Monday, November 30, 2015

When to Search for Birth Families

I posted an essay called "10 Commandments of Birth Parent Searching" on our subscription blog this morning, which includes some important things to consider before beginning a search.  One "commandment" in particular I would like to spend some public time discussing, because I see it as of utmost importance to children in the Chinese adoption community.  The commandment is simple:

Start Now, Not Later

It is commonly asserted by some in the adoption community that searching for birth parents is the prerogative of the adoptee, and that any effort to gather information or search for birth relatives should only be done after permission is given by the child.  I believe that this is seriously wrong headed, and poses serious risk to the adoptive parents and their child.  This idea comes, I believe, from a misunderstanding of when information needs to be communicated to a child once found.

Many assume that as soon as a birth parent were to be located, that this important event would need to be told to the child.  Most adoptive parents correctly realize that knowing one's birth parents is something that a child should decide whether they are interested in or not.  I strongly believe it is up to the child how they formulate their identity -- who is part of that identity, when they are learned about, etc.  No adoptive parent should ever force the discovery of such an important piece of a child's identity upon them without their desiring it and permitting it. Our children have the right to control that information.

But that does not mean that adoptive parents must wait to begin the process to learn that information until their child expresses interest in it.  China is a rapidly changing country.  Orphanages move, nannies, foster families, finders, directors and others can move or die.  Hospital records can be moved, lost, burned, etc.  The fact is that the possibility that you will be able to locate your child's birth parents is like a piece of uranium -- the information is decaying as time goes on.  Waiting ten or twenty years will greatly decrease the chances that you will be successful.

It really all boils down to risk mitigation.  As adoptive parents we don't know whether our child will want to seek out their birth family tomorrow, next year or in 15 years.  Children change their minds as they age, enter adulthood, or have any of a thousand experiences that may cause them to question their origins.  As adoptive parents, we can either anticipate that these questions will come at some point in the future, or wait for them to come and be unprepared.  Which outcome is more serious:

1) Search for a birth family before a child desires it, and never be asked for it.
2) Don't search until a child desires it, and then have it be too late when it is asked for.

As a parent whose goal is to provide my child every opportunity to be happy and whole, I look upon the second outcome as a catastrophic failure for the child -- having a hunger and need that can never be filled -- and the first outcome as a result with little long-term consequence.  In other words, I would much prefer that my daughter never asks for the information I have already obtained about her birth family (to have wasted my efforts), then to have her one day weep when she learns that I waited and missed opportunities to learn her birth parents' identities because I didn't act when the information was still available. 

Some adoptive families, quite honestly, avoid searching because they are afraid that their child's perception of them as parents will change if the birth family is found. They have an idea that their child's life began on "Gotcha day", and that the love they give their child will suffice, will fill the need their child may have for birth family.  But the reality is that the need to know birth family develops outside of family -- it resides inside a child.  A parent can't predict if a child will want to have this knowledge down the road.  Not searching out of fear is unfair to one's child.

So, what is the best approach? Quite simply -- search and archive. Get as much information as you can, put it away, and wait for your child to ask for it.  This reduces the risk of waiting, while also allowing and empowering your child with the ability to control what s/he knows.  It leaves the ball firmly in the adoptive child's court to decide when they seek the information, but eliminates the risk that when they do want it, that time will have erased all trails and doomed their search to failure.

If a birth family is located, in almost all circumstances communication is controlled by the adoptive family. We have located scores of birth families, and the reaction of the adoptive families have ranged from flying to China to meet them on one end, to sending anonymous letters periodically to the birth family with the understanding that more indepth communication will have to wait until the child seek it on the other. It is the right of the adoptive parents to control and manage that communication.  But to avoid seeking, to avoid communicating and establishing at least initial contact with the birth family of your child prevents the birth family from knowing their child is safe and healthy, and increases the very real risk that one day one or both of them will no longer be available when your child desires contact. 

Aside from actively searching in China, another essential step is the submission of a child's DNA to 23andMe. As more and more adoptive families submit their children's DNA to this data base, important clues as to your child's origins will become available. Additionally, as birth parent DNA is entered into the data base, matches will be made that will make a search in China unnecessary.  One of the first things all adoptive families should take advantage of is the collective information available through DNA.

As adoptive parents, all of us have one goal in mind -- to provide the resources and knowledge necessary to allow our children to grow up happy and whole.  For some adoptees, the experiences and love of their adoptive parents and family will be enough to accomplish that.  For many more, at some point questions and needs will arise that we as parents won't be able to answer or satisfy.  Our job is to prepare for those questions, to do everything we can to have knowledge to provide to complete our children.  The "wait until my child asks for it" mentality, especially as it relates to the situation in China, is ultimately a risky gambit that very likely will result in unhappiness for our children. 

Monday, November 09, 2015

Changing Attitudes: My Experiences Living Under the One-Child Policy

"One Couple Raising One Girl is Good for the Country,, People and the Family." (Gaoming, Guangdong)
Changing Attitudes: My Experiences Living Under the One-Child Policy
by Lan Stuy

Last Sunday, we had a family gathering at my mother-in-law’s house. During our family time there, one of my sisters-in-law suggested that everyone in our family prepare a little story to share, one of our best memories from our childhoods, in the coming family Christmas party this year.
I know that everyone in my family here in the United States has a lot of pictures and videos to remind them of their wonderful childhoods. I don’t have a single picture or any video to remind me of my childhood at all. But the memories that I have from my childhood have always stayed in the deepest part of my heart.
One of the best memories that I have was when my older sister gave me a ride on her bicycle through the towns and villages around my home. We went to another village to visit my grandmother, and I spent every summer vacation there. Most of my time there was spent trying to catch the fish and play in the water in the river beside the village, or looking after the water buffalo on the hill for my uncle with other friends my age. I loved my grandmother, who always tried to make delicious food for me.
I remember my grandmother was always very thin and worked so hard to take care the family. She lived with my oldest uncle and took care of my cousin from the day he was born, because my aunt died the same day she gave birth to him.
I learned from my mother that my grandmother was 16 when she married my grandfather, and she was 17 when she had her first child. She had ten biological children with my grandfather over her entire marriage. In that time, even though life was very difficult, the traditional idea was that more children bring more happiness.
My grandmother unfortunately watched five of her children die in her arms at different times, because life was terribly difficult and my grand-parents did not have money to pay to go visit the hospital when one of my aunts or uncles got sick. My mother was the oldest in the family, and she is very appreciative that she survived. My grandmother always adored me and my sisters every time we visited during the Summer.
When my mother was 24, she met my dad through an "Introducer" and decided to get married to my father about four months later. She believed my father was a good person that she could trust. Another reason was she did not want to marry any men in her local area.  That year my dad was 32. 
My dad was alone for years already because both his parents had passed away when he was about 24. He had been fighting for his own life for many years until he married my mother and started a new family together.

In 1962, my oldest sister was born. It lit up my mother’s life when she arrived, because most of the time my mom stayed at home in the village by herself while my dad worked in the city to build with his construction team. My mom had to take care of my oldest sister by herself most of the time, and she was also very busy taking care of the farm.

Then, after a miscarriage that my parents believed was a boy, my mom got pregnant again! In 1966, my second older sister was born. But she didn’t bring much surprise to the family because my dad wanted a boy and she was another girl!

In 1969, my mom gave birth to her third surviving child in our local hospital, and it was a girl again.  My third older sister was the healthiest baby ever in the family, since she weighed 7 pounds and had beautiful long, thick black hair already when she was born. “No one believed she was a newborn baby,” my mom always says when telling us the story about when we were born, “She looked like a two month old baby.” 

In 1970, at midnight in late Summer, my mother walked herself in the darkness to the local hospital. Around 4:00 or 5:00 am, as soon as I was born, my mother packed me up and held me tight in her arms, and walked in the rain and darkness in pain back to our home because she was very concerned about the three young girls that she had left. I weighed only 2.2kg, a little tiny hungry kitty wrapped in her arms, and I was the lightest baby in my family's history.

Because my father still hoped to have a son, in 1972 my mom gave birth to her fifth surviving child. It was a girl again! That was my younger sister Mei.

In 1974, my mom gave birth to her last child, a girl also, but unfortunately our youngest little sister didn’t make it and died from sickness in my mom’s arms when she was about one and half years old.

That’s the story about how the “Five Golden Flowers” were created in our family.

"Having Family Planning is a basic policy of our country." (Fenghuang, Chongqing) 
In the late 1970’s, China started a family planning program to try to control the population of China . In 1980, China started the One Child Policy. In 1984, one of the new rules of the OCP stated that rural families were allowed to have a second child after four years if the first child was a girl. It was during this time that my three older sisters got married and started their new families. It was a "hot time" for the "one child" police. My oldest sister married her first love, a boy from our village who went to High School together with her. They had their first boy, my nephew, in 1985. Four years later, my oldest sister had her second and last child in 1989, and it was also a boy. In China, people always talk about the OCP was only aimed at the poor families who have no money, no power, and no relationship with the people that worked in the government. For example, in January 2014, there was news about famous movie director Yimou Zhang finally have received a fine from the Wuxi City Family Planning Bureau of 7,487,854 yuan because he had two boys and one girl in his second married. It is and was very common that people who either have money or power could always escape the OCP rule to have extra children if they wanted. So, while my oldest sister and her husband had no money and no power, they both were from the same area and had relationships with those who worked at the Family Planning Office. Thus, even though their first child was as boy, they were able to have a second child four years later after their first boy was born.

Both my second and third older sisters got married about the same time, and both of their husbands were also from our local area, but different villages. Both of these sisters delivered their only children around the same time in the same year, and both were girls. Both of these sisters were happy with one girl.  As far as I know, all of my older sisters have never complained about not being able to have more children.   
My sisters were part of a very large and growing part of Chinese society. In 2000, fifty-five million couples were recorded as being “single-child” families.  This number grew to 90 million in 2007, and 176 million families in 2015.  Whereas during my mother’s child-bearing years most families had many children, by the time her daughters began building their families, most were satisfied with having just one child.  While horrible methods were sometimes employed to enforce the OCP, the change in attitudes of most Chinese to how many children they want is a very impressive accomplishment. 
"Boy or Girl, It is the Same -- Both Can Carry the Family Name" (Yulin, Shaanxi).
Last year when I went back to China, I attended my niece’s wedding. She was 22.  Last month when I arrived in China, I was able to hold and play with her little boy, the first child of my niece, and he was four months old. When I asked my niece if she was planning to have a second child, she answered “No.” She said she already felt pressure of “too much work” and “too expensive” to raise a child in China now.
Before I left China to come home, my other niece was in the middle of planning her wedding in a few months with her husband (they already got their marriage certificate last year). She told me that she is enjoying her “life of two” (her husband and her) very much so far, and both of them were very busy doing their family business together. As a result, she said, she is not planning to have any children soon.
During my research across China over the past decade, I have often seen the Family Planning pictures posted everywhere in the countryside, and sometimes in the towns and cities. In the advertising, there is often talk such as  “It’s great to just have one child”, or “Boy and girl are the same,” “The Family Planning is a basic state policy of our country,” or “Delayed marriage and delay child bearing, fewer and healthier births,”…etc.  I don’t know how much those words and sentences in the Family Planning pictures have changed people’s minds to consider having just one child, but when I look at the change that my family from the generation of my grandparents till today, the new generation of my nieces, there is a big difference in attitudes! I believe the old generations (my grandparents and my parents), most of them felt like they could find their living place, their “refuge,” in the intergenerational succession. So, children meant everything to them for their whole life. They always tried to have as many  children they could. Today, the new generation is more considering of what kind of life they prefer to have for themselves, and they figured out that their future living place doesn’t need to rely on their children anymore.

When I was reading the news and people’s blogs online about China, I have learned the number of “DINK” (double income, no kids”) couples is going up and up every year. I know two of my old friends, both of whom have been married over ten years. They are still enjoying their “life of two” today.

Today I am sitting by the computer, looking at the information of the thirty-two birth families that we located, and that have turned in their DNA samples. Of these thirty-two birth families, one of the children given up was the first child in the family, and this girl had a special need. One of the girls was the third child. As far as I know, all the rest were second children in their families.  In every case that I know of, the reason was to try and get a boy.  The recent changes in the one-child policy would not have changed the outcome for any of these families, because they already had an older daughter in the family, and were already allowed to try for a second child (with the hope that the second child would be a boy). It seems these birth families are happy with how many children they have now, but regretted what they did in the old days, “giving away” their daughter for another chance to have a boy that the family needed.

On October 29, 2015, there was much excitement for the Chinese when the news came out about that the one-child policy had changed to allow families to have two children. Below were some common comments posted by people inside China about the news:

“Many of my friends, don’t even want to get marry, so forget about having children. Even if they have an opportunity to have two children now, most of them don’t even want to have children at all. This generation are all spoiled children of the family, and there is no hope from them. ‘There is no need to live so tired,’ that’s what they said.”

“Poor us! We have no chance to pregnant again if we kept waiting. The Family Planning is aimed at people like us who have no money. The people that have money can have as many children as they wanted, hopefully free-for-all will start earlier, even just started on the ages.”

“In a few years, even if the government pays money for the family/people to have more children, the family’ people won’t even want to do it! We will see!”

“Even allow to have two children now, but there aren’t many family/ people want more children, because you can give birth but not be able to afford to raise more children now.”

…. Etc.

Winter just came, Spring won’t be far behind. How much hope that the two children policy will bring or change the families in China in the coming new year? We will have to look towards the future and see.