I adopted my first daughter from Anhui province (Lydia, now almost 9) in 2001 and my second daughter from Hunan province (Adeline, now 5) in 2005. My father, mother and sister came with me to adopt my first daughter; we later visited the orphanage where she had lived. Had it been possible for my parents to adopt a child as well that very day, they would have done so in a second. We were all overcome with a desire to change a child’s life. This feeling of wanting to love, care for and adopt a child who has been institutionalized is a very natural feeling and one that has led to the creation of many happy families.
Many people arrive at the idea of adoption after meeting other families formed in the same way; others look into the eyes of an institutionalized child and want to give them a father or mother. One local expat, Cyndi Campbell, shared how she came to decide to adopt: “I had some good friends I was working with who were going through the process. I was also volunteering at an orphanage and the two things together really set the wheels going.” Another family, the Wicks, decided a few years ago to expand their family through adoption. Since they’ve lived in Beijing since 1995, adopting from China was the logical choice.
As an American who lives in Beijing with her two Chinese daughters, I’ve had to get used to having the most intimate details of my life become visible to anyone we encounter. My mother has asked me how I deal with people always staring at us. The truth is, I don’t really notice it anymore, although strangers always seem to notice us. In China, locals always comment about my daughters speaking English. Campbell calls it the “Your child is Chinese but not Chinese” conundrum; it stumps many locals. If you’re planning to adopt, expect to be approached by pleasant people with genuine curiosity or who are interested in adopting themselves – but also be prepared for intrusive questions and stares.
International adoption requires a delicate balance of mixing cultures, a lesson learned from the first wave of international adoptees brought from South Korea to the US in the decade following the Korean War. Adoptive parents were encouraged to treat the child as if race were not an issue and to immerse them in American culture. As a result, reports the US–Korean Institute, many of the grown-up adoptees felt an irreplaceable loss of their native language, culture and customs. The 1990 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states, “A child … shall not be denied the right … to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.” It’s always tricky maneuvering between two worlds but the adoptive parent’s efforts to keep their child in touch with his or her roots will help the child immensely.
What I Wish I Had Known Before Adopting
I am so proud and humbled that I was able to adopt and be a mother to my girls, but I know that their arrival in my life stems from multiple sorrows: the pain of a birth mother who couldn’t keep these precious girls, the terror of an abandoned child before being taken to the orphanage, and the confusion and fright my girls felt when they were placed with a new mother who looked and sounded foreign to them. Prospective adoptive parents should remember that their arrival in their child’s life follows the experience of abandonment and institutionalization. Even as you celebrate finally bringing your new child home, he or she is losing one more piece of their past and all that is familiar.
I also wish that I had understood more about the seamy underbelly of adoption. In the last few years, scandals have surfaced which do more than hint at the widespread level of corruption in many countries. For some players in the system, adoption is nothing more than a source of income that can be exploited. In 2005, charges of “baby-selling” were levied against officials in Hunan at various levels. There are trials currently underway in Vietnam, in which doctors and nurses are charged with falsification of documents used to facilitate international adoption. Some countries have periodically placed restrictions on adopting children from Cambodia and Guatemala because of concerns about child trafficking. It’s important to always keep in mind: Adoption is a moneymaking venture for someone.
Lastly, I wish that I had understood more about how the blanks and questions about my daughters’ early lives would affect all of us. I don’t know about the breast cancer history in my daughters’ birth families or if they had chicken pox. I don’t know anything about their mothers – I’ve had to accept that I may never know these details, but by visiting their orphanages and villages, we do gain some insight into their life before I met them.
The Expat Bonus
The first international adoptions of Chinese children began in 1985, when 20 children were adopted into US families. Intercountry adoption began in earnest in 1991 when international agreements were formalized. In 2005 alone, 12,353 Chinese children were adopted internationally (approximately 65 percent to US families). All told, approximately 120,000 children have been removed from China and placed with families overseas.
Campbell, an American, says that while adoption did not change her plans for returning to the US, it did reinforce her desire to keep teaching in China. “It seems silly to leave after I’ve adopted my girls from here. I want my daughters to know their country,” she says.
Other families also said that they also had no desire to return to their home countries anytime soon. They see great benefits to raising their daughters in a bilingual environment; they also enjoy their jobs and the community they have here as expats. Lorraine Wicks said that she was immediately inducted into the mothers’ groups in Beijing and had a good support system. Personally, when I was offered a position in Beijing, I jumped at the chance to raise my daughters in their country of birth. This is a great place for me to be a parent and let my girls experience their native culture.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Adopting
• Are you prepared to take on not only a child but also their unknown past and birth family? Remember, even if you never meet the birth family, they do exist and are a valid part of the child’s life that needs to be acknowledged.
• Are you willing to make China a part of your permanent life? If you have an appreciation for this country and culture, you will better be able to pass it on to your child. Grown adoptees advise adoptive parents to blend both cultures as much as possible – to honor both heritages rather than singling one out.
• Are you able to parent a child whose race might be different from your own? Are you prepared to live your life in areas where your child will have good support and role models from others of the same ethnic background?
• Do you have friends who are Chinese, aside from your ayi? Or do you only have friends within the expat community? Your child will need good role models.
• Are you prepared for the stares and intrusive questions that will come your way no matter where you live?
• Are you able to truly put your child first and acknowledge their feelings even if they counteract the joy you feel?
• Are you prepared to take on known or unknown special needs? Institutionalized children have suffered deprivation and loss; some have moderate to severe physical and/or mental health needs.
• If you choose to adopt a child with special needs, what support structures do you have in place to best meet the child’s needs?
China’s adoption guidelines
Currently, adoptive parents must meet the following requirements:
• Over 30, but under 49 years old (some exceptions for special-needs children)
• Married for at least two years (five years if either spouse has been previously divorced)
• Minimum of a high school certificate
• No more than four children under the age of 18 at home
• Youngest child at home must be older than 12 months
• Steady income no less than USD 10,000 for each
person in the family. For example, a family of two must net USD 20,000 per year, while a family of four must net USD 40,000 per year.
• Net assets of at least USD 80,000
• Body Mass Index (BMI) under 40
• No criminal record (this includes DUIs)
• No recurring psychiatric or mental health prescriptions
Selecting an adoption service provider or agency in your home country
Below are the basic steps for inter-country adoption. They are similar across countries, but your home country may have different policies or steps which need to be observed. Please check with your home country before beginning the process. Several countries have reciprocal agreements with China which expedite the process for expats who have lived in China for over one year.
• Paperwork collection and verification – includes home studies and background checks
• Gaining approval from your home country to adopt
• Waiting to finalize: The current average wait time from general approval to having your child in your arms is over 3 years and growing.
• Being matched with a child: China does not allow for choosing a child and the CCAA will match your dossier with that of a waiting child. The CCAA takes this matching very seriously and does a wonderful job matching children to prospective parents. If you are adopting a special needs child, there are approved agencies who can allow you to search through information about available children and choose one who best fits your family.
• Adopting and obtaining legal custody of the child:
This is generally done in the child’s home province.
• Applying for a visa for your home country: The child is considered an immigrant and will need to obtain citizenship which matches your own – the process varies country to country.
OCDF (Our Chinese Daughters Foundation)
Information – Michael Li
firstname.lastname@example.org 8403 4979
Homestudies (background information) and questions –
Karen Friedman 134 3900 9391