In August 2007 Gene Mason and his wife brought 18-month-old Eden Hope home from Wuhan, China, to Birmingham, Ala. They adopted through Lifeline Children’s Services in Birmingham and the entire process took 22 months. Gene is 37 years old and works as a communications minister at The Church at Brook Hills and also runs Communicorps, a web site sharing communication tips and ideas for ministries and organizations (so, yes, another Church Marketing Sucks connection).
1. What motivated you to adopt?
We actually chose to adopt before we “officially tried” to have children. Our desire as a couple and as a family is to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), and for our family to be a picture of Christ to the world. Adoption is a wonderful picture of Christ, in that he has adopted us into his family–Hebrews says that we are no longer called slaves, but sons of God. So our adoption decision was first and foremost to glorify Christ.
Secondly, our travels internationally have given us a burden for the needs of the world. There are more than 20 million orphan children worldwide who have no mom or dad–orphans in the strictest sense of the word, and more than 200 million who live in poverty. Christ has commanded us to care for them. So to be able to start a family and have the blessing of children while at the same time submitting to Christ’s command and his heart for the world to us was a no-brainer.
2. Why did you choose to adopt from China?
Though the process is a little bit longer in China than some other countries, it is straightforward. Once paperwork is approved, your total time in-country is about 8 days (we spent a few extra days sightseeing). Adoptions are handled through a government agency and they are meticulous about it–it’s all aboveboard and regulated. Some other options we had would have us in-country up to 6 weeks, or paying huge legal fees in-country. We believed that on the first go-around internationally it would be best for us to work with a country that allowed us to focus on the needs of the child versus the complexity of the adoption process. Also, financially the travel portion of international adoption can be up to half of the total cost, so limiting time abroad keeps the overall cost down.
I had never heard of Wuhan before we “matched” with our child in December 2006. Turns out its the fourth largest city in China with a population of about 11 million. The orphanage that was caring for our daughter has a population of about 600 children–and there are more than 2 million orphan children in all of China. Compare that to about 125,000 here in the United States.
3. Since your daughter was a little older when you brought her home, what was the transition like? How did you deal with it? Any tips?
We read everything we could find on attachment disorder, which is the primary issue any adoptive parent is going to face. A child–even a baby–is going to experience an emotional detachment when they are taken from what they know is home and given to new parents. They do not know exactly what they are feeling at that age, so they can express it in a number of ways, from temper tantrums to grieving to even violent behavior. We learned in reading and consulting with behavioral experts that adopting an orphan child would be difficult, and that international adoption of this kind really takes extraordinary parenting. Prayer for our daughter’s heart, for her attachment and bonding and for her caregivers was a real priority for us throughout the experience, and even now that she is home.
Eden was in foster care for a portion of her time at the orphanage, and so she had a concept of who mommy was. Her transition was filled with grief–hour long spells of deep sobbing cries that were difficult to bear. Our training had prepared us not to “shhh” her or entice her to stop crying with a cookie or snack, but rather to let her grieve and be there to comfort her. It’s important to gain a firm understanding of what an adoptive child is going through emotionally so you will know how to see to those needs. You can easily meet their physical needs, but their behavioral and developmental needs will be more than you know–consult lots of experts.
I would tell any adoptive parent that the most difficult portion of the adoption is going to be the first six months after the child is home. They don’t know you or love you as mom and dad quite yet, so we must extend grace, loving even though they may not initially return our affection. Again here we see a picture of Christ, who loved us even before we loved Him.
Also, we adopted a special needs child. Eden was born with a cleft lip and palette. She was abandoned in a hospital corridor at a week old. We think her mom had trouble feeding her and might have left her for that reason. So we have two surgeries under our belt and several more ahead of us.
4. What was the trip to China like? What was it like meeting your daughter for the first time?
China was amazing. I think the most unexpected thing about international adoption is getting to really experience another culture and context in the midst of building a family. I’ve developed a great heart and burden for the people of China to know Christ as a result of my trip and pray for them regularly. China is a nation that is clashing with itself–you have these ultramodern, huge cities and the pace is much faster than here in the United States. But at the same time, you have people going to the bathroom in the streets and leaving unwanted babies in the train stations by the thousands. It’s a culture based on honor and shame and so much of what we know to be right and wrong simply doesn’t compute there. It has caused me to rethink how I interact with people based on preconceived notions we get here in the United States.
The first moment with Eden was surreal. We walked into a government building, up a flight of stairs, and into room and then they just handed her to us. We went from couple to toddler parents inside of 30 seconds. I kept waiting for someone to come and take her back–I was like, “You are seriously going to just hand us this child?” Then the realization that there was no instruction book either. Which wouldn’t have mattered anyway because it would have been in Chinese. All I can say is, get a good video camera, because the moment is something you want to remember for a lifetime. It was almost indescribable.
5. How have your family and friends reacted to the adoption?
Everyone has been tremendously supportive. Eden is a superstar in the family. When I look at her I really wonder how anyone could even consider abandoning a child. It makes more sense in the light of world poverty and social concerns, but it’s still difficult to swallow. Our prayer for Eden is that she might one day return to China as a Christ-follower, and that the way in which we care for her and raise her might give her, in part, a passion for the needs of the world.
6. How did you pay for the adoption? Any ideas or suggestions for how to tackle those giant bills?
Well, adoption is basically the cost of a nice minivan. The first thing I would recommend to anyone considering adoption is to really know your debt situation and get out of it as much as possible. We did not borrow money for the adoption, but instead saved and ate noodles for a year in order to be able to pay for the majority of the process in cash. It meant me driving an older car and not eating out very much and working extra side projects at night. My wife also pitched in with part-time work. Consider first what you can sacrifice to make the adoption happen–and I will tell you, when you travel internationally, you will find that our standard of living in the United States is way, way, way far and beyond anything you will see abroad. What appeared like a sacrifice to us before the adoption was nothing–and now we are prepared to dig even deeper to adopt again.
There are options like Steven Curtis Chapman’s organization, that matches funds for some adoption situations, and I know several families we traveled with raised money with everything from bake sales to office pools. Our church in the past has given grants to adoptive parents (though we did not ask for one). I would not recommend putting an adoption on a credit card or a home equity line. If you are serious about the process, get serious about your finances first. I have talked to families in the adoption process that are like, “We’re just going to trust God for the money.” And while I believe that God honors faith and obedience to his word, I also think it’s unwise to go into such an expensive process without a long, hard look at your checkbook and savings account.
7. And you’re planning to adopt again, right? Would you recommend adoption to others?
Yes, we are considering adopting from Africa or again from Asia. It will be at least a year before we start the process again–we need to build up our finances and begin some planning for Eden’s future needs first.
My prayer would be that everyone could experience the blessing of adoption that we have. However, I would not recommend that everyone adopt. It takes a tremendous commitment and patience with the process. That requires a stability in the marriage relationship that is rare in the United States today. Statistically we know that parents who adopt are seven times less likely to divorce. That’s not a result of adoption–it speaks to the caliber of parenting required to take on the task of adoption. It’s a sacrificial choice, and it’s not for the faint-hearted. You have to ask yourself, am I adopting because I want a family or because I am interested in the needs of the child? Those are two very different motivations and they will affect you, and more importantly your child, before, during and after the adoption.