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.
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.
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, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, writes 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. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.
Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute.