The Changing Face of China Adoptions

If you’ve followed international news from China in the last six months, you’ve probably heard of the baby hatch. These small buildings, translated “baby safety islands” in Chinese, were created by the Chinese government in 2011 to help curb infant abandonment in the country. In safety and anonymity, parents can leave their new baby at a local baby hatch, a small warm shelter with a cradle and incubator. A bell sounds after the parent exits, and a welfare worker comes to care for the child. In a country where approximately 10,000 children are abandoned each year, the baby hatch is a complex, heart-rending solution.

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Today, while visiting one of our orphanages in southern China, I got to see a baby hatch, one that has made the news because its high intake volumes forced its closure a few months ago. 262 babies were deposited here in the first three months the hatch was open, so overwhelming the local orphanages that they could not continue to service it. Orphanage officials here tell me that 99 percent of the babies who arrived in the baby hatch were very, very sick – serious diagnoses like cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, and congenital heart disease, and unusual birth defects and incurable diseases. Orphanage officials had hoped to offer parents a way to safely abandon their babies, since it is illegal to abandon children in China, but, they tell me, they weren’t expecting so many sick children.

In the last two decades, families adopting from China expected to be quickly matched with a healthy baby girl under the age of three. Today, families might wait five to six years for a match like this. China’s current birth rate is exceedingly low, and the country has seen a rise in domestic adoption placements, making fewer and fewer healthy children available for international adoption. These two factors, combined with the reality of the growing need for baby hatches across the country, are clear signals. It is time for us to acknowledge plainly: China adoptions are changing. If the face of China adoptions in the 1990s was a healthy baby girl, today, it is the face of a child with special needs. More boldly we must assert – these children need families too.

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On Tuesday we saw children from three orphanages in southern China. It was a whirlwind day of picture taking and videotaping, snuggling and playing. We met more than 100 children, loved them and heard their stories. Almost all of these children have complicated diagnoses. They are learning to live life without a limb, with a heart condition, with a life-altering disability. Most heart-breaking, they are doing this alone — in an institution, not a family. They are growing up without the fierce love of a parent who will advocate for them, without the supportive nurture that will provide them with a foundation of hope and strength to step boldly into the future.

As I look into the beautiful faces of these little children, my heart aches to think that they are waiting. They are waiting for our assumptions about China adoptions to change. They are waiting for families who will welcome them, regardless of their special need. It is my most ardent hope and prayer that someday all of China’s children will find the security of unconditional love in the warm embrace of a family.

Traveling in China, Part 1

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My travel partner, Sarah S., and I arrived in Beijing after an uneventful flight on Saturday. It is always so good to be back in this country I have come to love so much. This trip is a very special one as it launches Agape Adoptions’ new Journey of Hope program, an opportunity to advocate for beautiful children who have more significant special needs and who long for families of their own.
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On our first day of acclimating, we took a tour of Beijing. I was thrilled to find a Starbucks in Tienanmen Square! A little piece of home. A stones throw away from the Square, we stopped in to visit a hutong village. It was as though we were stepping back in time to walk the narrow alleyways of the neighborhood. In years past, hutongs grew organically. One alleyway along a group of homes would connect with another alleyway, forming a small cluster of homes called a hutong. They are a special piece of history in the city, especially as many have been leveled for new construction. We stopped in at what appeared to be one of the best places to have Peking duck. They smelled so good roasting in that open brick oven. Too bad it was only ten in the morning. Peking duck is one of my favorites!
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Before traveling deep into southern China, we headed to a local healing home. Healing homes provide support to orphanages across China by providing specialized care for children whose needs are beyond what their local orphanage can provide. (Love Without Boundaries is an amazing organization that runs healing homes in China.) One little boy in particular grabbed at my heart, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about him with you when I return.

After leaving the Beijing area, we traveled to southern China to meet the children who will be a part of our Journey of Hope program. In one orphanage, we met and interviewed over 100 children in just a few days. Whew! What an honor to work on their behalf to find them forever families! We will know in the next few days how many of these children will be ours to advocate for.

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Each Journey of Hope child is so precious; my heart is full as I think about the possibilities that will await them when they meet the families they long for. Many of these children have significant special needs, and many of them have been waiting for a long time to find a family. My camera is full of pictures and videos. I am so thankful for this little piece of technology that allows families to “meet” their child as they journey through the adoption process.

I love coming to China. I love the culture, the food, the history. But most of all, I love these children. It is my hope that Agape Adoptions can be part of their love story, as we match them with families who will cherish them forever.

A Baby From Heaven

Phyllis and Jim T. thought their family was complete, until one day, while surfing the Internet, Phyllis fell in love with a little boy, Michael, from China. The T. family already had adopted a son from Korea; they had no plans to adopt another child. But when Phyllis saw Michael’s picture, she says, “it was like finding yourself suddenly pregnant when you thought you were through having children.” Michael captured her heart. The T. family stepped forward to adopt again.

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When the T. family’s first son Anthony was four, he began asking for a little brother or sister. Both nearing their 50s, Phyllis and Jim were uncertain. Babies required a lot of care. “That’s why God gave babies to people in their 20s and 30s,” thought Phyllis. Each time Anthony would talk about having a sibling, Phyllis’ heart ached. She says, “I was not only grieving the inability to conceive a child, but also the inability to grant Anthony’s request.” Anthony was relentless and full of faith. He asked,

“Mommy, what if God sent us a baby from heaven? What would we do?”

To ease her heartache, Phyllis frequented adoption websites, looking at pictures of waiting children. When she discovered baby Michael on RainbowKids.com, she fell in love. Phyllis remembers, “Michael looked sweet and innocent, like all he wanted as to be held and cuddled.” He had been born with imperforated anus, a birth defect that required two life-saving surgeries in China. Phyllis felt so drawn to Michael, that, unbeknownst to her husband, she called Myriam Avery to learn more about him. An email filled with answered questions and complete medical records confirmed for Phyllis her desire to adopt. Unsure of her husband’s response, Phyllis quickly called him to confess what she had done. His response? A resounding, love-filled yes.

Arrival

The journey to adopting Michael was new and complex for the T. family. While their first son had arrived via escort from Korea to Nashville, Phyllis and Jim would travel this time to China to bring Michael home. Neither had ever traveled outside of the United States, and the prospect of overseas travel seemed daunting. They talked often about what China would be like, but their worries dimmed as they envisioned seeing Michael for the first time.

Michael’s medical needs posed an even greater concern. Here, Jim’s confident love for Michael bolstered Phyllis’ spirits. He assured her, “If we had a natural born child it could have been born with this defect, and we would have loved it the same.” Confident that they could provide better medical care for Michael, the T. family started the adoption process.

In the next months, Phyllis and Jim worked diligently to meet deadlines and get their new baby home. Before they knew it, they were in a Chinese hotel room with a very emotional, sullen two year old. Michael was very attached to his caregivers, spoke Chinese, and had never seen white people before. The transition overwhelmed him. Phyllis and Jim showered Michael with affection. They kissed him and sang to him, and each day he began to open up to them. During their two week stay in China, Michael blossomed. He learned some basic English words, ate until his belly was full, laughed, played and climbed into bed to watch TV.

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Since arriving home, the T. family has delighted in watching Michael meet life’s developmental milestones – language acquisition, relational attachments, food exploration, and comfort in his surroundings. Phyllis says, “Watching him evolve from an orphan into our son [has been] amazing.” Every day holds something new to discover.

Michael has had to endure five corrective surgeries since he came home. He has also had major dental work. Post-surgeries, Michael no longer needs a colostomy bag. He does have hygiene issues, but he accepts them. They are a normal part of his life. A life that is filled with happiness, soccer, swim lessons, pets, friends, and the dear big brother who prayed for his arrival.

Michael does not remember China, although the T. family talks about it. He sometimes leafs through the photo albums of his parents’ trip to bring him home, and he knows where China is on the map. He does not remember his life there, and Phyllis and Jim cannot remember life without him. Parenting two boys has taught them patience and compassion. For Phyllis and Jim, answering questions, teaching prayers, settling arguments, laughing, and watching their boys grow constitutes the best job in the world. Phyllis says, “When adopting a child, you love the child regardless of their sex or their medical issues. Some societies are paternally oriented. To be given the gift of a boy from such a society is exceptional.”