I think about my daughter every day. I don’t know her name. I don’t know how old she is. I don’t even know if she is born yet—although I’m pretty sure she is. I don’t know her family, what town she is from, or what she looks like. I’ve never even seen her picture. My wife and I haven’t figured out what her name will be. Just the same, I love her, even though I haven’t met her.
What I can tell you is this; she’ll be up to 18 months old, from somewhere in China, and she’ll be our daughter the second we hold her picture in our hands some time next spring. We started the international adoption process last May. We should send in our “Dossier” this October. With any luck, we’ll have a “Referral” next April or May. The Dossier is the ultimate goal of anyone in the middle of their international adoption paper-chase. It contains notarized and state sealed documents detailing the adoptive parents’ finances, employment status and wages, marriage and birth certificates, a letter to the officials of the foreign country, medical examinations and tests, an intensive home study done by a social worker, photographs, a clearance letter from the local police, and a magic document from the INS called the 171H. It takes four or five months to gather all of these documents, and it’s a long journey.
That photograph I mentioned earlier comes with the Referral six or seven months after the Dossier is sent to the country of choice. Some countries take longer—China is running about that long right now. It could be longer and it has been in the past. During periods of political unrest it’s taken as long as 16 months. At any time the Chinese could change a policy or a rule and extend or even discontinue the entire process. It’s a difficult wait and a stressful experience you can be sure.
We have one biological son already, aged five. If we had known we wouldn’t be able to have any other children “the old fashioned way”, we probably would have started this process sooner. Its funny how you take for granted the ease at which children are conceived and born every day. Very little paperwork. No letters of permission to government officials. Nothing needs to be notarized or sealed at the state capital. There isn’t a 20 hour airline trip and two weeks of travel in a foreign country required to have a baby the natural way. These are all things we never thought of until about a year ago when we realized that we could conceive but not carry a child to full term.
People ask us why we’re adopting and if we have talked to all of the fertility doctors. They want to know if we’ve run all of the tests. Well, we ran a lot of tests and we tried all of the pills, creams and other concoctions that our doctor gave us. Eventually it got to a point where we were focusing entirely on getting pregnant and the stress of the whole ordeal was taking its toll on our relationship. It was no longer the method we wanted to use in order to add to our family. We had always talked about adoption but it seemed out of reach—too expensive and time consuming.
The more we thought about it the more it seemed like a possibility. The cost of fertility treatments was also high and the emotional rollercoaster of hoping that each time the process would work and having to face the possibility of failure again and again was too depressing to contemplate. Why not put our time and energy into a sure thing? There are thousands of children worldwide who need families. Why shouldn’t we try to give one of them a home? It seemed selfish to go through all of the pain, stress, and expense of trying to conceive a child when there were so many children in the world who needed a family like ours.
Still a little skeptical and unsure of what we were getting ourselves into, we went to an informational meeting at Bethany Christian Services, an adoption agency in Traverse City. No obligations; just a meeting to see what the whole process was all about and what it entailed. There was no hard sell. There wasn’t a push to get us to “sign on the dotted line”. The people were fantastic and the information presented was very persuasive on its own merits. Halfway through the meeting we met a mother and her 2 year old daughter who was adopted from China the year before. It was, as they say, “all over” at that point. What a precious little girl. What a fantastic story. All of the sudden it all made sense. This was what we had to do. This was the way we would “complete” our family. If we weren’t already sold at that point, they ended the meeting with a DVD that one of the families had made chronicling their trip to china to adopt their daughter. It was hard not to shed a tear at the overwhelming emotion of the whole experience.
My wife and I left the meeting drained emotionally. There was no discussion or weighing of the pros and cons like with every other major decision we had made in our ten year marriage. I looked at her as we walked out to the van and said “we have to do this”. She was surprised because she had set the meeting up and was researching the possibility of international adoption for almost a year. I wasn’t part of this investigation process and I agreed to go along a little reluctantly. I quite honestly had not shown a lot of interest in the whole adoption idea. There was a multitude of worries about financing the adoption, dealing with attachment issues, and the problems we would face in becoming an interracial family. Once we walked out of that meeting, though, I didn’t have any of those worries anymore. Our destiny was clear. The next day we put in our application and we were assigned a social worker. The paper-chase and the adventure began.
We were approved for a number of countries in Europe as well as China and Korea. After doing research about Chinese adoption and the plight of Chinese girls, we decided this was the area of the world that we were most interested in. In China they have the “one child rule”. Any Chinese families wishing to have more than one child have had to pay a significant tax on that second child and become ineligible for special financial incentives given to single child families. Since girls don’t carry on the family name and their role is to support their husband’s parents in old age rather than their own, many Chinese families will abandon their girl child and try again for a boy. It’s illegal for Chinese citizens to abandon a child of course, but they are left with little choice because it’s also illegal for anyone but the state to put children up for adoption. So, thousands of little girls are left in train stations and outside of police stations and in open markets. This is the adoption plan that their mothers have created—the only adoption plan possible. The rule has been expanded in recent years to allow for a second birth if the first born child is a girl. The tradition which holds boy children in higher regard than girl children persists, though. Girls continue to be placed into orphanages and adopted by the thousands each year.
Our dossier is almost ready to send in. Sometime next summer we’ll get the call to go and pick up our little girl. We’ll spend over 20 hours on a plane to Beijing where we’ll spend two days sightseeing and getting over our jet-lag. Then we’re off to the province of our daughter’s birth (on another plane) to wait in a hotel to receiver her. After spending a week getting to know each other, we’ll fly again to Guangzhou in the southern part of China where the American Consulate resides to finish our final paperwork and to have our daughter’s final medical check before leaving her birth country. Finally we’ll fly to Hong Kong and exit the country on another 20 hour trip home. When the plane touches down, she starts the process towards becoming an American citizen and we start the process of becoming a new family—complete at last.
At that point I’ll finally know the answers to some of those questions I have today. I’ll know her name (the one we’ll give her and the name given to her by the Chinese orphanage), where she is from, and what she looks like. I’ll know what she likes to eat, her sleeping habits, and the way she looks when she smiles. What we may never know (and she may never know) is her real name, birth-date, and her parents’ names. These details are not usually left with these girls when their mothers and fathers take the risk of leaving them to be found and placed into orphanages.
So that’s how I came to love a little girl I’ve never met. I think I started to love her when I first heard about these little girls and read the stories surrounding their journey into the orphanage system. It’s funny that I know literally nothing about her at this point in the process but I love her just the same. I wonder if it makes me love her more because it’s so much work and such a long wait to finally meet her; or maybe because we thought we might never have another child. After careful consideration I don’t think so. This entire process has made my wife and I really examine why we love our children so much whether they are adopted or biological—simply because they’re ours.
November is Adoption Awareness month. For more information on international adoption, go to http://www.bethany.org/ or call Bethany Christian Services at 1-800-Bethany.