Adopting a child from a not-so-poor country

Sanne van Oosten

Last weekend we came across a mind blowing family story that has kept us thinking ever since. We are now in Taiwan came in contact with a family who really wanted to take us out to dinner. This dinner was entertaining and pleasant, but at the end of the evening we were somewhat disgusted about their adoption story. We don’t know what to think about this, so we are wondering, what do you think?

The sole reason they wanted to take us out to dinner was because we are Dutch and their biological son lives in the Netherlands. Their son was born about 13 years ago. He was born prematurely and right after his birth it became clear that he would have some kind of lifelong handicap because of the complications at his birth. The parents were scared that they could not afford to take care of their child properly and decided to put him up for adoption. A Dutch family adopted him and he has lived there since.

It turned out that the handicap was not as serious as they initially thought. He spent most of his elementary school education in specialized education, but it now attending the highest level of high school in regular education. Even though his motor skills are not completely normal, he can walk talk and do anything he likes just like any other child.

Two years ago, there was contact for the first time between the adoption parents in the Netherlands and the biological parents in Taiwan. We don’t know the exact details about who initiated the contact, but the adoption parents took the whole family to meet the biological parents in Taiwan. The Taiwanese parents showed us all the pictures and this looked like a very happy reunification. They adorned their biological child with gifts and meals and we saw pictures of tears flowing with the goodbyes. It was very moving to see.

The biological parents in Taiwan are now raising two children. One who was born before the child they put up for adoption and one who was born after. Right after they put their child up for adoption they conceived another child who is now only a bit younger than their biological son in the Netherlands. When we heard that they had another child right after putting their other child up for adoption we were shocked. If they were really so poor that they couldn’t raise their prematurely born child, why did they go ahead and conceive another child very soon after? It isn’t like contraception is hard to come by in Taiwan, especially when the person buying it is married.

The biological parents were extremely kind to us. Even though we both didn’t speak the same language, they invited us to a very nice dinner at a typically Taiwanese restaurant and they invited us to their home after. They didn’t only show us the pictures of their reunification in Taiwan, but they had also recently visited the Netherlands themselves and showed us all the pictures from that trip. When we visited their house it struck us that they weren’t all that poor. They had a nice house with enough rooms for their two children, a separate computer room and a nice living room with two huge widescreen tv’s. They definitely weren’t in dire financial straights. Why did they put their child up for adoption?

We asked the only person in the group who spoke English and they said that it was because they were afraid that they wouldn’t be able to afford it. But we couldn’t help but wonder if there was something else going on. Was it because they didn’t want a handicapped child? Why did they have another child right after giving him up for adoption? We know that losing face is a big issue in many Asian countries like Taiwan, did that have anything to do with it? And why did they meet their biological child twice now? Is it because they found out that he wasn’t as handicapped as they were afraid he would be? Is it because he turned out to be a really great child?

When we were visiting the home in Taiwan they asked us if we wanted to have a skype conversation with their biological child in the Netherlands. We thought this was kind of strange, as we hadn’t ever met the child before and our only connection was both being Dutch, but they really wanted it so we did. We had a nice talk with him. He seemed like a very happy child who was enjoying life. He enthusiastically told us about their reunification and subsequent visit in the Netherlands.

We carefully asked him what he thought of having contact with the parents that “gave him away”. He said he was enthusiastic about it from the start. He didn’t feel any grudge and was simply very curious about where he came from. He said it was so great to finally know who he looks like. And it could not be denied, he and his two biological brothers almost look like triplets born a few years apart. And together they show features of both their mother and their father.

We also talked about the differences between Taiwan and the Netherlands. He kept on emphasizing how poor Taiwan was. They don’t even have dishwashers! he said. We wanted to tell him about how Taiwan isn’t poor at all and also wasn’t poor in the nineties when he was born, but we swallowed our words. We also wanted to tell him that they didn’t not have a dishwasher because they couldn’t afford it, but because it isn’t common to have a dishwasher in Asia, but again, we swallowed our words. It might be better for him to think he comes from a poor country.

We couldn’t help but think about the irony of the situation. During the biggest European economic crisis since 80 years we were sitting there talking about the alleged relative poverty in Taiwan. We also started thinking about how the biggest problem in Europe is now high government expenditure and debts, whereas these aren’t problems that face Taiwan to the same extent. Still, he had been raised in a country that spent as much as they could on his care. We don’t know how much of his achievements are thanks to this care, but fact is that he is a well adjusted member of the Dutch society. We laughed about how Dutch he was. The way he spoke and the observations he made. Only a truly Dutch person could have done that and he was obviously truly Dutch.

We didn’t speak to the adoption parents, but from what we heard in the stories they sounded like amazing people. They told us about how he was being teased for looking different when he first started going to school and his mother set him down and gave him such a good talk that he never felt sad about it anymore. But most importantly of all, they choose to take care of a child that would not be easy to take care of. They choose for a child that would give them a lot of paper work, adjustments and worries. Even though he didn’t end up having many problems, they were completely prepared for a child with many problems, and they choose for it with all their heart. I don’t know many people who would do that and the world is a better place because they did.

Still, we couldn’t help but be mind boggled by the situation. Privately, we have been discussing the ethics of this situation a lot. Should children who don’t really come from either poor or dysfunctional families still be allowed to be put up for adoption? Should children from relatively affluent countries still be adopted by parents in the Netherlands? Is it right that the Netherlands is paying for the care unwanted children from abroad? We still don’t know how to answer these questions completely, but we do wonder about this a lot.

What we do know for sure is that the Dutch-sounding Taiwanese-looking child is having a good life in the Netherlands. He has parents who weren’t dismayed about him having physical restrictions and/or problems and who love him for who he is. He received specialized attention in elementary school and is now able to attend the highest level of high school, only open to the smartest of children. He seems to have a positive outlook on life and was emotionally open to meeting his biological parents. He also has two biological parents in Taiwan who are crazy about him and who jump at the opportunity to meet people from his country just to be more connected with their child. Not only that, he has two brothers and the three of them are all paying extra attention in their English classes to be able to communicate with each other. Maybe he would not have had such a life if he had grown up in a family that was scared to take the responsibility of raising him. This cross-cultural encounter left us with so many questions, but what we know for sure is that his life is a happy one.

One response to “Adopting a child from a not-so-poor country”

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