Modern Family

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Inskeep

Two adoptions. Two very different eras.

My parents never expected to have children the way they did. When a family did not arrive for them in the ordinary way, they adopted two infants, including me.

My wife, Carolee, and I adopted for the same reason. We had a beautiful daughter, Ava, but explored our alternatives when a second child did not arrive. After a year and a half of counseling, paperwork, and waiting, we traveled to China late last year. We walked into a provincial government office in Wuhan, where a sign on the wall read: "Thank you for all of love Pouring on the Children." A woman led us over to Ana Xiao, age 3 1/2. She smiled and said, "Baba!" the Chinese word for "Daddy," and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

Between those two events--my adoption and my daughter's--the customs of adoption changed in ways that reflect a changing world. I was born near the end of the era of closed adoptions, when children typically never learned who their birth parents were, and birth parents never heard what happened to children. Some children grew up without even knowing they were adopted. While this approach was supposed to avoid confusion, it also demonstrated the mores of an older time. The conventional family was the norm, and anything else was best kept quiet.

Today's system keeps nothing quiet. Open adoptions commonly allow children and birth parents to visit. Interracial and international adoptions make many adoptive families easy to spot on the street. The effects of this have been apparent since the moment our enlarged family returned from China. The driver who brought us home from the airport noticed that our new daughter did not resemble the rest of us, and struck up a conversation. "Did you meet the parents? How much did you pay for her?"

Questions like that can be jarring, but it's better that he would ask and be informed. So I told him we did not meet or pay the birth parents. According to Chinese documents, our daughter was abandoned long before we met her, when she was 12 days old.

We don't know why she was wrapped in a coat and left in the elevator alcove of a hospital. We can say that China's one-child policy pushes many parents to give up "extra" children or pay substantial fines. The policy persists despite talk that China must abolish it to avoid a catastrophic shortfall of young people. It's widely believed that girls are rejected by families that prefer boys, but our visit to Ana's orphanage confirmed that many boys are abandoned too. Many children have common and correctable birth defects, like the heart murmur with which our daughter was born. …