Saturday, 24 August 2013

The life and times of adopting internationally

J had a playdate with a friend from her Summer Chinese School.  On the last day of Summer School, I had sent letters through J, to the parents of 2 of her classmates, who she played with all the time.  We’ll call them, Sally and Jodie.  In the note, I told both that J had such a great time with their daughters and that I’d like to plan some playdates.  In included my email address, telephone number, Canadian name and Chinese name (as I always do when dealing with Chinese people-why have the name if I can’t use it?).  Both sets of parents replied, and so I organized something for today.  Sally was able to make it, Jodie was not.

Sally and her Father arrived before we did.  Given we were a couple of minutes late, my husband dropped J and I off and went to park.  When we arrived, I looked around and did not see Sally.  J said she could see Sally’s Father, so I asked where, and we approached him.  I introduced myself (which, in hindsight, I probably should have done in Mandarin, but chickened out as I usually do).   I asked if he was planning on staying or going, as we didn’t mind supervising the girls for a couple of hours.  He seemed confused, so I reiterated to him that we had our laptops and planned to stay, so if he had things to do, we were fine with staying.  Then my husband arrived.  There was brief small talk, and then he indicated he would leave but seemed a bit reluctant (understandably so, as he really did not know us) and confused.  Then he said: “I just had never met you before.  I thought you were Chinese.” 


He followed it up with: “You have a Chinese name.”  So I explained that I have been taking Mandarin lessons for a few years and one of my teachers had named me.  He chuckled a bit and said: “Oh, you take lessons.”

He left to do some shopping, and Hubby and I watched in wonder as Sally and J played, laughed, had fun and enjoyed each other’s company.

When dad returned, he was not overly friendly.  I tried to make conversation.  I told him his daughter said they went to New York for her birthday and saw the Lion King.  He said there were a lot of people in New York, compared to our city.   So (speaking of lots of people), I talked about our trip to China last November. He seemed surprised that we went to China.  So we talked about the fact that we went to Julia’s birth city.  He asked, in amazement: “She had a family in China???” I explained that she was adopted when she was 1 year old, and we only knew what city she was from.  A few times, while we chatted, he would let out this weird, laugh, that I felt was really condescending.  I can’t even explain it.  I'm skipping many details, because I don't even know how to describe them.

All that matters is that it wasn’t until later, when I post-mortemed the interaction and tried to figure out why it felt so awkward and uncomfortable.

That’s when it occurred to me. 

I interact with Chinese people.  A lot.  It is no secret that I am in love with China and its people.  Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I jump in there and chat with them, sometimes in Mandarin, sometimes in English or French.  And when the conversation manages to work itself around family and children, they are always excited to hear that I have this beautiful, smart, endearing, loving daughter from China.  We talk about where she is from, and how old she was when she came to us and more often than not, they say that she is a lucky girl to have parents like us, to which my standard response is: “no-we are the lucky ones to have this amazing child”.  I hate being hailed as a hero.  I am not.  This was a selfish act, not a rescue mission.

The problem is that I have been keeping a close eye on the reports of child trafficking scandals in China.  Everytime I read about yet another one being uncovered, I freak out a little and hope that this is not what happened to bring my daughter into the adoption process.  This is a personal emotional struggle I have never talked about until today.  Not even with my husband.

But today was the first time that I felt there was any inkling of those thoughts about my child by someone else.  Could I be wrong about this?  Could it be that this was nowhere near Sally’s dad’s mind in his interactions with me (especially his vehement question about J’s family before we adopted her)?  Yes.  I may be over analyzing.   But it has made me think.  And it made me want to write about this very touchy subject.

When we received our referral for J’s adoption, we were told that she was found less than 24 hours after her birth, in a vacant rental space near a school.  We are not oblivious to the fact that this may or may not be her real story.  Frankly, it seems a few children (at least J and 2 others) have this same story (and exact same generally described location).  It is possible that it is just a popular place to leave a child, in the hopes that she (or he) will be found quickly.  The fact that when we were in our daughter’s birth city in November, our guide questioned the locals and found out that a child had been found nearby about a year ago lends credence to the fact that it may, in fact, just be a good spot. 

Even at 6, J understands that we don’t know if this is the truth or not.  For now, we have made a conscious decision to accept this story as our truth.  We’ve also been clear with J that we will be taking her lead on this.  If she chooses to believe it, so will we.  And if she decides it doesn’t feel right and that it is not her story, we will support her as well.  The same goes for the “finding clothes” we were provided, allegedly coming from J’s file at the orphanage.  Well, kinda.  In that case, we’ve decided, led by J’s feeling, that they are probably not authentic.  We’ve taught her to always follow her gut.  And we have made it clear that whatever she believes as her story, is what we will believe as well.

I have to come to terms with the fact that the story we’ve been given may be a cover up for something more sinister.  And if I ever find out that this is the case, I’m not sure how I will stomach it.  The thought of this amazing child being taken away from her birth family illegally, by force, by intimidation or by trickery freaks me out.  I guess I’ve convinced myself that in a situation where deeply entrenched societal values force you to look upon a female birth as a curse and where only a male child is acceptable, abandoning an infant child in a society where girls have a chance at a real life in China or elsewhere, I feel abandonment would have been the lesser of the evils (the more evil being leaving her to die or ending her life).  So when people say: “Isn’t it a shame how they just abandon their girls?” I usually respond with: “At least, their daughters have a chance at a life where they will be loved and cherished.  It is better than being left to die.”   Regrettably, not all of them find a loving home.  I wish they did.  But they have a better chance at it than if they were to die.

Would these children be better to be raised in their birth family?  I’m going out on a limb, here, in a very controversial area.  Here’s how I see it: If they would not be loved and, rather, would be resented for not allowing the family to have a boy (as a result of the one child policy), then no.  They would not necessarily be better off. The fact is this: this is not about whether or not the child would be better with a birth family or an adoptive family (because, let’s face it, there are way too many children who do not get adopted and age out in orphanages of varying quality).  This is about the impact that the one child policy has on a society where a preference for boys has persisted and grown from thousands of years.  It is about forcing families to choose between raising their children at an unreasonably huge financial cost (fines are usually about a year’s worth of wages) or teaching women that a child is not a child until it is born a boy (i.e. don’t get attached to a foetus, as you don’t know if you’ll get to keep it).

There is another aspect to this.  Let’s say Sally’s Dad did have this on his mind.  Why?  What if he has a family member who went through the loss of a child by illegal means?  What if he and his wife did?  How would they feel upon meeting us?  After all, adoptive families are often seen, rightly or wrongly, as being the ones to blame for creating this market for child trafficking.  If this was the case for him or someone close to him, and you were in his shoes, how would you react?

So there are so many issues here.  And if you’ve adopted internationally or are planning to, you must be prepared for the comments, insinuations, difficult conversations, and emotional confusion and pain all of this will cause in your life and your child’s life.  I chose to do this, knowing the risks (well, partially-it’s always so much clearer once you’re living it).  But my child didn’t choose this.  What about when she’s old enough for people to choose to discuss these things with her?  How much does this risk hurting her?  She didn’t choose this…  But the social protective bubble I bought doesn’t fit.  That means that I’ll have to protect her the old-fashioned way: with age-appropriate education, frank discussion and unrelenting and unconditional support.  Here I go….

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