exposing the dark side of adoption
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Would-be Parents Follow Dreams To China


June 29, 1998|By MARIE K. SHANAHAN; Courant Staff Writer

Cheers erupted around Willa Bloch as she embraced her baby daughter for the first time in a courtyard in Huazhou, China.

Dozens of townspeople had assembled to watch the event, the first American adoption from their local orphanage. Some flashed the thumbs-up sign in support. Others eagerly extended their arms, trying to touch Bloch's ``lucky baby.''

``We were practically mobbed by the Chinese,'' recalled Bloch, a West Hartford resident who adopted her child from China in 1995. ``Kids were on the roof cheering us. They were so happy for the child.''

When her daughter is old enough, Bloch plans to tell her about the reception in China and the nervous excitement of the 10,000-mile-trip to become her mom.

It is a trip more and more Americans are taking.

In 1990, American families adopted 29 children from China. Last year, they adopted 3,597. U.S. State Department officials project that Chinese adoptions will climb over 4,000 this year.

International adoptions have been popular among American families since the end of the Korean War. But the Chinese baby boom can be traced to a number of factors: a new government-run adoption system, the availability of healthy Chinese infants, rising infertility among American women and long waiting lists for American infants available for adoption.

Beyond that, American parents pleased with their experience in China are spreading the word.

``The children do so beautifully. They have a strong spirit and resilience to them,'' said Susan Barron, China adoption coordinator at the

Family and Children's Agency

in Norwalk. ``The nature of the Chinese culture is one where children are cherished, despite the one-child policy. They do so well that success breeds success.''

Americans are adopting about two-thirds of the children coming out of China. For the most part, the parents are in their early 40s, white, married, highly educated and affluent, according to a 1997 University of Massachusetts study of 361 families with adopted Chinese children.

Nearly all of the Chinese babies are girls -- a consequence of China's desire to control its rapidly expanding population.

``China has no form of social security to take care of elderly. Chinese culture says the son takes care of his parents through death,'' said Robyn Leo, of Thompson, who has two daughters from China.

``The result of [the one-child rule] is that most Chinese want that baby to be a boy -- not because they don't love their little girls, but because that is their only way to survive. It is terribly sad for many birth parents,'' she said.

Bloch said if the Chinese could keep their girls, they would.

``These are children that were wanted until they were born,'' she said. ``Their mothers took good care of themselves. That's why they are so healthy.''

Intense Process

Bloch and her husband turned to international adoption after ``the usual fertility work.'' They researched adoption programs in Vietnam and Cambodia, but China seemed to have the most established adoption process, she said.

Before 1992, adoptions in China were handled privately and were sporadic. Adoption is a touchy subject in China. Chinese authorities are extremely sensitive about the intrusion of foreign entities.

Because of concerns about who was adopting Chinese children and how the process was being conducted, the Chinese government began its own adoption system on April 1, 1992.

``Adoptions now take place under a Chinese law. All are arranged through the China Center for Adoption affairs in Beijing,'' said Joe Kelly, a member of the New York City chapter of Families with Children From China.

Kelly said the new process is intensive, but straightforward.

It involves reams of Chinese government and U.S. immigration paperwork, pre-adoption interviews, a dossier that must translated into Chinese, travel arrangements, a $3,500-to-$4,500 donation to the child's Chinese orphanage and a six-week to year-long parent-child matching system. It costs up to $20,000.

``But you don't need a lawyer. And it works smoothly with the U.S. immigration process,'' Kelly said. It takes about 12 months.

When Robyn Leo and her husband, Sam, first looked into adopting in 1992, they were told by the state Department of Children and Families that there was an 8-year wait for a child under 5 with no special needs.

Sam Leo was in his 40s and the couple was worried they would be too old.

The Leos discovered that in China, age is valued.

``Every country that is open to international adoptions with United States has its own criteria for who would make good parents,'' Robyn Leo said. ``China likes parents who are 35 years old and older. That really appealed to us.''

The Chinese are also open to adoptions by single women.

Once the Chinese makes a parent- child match, one or both parents must travel there to finalize the adoption. The average stay is 10 to 14 days.

Honoring The Past

Among the challenges adoptive parents face is raising their Asian child in a multi-racial family and environment.

Barron said parents have to be willing to change their ideas about race and ``honor their child's past and biological connection.''

Agencies have learned from the experiences of inter-racial adoptions in the 1960s and 1970s that they cannot ignore the children's native culture. Absorbing a child into the parent's culture at the expense of the child's can result in confusion and self-loathing.

Melissa Dumont of Manchester

, president of International Adoptive Families of Connecticut, recommends that parents join an adoption support organization.

Organizations like hers and Families With Children from China guide parents in helping their children develop a sense of identity. They sponsor language classes, cultural events such as Chinese New Year celebrations, opportunities to meet other adopted children and relationships with local Chinese Americans.

``As the kids get older, it is good for them to see other families made up the same way,'' said Dumont, whose 3-year-old daughter is from China. ``There is so much she is not going to know about China. It is important for us to give her the opportunity to learn as much as she can.''

Many adoptive parents seek a balance between American and Chinese culture and values, in the hopes of raising children who will benefit from dual ethnic identities.

``So many people want to be parents,'' Leo said. ``This is such a wonderful way to form a family. It is not second best. It is first best.''

Baby boom

* This chart shows China's rank among countried of origin for immigrant visas issued to orphans coming to the U.S., as well as the number of visas.

Rank Visas

1989 9 201

1990 NA NA

1991 17 61

1992 10 206

1993 8 330

1994 3 787

1995 1 2,130

1996 1 3,333

1997 2 3,597

Note: FY98 is expected to have more than 4,000 adoptions from China according to U.S. state dept. estimates.

SOURCE: U.S. State Dept.

The Hartford Courant

1998 Jun 29