Friday, September 11, 2009

Comfortable Conversations

Many of you know we have a private blog to follow our progress to adopt our second daughter, Zelda, from China. On that blog, I wrote a post about the conversations we will and won't have in public or around Annalee about adoption. I've heard from many friends in the adoption community about the value of this post and how they want to share it with friends and family. Though this site is dedicated to our priceless family moments, I thought it might be valuable to have here for the many who are visiting, given the feedback I've received on the private site.


When our referral for Zelda came through, we were beside ourselves with excitement, thrilled beyond imagination. But, what has really struck me has been hearing the excitement mirrored back to us by our friends and family. Whether it's talking with you on the phone, seeing you in person or reading an e-mail you've sent, I feel the near giddiness and sheer happiness that you feel for us. Ron and I are so blessed to have you with us on this journey. You certainly helped sustain us during the wait these many years.

Now that we have our referral, we have received so many questions of interest about the process, about Zelda and about adoption in general. Part of the reason for this blog is to provide us a place to answer those questions so that everyone will know what's going on, what's next, etc.

It also has become a place for us to share information that we are unable to share in person or on the phone. And, here's why. The primary reason for us to hesitate in conversing about some topics is our concern for how a conversation may be overheard and interpreted by Annalee. Let's keep in mind that she was adopted, so when we talk about Zelda, it would be very easy for Annalee to hear things and apply them to her history. That is not how we want her to develop her 'story' in her mind. Ron and I have been very purposeful in how we talk about adoption in general and her adoption in particular. At six, she knows everything she should know that is age-appropriate for her. In conversations about Zelda, Annalee may hear something that is inappropriate or unrelated to her but she may apply it to herself anyway. So, our goal is to discuss adoption and Zelda in a way that is already comfortable for Annalee.

A second reason for limiting our conversations about Zelda's adoption may be that we believe some information simply is private. We don't believe that every detail of our children's lives should be shared. At some point in the future, each of our daughters may choose to share parts of their history. But it is just that, parts of their history. And, we want them to decide their limits to disclosure. I will grant you that we shared a lot of Annalee's information previously. I believe that in traveling the adoption life, we have come to learn that not everything needs to be nor should be made available for everyday consumption.

Lastly, we believe that some questions, though well-intended, are just inappropriate or unsuitable for public discussion. It may be the language used or poor word choice, or it may just be comments that are off-color. Again, we are always thinking of our daughters first and foremost.

One common question that is often asked of us - and right in front of Annalee - is why did we chose to adopt our daughters from China. Among the many reasons we chose China are that they have a very organized adoption program run by the government, the children tend to be healthy and well cared for, we would not have to worry about birth parents changing their minds about choosing adoption, the wait times were shorter than a domestic adoption (at least they used to be) and, sadly, the children are in social welfare institutes because of cultural beliefs and government mandates (more about this below). Most importantly, though, and the answer you will hear from me is that China is where God told us our children were waiting. He spoke through Ron one morning, and we listened.

Some other topics that aren't always easy to discuss include:

Why the Chinese have so many girls in institutes and available for adoption, why was she in an institute - When the World Health Organization urged nations to reduce their populations, China took this to heart and made an edict that families would be allowed one child. In some rural areas where families need more hands to farm the land, more children are allowed. More recently, families that have enough wealth are paying fines to have more than one child in their family. The reason that girls are the ones predominantly found in institutes is because historically and culturally, China has been a country that values boys for what they provide the family. Boys can work the land with their parents better than girls can. Boys, once they marry, bring their wives into the family home. The wives then become near servants to their in-laws. Boys, in many ways, are the government version of social security for their parents. These views are changing in more progressive areas of the country, but the old rules still seem to hang on.

Why they abandon children in China - It's very important to understand that China doesn't have the word 'abandon' in their vocabulary. It's not understood. It is illegal for the Chinese to leave their children, so they 'leave them to be found.' In their minds, they do not abandon their children but put them in a safe place where they know the child will be discovered and cared for. And, many know that their children will be adopted either domestically or internationally and live their lives in a loving forever family.

Why the wait has taken so long - In between the time we adopted Annalee and submitted our paperwork for Zelda, China opened adoptions to several additional countries. They now work with 16 countries to facilitate international adoptions. More importantly, China opened domestic adoptions for families within China to adopt these Chinese children. And, that's a wonderful thing - for the children and these adoptive parents. China also hosted the 2008 summer Olympics. We can speculate all we want about how the government wanted other countries to view them. We will never know what impact this may have had on the rate at which they processed adoption applications.

Belief in the information that China provides us regarding our children - China provides us dossiers on our children that include medical history, developmental milestones and photos. We have to take this information at face value. It is all we have and it may be all we can provide our children as they grow and learn more about the earliest parts of their lives in China. To suggest that we can't believe this information is just plain demeaning to our children's heritage.

The grief that our daughters did/may experience in transitioning from their lives in China to being part of our family - We recognize that any child being cared for by others and suddenly thrust upon people who look, talk and smell nothing like what they're used to is shocking and painful. We have prepared for this in each of our adoptions. We have learned skills to help our children adjust and let them know they are in forever families who will provide them a loving and safe environment. It is because of this awareness that we may not be very social for the first few weeks or months after returning from China. We will watch our new daughter and determine how best to take each day and each possible new outing or visit. As I've mentioned, our sole focus is on our daughters and their well-being.

What kind of an 'order' we placed with China for a child - When we apply for adoption with China, we provide them a great deal of information about ourselves. Included in that information is a personal letter from us that details our request for a child. In both applications we requested daughters. We also took the opportunity to suggest an age range of a child with whom we would be comfortable and confident parenting. We do not 'order' children, nor is China fulfilling orders when they process these adoptions.

Developmental delays and/or the health of our girls at placement - Depending on the setting in which children available for adoption live in China, they may experience delays in their development. Frankly, this is expected in most cases when children are in an institutional setting - in China or elsewhere in the world. Once in a permanent home, children tend to thrive with care and with therapies, if needed. Yes, Annalee experienced some muscular delay in her face - remember all that drooling and constant bib-wearing? We won't know if Zelda will have delays until we're home and have her evaluated through Illinois' Early Intervention program. If we determine that she has any delays or health concerns, these may or may not be things we discuss publicly.

The level of care provided our daughters and any differences that may exist between how either of them were cared for in China - Annalee and Zelda, while both Chinese, came into this world in different ways. They also spent their early months in China in different settings. These environments are something we will share with them as appropriate. We do not feel any need to compare or suggest that one setting was better than another. In my heart, I know each of them has been loved by her caregivers.

Where Annalee or Zelda 'came from' - When we travel and someone asks where Annalee came from, I reply 'Chicago.' That's what that question means to me. My daughters were born in China; Annalee was born in Hunan province and Zelda was born in Yunnan province. This may be semantics and splitting hairs to some, but as a writer I would suggest that there is a distinction between where someone comes from and where she was born.

The cost of adoption - If any of you are interested in pursuing adoption and would like to discuss the process, we can certainly have that conversation. For others, I guess expenses are something you can compare to birthing a child.

Truly, though, whatever the cost of adoption, our children are priceless.

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