Well, that’s big of you

This LA Times article is about Chinese families who had their babies seized from them and put up for adoption.  Here’s how the story ends:

In Philadelphia, Wendy Mailman, who adopted in 2005 from the orphanage in Zhenyuan that took in confiscated babies, now questions everything she was told about the girl who orphanage officials said was born in September and abandoned in January.

“Why would a mother who didn’t want a baby girl be so heartless as to wait until the dead of winter to abandon her?” she said.

She wonders what she would do if she discovered that her daughter was one of the stolen babies. She knows she could never return the Americanized 6-year-old, who is obsessed with “SpongeBob” and hates the Chinese culture classes her mother enrolled her in. But she said, “I would certainly want to tell the birth family that your daughter is alive and happy and maybe send a picture.”

“It would be up to my daughter later if she wanted to build a relationship,” she said.

Good thing the kid hates the Chinese culture classes.

33 thoughts on “Well, that’s big of you

  1. no doubt the culture classes are an hour long once a week class and there is absolutely no other chinese culture involved in this child’s life.
    I really hate how adoptive parents always say their children hate their culture classes. When your daily life creates an atmosphere that doesn’t involve or even promotes a sense of ‘otherness’ with that culture it’s no surprise a young child will not be interested. With all of the resources from adult adoptees that are available it’s a shame that adoptive parents still don’t get it.

    I also like how the adoptive mother assumes the birth mother just didn’t want the child. And even goes so far as to ostracize the birth mother for waiting so long to give up the child. God damn, people need to get a clue.

  2. I remember there is a big demand for toddlers too because some older adoptive parents do not want to deal with midnight feeding and diapers. I’m sure some toddlers were confiscated as well.

  3. To be fair, I think the assumptions js718 mentions are the things she’s questioning. She was probably told by the orphanage that the girl was abandonded “because the mother didn’t want a girl.” Should she have questioned that story in the first place? Probably. But at least she’s questioning it now. (Or at least, that’s how I read it. The language in the article is rather ambiguous.)

  4. If a child is kidnapped it should be returned to it’s parent. Whether the child is in America, China, or any other country. Whether the child is FROM any country, as well. Some people feel so righteous about their adopted child and would, “never give them back.” But, they are treating the child like chattel to not return the “chattel.” And, seriously, if the child was chattel, the parents who the child was stolen from obviously have EVERY right to their child.

    The problem is how to find out the truth about the adoption. Most people do not want to. The others probably do not know how.

  5. There seems to be some misunderstanding regarding Wendy’s comments in the LA Times’ article. Wendy has long suspected that the information provided her by the orphanage was “incomplete”. Her question in this article is rhetorical. She is asking why a birth mother would leave her child in the cold of winter (implying that she wouldn’t freely do so!). She is not berating the birth mother in any way, rather pointing out that even her daughter’s basic story, as provided by the Zhenyuan orphanage, is inconsistent.

    I know few adoptive parents (and I have worked with thousands) that has tried as hard as Wendy to locate her daughter’s birth family. It is unfortunate that her comment about sending a photo misrepresents Wendy’s intentions — she wants to create a relationship with her child’s birth family, especially in light of the allegations coming from Zhenyuan.

    Brian H. Stuy

  6. I am the Wendy Mailman referred to in the article above and a very nice friend of mine directed me to this blog. I believe the meaning of my comments have been misinterpreted by a few people on this blog. First of all, I talked with this reporter for over 90 minutes and she choose a few sentences of mine to post in her article. While the sentences are true, without hearing what was said before and after the comment, the meaning of my comments did not come through. I said I had always doubted the “official” information I was given about my daughter, by the Chinese government, about her abandonment. The reporter asked me what made me suspicious. I answered several things. First, she was born in Sept and “supposedly” abandoned in January, at the age of 5 months. But there are only 4 months between Sept. and January, not 5. Perhaps a small point. I know this area is in southern China but it can get very cold in the winter. In 2007, there were severe ice storms in this area, virtually paralyzing the town and many other towns in the area (frozen pipes, no drinkable water, no electricity for several days.) I said something to the effect, “Are you trying to tell me a mother could be so heartless, as to have a child in Sept. and “choose” to wait til the dead of winter to abandon it.” I don’t think so. Also, why would a Chinese mother wait 4 months to abandon a child, if she couldn’t care for it? What would she tell neighbors and friends about what happened to the baby? Finally, 2 years after I adopted from China, a nice Chinese friend translated the group of finding ads of 9 other girls, that were published with my daughters. Lo and behold, all these other girls’ ads say the same darn thing: all born in the summer, all abandoned in the dead of winter, either January or February, all at the age of 4-7 months. So now are you trying to tell me that there are 9 other heartless Chinese mothers, who all did the same thing in the winter of 2004? I don’t think so. Too coincidental for me. At that point I knew my daughter’s finding ad was not true. Unfortuneately, reporters must condense information when they write an article and I suppose that led to the confusion about my comments.
    For the record, one of the reasons why my child has started to give me a hard time with the Chinese culture classes is because I did return to China with her, 2 years after I adopted her, when she was almost 4 years old. Part of the trip was spent in Shanghai with other English-speaking adoptive families and their daughters and she loved this part. The other part was when we returned to her small, remote town and visited her foster mother for 3 days, who I was meeting for the first time. She hated this part. She did not remember the foster mother at all, who had fostered her for 21 months. She was very scared of all the Chinese people speaking Chinese, including the foster mother. She did not remember any Chinese. She clung to me for the entire 3 days and asked all the time when we would be returning to Shanghai and her friends. While my daughter remembers nothing about her first 21 months in China, she vividly recalls this second trip to China and says now, she does not want to return to China. I know other adoptees who are like this and I obviously won’t force my daughter to travel back to China. But I realize as she gets older, her feelings may change and if she ever desires to return to China, I will be there by her side.

  7. Hi Wendy,

    I think what some of us have an issue with is that it seems that if you were to find out your child were kidnapped you don’t think her birthparents should automatically get her back. How can someone think they have the right to elect not to return a kidnapped child? How can someone think the original parents don’t have the right to reclaim their baby — that they should be content with photos? While all white Americans have the right to have their kidnapped children returned, non-white, non-Westerners are like Dred Scott — they have no rights white people are bound to respect, even to their children. If it were your baby that had been stolen, would you feel that the family that adopted her had the right to say they weren’t giving her back but they’d let you know she or he was alive?

  8. Hey Wendy, I don’t think it was so much that people reading the article misinterpreted you as the writer of the article misrepresented you. In any event, I had two major thoughts: First, adoptive parents shouldn’t be spreading their kids’ personal stories all over the internet. Second, if I received a stolen kid, I think my actions would have to go beyond just giving notice to the parents.

  9. Dear Flower and Resistance,
    If Wendy adopted her daughter in 2005, she would have had to begun the process approximately a year earlier. If we assume she didn’t think about her decision for a period of time before this, she was operating with information from 2004 when she decided to adopt from China. The commonly held views of the China adoption program were dramatically different then from what they are now, and few blogs that I’m aware of like Twice the Rice, Harlow’s Monkey and Anti-Racist Parent existed.

    That said, however unfortunate it is that Wendy was able to adopt this child, now that the child has been living in this family and country for 4 years, how do you suggest that justice best be served while looking out for the child’s best interest?

  10. Resistance, the traffickers and corrupt individuals thrive when truth is kept secret. That is exactly what empowered the traffickers for so long. The whole notion that it is taboo to talk about the lies we find. To keep the stories quiet.
    And so if adoptive parents tucked away the childrens paperwork and kept everything quiet until the children have to deal with it, can you imagine how many more victims will be created in the process and how many more families will be exploited?
    If your neighbour molested your child, would you report it? Would you warn the other neighbours? Or would you keep it secret until your child is old enough to deal with the crime?
    Because this is what we are dealing with, crimes and criminals and governments that refuse to take serious action to stop this mess.
    What other option is left other than to combine energies with the families in China and start talking real truths.
    I think the Chinese adoptees will resent parents more if we knew about the crimes and took the easy way out.

  11. Before you begin to judge Wendy and her actions, perhaps you should read what a birthparent had to say at the very end of the L.A. Times article.

    She wonders what she would do if she discovered that her daughter was one of the stolen babies. She knows she could never return the Americanized 6-year-old, who is obsessed with “SpongeBob” and hates the Chinese culture classes her mother enrolled her in. But she said, “I would certainly want to tell the birth family that your daughter is alive and happy and maybe send a picture.”

    “It would be up to my daughter later if she wanted to build a relationship,” she said.

    For many birth families, that would be enough.

    “We’d never make her come back, because a girl raised in the West wouldn’t want to live in a poor village like this,” said Yang Shuiying’s mother-in-law, Yang Jinxiu.

    “But we’d like to know where she is. We’d like to see a picture. And we’d like her to know that we miss her and that we didn’t throw her away.”

  12. I’d also like to point out, Wendy, that if you were immersing your Chinese daughter in the culture to which she was born she might not have been “afraid” of the language to which she is native or of the people that were speaking it. Maybe you should be asking yourself why she was afraid?

  13. Dear Notsosimple,

    Yang Shuiying’s mother-in-law does not speak for the birth families of all kidnapped children.

    Dear Scott O,

    If the child was actually kidnapped then it would be up to the people she was kidnapped from to determine what was in their child’s best interest. Again, if the situation were reversed can you imagine a white American birthfamily not getting their child back because the child’s adoptive non-Western, non-white parents decided to (and had the power) to keep the baby?

  14. Flower,

    I am very aware that Yang Shuiying’s mother-in-law does not speak for the birth families of all kidnapped children, just as me, you or anyone else doesn’t.

  15. I would also like to point out that not all adoptive parents of Chinese children are white, and there are plenty of non-white ap’s who have been affected by the issue of child trafficking. I don’t think that the hesitation to give voice to the possibility of returning an adopted child to his/her birth family is so much an issue of white entitlement as it is one of adoptive parent entitlement (and personally, I’m not sure what would be in the best interest of the child in this case, and aren’t we supposed to be focusing on that?).

  16. NSS a) I never claimed to speak for all birth families b) the ap in question is white (as are the vast majority of transracial ap which affects the power dynamic) and so if the situation were reversed it would need to involve a white family (as it did in my analogy), and c)as I stated earlier the people whose responsibility it is to determine what’s in the best interest of a child is the child’s birth parents — they have that right because they never relinquished it. Again, can you imagine the situation being reversed and the non-white, non-Western family or the courts of that country getting to decide what’ in the best interests of the child. Everyone agrees it’s the best interests of the child that must be considered — the question is who has the authority to determine what the child’s best interests are.

    I’ll give a real world example — there was a case in the news a few months ago where a white guy’s divorced Japanese wife had taken his child off to Japan and the guy hadn’t seen his son in years. The government is actively trying to bring the son back to the father even though he’s with his natural family in Japan (not, as with the case of adoption fraud, biologically unrelated strangers) and the kidnapper was his mother. No one is saying that it’s in the child’s best interest to remain with the family and culture he’s been with for the past few years. The white American parent’s right goes unquestioned.

  17. My point is that I don’t necessarily believe it is an issue of white entitlement, but rather adoptive parent entitlement or perhaps more realistically, American adoptive parent entitlement.

    On another note, let’s not forget the case of Anna Mae He, who was finally returned to her Chinese parents after having been raised by a white family for years. All I’m trying to say is that yes, I can imagine the situation being reversed. It has been, and the white people’s desires and/or “rights” don’t always go unquestioned.

  18. Responding to Melanie:

    Please help me understand how one goes about immersing our adopted Chinese children in to the culture to which they were born. Does a trip to P.F. Chang’s during Chinese New Year count? Having our daughters wear a QiPao during the Moon Festival? Or perhaps Chinese language classes would make her or he fell more connected?

    Why not ask yourself, Melanie, if the language she is learning at a language camp or elsewhere is even close to the language she is native to. Is her native language Putonghua (Mandarin), Gan, Kejia (Hakka), Min, Wu, Xiang and Yue (Cantonese)? Of all of these different languages, each contains a large number of different dialects. Then ask yourself if the poor child could be “afraid” of the many different voices and dialects she hears of a language she can no longer speak or replicate from the small amount of time spent in a language camp learning an Americanize Chinese version of a dialect she may never have been familiar with.

    Hanging on the walls of our homes a few Chinese wall decorations does not immerse children adopted from China in the culture to which they were born. Faux Chinese culture does our adoptive daughters and sons a great disservice. I would never presume to be able to replicate my daughter’s culture or language. However, I am able to instill in her a pride of who she is, teach her of the beauty of her diverse family, how recognize the evils of racism, and, if possible, to teach by our families example the wonders of transcultural adoption.

    I believe that children adopted from China would be better served by making friendships with American born Chinese children of immigrant parents. What cultural aspects do these children’s bring from the culture that they were born into? Do their families participate or recognize any particular cultural events? How do they recognize there Chinese heritage within there family?

    These families may have the best examples we can offer for children adopted from any culture.

  19. http://paper.sznews.com/szdaily/20090709/ca2916166.htm
    Looks like the Shenzhen Daily did a better reporting job than the LA Times.

    The people who should decide what’s in the best interests of a child are impartial courts. But biological parents usually have little legal recourse after children leave the birth country. That is the sad truth about international adoption and also its lure to many potential adoptive parents.

  20. I think we in AP positions need to reflect on these comments because the reality is that many here are shedding light on the truth.
    The adoptive parents do have the rights and I have said many times that frankly that is crazy.
    If my child was stolen by social services and sent abroad, you can bet I would fight to get my child back.
    Also we know it would be terribly traumatic to take an older adoptee and send him back into a foreign country, with a whole different language and people than he knows. We know the loss of his only parents he knows would be devestating to the child BUT then we tolerate, participate and defend the act of taking away older children from China from long term fostercare where they would have remained until adulthood.
    How many parents came home with children from long term foster care and spoke about the devestation the child felt and listened to the child cry for their mom (foster mother)?

    In out adoption papers it states our adoption is legal and binding and cannot be revoked (or something of that sort) but yet I also see a multitude of distriptions after adoptions with agencies actually now specializing in this area!!!

    Lastly none of us want to lose our children which is why most of us keep info to ourselves and choose not to make waves. It safer, truly it is. But in the end if we sit on a pack of lies and keep the truth from the children and the world, do we risk losing our children emotionally when they get older anyway? I know I would highly resent my parents if they kept truth from me or did not lobby for proper change.

    If adoptions from China were corrupt free then none of us would be so scared. But they aren’t and we all know it.

    Aside from having a child stolen, the next hardest thing (after death of course) would be to lose a child in a custody battle and until parents in developing countries get equal rights they will continue to be exploited because most have an assurance that they will never win their children back.

    Irony is that most Chinese birth parents do not expect or demand this anyway and are thinking about what they want for their children.
    I’m truly humbled by most of these parents because I know my reaction would not be the same.

  21. Hi Cathy,

    Your message is so heartfelt but I’m curious about this — “most Chinese birth parents do not expect or demand this anyway” — it’s not like someone has polled all, or even nearly the majority of Chinese birth parents.

    I’d also like to add that while “In our adoption papers it states our adoption is legal and binding and cannot be revoked” is true, if the reverse were to occur can you imagine American courts accepting that the adoption was legal — when the child was illegally taken?

  22. flower,
    i agree with you, if an adoption is based on a child illegally taken, then the adoption contract should be non-binding, since the information that the adoption was based on would be false.

    the thoughts of children being illegally taken, abducted is probably the most devastating feeling i can think of, for me personally, and there are times when i feel tremendous shame for my naive thinking, i really don’t think i would have pursued adoption if I thought it was about abducting children for my selfish needs.

    when we returned to China a few years ago, i found myself in a situation where i thought i would meet my child’s family or relatives, it was something that happened in a surprising way, and i felt overwhelmed for a long, long time after that. that emotion that i felt that day, and for a long, long time afterward, helps me realize how my kids might feel someday.

    i know there are other adoptive families who have found the first families in China, but I think that group is very quiet about what they have found, for the most part.

    i do so agree with you Resistance, that spreading around the personal stories of children is wrong, people who are adopted are treated like their lives are an open book, with no rights to privacy.

    the last thing i want to share is, my family has been involved in a language school for going on eight years now, it is something we just do, a tradition of spending our sunday afternoons, it’s not boring, my kids have grown up with the other kids, they all play together, run around during free time, dance together, and i enjoy myself as well, i was invited to a volunteer position there, and i love working on projects and trying to give back something to the school association.

  23. Hi flower, you’re right.. good point and indeed I am generalizing based on the few we have heard from (sadly it is hard to poll these families or gain access to truth). If almost 100,000 children have left China for IA and we have only heard from a few parents so far, then is it safe to assume that many have not spoken out because of a multitude of barriers placed on these families?
    I have a hunch that even if families wanted to fight through the system to get their child back, the sick intimidations and threats would try hard to keep them from doing so.
    Like in Guatemala where the mother trying to get her stolen child back and is now dealing with the murder if her brother.
    Don’t screw with the billions of dollars ICA brings in or you face trouble.
    This is why we all need to move beyond our differences regarding whether we are APs, parents or adoptees and embrace the power we have together in terms of change.
    The reality is that it is the Western influence that directs things with IA… it shouldn’t be but it is.
    Whether Wendy or myself said the right things on this article, at least we’re talking about a topic that is hard to talk about.
    The pressure for APs to keep the mess contained is huge.
    And indeed if Wendy did not take action on the crimes she had discovered, we never would have heard from the few parents in China.
    Now the few parents who spoke out in China will connect with more due to the publicity and ultimately power for change comes with the strength in numbers.

    Flower, regarding your second point about the adoption papers… sorry but it’s over my head. Can you explain this point more because I do want to understand what you meant better.


  24. Hi Cathy — Kathy summed up what I was trying to say about the papers.
    Hi Notsosimple — A.M.H.’s case is not the reverse of Wendy’s case — the reverse of Wendy’s case would be if a kidnapped white American child was given to a non-Western non-white family and that family or the courts in that family’s country were allowed to determine what happened to the child.

    What gets me is how easily what’ s best for the child is connected to deference for the ap. As though birth families who don’t request their kids return are looking at the best interests of the child and are being altruistic and making the right decision and people who want their kids back are being self serving.

  25. Flower, I read her post after I posted and understood your point about paperwork. You’re fully right regarding this point.
    It could be compared to a situation where a man has purchased a wife and married her and treated her with more than she had before. Would this be a “legal” marriage according to laws if she explained it was due to money and against her will? That he had trafficked her? Would the courts say that she was better off where she is and therefore refuse to reverse the “legal contract” between the two? Doubtful hey?!
    The legal sense of security is what has protected and held up the IA programs.
    If adoptions were in threat of being reversed then surely their popularity would go down.

  26. Response to Rick

    Um, how am I saying something different than what your first few paragraphs say? Your post is longer, but almost conveys what I was trying to say.

    I was in NO WAY suggesting that going to a crappy franchise restaurant, watching videos of Mulan or having Asian “accents” up in the home is a way to immerse your kid in their culture.

    I do take issue with your idea of forcing friendships with American born children of Chinese immigrants however. Those of us who are American born children of non-white parents are not here to educate you or your children on how we naviagate this world. Join your groups, attend your cultural “events” but, please, do not expect us to be a guide to your child.

  27. Children are not sack of potatoes and can not be just taken back without a lot of consideration of each individual case. There is the issue of Chinese government recognizing a child. If a child can not be registered (and I speculate that the Chinese government may be reluctant in registering ‘returned’ children. So, not so simple, and very complex. Heart wrenching for everyone involved. Chinese mothers (and let’s not forget fathers either) were forced by their society to abandon their children, regardless of the way that happened.

  28. Notsosimple — let a white Western child get kidnapped from its parents and adopted by a non-western, non-white child and try that “It’s not a sack of potatoes” line. If parents have rights to a child until they freely relinquish those rights — that’s quite simple.

  29. [What I wish for is for my children to have a voice, as I wish for people of color to have a voice. When a white person’s first response is to attack, I know that they are feeling defensive. But these attacks are invocations of privilege that silence the voices of people of color. As a white person, and as a father to children of color, I know that I have a lot to re-learn about race, racism and privilege. I know that even as I try to contribute to a more just system, my children will still need a sanctuary space of their own. That space is about the ability to put voice to their thoughts. It’s about safety. It’s about throwing off the yoke of oppression. And it’s about furthering equality. But it isn’t about me, and I can accept that.]

  30. Wendy, I admire perseverance in trying to discover truth surrounding your daughter’s circumstances and your courage and unselfishness in bringing your story to others who will face a similar situation with their own adopted children, whether their children come from China or elsewhere. After all, corruption doesn’t know borders and is more closely connected to human nature than to race or country. That said, I believe there are social and political issues at play that we living in democratic societies little no understanding of.

    The comments that I read regarding the adoptions not being valid because the parents didn’t willfully give up their children and that the children belong with their birth parents is one such issue. China is a communist country and, right or wrong, the rights of the individual are superseded by the rights of the whole. There are strict rules about people’s entitlements to have children. As unfair as these policies may seem to us living in very sparsely populated, very well-fed societies, overpopulation and famines is a major concern for the Chinese. Few of us have had to subsist on weeds and cloth, or starved/dead animals to survive. Whether in these stories these families have broken the law or not, I have no idea. I’m not heartless. It is unnatural and cruel to be forced to give up your own children. However, I am not from that society and don’t have a right to judge another for their policies. Even if the children were abandoned (as adoptive families are always told) we know birth parents are forced into this either by poverty or one-child policy. That to me is pretty much the same thing as taking children unwillingly!

    If someone thinks it’s as simple as going back to the Chinese government and saying, “Hey, you lied to me so now I want to return this child to its rightful owner,” then I say excellent ideology, but time to see the world for the place it is. China will stand firmly behind its policies, as it should. That doesn’t preclude someone who has been fortunate enough to find their child’s birthparents from bringing them into their child’s life. As to when and how to do that, that probably needs to be considered on a case by case basis.

    When international adoption from China started, China was flooded with orphans as a result of its one child policy. Adoptive parents from outside China have had no agenda to profit form corrupt officials. If that has in fact happened then they too have been victims.

  31. Flower, I hope you realize that the vast majority (re: almost all) of these AP’s adopted with the honest belief that their children had been abandoned. The idea that these children were being supplied by a “black market” was not even a thought. These are people who just wanted a family. It is not something a person does on a whim, as anyone who has adopted from China knows, it is a lengthy and involved process.

    While I understand the strong sentiment that some have expressed about returning these children to their Chinese parents I would like them to put themselves in a hypothetical scenario:

    You and another women each have a child each in a hospital. Unbeknownst to you your child dies and you are accidently given the other mother’s child. You raise this child for 10 years in the honest belief that it is your child. Finally, it is revealed that this was not your biological child but the other mothers. What would you do?

    Do you have any idea of the depth of emotion and bound that would be broken by just handing this child over? What would be best for the child (assuming this is a loving and caring family which she grew up with)?

    The thought that children are being stolen from good honest families is totally reprehensible and inhuman. These people will be dealth with appropriately at some point. But just to give the child back as if it is a commodity is extremely over simplistic thinking. The child’s welfare is paramount. I would love to be able to find my child’s birth parents and let them know about them. But to think of sending them back (abandoning them) after this interval of time is definately not right. If my child wanted this then I would give it careful consideration. This is not the case and – God willing – it never will be.

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