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Adoptive Parents May Also Face the Decision to “Abort”

Last week I blogged about the decision to abort when faced with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome. A similar issue arises, perhaps in an even more intense way (if such a thing is possible), with foreign adoption. When you adopt from, say, China, they send you information about the baby that’s been assigned to you, including health information that is not very reliable, to say the least. When you arrive to pick up your baby, you never quite know what you will find. If there are serious health issues or other reasons why adoptive parents might find a child unacceptable, the Chinese authorities will quickly switch the child.

On my first trip to adopt in China, I happened to sit at a table next to another adopting couple from the United States. They were older, with no prior children, and had been assigned a three- or four-year-old girl. If memory serves me correctly, the father was a CEO of a large firm in New Jersey. They seemed like very nice people. The child that was assigned to them was very headstrong. She did not want to go with her adoptive parents and proceeded to throw tantrums, screaming, throwing things and spitting on and punching them for several days. They decided they couldn’t go through with it, and the girl was returned to the orphanage. My understanding is that she would not be eligible for adoption (at least, not internationally) in the future.

The next day, the couple told me, another three-year-old was brought over from an orphanage. The first thing she did when she met them was say, in English, “I love you, Mommy. I love you, Daddy.” The person who had transported the child from the orphanage had taught her the words. She had no idea what she was saying, but it didn’t matter. Needless to say, this little girl went home with them to New Jersey.

Almost seven years have passed since I shared breakfast with that New Jersey couple, yet I think about them often, and when I do, my eyes always fill with tears. I think about the little girl, now ten, living in a Chinese orphanage never knowing the life she missed. Should a three-year-old be punished for being attached to her caretakers in the orphanage? What if the New Jersey couple had just held out a little longer? Mostly, though, I think about how the second child learned those words in the cab, and how different her life is now because that first child put up such a fight. Strangely, I never think much about the decision the couple made with the first child, or whether I would have done the same thing myself. I only think about the children.

Not everyone makes the same choice as this couple. Yesterday The New York Times ran a wonderful, emotionally wrenching story about this sort of life-defining choice by another couple who had adopted from China. It is well worth reading.

(Hat tip to my friend Dave Eldan.)