Another Country Heard From: China Adoption

This morning I noticed a link to my blog at “China Adoption,” and stopped by to check out the blog. Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve been attacked by a mandatory open records advocate, and I suspect it won’t be the last. However, I’m not alone in advocating for a standard of mutual consent with regard to birth records.

The situation is simply not as cut-and-dried as the open records advocates suggest. And frankly, parents who adopt internationally come from a very different place than those of us who foster-adopt or who adopt domestically. Because of this it’s very easy — but also very unfair — to make snap judgments about other people’s motivations and beliefs. It isn’t necessary to vilify those who have a different point of view, based on their own journeys. In an ideal world, we can even learn from each other — so long as both sides work from a presumption of good will.

China Mom, I hope you are successful in helping your children find their birth parents, if that’s what they want. You certainly have a long road ahead of you, and I wish you the best. I can understand why this would be a deeply felt need — just as my kids will one day want to see their parents again. Which is something I will support when they are adults — because I already know this is what their birthmother wants.

Adoption is complicated, and no two triads are exactly alike because of the variety of circumstances and personalities that created that triad in the first place. There are some absolutes: Children deserve to be raised in a safe, stable  environment, securely bonded to the parents who love them. Parents deserve to make choices on behalf and for the benefit of their minor children, based on the information they have at the time. And all three sides of an adoption triad need to respect and honor the other two sides, recognizing that all three sides share a permanent bond.

“Respecting and honoring” can mean something very different from one family to the next. For some, it may involve searching and finding missing family members. For others, it means interpreting the events of the past as gently and with as much compassion as possible. “Speak the truth in love,” is the standard of St. Paul, and it applies very well to parents. The way of compassion and forgiveness is the way of healing.

It makes me sad when I read angry posts from members of an adoptive triad. It makes me wonder what good can come from wasting this kind of emotional energy, which could be much better spent just walking alongside those on the same path. However, when I encounter these individuals, I’ve learned that not much can be gained from prolonged discussion, as the same arguments tend to get rehashed over and over, with neither side willing to concede a point. There is too much pain and anger and frustration.

Sometimes the healing process can be a painful one. The other day I held my daughter as she got her H1N1 vaccination. She DID NOT WANT THAT SHOT. She screamed and kicked and raged at me for holding her down so the nurse could administer the vaccination. If it had been up to her, there is no way she would have allowed it. But as her parent, I knew it was my job to make that choice for her. Later, she asked me, “Mommy, why didn’t the shot hurt Christopher like it hurt me?”

I said to her, “Christopher didn’t struggle, honey. He was brave, and let me tell him a story to distract him while he got his shot so it didn’t hurt too much. Maybe next time, you’ll cooperate and let me tell you a story, and it won’t hurt you so much.”

There are some aspects of adoption that are a bit like that shot. Unpleasant, even painful. But easier when the child learns to trust the parent making choices for him. The story changes over time — the details are adapted or even added according to the needs of that child in a particular place and time. Ultimately, the child needs his parent to help him work through the big feelings and questions; it is the bond of family life that helps him find healing for his hurts, and answers for his questions.

26 thoughts on “Another Country Heard From: China Adoption

  1. Heidi,

    Thanks for the link to my blog, AdoptionTalk, and thanks for commenting there.

    You cannot say that all triads are different and then advocate a one-size-fits-all rule of closed records. And yes, domestic and international adoption folks can learn from each other. But we can also learn from the adoptees you dismiss as whining, tantruming toddlers. We can learn from birth mothers for whom you cannot speak.

    And yes, children trust us to make decisions for them when they are children. But you seem to want to continue to make those decisions for them when they are adults by closing their records, their own stories, for all of their lives.

    THAT is what’s unfair.


    • You’re welcome, Malinda.

      Yes, all triads are different — the circumstances that lead a woman to choose adoption, and (depending on those circumstances) whether she wants further contact and how much, do vary from individual to individual. Which is why allowing BOTH sides to decide whether to re-establish contact is the right thing to do.

      I have and do learn from birth mothers and adult adoptees — one of my favorite adoption books is Patricia Dischler’s book, who writes from the perspective of a birth mother. I count several adult adoptees among my friends, some of whom do not come out on the same side of the records issue as I do. (One of them posted a comment on my FaceBook page today.)

      We don’t all have to agree. But we do need to address one another from a presumption of good will — without name calling, and without villifying. Simple courtesies go a long way.

      Thanks for writing.


    • I don’t advocate closed records. I advocate open records by mutual consent. There’s a big difference.

      I don’t dismiss adoptees as “whining, tantruming toddlers.” Your words, not mine. I simply indicate that parents have a right and responsibility to make decisions for their minor children … and that adults are entitled to the expectation of privacy unless they relinquish it. Otherwise, the only alternative left to pregnant women who don’t want further contact with the child they relinquish is abortion. THAT’s what I call unfair.

      Thanks for writing.


  2. i adopted domestically and i don’t agree with your original post at all, or with your follow ups. i’m not attacking you by saying this — and i see no point in trying to explain my disagreement, since you don’t care about it — but i felt the need to point out that it is not just a domestic/ international divide. and, as someone who works in family court, i think i can safely say that in my experience it is not a foster-adopt/international divide either.


    • Since you don’t say specifically the point of your disagreement, and I’m not sure what you mean by “divide.” Surely you’re not suggesting that the experiences of families who adopt internationally, domestically, and through foster care are identical. And if you work in family court, I’m surprised you would suggest that families who receive their children through foster-adoption view the re-introduction of birth family members the same way as those who willingly relinquish their rights. If you truly believe that, you’re not paying attention to what’s going on around you!

      Thanks for writing.


  3. Okay, of course that would be one of your favorite books as it reinforces what so many need to believe, that adoption is the loving option and that first moms simply walk away happy and satisfied with losing their child.

    Could I please suggest you dig further into the stories of other first moms. Those who do not use our talents (coming from a published author) to gain royalties from promoting adoption and instead, without any profit, speak from our hearts in open and honest ways. There are many more to be heard that paint a varied picture, which is the only true image to what does and does not exist for ALL first moms. Not the “Happy” image that exists for some, but an inclusion of all feelings.

    Advocating records by mutual consent is a direct violation of a person’s basic human rights. I have four children. My three youngest can obtain any and all records that pertain to them personally. Nobody tells them that they have to have my permission (or atleast my two that are over 18.) Nobody decides for them that my rights outweight theres and that I should have any say in the ADULT decisions they make, including which records of their own they would like to see.

    My only child who is restricted from this right is my oldest. He is almost twenty one and is discriminated against in ways his siblings aren’t for only one reason, because he was adopted. Why should he, as an adult, have to have a “mutual consent” to be given the same rights his siblings have without question? What right would I or any other First mom ever have to deny any of our children this freedom?

    You speak as if you have a knowledgable base of those directly involved in the sealed records debate, first moms and adoptees, and I am curious which group it is where you gain your information as it has no reflection in what I know to be true in the many different areas where first moms and adoptees, and adoptive parents, are fighting side by side to gain equal rights for every adopted adult.

    And I’m sorry if this sounds cruel, but that fact of that matter is, your belief of mutual consent should hold no influence over any decision in adoptee rights and unsealed records as you are not the one who is being denied anything. Adoptive parents have long led the fight to seal records and keep them sealed when they are the one who are not directly affected in any way by this injustice.z
    Peronally, I see much more courage in adoptive parents who stand up to fight for the equal rights their children deserve instead of believing there is any reason for any of our children to be denied the very freedoms we take for granted. Do you truly believe your children deserve less rights and freedoms than the very ones you have every day of your life?


    • Umm… have you actually read this book? If you had, you would know that she is an advocate for OPEN ADOPTIONS. And she remains involved in her son’s life.


  4. sorry if i was not clear. i definitely think the experiences of all three types of triads are different. that’s a given. i simply disagree that these differences are the reason why parents who adopted internationally (like those at china adoption talk) might disagree with your stance on records. similarly, i wanted to make the point that not all parents who adopted domestically agree with you, nor do ALL parents who adopted through the foster care system. (and yes, in my experience, there are many parents who adopted through foster-adopt who do have very open relationships with their children’s first families; i wish there were more, as most of the parents in the family court i work in love their kids very much, and their kids love them, regardless of the complicated issues and struggles that brought them there. it is sad to see kids completely lose all connection to their parents in those cases, even if their parents cannot parent them.) i don’t know if you meant to do this or not, but i felt like the tone of your post (esp the opening) was that you were speaking for domestic and foster-adopt parents, while you understood that parents who adopted internationally might disagree.


    • I think that’s a fair assessment … I do think that the challenges families of children adopted internationally, with the lack of information available to them, make it more likely that they would strongly advocate for mandatory open records here. It just make sense to me — but it’s certainly possible this isn’t always the case.

      Thanks for the clarification.


  5. The problem is that these records don’t belong “mutually” in the sense of “equally” to several people. A record of one’s origins (birth) belongs fundamentally to the person it is about–the person who was born and adopted.

    Adoptees can’t get their birth certificates like other citizens. They should be able to. Their fundamental right to know one’s origins trumps the parent’s right to privacy because no such right actually exists and no agency could have ever guaranteed that right to any first mother. This is a very clear-cut issue when it is boiled down to the fundamentals. People can just say no, they don’t want contact, but no member of the family should be able to deny another member information out of self-protection. Protection from what? You can’t remain anonymous to your own children even if you don’t want contact with them. How, Heidi, would that be “Catholic,” anyway?


    • I don’t claim to speak for the Catholic Church, so I’m not sure what you mean about “this being Catholic.” I am Catholic, and my highest priority is defending and protecting life.

      People have accused me of not being willing to discuss the mandatory records issue — when in fact what they are upset about is that I have listened to the arguments, and remain convinced that one side’s “right to know” does not trump all. I still feel that way. Unless a parent wants contact, the adult child’s rights extend to non-identifying information.

      I realize many families can and do reunite, and I realize that this issue cuts close to home for many people. And, frankly, there are many other issues pertaining to adoption that concern me personally. Because of my familiy’s particular circumstances, open records is a non-issue for us.

      Thanks for weighing in, Osolomama.


  6. “I don’t claim to speak for the Catholic Church, so I’m not sure what you mean about “this being Catholic.” I am Catholic, and my highest priority is defending and protecting life.”

    I mentioned Catholicism because you often look at issues through that prism. On that subject, two points:

    1. I fail to see how supporting open records is de facto supporting or not supporting abortion rights. This is what you mean by life, right? One can’t prove that one leads to another. Indeed, practically all domestic adoptions today are open. Being against open records because they might lead to more abortion ignores the fact that those who choose adoption have already rejected abortion.

    2. If one asserts, as the Catholic Church does, that the “generative process already begun” with sex can’t be interrupted, how then could one argue so easily a child can ought to be separated–forever–from his or her genetic heritage? Isn’t the Catholic argument against anon sperm donation that it denies the child something integral?

    “A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a child’ would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right ‘to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his [her] parents,’ and ‘the right to be respected as a person from the moment of conception’” (# 2378, CC).

    Seems to me here that the child’s rights do trump the parents’ rights here. Sealing away their birth certificates forever is as unfair as depriving them of knowing who contributed half their genetic material.

    3. I don’t actually think that religious arguments should be marshalled here. This is a civil right. On what basis can a parent keep pertinent personal information from a legal adult (child)? So once I am 18 Mommy is still allowed to control my birth certificate? Since when? I mean, can we think of ANY justification for this? The parent doesn’t have to have contact. We are all free to associate with the people we want to associate with and ignore the rest. I still don’t see how the parental right to “protection” from a born child trumps the adoptee’s right to know his or her origins.

    Don’t worry, I won’t go on about this. I just wanted to add these thoughts.


  7. I have to agree with Osolomama. The word “catholic” also means inclusive, broad ranging and universal.
    Choosing to be anonymous to your own children is the antithesis of this. And mutual consent registries are no answer to the problem. In fact they compound it by shifting the responsibility from the state (where it should properly lie, because it was the state that sealed the records in the first place) onto the unfortunate individuals who have been caught up in what more and more people are now recognizing to have been a flawed social enterprise.
    The state has an obligation to preserve and deliver the truth about its citizens’ histories, rather than conceal it.


  8. I realize that I am a little late to this “discussion” but I wanted to add my 2 cents in relation to open records/reunion in the case of children adopted from foster care.

    I am a social worker who works in child welfare – specifically with children in foster care. I believe these children may have the firmest foundation to stand on in relation to needing access to their birth records, family history, etc as well as wanting to see/speak to their birth parents as adults.

    These children can not rely on sentiments such as “she gave you up because she loved you so much” or ” your parents wanted something better for you”. They know that their parents were not able, willing, or capable of providing for them. This leads to far more questions than domestic/international adoptions.

    Often there is a family history of mental illness/addiction that is vital for adult adoptees to know as part of their own genetic makeup. While I strongly believe that nurture can outweigh nature, its important to know if they may have a predisposition towards the issues that prevented their parents from caring for their children.

    Also, for children adopted at an older age, they may have already had an attachment (secure or otherwise) with their biological parents. Not to mention that in many cases foster children are not just seperated from their parents, but also from siblings and extended family. Open record not only reunite parents and children – there are many pieces of the family tree that are severed by foster care and adoption.

    Despite horrific abuse and neglect, I have never known a child that did not want to return to their biological parents. For some it was not safe, and most of those children did go on to be adopted into families that they grew to love. However, this does not negate their original attachement or their desire to know that their first parents are safe, well, or that there is still some connection to them. In some ways, it only made it stronger.

    Just my experience…


    • Your experience is very consistent with that of my children, and other foster-adoptive families I’ve met over the years. Children who are foster-adopted go to their families with their original names, and in many cases already have extensive contact with birth family. So I’m not sure what point you are making about records here, as we already have access to both original certificates and amended certificates (post-adoption).

      As I’ve said MANY times before, the circumstances that lead to adoption vary a great deal from one family to the next, and adoptive parents need to make the best judgment they can on whether contact is wise (assuming no court order prevents the contact). Every adoption specialist (including 3 different social workers) indicated to me that allowing contact with birth family prior to age 18 is unwise because they are incapable of processing what is going on without adding to the trauma. The loss is real, and the grief needs processing. It’s the job of the adoptive parents to assist in this, possibly with the help of trained professionals.

      And as I’ve said MANY times before, whether the child has contact with the parent after he reaches majority should be mutually decided — with all three sides involved in the process. The birth parents (both of them) should have a say in whether they want contact, as should the (grown) child. And yet, the adoptive parent cannot be rightly excluded from the process. Like any good parent, we want our children to be happy and well-adjusted. And like any good parent, we want to continue to be a source of support and influence even as they strike out on their own.

      Other people may enter the equation — spouses, in-laws, friends, children, extended family. But that core relationship forged in childhood continues. As our child grows, the characteristics of our relationship may evolve. But the NATURE of it remains the same; each time we look at them, we see the child we first took into our hearts. Sometimes sad or angry. Sometimes joyful and content. As parents, we love them regardless.

      A social worker once observed in an adoption seminar, “Reunion doesn’t resolve anything … It just changes the questions.” Sometimes those questions are spoken, other times they simmer just below the surface. I was recently invited into an elementary classroom to talk about adoption because a science teacher wanted to address his students’ questions about DNA and adoption (if my parents have blue eyes, why are mine brown?) etc. It turned out the teacher had been adopted, and felt her students would benefit from understanding adoption as another way families are formed. I thought she was courageous to introduce the topic into a classroom environment. Clearly, there were still questions in that teachers’ mind … and yet, talking to the teacher later it seemed that somehow she had reconciled herself to the possibility that there may never be answers.


  9. Well, Heidi, I just read the NCFA’s “Consent vs. Coercion” paper and I thought it was pretty bad. It conflates the right to one’s own birth certificate with searching, stalking, reunion, “privacy,” and various mental health issues, real or potential. It even claims that if we open records we will reduce adoption, thereby letting single mothers parent their own children which would lead to more foster care. Whew. Sorry, but I just think it’s a bad document full of pitiable hard cases like rape and incest that avoid the central issue: you can’t deny one class of citizens their birth certificates. That is discrimination.


    • I’m not surprised that you didn’t find the arguments in the paper persuasive, as you clearly have already made up your mind on the issue. In your mind, any entity — including an organization like NCFA, which for nearly thirty years has been an advocate for adopted children and their families — that doesn’t perceive the records issue as you do, must necessarily be wrong. In your mind, the issue is black and white — not (as some of us perceive it) a complex issue with many legitimate concerns and perspectives.

      In point of fact, there is no way of separating the opening of birth records and the possibility that the birth/first parent will — like it or not — be contacted. Nor can you discount out of hand the very real possibility that a woman — faced with the reality that her child WILL be able to contact her when he/she reaches majority, will pressure the woman either to abort or raise the child without being able to do so. And yes, that does lead to more and more children winding up in the system.

      The fact that you choose to put the one issue paramount, does not negate the fact that the other issues are real concerns for others. They just aren’t as important to you.

      People tend to interpret what they read in light of their own experiences and values, and those who are set in their minds on an issue (as opposed to those who are still discerning) often discount or completely twist the original intent of those on the other side of the fence. (I encountered this frequently as a convert to the Catholic faith, where people close to me simply could not understand why I would become Catholic after thirty years as an Evangelical Protestant.)

      The Catechism passage (#2378) you quoted to me the other day was a classic example of this. You saw in this text an argument for open birth records; the traditional meaning of the passage has always been a prohibition on artificial reproduction (the Church has always advocated adoption for children whose parents are unable to raise them, and consistently taught against behaviors that would lead to children being born into families that lacked both a mother and father united for life in the sacrament of matrimony). Authentic hermeneutics involves examining the text in its context, without presuppositions. I suggest to you that you have failed to do this to both texts.

      Thanks for writing!


  10. Actually, I perceive this issue as resting on certain foundational principles that cannot be compromised. I expect you perceive the right to life and abortion the same way. Or do you feel that issue also involves competing rights?

    I did not suggest that the passage from the catechism supported open records per se–that is only its implication: what I suggested is that the very theology that supports the right of the child “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his [her] parents” would also support the right of the child to know those origins even if the child were adopted. In your opinion, this is not discerning, yet I was struggling to discern by linking these two ideas. My feeling is that you are not open to seeing any connection there yet you wish to accuse me of black-and-white thinking. Ok, it’s your blog and you’re entitled.

    The Evan B. Donaldson Institute came to a different conclusion from the NCFA yet both groups claim to support adoptive families, so on that particular point, I don’t see how my disagreement with the NCFA is proof of anything.


    • Authentic hermeneutics seeks to extract the author’s original intent, in order to come to a full understanding (which may require us to adjust our own thinking). While the context of the particular passage you quoted is indisputably regarding family planning, I do agree that there are implications for adoptive families as well.

      I’ve been thinking a lot about what you’ve said about the rights of the child, from the Church’s perspective. It actually is forming the basis for my next article at CE, and I appreciate your raising the issue.

      Merry Christmas!


  11. What I meant by that is that adult adoptees should not be fettered by the objections of adoptive parents in seeking their original family. It is basically something that is between them and the first family. Adoptive parents don’t have to participate if they don’t want to. Some families wind up like extended families. Some don’t. But I’m speaking very clearly of the adult adoptee.

    On the international lists we’ve seen lots of under-18s reunited with original family (sometimes not parents but related family nonetheless) and the reports appear to be positive. Mostly, this is happening in Eastern Europe where a couple of very talented searchers have more access to the paper trail than any non-gov’t person does in China. I don’t know how someone can say definitively in the absence of studies that reunion before the age of 18 is a bad thing. Doesn’t how the children came to adoption have something to do with it? My daughter’s parents are likely to have been married (statistics clearly show this in China) and it’s pretty much guaranteed that their relinquishment was involuntary. On both sides, one could imagine a great deal of reassurance coming from meeting one another.


    • Today I’m posting a beautiful story about mutual consent, which I think represents a best-case scenario for reunification. I hope you are as touched by the story as I was.


  12. This is a very informative article and thread. Thanks for posting!

    My non-profit recently published a new book on Chinese adoptive parenting that has some similar stories. “The Dragon Sisterhood: A Guide to Chinese Adoptive Parenting” andn we address some of these issues.

    It can be found on our blog:

    I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing that with your readers.



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