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One Child Nation: Movie Review by a Mom of Daughters from China

My friend B. Gabeler, who, like thousands of other American parents, adopted her now teenage daughters from China in the early-2000s, attended a special screening of the documentary One Child Nation this week. Not yet released, the film is already quite controversial in some adoptive parent forums, and B. was eager to be among the first to see and review it.

A proponent of truth and openness in parenting, here is B.’s review of the film and her thoughts about the contention and anxiety swirling among adoptive parents in anticipation of the film’s premier.

One Child Nation, rated R and with a running time of 90 minutes, opens in select theaters August 23.

B. Gabeler: The quote by Jody Landers — A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me — should be echoing even louder this month among my fellow families with daughters adopted from China. 

All our joy over the years has been at the sacrifice of the women of China who lost their daughters to the One Child Policy. We knew this even as we filled out the paperwork, decorated nurseries, joined online forums, and waited to travel to bring “our child” home.

But now we can see the other side of our stories.

The Myth of the Unwanted Orphan

Nanfu Wang’s One Child Nation: the Truth Beyond the Propaganda has elegantly yet tragically put that harsh reality on a big screen. She explores the truth behind her own family’s personal tragedies, the pervasive propaganda and “good for the country” mindset that led local villagers to implement the national policy, including forced abortions and sterilizations of their neighbors.

One Child Nation explores how the policy led to the increased development of international adoption. And let’s face it. Adoption can be ugly. Truth in adoption is like layers of an onion — there is always another layer beneath. Wang peels back the myth of the “unwanted orphan,” showing how children were forcibly removed from their grieving families. Grief and regret are abundant in this film, as grief and loss are present for nearly all who are impacted by adoption.

Press material courtesy One Child Nation.

Heroes or Villains?

Brian and Lan Stuy, researchers from Utah and parents featured in the film, have been the much-needed source of truth for China adoptive parents for years. They show how falsified finding ads/documents, population control officials, trafficking of infants, and institutionalized corruption ultimately lead to thousands of adoptions. They also prompt an interesting question:

Are the baby traffickers heroes or villains?

Tens of thousands of babies were adopted from China by American families in the mid-2000s. As this film is being released, those same girls are now teens coming to terms with their identity as Asian American women. Part of that identity is dealing with the political and social realities that led to their adoption. One Child Nation uniquely provides that historical background.

If We Can’t Deal in Truth, What Does That Say about Us?

It is our role as parents to have open conversations about the events in China that led to our daughters’ adoptions. We need to recognize the difference between what we might have been told and the harsh reality, as Wang and the Stuys have skillfully illustrated. Yet as online forums fill with previews of One Child Nation, many adoptive parents are preemptively declaring “my child doesn’t need to see this” -– still clinging to the old myths. If we deny the reality of how and why they were adopted into our homes, what does that say about us?

Openness in International Adoptions

When we know better we do better.

— Maya Angelou

In today’s connected world, we can no longer protect our daughters from their life story (we could debate if we ever should have tried). We must be present to support them if and when they seek their own individual truth.  This film, and all it reveals, is not going away; we must sit with our near-adult daughters and watch One Child Nation together, not leave them to uncover it as part of a high school writing assignment or watching alone late at night via Amazon streaming.

Our teen daughters have the right to own their own truth, their own story, and to have control over the next steps in their lives. They have lost enough already. They deserve parents who are strong enough to be open-minded to new truths and willing to be there with love, honesty, and unconditional support. 

Ready for the Reckoning?

The next chapter is yet to be written. We should fully expect a contingent of the 130,000 adoptees whose lives were radically altered by China’s One Child Policy to come together and demand answers from both their adoptive and biological families. From agencies, nonprofits, officials, and China itself. There is a reckoning coming, and I for one will be there supporting and cheering our daughters on.

This post was reviewed and approved by my daughter (the one who opted in to the review of it).

~~ B. Gabeler

Along These Lines

Lori Holden's book cover

Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute.

6 thoughts on “One Child Nation: Movie Review by a Mom of Daughters from China”

  1. Wow – my nieces are a product of this policy and international adoption. I just sent this post to my sister to see if she’s going to see the movie. At some point, I will ask my nieces if they are interested in pursuing knowledge of their birth families and support them however they need.

    1. We have 2 sons and a daughter. They have medical needs and so, in one way, that was the primary reason for abandonment. Our 1st son was placed at the orphanage guard shack with his birthday pinned to him; he was obviously loved and wanted. Our 2nd son wonders why his China parents didn’t do this for him. So many questions and we search for answers. Our daughter spent 27 months in the same foster home with another foster child and a bio daughter…we and our agency didn’t know about the foster child or we could have kept them together. Communism is always about the collective vs the individual….first lesson to learn.

    2. Please don’t ask your nieces if they are interested in pursuing knowledge about their birth families without talking to their parents first. It is not your place. You don’t know the daily and and outs of their emotional needs. Please trust your sister to know what is best for her children, including when to ask her own children about pursuing bio parents. I guarantee that the parents are thinking about it. There are many layers to adoption, so many layers of emotional development that people outside the immediate family do not know about. Your statement that you will ask your nieces if they want to pursue their bio parents is selfish and shows an incredible lack of respect for your sister, her choice to adopt and her parenting skills. You can however ask your sister if there is any way you can support her and her children when they feel the time is right to start pursuing that information.

      1. Wow I would say the opposite. Like they own the truth or own the child? I think its awesome that this lady is feeling so passionate about being sure her adopted neices feel like it’s OK to pursue their actual families and still be loved by the family that adopted them. Maybe she feels she can’t trust her sister to do the right thing otherwise she might not have said it.

  2. I would be very interested in seeing this. A woman I worked with adopted a little girl from China, just before they tightened up their rules and restricted single parents from adopting. That little girl would be about 13 now. I often wonder how they are doing.

    I’ve also heard stories about twins who were split up by the system and yet somehow found each other. The adoptive parents were never told their child had a sibling, let alone a twin.

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