By Marla Matzer Rose
For the Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Celebrating a baby’s first Christmas is an adventure for every parent. Not everyone, though, starts the journey halfway around the world.
On Saturday, on the Far North Side, a group of parents who did just that held a reunion. While the little girls they waited three years to adopt from China snacked and fidgeted, four families who spent two weeks together in Chinese hotels during the adoption process in June gathered at Mimi’s Cafe on Polaris Parkway. Like all proud parents, they compared notes, took pictures, and shared stories.
Some of their war stories were common to many new parents. “The lack of sleep was the hardest thing,” said Dix Firestone, wearily recounting the first weeks after bringing home his first and only child when he was in his late 40s.
Firestone, his wife, Mary Beth, and their daughter, Grace, drove up Saturday from Monroe, Ohio, in Greene County to meet up with three other families who are from Ohio or were in town for the weekend. Two families from the Cleveland area had to cancel because of the weather.
“I think this is it for us,” said Mary Beth Firestone with a laugh when asked whether they might adopt more children.
“People already ask us whether we’re the grandparents.”
But they realize there are qualities that make their families unique.
“Grace was already 2 when we adopted her. She was the oldest of the group,” Mrs. Firestone said. “The others were too young to realize what was happening, but she definitely knew she was leaving her Nana,” she added, referring to the foster mother whom Grace had known since birth. “She cried and cried. That was hard.”
Laura Chappell Miyazaki, who grew up in Worthington and now lives in Dallas, was in town visiting her parents for the holidays when she decided to organize the get-together. She said the fact that her husband, Andy, is a third-generation Japanese American might stem questions from strangers when they’re all out together with their daughter because “she looks like daddy,” Miyazaki said.
But when it’s just her and Jailyn, now 22 months, people often probe. “The first thing they’ll ask is, ‘Where’s she from?’ ” Miyazaki said. Like others, she corresponds through e-mail and Facebook, and she belongs to a local group for parents who adopted from China.
More than 55,000 children, overwhelmingly girls, have been adopted from China in the past 10 years, according to U.S. government data. China surpassed Russia in 1999 as the country from which Americans adopted the most children.
However, that number has dropped dramatically after peaking in 2005. Approximately 3,000 Chinese children were adopted by the United States in 2009, down from nearly 6,500 in 2006 and 7,903 in 2005.
The founder of the adoption agency attributed the decline to several factors, including the loosening of enforcement of China’s one-child rule and the tendency for people in increasingly prosperous countries to have fewer children.
“If a couple waited three years on the list this past year, they may have to wait four years now,” said Joshua Zhong who, with his wife, runs Chinese Children Adoption International, based in Denver. Zhong said his organization handles about 15 percent of all China-to-U.S. adoptions, making it the biggest agency in the United States to handle Chinese adoptions.
Zhong said that his agency has worked with families in every state, but that for some reason, “Ohio is definitely in the top five” in terms of numbers.
The long wait for the children came as a surprise to the families gathered Saturday, who initially expected to wait only about a year. The delay is causing some prospective parents to look elsewhere. Zhong said some people also are influenced by “some celebrities” who adopt from lesser-known countries in Africa and others in Asia.
Many choose to adopt overseas rather than in the United States because they fear potential problems with “open adoption” here. In some cases, birth parents have sued to reclaim children who had been adopted.
“We’re considering adopting from another country next,” said Toni St. John, who was in town from the Toledo suburb of Northwood, Ohio, with her husband, Paul, and 15-month-old daughter, Caroline. She said they considered adopting from South Korea before they had Caroline, but mostly boys were available — they preferred a girl — and the cost was high.
All the parents said they’ll help their daughters learn more about their birth country as they grow older, although they recall their own whirlwind tour of China last summer with mixed emotions.
“It was 98 degrees, and it’s not like you get to sight-see. The second day, you have a new baby,” said Mary Beth Firestone.
Her husband, Dix, recalled it being a stressful time, with multiple flights and hotel rooms.
Paul St. John didn’t care for the unfamiliar food.
Yesterday, though, the families’ biggest problem was a happy one: figuring out what to do with all the presents their relatives had showered on their new family member.
“I don’t know how I’m going to get all those presents in my suitcase to go home,” Miyazaki said.
“We’re just putting some of the presents away for now,” Mary Beth Firestone said. “She’ll get them for her third birthday.” ♦