Monday, August 23, 2010

''Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption'' - The American Simon Family Adopt Two Children from China (and the American couple pen a well-received book about their experiences)

Cast of characters: Scott Simon, Caroline Simon (middle-aged husband and wife)
Elise Simon and Lina Simon, the couple's two cute, adopted children from the PRC

Scott Simon wrote the book but his wife Caroline is part of the story the whole way, too, so it's really a family-written book. Simon, who hosts a popular radio show in the USA, recently told reporter Steve Inskeep how the adoption process began.

"We'd both been in places where there are a lot of children who'd been abandoned," Simon said. "[Caroline and I] just looked at each other and said, 'Why are we doing this? There are children in the world now who need our love, and we sure need them.'"

In the book, now getting good reviews across the USA, the Simons share the journey — from Caroline struggling to conceive a baby but to no avail, to deciding to adopt, to traveling halfway around the world to communist China — that ended them to finally adopt two girls from the fabled Middle Kingdom, now ruled by the Chinese Communist Party currently headed up by Hu Jintao.

The book, published in English by Random House, is 192 pages.

Simon told Inskeep that one reason he and his wife wrote the book was because they wanted to help potential parents in the USA -- and in any country, for that matter -- to see the natural beauty in adoption.

"I would like to open that door for people," Simon said. "The instinct to adopt — to take children into our lives — is, I think, practically as old as childbirth."

The couples instinct was so strong, they said, that it basically drowned out any concern they may have had about there being any ethnic barrier between them as white Americans and their darker-skinned adopted children from the Asian mainland.

"That baby is so much more to you than its ethnicity," Simon told NPR. "First of all, they're hungry, they're thirsty, they're crying, they need sleep — all of these kinds of things that have nothing to do, certainly, with ethnicity."

The Simons said that are, of course, determined to expose their daughters to Chinese culture through history and travel. The children's ethnicity and skin color is only a feature of their personality, not a defining trait, they believe.

In the USA, some people have reacted strangely to the Simons' act of generosity in adopting two kids from China. It's hard to believe, but not everyone in America sees it all the way the Simons did. Scott Simon said he was shocked when a friend asked his wife Caroline if she felt guilty for taking her two adopted daughters away from their native culture in China.

Simon told NPR: "My wife just answered, 'No, not really.' I think I would have had a tougher time holding my tongue."

At seven years old, the Simons' daughter Elise is at an age where she's starting to ask some pretty difficult questions — like why her biological mother gave her up — and the answers aren't always easy for her to understand, NPR reported.

"We tell her, 'Your mother loved you and she wanted to take care of you for the rest of your life and she wanted to be a mother to you but she just couldn't,' " Simon told the NRP interviewer. "Yet it's hard for a 7-year-old to understand. How do you explain [communist] China's one-child policy?"

What's important, Simon says today in 2010, is that the couple's children are comfortable with being adopted and that they know the truth about it — sad though it may be.

"There is no way that we're going to spare them the sting and the hurt of feeling that at some point there was someone who gave them up," he told NPR. "We learn from hurts in life, don't we? We put something over them and we keep on going. And I think our two daughters are going to be very strong, in part, because of that."

Here's an excerpt from the Simons' wonderful, heart-warming book.

"Adoption is a miracle. I don't mean just that it's amazing, terrific, and a wonderful thing to do. I mean that it is, as the dictionary says, "a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of divine agency."

My wife and I, not having had children in the traditional, Abraham-and-Sarah-begat manner, have learned to make jokes about the way we've had our family. ("Pregnant! Why would you do that? Those clothes! And you can't drink for months!") Jokes are sometimes the only sensible answer to some of the astoundingly impertinent questions people can ask, right in your children's faces. "How much did they cost? Are they healthy? You know, you hear stories. So why did you go overseas? Not enough kids here?" But we cannot imagine anything more remarkable and marvelous than having a stranger put into your arms who becomes, in minutes, your flesh, your blood: your life. There are times when the adoption process is exhausting and painful and makes you want to scream. But, I am told, so does childbirth.

We also know that the hardest parts are still ahead.

Raindrops rattled the roof of our small bus, seeped through the windows, and pitted the windshield with great wet gobs. "A sad day," sighed Julie from Utah, while the cityscape of Nanchang, China, slabs of brown and gray with wet laundry flapping, rolled by our windows. Five sets of strangers were together on the bus, about to share one of the most intimate moments of our lives. We had Cheerios, wipes, and diapers in our hands.

"A happy day," Julie added, "but also sad," and then we just listened to the ping of raindrops. A month before, this moment couldn't have happened fast enough. Now it was here; and we weren't ready.

We had endured three days of what we had come to call "adopto-tourism" together ("You will now visit the Pearl Museum and Gift Shop! Then the Great Wall and Gift Shop! Tomorrow, the Silk Museum—and Gift Shop!"), during which we talked about the sundry things strangers do to be companionable. "And what do you do? What kind of crib did you get? Aren't they impossible? Do you know that little Indian place just off Thirty-second?"

Over careful conversation between stops, we began to make some fair assumptions about the meandering paths of hope, frustration, and paperwork that all of us had navigated to get here. Most of us had probably tried to start families in the traditional manner. For one reason or another, the traditional result was not achieved. There are all kinds of wizardly things that can be done in laboratories these days; most of us had tried one or two. But wizardry does not always deliver. At some point, after all the intimate injections and intrusions, and the hopes that rise and deflate, many spouses look at each other across a field of figures scratched on the back of an envelope and ask, "Why are we doing this? There are already children in this world who need us right now. We sure need them."

A few weeks before, we had received a few photos in an envelope: a small girl with rosebud lips, quizzical eyebrows, and astonished eyes. She was about six months old at the time of the picture. A dossier prepared by Chinese adoption officials told us that she was smart, active, funny, hungry, energetic, and impatient (all of which remain a good description to this day). The officials had given her a name: Feng Jia-Mei.

A little girl named Excellent-Beautiful. From the Feng township.

We made copies of the photos, slipped them into our wallets, sent them around to friends and families, and doled them out like business cards, often to total strangers. "Jia-Mei Simon" was imprinted along the bottom, like the name under a photo in a class yearbook. Feng Jia-Mei, Jia-Mei. Excellent, Beautiful, Jia-Mei Simon.

Friends looked at her photo and wept. Something in her face, and in her tiny, tender shoulders, seemed to call out. We told people that the look of surprise in her eyes was because she had just read our dossier and said, "I thought you said that I was going to first-rate people!"

Our small bus pulled up before a great gray file cabinet of a building in central Nanchang. So: this is where we are going to become parents. You walk into the building as a couple, and leave a few minutes later as a family. You walk in recollecting long romantic dinners, nights at the theater, and carefree vacations. You leave worrying about where to get diapers, milk, and Cheerios.

Grinning bureaucrats received us and showed us to a staircase. They took us down a flight and into a room. We saw smiling middle-aged women in white smocks holding babies, cooing, singing, and hefting them in their arms. We shucked raindrops from our shoes and coats. We checked cameras and cell phones. We looked at the women in the smocks and then realized — they held our children in their arms.

We saw Elise. She was five months older than in the picture we had, but still recognizably the little girl in the thumbnail portrait. Pouty little mouth, tiny, endearing little downy baby duck's head, fuzzy patch of hair, and amazed eyebrows, crying, steaming, red-faced, and bundled into a small, puffy pink coat. We blinked back tears and cleared our throats.

"Feng Jia-Mei?" we asked softly. The woman in the white smock looked down at a tag — as if checking the size — and smiled.

"Ah, yes. Feng Jia-Mei!"

She put her into my wife's arms. I tried to point a video camera, snap pictures, roll audio, and hug them, all at the same time. Our little girl's tears fell like soft, fat, furious little jewels down her face. As Caroline lifted her slightly from her lap to hold her, Elise soaked her own tufted little legs with a hot surge of pee. And then, as we laughed, cried, and hugged her even more fiercely, Feng Jia-Mei opened her small robin's mouth and burped up a geyser of phlegm, fear, and breakfast. Baby, baby, our baby.

Back in our hotel room, Caroline zipped, snipped, and unbuttoned four layers of Chinese clothing. Our daughter looked up into Caroline's unfamiliar face without warmth or disdain; one more stranger was handling her. First the puffy quilted pink coat came off. Then a black quilted coat. A mustard-colored crocheted sweater. A little red and white shirt. A tiny white T-shirt. Four pairs of pants, white, black, gray, and pink, each with a cunning little slit in the backside (among the greatest Chinese inventions since the compass and printing). And finally, pink socks that had been tucked beneath red socks: as tiny and dear as a kitten's paws. Each layer smelled of coal smoke and pee. We laid those small clothes aside to keep for the ages.

Shigu, our trip coordinator, came by our room. We told him that our daughter seemed inconsolable. Well, he had seen that several hundred times before.

"You should go downstairs," Shigu advised. "Get something to eat."

Our baby was famished. She inhaled a soft egg custard and plain white rice and stopped crying for a few moments, sobbing being hard to do while you are swallowing (though she tried, she tried). She sat in Caroline's lap, then mine. Her eyes were dull, defiant, and blistering. Her small cheeks burned so, I wondered if her tears would sizzle.

We looked at the other happy new families across the room. They smiled back wanly. They were having as much fun as we were.

I don't remember what we ate. Not much of whatever it was. I had a glass of wine, my wife had a beer, and we toasted our daughter. The drinks flashed through us like tap water. We ate and talked and tried to amuse, divert, and win over our daughter with songs, food, and funny voices, leaving her sullen and unmoved, all the while asking ourselves, "What have we done? What were we thinking? We've ripped a baby away from the only place she's ever known, to bring her some place on the other side of the world that might as well be the moon. What kind of people are we?"

Excerpted from Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other by Scott Simon Copyright 2010 by Scott Simon. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.

PHOTOS of the Simons and their two children here:


Anonymous said...

j weigand (jenlee) wrote:

Much of my research indicates that in the U.S. do you just adopt a child, you may end up with mandated complicated contact with relatives from the birth family t Bottom line, many of us adopt overseas because it’s a sure thing and low risk of complications and interference from birth parents.

By the way, I don’t feel guilty about taking my daughter away from “her" country. Her country is well-known for human rights violations. Her country put her in an orphanage where the ratio of caregivers was approximately 2 caregivers for 50 children. Where the children are given a propped bottle and if the bottle is dropped, they don’t eat. An orphanage where children are rarely held or hugged, where the children are unable to hold down solid food, where children have flat heads and scars on their limbs from being tied down in their cribs. My child still has vivid memories and nightmares about her time in the orphanage. Where children have memories of being kept in cages. No, I don’t have a bit of guilt for taking her away from that. Some of you feel that she’d be better off being raised there? Have you ever asked children in in orphanage if they think they'd be better of staying there?

Anonymous said...

Lake crossley (Slyguppy) wrote:

I'm intrigued on several levels: first because my friend Doug Bates wrote a book called "Gift Children," about the African American girls he and his wife (who are not African American) adopted, and the issues they had...secondly because I have a niece who is frequently asked if she is adopted, but she is not; she is half Japanese because her mother was Japanese (her dad, my brother is not); but chiefly because the only thing I thought when I saw this story, the ONLY thing, was....he's too old to have children that young. No one mentioned that until he himself said domestic adoption was not possible because of his age. He is brilliant, accomplished, compassionate, and good looking; but his kids have an old dad, and that unsettles me. I am a fan of adoption (but a greater fan of abortion), and I don't see race as the big issue here; I have always felt you could tell a child "Your mom couldn't take care of you, so we are doing it" and not complicate the explanation beyond that.

Anonymous said...

Kate Reinke (Erimentha) wrote:

Scott, it is one thing to use the phrase "meant to be" with a partner, an equal in the equation. For an adoptee, it totally negates our roots and our heritage. We had no say in our adoption, we are the only party in the adoption triad who was not part of the decision making process. I believe that every child is born to particular parents and THAT is meant to be - adoption is an unfortunate occurrence that mostly happens to children born into poverty, or in a country with a one child policy. It is also very easy for someone who looks anglo saxon, living in an anglo saxon society, to say that ethnicity should not matter. I do hope that you read some blogs written by adoptees who grew up away from their country of origin and how that has affected them deeply. Telling these adoptees that you are colour blind simply dismisses their feelings.

Anonymous said...

MeiLing Huang (littlewing04) wrote:

"These kids will have things to work through, but so do kids growing up with their birth parents."

Yes, but kids raised by their biological families don't physically *have* a set of parents who birthed them and a set of parents who raised them. I suppose, to some extent, this can be a debatable topic for the issue of stepparents - but ideally, most kids just have one set of parents - and that ONE set of parents both birthed AND raised them.

Also, even for those who were born to one set of parents and raised by another do not necessarily have to struggle through identity issues such as race. Race DOES matter. It shouldn't be the end-all and be-all, but it does matter.

Knowing two people who birthed you who are of xx descent and knowing that you were raised by xy descent IS difference than those who were born birth to AND raised by xx. There is no xy for them

Anonymous said...

scott Simon (Saturday) wrote:

Okay, okay, I will make one last comment. When I say--as I have whispered to our daughters-- "Baby, we were meant for each other," I think that anyone listening with good sense and a heart will recognize that as a romantic comment from a father to the daughters that he cherishes. I have said the same thing to my wife. Of course I know logically that people are not "meant" for each other. We find each other through sometimes wild and unfathomable routes. Which doesn't make it any less marvelous, or less "right."

Anonymous said...

Kate Silverstein (Kategal) wrote:

Of course Scott Simon loves his two little girls - but that's not really what many here are taking issue with. He wrote a book about his experience adopting, and as such, his interpretations and conclusions are open for commentary and discussion. Unlike some of the posters, I do believe we can raise emotionally healthy internationally adopted children - but only if we open our eyes to certain undeniable truths.

Our adopted children were not "meant for us" - but rather came to be in our families for myriad reasons, all of them tragic and, ultimately, unjust. We don't adopt because we want to save children - but really, because we want children. If our goal was truly to save orphaned children, we would support an international children's charity. Our children are not the same as the children of immigrants growing up in the West, and their identities will be more unsettled and complicated. And perhaps hardest of all to accept - by participating in international adoption, we are, however unwittingly, perpetuating the demand for orphans in the West, and potentially adding to the supply. I believe that we must first confront these paradoxes openly and honestly, and continue from there.

Anonymous said...

Tracy Moavero (TracyDC) wrote:

Did the critics here not hear Scott Simon repeatedly getting choked up during the interview? He clearly loves his little girls enormously. How does that not matter?

So, let's see. If you have babies, you're selfish. If you adopt, you're selfish. If you adopt a child of the same race, you're being racist. If you adopt a child of another race, especially if you are white, you are racist. If you adopt a child from another country, you are a cultural imperialist. If you adopt a child who isn't white from another country, you're a racist, cultural imperialist. (Of course, if you are white and adopt a Russian child, no one gives you judging looks because they think you gave birth to that child.)

Adoption is complex because people are complex. Nearly all adoptees struggle with identity and "why?", and race and ethnicity add a layer of struggle. These kids will have things to work through, but so do kids growing up with their birth parents. What matters for any child is having a loving, safe and supportive family to help them cope with those and many other challenges in life. What matters is having a mom or dad who love you so much they get choked up like Dad Simon did.

Rupinder said...

Girl, I feel your pain. I'm hours away from my shower and don't have much of anything purchased off the registry.

baby girl clothes