Long Wait for Home

My birthparents are a mystery to me. If I could speak to them now, I would have so many questions for them. I imagine the initial conversation would be awkward and emotional. I only know how to speak a little Mandarin Chinese, so a translator would probably be there to help. I would start with small talk like asking how they are and how the weather has been. Those questions may be boring but at least they don’t bring up painful memories that feel like someone’s squeezing your heart. Why did you give me up? Do you want me back in your life?

Perhaps I won’t say anything until they say something. I wouldn’t want to mess up by saying something that is not usually said in Chinese culture. Additionally, even if I did seek them out, finding them would bring up more questions. Do I want to maintain a relationship with them? Was this the closure that I needed or has it opened up new emotional issues? I can’t explain how incredible and emotionally jarring it would be to be able to meet my birthparents. Part of me wants to find them and part of me hopes that if I look for them, I don’t come up with anything, because then I wouldn’t have to go through the trials that come after you locate them. What if they reject me . . . again?

My thoughts about my birthparents have always been confusing. I feel bitterness toward them because they gave me up, but I also feel like they cared enough for me to place me somewhere that I could be found. It’s hard for me to believe what happened unless I hear it from them, and of course, that may be impossible. After watching Long Wait for Home, a documentary on Chinese adoption from 2008, I have been convinced that my birthparents were in a difficult situation when they chose to relinquish me. It saddens me that they must have gone through a lot of anxiety and pain, but I am comforted to know that I was not given up just because I did something wrong. Dr. Changfu Chang, the director of Long Wait for Home, shows perspectives on adoption from birthparents, caretakers at Chinese orphanages, and Chinese citizens. For adoptees, it is not unusual to know birthparents only from imagination. Many questions lead back to them that remain unanswered, and adoptees may feel a range of emotions when they begin to wonder about their past and who they came from. The driving message of the documentary is that the people who adoptees often think about are also thinking about them. Not only that, but adoptees are cared for and loved by the people in China who were with them before being adopted.

When a few birthparents of adoptees were interviewed in the documentary, it was clear that they were very sad about their losses, and they had a difficult time giving their children up. The one child policy and not having enough money to support the family were the main reasons why the birthparents had to part with their children. Culturally, Chinese boys are preferred over girls. This tradition is especially true in rural areas because of the heavy labor required on the farm. Couples may abandon their baby girls in order to try for a boy because they cannot legally have more than one child unless they pay a fine. There are also cases where they may secretly keep the girl with risk of being caught. One family said their house was torn down because someone found out they had more than one child.

Hearing the birthparents mourn for their lost children –seeing them with watery, red eyes –made me feel bad that I was ever upset at them for giving me up. When the birthparents hoped their children were healthy and happy, they gave me hope that my birthparents also think the same. I could feel the pain in the decision the birthparents had to make, so seeing the documentary helped my understanding of why they relinquish their children. At the same time, I am angered by the male preference in China. If I was born a boy, would I not have been abandoned? When I think about it, I am not sure who to be upset with. Can I really blame my birthparents for giving me up when society pressures them to have a male child? I may have been given up for a different reason, but most girls are in orphanages because of this cultural tradition. I sympathized more with the man who wanted to keep his baby boy but could not because the baby was sick and the medical expenses were too much. Overall, however, the documentary helped me see the struggle of the birthparents. It helped me realize that they may be thinking about me too, which gives me some comfort now when I think about them.

Seeing the caretakers at the orphanages also gave me a better impression of adoption. One of the caretakers at an orphanage talked about the first group of children who were adopted –everyone working there cried when they left. When I think that perhaps the caretakers at my orphanage also truly cared for me, the bitterness that I didn’t know I stored inside slowly loosens. I wonder how children placed in local orphanages compare to children placed in international ones. I was saddened to hear that some of the local orphanages did not allow the film crew inside because of the terrible living conditions. According to the documentary, international orphanages are usually the best in the country compared to local orphanages.

Another interesting perspective in the documentary, though they were at times frustrating, was when Chinese citizens responded to questions on the street about international adoption. The film crew followed a few American parents while they were adopting, and sometimes they stopped to ask locals about their thoughts. Some said the foreigners were kind and they hoped the adoptive parents would love their Chinese children, but others were skeptical about their motives for adopting. One person thought that the U.S. gave money to the adoptive parents, and the adoptive parents would take the money so they could have a free trip to China. The general response, however, when the local Chinese were asked if the adoptees will have a better life, was “yes.” Most of them believed that the conditions and opportunities are better abroad than in China. In addition, some thought that the adoptees could help America understand China better. I’m not sure I can agree with this, but it’s a good thought.

The problem I had with the documentary was that it seemed to be one-sided. Most the stories, even though some of them were sad, gave a feeling that international adoption is indeed the best outcome for girls who are adopted abroad. I believe that international adoption has positives and negatives, so I would have liked to see more of a balance between the two sides. For example, what exactly are the problems that the orphanages, both locally and internationally, face? Is it possible to make it easier for birthparents to keep in contact with their children? What are the consequences of favoring males over females? What are the psychological consequences of international and transracial adoption?

Maybe I am mostly upset at how some of the citizens felt the adoptees would be happy to be where they are and that “as long as the children can receive love and care, it doesn’t matter (that they’re internationally adopted).” Love and care are definitely necessary for raising a healthy child, but adoptees also often want to know more about their birth culture and their past. I think this is because it always feels like there is something missing. A black hole spirals constantly in the heart. It may become smaller over the years, but it is always open and if it’s not taken care of, it festers and swallows the heart whole. Love is a wonderful, powerful thing that I believe can transcend any boundaries; however, some adoptees need more than love and care from family and friends in order to find their identities and understanding of themselves. Nonetheless, the documentary is a wonderful source for hearing the perspectives of adoption that aren’t usually expressed.

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