As a Chinese adoptee, I am disheartened and angered by the Instagram and YoutTube “influencer,” Myka Stauffer, who rehomed her 4-year-old Chinese adopted son, Huxley. My heart breaks for this sweet, little boy who deserved so much more from his adoptive parents, and for young adoptees who are watching this news and questioning the permanency of their position in their own adoptive families.
As devastating as this series of events is for Huxley, Myka Stauffer is certainly not the first celebrity to rehome an adopted child (Joyce Maynard). Some adoptive parents have gone to further lengths when frustrated with their adoptees, even resulting in their murder (Hyunsu O’Callaghan, the Hart family, Sherin Mathews). Over the last couple of days, I’ve been pondering why the Myka Stauffer rehoming case has garnered so much more attention than these other heartbreaking stories of adoptees wronged by their adoptive parents. The unique factor about Myka Stauffer is the culmination of almost every adoption trope and controversial practice so that there is no room left to say what they, as adoptive parents, did well. This case is about Huxley and the Stauffer family, but it is also about the public’s desperation to believe in the fantasy of adoption and anger at being shown the truth of what can, and often does, go wrong.
Myka and James Stauffer started their adoption journey on Youtube and quoted the popular Bible verse, James 1:27, “look after the widows and orphans in their distress,” when explaining part of their call to adopt. This verse among others is used to propagate international adoptions; however Christians who cite this verse often conveniently forget the part that calls on them to care for the widows, as well. The problem with keeping the discussion of adoption at a “divine” level is that it ignores all of the socioeconomic and political structures that drive adoptions in the first place and does nothing to alter the systems that create adoptable “orphans” or aid them in staying with their families and communities. Over 80% of the children who live in orphanages are not true orphans in the common sense of the word and have at least one living parent. Poverty is the leading cause of children entering orphanages. Arguing that adoptions are God’s will is synonymous with saying that poverty, war, social stigma, and inability to access healthcare are God’s will.
With God leading her mission, Myka engaged in the controversial practice of fundraising online for her international adoption. She used the proceeds from her YouTube videos to fund the adoption of Huxley and called on her followers to contribute financially, as well. One fundraiser created by Myka asked viewers to donate $5. Each $5 increment unlocked a puzzle piece of a photo of Huxley. The names of these who sponsored Huxley’s adoption were put in his memory book, incentivizing people to join the Stauffers in their adoption process.
Fundraising for adoption, as in this case, is oftentimes an exploitive practice that reveals intimate details about a child’s life history to the public without the child’s consent. Moreover, the use of fundraising further commodifies children by introducing even more financial transactions in the process of procuring them. The massive amount of Western wealth involved in international adoption skews the adoption system to favor predominantly white families in Western countries and creates an international marketplace for children instead of promoting practices that would allow them to stay in their original families and home countries.
Myka’s “Gotcha Day” video, in which she first met Huxley, became wildly popular with over 5 million views. In this video, Myka shows viewers her family’s heartfelt welcoming of this baby boy. However, Mkya’s use of the term “Gotcha Day” shows that she did not consult adult adoptees or refer to adoptee created books, blogs, or films, which often discourage the use of this phrase. Many adoptees, including myself, consider this term harmful and insensitive to all of the traumas associated with adoption. A child is not a commodity to be gotten or snatched.
With Huxley now in the United States, Myka Stauffer joined the category of “celebrity adopter.” Though she doesn’t have the same rank as Hollywood actors, Katherine Heigl, Hugh Jackman, Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie and others, who have adopted transracially and transnationally, she does have quite a following with over 700,000 YouTube subscribers and more than 200,000 Instagram followers (a number that has gone up since Huxley’s rehoming controversy). The spotlight on celebrity adoptions creates the ultimate “rags to riches,” feel-good story that so many people desire. Following his adoption, Myka Stauffer broadcasted Huxley’s adoption story on her platforms and positioned herself to the public as an “international adoption advocate” in order to promote more adoptions like her own.
In doing so, Myka Stauffer repeatedly violated Huxley’s privacy and ability to control his own story. Myka’s Youtube followers doubled during her first year with Huxley, who helped Myka earn sponsorships with various companies. In one of her monetized posts for a laundry detergent, she says “I love everything about this little boy and I wouldn’t trade him for anything!” Myka’s new position as an adoptive parent widened her existing audience in the parenting influencer world to the adoption community, as well. Her pristine photographs of her children in matching outfits, in height order further portrayed a perfect family and a perfect adoption of a darling, little boy.
One critic of Stauffer recently wrote, “Their YouTube channel skyrocketed thanks to Huxley! He’s done enough for the Stauffers. He bought them a McMansion, multiple vacations a year, etc.” The mass amount of financial gain accumulated by using Huxley’s image and adoption story enabled Myka to quit her career as a nurse and focus on creating content for YouTube and Instagram. To many observers, it appears that the Stauffers’ pimped Huxley’s image and story to the world for their own financial gain and abandoned him when parenting became too hard and he was no longer worth the money he brought in. While Huxley is at the center of this story, she continues to exploit and profit off of her four biological children, as well.
In 2018, Myka Stauffer posted in a Facebook group related to Chinese adoptions, “We are praying about adopting again. And my husband wanted me to ask what special needs would you consider minor or relatively easy to manage that most people wouldn’t consider easy?” This clearly indicates that she wanted to exploit another child as well in order to paint a picture of herself as a savior adoptive parent without having to significantly uproot or alter her lifestyle. Unfortunately, Huxley’s medical conditions put too many demands on what she expected her role as an adoptive mother to be.
The very fact that she has not taken down the Instagram photos or YouTube videos with Huxley shows that she does not take this situation seriously or understand fully the extent of her exploitation. These accounts are still monetized, and she is still making money off of this little boy who is no longer her son. [Sign this petition for the Stauffers to take take down their Youtube videos that involve Huxley.]
Unfortunately, Myka Stauffer is not alone in the business of exploiting adopted children (Tina Traster). The use of children’s images online has become very controversial in recent years and continues to be a concern in the adoption community, as well. Many adoption blogs are authored by adoptive mothers and engage in the oversharing of their child’s history and story in both words and photographs. Adoptive parent bloggers often don’t consider the fact that anything posted on the internet will stay there forever and what it might be like for their child’s future middle and high school classmates to read intimate details that should only be shared in a journal, with a doctor, or close friends and family. Even those with the best intentions must consider the fact that children do not understand the full ramifications of all of their information being available for public consumption and cannot make an informed decision. Oversharing on its own is unacceptable, but profiting off of that oversharing is deplorable.
It has come to light this week that Myka Stauffer’s adoption fantasy was performative for her social media platforms, and the family was struggling with Huxley’s autism, sensory processing disorder, and effects from his in-utero stroke. The Stauffers didn’t initially plan on adopting a child with special needs, but Myka says,”God softened our hearts” and “before we knew it, we were open to almost every special needs in the book.” She gained followers, money, and support for facing Huxley’s medical challenges publicly but recently announced that they were not equipped to handle his various needs, which contradicts an earlier statement made by her. “He is a great kid and his condition doesn’t involve that much overall care—all you need is a big heart and practice patience everyday. It’s a different kind of patience,” she said.
How could the Stauffers have been so unprepared for Huxley’s medical needs? In an interview, James Stauffer said, “With international adoption, sometimes there’s unknowns and things that are not transparent on files and things like that.” While James is right that there are unknowns with international adoption, there are countless unknowns in birthing biological children, as well. Still, the Stauffers promised to love and nurture Huxley the same way they would their biological children. If one of their biological children develops a neurological condition or becomes significantly impaired in an accident that requires ongoing medical attention, will the Stauffers choose to send this child to a new home? My guess is that they would have a very different reaction. Moreover, it is common knowledge that children available for adoption in many parts of the world may have unknown medical conditions even when they are labeled “typically developing.” The Stauffers should have had the basic understanding of adoption to realize that the situation could be more complex than they originally thought. Their total willingness to take a child with special needs, under the blind assumptions that love would be enough and that God would provide prompted them to proceed in ignorance and with little to no preparation.
The Stauffers’ ill-equipped adoption of a child with special needs reflects larger problems in the adoption system. Contributing to the sense of adoption as an industry driven by chains of supply and demand, in the U.S. the adoption fees for children with disabilities are on average $4,000 less than for a non-disabled child. Because children with disabilities are harder to place, requirements to adopt these children are often loosened, even though these children require parents who have more financial resources, more attention to give, and more pre-adoption training and research.
Additionally, full disclosure of a child’s disabilities is paramount in securing permanency for adoptees. Evidence shows that parents who receive full medical information when adopting a child with special needs later report a higher level of satisfaction in parenting and stability for the child. This allows parents to feel better prepared for the ongoing care their children will likely need in the forms of transportation to medical appointments, various therapies, and advocacy in the school setting.
As photos of Huxley trickled to very few in recent months and people began to wonder about his whereabouts, the Stauffers finally posted a video this Tuesday that revealed they had rehomed him to a different family — one they claim can manage his needs better. It’s concerning that the Stauffers “hand-selected” Huxley’s new parents when they couldn’t get it right the first time. How qualified are they in determining a best match?
The Stauffers said that they “remained vague about the details of their situation on social media to protect Huxley’s privacy and ensure the success of his new adoption.” This is inconsistent with Myka’s entire online presence that promoted Huxley and presented his adoption and his disabilities to the world with little concern for his privacy.
In an attempt to explain why she rehomed Huxley, Myka says, “We saw that in family time with other people, he constantly choose [sic] them and signed and showed tons of emotion to show us and let us know he wanted this.” Liking someone and wanting to be rehomed to them are two completely different things. Four-year-olds are curious. He may have just been wondering who these new people were or why they were being nice to him. Four-year-olds do not have the ability to comprehend the gravity of this type of decision or lifer alteration. The Stauffers chose this for Huxley, not him. This statement is her ill-attempt at trying to justify their choice and absolve themselves of any guilt, shame, or responsibility for the decision.
Huxley has already experienced the trauma and loss of one family, country, language, and culture. He’s now experienced another trauma and profound loss of another family. In addition to navigating feelings of a double abandonment, he will ponder the burden that Myka placed on the four-year-old when she claimed that he chose this for himself. Kids, egotistical in nature, often internalize shame and doubt and think that they are the reason certain circumstances occurred. The fact that Myka would do this is loathsome.
Huxley’s story must not be seen as an isolated case. All over the internet, people outside of the adoption community are outraged at news channels’ use of the word “rehome” in headlines on Huxley. The word “rehome” is an industry term, not created by adoptees or these news stations for this case in particular. Stauffer is one of tens of thousands of adoptive parents who have rehomed their adoptees, an oftentimes unregulated and dangerous practice that leaves already vulnerable children in the hands of people who didn’t have to undergo any screenings and are, at best, unprepared and, at worst, preditorial. A 2013 Reuters investigation estimates that more than 24,000 international adoptees in the United States are no longer with their original adoptive parents. The international adoption system’s actions and priorities repeatedly allow there to be new Huxleys. Without adoption policy and practice reform and a changed narrative on adoption, there will be more adoption disruptions and rehoming.
Myka told Business Insider, “The reason we haven’t updated you sooner is because the medical professionals, the agencies, multiple people have been allowing for Huxley to spend time with some different people to see and to make the perfect match and fit for his now new forever family.” The term “forever family” is common in the adoption world and one that I think needs serious reconsideration when so many adoptees end up in placements that disrupt. This is a complicated phrase because adoptees have already lost one family that was supposed to be “forever.” When an adoptee’s adoptive placements disrupts and they are rehomed, the idea of permanency becomes even less meaningful. Myka and James Stauffer were supposed to be Huxley’s “forever family,” and he should have never needed a new one. Using this language in situations that don’t reflect the reality undermines the meaning of both the words forever & family.
In the aftermath of announcing Huxley’s placement with a new adoptive family this week, people around the country are horrified and putting their feelings into comments on her Instagram and YouTube platforms. Myka Stauffer is deleting critical comments on her videos and blocking people on Instagram. Adoptees who are heartbroken about what happened to her young adoptee are trying to make sense of this situation, and her deletion of adoptee comments reflects a broader issue in the adoption community of adoptive parents silencing adoptee voices. When adoptees seem too radical or too outspoken and might disrupt the Hallmarkified narrative of international adoption, adoptive parents have historically and continue to delete adoptees’ comments, remove them from adoption groups or conversations, and try to discount their truths with the beloved, one-sided narrative of adoption. Only this time, for Myka, her fantasy has come to an end and can’t be patched up no matter how many comments she deletes.
More than just silencing adoptee voices, Myka Stauffer has engaged in another common tactic used by adoptive parents to discredit critical adoptees’ perspectives on adoption. On her YouTube video announcing Huxley’s rehoming, she has pinned a Chinese adoptee’s comment to the top. This particular adoptee thanks her for her bravery in making this difficult decision. By highlighting this adoptee voice but silencing others, Myka has tokenized this adoptee and used her as a prop to support her image just like she used her former son, Huxley. This move also pits adoptees in two categories against each other — one as the well adjusted, understanding adoptees and the other as the angry, maladjusted, too sensitive adoptees — which serves to divide adoptees’ efforts instead of creating a unified stance together.
I think it is also important to not let Myka’s husband, James, off the hook for this week’s news. #MykaStauffer is the trending hashtag on social media, but James Stauffer was complicit in the entire process. While James might not be the star of the YouTube channel or in the majority of the Instagram photos, he benefited financially from Huxley’s exploitation these past couple of years and played an integral role in the decision to rehome Huxley, as well. The relative silence around James’ role in these events mirrors a pattern of missing fathers in adoption stories – both biological and adoptive – and a larger parenting archetype of higher standards and harsher criticisms of mothers than fathers.
Once upon a time, a loving family in the United States adopted a little boy from China. He giggled and laughed and loved his new family immediately. He wore matching clothes with his new siblings. Even though he had some medical conditions, a magic pill made him all better. And everything was good. The world saw how great his adoptive mother was because she took in a child who wasn’t her own, loved him unconditionally, and they all lived happily ever after.
This is the fantasy that the adoption system wants people to believe is possible and that Myka Stauffer wanted to believe when she adopted her former son, Huxley. When Myka carefully staged her Instagram photos and crafted her uplifting captions, she performed this beautiful fantasy with her new adopted baby boy. The problem was that once she went down the fantasy road, she was trapped in the made-up fantasy on Instagram, on YouTube, and in her real life until the truth exploded around her.
What she got was a harsh reality that adoptees suffer lifelong trauma and have unanswerable questions, that the adoption system sometimes covers up issues and cuts corners to place children faster, and that medical conditions can change over time and can have longterm, life-altering ramifications for parents as caregivers. The adoption system wants people to believe that anyone can adopt, but the truth is that not everyone should. If someone doesn’t know how committed they can be to a child during the hardest of times, they have no business adopting and compounding traumas for a child.
The rehoming of Huxley is a message for all of the people who are gullible for a happy story even when it’s not true. In addition to the agencies that don’t do their due diligence, adoptive parents who fail adoptees, and the media’s unrealistic portrayal of adoptees, people outside of the adoption community, too, perpetuate some of the problem by being so desperate for a good story at any cost. When people don’t want the reality, they’ll accept a fantasy version of a story.
As the Stauffer family’s personal adoption fantasy came to an end, many people’s idea of the adoption fantasy has also been challenged. While nothing can go back in time and prevent Huxley from being exploited and used to prop up a false narrative, this moment in time can be used to go beyond knee-jerk reactions to the sensationalism of The Stauffer Life and truly examine what is not working in the adoption system and what is not working about the dominant adoption narrative. Only when we all collectively dismantle the adoption fantasy will children’s needs be prioritized the way they should have been this entire time.
Please do not click on or watch any of Myka Stauffer’s videos on Youtube. These accounts are still monetized, and she is still making money off of this little boy who is no longer her son. Sign this petition for the Stauffers to take take down their Youtube videos that involve Huxley.