Jane Aronson, the Orphan Doctor. The Babble Interview.


We first encountered adoption specialist Jane Aronson, also known as the Orphan Doctor, at a breakfast co-hosted by Mary-Louise Parker (interviewed by Babble here) for ErbaOrganics, the swank baby-product line whose purchase benefits Aronson’s Worldwide Orphans Foundation. The Brooklyn-born Aronson spoke with such conviction and intensity that she commanded the full attention of the crowd, no mean feat considering the radiant Parker was lounging nearby in four-inch heels. In fact, even next to Angelina Jolie, a friend and client of Aronson’s, the doctor is a captivating presence.

As clear a candiate as we’ve ever seen for living-sainthood, Aronson has treated thousands of pre- and post-adoption orphans through her private practice and her non-profit (which provides children in orphanages with check-ups, HIV treatment and other essential humanitarian services). Talk to her for any length of time and you may well find yourself suddenly considering adoption, or wanting to throw money at her foundation. We dare you to learn about her work and crack one more joke about Brangelina’s growing brood. – Ada Calhoun

How did you get into this field?

I’m a pediatrician by training, and I became an international health specialist at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. AIDS was defined in 1981. I entered medical school in the fall of 1982. In my life as a lesbian, I had many friends who were affected by HIV, and I became a pediatric AIDS specialist. I was very interested in international health, and it just sort of unfolded that I became interested in health issues of children living as orphans in institutions. And then I developed this practice for international adoption.

With the rise in attachment parenting, there’s been an emphasis on the ages zero to three. There’s this sense that if children don’t get nurturing during this crucial time that they are done for, emotionally speaking. It seems that parents are unwilling to adopt older children as a result.

People make their risk assessment of what they’re willing to deal with in the care of children adopted from abroad. It’s a real, conscious decision for parents who adopt. They kind of have a little algorithm. If you adopt an infant, there are less institutionalization effects and hopefully less issues around developmental delays and attachment disorder. But at the same time, when you adopt an infant, there’s not a lot of behavior or development that’s there to begin with, and so some people shy away from infants because they feel they don’t know the real character of the child, the personality.

So adopting an older child can be an advantage.

Some people just really prefer to adopt an older child, because they can really see who the child is. And they feel a sense of control that if the kid’s lasted a few years and is alive, he or she likely doesn’t have some god-awful disease. There are many people now who really want to adopt older children for more positive and pro-active reasons. These kids are growing up within a family and so they understand attachment bonding and intimacy. But they have lost their family to AIDS, like in Ethiopia. These children often come in sibling groups. Older parents feel much more comfortable with an older child because of their personal age, their advanced age. It fits them not to be taking care of a baby and staying up all night, and also to do a nice thing.