' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Three adoption stories: Anna Mae He and the words 'adoptive parents'; Chinese adoption, adopting from foster care

Monday, November 20, 2017

Three adoption stories: Anna Mae He and the words 'adoptive parents'; Chinese adoption, adopting from foster care

After a week in which two unremarkable but normal adoption memes unhappily reverberated in my life there was a bright light of relief, and probably not in the way you, Dear Reader, expect. First the negatives.

Recently reader Jay Iyer sent me a link to stories about the Chinese girl, Anna Mae He, who was fought over by her parents--a grad student and his wife, both Chinese and in the country on a study visa--and two Americans who wanted to adopt her, Jerry and Louise Baker. With the "help" of Mid-South Christian Services Jack and Casey He thought they were placing their daughter temporarily with the Bakers. For the Hes, it was a time of personal turmoil and financial need, added to by Anna Mae's premature birth that left them with a  hospital bill of $12,000. A temporary placement with another family did not seem unusual to the Hes' culture.

The Bakers soon wanted to keep Anna Mae permanently; yet mother Casey never wanted to give up her daughter, no matter how desperate their straits, nor did she agree to. The relationship between the two families broke down early on, and the long and bitter legal battle which ensued is a case study in what can go wrong with unintended adoptions. The court fight went on for nine years. 

Memoir of Chinese adoptee
Anna Mae was an American kid by then, and the adjustment to a new life was difficult. Not only did she have "new" parents, a strange home and two unfamiliar siblings, the Hes immediately returned to their homeland. For the chaos of Anna's life, blame Mid-South Christian Services, the Bakers, and the U.S. court system that let such a case drag on so long.

Once in China, the Hes soon divorced. Anna's mother struggled to support her three children and herself; Anna floundered in school, largely due to not being fluent in Chinese. She never fully adjusted, and when it came time to go to high school, she wanted to return to the United States. Casey--like the mother in the Bible who speaks up to save her child's life--made the decision to call the Bakers and ask if Anna could come and live with them. They said yes, and she quietly returned four years ago. In May, Anna (as she prefers to be called) will graduate from high school with an International Baccalaureate degree. She is applying to colleges now.

When this case was litigating, I considered writing a book about it, and not only had lengthy phone calls with the Hes' lawyer, but collected a small file about it. I came across it the other day as I am still going through my papers since my move to a new house, and threw it out. I knew that Anna had returned to the U.S. and was living with the Bakers, and thought the story was something I was not going to visit again. Then Jay left the links on an earlier post (Social Q's). The on-air story and print version referred to the Bakers as Anna's "adoptive parents" and Casey He as Anna's "birth mother."

Well, that did it. The sloppy language referring to her "adoptive parents" would lead the casual reader to believe that everything regarding the adoption had been on the up and up, and that the bad "birth mother" had reneged on their agreement to allow an adoption. The story said that the adoption papers were not "air tight." I fired off an angry email to him, reminding him that the Bakers were never then and not now Anna's adoptive parents. Casey was Anna's mother, not merely her birth mother. Adoption papers not air-tight? They were as air-tight as a string bag.

The reporter obviously did a search on me, and his reply was that as someone who had written a book about adoption, I was more biased than him. I ignored the insult, and wrote back only referring--as I did the first time--to his inaccurate reference to the principals involved. He responded again defending his choice of words because all the earlier stories had referred to them that way. We exchanged a couple of emails, but the gist of his response was that I was biased, he didn't do anything wrong, and that he had received many many compliments on the story, and that mine had been the only negative one. End of story. I chalked it up to bias in the media titled to adopters.

Won the 2016 Pulitizer
Prize for fiction
Then Saturday's New York Times arrived with a paean to international adoption, specifically China. On the Op-Ed page, "Let’s Restart the Adoption Movement" bemoaned the decline in international adoptions and how wonderful it was to adopt a girl from China and how he felt it was right the instant the girl was put on his lap. He decried the reduction in intercountry adoption, made a passing reference to "worries about corruption and human trafficking" and restrictions in countries that had a lot of extra kids languishing in orphanages that could be adopted, if not for "political fringes in the United States" that had "vilified" adoption. I suppose he meant First Mother Forum among that fringe, along with first mother Mirah Riben's writing on Huff Po. Not only does the alt-right attack transracial adoption, he wrote "'some on the far left attack 'the propaganda put out by the mega-billion-dollar adoption industry that there are thousands of orphans ‘languishing’ in orphanages waiting to be rescued or saved.' *"

"Worries about corruption"? How about the government of say, Guatemala, owning up to the fact that within a ten-year-period, approximately half of the adoptions from that country were suspect of corruption--that is, kidnapping to get the kid, or even murder, falsified papers, et cetera. Others and I have written reams about this in the past. (If you are interested, use the search function in the upper left corner.)

The writer of the Op-Ed is Arthur C. Brooks, president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. The illustration on line shows a man and an infant  bathed in a stream of golden light emanating from the heavens above, while languishing children in play pens (waiting for Americans!) are in the dark-blue shadows of the background. My husband did not want to give me the front section of the paper that morning as he figured I'd spend part of the day writing about it. Well, here I am days later, but I left to others to take on Mr. Brooks' defense of intercounty adoption and his halo-like sanctification by the illustrator and thus, the New York Times. The comment section was closed after 237 comments; the one that got the most "recommend" hits was one urging to adopt from the U.S., whose daughter is now a sophomore at Columbia University. The one that galled me the most was one woman writing about her "right to choose" adoption.

The whole piece and a great many of the comments stank of white privilege. It reminded me of what I'd heard after a major New York publisher turned down hole in my heart when two young women at the publishing meeting said that despite the quality of the manuscript, I was too anti-adoption and First Mother Forum was "TOO STRIDENT." Ah, the curse of a woman is to be called "TOO STRIDENT." To paraphrase Rebecca West, people call me strident whenever I express an opinion that differentiates me from an doormat. 

But I digress. In the same day as the noxious Op-ED, the Business section had a a story about a thriving industry that had grown up in China--grooming single men how to snag a wife--since there were not enough women to go around. This is largely due to the now phased out one-child-only law there, and the preference for boys that led many couples to abort females--as well of course, to the wholesale exporting the girls who were born. "In 2016, there were about 33.6 million more men than women in China, according to the government," the story stated. Thus, getting a wife was no small matter. At this point, I was amused by the absurdity of modern life as illuminated by The New York Times. Satire doesn't get much better than this, except this wasn't satire; this was reality. If that amused me, the next story totally cheered me up. 

Sunday came with yet another adoption story in Times, this one in the Vows column of the Styles section: "They Both Adopted, and Added Another Parent Later."* This was about two single people who had both taken in children who needed parents. The bride, Candice Turner, had stepped up some years earlier and offered to help the sister of a friend who was an "overwhelmed birth mother" with a child who had cerebral palsy. “"I thought, ‘This kid needs a mom so I’m going to be his mother,’ ” Ms. Turner said. 'If his birth mother takes him back, that’s fine. I’ve just got to be all in.' In 2002, she adopted him." The boy is now 17. 

Okay, while more particulars are missing, this sounded like a good woman speaking. Now onto the husband, Brian Lee. In 1998, he and his first wife had taken  a "temporary emergency placement" foster child. When the couple divorced in 2001, the child stayed with Mr. Lee, who adopted her. She is now 14. Mr. Lee described his single-parent life as "solitary and hectic." Candice and Brian then went on to have three biological children. 

They live in an old house in White Plains, a New York City suburb, with their kids, other family members, children of friends who need a place to stay, a dog and a cat, also adopted from shelters. The point is, both Candice and Brian adopted children who needed homes and parents, something we urge at FMF. Okay, I said to myself, what's not to love about these two people? Their story made up for the others that I couldn't escape over the weekend.--lorraine
*Now on the Times website, the story is headlined ‘Two Weird Stories’ Meet on Match.com. The first head is a little hard to decipher on first reading.

The Times op-ed gleaned some pushback from thinking adoptive parents on Monday, Nov. 27 in the letters column.  One states:
"Adoption is a trauma. My 17-year-old daughter, born in the United States and adopted at birth, will tell you very clearly that adoption is a terrible thing. She is a happy, successful, well-adjusted kid who is also “killing it in her classes” (as Arthur C. Brooks says of his daughter) and making her mark as a dance student. She loves us and we are her parents — and she still thinks adoption is a terrible thing."
And we should not assume that the best thing that can happen to a child in Africa or Asia or Central America is that a white American family swoops in and takes him or her away.--JENNI LEVY, ALLENTOWN, PA. 

PS: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Think not only of who you are missing, but revel in the family and friends you do have. I never had a thanksgiving dinner with my daughter, but I do have one where we spent a long time on the phone over the course of the day. Avoid Thanksgiving dinner with people who will make you unhappy...and remember, it's only one day. Tony and I as usual will be with friends, not family. My granddaughter Britt will be with her step dad in Wisconsin. To our event in New York, I take the desserts: this year it's apple-cranberry crumb with ice cream and pumpkin flan with whipped cream. So many people do not eat the crust I work my weary hands over that I am forgoing it altogether!

on May 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen is simply superb. Written with an unflinching eye and great humor, it is a brilliant and 
chilling look into the hearts and minds of men and the cruelty we inflict upon each other. The first 50 or so pages are devoted 
to the introduction of the Captain; a mole in South Vietnam's special forces. He is also a bastard, and half-breed, with a 
Vietnamese mother he adores and a French father (who also happens to be a Roman Catholic priest) he despises. He is a 
microcosm of a homeland divided in half--with a dual nature and opposites that seem to only attract loathing or disdain. 
(PS: It's on LD's list.) 
Let’s Restart the Adoption Movement


  1. "The Good Adoption" brought tears. Most of us have this capacity somewhere in our souls which we can use to embrace others in need. They are my heroes and so are you.
    Enjoy your Thanksgiving.

  2. Lorraine communicated with me a bit about the content of this post. Regarding the author of the Anna Mae update, what irked me is his excuse for why he called the Bakers her "adoptive parents" - because everybody else did! It is shocking to me that a journalist would use language simply because it was in use historically - don't you want to be accurate?! At least I am glad that Anna Mae got to establish a loving bond with her mother (NOT "birth mother"), despite the travesty perpetrated by the Bakers and the US courts.

    The author also alluded to the fact that some pretty "disgusting" things had gone on in the Anna Mae case, which he could not discuss with Lorraine for reasons of confidentiality. I felt as if he was saying that to obliquely convey that the Bakers, somehow, were better people. First of all, the Tennessee Supreme Court opinion told me plenty that was disgusting about the BAKERS' behavior. Second, I know full well the Hes, especially Jack He, is not a saint. But you know what? The Hes are still Anna's parents! As long as they were capable of keeping her stable and safe, and clearly no court thought they were unfit parents, if this reporter was insinuating something "disgusting" about them, I don't care! Prejudice against anybody that even temporarily seeks assistance with raising their child, is what happened here.

    This reporter also spoke of how much Anna Mae loves the Bakers, and calls them "mom" and "dad." Of course Anna Mae has an attachment to the Bakers, what do you think? She lived with them for 9 years, and her mother permitted continued contact with them after they moved to China because she saw that Anna needed that. That doesn't make the Bakers appropriating her for 9 years the right thing to do.

    Regarding the New York Times article, it was very imbalanced and glib. "Lets Restart the Adoption Movement," the title said it all! The content was not a balanced assessment of why it is a good idea to galvanize people to adopt (being that this was the author's ultimate message). Only positives were mentioned, the negatives completely glossed over - shockingly poorly analyzed for a New York Times article!! The thing that were most disgusting to me were (1) him actually being proud of the conversation that he had with his wife about doing something "charitable" and his wife saying "Hey! Let's adopt a girl from China!" Not quite those words, but something like that. If I were their adopted daughter, I wouldn't feel so great reading about me being a charity case. The other disturbing thing was: (2) the huge number of self-righteous comments by adoptive parents - including things like, "don't worry that your international adoptee is going to wonder about his or her roots, my Korean daughter is at Columbia University and she doesn't give a hoot about where she came from!" Yay, so let's restart the adoption movement.

    Regarding "The Good Adoption," there are children who need homes, no doubt. My adopted son, Lenny, needs one. Still, in my experience, it is not ideal - second-best, I guess. Two years ago, Lenny (who has been highly emotionally aware and empathetic from a very young age) told me it is not fair that he never got a choice about what family he would choose to be a part of. He was 7 years old. It is not fair, indeed, is all I can say. So when I hear of parents who could have raised their children, with the right support, yet were pressured (and continue to be pressured) by social mores, it makes me extremely sad.

    Here is a link to my favorite story about a "good adoption." I know a bit more background to this story - there is no way this child could have been kept with her biological family. She absolutely got the right mom - but still. We all need to remember that adoption is ALWAYS "second best":


  3. P.S. I forgot to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! Lorraine, your "no-crust" pies sound amazing. I am busy prepping the meal for my "adopted" family, my husband's Caucasian American family, and I can honestly tell you it is an act of selfless giving - as a Southeast Asian Indian, there is nothing I can relate to about this meal :)

  4. I wanted to add a "historical" comment. My great-grandma was still alive when I was born and I had a relationship with her, so I learned some things about life in the 19th century.. Child labor was common then, at least in the "less wealthy classes." My grandma used to read a children's book to me about a little 9 year old girl, who became orphaned.
    The little girl found work as a children's maid with a wealthy family, and that was how she lived, and saved herself from starvation. The book was published about 1880, in the US. My greatgrandma, born in 1864, verified that this full-time child labor was common.

    I still have the book...along with several others of the same type that my family gave me.

    1. Yes, Kitta, from what I've heard it was common well into the 20th century to take in orphan children as unpaid servants. Here's part of a poem from 1900 by James Whitcomb Riley:

      "Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
      An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
      An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
      An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep."

      And, of course, the children on orphans trains were "adopted" to work in the homes or fields. I think this practice still occurs today in some countries. Poor families place their children with wealthier families to work. And more tragically, some children are adopted as sex slaves. That has happened in the US as well.

  5. [With the "help" of Mid-South Christian Services Jack and Casey He thought they were placing their daughter temporarily with the Bakers.]

    I remember this case! Wasn't Anna (Mae He) sent back to China and to a Chinese-immersion boarding school in the hopes it would help her pick up the language faster and retain it?

    Also, how does parents who speak English conversationally well enough to immigrate, not understand the papers are meant for transferring rights? It was never explicitly made clear that her Chinese parents could not passably get by using English and they lived in the U.S. for a number of years.

    Wasn't her Chinese father allegedly on bail from being in prison and that's why they immigrated in the first place?


  6. Regarding the Hes and their situation in the US: as I understood it when I first read about it, they were here on a student visa and it didn't sound like they were planning to stay. And, it didn't sound like they were "immigrants." They ran into financial trouble and supposedly, a Christian group, which they knew offered help.
    This should NOT have resulted in adoption...but we all know how that can end up....



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