Back in early 2005 when we first decided to adopt, we researched the different avenues of adoption and for many reasons we chose China. If I’m completely honest with myself, one of the reasons is that we were practically assured to be matched with the type of child we had already decided that we wanted: a healthy baby girl, as young as possible. I don’t believe that I recognized that at the time, however.
Back then, it’s not that foundlings were never boys, or that no children with medical needs were in China’s orphanages, but rather the overwhelming number of children made paper-ready were healthy infant girls… right in line with the overwhelming desires of the majority of adoptive parents.
Why did Eric and I want a girl, and only a girl? I had a fantasy, and it consisted of lots of pink, hair bows, adorable dresses and sweet little girls. Sugar and spice and everything nice. And of course, Sophia needed a sister! Why I never entertained the idea that she would need a brother, I don’t know. Perhaps it was because that narrative didn’t align with the desire of my own heart.
I conveniently ignored what I believe was my gender bias, ignoring the fact that Eric and I had specified in our gender request that we were open to a girl only. I didn’t have to think about it as, month after month, just as it had been for years, match group after match group arrived at adoption agencies around the world and almost all of the children referred were girls.
And then approximately one year into our wait for our referral, a match group arrived at a U.S. agency that contained several baby boys. Some of these little ones were referred to families that had requested “girl only.” The ripple through the big China adoption web forums came swiftly. My own feelings took me by surprise.
Shock. Panic. Anxiety.
It makes me feel horrible and sheepish to admit this, but I called our agency’s China program director the next day looking for reassurance that we would be matched with a girl as per our request. I was reassured that surprise referrals of boys were rare, and told that in some cases if a family that requested “girl only” was matched with a boy, the China Center for Child Welfare and Adoption would view the match as an error and replace that boy with a brand spanking new referral of a baby girl. Phew! Was I relieved!
But another feeling crept up within me. Disgust. I was sickened by what I was experiencing within myself. Was my own desire for hair bows and all things pretty and princess-y truly an acceptable reason for discounting the idea of raising a son, for rejecting a child based upon gender? And besides, I was already parenting a daughter.
During the months that we had been completing our home study, preparing our dossier and waiting to be matched, I consumed everything that I could get my hands on regarding adoption from China. I read all the China adoption classics such as Karin Evans’ The Lost Daughters of China, Kay Ann Johnson’s Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son, and Lisa Ling’s National Geographic documentary entitled China’s Lost Girls. Oh yes, I immersed myself into the world of China’s abandoned girls, and these sources fed into my bias. It was easy to ignore the fact that I didn’t want a boy when surrounding myself with content that helped me to believe that it was only the little girls that needed to be adopted.
Buying into this caused a huge moral dilemma, though. When I had thoroughly convinced myself that it was China’s girls who needed families, and how tragic it was that they were being abandoned predominantly because of the gender bias that existed in China’s rural communities, I could no longer ignore the fact that my own trepidation regarding the possibility of being referred a boy, my own peace at the assurance that we could request a rematch if “mistakenly” referred a boy, was really no different than what had fueled the choices made by those families in China. No, I take that back. My own gender bias was actually far worse, as I had no socioeconomic reasons for my bias, no very real fears of being left impoverished and uncared for in my old age, which is what many rural Chinese families faced if they did not have a son.
Did these realizations make me yearn for a little boy?
I still imagined how much more fun it would be to have a house filled with girls. I rationalized that I already knew how to parent a girl (my personal growth as a parent wasn’t something I gave much thought to at the time). I liked shopping on the girl side of the clothing store (God laughed when he made me the mother to two daughters who wanted nothing to do with hair bows and dresses. It wouldn’t be until my fifth and sixth children before I had girls who enjoyed the stereotypical girlie paraphernalia). I thought of girls as “sweet” and boys as, well, boys. Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails (wrong again. I had a lot to learn).
Looking back, I am aware that what fueled my preference was all about me. What I wanted. What I thought was best. But very slowly, a change took place within me. Meanwhile, as the standard process began to creep to a near standstill and more boys were being referred to families expecting girls, a passionate dialogue was taking place within the China adoption community.
I forced myself to begin imagining what it would be like to be the mother of a son. I watched boys playing at the park, looked through little boy clothes when I was out shopping, and imagined what an honor it would be to raise a boy to be a good man, husband and father. I watched as friends and acquaintances that had originally desired only a girl opened their hearts to boys and were so blessed to have done so. I also talked with friends who were parenting sons, and I will never forget what my friend, Tauri, said to me while we were in China adopting in 2007.
“Nobody loves their mama like a little boy.”
Eric’s desire for another girl was, after much introspection and countless discussions with me and also with our adoption social worker, based in fear and in some respects, complacency. He was afraid that he wouldn’t be a strong enough father for a son, that he would fail at the task, and ultimately he conceded that somewhere in the recesses of his mind he felt a bit off the hook, so to speak, if we only had daughters. Being female, the task of handling all of the girl stuff would (he hoped) fall on my shoulders.
This realization helped to open up an excellent dialogue between the two of us regarding our roles in the raising of our children, about what mothers and fathers bring to the table when raising children of the same and opposite gender, and about our expectations of one another and ourselves.
In 2009, we began our second adoption process and although I wanted to leave our gender request open to “either,” Eric was still steadfast in only wanting to adopt another girl. We talked, and talked, and talked. Our dossier was logged in and we waited for a match through the medical needs program. One month passed, then two, then three. We were open to many needs, some which were considered to be leaning more towards what was, back then, “moderate”. Why hadn’t we been matched yet?
It was during this time of waiting and contemplation that I learned that there were families that had decided to withdraw from the China adoption program completely rather than adopt a boy. These were not necessarily families with multiple boys who decided to adopt from China in order to bring a girl into the mix. Rather, there were childless couples that could only envision themselves parenting a girl. That struck me as distressing.
But then on a rainy Saturday in December 2009, out of nowhere Eric told me that he was open to adopting a boy. I was ecstatic, but also scared. And you know what? I felt a bit of grief. We were both letting go of the idea of a third daughter. We both loved raising our girls. Girls are great! But we felt that the right thing to do, the fair thing in our vision of the world, was to let go of our attempt at control and to open ourselves up to the possibility that going down a path that wasn’t necessarily one that we would design for ourselves just might end up being one of the best decisions we had ever made, for our family and for a boy in need.
After all, God has a son, right?
That evening, we called our social worker and told her that we wanted to change our gender request to “either.”
On Monday, she communicated our decision to the China team at our agency and thirty minutes later, our social worker called back. We had been matched!
Five months later, this one-time reluctant mother to a boy couldn’t stop smiling as I held my son! He’s our snuggle bug, a most compassionate and tender child, and oh so sweet.
We loved raising our son so much, nine months later we decided to adopt another precious boy. Cute as a button, a born comedian, and silly mischief-maker, he lights up our family.
Way back when, almost ten years ago, we were holding on so tightly to a vision of our family and our lives. Letting go is so liberating, so rewarding, and so joyful. We never could have imagined.