Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Brief Trend of Adopting Chinese Infant Girls

From 1998 to 2018, about a hundred thousand Chinese babies, mostly girls, were adopted by parents, mostly in the United States.  What will happen to this generation of adoptees?

You may have forgotten about it already.  But back in the days of the Clinton administration, it became a "thing" to adopt children from China.  Why was this?  Why did it stop?  What will happen to this generation of adoptees?  All good questions.

China still pretends it is a "developing" country and in some regards it is - trying to develop a working government and stable economy.  China puts out more pollution and carbon emissions than the entire West does, and gets away with this because (a) they want to, and (b) they have this "developing country" badge which is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

China has always been famous for overpopulation.  It is a large country, but has an even larger population.  When I was a kid, my parents would exhort me to eat my green beans, because of "All the starving children in [China, Africa, India, etc.] and famines were a routine thing throughout the tortured history of China.   In reaction to this population problem, China instituted a "one child" policy - every married couple was allowed one child and would be penalized for having more.

Since boys were more likely to get good-paying jobs and support their parents in old age, people preferred having one boy.   Yes, misogyny is an international sport.  As a result, the birth ratio in China was skewed in favor of boys as some parents would abort baby girls.   Given all that (and the same is true in India, supposedly) one would think Asia would be a great place to open up gay bars.  But they get all hinky about that for some reason.

The mythology was that Chinese couples were abandoning their girl babies in the streets and that orphanages were overflowing with Chinese girls. Some claim this wasn't necessarily true, and that perhaps the incentive to have overseas adoption of these Chinese girls was the $25,000 fees collected for each adoption.

Why did Americans (among others) adopt these children?  Well, for starters, they wanted to be helpful and help out kids in need.  It was also easier.   For some reason, right-wing Americans hype adoption as the answer to the abortion issue.  But if you've ever tried to adopt a child (no thanks!) or know someone who has, you realize it costs an awful lot of money and takes forever.  Many adoption agencies, it seems, just want to keep the kids, or keep them in foster care, until age 18.  And many of the kids up for adoption are often damaged goods - born addicted to crack or with fetal alcohol syndrome.  These are kids who act out, not only because of their damage at birth, but because they've been batted around an adoption system for years, going from one foster home or institution to another, usually being abused along the way.

It is a crazy system, as they make it so hard for "normal" people to adopt children, and yet we hear, with great regularity, how the child welfare system fails adopted and fostered children, who are found abused, underfed, starved, overworked, or even raped.   This great screening process that takes years to go through, seems to screen out only the good parents and leave the bad.

So childless couples who wanted to adopt, quickly got frustrated and disgusted with the regular adoption system in the United States.  They would have to wait years to go through background checks and then be given a child to take care of that would be a challenge to professional psychologists.  Many people turned to private adoption - making their own deals directly with parents, often very young, who were overwhelmed with parenthood, or maybe just wanted to make a few bucks in the process.

I know one family who went though this - they tried "the system" and were told to get in line.  Meanwhile, they found a young woman who was having child #4 from an ex-husband, and didn't want to keep the baby - and didn't want to get an abortion.  I am not sure how they hooked up - classified ad in the paper?  You see them all the time - "Childless couple looking to adopt..."

And apparently there is no age limit.  I met a fellow at a campground in Alabama who told me he was in the process of adopting a 30-year-old woman, which is apparently legal in some States - as she was struggling with drug addiction and facing a serious prison sentence.  By adopting this adult woman, he could care for her children while she was in jail, as their "Grandparent."  Sounds like a lot of hard work and possibly dangerous work as well.  I hope he does well.

I know another family that decided to go to China to adopt.  At the time, the "one child"  policy was in effect (it has since been abandoned in favor of a 3+ child policy) and China was basically selling babies at that point.  The reasons they went to China were many.  You can adopt an infant child and raise it as your own (as opposed to a 5-year-old with fetal alcohol system and behavioral problems).  The waiting time and background checks are far less.   You go to China, you come home with a baby - it is as simple as that.

And this went on for a couple of decades, at least, until China shut the door in 2018.  I think they stopped the program for a number of reason.  For starters, it was causing China to "lose face" by basically selling off infants.  What sort of country does things like that?  That treats female babies as excess inventory to be shunted off to whatever country will take them?

But more importantly, the "one child" policy wasn't replacing the population or expanding it.  For all the talk of "Chinese hordes" it remains a fundamental problem with the human economy that it is based on growth.  So long as the next generation is larger than the last, the economy booms.  In many Western countries, the population is barely replacing itself - or actually shrinking.  And for some reason, we cannot figure out how to run an economy based on a stable population.

So the exodus of Chinese girl babies came to an end about four years ago.   And now there is this generation of adopted young women who are now just coming of age.   How will this pan out for them?

Being adopted, regardless of circumstances, can be a hardship to some extent.  A friend of mine, who was adopted (as was his sister) through the Catholic church, would always get maudlin after a few beers and say, "Did I ever tell you that I was adopted?" and we'd reply, "Yea, ever time you have more than three beers in you.  Get over it!"

His parents were pretty typical middle-class people and from what I could tell, decent parents.  He had nothing to complain about, to be sure.  You could use your adoptive status as a crutch, if you choose to, even when you are not incapacitated by it.   On the other hand, as I noted above, you do hear these horror stories about "families" with a dozen kids, some fostered, some adopted, some their own, often found in squalor or abuse.  They've got something to drink about.

So they have this baseline "I'm adopted" thing to deal with, even if they have loving parents and a good home.  But pile onto that, the anti-Asian sentiment sweeping the US (which makes no sense at all, thank you very much Donald Trump!) and things get a lot harder.  It isn't just the virulent MAGA-hat wearing racists out there (and they are out there) who have an irrational fear of Asian people.  There are many, many documented cases of violent assaults against Asian people as of late.  Oddly enough, many of these assualts are from blacks or homeless people, who are making a habit of pushing people in front of subway trains.   The world really has lost its mind as of late.

There is also the subtle anti-Chinese sentiment that these adopted kids have to deal with.  And we all do it, too.  We talk about cheap products from China (which, like opium, we are addicted to) and deride them as being made of "Chinesium".    Give me a good old American pickup truck - made in America with no Chinese parts!  Oh, wait.... like every other car made, worldwide, it has parts sourced from all over, including China.

There is an additional burden for these youngsters, as while they have a foot in two countries, they are strangers in one.  I wrote before about a Korean friend of mine who runs a successful law practice representing some big Korean companies.   I asked him if being of Korean descent helped him with these business contacts - being able to speak the language and all.  Turns out, he left Korea at age 8, and speaks only a juvenile form of Korean.  He learned early on to keep his mouth shut, as when he tried to speak his "native" tongue, it sounded like baby-talk.  Besides, all his business contacts - like most business-people in Asia - spoke English perfectly.

We deride Asians for speaking "Engrish" but let's fact it, the number of Americans and Westerners in general, who speak any Asian language is infinitesimal.   When I told my CIA recruiter friends about the local bartender who spoke mandarin, they got very excited.  And the next week, he disappeared and was never seen again, bartending.

So, our stupid prejudices against Asians are a really big deal for these adoptees.  Yet, they can find little or no solace or support in the Chinese immigrant community, as they have no real link to Chinese customs, language.  They are, to some extent, a stranger in two lands, and feel unwelcome, in some instances, in both.

Some adoptees try to reconnect with their birth parents, which mixed results.  Another friend of mine, who was adopted, and is quite successful and doesn't get drunk and maudlin about his adoptive status, decided to seek out his adoptive parents, which you can do, if you have money (which he does).  They turned out to be two college students who had sex in college in the 1960's and had him.  They didn't feel they could raise a baby, so they put him up for adoption.

They had since divorced and the birth Dad really wanted nothing to do with him, which I am sure hurt.  But Dad had a new, new family, and wasn't even keen on visiting the kids from his first marriage, much less their first child they put up for adoption.  His birth mother was a little more receptive, and his new siblings seemed pretty friendly.  But there was no Hallmark homecoming - it was, in fact, awkward as be put it.  And they haven't stayed in touch that much, in terms of spending holidays together or whatever.  You meet someone after 40 years, what do you have in common, other than DNA?  And the real truth is, we share 99.9% of our DNA with everyone else - a similarly high percentage with other animals or even plants.

My Chinese friend arrived in America with a tiny sticker attached to her, where no one could see, with tiny, tiny lettering in Chinese.  She had a friend translate it and it said something about the child's name and birth mother.  "Oh, surely you saved that in her baby book!  She might be interested in that someday!" I said.  "No, I threw it out," the mother replied.  I guess Mothers don't like competition.  When my other friend sought out his birth parents, his adoptive parents (who he loves very much) were supportive but ambivalent about it.  I guess as an adoptive parent, you always have this subliminal fear that the "real" parents will take your child from you.  Perhaps.

So what is the point of all of this? I dunno. It just seems to me that there is this "lost generation" of young women who were adopted from China, who are a tiny minority of the population, who are basically on their own. There is no generation like them before or after them. It was a blip on the radar, a trend for 20 years or so. Meanwhile, they have to live their lives in a country that is increasingly hostile to minorities of all sorts, with Asians being the piñata du jour.  I hope there is some form of support system in place for them.

Of course, they are not entirely alone in terms of foreign adoptions.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, many Russian children were adopted by Westerners until 2012, when, like in China, it was outlawed.  Again, the reasons were similar - selling children was seen as the sign of a third-world country.  Russia also has a severe declining population problem.  In addition, there were a few celebrated cases where adoptive parents mistreated or neglected adopted children (which also happens with birth parents!) which spurred changes to adoption laws.

Today, with abortion being severely curtailed, many are pushing adoption as a solution.   But something in the adoption system is severely broken, and it seems these institutions don't want to see it fixed.  Ready and willing adoptive parents with good homes are forced to go overseas or through private adoption, to adopt a child.  It seems the one way to not adopt a child is through a State adoption agency.  And the State adoption agencies seem to have the worst track record in terms of screening adoptive parents.

You hear horror stories about adoptions, both foreign and domestic.  Desperate parents "re-home" adopted children by granting custody to total strangers on the Internet.  The results are about what you would expect.  The real conundrum for society, however, is what happens to these kids when they grow up?   Of course, this is a problem for non-adopted kids, who are also subject to abuse and horrific conditions with their birth parents.

Or sometimes, kids just turn out weird.  I have one friend who has a child who was institutionalized pretty much all their life - and probably will be.  Schizophrenia is an awful thing, and outpatient treatment often doesn't work, if the patient refuses to take their meds.

So, maybe these horror stories are overblown.  The vast majority of adoptees, like my wealthy and successful friend, turn out perfectly fine and in fact, may do better than non-adopted children.  Maybe these kids from China will have to endure racism in our society - as do all minorities.  Being adopted doesn't make that better or worse, does it?

It would be interesting, from a anthropological point of view, to see how this generation of adopted Chinese girls makes out, in 20-30 years.  Do they do better or worse than average, or do they muddle along just like everyone else?

What is certain, though, is that there will not be another generation like this, from China, in the near or even far, future.