From provocative videos to headline-making risqué concerts, Madonna is known for pushing people's buttons. Now it's her actions off stage that are putting her back in the center of controversy.
In the fall of 2006, Madonna traveled to the African nation of Malawi where she is building an orphan care center with her foundation Raising Malawi. Soon after her trip, news broke that she and husband, Guy Ritchie, were adopting a 13-month-old boy named David.
Local human rights groups have since gone to court, challenging the Malawian government's decision to allow Madonna to adopt David. They believe that Madonna used her wealth and celebrity to fast track the adoption. News outlets have also recently reported that David's birth father, whom originally was in support of the adoption, claims to not have fully understood what he was saying when he encouraged the adoption.
Madonna, accustomed to being criticized in the media, says she never expected to be criticized for her family's choice to adopt a son.
"I didn't realize that the adoption was causing any controversy until I came back," she says. "There were a million film crews in the airport and press camped outside my door. I don't read newspapers or watch television, but all of my friends have let me know what everybody's talking about and what's going on in the news. So it didn't really hit me until I got back to England. It's pretty shocking."
Does celebrity affect the adoption process?
Madonna and Guy Ritchie have been granted an "interim adoption" by the Malawian government—David will live in their care for an initial 18 months while a London-based social worker will visit them periodically to ensure David is being cared for and not neglected. After the 18 months, Madonna and Guy may then legally adopt David.
Madonna says that her critics don't really understand how the Malawian adoption process works if they believe she used status to speed up the process of adopting David. "I assure you it doesn't matter who you are or how much money you have, nothing goes fast in Africa," Madonna says. "There are no adoption laws in Malawi. And I was warned by my social worker that because there were no known laws in Malawi, they were more or less going to have to make them up as we went along. And she did say to me, 'Pick Ethiopia. Go to Kenya. Don't go to Malawi because you're just going to get a hard time.'"
The state of baby David's health
Madonna says that she and Guy had planned on adopting a child two years ago, not knowing where they would adopt. It was her ongoing philanthropic work in Malawi that finally brought the Ritchies to David.
"I'm financing a documentary about orphans in Malawi, so I was allowed to view footage and photographs of a lot of the children. An 8-year-old girl who is living with HIV was holding this child. I became transfixed by him. … But I didn't yet know I was going to adopt him. I was just drawn to him."
David had spent most of his life in an orphanage with 500 other orphans. Madonna didn't know the state of David's health when she was visiting Malawi and considering adopting David. She brought a pediatrician to test all of the children's health for their overall well being, and later learned that David tested negative for tuberculosis, malaria, HIV and other common illnesses striking African orphans.
"When I met him, he was extremely ill," Madonna says. "He had severe pneumonia, and he could hardly breathe. I was in a state of panic, because I didn't want to leave him in the orphanage because I knew they didn't have medication to take care of him. We got permission to take him to a clinic to have a bronchial dilator put on him. … He had pneumonia and was given an injection of antibiotics. He's still a little bit ill, not completely free of his pneumonia, but he's much better than he was when we found him."
At home with Lourdes and Rocco
Madonna and Guy now have David with them at their home in London, along with their two other children, Lourdes and Rocco. Madonna said the children are in complete love with their new baby brother.
"They just embraced him, and that's the amazing thing about children," she says. "They don't ask questions. They've never once said, 'What is he doing here', or mentioned the difference in his skin color, or questioned his presence in our life. That is an amazing lesson that children do teach us."
Madonna addresses David's biological father's recent comments.
When Madonna first arrived in Malawi, she says she didn't know anything about David's parents. She was soon told that his mother had died of HIV and that his three siblings had also died of HIV. At the time, the Minister of Children and Mothers Welfare told Madonna that even though David's biological father's whereabouts were unknown, they would have to find him to give consent for the adoption.
"Here's what I knew. David had been living in this orphanage since he was two weeks old," Madonna says. "He had survived malaria and tuberculosis, and no one from his extended family had visited him since the time he arrived. So from my perspective, there was no one looking after David's welfare."
Once David's father was located, he initially said he gave his son up for adoption always hoping that someone like Madonna would be able to give him a better life, and agreed to the adoption. Now, according to the press, David's father is saying he did not fully understand what he was doing when he agreed to let Madonna adopt his son.
"I do not believe that is true. I sat in that room, I looked into that man's eyes," Madonna says. "I believe that the press is manipulating this information out of him. I believe at this point in time, he's been terrorized by the media. They have asked him things, repeatedly, and they have put words in his mouth. They have spun a story that is completely false."
Media influence on international adoption
With all the speculation, rumors and overall controversy surrounding Madonna's adoption of David, how does Madonna feel about the media?
"I wouldn't say I'm hurt by it, but I would say I'm disappointed," she says. "I understand that gossip and telling negative stories sells newspapers. But I think for me, I'm disappointed because it discourages other people from doing the same thing—for anybody who had the idea that they, too, would like to open their home and give a life to a child living in an orphanage who might possibly not live past the age of 5. Anybody who had that idea would be discouraged from doing it. For me, that's what disappoints me the most. I feel like the media is doing a great disservice to all the orphans of Africa, period, not just Malawi, by turning it into such a negative thing.
"I beg all of those people to go to Africa and see what I saw and walk through those villages. … To see 8-year-olds in charge of households. To see mothers dying, with Kaposi sarcoma lesions all over their bodies. To see open sewages everywhere. To see what I saw. It is a state of emergency. As far as I'm concerned, the adoption laws have to be changed to suit that state of emergency. I think if everybody went there, they'd want to bring one of those children home with them and give them a better life."
HEEERRREEEE He is!
With new dad, Guy Ritchie