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From China With Hope
By Kathryn Lurie
Photos by Joe Putrock

More and more adoptive parents look to China and its large number of abandoned girls

‘People say to me, ‘Why China? Why not Guatemala? Why not Russia, or why not domestically?’” says Christine Rant of Albany. “And I say, ‘Because she’s not in Guatemala, she’s in China. . . . I just got this sense that the child who was waiting for me was in China.”

Rant and her husband Doug Ebersman adopted their daughter, Nora ZiQing Ebersman, in Nanchang, China, in January. “It sounds a little new age or out there or whatever, but I’ve always had the sense that that’s where she was going to be and I really couldn’t say why.”

Understandably, adoption is an extremely personal decision that a family makes for a variety of reasons. In addition to a sense of what feels right, people turn to China for reasons that include the dependability of the Chinese adoption program, the relatively low expenses, and the high availability of Chinese children for adoption.

When Rant and Ebersman were ready to start their family, they found themselves in a situation where “having biological children was going to be more difficult and involve more high-tech stuff than we were ready to do,” says Rant. They started considering other options, and they came to the decision that adoption was a fantastic alternative for them. Rant explains, “It’s the same reason people say, ‘I just want to have biological children, because I feel like it’s something I need to do.’ I think that’s what happens to adoptive parents to a certain extent.”

Doug Ebersman and Christine Rant with their daughter, Nora ZiQing Ebersman.

“Especially considering . . . we started looking around and we started realizing all these kids who needed homes,” Ebersman adds. “So it was a combination of things.”

Johna Herbinger and her husband Todd of Clifton Park had the same type of experience. They adopted their little girl, May Louise Herbinger, in Guangzhou, China, in August.

“We tried [to conceive],” said Herbinger, “but I didn’t believe in all the drugs and stuff. . . . I always wanted to adopt from China. Through my whole life, every once in a while I’d say, ‘I’d like to adopt a Chinese baby.’ I don’t know why.”

Since China opened its doors to international adoption in 1992, the trend of Americans adopting orphaned little girls from that country has been steadily growing. According to adoption statistics from the U.S. Department of State, China leads the international-adoption pack with 7,044 immigrant visas issued to orphans coming to the United States in 2004, up from 6,859 in 2003 and 5,053 in 2002. Russia is the second-most popular country with 5,865 immigrant visas issued to orphans coming to the States in 2004.

“The number of families [adopting Chinese children] has increased almost exponentially from the early ’90s,” says Dr. Elaine Schulte, pediatrician and founder of the International Adoption Program at the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center. “I see more and more children adopted from China every year.”

The local Chinese communities are growing in part due to the steady increase of area families with adopted Chinese daughters.

“I remember Dianna [McGreevy, of Family Tree Adoption] saying to us that [Nora] won’t be the only adopted Chinese girl in her school,” Rant says. “I think that’s a good thing for her in terms of growing up in this area.”

The Chinese adoption process generally goes like this: A prospective adoptive couple meets with an adoption agent like McGreevy. They are given a bundle of information, including a list of what paperwork and documents they will need to prepare that will eventually become their dossier—a thorough collection of information about the family that will be sent to China. The dossier includes the family’s home studies, medical records, birth certificates, financial statements, color photos, marriage certificate, letter of application, and numerous other documents that will inform the adoption officials about the family. All of these documents need to be notarized, certified and authenticated, which means that each paper needs to have a notary’s stamp, then county, state department, and Chinese embassy or consulate stamps attached before the document can be sent to China.

The China Center of Adoption Affairs then translates the family’s dossier, and the family is placed on a waiting list for a referral. Paperwork with a picture of a child the Chinese government has chosen for the couple gets sent to the adoption agency when the family is approved to adopt. The adoption agent then relays the news to the family, and they start planning their trip to China to meet their daughter.

Getting the dossier together can be a daunting chore. “It takes most families about three to four months to become paper-ready,” McGreevy says.

“I started [working on the dossier] in July 2004,” Herbinger said. “I went and picked up the list, and slowly, I just started doing things. I looked at it and I was like, ‘Oh, I have a copy of our marriage certificate’ . . . So I did that, and writing the letter asking to adopt wasn’t hard either. So one by one, I picked things off. But I didn’t rush to get things done.”

Ebersman didn’t think that the application process was “that bad.” He says that he thinks it’s a positive thing that the preparation takes so long; it makes you want to do it only if you’re really serious about adoption. “I think there’s a method to the madness,” he says. “How long it takes to do this is probably how long most people need to understand the process. And you need time to get ready. Once you even make the decision that this is what you want to do, you still need some time to process the whole thing and think about what’s going to work and get the baby’s room together, and learn how to take care of a child.” But, he adds with a grin, “You only learn when you’re panicking, because you don’t know what to do.”

Schulte, who has two adopted Chinese daughters ages 8 and 9, specializes in the medical care of internationally adopted children. “I get involved with the families usually when they get their [adoption] referral,” she says. “They call me and they want me to help interpret it, look at the child, look at the picture, look at the growth parameters, interpret any laboratory data that’s available. I do that kind of preparatory guidance.”

The Chinese adoption program has become very appealing for many prospective adoptive families because it has been in place for a long time and it’s been a very dependable process.

“At this point, it’s a very well-greased track,” Rant says. “It’s been very reliable in terms of people who want to build their families through adoption. It’s straightforward. . . . You go there for 10 days, you do this, this and this, everything was laid out exactly how they said it was going to be, there’s no extra wait time or extra money.”

“When you look at the Chinese program, [there are] these girls who definitely need homes,” Ebersman adds, “and you know that there’s a limited period of time and you know that at the end of it, you will have a child. If you go through the process right, that is very appealing when you consider what the alternatives are. In China, these girls have no homes. There’s no one claiming them. There’s nowhere they can go.”

People have brought up—and probably will in response to this article—the point that there are thousands of children right here in the United States who are waiting to be placed. Just as a family’s decision to adopt is a personal one, so is the decision to adopt internationally. While there are many negative myths surrounding domestic adoption, it is not inaccurate to say that the process has proven to be an arduous one for many families who choose to go that route, especially for couples looking to adopt infants.

“There are two types of domestic adoptions,” McGreevy says. “What might be considered a young-child or infant adoption is [one] type. Some people choose to go that route because they do have the opportunity to adopt a newborn. They may potentially even be in the delivery room if the birth family is open to the adoptive couple being there.”

However, as McGreevy points out, this type of adoption involves a lot of uncertainty and poses many questions, like: How long is the wait? What do I have to do so that someone will select me? In terms of paperwork, domestic adoptions are no less laborious than international, with one obvious exception—the adoptive family doesn’t have to fill out immigration forms.

“Once they are paper-ready and approved,” says McGreevy, “prospective adoptive parents have to start advertising [so that] a woman who may have an unplanned pregnancy, who’s considering placing her child for adoption, [can] find out about them. So for some families, they know there are so many people who are out there trying to do this . . . they think it’s a needle in a haystack.”

Todd and Johna Herbinger with their daughter, May Louise Herbinger.

A common myth about domestic adoption is that it’s much cheaper than adopting internationally. “That’s a big misconception,” says McGreevy. “Domestic adoption is no less expensive.” A domestic infant adoption can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000, while a Chinese adoption typically costs about $18,000 (making China the cheapest country to adopt from). “As far as domestic infant adoption, you’re spending money on advertising, agencies,” McGreevy says, “You have to put ads in the newspapers and the yellow pages just to let a pregnant woman know that this is a place where she could go.”

Prospective adoptive parents who want to adopt a domestic infant usually will spend a significant amount of money on Web sites, networking, and eventually, most likely, expenses for the birth mother once they find a woman who’s pregnant, in case she doesn’t have health insurance or needs help with living expenses. But the enormous risk with this process is that just because the couple pay the woman money, she is in no way legally obligated to give up her baby. “You’re never guaranteed that that adoption’s going to happen, because you’re not buying a baby,” McGreevy says. “You’re paying for services.”

An unsettling risk that parents have to consider when adopting in this manner is that a mother who places her newborn for adoption has a period of time in which she’s legally allowed to change her mind about her decision. In New York state, a birth mother commonly signs an out-of-court consent, giving her 30 days to reconsider.

“Of course, [that’s] the big one everyone talks about—and it does happen,” McGreevy says. “But it’s based on the best interests of the child. Not the adoptive parents, but the child. And that’s a huge risk for some families, [and] they don’t know if they can handle it.”

This possibility is very frightening for couples who are looking to adopt. Horror stories do exist in the adoptive community about situations in which the mother changes her mind about giving up her child.

“We met a couple who adopted from China,” says Rant, “[but] they had planned to adopt domestically, and they had waited years and had a whole thing set up with a birth mother, and set up the baby’s room and the baby was coming, and then the birth mother left. She took off, and they were devastated, and they walked away and said, ‘That’s it.’ ”

“Once you decide you want to start a family,” adds Ebersman, “and you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to do that in the best way, you start to realize that you don’t necessarily want to wait another three or four years to try to get there. You want to have a process in place that’s going to bring you to a child that you can give a home to.”

The second type of domestic adoption is usually done through the Department of Social Services, involving children who have been in foster care. This type of adoption is not nearly as expensive—in fact parents who take foster-care placements are paid by the county until adoption. Parents trying to get young children through temporary placements that may become permanent have even more uncertainty than in traditional adoptions, however—for up to a year and a half—about whether they will end up keeping the child. “In foster care, the goal is to reunite that child with their family,” notes McGreevy.

There are kids available through foster care who are completely freed for adoption; however, these are usually much older children. Many couples who are adopting for the first time do not feel equipped to handle a preadolescent child.

“You can adopt an older child,” Ebersman says, “but as a first-time parent you might not be comfortable doing that.”

“Your parents wanted so much to care for you and try to give birth to a son,” explains a children’s book on Chinese adoption. When You Were Born in China by Sara Dorow kindly but frankly addresses the political atmosphere and gender preferences in China and the reasons why the little girl who may be reading the book was adopted.

As McGreevy points out, there are political and social reasons why all of these children are available for adoption. “Children become available in different countries for different reasons, she says. “In China, the big known one is the one-child policy, although that has laxed over many years. Poverty is another big one.”

Since Chinese parents traditionally prefer boys for various reasons (they are the children who typically take care of their elderly parents, and they are also the ones who can carry on family names), one common result of China’s famous one-child policy is that parents often abandon their daughters in hopes of bearing sons.

“It’s a really tragic situation with China,” Ebersman says. “You know that the kids really have no place to go. It’s illegal for them to be abandoned in the first place, and there’s nobody to take them. The plight of these poor girls. . . . You adopt one girl and you just hope that the rest can survive.”

Nora was found on the steps of a government building in her hometown of Feng Cheng City with a note in her clothing saying that she had been born that day. “All I can say is she is an amazing girl,” Ebersman says of his daughter. “We are very fortunate, and truth is, she’s very fortunate too, to not be there.”

Similarly, May was left on the steps of an orphanage in the middle of the night when she was 2 weeks old. An employee at the orphanage found her in the morning. Herbinger was the only parent in her group of adoptive parents to receive a letter with her baby. “I’m lucky,” she says, “because I have a lot of information about why they left her—her parents left a note. They said that they were just very poor and they could not afford to feed her. The area in China where she came from is a very poor area, very rural. They apologized and said, ‘Please find a good family for her.’ ”

In the United States, when you hear about abandoned children, it’s usually not done with the expectation that something good will come of it, says McGreevy, referring to what have become known as “dumpster babies.” In China, however, girls are abandoned with the hope that they will be found. “In China, the babies are left in very crowded places, and that’s partly how they’re able to do it and slip into the crowd. We want parents to know, imagine how incredibly painful that has to be, and the huge leap of faith [the birth parents take] that their baby’s going to be found and taken care of.”

According to McGreevy, China’s adoption program has continued to improve over the years, resulting in the country becoming a leader in foreign adoption programs. “They have all kinds of foundations in their country,” she says. “They now provide developmental check sheets [with the referrals]; they know that families want to know, ‘What developmental milestones [is] my child reaching?’ So that’s another reason why the China program in general has become so popular. They continue to improve on it. They are using the money [from adoptions] and they are improving the system as a whole.”

Helping families through the process: Dianna McGreevy of Family Tree Adoption.

A big part of the adop- tion process is the two-week trip to China that the family must take to receive their child. There, the family completes the adoption process and signs all the necessary paperwork to bring their daughter home. They also experience a bit of Chinese culture and gain some perspective about the country.

Traveling to the country where the family is adopting from “is a huge benefit for the family,” says McGreevy. “It [provides] a whole piece about why she’s joining your family [and] you can begin to understand how all this is possible.”

“You can’t believe the scale of it till you’re there and you see how many kids there are,” says Ebersman, “and these are just the ones who are getting homes.”

Herbinger met her daughter at the civil affairs office in Guangzhou. “When we got there,” she says, “the day we were to get her, I was a nervous wreck. It’s just like, your whole life is going to change.”

“They had them all lined up and they had them all in identical outfits,” says Rant of her experience meeting her daughter at the civil affairs office in Nanchang. “All we had were these referral pictures that had been taken, and they said to us ‘Guess which baby is yours.’ It was just so surreal. They started to read the names off, but we knew who it was.”

“If we could say one thing to sum up our experience,” Ebersman says, “It’s that, ‘It’s OK for people to adopt children.’ We didn’t come from families where anyone had ever adopted. We didn’t even know that that was an alternative that we could do, that our families would be OK with. It’s a whole new world for us. We love our daughter. We wouldn’t want it any other way. But we didn’t know that that was an option for us.”

“It’s an amazing thing, too,” Rant says. “When you go there and get this child, every single person walks away and says, ‘This child is familiar to me. I know her. She seems to be the right child for me. Somebody just knew to give me this baby, and she’s my daughter.’ I don’t know. . . . It’s right. It’s just right.”

klurie@metroland.net

 

Adoption Resources

There are countless Web sites and agencies that exist to aid in the process of adopting a child from China, as well as there are support groups, community centers and counselors who provide support post-adoption. Here are just a few of these resources, some of which were used for this story.

Local Resources

Family Tree Adoption

Dianna McGreevy, program director-founder

(800) 272-3678 or 371-1336, www.familytreeadoption.org

2 Crestmont Drive, Route 146, Clifton Park

 

International Adoption Program at the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center

Department of Pediatrics

AMC Pediatric Group

1 Clara Barton Drive MC-181, Albany

Elaine Schulte, MD, MPH, medical director-founder

262-6086, www.amc.edu

 

Families With Children From Asia (Albany chapter)

www.fca-ny.org

 

Chinese Community Center, Capital District of New York

www.cccalbany.org

 

Adoptive Families Coalition

www.timesunion.com/communities/ afc

 

National Resources

U. S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs

http://travel.state.gov

 

China Center of Adoption Affairs

www.china-ccaa.org

 

Families With Children From China

www.fwcc.org

 

Rainbow Kids

www.rainbowkids.com

 

United States Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families

www.acf.hhs.gov


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