Sunday, August 27, 2006

Predicting the Future of China Adoption

A cursory view of nearly every adoption blog and newsgroup shows that the air is abuzz with speculation and rumors of what the future holds for China adoption. Although there is significant data and history on which accurate assessments can be based, it seems that nearly everyone is at a loss to explain why things are changing so dramatically.

As adoptive families, it is helpful to assess the current situation with tools learned in basic Economics 101. It is clear that China's international adoption program is experiencing a supply "crunch", which is to say that there are too few children available for immediate adoption to waiting foreign families. The immediate cause of this crunch was the Hunan stoppage that began in December 2005, and is just now ending. But a longer view shows that it has been building for years.

It is a misperception to think that this situation appeared overnight. In fact, a glance at the Yahoogroups dedicated to the various orphanages shows that each year orphanages have been added to the International Adoption program to bring in additional supply of children. This was done to compensate for the falling abandonment rates in the existing member orphanages. The goal is to keep the supply as constant and predictable as possible, and it has worked pretty well.

It is well-known that three Provinces provide a majority of the children adopted through the IA program -- Guangdong, Jiangxi and Hunan. When Hunan adoptions were paused in late December 2005, it took 20-25% of the adoptable children out of the supply pool. China's options were limited, especially since this was a very temporary problem. It was forced to let the "demand" back up, leading to longer and longer referral wait times. The DTC to referral wait times now stand at approximately 14 months.

With Hunan Province now coming back on line (we should see substantial Hunan referrals in the next month or so), the supply-demand equation should normalize. But China still faces a demand imbalance. Hunan doesn't totally explain the longer DTC referral wait times, just a portion of it. Thus, China is taking further actions to bring things into line.

It seems likely at this point that one step China will make in the near-term is the dramatic reduction, if not outright elimination, of the singles program. China has had ambivalent attitudes towards this program for years, and has taken periodic steps to reduce the number of singles that could adopt. This ambivalence stems from the cultural belief that children should be raised by two-parent families, coupled with the desire that China's children not be raised by homosexuals. Letters of Declarations (required by single applicants declaring their heterosexuality) aside, it is widely believed that gay parents continue to apply for adoption. Thus, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the first step to reducing the number of families permitted to adopt would be the elimination of the singles program (A compromise solution to outright elimination of these families would be the requirement that they apply for a waiting child).

Additional restrictions seem likely, perhaps health restrictions, income requirements, lowering upper-age limits for parents, and other means of reducing the number of families eligible to adopt. Additionally, new orphanages will probably be brought into the IA program. These changes are intended to bring the supply-demand equation back into balance.

But the referral wait time will not be brought back below 12 months, the stated goal of the CCAA, because simply put the longer wait times work to China's favor. As wait times increase, more families look to alternative options, and one option that will be presented in ever more favorable light is the waiting children program. Expedited referrals will be used to improve the attractiveness of this program, and many families will opt to adopt a Special Needs child, thereby reducing the demand for the healthy young children that are becoming increasingly more difficult for China to supply.

If viewed through the prism of simple supply-demand models, the events of the last 12 months become understandable. Often as waiting families we focus on each months referals, feverishly projecting the past to try and ascertain the future (one website has projected the wait time for a family submitting their paperwork today at 2 1/2 years!). By stepping back, we can see the larger picture, and see how the steps being taken by China will impact how adoptions are done. With most of China's orphanages now in modern, third-generation facilities, the "need" for monies derived from the IA program is diminishing. It still exists, and for that reason the IA program will continue. But we must realize that it is China's right, and perogative, to alter the program as they see fit to insure the life-long well-being of her children.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Long Road to My Baby

China's population stands at 1.3 billion people. Often in our discussions about infant abandonment, domestic adoption, and other issues pertaining to International Adoption, we fail to see the trees for the forest. It is a big forest. Population estimates indicate that there are approximately 330 million couples in their reproductive years (20-50) in China. If these couples have the same infertility rate as couples in the West (10%), that equates to 33 million childless families.

The following story is a succinct yet heart-felt recounting of one Chinese woman's journey to motherhood. I met her on one of my research trips, and her story touched me deeply. It is a story that is at once familiar to many of us, yet also clearly illustrates the differences between our journeys and those in China.

It makes for profound reading.


One trying day towards the beginning of autumn 2002, due to a serious disease I was to have my uterus removed from my body. I never expected that I would have to face such a nightmare. My husband and I were just married and had yet to produce children. If my womb was taken from me, that meant that we would never be able to have children that were truly our own. This, in the eyes of a woman possessing Chinese traditional thinking and Chinese traditional desires, was a mortal blow. I have no way to convey the internal anguish caused by the loss that I had no choice but to face.

"Health is most important!" This is the sentence that my husband and family kept repeating to me. These words comforted me and encouraged me to do my best to actively cooperate with all of the doctor's work. Fortunately my illness was only in the initial stages, and so under the devoted care of my husband and family my body gradually recovered. At last, the continuation of my life was assured.

The days passed quickly, and my health continued to improve. We passed through the year happy and well. Nobody ever touched on the topic of children. My family worried that I was thinking too much of what I had lost and was quick to tell me once again that health is most important and to remind me to be sure to focus on my own recuperation. No matter what they would not abandon me. Nonetheless, the issue of children could only be briefly avoided. It had to be faced sooner or later! I began to ask myself repeatedly "What should I do? What should I do?"

Although I knew that my husband's father and mother were quite reasonable and extraordinarily kind hearted, more deeply I knew that they were a very traditional Chinese family. Moreover, my husband was their only male child. The old household of my husband was relatively backward and still gave a much loftier place to males. The ancestral feudalistic ways were thick and unwavering. In order to give birth to a son and "bring honor to the ancestors" many families would give all that they had. Families that failed to produce a son would be looked down upon and would not be able to hold their heads high. Our own family now had no hope of producing even our own little girl not to mention a treasured boy! Each time I thought on this matter while alone my eyes would be filled with tears, my inside filled with pain, and I would be left brimming with guilt towards my husband and family. At these times I would just repeatedly ask myself "What can I do? Adopt one? Ask another woman to have the child in my place? Divorce?”

I thought about it for a long time, but I could never make heads or tails of these perplexing questions. Truly, I had to admit that this disease and my inability to have children brought my husband and family immense pain and misfortune. This pain and misfortune certainly influenced the sentiment between us to a definite degree. As far as our future was concerned I did not want to think too much. That was too far away! My husband is a good person, and he was innocent. Nonetheless, divorce was the solution that I least wanted. Only if my husband were to bring it up himself would I respect his decision and accept divorce. To ask another woman to bear the child would also be quite a complex matter. I simply would not want to face the awkwardness and the bother in the future, and such an arrangement would no doubt cause me to sink back into anguish. Adoption eventually became the only natural choice. It was the choice that was best for my entire family, but what would they think? Would they accept it? At the beginning of 2004 our parents came to spend the Spring Festival with us. Mother brought up the topic of children. I was delighted to find out that they also supported adopting a child. For this decision I knew they had to throw away many of their traditional ways of looking at things, so I was moved to think that it had come out of concern for the future of my husband and I. Moreover, I was moved to feel gratified and at the same time to feel twice as much guilt and obligation towards them as before. They were so kind and reasonable! This kind of parents is really very hard to find.

My heart was really lifted then! Frankly speaking, to make that kind of decision, from the perspective of a very conservative mother and father, is really very hard and demands enormous courage. The only thing that I could do at the time was to silently resolve to warmly accept their approval. Oh my honorable parents! Just after telling me their opinion on the subject, mother said that due to the traditional way of thinking in our old home we would have to keep everything a secret from all of our neighbors and even our relatives. This all was to avoid the cold stares of those folk. Moreover, since my husband and I were constantly away from home working with few chances to return, it would be easy for those around our home to believe that the baby was indeed ours. We all therefore agreed with my mother's decision. I especially had no reason to disagree. I knew that this was a kind of necessary evil, and I deeply understood its importance. As far as my husband was concerned, he also approved of adopting a child, but he wanted to do so under a few conditions: He wanted a child from a completely normal healthy family. Specifically, he did not want a child born out of wedlock or one born without knowledge of his father. Secondly, he wanted to know some basic facts about the child's parents including about whether or not they had any hereditary diseases, their looks, and their moral character. Once satisfied he could agree to adopt. In fact, to a definite degree his way of thinking was in our best interest, and anyway I knew to adopt a child is somewhat unfair from the perspective of a husband. Who doesn't want to have their own child? I could only do my best to satisfy his small requests. Thus, we all agreed to adopt a child, and sooner rather than later.

In the male-biased old home of my husband, some women, in order to give birth to boy, first gave birth to more than a few girls. Owing to the fact that these households lack the ability to properly raise these children, most are sent to households that can better afford to do so. For this reason, we decided to look for opportunities to adopt children around my husband's old home. As soon as our parents returned home they began to make inquiries in all corners. In July of 2004, a close relative that works in a hospital called. She said that a woman there that had just given birth to her third girl was looking for a family in reasonable economic straits to which she could send her child to be raised. At the time as our mother was away visiting relatives, as my husband was wavering in hesitation, and because other potential adopters had already begun to make inquiries we soon had no choice but to let this opportunity go. After this I could not avoid feeling a little regretful and ended up spending the next few months in pain and anxiety. Somewhere around the Spring Festival of 2005, while talking with a friend I came to learn that she had adopted a lively and loveable little girl through an orphanage. Really pleasantly surprised, I decided to go to the orphanage myself. Perhaps I really would be able to get what I so desired from this unexpected opportunity. As I began to fill with hope I bustled about, inquiring about phone numbers and touching base with many welfare assistance centers. I made inquiries at the orphanage in the area that I was originally registered to live in, the one in which I now lived, the area where I work, and many other areas, totaling over ten orphanages. Nonetheless, contrary to my expectations, among them all I could not find any healthy baby girls to adopt. Outside of Guangxi province's Yulin city's center, all the centers used whatever reasons they could to turn me away. The thread of hope that had just been lit was extinguished in a moment. I was utterly disheartened.

Here I say that I was terribly disappointed that the orphanages told me that they had no children for me to adopt. Why? Why? Why? I wondered if these orphanages really had no babies for me to adopt, or if they did have babies but they never give me a chance. Why did they say no to a person who really wanted to adopt a child? They seemed to not care what I thought, and made me feel like salt was being poured into my wounds. I felt lost, and no longer knew what to do in order to find a child for my family.

China is a very traditional country, and most of the people are still very traditional and closed-minded. Nearly every couple hopes to have their own children, but 99% wish to have their own biological children. Some families, however, are not able to have biological children due to illness or other reasons. For these families life is very difficult, and since they can't have biological children, many get divorced and part ways. Adoption is the only way that many of these families feel they can stay together and remain as a family. For most infertile couples to be denied an adoption opportunity like I was would deal a fatal blow to many marriages.

Just as our entire family had once again sunken into helplessness, the relative from the hospital brought us some more news. She said that in the last couple of days a friend had come asking for her help. Her friend was to have a baby in just two months, and it seemed most likely that it would be her third girl. This friend wanted to give birth to a boy, so now she was looking for someone else that could raise this girl child. Speaking honestly, as far as our family was concerned, this really was exciting news! From our relative we came to learn more and more about the woman's family situation until we were completely satisfied. What's more the family of the child agreed never to see the child again. Even my husband willingly assented. After two long months of anxiety and anticipation, our long-awaited little girl finally arrived. Although we did in fact feel sorry for the little girl's family, we simply could not control our excitement. When the girl finally arrived the whole family was really very happy. We were really so happy then! Our little girl is an extremely lovely, beautiful, clever, little sweetheart. She is the best gift that heaven has given our family.

When I was arranging for our girl's hukou (household registration permit) mother put forward the idea of looking for someone to help us arrange for the hukous for a set of twins (one boy and one girl). She said that way if one did not work, for whatever reason, we could just get rid of it. I knew then that they were thinking that we might want to adopt another child, a boy. Honestly, why didn't I want to bring up another kid? That way would be healthier for the child's development then bringing him up alone, but we had to face reality. To bring up a single child is a great expense especially in a big city. We have to consider their education, medical treatment, and other costs. In our current economic state we really could not shoulder the burden of supporting two children. We could not afford to ensure that they both remained healthy or to give them any kind of truly beneficial childhood! It would be best just to raise one child and bring her up with all of our heart and soul. Such was the unanimous opinion of both I and my husband.

Speaking truthfully, I can understand why mother was thinking what she was. I can't blame her. Nonetheless, speaking from my innermost being I could only stand for raising one child. Yet, my heart was full of contradictions, really complicated feelings. Every scene from before was again flashing before my eyes. Mother and Father really exerted so much of themselves for me. During that brief period of time when I was in the hospital they took care of me in every possible way. After I got better, they still unceasingly encouraged and consoled me. They used all of the love that they had to forgive me for all the trouble that my disease had brought them. They were really an unfathomable pillar of support. I really should not once again be the cause of the sadness of these kindhearted parents! I thought then that perhaps I should stand in their position and think over the issue once again for their sake. So, being so moved, I have come to agree with mother's opinion. I hope that I can bring her a little comfort.

When our girl was half a year old we received a bit of news. There was a family that already had a grown boy, but now its mother had accidentally become pregnant once again. What's more the period in which abortion was allowed had already passed. If the baby born was a boy the family wanted to send it to someone that could take care of it. Father and mother were very happy to hear this bit of news, but because my husband was still entirely against adopting a baby boy they had no choice but to abandon this opportunity. Yet the matter is really not fully over and done with, we still don't have any way to know the final outcome. My husband's opinion on the subject is still the same as before. Now even I don't think about it too much. Everything that happens has its reason.

In short, no matter what, the thing that I most want to do is take very good care to raise my little girl well. I want to do my utmost to see that she can grow up healthy and strong.