Broken Connections, Lingering Questions

by Lisa DeNike Ercolano

We were deep in the paper chase that forms the backbone of any international adoption when a well-intentioned colleague made an offhand remark:

“One good thing, at least: you’ll never have to worry about her birthparents just showing up and trying to take her back, like you sometimes hear about.”

I am sure she intended to be comforting, but instead, her comment pierced my heart.

Of course, when we decided to adopt from China, we knew the reality – that in the People’s Republic, children come to “social welfare institutions” (read: orphanages) primarily through one route (and excuse me for using what some adoptive parents consider the “a” word): abandonment.

Babies and children there are often left — without even a note revealing the child’s birth date – in crowded places, such as train or bus stations or busy marketplaces. One orphanage worker told me that it can sometimes feel as if these babies and children – usually wrapped warmly (and clearly, lovingly) in layers of acrylic knit blankets and clothing — materialized out of nowhere.

Some adoptive parents are like my colleague above, and consider this an advantage: the babies’ backgrounds are all clean and pristine, with no messy ties to their old lives and parents. I understand that feeling, having seen more than my share of those “Lifetime” movies featuring a child growing up happily in an adoptive home until the long lost birthparent (usually a drug addict, prostitute or psychopath) shows up and terrorizes the family trying to get her child back. But the truth is, those cases are few and far between and only make the news because they are so unusual and sensational.

To my way of thinking, returning birth parents are not a real danger, but questions that linger in the heart of an adopted person are. It makes me feel terrible, for instance, to know that my daughter, adopted at the age of six months from China, will likely always wonder about things that most children take for granted, from her mother and father’s name to how they look to what they do for a living, not to mention why they couldn’t keep her and raise her. I look at her and wonder whose smile she has, where she got her incredible talent as a dancer (I have two left feet and my husband does, too!), and whether her outgoing, sociable personality is typical of her extended family in China.

Unfortunately, we probably will never know.

Juliet’s dance move at the beach

Comments

  1. Lisa, this piece is so sensitive and intelligent, I’m pretty sure you’ve stunned people into thought. I completely understand how you feel. The anxieties that nag at adoptive parents are not necessarily what some people might expect. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your contributions as guest blogger and godmother to the blog ;). xo

  2. Lisa DeNike Ercolano says:

    Luanne, that is so sweet of you to say! Thank you so very much. I think I may be an oddball, even among adoptive parents, for some of the things I say or talk about.

  3. Mary Ann Brandli says:

    I always love reading your writing, and this is no exception. Well said.

  4. Lisa DeNike Ercolano says:

    Thank you for posting!

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