By the strength of love, two mothers, Susan and Irene have been able to create their own families without blood ties thanks to adoption.
“I think everyone should adopt. I do understand that the way we did it, going to China, it was very expensive, but if you do it internationally or locally, the opportunity to give any child a place in the world, security, family, food to eat, and an education – You can not put a price on that. You can not change the world, but you can change one life, “Susan says while in her house outside Nashville, Tennessee.
Susan shuffles through a small box full of pictures and papers. She smiles when she finds a photo of a little Chinese girl with short dark hair, dressed in a red coat, and wearing a happy expression on her face. It’s her adopted daughter, Grace. “At the beginning, we were told the wait time was 18 months. But by the time we finished all our paperwork, three years had passed. Grace was not even alive when we began the process. “
Although she had had a biological daughter, Susan had known since graduating college that she wanted to adopt. In February 2005, with her husband Mike and daughter Sarah, Susan contacted the adoption agency Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI). Founded in 1994 and based in Colorado, CCAI has placed more than 11,000 Chinese children in American homes.
After having various visits from social workers, taking maternity classes, and reading books about adoption, Susan and her family arrived in Nanchang, the capital of the Jiangxi province in the southeast of China, on February 21, 2009. CCAI provided them a translator in order to navigate the city of two and a half million inhabitants. Having lost their suitcases for the first five days of the trip, another element of stress was added. “Not only did we have a deal with not having fresh clothing or anything to change into or brush our teeth with, but also I was handed a baby and I had nothing to give her.”
On February 23, Susan and twelve other families stood in a large meeting room of their hotel, impatiently awaiting the arrival of the orphanage caretakers. The babies came wrapped up in puffy winter jackets. Grace was brought to us with only the clothes on her back and we only had the clothes on our backs, too, “Susan explains the moment when she met her sixteen-month-old daughter for the first time.
The family stayed in China for two weeks, a country whose political policy is very open towards adoptions. In 2009, Grace was one of approximately 3,000 official adoptions from China to the United States. Between 1999 and 2016, the US Department of State documented 78,257 Chinese adoptions, 86% of which were girls.
More than nine years later, Susan tears up while remembering her favorite memory of the trip. “She was really good natured,” she says, “compared to some of the other babies who were more traumatized.” Even so, Grace, who would later easily adapt to her new environment, did not feel comfortable immediately. “It was not until about three days later, while she was sitting on my lap, when, all of the sudden, she relaxed enough to lay her head against my chest. It was in that moment where I felt like Grace first bonded to me. “
Two years after Susan’s time in Nanchang and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, another mother was making the same decision to start a family through adoption. Today, Irene *, Italian by birth but Spanish by citizenship, sits on the futon of her cozy house in Seville, Spain, looking through some photos of a little dark-skinned baby on the table. In one of them is Mario *, her adopted, in a baby-carrier on her back. The two smile at the camera in front of a background of sand and rocks in Mali.
“I was so much more beautiful than I could have expected,” Irene smiles while explaining the moment she met her son. It was November 14, 2011. Mario was only 11-months-old at the time. “I was standing there with the other mothers. They were afraid of not feeling anything for the children or not loving them. But I felt the opposite. I was afraid of his reaction towards me. I know sometimes the kids can get scared of our white skin. “
Eight months earlier Irene started her journey towards adoption. Since she was applying to a single-parent family, she had to look for a country that would allow those adoptions. After a suggestion from a friend, Irene decided on Mali, which had only been taken 222. Adopted between 1998 and 2012. For Irene, the decision of choosing Mali was easy, “I do not have anything against, for example, China, but neither do I have as much in common with it as I already have with the African continent. “
In September 2010, Irene, who works as a translator and interpreter, was invited to participate as a volunteer translator in a meeting for an indigenous organization’s platform. She had already started the steps towards adoption when she met Malian lawyer there who would later help her in the legal process. After taking psychological exams and maternity classes, Irene received his aptitude certificate from the Spanish government to be able to adopt. Between 1998 and 2011, Spain had the third highest number of adoptions in the world, with approximately 60,000. Although adoption is very popular in Spain, the process takes on average nine years depending on the length of legal procedures. Irene’s case took a lot less time, but still had its own challenges. “It was almost like playing Monopoly. If you missed one thing, You had to go all the way back to square one to start again, “Irene jokingly explained. In Andalusia, unlike the United States, the adoption process is free and managed by the Department of Equality and Social Policies in the autonomous government.
On the day she got Mario in Bamako, the capital of Mali, Irene felt a lot of shock. I have reminded her of her, with her calm and perceptive personality. For almost three weeks, Irene stayed with Mario in his native country to help him transition. At the beginning of December 2011 they returned to Seville. It was a trip she will never forget. “It was four in the morning and Mario had a bad case of runny diarrhea. I still remember trying to change his diaper in the small airplane, with the lights in my eyes and feeling the stress of it all. “Luckily, Mario’s transition to his new life in Seville did not take long. “From the beginning, I had a very strong sense of self-independence. By the beginning of January he had already settled into solid routines. “
Thanks to books, art, food, and the influence of their parents, both Grace and Mario have been able to maintain a connection to their native cultures. According to a study done by sociology professor Arnold Silverman and published by Princeton University in 1993, the balance between inherited identity and native heritage of adopted children is what creates a link between their two cultures. It’s important to establish this balance from a young age in order to develop a pride for both identities.
Susan has tried to follow this advice. “We’ve always taken Grace to Chinese New Year celebrations. Also, every summer she goes to a week-long camp sponsored by her adoption agency with dancing, clothing, art, food, language, and songs. It’s mostly other children adopted from China whose parents also want to maintain a connection to that culture. “In addition to the camp, Grace has a classmate, Sophia, whose parents are Chinese. “Grace goes to her house to learn how to cook dumplings and other traditional foods. She’s also started to learn some Mandarin with her family. “Susan does not have any doubts about the strong identity of her daughter, who just recently turned ten-years-old.
For Irene, Mario’s African identity also plays an important role. She intends to let Mario visit Mali again, eleven he’s older. But for now, she’s not concerned about any emotional issues. “Mario in general does not have any self-esteem problems. One of my friends has even told me that I do not need to work on that anymore! “Irene says laughing. Due to his dark skin, an uncommon characteristic in Seville, Irene has received a few comments about the future of raising him. “They always tell me, ‘Oh, that’s going to cause a lot of problems when he’s a teenager!’ and I always respond, ‘Well, it’s more so the teen years that cause the problems.’ They are racist comments more so than anti-adoption comments. But you’re always going to come across ignorance. “In spite of a few uneducated people, Irene already has a lot of hope for her future with Mario. For her, making the decision to adopt was easy, “I have Mario now thanks to mother in Africa and thanks to Africa; he did not come from the sky. I’m proud and thankful and it feels really natural for me. “
In the same way, the desire to adopt was a natural feeling for Susan, “I have believed for many years that you can love a child who is not related to you. I’ve never felt like I needed to save the world, but I’m grateful to be able to do it once. “Among many other national and international initiatives, the Hague Agreement Concerning the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption granted Susan and Irene the possibility of adoption. China and Mali are part of the 96 member countries in the Hague Convention, whose objective is to facilitate and maintain the security of international adoptions.
In addition to this, in 1995 President Bill Clinton declared November as National Adoption Month, during which it is important to celebrate both international and regional adoptions. For Susan and Grace and Irene and Mario, adoption has successfully created families without blood ties. Above everything, Irene believes that adoption is nothing out of the ordinary, “It’s a normal path to maternity, just another way to become a mother or father. Your children are simply the relationship you make with them throughout their lives.
* The names of the protagonists have been changed to protect their privacy.