orphan who will never ever leave the orphanage. But because of a celebrity’s whims, she is now uprooted from that family, culture, nationality, her roots.

      She was already happy and safe. She was already going to go to school.

      I completely agree with you that a child’s well being is most important. i completely disagree, though, if you think her well being is being served by uprooting her from her culture and family to live with a nurse and a nanny and a high powered single mother who couldn’t even find it within herself to keep the promises she made to her first Malawian child’s birth father (whom she also took through corruption and coercion and lies, against his will).

    • And let me just add, as food for thought, that it helps to consider how you would feel if you have a child who isn’t going to the world’s best school or living in the world’s best house or maybe even you don’t have health insurance or you’ve recently lost a job. What if a wealthy celebrity set her sites on your child? certainly Madonna could offer any one of our children “more” by material standards than any of us could but it becomes a really dangerous practice to start judging which children we are “entitled” to remove from their birth families, drag across the world and re-home because we can offer them more, materially. If you think its the child’s best interest, certainly I can make a case for a situation where your own child would be better off, too. Scary scary stuff.

    • I believe that international adoption is a viable option for children only if a child cannot remain with biological family or another family in the child’s birthculture. In Mercy’s case, Madonna took her from her birthculture when these other options were possible.

      Mercy’s grandmother placed her in the orphanage because she needed help, not because she intended for Mercy to be adopted. She and Mercy’s uncles visited her at the orphanage, and the grandmother fully intended to take Mercy home again. She was hounded to sign relinquishment papers for three years before she finally gave in.

  3. I am not willing to speculate what kind of Mother Madonna is because I don’t know her and I will not condemn someone simply because they are wealthy and use it to their advantage. You obviously know more about this than I do but I read that the Mother’s family approved and the man who says he is her father may not be her father. He only came forward after Madonna was involved and there is no proof and he won’t take dna testing. If you are right and the family did disagree and intended to bring her home then it would have been better for her to stay with them. But I will still not judge Madonna’s or anyone else’s parenting skills until I know them personally.

    • The grandmother only approved after she was hounded for three years to sign papers. She is quoted saying something about how she gave in because she is an old woman and just couldn’t take it anymore.

      The father thought the child was dead, but was located by reporters. He WANTS to undergo DNA testing, but was not allowed. The adoption was approved before DNA testing could take place. The courts totally ignored his requests.

        • I will be really interested to see how that unfolds, Kelli. I wonder if she will keep Mercy in the UK for a certain amount of time so that she can get a visa? I find it kind of interesting that the issue has never come up in all of the press surrounding this.

  4. Nicki,
    Please leave my children out of this I certainly did not attack you or yours. We only know what has been said in the press here, unless of course you are a friend of the family and know the real story, in which case I would be glad to hear it. Otherwise we are expressing a difference of opinions and it is not necessary to get nasty and slam a persons family because we disagree. I respect your right to feel the way you do please respect my right to feel the way I do.

    • insider53 – I think you misread me. I’m not getting nasty or slamming your family. I don’t know you or even if you have kids. I was suggesting you put yourself in the shoes of the child’s birth family and consider that it’s not a stretch for the argument you made to also be made against any family in this country because for any one of us (myself included) there is always going to be someone with more financial and legal resources who could make a case that they could provide more for our children than we can. We have protections to prevent such things – thank God. I think you would agree with that, no?

      But not so in Malawi. Unless there is neglect (not present in this case and actually yes I am working directly on this case in another capacity so I do have first hand knowledge), who are we to claim entitlement to another country’s children (who already have families).

      You seem to jump to a conclusion that any of us are judging Madonna. I don’t think the issue is so much Madonna’s qualifications as a parent so much as the child’s right to be kept in her birth culture with her birth family if they so chose (and they so chose). It is no reflection on Madonna’s innate ability to parent (or not) to suggest that she (or anyone else, no matter how virtuous) should never be in the picture in the first place if this child or ANY child has birth family who have no desire to relinquish.

  5. Tracy, If all that is true then I appreciate your informing me and it will change my opinion on the whole thing. As I said I have only read a little and I did not understand the vehemence that people seem to feel against Madonna’s adopting this child. Now I am better informed and I will read more about it on the internet.

  6. Tracy,
    Sorry for stirring up a heated dialog on your blog. I can’t really debate the subject as I am ill informed about it, even more that I thought after reading through your materiel. I know foreign adoptions are tricky and of course I absolutely agree that a child should stay in their own country and be allowed their own culture and be kept with their family if at all possible. I’m just saying that if Madonna wasn’t involved would people still feel as passionate about it, would we even know about it, the news wouldn’t have reported it. Her fame is what makes this a hot topic and I worry about the child. I feel badly for Mercy’s family and I feel badly for Madonna. I also feel badly for the many children in the U.S. who need parents and want to be adopted too. That is why I love hearing about your family because you care.

    • I do think the case gets more attention because it is Madonna, but I could also argue that the adoption would never have happened if it wasn’t Madonna. I think I read on the DOS website that only 2 children adopted from Malawi were given US visas in 2006 (those were the most recent numbers), and one of those visas was for Madonna’s other son, David Banda. Malawi just doesn’t have an international adoption program. They suddenly developed one for Madonna (and therefore her money).

      Lots of celebrities adopt, and I think that’s great, as long as they adopt from a country where there are protections against child trafficking in place, and as long as they adopt children who are *truly* orphans. It’s not that I have a negative reaction to celebrity adoptions in general – I have a VERY negative reaction to THIS adoption.

      It’s OK that you stirred up a “heated dialog” on my blog. I know many people share your original point of view – that Mercy will be better off with Madonna than in an orphanage (and I would agree with you if the situation was that simple). Hopefully this discussion will make people take a look at the issues here more closely.

  7. I still am pulled in two directions on this issue. How do we know that Mercy was safe and happy in the orphanage? Many of us have adopted our kiddos from orphanages–can you say that you have not seen the effects of their institutionalization even tho they were only there for months-not 6 years? Family visits cannot replace having a family everyday, every minute–to tuck you in at night, be there when you have bad dreams, comfort you, just be there for them. I can’t help but wonder why the grandmother did not contact the birth father instead of placing Mercy in the orphanage-could she be protecting Mercy from him? I know this is just speculation but I think it is a bit coicindental (sp?) that she decided to relinquish her rights when he came on the scene. Maybe she is protecting her by giving her up now that he knows she is alive. I hope I am wrong, it just doesn’t feel right to me. Also I cannot get the scenario that keeps coming up about my child being in a poor school and then a rich celebrity can come and take them. This child is not living with a family, she is living in an orphanage, in your scenario the child is living with the family and that makes the whole situaion totally different for me. A child’s brain plasticity is greatest the first 7 years of life, she will never regain those years. I don’t think it is right for us to say that she only had 3 more years left in the orphanage when she could have a chance of life right now, right this minute. I am listening to you guys, I promise, but I am having a difficult time understanding some of the reasoning. Sorry this is so long–my kiddos are taking a nap so I actually had time to write!

    • Tara-

      I think you are right in that the best place for a child is with a family. Though I don’t have any first-hand knowledge, I believe that the grandmother did not keep contact with the birthfather because he had shamed her family by getting her teenaged granddaughter pregnant. I have not read any reports saying that it is anything more unseemly than that. So, if this man is indeed the birthfather, Mercy would have gone home from the orphanage immediately with him. He said that’s what he wanted. Then she would have been in a HOME with BIOLOGICAL family. Shouldn’t the Malawian government have given him the opportunity to prove paternity?

      And if the man turned out not to be the biological father, but all the grandmother needed to be able to take Mercy home with her was a few hundred dollars, couldn’t Madonna have just given the grandmother that money? I mean, since she’s so concerned with Mercy’s well-being and all, AND she just happens to have a charity that is supposed to support Malawian families, couldn’t Madonna have better served Mercy’s need in that way? Poverty was the only reason Mercy was in the orphanage in the first place. She was not there because her family didn’t want her. I just don’t understand why Madonna had to have THIS child, and not a child who TRULY needed a home.


  8. The easy trap to fall into here is to assume that we can know for sure that a child “will be better off” in any certain circumstance. The tendency for Americans is to believe that there is no way that a child’s life could possibly be better in their birth country and in some cases even their birth family. I’m not saying I’m any better, I have subscribed to this way of thinking in my own life, but I have also grown past it. The overarching ideal is that based on material things and a perception that the United States has the best of everything, we presume to know that a child will have a better life here, no matter what. Google “Nikolai Emelyantsev,” “Nina Hilt,” or “Ethan, Seth, Mira, and Eleanor Sueppel.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not insinuating that Madonna is going to mistreat her children or send her children to the worst schools in the country, but I have seen how angry some adoptees become because of a lack of sense of who they really are and where they fit in. There are plenty of examples of adoptees of privilege that do not do well in life due to the emotional damage caused by stripping them of their identity and creating a hole in their heart where their birth family might have lived.

    Don’t get me wrong here either, the vast majority of adoption is wonderful and bring together parents and children that truly, truly needed each other. And sometimes the unfortunate reality is that even if an adoptee carries around emotional damage doesn’t mean that they would have been better off not being adopted. There are plenty more examples of wonderful adoptions that were in the best interest of all parties involved. But do we look the other way in situations where this is not the case because most adoptions are great? Would we look the other way regarding any criminal activity just because most people don’t do it?

    However, in cases like this one, the child has already bonded with a grandmother. Whether or not you believe that living in a house is better than living in an orphanage regardless of visits from family members, you can’t believe that a child didn’t come to know and love that family member. As damaging as it can be to simply know you were adopted, how much more damaging is it to remember it when you already had a loving family member in your life?

    “I am not willing to speculate what kind of Mother Madonna is because I don’t know her.”

    Then why are we willing to speculate that a child would be “better off” with her?

    “How do we know that Mercy was safe and happy in the orphanage?”

    How do we know she wasn’t?

    From a comment on VVAI: “Madonna wanted her to have a loving home where she can expect to live to an age of more than 42 years.”

    But what if those 81 years she will presumably live in the United States are the most miserable 81 years of anyone’s life and the 42 years she would have lived in Malawi would have been the most happy and wonderful of anyone’s life?

    I will say it once again, material things do not necessarily equal happiness. Our problem is divorcing ourselves from our own culture. Being rich in this country might be considered having two cars, four TVs, a 3600 square foot home, and a 2 acre back yard. I certainly would like those things, and I ‘m close to having most of them, but without my family, I am destitute, no matter how many speakers my home theater has. In Malawi, being rich might be simply having a roof over your head and a small field to farm. However, the same ideal holds true, without family, what do you really have?

    Conversely, even without the material things, having family can make you feel rich. Is all Madonna’s money and life in these United States enough to replace a grandmother, uncles, and 6 cousins? Do we think that institutionalization was really a factor with the attention from the birth family along with the hope for the future that the grandmother’s promise to take Mercy home when she was old enough to go to school? How do we know that for sure?

    I think that the answers for children who have no one that wants them is that adoption is a beautiful solution. This is the idea I love. For children that had family members that want them then adoption is a violation. The problem is that people are always willing to violate others for the sake of money, and in this case I truly feel it borders on human trafficking. A birth family was coerced into giving up a child for adoption for money. In this case the Malawian government was the beneficiary instead of corrupt traffickers or orphanage directors. The birth family and the child still end up getting the short end of the stick. One tenth of one percent of the money the Malawian government received, paid to Mercy instead, would have allowed Mercy to go home with her grandmother or father and most likely live in Malawian luxury.

  9. Just because Mercy has been adopted doesn’t have to mean that she will lose the ties to her birth family. How often did her grandmother visit her? Maybe now she will actually see her more often as Madonna visits the country regularly (so I read–don’t know her personally). I did not say that Mercy is better off now that she will have material things, in fact I don’t believe that either. I was worried about the daily trifles in life such as kissing a boo-boo, being there when you have a bad dream-visits cannot accomplish that. But after seeing so many children who have come from orphanages and the effects they must often live with for the rest of their lives I cannot believe that it is better to grow up in an orphanage versus with a family–even tho many of you will say it is only 6 years, that is a lifetime to a child. In time, we will all know how Mercy feels because I am sure when she is older she will talk about it in some avenue.

    • Just because she will not necessarily loose all ties with her birth family, doesn’t mean that this is not a negative experience for a child. I think maybe you thought that my entire comment was directed at you and your point of view, but it wasn’t. I merely used those quotes to present a devil’s advocate point of view to the perception that this child is better off having been virtually forced out of her birth country just because people think that the United States (and more specifically Madonna) has more to offer a child. I think you are very insightful about your observation that grandma can’t be there every waking moment for the child, but which is worse, not having a boo-boo kissed every time, or further removing a family member or members from a child’s life? I certainly don’t know the answer.

      What if the ties to the birth family are actually damaging? What then? Can anyone really imagine what it would be like for Mercy if her grandmother says that she didn’t want to give her up? How would that make her feel about the circumstances of her adoption? How would that make her feel about her grandmother? I again contend that not I, nor anyone else, can know for certain any of these answers.

      What makes me mad is that Mercy was not an orphan. Whether or not anyone believes that her life will be better or not, is irrelevant. This was not anyone’s choice to make but the grandmother and father’s. People are presuming to know everything about the grandmother, the father, the orphanage, but even if we knew everything about the situation, we still could never know which choice is in the best interest of the child. In this case, the almighty dollar made that choice, just as it has made that choice, for better or for worse (and I would argue for the worse), in so many other children’s lives.

    • Tara – the grandmother visited more often than Madonna brought David to Malawi. In fact he was only brought back during this adoption despite all those visits Madonna made. And in that case she had previously promised the father she would bring him to visit (not just the country but the child’s own father) and broke that promise until it became self-beneficial as it related to her newest adoption petition.

      Seriously it probably isn’t a good idea to take the comments in this direction but I just can’t help myself. How available do you think Madonna is to kiss a booboo, be there for bad dreams, etc.??’

      Tara the problem is that 6 years is not actually a lifetime when there are a million *actual* orphans who literally WILL spend a lifetime in the orphanage. That is until they age out and live on the streets.

  10. I hate to get in late on this conversation, but I think the bottom line is that in this particular case, this child was not an orphan. I personally happen to agree that a life in an orphanage is probably not a great life, but it doesn’t matter. She is not an orphan and therefore was not available for legal adoption according to the USCIS.
    Just as I couldn’t go visit Vietnam (or any other country. I just happen to have the Vietnam experience..) and “pick out” a child, neither should anyone else be able to do. There are 143 million orphans in the world. Go be matched with of them. They need families. Children with willing families aren’t orphans.

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