Guest Commentary: The Responsibility of the AP to the PAP

Written by Dianna Brodine, a Prospective Adoptive Parent who is traveling to Vietnam to adopt in early November.

What responsibility does the AP (or long-time PAP) have to educate new PAPs?

Even before I open this dialogue with you, I should explain that 20 months ago I was one of ‘those’ PAPs. We had talked about adopting from China for more than a decade. When we finally looked into the process, we realized we wouldn’t qualify (who knew medical school loans would be viewed as a negative?). We made a few calls and started out in the Korea program of a well-respected agency. When Korea made changes to its process, I panicked and switched to Vietnam. I knew nothing about the process. I knew nothing about the country. I was desperate to find a country that would accept us as parents for one of their children. Never mind that we had two beautiful daughters. Never mind that we were both college-educated and steadily employed. Never mind that research is a must in my field of employment. My desire for a child and my worry that no one ‘wanted’ us developed into a full-on panic about the future growth of my family. But our adoption agency had a newly-opened program in Vietnam. They had a program before the shut-down. They’d stayed to render humanitarian aid. And Vietnam wanted us.

We were lucky. Not lucky that a country would accept us as parents for one of its children, but lucky because we were with an agency that would qualify as ‘one of the good ones’. Did I have any idea at the time? No. Am I incredibly grateful for my good luck now? Absolutely.

That experience softens my opinion of the posters who say ‘I need to find an ethical agency that will allow me to bring home a 4 month old baby girl”. I understand the panic. I understand the desperation after months (or years) of infertility. I understand the sense of urgency that takes over once you make the decision to adopt. And I, more than many, understand the panic that ensues when your country of choice makes changes that calls into question the status of the child you want to bring home. But none of those things excuse a rush into an agency choice without proper research.

And that’s where the folks who have been there come into play. Do I get tired of explaining why AYAP ASAP isn’t necessarily a good idea? Am I sick of explaining why quick travel times are sometimes a mark of referral type and other times a huge red flag? Am I weary of posts from families defending their agency choice simply because they have committed too many financial and emotional resources to back down at this stage of the game? Yes, yes, yes. Am I an expert? No. But I’d like to think that each time I offer my opinion (yes, it’s an opinion), I’m providing another point of view. Maybe some of the readers of my replies see me as the voice of experience. I’m sure some readers find me an irritating naysayer. But I believe it is my responsibility to share what I’ve learned in the 1 ½ years I’ve been around Vietnam adoptions. I’m also sure I’ll learn more when I travel to Vietnam in a few short days to bring our child home.

What I’ve learned, I’ve learned because I’ve been willing to listen to the voices of those who have gone before me. There are agencies we should avoid. There are practices that should wave huge red flags. And there are questions we should all ask before signing an agency contract. But how are new PAPs to know these things if those who have been there before don’t keep their voices in play?

I, for one, will make public my blog once I’m home. I went ‘private’ to protect the identify of my child once I received my referral. But I made sure Nicki and Christina had full access, because if anyone would recognize corruption in adoption, it’s these two ladies. I will also continue to reply to questions on the Vietnam adoption web sites. My voice will be heard and hopefully my voice, and the voices of everyone who has gone before, can help to protect the future of adoptions in Vietnam, protect the ‘newbies’ out there who are feeling the stress of the non-transparency of information, and protect my own feelings of responsibility to this adoption community and to my daughter, who should know that the ethicality of her adoption might not have been uppermost in my mind when we started the process, but is ultimately the most important thing I can give to her now.



  1. I could have written this, almost word for word. We’re also 20 months into this (almost exactly) and waiting for a travel date. For goodness sake, I have a law degree and didn’t realize that the kind of research I specialized and excelled in was the kind I needed to do for an adoption. Shameful, really, but it’s the truth. We also “lucked” into an ethical agency and I fully realize that There But for the Grace of God Go I when it comes to those who find themselves with a questionable agency. Had I been with an unscrupulous agency, I would have realized it at some point, as I ultimately learned a lot. Would I have made the right decision and left such an agency? I sincerely hope so. However, it’s easy for me to say that because I don’t ever have to do that.

    I agree with your attempts to offer your opinion and experience to the new PAPs and being a little understanding of PAPs who are asking for AYAP as quick as possible referrals. I do the same. *We* all know better, but just because others don’t does not mean they’re unconcerned, selfish people. They really might now know. I don’t think everyone is in that position, but I know some are. I’ll admit that I was there, and it had nothing to do with being selfish or unconcerned about ethics. It was true naiveté. My husband and I weren’t even in a hurry when we began the process; we simply decided the time was right. However, b/c of the blind, and quite frankly stupid, faith we put into everyone involved with adoption, we went into this clueless. I’ll admit that I didn’t even know of groups such as AAR until after our referral, for which we waited nine months. Like I said, we weren’t in a hurry so I didn’t spend those nine months (waiting for a referral) doing what I should have: educating myself. After our referral, it suddenly became very important. Because we’ve had to wait many, many long months since we received our referral, I’ve had too much time to learn, and what I’ve learned has rocked my world. I’m sure most of my friends and family in “real life” have had enough of me, because it’s all I can focus on.

    The single most important thing to me is knowing that one day, I can look my child in the eyes and say with absolute certainty that his mom was unable to raise him and that is why he is part of our family. I won’t have to wonder whether I’m being honest; I won’t have to feel that pit in my stomach because I will know that’s the truth. That has been the one thing that has made this horribly long wait between referral and travel bearable. And I’m fortunate. And I know it. Because again, had I not chanced into an ethical agency, I might not have been able to do that, and it’s not because I’m a bad, selfish person. Ethics in adoption have become by far one of the most important issues to me.

    Thank you for your honesty, Dianna, because I have a feeling there are many of us in your position who are just a little afraid to acknowledge it

  2. I am a AP. We completed our adoption in Dec 06. Viet Nam’s program is almost completely different now. Agencies that were highly regarded then are not now. Some ethical agencies aren’t accepting applications. The Embassy changed the rules, the program has changed the rules 2 times.

    I think we can give our opinion but reality is all I can tell you is that I feel my adoption was ethical, my experience from a year ago, which is almost not relevant now, what you need to bring to travel and a few other things….that are well, in the scheme of things, quite small.

  3. My heart goes out to today’s APs, especially the ones new to the process. I am an AP and follow the current trends in Vietnam adoptions. I think beyond sharing our experiences and opinions, APs can and should be patient and understanding to new PAPs. The adoptive community has become very critical. I wish I could warn new PAPs of all the correct terminology…it is not “gotcha day” but rather adoption day, you are not saving a child but building a family, it is bad to say I want AYAP ASAP HG, circumcising your baby boy is considered robbing him of his heritage, you dont say birth mother but rather first mother, and don’t even bring god into the mix (which I am not one to do but many religious people have). I understand when analyzed, these terms may not but perfect, but it is exhausting to step into. I think everyone starts the adoption journey naive but being called ignorant and selfish is harsh. I believe just about everyone wants an ethical adoption and wants Vietnam adoptions to continue. Terms like “head in the sand” and “ignorant” is creating an “us”/ “them” environment. APs can and should share experiences and opinions without tones of judgement or criticism, afterall, none of us started the process with full knowledge of the system.

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