ADOPTING A BABY IN CHINA
June 28, 2001 11:00 pm
Michael Birks holds baby Stephanie outside orphanage playground in China. ().
Michael Birks holds baby Stephanie outside orphanage playground in China. ().

Michael and Nancy Birks traveled thousands of miles and a world away from their Brookings home to meet their daughter for the first time.

Stephanie Birks was already 11 months old when her parents met her in her Lushan, China, home but the process of adopting her began before she was even born.

In 1996, the Birks were teaching English in Korea and a USO tour took them to China. Three years later, Michael, a pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, and Nancy, a medical transcriptionist, decided to adopt a child from that country.

We just decided that this was the way we wanted to start our family, Nancy said.

The need is pretty great, Michael added.

They decided to go through Holt International Children's Services, an adoption agency based in Eugene. The agency has been in business since the 1950s, Nancy said.

The adoption process was not an easy one.

Its not for the light of heart, Nancy said.

The Birks filled out several pieces of paperwork including criminal background checks, INS papers and financial paperwork to prove they could support a child. They were also fingerprinted.

They waited nearly two years before they were able to adopt their daughter. They sent their adoption application to the agency July 17, 1999, and picked up their daughter in China March 27, 2001.

The paperwork is not only tedious, it is costly.

Its pretty expensive. All the fees add to the cost, Nancy said. Adoption agencies charge fees to get the forms.

There is also a cost to authenticate the forms before they can be sent in.

Part of the fees to Holt help to staff and sponsor orphanages, and provide food to help families and children, Nancy said.

After completing the mountains of paperwork and sending the forms in, the Birks were left to wait for a call from the agency. That call finally came Jan. 19, 2001. But the waiting wasnt over.

The Birks next step was to receive an invitation from the Chinese government to come into the country. They received that invitation and began planning to meet their daughter.

The couple did not select their daughter. It is up to China to choose a child for prospective parents. Parents can request certain things on the forms they send in, but it is ultimately up to the country to choose.

The Birks knew that they were getting a girl and had some idea of what she looked like from two photos that had been sent to them. They received a photo of her at 3 months old and another when she was 8 months old.

Their daughter was abandoned at the hospital the day after her birth. A foster mother had been caring for her.

She had a lot of love and care, Nancy said.

The Birks traveled to Hong Kong and then to mainland China in March and were met by a guide provided by Holt.

The guide knew what agencies and offices to go to and what steps to take, Michael said.

There are a ton of kids that need homes, but the process is arduous, Michael said.

Despite the difficulties in the process, the Birks were not the only American couple to go through it. They met nine other American couples in China who were also adopting children. Some of the couples were getting their second child, Nancy said.

While they were in China, the Birks visited an orphanage where 500 children were staying. Orphanage officials told them there is a stigma to being an orphan in China. It is hard for orphans in China to find jobs or spouses. A lot of the staff in orphanages were orphans themselves, Nancy said.

The foster homes and orphanages often do not have heat, so the children are dressed in layers of clothing to keep them warm, she said.

Stephanies foster mother traveled three-and-a-half hours to meet the Birks and give them their daughter. Stephanie was dressed in layers of clothing, Nancy said.

In America, it is common for infants to wear diapers. It is not common in China. The babies are often dressed in pants with splits in them and carried around by people who learn the childs cycles of bathroom use, Nancy said.

The Birks left China in late March and flew to the San Francisco area where Stephanie was introduced to her paternal grandmother. Then, they returned to Brookings.

Stephanie has adapted well to America, but sleeping is still something of a problem for both Stephanie and her parents, Nancy said. When she does sleep, Stephanie is in a crib that was built by Michael.

Although they now have custody of their daughter, the adoption process is not yet complete for the Birks. They have to meet with a social worker in Medford twice before they can complete the process. They met with her twice before getting their daughter as well.

Because the process of foreign adoption is difficult, the Birks encourage people who are thinking about it to find a reputable agency.

You have to remember that youre going into a foreign land with different customs, so having a reputable agency that knows what its doing makes the stay more pleasurable, Michael said.

Despite the tedious process, the Birks seem happy to have their daughter with them.

She is well worth the wait, Nancy said.