Myths and Realities of Adoption by Jacob Weisman
“The Chinese Experience of Adoption: Culture and Myths” was the topic of Hong Kong’s 2nd Adoption Festival, sponsored by social services organization Mother’s Choice, in November 2009. During a half day seminar, the Chinese experience of adoption was explored through a talk by an experienced adoption professional, a new film on Adoption Myths, and a panel discussion of six people...
Myths and Realities of Adoption by Jacob Weisman
“The Chinese Experience of Adoption: Culture and Myths” was the topic of Hong Kong’s 2nd Adoption Festival, sponsored by social services organization Mother’s Choice, in November 2009. During a half day seminar, the Chinese experience of adoption was explored through a talk by an experienced adoption professional, a new film on Adoption Myths, and a panel discussion of six people including adopted persons, birth mothers, and adoptive parents.
I was one of the panel members. I was asked to share a bit about my personal background and then to respond to eight questions about my personal experiences and feelings related to adoption. These are the comments I prepared:
My name is Jacob. I am 17 years old. I am Chinese American, born and raised here in Hong Kong. I have also lived three years in New York and have spent my summers in New England. Presently I attend an international school here in Hong Kong.
I have grown up in a multi-cultural and multi-racial family. My father has an Eastern European, Jewish background. My mother has an Italian/ English, Catholic background. My older sister and I are ethnically Chinese. My family and I are all Americans and members of the Baha’i Faith. Our family celebrates many of the holidays and traditions of all these various religions and cultures. My grandfather refers to us as his United Nations family. We consider ourselves citizens of the world.
I am the second oldest of four children. My older sister Caitlin and I each joined our family through adoption when we were infants - 3 months old; while my two younger siblings were born into my family
At first glance, our family might seem different from most, with two Chinese looking children and two western looking children. But being part of a multi-cultural and adoptive family, combining various ethnicities and backgrounds, is very natural and normal to me. To me, our family is pretty much like any other family – just a little distinct in a good way.
When my oldest sister and I were first born, we were placed and cared for in a children’s home run by the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children called the Portland Street Creche, located in Mong Kok.
Each year while I was growing up, I cam back to this Creche to visit and help in some way. It became our annual family service project. As children, my brother, sisters and I would have a fundraiser in our neighbourhood playground, selling lemonade and “gently used” toys and books. We would find out what the Creche needed most that year – sometimes blankets or humidifiers. On year the refrigerator for the baby formula broke down, and they needed a new one. Our family would purchase those items to give as a donation.
Afterward we would stay and visit with the babies and toddlers, hold them and play with them. Inevitably, my siblings and I would come to have a personal favourite. Near the end of our visit, each of us would be clamouring to bring our favorite baby home with us.
During these occasions I would revisit the room where I was cared for during the first twelve weeks of my life, see the crib where I had slept and hear stories from amahs who had cared for me and remembered.
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Now I will reply to the questions I have been asked about my personal experiences and feelings related to adoption.
Question: When did your parents tell you that you were adopted and what was your reaction?
I really don’t remember when I was first told that I was adopted. But when you grow up looking Chinese in a family with two western looking parents it’s honestly not too hard to figure out that you’re a different kind of family.
I doubt that I had any special reaction when I was first told I was adopted because adoption has always been a natural part of my life. Nobody has ever made a big deal out of it. My sister and I both joined our family through adoption. So did one of our cousins. We have always been members of an organization called the “Adoptive Families of Hong Kong,” in which we would celebrate holidays with other adoptive families. So adoption has always been a natural part of our lives as far back as I can remember.
Question: Have you ever grieved because of the fact you were adopted?
No – I have never felt that way about adoption. Occasionally, thoughts about adoption will creep into my mind, like different possibilities in life or about my biological parents. When I do think about being adopted I don’t grieve but instead contemplate its effect on me. I’ve come to realize that adoption is simply a part of who I am - the same way being Chinese is part of me.
Question: Have you ever talked to your parents about your birth parents? Have you ever thought about your birth parents? What are your feelings toward them?
Yes – my parents have told me about my birth parents.
I have been told that my birthmother was young and not married when she became pregnant with me. Her boyfriend, my birth father, did not stay with her. She didn’t feel she could provide a good home for me. So she made an adoption plan for me to become part of an adoptive family that could give me love, a good home, education, and opportunities in life.
Knowing all this information has helped me develop an understanding of what my biological mother was going through. I think my biological mother did what she thought was right for me. I believe that she put me up for adoption, not out of spite but out of love.
Question: Do you want to meet your birth parents?
My parents met with my birth mother once - shortly after I joined our family. My birth mother gave them a locket with her photo in it to give to me. My parents asked her if she would feel alright if I were to contact her when I become an adult. She told them yes that would be fine by her.
When I’m 18 years old, I will be given the option to search for my biological mother. I think that I would like to meet my birth parents. I think it’s important that I meet her at least once, to find out about her life and to show her mine.
Question: Do you think a blood tie is the most important element in a family?
No one in my family has ever made any distinctions based on blood ties. My parents love all of their children and treat us the same; and my brother, sisters and I do as well.
One time, when my youngest brother Ben was about five years old, the subject of adoption came up while our family was having dinner. “What’s adoption?” Ben asked. My mom explained that adoption is a way of forming a family. She said: sometimes a birth mother is not in a position to raise the baby herself; she makes an adoption plan for her baby to become a member of a new family that can take good care of the baby and give the baby a loving home; and then that baby becomes part of that adoptive family forever and ever. “Two of our children joined our family through adoption,” my mother explained. “Really?” Asked Ben. “Which two?”
I believe that the strongest bond that ties people together is love and not blood. I think blood connects you to people within whom you share a common ancestry, whereas love is the unbreakable connection between people who truly care for each other. Love is what is more important in a family.
Question: Is there anything you would want to tell your birth parents?
I think if I get the chance to meet my birth parents I would want to let them that I’m doing fine. I would want to tell them that I don’t hate them, and I understand why they put me up for adoption. I also would really want to show them my life, and I would like to see theirs.
Question: Is there anything you want to tell your adoptive parents?
First, I should say that I have never called or thought of my parents as “adoptive parents.” They’re just my parents. Maybe other people think of us as “adoptive parents” or “adopted children.” But, to us, we are just a family – parents and children - like any other.
When I was just a few months old my mom wrote a note for me to read later in life. In her note my mom wrote: “You and your sister are truly the greatest treasures that have ever been bestowed upon me. I will never know why, through some twist of fate, we came together… through the process of adoption.” And Mom shared with me a poem she had read and loved:
Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone.
But, still miraculously, my own
Never forget, for a single minute
You didn’t grow under my heart, but in it
A few years later my dad wrote to me: “As your mother and I explained to you as you were growing up, we do not know why God chose to have you join our family through adoption. But your mother and I are deeply grateful and truly believe with all our hearts that you were meant to be our son. We believe it was our common destiny. You will be in our hearts and in our family forever and ever.”
What I want to tell my parents is this:
Every day I see my parents in the same light, just as I’ve always seen them, simply as my parents. Other people might see us as an “adoptive family,” but I just see us as our family. And although I don’t say it enough - as mom will tell you J - I love you both very much.
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Finally, to people who are considering adopting a baby, I would like to say this:
Adoption is a great gift. It is life changing for the baby who gets to be raised in a good and loving family. It is a blessing for the birthmother who can feel at peace having acted in the best interests of her baby. And it is wonderful for the adoptive parents who have the joys of a new child and the lifelong blessings of a larger family.
There are many babies who are in need of good families, and many people who would be blessed by adopting a child.
I hope that people considering adoption don’t let old myths hold them back from this great gift. The realities of adoption are beautiful. I hope many more happy families will be built through adoption.