Flying to China to Adopt in the Wake of 9/11 – Guest Post by Janice Cody

This is a guest post by Janice Cody:

“For me, adoption is a global issue.  In making our decision to adopt, we took into consideration issues that were affecting adoption in the United States, the Soviet Block countries, Latin America, and Asia.  We had not considered US relations with the Middle East as a factor, but they proved to have a powerful impact on the adoption of our oldest daughter.

We left for China to adopt our oldest daughter three days after 9/11. We were on the first international flight out of O’Hare after the tragedy. That we were able to leave at all was due to conditions in China.

On that fateful Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was home finishing up a work project and making other final arrangements for our trip to China. My husband called and asked if I had seen the news. For the next 24 hours, I was alternately mesmerized by the TV footage and so overwhelmed by the tragedy that I had to shut everything out.

It wasn’t until sometime the next day that the numbness and shock began to subside enough for me to begin to consider what this meant for us.  We had longed to create a family and were excited and happy that the long wait was about to be over. We believed we had a safe and healthy home in which to raise a child, but the tragedy of 9/11 shook that confidence.

How could people hate Americans so much that they would kill so many innocent people? We’d baby proofed our condo but how do you put bumpers on US citizenship?

Being an older couple, domestic adoption was not a good option for us. Our age made us less attractive to birth parents. Both domestic and international adoptions are characterized by long waits, uncertain outcomes, and bureaucracy. There are also high expenses to consider.

For us, adopting from China was a blessing. Our age was not a disadvantage. Yes, there was a wait but there was an end in sight. Yes, there was more paperwork than you could possibly imagine, but the whole process worked very smoothly, if slowly. Yes, there were no family medical histories but the girls tended to be healthy. Yes, there were many expenses but there was no hint of corruption.

Yes, a trip to China was required but you didn’t go unless you were matched with your daughter so you knew she would be coming home with you. These were children in need of families and there was no question about that. They were young enough for bonding/attachment to go well. There was no fear that someone could appear later to assert their parental rights.

Adoption from China is a group process. Our group was to travel on a flight to Japan and connect to the flight to Beijing, China. A couple of families had elected to go a day or two early to have some time to sightsee in Beijing.  9/11 changed that.

After calling to confirm our flight had not been cancelled, we all met at the airport that Friday. I’m not sure how long we waited in line before it was announced that the flight to Japan had been cancelled. Our adoption agency facilitator told us it would probably be another month before we could reschedule the trip.

None of us moved out of line. We all kept standing there waiting to check in for a flight that had been cancelled.  An airline employee came out to ask if there was anyone in line for the flight to Beijing.  We all started waving our hands wildly. She gave us this funny look. “You are all booked on the flight to Beijing?” she asked.

“That’s where we’re going,” we all shouted.  One man pulled out an 8” X 10” enlargement of his daughter’s referral photo, thrust it at the woman and said, “This little girl is waiting for me in China.  All these people have daughters waiting for them.”

Later we heard that United had decided the Beijing flight would depart that day.  Apparently it had something to do with the fact that China had more secure airports.

Being in China at that time was wonderfully healing. People would come up to us and say “USA” and give us a thumbs up. The young Chinese we met in the hotel and in shops all spoke English well and were happy to practice their English speaking to us.  My husband and I had studied Mandarin while waiting for our referral. My pronunciation was so poor they could barely understand my clumsy attempts to say, “She is my daughter.”

When we went for our embassy visit to get the girls’ visas there were throngs of Chinese trying to get their visas.  The United States was still a desirable destination.

Everything was so positive I would like to end the story there but there is an epilogue.  It is ten years later, and we now have two daughters who have to learn what it is to be American and to be Chinese. They are the center of our lives and we can’t imagine life without them.

At our adoption agency’s annual picnic this summer, we heard that the wait for a referral from China is now between four and five years. Many reasons for this have been suggested, but they all trace back to China’s growing importance in the world economy.

At home, the fact that we adopted internationally has another consequence. During the last election, the girls came home and told me, “My teacher is wrong. She said anyone can grow up to be president, but that’s wrong. I can’t grow up to be president because I was born in China.”  It is difficult to accept that our children can’t grow up to be president simply because we adopted them.  It feels as though we were only able to give them second class citizenship.  We wish that were different.”

– By Janice Cody, adoptive mom

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