On The Radio: Adoption Gone Wrong

I just listened to a podcast of This American Life from last week.   (It may not be too late to listen to it here.) The show was entitled “No Map” and the part I am commenting on was Act II–“Where’s King Solomon When You Need Him?”

It’s a story about an adoption that did not turn out well for those involved.   The prospective adoptive parents were in the US, the child to be adopted was in Samoa.   The agency involved apparently misled everyone in both countries and effectively removed a child from her Samoan family and placed her with a US family.    While the US family was lead to believe the child was given up for adoption by her impoverished parents, this simply wasn’t true.

By the time the US couple figured out what had happened, a substantial period of time had gone by.   The child, Elleia, had bonded with them.   Or at least with one of them–the Mike Nyberg, who is the principal figure in the tale.

This is the dilemma for which one might well want Solomon.   The people in Samoa had been Elleia’s parents.  She had suffered terrible loss in being separated from them.    But Mike Nyberg, too, had become her parent, by performing that role for a significant period of time in her life.   So to send her back to Samoa would, once again, cause her harm, even as it might right the original wrong.

The piece traces this story and it’s twists and turns.  It’s really worth a listen.   To the extent one wants to find and evil-doer, the adoption agency is probably the best candidate.    But punishing them won’t help Elleia at all.

Of course, Elleia’s family was not the only one deceived by the agency.   It’s interesting to hear the rationales offered by other families.   Behind all the human stories lurk the vast differences in wealth and privilege between the Samoan families and the US ones.

In a nutshell, the problem was this.  The child clearly had parents in Samoa.

The radio piece considers the resulting dilemma from several different perspectives.  It also doesn’t offer any easy solutions.   It’s really worth a listen.


4 responses to “On The Radio: Adoption Gone Wrong

  1. Julie – I listened to that story last week when it aired on the radio and was transfixed. The poor child went back and forth, buffeted by the father’s desire to give her a “better” life in an LDS family in Utah than she could get either in an orphanage in Samoa or with her bio family in Samoa. As I listened to his genuine, yet misguided, efforts to do the right thing I kept thinking that this story shared a great deal with what Sally Gordon documented in her book The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, and with modern forms of human trafficking.

  2. Two comments.

    1-Punishing the agency may not help Elleia but it will help many Elleia’s of the future……

    2-It’s not all that clear to me that sending her back is against her best interests, if she is going to be well loved and cared for there. If she stays, she’s going to have a lot of anger and resentment against her current parent when she learns of the pain of her Samoan family.

  3. This story reminds me of the Korean adult adoptees because they too were the victims of agency lies. I think the link is


  4. one solution might be to regulate adoption enought to eliminate profit-making for the agencies