China's one-child policy looks different through the eyes of an adoptive mom

Sep 8, 2015 at 3:51 p.m. ET
Image: Jill Robbins

I have two children adopted from China, two boys. If I had a dollar for every time someone made a thoughtless-yet-benign remark, well, I probably wouldn’t have enough to retire in style but I would probably drink better wine.

A common reaction to seeing me with my obviously-not-born-from-my-body Asian children is some form of how’d you get boys/oh, that one-child policy/I thought you could only adopt girls from China…etc.

I’m used to it.

My boys have special needs, which may not be obvious to someone who sees them at school or the grocery store. They were abandoned by birth mothers who couldn’t or wouldn’t keep them -- lots of holes in our family story.

There’s a stigma surrounding physical imperfection in Chinese and other Asian cultures. A child with missing fingers or prominent birth marks might be seen as unlucky or flawed. Since the Chinese government sets limits on how many children a family can have, the so-called runts or bad apples are often tossed aside so the family can try again. Yeah, I know that’s a hard way to phrase it, and yes, I am more sensitive when I talk to my kids about this, but that’s the reality of how most people’s China adoption stories begin.

More: Real life switched at birth story has Hollywood ending

The typical Western perspective on China’s one-child policy is that Chinese families want sons and that daughters are viewed as inferiors. There are horror stories about girls being smothered at birth and left on park benches and bus stations. Unwanted babies aren’t registered so the family tries again…maybe again and again. There are whispers about forced, late-term abortions…things that make us cringe and shake our heads, like I did before I went to China.

I’ve been all over China: big cities, small cities, towns where I’m certain I’ve been the only Westerner someone has seen. I have a hard time putting into words how different their culture and people are.

Yes, we’re all fundamentally human but their values and perspectives on family, communication and everything are different. You have to see it or study it extensively to understand it and even then, if it’s not your culture I don’t think you can completely understand it…but that’s just me.

More: 'My abortion made me the mom I am today' — three moms on a decision they don't regret

It’s pretty easy to sit on this side, to judge and criticize China’s family planning policy as Draconian or something that should change. Part of me thinks these rules are BS, but I don’t live in a polluted, grossly overpopulated country. Some might argue that the United States is exactly that but trust me…two weeks in China will quickly change your perspective.

I find younger generation Chinese more willing to discuss their feelings on family planning rules (hint, don’t call it one-child policy). There are exceptions and loopholes. Different rules apply to ethnic minorities, if your parents had siblings and your first child is a girl … I don’t claim to be an expert on the laws of a country I don’t live in. I can barely keep the rules straight over here. I’ve learned not to judge or point fingers about this.

More: Woman shares painful story about how she was manipulated by abortion doctors

So what do I think of China’s one-child policy? I think it’s their policy. There are consequences for breaking the rules, and by consequences I mean fines and lack of benefits for an “unregistered” child -- not the forced abortions Western media might sensationalize. Everyone has access to birth control. The rules are not a secret, and no, I won’t tell you I appreciate the one-child policy because it gave me my children. I don’t believe in all that “meant to be” hype.

The one-child laws were made by people in a country I don’t live in who face issues I don’t face. If I thought hard enough, I could find something to criticize about the laws of Canada or Iceland. I have enough on the plate in front of me to worry about that stuff…besides, what’s that saying about shoes I haven’t walked in? I try to remember that one every time my fingers starts feeling pointy.