China welcomes American adoptive parents
October 30, 1997
Web posted at: 3:26 p.m. EST (2026 GMT)
From Correspondent Mary Ann McGann
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Robin Erichsen is 40 years old and single. When she wanted to adopt a baby in the United States, she was told it would take several years at best.
So she went to China last December with three couples who were also hoping to adopt.
"Four nannies walked in, holding four babies," she recalled, "and they just called out the babies' names and we were instant parents."
Erichsen became the instant mother of 7-month-old Andrea Mei.
"It was overwhelming. You're standing in a room, and they call out 'Tong Mei,' and I go up and receive this bundle," she said.
In the United States, prospective parents who are older and single often have trouble qualifying to adopt. In China, neither of those conditions are a deterrent. In fact, would-be parents must be at least 35 years old to adopt a healthy infant.
And there is no shortage of healthy baby girls, due to China's long-standing effort to limit each family to one child. Baby girls are often abandoned, as impoverished Chinese parents face cold, hard economic facts.
In China, even after they marry, men traditionally live with their parents and support them as they get old. For rural Chinese, the tradition is even more critical to survival, explained the China Institute's Nancy Jervis, because social services are scarce.
Ironically, adoption experts say, many Americans want girls instead of boys, believing girls stay closer to their families.
So Americans flock to China to adopt. In 1993, 330 adoptions took place. Four years later, nearly 3,600 Chinese babies, mostly girls, have gone home with American parents.
Patterson Sims and his wife, Katy Homans, adopted Lally from China's Hunan province when she was four months old. They were lucky to get her, because they had already adopted another Chinese girl, Mardet, in 1992. China frowns on granting each family more than one adoption.
Now six years old, Mardet was among hundreds of Chinese infants who were adopted by Americans and other non-Chinese after China opened up international adoptions in 1992.
"It was this extraordinary opportunity to have a child, and also a child who could be something magically different than would have been possible otherwise," Sims said.
China does have some restrictions on who can adopt. Those under 35 and over 45 must accept older children, or ones with special needs.
But for Americans eligible for an infant, the adoption process is quite easy and relatively quick. The infants are usually healthier, both emotionally and physically, because they have spent less time in an orphanage.
And their parents acknowledge that while the children have escaped poor living conditions, they say they feel they are the real winners in the adoptions.
"People always tell me how lucky (Andrea) is," Erichsen said. "But I think I'm the one that's benefiting from this."