October 27, 2011

Meet AmFam of American Family: Part II

Today is the second part of our interview with AmFam, who writes about her experience entering into an open adoption with her youngest daughter's first family in China (among many other topics) at American Family. You can read part one here.

She is answering readers' questions about her family's open adoption every day in November and has officially given folks permission to ask things they are afraid might be too rude or personal. So if anything from this interview has you wondering, ask away.

How are you making open adoption work so far across cultural and geographical distances?

We are doing the best we can, but it is definitely challenging.

We are in a slightly better position to understand some of the cultural differences because my husband's parents are Chinese and he lived in China for a year, but it is still really, really hard.

We don't always know when we are violating a cultural Chinese expectations. We don't really know for sure when we should take what they say at face value or if there is a cultural subtext we are missing. We are fortunate that we have a wonderful Chinese translator and a good Chinese friend who have been willing to help us navigate cultural minefields when they have come up...and they have come up.

We know cultural misunderstandings are probably even more confusing and frustrating for L's family because they have not had much (if any) contact with anyone who is not culturally Chinese. We must seem like uncouth aliens to them! That being said, we are also fortunate because L's parents are relatively young and have some familiarity with Western popular culture (her dad even watches NBA basketball!), so it is much easier than if we were dealing with uneducated peasant farmers.

Technology is helping us bridge the geographic divide. Thankfully, L's family has access to the internet. About twice a month, I instant message with her father using google translate and a Chinese IM program. Our conversations are not always clear, but usually we can get the main point across. I have created a web page they can access with pictures and videos of L whenever they want. L's parents have a digital camera so they have sent us pictures of their extended family and their village. We call them every couple months with a translator and I try to write them a translated letter every month or so.

Before we met L's family, I expected we would try to take her back to visit China every three or four years. After seeing her with them, we know that simply isn't nearly often enough. My hope is to take her back for a visit every two years, or more often if we can afford it. Right now, every two years will be a financial stretch, but I am hopeful we can find a way to swing it. We are also trying really hard to increase amount of Chinese instruction the girls have so they will be able to talk to L's family without a translator as much as possible.

What has been the most surprising or unexpected aspect of open adoption for you?

The most surprising thing to me has been the reaction of other parents who have children adopted from China. For many years, adoption agencies touted China as the place to go for adoption if you didn't want to deal with those pesky birth families. Many adoptive parents either found that really appealing or drank that Kool-aid and believed them, so our successful search rocks the foundation they built their families on.

I have started "coming out" to new adoptive parents I meet right away because I have had to many weird reactions. One adoptive mom broke out in hives (seriously!) when I told her we were searching. One mom actually backed away from me like I had a disease when I mentioned meeting L's family. Another adoptive mom made it clear I was not to mention L's family in front of her kids who were adopted from China.

We have also had a really upsetting situation once I shared our story publicly. Someone who is attempting to capitalize on the recent interest in searching in China by starting a birthparent searching business implied he had inside information about our search. He posted lies about L and her family on an adoption message board. He said that L's parents had trafficked her and following that lead was how we located them.

It wasn't true at all. In fact, we were quite relieved to learn that L wasn't trafficked (which was one of our biggest fears!). I was so hurt that someone would take our story and try to twist it for his own agenda with no regard for L or her parents. I have been really conflicted about blogging our story since this violation happened.

As shocked as I was by the negative feedback, I have also been surprised to find so many other adoptive parents who want to search. Our story has given many people permission to search and clues about how to locate for birth families in China. I have met some phenomenally committed adoptive parents who are moving mountains to find their kids' birth families. I have had the privilege of speaking to a few older Chinese adoptees who may also begin to search soon. Most amazing of all are the connections I have made with the small handful of others who have located birth families in China. We are small in number, but we are all trailblazers on this path in China. I don't know what I would do without them.

What would you like people to know about openness in intercountry adoption?

It is hard. Really, really hard. I swing back and forth between evangelically promoting searching and warning people that a successful search will complicate your life in ways you can't begin to anticipate. Our successful search resulted in a best case scenario outcome, but it is still really hard. Don't search unless you are willing to commit to the struggle for the long haul.

Share a few of your favorites with us:

Favorite post from your blog - A and I Get Kicked Out of J. Crew
Favorite bookThe Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker
Favorite non-adoption blog/online diversionThe New York Times
Favorite thing to do in your free time - Draw and redraw floor plans for the house we hope to build
Favorite meal - Chocolate Chip cookies. Many of them.

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Thank you to AmFam for taking the time to answer my questions! Please leave your own thanks in the comments and be sure to check out her blog.

1 comment:

Tee said...

"Those pesky birth families" - Oh Lord. The sad and total truth in those sarcastic words. That is exactly how so many Americans have viewed international adoption in general - An "easy" way to adopt with "no strings attached" and nothing to guilt you into feeling worried about the child's birth family. No need to worry about pesky little things like having to acknowledge the existence of birth family. Meh. I love hearing about open international adoptions. In the age of the internet this is only going to become more common.

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