Sunday, January 07, 2007

Why China? CNN Hasn't a Clue

So the other day Paula Zahn of CNN discussed the new China policies on her show. I'm not sure what the point of the conversation was-- to complain? To make Americans who choose to adopt from China look like idiots? To promote adoptions from Africa? If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can read the transcript from the show here:

You have to scroll about 1/2 way down the transcript to get to the segment on adoptions from China. If you aren't aware of it, in December the China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA) came out with some new regulations. There is a long list. I personally believe this was prompted by the ever-increasing wait for "paper-ready" babies from China. When we started the process in November of 2004, the wait after submitting paperwork was 6 months. We waited a hair over 12 months. The wait is currently just over 15 months, and predictions suggest that based on the current number of waiting families, it will reach 24 months. My guess is also that as the wait continues to stretch, more families will choose to adopt from other countries. Many already have. So I think the main reason for the stricter policies is that China wants to keep the wait reasonable so that they have a steady supply of parents for children and vice versa. But no one really knows why they have created these rules, which go into effect May 1st.

Among the new rules are that single women can no longer adopt (China has been permitting a quota of single women to adopt each year), that people with physical disabilities (including facial deformities) can no longer adopt (though China has always questioned parents with disabilties), and that people who are morbidly obese (that is with a body mass index over 40) cannot adopt. There are also rules about minimum family income and net assets. I don't know if the net asset rule was there before, but the minimum income was when we adopted, and I think it's pretty reasonable that they'd want a family to be able to financially care for the child.

As for the number of singles-- if China has that many people waiting to adopt and they believe it's better for a child to be raised in a two-parent family than in a one-parent family, it's certainly their prerogative to give priority to two-parent families for the time being. I don't really get the facial deformity issue-- I mean no one even really knows what this means. But my guess is that if it's been medically corrected, it's not considered a deformity anymore. I can't really speak to that one. And as for the weight issue, this seems to have gotten a lot of people up in arms. I certainly understand why. Weight is, for me like for many, a struggle. I grew up with a mother who was pretty overweight and it definitely did not affect her ability to be a terrific parent. But I don't think my mom would have qualified as morbidly obese by these new standards. For example, I am about five feet tall. To have a BMI of 40, I'd have to weigh 204 pounds. And for a woman who is 5 foot 6 to have a BMI of 40, she'd have to weigh 247 pounds. Now perhaps this kind of extra weight isn't a big deal while someone is young, but if the concern is a stable family environment, then that extra weight does carry long term health consequences-- and thus I don't think it's a matter of wanting parents who look pretty, but of a concern about parents who will be around for a while. Regardless, China can set whatever rules it wants. . .

None of this was discussed in any detail in Paula Zahn's show, though. Instead, the show turned into a discussion about why people choose to adopt from China. And interestingly, she did not have any actual parents on the show. Nor did a single guest provide any statistical evidence (or even anecdotal evidence) as to their claims. . .

First off, Uygar states that people are choosing not to adopt Muslim children, despite the war in Iraq because those kids aren't as cute or as smart as Chinese children. Uh . . . hello? Did anyone check to see what the laws are regarding adoption from Iraq or Afghanistan? In fact the U.S. State Department reports that adoption from Afghanistan is nearly impossible: . Likewise, Uygar is wrong that Americans are disinterested in Iraqi-born children. In fact, the U.S. State Department has received numerous requests regarding adoption from Iraq. But again, this is pretty near impossible: Now, it doesn't take much research to figure this out-- all I did was look it up on the State Department website. You'd think Paula Zahn and her guests would do at least the bare minimal research! People aren't choosing China over Muslim countries because of intelligence or cuteness-- there just simply isn't much of a choice.

Next, Maldonado explains: "[P]eople believe if they're adopting a child from China, the child is going to be healthier than a child they adopt in the United States and that is just not true." I'm curious about what "people" Maldonado refers to here. I've not heard this as a main reason for adopting from anyone I know who has adopted from China. I have heard this as a comparison of China to other foreign countries, but not as a comparison to the U.S. And even if this were a reason for people choosing China, how does Maldonado know it's not true? What are the statistics about American-born children placed for adoption versus those born in China? And how is he defining "healthy"? Is a child who has been drug-exposed (but born not addicted) "healthy"? Is a child who has complications during labor and delivery or suffers from jaundice healthy? And how can we compare a newborn American-born child to a 7-12 month old China-born child?

And Martin suggests American choose to adopt from China because they wants smart children: "Maybe they think they can adopt a smart kid that is going to grow up to be a doctor? I don't know. They need to realize that's called training, not just inherent, it will happen when they're born." "Maybe"? Where does Martin get this stuff? I mean, when you adopt in China, you actually have to provide a reason on your application for why you want to adopt from China specifically. Did Martin sift through these applications and petitions to come up with this claim? Because, again, I haven't heard this as a reason for adopting from China. Ever. The notion that this is a reason to adopt from China-- that it's a consideration-- says a lot about the person putting it forth as a rationale, though.

Speaking of ignorance, when Zahn asks Martin what the assumptions are about Black children, Martin explains, "I think they[American parents] probably assume they're [Black children] going to sing for them like Jay Z and play like in the NBA." Uh . . . really? That's what American parents of Black children think about their kids? I sincerely doubt that my friend Alison adopted her son Ethan because she thought he'd be a musician or a basketball player. And I know that when we adopted our biracial son, a future career as a professional athlete never even crossed our minds. In fact, I am pretty sure that Alison and Phil, like me and Jason, adopted our sons because they were children who were available and we wanted children to love. Period. That was the end of it.

What I find so amazing about the show is two things: 1. They never actually discuss the real reasons people choose to adopt from China, and 2. in comparing Chinese children to children of other cultures, they discussed only the perceptions of the adopting parents as reasons for the adoption and not the societal implications of the choice. I'll explain that in a minute.

So, why do people choose to adopt from China? We adopted from China for several reasons.

First, we wanted a low-risk adoption process. Although our domestic adoption with Casey went incredibly smoothly, there are many risks involved in the domestic adoption system. A birthmother has the right to change her mind after the child is placed with you for a number of days (or months in California). You might invest time and energy (and even money) into a situation, and a birthmother might choose to parent even before the child is born. With China, there is no question that you will walk away from a given timeline with a child who is truly available for adoption.

Second, adoptions from China are relatively predictable. When we adopted Casey, we had to be ready to travel, more or less, at the drop of a hat. In fact, we were on vacation when Casey was born, and we left Florida early to be present at his birth (his birthmother was quite generous to allow us to be in the room!). Being in law school, I just couldn't afford to drop everything and be out of state for upwards of three weeks like I was with Casey. I needed to be able to plan-- at least a little bit. Adopting from China allowed me to plan my classes, etc. according to when we thought we'd travel. So it was definitely more convenient (although this would not have ben enough, alone, fo us to choose China over a domestic adoption).

Third, the cost is relatively predictable. In domestic adoptions, your agency fees and homestudy fees are set-- but there may be other expenses. You don't know what your travel expenses will be or if your child's birthmother will need financial support. In an international adoption, you can predict these expenses and plan accordingly.

Fourth, children from China specifically, are generally healthy. They seem to be held a lot as infants, which is very impotant for development and attachment. They seem to be loved and fed and generally well cared for. This is not to say they are BETTER cared for in China than the U.S., but add this to the other things, and it helps. Additionally, though I have done no research to back this up, I would venture to guess that the number of children born in China exposed to drugs at some point during the pregnancy (or to alcohol) is less than in the U.S. Drug use is less rampant generally, and births in China tend to be less because of unplanned pregnancies and more because of the rules and the social pressures about having girls. So in that sense, I think children are probably more healthy on the whole . . .

And last but not least, Jason is half Chinese. Jason's mom speaks Cantonese with our children. We felt we were in a unique situation to provide a culturally rich environment for a child from China. And the child would "fit" in with us because he (or she) would look, at least in coloring, similar to Jason. In fact, we looked into adopting from China when Casey was born but we were not yet old enough (you have to be 30).

There are, of course, many reasons to adopt in the U.S. One advantage is knowing your child's medical history and helping her come to terms with her identity and the choice her "first" mother made to place her for adoption. Another advantage is having the child from birth instead of after 9-12 months (or more). This was one reason I wanted to adopt domestically.

But I can honestly say I NEVER considered adopting from China because I wanted a "smart" child. That's just ridiculous.

Now, onto reason #2 above. I personally think a reason that Americans choose China over, say, Africa (besides the very stable and structured process)-- or more specifically why Asian children are more popular than Black children, even in domestic adoptions (and for proof of this, look at 's waiting parent list-- search the waiting families by those interested in adopting Caucasian or Asian babies, then again by those open to African American babies and you'll see what I'm talking about) is more about society in general than it is about the adopting parents. Why is that we hear more about discrimination against Black people than against Asian people? What about the fact that many Black people are flat-out opposed to White people adopting Black children? None of Zahn's guests addressed the larger societal issues-- it's not just about what an individual family does-- it's also about how that family is accepted by society, and specifically about how that family's child copes with being "different" looking than the rest of her family. Just something to think about.

I know, for us, anyway, we would absolutely consider adopting from Africa-- and we just might do that with our next adoption. We are lucky to have had such positive experiences adopting domestically (a biracial child) and internationally (a Chinese child). These decisions were well-thought-out, came from a rational founding-- but most importantly were borne of love-- and that was something totally missing from the CNN piece. What a short-sighted work of journalism. . . makes me wonder about the other things they report on and how one-sided and unthoroughly researched they are.


Brad & Joia said...

You GO Karen! Thank you!!

Sheri said...

Beautifully written, cogently argued, Karen - you'll make a great attorney!!