Becoming a Parent Is a Gift

“Becoming a Parent Is a Gift” 

by

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Chris Huntington has worked in France and Taiwan, and taught English in the Sahara and Gabon for the Peace Corps. He now lives in Indianapolis and teaches at a local prison. Huntington and his wife, Shasta, are still awaiting word on their adoption.

NPR.org, June 14, 2007 · I no longer believe my wife and I are going to have a baby the old-fashioned way, but I no longer think this really matters. I believe in adoption now. Four months ago, the Chinese government accepted our dossier. In the next year or two, a little girl will be born and her parents will not want her. My wife and I will fly to China to meet this girl and bring her home with us.

When I was a teenager, everyone said becoming a parent was easy — so easy, I had to be careful not to do it accidentally. I guess it’s easy for a lot of other people, but not for me and my wife.

I’m 39. My wife is 31. For the last two years, I’ve watched this woman I love inject herself with needles full of hormone syrup. She got huge bruises on each side of her waist.

Our friends would bring their kids over to visit and we’d hang up their tiny coats, hoping some magic would rub off on our hands. When it didn’t, we started avoiding any place we’d see the one thing we wanted so desperately. Our own neighborhood became awkward. The woman across the street emerged in the spring with a giant belly. My wife and I stopped going to parks and matinees. Taking our clothes off became a medical procedure; we obeyed the calendar instead of each other’s eyes. I’d see young couples pushing strollers in the grocery store and I’d taste jealousy like pennies in my mouth. I used to believe that becoming a parent was part of our biology. It was something everyone could do. When I couldn’t make a baby, I felt a little less human.

I teach in a prison, a medium-security facility full of men. I help guys write letters when they ask. Most of the letters are to girlfriends and ex-wives. I don’t see long letters to children. I feel lost opportunity all around me. I can see that becoming a parent is much more than our biology.

I now believe that becoming a parent is a gift you make to the universe and that the universe makes to you. Now, I want my family to include a little girl who looks nothing like me or my wife. Someday I’ll lean across a table and cut this little girl’s green beans. I’ll meet her teachers. I’ll see her bicycle standing in the garage. I love the idea that this girl will grow up to be a woman and still look nothing like me, but whenever she hears the word “dad,” she’ll think of me.

People think we’re good or generous because we’re giving a home to an orphan, and giving her a family but the truth is she’ll be giving us a family. I believe in adoption because it will make me the man I want to be: a father.

Independently produced for npr.org by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with Viki Merrick.

I just found this “This I Believe” segment while cruising the NPR website. Just thought you’d all like to take a look at it, or listen to it.

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11 Comments on “Becoming a Parent Is a Gift

  1. As a transracial adoptee, I found some rather interesting things on your blog. As I write this comment, I will tell you now that none of this is meant to be offensive, nor do is it intended to make you change your mind – after all, my parents did the same thing. They adopted me from Asia. Not from China, but from Asia, and I’d say that counts as transracial and would include language and cultural issues.

    [In the next year or two, a little girl will be born and her parents will not want her.]

    I am going to assume that you really did NOT mean that in the way that I interpreted it, because that would really sting. Her parents WILL want her, however, those parents will NOT have a choice as to whether or not they can keep her. Chinese parents do place more value on boys, but that does not in any way, shape or form mean that they will just create a baby, see that it’s a girl and say “Oh well. We can just try again. No big deal. We’ll just abandon the baby.”

    I’m pretty sure that if you were her first father and you were living in China, you would not be feeling that way, am I right? You would not be creating a child and then just saying “Eh, it’s a girl. No need for her. We’ll just give her up to another family.” Can you seriously imagine doing that? Your own biological linked child?

    I have read in your entry that you and your wife are unable to have more children. You may wonder why I have chosen to leave a comment in the first place and think I have no right to say anything. There is also something else I feel I should tell you; my parents were the same. So they went to Asia and adopted me because they couldn’t have children. What they did was not wrong. They were able to give me a life when my first parents did not have the means to provide for me.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t adopt. But what I am saying is: don’t forget that there is also a mother and father out there who created the child that YOU are most likely about to bring home. Regardless if that mother and father cannot raise that baby girl, she is still genetically linked to them and so that part of her cannot be erased. Saying that her parents will not care about her because they have seemingly abandoned her is disrespectful to them and to her as a person. After all, they are a part of her identity.

    If you truly believe that her parents will not want her, then I advise you to do some research into adoption truths on the web. There are many first mother blogs out there that can give you an idea of how much pain they go through when their child is placed for adoption, even though they know it may have been for the best of things.

    Again, if I have offended you by writing this, I am truly sorry. I do not mean to intend any harm upon what you may think is right, nor is it my intention to change your views. I only ask that you spare a few thoughts for the people that will be a part of her identity.

    – international adoptee, Mei-Ling

  2. Hi Mei-Ling,

    I really appreciate your comments, and no I’m NOT offended because A) I did not write this article, and B) I’m also a transracial adoptee and feel quite the same as you do.

    I usually try to forward or link articles relating to adoption that I find to my blog to inspire conversation. I totally agree with you, and that’s why I think these sort of essays can be problematic in many ways. I’m glad you took the time to leave this comment, and I encourage you to continue to do so.

    I usually write little blurbs at the top of each article that I repost describing how I found the article somewhere or another and that it is there for the purpose of conversation fodder in the comment section. Thanks for your feedback!

    Gang Shik

  3. I am a Natural Mother who lost her baby girl to adoption. They tore my Daughter from my womb, stole her and gave her away to strangers. The pain created by this crime, has haunted me and my Baby Daughter the rest of our lives (over 40 yrs. so far) up until now, is called Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
    What on earth, makes you believe that you are entitled to covet and raise someone other parents child??? The manner in which you speak, sounds as though you believe that you are entitled to take someone else’s baby from them, from their heritage, their culture and their families – without even a mention of the possibility of damage to the child or parent, emotionally, physically, psychologically & spiritually.
    Think about it, what gives you the right! Maybe, just maybe God meant that you should not be a parent…..perhaps God wanted you to help the child and it’s family …..which would be real giving ….not TAKING for YOUR OWN GRATIFICATION! Perhaps you could work on behalf of these children to make the Gov’t see that what they are doing is morally WRONG both in their Country and our own Country Canada. Something to think aout!

  4. Maybe if the child is totally an orphan he or she might be a “gift” but when a child has living, breathing natural parents their child is not one.

    Many natural parents lose their children to adoption because they are young and have no offers of help to keep. Many are also financially stressed parents who are not helped (such as single mothers). All could keep with help and this country is supposed to help ALL mothers regardless of age or financial and marital status (see the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

    I admit that there is no good solution regarding female babies in China until China learns to respect and appreciate all children whether male or female.

    But I agree with Mei-Ling above… saying that this little girl’s parents “will not want her” is wrong and insensitive.

    KarenWB

  5. My daughters are from China. I adore them. My wife and I desperately wanted to have children. We went through two traumatic miscarriages and several rounds of painful and nerve-wracking fertility treatments. Neither of us would go back and change one thing about that. I would not take back a single tear if it would have had even the slightest chance of taking from me the children that we were truly destined to have. I no longer mourn the biological child that I will never have. I know that my wife still has twinges of sadness when she hears other women sharing pregnancy war stories and stuff like that, but neither of us can imagine loving anyone more than we love our kids. I cannot remember anything ever happening in my life that gave me the same deep sense of happiness that I get from holding my perfect sweet little 4 year-old or my rambunctious, raucous 2 year-old. When I hear my girls shriek “Daddy’s home, daddy’s home” as I come through the door, I just glow inside.

    If I think very long about my little ones being left, all by themselves, on a street corner and on the steps of their orphanage, it’s hard not to cry. When I think of ANYONE devaluing my children because they are girls it boggles my mind. I sometimes think of the grief, shame, and worry that my girls’ biological parents must have felt as they dropped off these two perfect little babies. Frankly, I don’t really think too much about that though. It is an odd thing to think that my profound happiness has been the result of someone else’s horrific tragedy. I also know that my girls will grow up with as much love as they can possibly absorb, but I also know that they may struggle with the concept that they were abandoned. I’m guessing that this is going to be kind of painful.

    When we say our prayers at night (a bit odd for me, since I’m agnostic) we often include statements such as “Thank you for the ladies in China who carried Amelia and Rachie in their tummies.” My daughters are too young (4.5 and 2.5) to really have begun to mourn their loss. I want to be very truthful and forthcoming with them, sharing the information that I have (mostly broad suppositions and possibilities based on politics, economy, culture, etc…). I’m going to do it on their schedule though, waiting for them to wonder, to worry, to grieve (and hopefully to muse and imagine good things too) before getting into anything too deep. We are pretty comfortable and matter of fact about them being Chinese, and tell them all the time about how exciting and wonderful it was when we became parents. We tell them about how we couldn’t stop smiling and crying all at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think my girls are little sad tragic figures or anything, but they were definitely cheated out of some of the information that helps most of us start to form big chunks of our identity. Several members of my family are into genealogy, and I could not possibly be less interested – never really have been. I know though, that I’d feel differently if I were the only twig on the family tree that I could find.

    Sorry to ramble. I’ll stop now. I have so many thought on this. I’ve only started into reading the adoptee blogs, having grown tired of the adoptive parents blogs. It’s interesting, and tweaks my emotions in ways that I wouldn’t have expected.

  6. Hello all,

    First I wanted to thank you all for sharing your opinions.

    Regarding Dave. Thank you for your honesty in relation to this article. However, I did want to respond to a few things you had mentioned in your comment.

    “I’m going to do it on their schedule though, waiting for them to wonder, to worry, to grieve (and hopefully to muse and imagine good things too) before getting into anything too deep. We are pretty comfortable and matter of fact about them being Chinese, and tell them all the time about how exciting and wonderful it was when we became parents.”

    I don’t think waiting for your daughters to bring up their emotions and feelings on their own accord is the best way of handling the complex issues and feelings at stake. Have you seen First Person Plural by Deann Borshay Liem? This sort of strikes me as similar, because her parents also figured that she would bring these issues up on her own. It’s hard as an adoptee, especially if you are in a predominantly non-asian community, and especially if transracial asian adoptees are not provided with the cultural understanding to be able to form healthy ideas on their own identity. It was only in college that I was able to piece together who I was. I learned about Asian American history, the accomplishments of Asian Americans and other people of color. These were all not available to me my entire childhood, and for that I was pretty lost growing up. I had no idea what it meant to be Korean or even Asian American for that matter because I was raised colorblindly. And colorblindness is a powerful and misguided ideology especially in transracial families. It’s a notion that masks the inequalities that exist today. It masks the fact that people of color are treated differently and are discriminated against, and when we as Asian adoptees are on our own, we experience racism the same ways other Asian Americans do but are unable to understand or cope with it because we are not taught to see our differences growing up. I know this is for sure with me. I remember growing up and being made fun of in the most racist of ways, and feeling deeply and emotionally hurt, but unable to conceptualize what it was, and what it was I was feeling.

    I’m speaking only for myself, but I have talked with many adoptees who feel the same way when it comes to transracial parenting. Please don’t wait, these are all incredibly important pieces of information that need to be discussed and waded through as a family.

    I hope other adoptees will weigh in on this, but I thank you for sharing your story. By the way have you read “Outsiders Within?” It’s a great book.

  7. I’m an adoptee though not a transratial adoptee
    I just wanted to respond to Dave’s musings…particularly about waiting for his little girls to bring up their thoughts and feelings around their adoption before wading in…

    It is not safe to assume that if they don’t bring their thoughts and feelings up they’re okay with them. Developmentally children start getting logical around age 6.5 to 8. At this time adoptees will start wrestling with what it means to be adopted–eg My adoptive mummy and daddy wanted me very much but I have another mummy and daddy somewhere who…???

    There is no way to take away the pain of having been relinquished.
    Your mommy loved you so much she gave you away–makes no sense to a child–IMHO it makes no sense, period!

    Adopted children need a safe place to explore their adoption thoughts and feelings–the aodptive parents may be able to help provide this space, but sensitive outsdie help may be invaluable–after all adoptive children may be particularly careful and protective of the feelings of their aodptive parents–the better, in their minds, to guard against a second abandonment.

    I strongly recommend Joe Soll’s books Adoption Healing: A Path to Recovery
    One book focuses on adoptees and their feelings
    The other book he co-wrote with Karen Wilson-Butterbaugh and it focuses on mothers of adoption loss
    Both are simple, no-nonsense guides to the emotional reality of adoption.

    And, yes, Dave, it is strange and difficult to recognize that your happiness comes at the expense of another family’s tragic and horrendous loss, but that is the reality, and the more honestly you can look at that the more genuine help and support you may be to “your daughters” Remember, those little girls were there and themselves also suffered that horrendous and tragic loss…Sugar coating the reality of this does not work well, in my experience.

    sincerely,
    -mk

  8. Well written point MK.

    I agree, there is definitely the option to seek outside help. I remember growing up with a lack of positive Asian American role models, and knowing that as much as I wanted to discuss my feelings with my a-parents, they would never understand.

    My little sister who is also adopted has found a group through her adoption agency that provides get-togethers for young pre-teen adoptees. She has told me that it has been a huge relief for her being with others who understand what she’s feeling and not having to always explain why her last name doesn’t necessarily match her face.

    There are also issues of environment. I really think that being in a homogeneous environment can be detrimental to a transracial adoptee’s health. Think of it this way…In my situation my parents did try to provide me with a cultural understanding, and they even enrolled me in a Korean language school for a good amount of time. But that didn’t stick because I was in a predominantly white environment and I didn’t want anything to make me look any different than I already was. My parents look back on these days and say that I was “just not interested in Korean culture” and “so we let you make your own decision.” While this is definitely not a direct quote, it’s indicative of how an adoptive parent doesn’t necessarily always understand what it’s like, or what an adoptee needs in terms of psychological health. If I had been in a more diverse environment where it was ok to be unique or individual perhaps I would have grown to embrace my Korean culture at an early age (but then again who knows this is pure speculation).

    I have to agree with MK sugar-coating is not the answer, but there are definitely better ways than others to broach these topics with a-kids including seeking outside help.

  9. “I sometimes think of the grief, shame, and worry that my girls’ biological parents must have felt as they dropped off these two perfect little babies. Frankly, I don’t really think too much about that though. It is an odd thing to think that my profound happiness has been the result of someone else’s horrific tragedy. I also know that my girls will grow up with as much love as they can possibly absorb, but I also know that they may struggle with the concept that they were abandoned.”

    I don’t think shame comes into it when you know your child could be killed because she is a girl. “Abandoning” her, as you say, means to them that they are saving her life. And her parents are her parents… nothing biological about it. Just because they are unable to raise her does not mean that they aren’t her rightful, natural parents.

    And yes your profound happiness is at the expense of the natural parents and the little girl or girls you get to raise because they lose, too. They’ve now lost their culture, heritage, history, language and true parents and tribe. Those are HUGE losses. So I hope you can educate yourself enough to recognize all of this and be sensitive to it and do you very best to reunite them with their natural family members when THEY are ready… not when or if you are.

    KarenWB

  10. I was just reading through some posts and came to this, so i will comment even though this was written awhile ago.

    I agree with Kadnexus (Gang Shik) that you really can’t wait until your daughters start asking you questions about their culture and adoption. By waiting you may be unintentionally putting up barriers that make your children think it’s not ok to ask questions or that you’re not comfortable with it. That’s basically what my parents did and now I just never talk to them about it. Children don’t know when they are young that they do need to understand their culture and where they came from to grow up with a proper sense of self and a lot of them just chose to avoid it.

    I think it’s great that an adoptive parent reads adoptees blogs. I think so many adoptive parents idealize their life with their children and kind of put it into a rose coloured box, where race and adoption isn’t an issue. But then when the adopted child grows up and finally realizes that they don’t actually fit properly into that box, it ends up being extremely confusing and detrimental to both the adoptee and their family.

  11. I’m now 19 and experiencing being a dad. I must say although it feels good it’s still hard. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but to be honest, the hard part is having to balance time. My daughter is great and makes managing her never dreadful. -Teen dad

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