5/24/10 (New York, N.Y.) — I recently had the opportunity to speak to someone whose book I truly admire. Jeff Gammage is author of China Ghosts: My Daughter’s Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood, a book that became Amazon’s best-selling book on adoption.
Although there are lots of very good memoirs on adoption, this one is unique, not only in that it’s told from a father’s point of view, but in that it captures the complex emotions involved in a protracted, difficult adoption process, the arduous overseas experience, and coming to terms with becoming a father.
Gammage, a staff reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, doesn’t shy away from truthful revelations or painful realizations, like his anger at the Chinese government for instituting the One Child policy that has resulted in so many baby girls being abandoned.
“I wanted to leave my daughters as complete a record of their journey as possible,” he explains. “I believe I told the story as honestly as I could.”
Like all adoptive families, Gammage and his wife Christine, who adopted two girls from China, suffered setbacks, long waits (as much as 14 months to adopt their first daughter) and general confusion while in process abroad.
“Although we were comfortable foreign travelers, it’s a very different experience becoming a parent for the first time in a foreign country, where you are isolated, and don’t speak the language,” he notes.
Their first daughter Jin Yu, who was adopted in 2002, was quiet child, but as a two-year-old who’d been living in an orphanage since she was a newborn, she had already bonded with her caretakers and understood some Xiang (Hunanese). She also had some (minor) medical issues.
Two years later, Gammage, his wife and Jin Yu returned to China to adopt their second daughter, Zhao Gu. Although they worked with the same adoption agency, Great Wall of China, the experiences were vastly different.
“Our second daughter came from Gansu Province, a very remote area near the Gobi desert. Although we were far more isolated here, we had an easier time in every other way because was Zhao Gu was only 11 months old when we adopted her,” he said.
Parts of Zhao Gu’s story were told in The New York Times “Relative Choices” series, where Gammage wrote about the unusual experience of going back to China and having lunch with the man who found his daughter abandoned near a hospital.
“Anyone can be found. I know this as a reporter. You have to be patient and persevere, but you can find them,” he notes.
In this case, the name of the man who discovered Zhao Gu was noted in his daughter’s paperwork. Gammage, determined to glean something about the mystery surrounding his daughter’s beginnings, pursued this man from thousands of miles away.
Recently the entire family went back to China on something of a heritage trip, so the girls could see the towns they came from and experience the culture of their birth country.
“We wanted to do this when they were old enough to understand, but also young enough that they wouldn’t be suffering from any adolescent angst about abandonment issues,” Gammage explained. “We wanted their experience in China to be fun.”
It was on this trip that Gammage and family met the man who found Zhao Gu. Through a translator he relayed what he remembered about the day he found her six years before. Zhao Gu may have been too young to fully appreciate the moment, but Gammage hopes she will later.
And besides, she certainly “loved that a fuss was made over her.”
Today, Gammage’s girls are connected to the Chinese-American community through a Chinese culture class and Kung Fu lessons that they take in Philadelphia’s Chinatown.
“It was very important for us to give the girls role models, women of Chinese descent who were strong, independent and powerful,” he notes.
Gammage is not indifferent to the complex ethical issues involved in international adoption, how misfortune on one side results in good fortune on another.
In fact, in his book he addresses the issue directly.
“As parents, we do the very best we can to confront and address the ethical issues,” he says. “Ultimately, we are like any parents, just doing the very best we can.”
Andrea Poe is at work on a book, “The Red Thread: Born of My Heart,” a collection of stories told by families united through adoption. In addition to being a mom, Andrea is a freelance journalist and owns a public relations/media consulting firm called Media Branding International. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook, or contact her at email@example.com
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