MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today we're revisiting some stories we did earlier this year all about motherhood. And in this next story we're going to hear from women who became moms by traveling across the globe. For more than a decade, China has been the top country for international adoptions to the United States. Since 1999, American families have adopted more than 60,000 Chinese babies and toddlers. But that's all changing, as China has tightened adoption rules in the past few years. Jacob Fenston brings us the story of some local moms and their adopted children from the world's most populous nation.
MS. LISA REFF
This is the picture that I got of Sarah, when I was told that she would be my daughter.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
Lisa Reff, of Bethesda, traveled to China in 2002, to adopt her first daughter, Sarah. Sarah was then 10 months old, in the photo, a naked, bright-eyed baby.
So that's kind of the information. You get a picture and then you get some medical information.
Reff is a single mom and she says she chose to adopt from China, in part because back then it was easier for a single person than doing a domestic adoption.
You knew what the paperwork was, you knew what the timing was.
The Chinese adoption system was transparent, the babies were healthy. So, there was a rush of Americans adopting Chinese children. Close to 8,000 in 2005, that's the year Reff returned to China to adopt her second daughter.
Most people stayed at a hotel called the White Swan, which we affectionately called the White Stork, because it was just filled with Caucasian parents and Chinese children.
But starting in 2006, adoptions dropped precipitously, as China changed its policies to promote more internal adoptions. The result, in the United States, is that among kids currently in elementary school, there is a uniquely large cohort of Chinese American girls. Why girls?
MR. CHARLES JOHNSON
Well, China has a one-child policy. There is culturally a predisposition towards boys.
Chuck Johnson, president of the National Council for Adoption.
You're seeing as a result of that social policy, when families have a girl, that she's at a higher risk for abandonment than, let's say, a boy would be.
Chinese families can't just go to an orphanage and give up a child, so parents often leave baby girls in public places, where they will be found quickly and taken to an orphanage. That was the case for Lisa Reff's two daughters, Katie and Sarah.
MISS SARAH REFF
I was, I think, not sealed closed, but put in a box, because I remember I was near the orphanage.
MISS KATIE REFF
My mom told me that I was left in front of a school in a box.
That's Katie, she's now 9 years old, Sarah is 11. The story about the box, that's all they know about their about their birth parents. But this summer, the family is planning a trip back to China. They'll hit all the tourist sites.
I'm mostly excited about learning the culture and tasting the food. I like dumplings and the spring rolls.
Plus the pork buns.
But they'll also visit the orphanages where the girls spent their first few months. Katie's interested in seeing a particular piece of furniture she knows from a baby photo.
The red couch. They took a picture of all the little babies and me on a couch.
These heritage tours, as they're called, are pretty common. It's a way for adoptive parents to help their kids understand where they're from. Janice Morris, a mother from Arlington, took her daughter three years ago.
MS. JANICE MORRIS
It was an opportunity to see what life would have been like for her in China, and for girls in general, both good and bad.
At the time, her daughter Claire was 10.
MISS CLAIRE MORRIS
It was sort of sad, because I saw how lucky I am to be here, in America. But I also was a little happy to see where I came from.
They visited the orphanage, and they also went to her finding place, the farmers market where Claire's birth parents left her.
There were a lot and a lot of rice farms there. So if I was still there, I would have to do, like, a lot of growing rice and -- yeah.
These trips can be important for adopted children as they get older and start to grapple with questions of identity, that's according to Ellen Singer, a social worker at the Center for Adoption Support and Education in Burtonsville, Md.
MS. ELLEN SINGER
Sometimes it helps fill in the missing pieces to the questions that they have in their minds. And so for some children it's extremely powerful and healing.
She says it's also important to tell children the story of where they were born, and how they were adopted, even if that story includes potentially difficult elements, like being left in a box.
We always counsel parents how to do it from an age appropriate perspective. You know, what you tell a three year old is different than what you tell an older child.
As the children adopted from China in the early 2000s get older, some will of course have more questions about their background. But for these kids, it may be hard to get good answers. There are no records to help track down birth parents. Even things like exact birthdates are uncertain. Still, many adoptive parents, like Lisa Reff, are making an effort to connect their kids to the culture. Reff's daughter Katie takes Chinese dance lessons, and she's learning Mandarin.
Ni hao ma' means like, how are you? And then wo hen hao' is usually the regular response, which is, I am fine, thank you.
I'm Jacob Fenston.
This story was informed by the Public Insight Network or PIN. It's a way for people to share their stories with us and for us to reach out for input on topics we're covering. You can learn more about the Network by visiting metroconnection.org/PIN.
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