Meet my beautiful daughter, Jenna Meilin.
Jenna is seven years old. Six years and one month ago, the People's Republic of China blessed my life by entrusting this precious child into our hands and I will be eternally grateful. The thought of my life without her is inconceivable.
Thirteen years ago, I was married to my second husband and had given birth to Julia, my third child, the daughter I long awaited after the births of my two sons. I also had two step-daughters. Five kids. When Julia was six months old, I had a false pregnancy alarm, but to my surprise, I found myself disappointed. I actually wanted another baby. The seeds were planted and would follow me for years. There were problems with this desire. We had five kids already. We were so poor we should have filed bankruptcy. Basically, a baby was the worst idea ever. And I told myself this for years, smothering myself with guilt. I was selfish to even wish such a thing. I prayed to God to please, please take this desire away. Yet it clung to me like a choking vine and grew stronger with every year.
And then, when Julia was four years old, I met a woman who adopted two daughters from China. I went home to tell Darrell. We investigated the possibility and found the expense astronomical. There was no way we could afford it, but Darrell said he would pray about it. Bless his heart, he did. He didn't have much choice; God kept throwing families who had adopted in his path. Finally, after two and a half years, Darrell said he wanted to adopt from China. Eighteen months later we flew to China to adopt seventeen month Lu Chu, renamed Jenna Meilin.
Two and a half years after that, Darrell died. My world crumpled. The boys and Julia were old enough to fend for themselves, but three year old Jenna needed me. She was the reason I got out of bed those first few months. Little Jenna had lost so much in her short life: her foster family, her father. She needed her mother to be there for her.
It took me a couple of years to figure out that I needed her as much as she needed me. With that realization came the knowledge that God had planned this for me, years in advance.
And that, my friends, is a humbling realization.
I am protective of this little girl. She has faced more pain and loss than a seven year old should, yet she is not a victim. She is a survivor. I cannot follow her through out the rest of her life in a vain attempt to protect her from the ugly things that are sure to come her way. I can only arm her with knowledge, support and my love.
We are fortunate that Jenna hasn't faced outright prejudice yet. However, I know it will come someday, at some point. I can only prepare her, so that when it happens she isn't caught off guard. We have discussed that some people dislike others because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. In our house, where we are a equal distribution of ethnicity-- 50% Caucasian to 50% Asian -- the idea sounds preposterous. But events like Martin Luther King Day help shed light on the subject. Prejudice still exists.
But prejudice, not in that sense, isn't Jenna's biggest challenge. The immediate problem is far more subtle, yet almost more dangerous. It is the misconceptions of her circumstances and the thoughtless comments people make in her presence. As a parent, it's easy to dismiss ignorant comments in front of a baby, but as Jenna gets older, my patience shortens.
What is a seven year old supposed to say when an adult looks at her, with pity in their eyes, and says "You're so lucky your mom adopted you." I immediately respond, "No, I am the lucky one. I cannot imagine my life without her." It's an innocent statement but the implications are significant.
"You know, they just throw baby girls away in China." What would possess a person to say such a thing to a child? Yet, I have heard it. Many times. Even if it were true, you do not tell a child they were thrown away like a piece of garbage. No matter how secure the child feels, hearing this will cause some harm to their psyche. My daughter was NOT thrown away. Her birth parents must have loved her very much to bundle her up on a cold February morning and place her in a spot where she was sure to be found. I have no idea what forced them to give up their one day old daughter, but I have no doubt of their love for her. I tell Jenna this often. I will not tolerate strangers undermining her belief in their love.
"You are such a wonderful person to save her life." Even if this were true, which it is not, on so many levels, why would you ever say this in front of the child? I did not save her life. At all. Jenna was placed in a loving foster family the day she entered the orphanage. The orphanage director tried to find a local family to adopt her. On her first birthday, after no local family was found, Jenna was placed in the international adoption system. Seven months later, we adopted her. Jenna was loved and well cared for. If we had not adopted her, a long line of families stood behind us waiting to adopt. Her life was never in any danger.
This is an innocent sounding statement, yet it's repercussions extend LONG past the adoption itself. When a child hears any hint that the adoptive parents saved their life it makes the child feel obligated to the parents. Of all the reasons to adopt a child, saving their life should be last on the list. Trust me, you need more than the belief you saved the child's life to get you through the attachment issues you will face.
The adopted child should never, ever, for any reason, feel GRATEFUL to the adoptive parents for adopting them. Should the child feel grateful for what his or her parents do for them? Of course, but when was the last time you ever heard someone tell a biological child they should feel grateful that their parents gave birth to them? There is a difference. Which brings me to the first part of that statement:
"You must be a wonderful person to..." No, I'm not. Trust me. I am selfish. I fulfilled a selfish desire. I wanted a child. My sole purpose was to have a child to love. I am not wonderful, special, or any other attribute you wish to bestow on me. You can try and I will throw it off every time. The simple fact is-- I wanted a child. There were babies in China. I adopted from China. That does not make me wonderful. That makes me a parent.
The Chinese take great pride in names. They have significance and meaning. Jenna's middle name is Meilin, which means beautiful forest. Hubei, the province she is from, is known for a beautiful primeval forest. Jenna means white, or fair. She knows this and takes pride in it. Jenna loves to tell people she is a fair, beautiful forest. And she is. God help the person who suggests otherwise.