GUEST BLOG POST: Carried in our Hearts by Jane Aronson (Book Excerpt)
Excerpted from CARRIED IN OUR HEARTS: The Gift of Adoption; Inspiring Stories of Families Created Across Continents by Dr. Jane Aronson with the permission of Tarcher/Penguin. Copyright Jane Aronson 2013.
I always wanted to adopt a child. When I was very young, I saw those Save the Children advertisements on TV and I felt badly for kids who were very poor. I asked my parents to adopt the kids on TV. At one point— I can’t remember the inspiration behind it— I asked them to adopt a Native American child, and they patiently explained that these children could not be adopted out of their tribe. That was a disappointing moment for me, but more about that later.
In 1975, I saw a church announcement on an Upper East Side bulletin board advertising an adoption meeting. I was the youngest person at the meeting and the only one not married. The church auditorium was filled with married couples who appeared to be mainly in their thirties and forties. The social workers running the event were probably my age, twenty- four. It was an informational meeting about adopting orphans from Vietnam. The American government was going to provide transportation for Vietnamese infants and toddlers who were being adopted by American citizens. I filled out an application and then we were given an opportunity to meet with a social worker that evening. They broke us up into groups and I was told after they reviewed my application that I was not eligible to adopt because I was single and too young.
That was called the “baby airlift” in April 1975. While I missed out on this opportunity, I put the flyer in a folder and continued to get mail from local adoption agencies in New York City throughout the years. I remember throwing the fi le, which had become filled with brochures about adoption from Vietnam, Colombia, and Paraguay, away years later. I was sad to give up my dream, but by then I was teaching and thinking about medical school and I told myself that there was no time for me to be a parent.
Fast-forward to me as a pediatrician specializing in adoption medicine in the 1990s. Off I went for a month’s trip to China, with my then partner in life. I was the doctor on the trip for eight families who were adopting from China. It was a very cold and challenging trip, but at the same time it was a close-up look at the process of international adoption, and I was eager to learn so that I could be more helpful to my families. We traveled to Beijing and Guangzhou, and I took care of eight children who were adopted by eight American families. At one point there was a dramatic moment for one family that turned into a dramatic moment for me as well.
A baby scheduled to be adopted by one of my families was most likely blind. The adoptive mother suspected it the moment she first held the child in her arms and she and her husband called myself and the Chinese facilitator to their motel room to discuss the situation. According to adoption procedure, when a child was thought to be sick, the child had to be evaluated and assessed by a Chinese doctor. So we marched the baby to a children’s hospital, where a vision test was performed and the child’s blindness was confirmed. With sadness, the family decided against adopting the child. They were fortunate in that the Chinese authorities agreed to place the blind child back in the orphanage and to provide the family with a new child. This was a nerve- racking moment because the papers had already been signed and the photos of the first baby were already on the visa, but the children looked enough alike, especially in their hair style, and nothing much had to be changed. The pain, suffering, and guilt the family felt were monumental, as you might imagine. The rest of the group was not informed, so that they could process on their own without judgment.
My partner and I had to keep the blind baby in our room for a day and a night to manage the transition of the arrival of the new baby. There we were in a tiny motel room without heat and lights within a small, crowded, and polluted city in China, feeding and playing with a baby. It was a dream come true for me. My partner loved babies, but she was not interested in adopting; she had two grown children and was happy with our life alone.
I fell in love with this baby and still remember her sucking sounds as she eagerly devoured her warm formula thickened with oatmeal and topped off with a teaspoon of sugar— the same recipe I had instructed so many families to use to add much- needed extra calories to their children’s diet and to help their babies sleep. I cried when I gave her back to the facilitator the next morning and spent many years grieving and pining for her. Fortunately, she was adopted by another family from the United States months later. The parents who had decided not to adopt her felt very grateful for their circumstances but also sad; it was one of those bittersweet moments in adoption. Their daughter graduated college recently. It is hard to believe this adoption occurred so long ago. I finally came to terms with my decision to adopt and be a parent in 1999; I left an eighteen- year marriage to a woman and adopted a four- month- old infant boy from Vietnam as a single parent in August 2000. More on this wonderful period in my life later. Many of the parents you’ll hear from in the pages that follow had equally long roads to travel following their decision to adopt. Yet the joy that greeted us all when we were finally able to hold our children in our arms is, in many ways, indescribable.
Dr. Jane Aronson is an accomplished pediatrician specializing in adoption medicine. She has held prestigious positions at Cornell, Columbia Mt. Sinai and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In 1997, her dedication to adoption medicine led her to create Worldwide Orphans Foundation, which has developed successful programs in Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Haiti, Serbia and Vietnam, all aimed at transforming the lives of orphans in their home communities. A blogger for the Huffington Post and CNN.com, Dr. Aronson has been profiled in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Redbook, and Glamour and is a Glamour Woman of the Year. She has been featured on the CBS Evening News, CNN and the NBC Nightly News. She lives with her family – including adopted sons Ben and Des — in Maplewood, New Jersey