Painful mysteries of adopting a Chinese 'orphan'

Source:Global Times Published: 2011-5-19 21:14:00

By Barry Cunningham

The American consular official in Guangzhou looked at my petition to adopt a newborn Chinese orphan, a baby girl whom my wife and I had named Jasmine. I had invested 10 months and several thousand dollars to arrange a private adoption at a Shanghai orphanage. 

There had been many emotional highs and lows during the painstaking process I endured in 1992, but Jasmine was finally our daughter, cuddled up in a snuggle suit back at the hotel. Now, clearing the US Consulate was the final hurdle before we could put Jasmine on aplane bound for her new home in America.

I held my breath. The consular officer seemed to be spending too much time examining a copy of her Chinese birth certificate. Under "place of birth," the certificate stated that she had been found in a basket alongside a dirt road in Shanghai and gave an address. 

The officer eyed me suspiciously: "Have you been to that dirt road?"


"Where is it?"

"It's a short road that leads to the entrance of Shanghai 2nd People's Hospital."

The officer shook his head slightly and grinned without looking up. Obviously, he had seen the same dubious "found in a basket" address on other US adoption petitions.

He stamped the petition, "Approved."

Some 19 years later, Jasmine is an adoption success story. She is a beautiful daughter who has played violin in the Newark Youth Orchestra, designs her own clothes, sings opera, writes endless love lyrics and recently choreographed a dance performance at her college. 

We share an unspoken bond over the mystery of her birth.

The doctors and nurses at Shanghai 2nd People's Hospital told me that Jasmine's umbilical cord had been surgically severed, evidence that she was born in the hospital. The "dirt road" alibi was a way to skirt the US law that foreign-born orphans must be, in fact, orphans. If the parents are alive somewhere, the adopting couple must make every effort to locate them. 

In Jasmine's case, this would be impossible. The nurses explained that pregnant women and girls would sometimes give fake names when they were admitted to the maternity ward, give birth to their unwanted babies and then slip out the door when nobody was looking. It is a crime to abandon an infant in China, so the mother's real identity would never be known. 

Over the years, I could only guess at the infinite possibilities of my daughter's birth. On different days, I would imagine that her biological mother was a teenager with an unwanted pregnancy, or a girl student desperate to hide her shame, or a housewife who had violated the one-child policy, or, God forbid, a prostitute. 

But this week another possibility came up: Could it be that she was sold to me without my knowledge?

A baby-snatching scandal erupted recently in Hunan Province after reports that local family-planning officials in Shaoyang forcibly took infants away from parents who violated the one-child policy. Local welfare centers allegedly bought the children for 3,000 yuan ($461) a head and then sold them to foreign couples at $3,000 each. I was startled and naturally wondered how long this might have been going on.

It is unthinkable that my little Jasmine was abducted and sold like hamburger meat. It is even more unbearable to imagine that somewherein China there is a mother still grieving over the loss. 

True, I paid the orphanage a $5,000 fee and got a receipt for the money, so it did not appear to be an under-the-counter payoff. After all, the US Consulate charged a $400 fee just to handle the paperwork. 

Today, US adoption agencies have taken over the baby trade in China, and their fees are five times what I paid for a do-it-yourself adoption. The $500 fee I paid to a local government official was more questionable.

Fast-forward 10 years to our home in New Jersey. Jasmine was on the back porch. I overheard her telling a playmate, "In China, you can only have one kid. But my Chinese mom and dad already had a kid. So they had to give me back."

That was a child's rationale for being adopted, but eerily close to the reality of what allegedly happened in Hunan Province.

We will never know the truth of Jasmine's beginnings. But by age 12, her self-image as a Chinese orphan had already changed. Today, she feels the same way. "Those people didn't want me," she told me. "You and mom are my real parents."  

The author is an Emmy Award-winning TV news correspondent. opinion@

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