I'm not special in any way, but I am not like you. Why, how? Because I live in China, am a Brit, living in China and my newest daughter is from around these parts. We adopted her four months ago. Her name is Little.
Little joins us as the newest member of our Travelling Mulberries, a rabble that has grown as we have travelled the world. There's me, a perennially unambitious and maudlin dad, and my wife, the polar opposite, who, for the very first time in her life, is beginning to doubt her superhero powers, a direct result of our Adoption in China. Then there's Big, our eldest daughter: smart, imaginative and wonderfully versed in both English and Chinese. She was born here, in China, the Middle Kingdom we have called home for the past five years. Finally, there is Little, a firework from Shanxi Province we have known for just over four months. She is 21 months old.
Little may be new to us, but the idea of her is older than our other daughter. My wife has always wanted to adopt, a product, I think, of the leaving of her father when she was very small. We spoke about it once, as she and I were then wont to do, drinking wine in a Jacuzzi on a terrace in the desert. Agreed upon then, it was inevitable that it would happen; it was just a matter of when. That's just how we roll: decisions get made, however laconically, but once made, they stick. It's how we decided to get married too.
The adoption process itself is long and arduous, and it must be adhered to precisely at all times. That means bureaucratic hoops and jumping through them, many hoops and near constant jumping. It took us just over a natural gestation to navigate the maze.
The things we had to prove. The things we had to learn.
Before we were even allowed to enter the system, we had to prove that we had only two heads between us. That means medicals and financials to prove that we are solvent and healthy enough to care for a child. That proven, we endured the horror and fear of the Home Study next and, after surviving that, there was this.
There is a database somewhere, some sad and miserable database full of hope, the lists all the babies and children that have been abandoned in China. Divided up by province and the child's age and gender, and then sub-divided as to their individual needs. Non-Chinese adoption for children without special needs has a long wait time currently - longer than most people are prepared to wait. That's fine, that makes sense, that means that more Chinese families can be encouraged to adopt the Chinese children that need them. But that also means that, along with proving that we had only two heads, we had to think long and hard about what special needs we could cope with; means too that we had tick things off a list - a long and miserable list - that we deemed ourselves able to deal with. Missing or extra digit, sure why not? HIV, foetal alcohol syndrome or drug addiction, I'm sorry, but no.
The List was just horrible. Firstly it was the sense that we were making decisions about a child's life based on our understanding of how it would affect our lives. It felt selfish, really selfish and really cruel. But you learn to look at things differently. On one hand it is selfish, but on the other, if our circumstances - two working parents with a child already - could not provide the home that a child needed, what really were we doing that was so good? Sure, we might be able to fix the physical, but if we're not there to provide anything else, how were we improving a child's life?
All of this came before we even met her, before we had even seen a picture or knew the name she knew herself by. It has been a lot to take on board, a lot to try and understand and make sense of. Sometimes I feel that I am no longer here, that I have been surpassed or replaced by all that has happened around me, that I have been lost in the maelstrom, cast overboard in stormy seas.
That's why I am writing here, to try and make sense of it all. To tell my story as I live it.
What I've written before, you can find here: http://tinyurl.com/kg8snym
And much older stuff, here:http://www.ofjournalism.webs.com/