Americans turned to foreign adoptions after a decrease in the number of healthy infants available for adoption in the United States.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
LIBERTY -- May Lynn nibbles on a cracker and clings to a kewpie doll as she sits on her mother's lap. One moment she is shy, hiding her face in her mother's shoulder. The next, she shows off her smile and tells her name.
"May May," squeals the 2-year-old.
May Lynn is the daughter of Grace Chan and John Einfalt. The township couple adopted her from a Chinese orphanage in February 2000.
May Lynn is one of more than 250,000 foreign children adopted by Americans from 1971 to 2000, according to statistics from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York City. The rate at which these children are adopted has doubled in the past decade, said Georgia Deoudes, the institute's director of policy.
China, representing 27 percent of those adopted in 2000, and Russia, representing 23 percent, are the primary countries from which U.S. citizens adopt, Deoudes said. These countries have replaced South Korea as the main country for foreign adoption.
No local statistics on international adoptions are compiled. The Northeast Ohio chapter of Families with Children from China has about 50 active members with newsletters going out to an additional 110 families, said Sally Keyes of the Cleveland-based support group.
Why China: Chan, a lawyer, said she and her husband, an engineer, turned to international adoptions in 1996 after they learned they could not have a biological child. They had been married for six years. Chan chose China because she was born in Hong Kong. She also said the Chinese program has the most streamlined and least bureaucratic of international policies. It is also the least costly, she said. The couple spent $20,000 to $25,000 during the adoption process.
"For me it was a way to reconnect to my Chinese background," said Chan. "And it also makes me rethink how I want to raise her, the Chinese way, the American way. I think it widens my perspective as a human being. ... It's very enriching, very fulfilling."
After completing piles of paperwork for two national governments and undergoing exams, background checks and home visits to show their psychological, physical and financial status, Chan and Einfalt received a "referral" from an orphanage in southern China.
Eight weeks later, they were in China to meet Li Li, who would soon become their May Lynn. After 10 days there, they brought May Lynn home. It had been 18 months since they first decided to adopt.
Stark contrast: The 8-month-old baby had been living in an agency that sheltered abandoned children, the elderly and the disabled. She had been found abandoned in a train station in a rural area, just a few days old, left in rags.
Now, she wears a blue-and-white checked dress, and a barrette in her hair. Pictures in her mother's law office tell of a first Halloween, a first Christmas, her first sled ride and her first time picking apples.
Despite the wait, the work and the expense, Chan calls the adoption a "wonderful experience." The immigration attorney has since expanded her practice to help other parents wanting to adopt children from other countries.
Eastern Europe and China are the most recent countries to allow foreign adoptions, said AnnaMarie Merrill, publications coordinator of International Concerns for Children Inc., in Boulder, Colo. The trend started in the 1950s with Korea. Now, 46 countries allow adoptions, with China joining the group in the early 1990s.
She said girls in Chinese orphanages end up there for various reasons: illegitimacy, poverty, a one-child-per-family mentality, and societal pressure for that one child to be a boy.
More children available: Deoudes said Americans turned to foreign adoptions after a decrease in the number of healthy infants available for adoption in the United States. They turn to China to take in its unwanted girls.
"Some people just see it as an easier process," Deoudes said. "There's less concern about birth parents coming back into their lives. They perceive the [adoption] process in the U.S. as being very bureaucratic and convoluted."
But, Merrill said, in China, the outcome is more certain than in the United States, where a birth mother may change her mind about an adoption she had previously agreed to.
Chan said she was hesitant to adopt in America for that reason.
"If I adopt internationally, there's no way for the biological parents to come back and say, 'I want my child back,'" she said.
Also, Chan said, her daughter will grow up in a family instead of in an institution.
"People see her and say, 'What a luck baby.' But I think we are lucky to have her here," Chan said. "We try our best to give her a home, to give her parents. ... Otherwise, she would be spending most of her life in an orphanage."
Downside: But with the positive aspects of foreign adoptions come challenges. A 1999 report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute tells of the experiences of Korean adoptees. Now adults, the adoptees told of identity concerns as they were reared in predominantly Caucasian families, and of discrimination.
Chan said she has concerns that May Lynn may have difficulty with her identity but hopes it will help that she, too, is Chinese. She also has collected photos from May Lynn's days in the orphanage as well as documentation and paperwork, so May Lynn may learn her history. Also, she speaks to her child in Cantonese (May Lynn still responds only in English) and has begun a library of books about Chinese culture.
As for discrimination, she said she has little concern and believes today's society is more accepting of foreign-born children and of adoption.
"I think most Americans, they have a big heart," Chan said. "They see children and they have to lend a helping hand."