SCMP Friday, February 9, 2001
About once a month, Donna Miodovski bundles up her twin toddler daughters and heads for a unique gathering. By the time the party is in full swing, six American mothers watch as 12 little Chinese-born girls create good-natured mayhem around them. The group calls itself the China Twins Club, and its members hope to welcome others.
Miodovski, 42, and her husband Mark, 40, are among the near-25,000 American families who, since 1985, have adopted children from China. But the Miodovskis belong to an even more niche category: they are among a tiny minority of American families to have adopted twins. Figures from the US-based Families With Children From China indicate that, out of the 10,000 children adopted from China since 1993, there have been fewer than 30 sets of twins.
Not surprisingly, the Miodovskis consider themselves doubly blessed - they are the parents of Anne-Marie Chun (meaning spring in Putonghua) and Allison Xia (summer) - Annie and Allie for short - who came to them as infants from an orphanage in Zhanjiang.
The Miodovskis say that adopting twins wasn't the original plan. They initially explored adopting a child domestically, but after a few weeks became disillusioned with a process that seemed cold and regimented.
"For example, we had to put together a notebook to give to the birth mother," says Mark, a concessions management executive at Los Angeles International Airport. "It was like a big Madison Avenue sales pitch." His wife, a clinical trials nurse before becoming a full-time mother, says they began worrying about when they would be selected to adopt, if ever. Also, in the US, adoption laws state that the birth mother has the right to change her mind within 90 days if she wants her child back, and the Miodovskis had seen that happen to too many women.
"After all the heartache of infertility, we didn't want to wait years and years to see what happens," Donna says.
The couple had friends who had adopted children from China, and the families appeared to be "so ecstatic". "We just knew that this is what we should do," her husband recalls.
Mark attended a meeting organised by Families With Children From China - and the couple were on their way: they registered with the Bal Jagat agency, a US-based organisation whose Hindu name means "children's world", in February 1998. Just under a year later, the couple had their twins.
And that, says Mark, came out of a request driven by simple practicality. "While it was a fast adoption, there was lots of paperwork involved - immigration, home studies, the State Department, tax, FBI clearance, a wealth of references. We realised we didn't want to go through this all over again, so we asked for twins." The couple was told that twins were extremely rare in China, so they set aside their request and knew they would be happy with what they got.
While adopting from China is a relatively straightforward procedure, Mark has a word of advice for those who are considering it: be patient.
"There is a lot of paperwork, and it gets sent back and needs to be redone," he explains. "It's a time-consuming process. You think it's never going to happen, and you're waiting and waiting, but then it all happens so quickly. And when it does, your whole world changes."
It is not a cheap process either, although the Miodovskis says it was slightly less expensive than a domestic adoption. All told, they paid around US$17,000 (HK$132,400), including US$3,000 to the orphanage in China.
On December 8, 1998, the couple got a call letting them know that twin girls - who had been abandoned on the steps of the orphanage as newborns - had been found for them. By the time the couple, together with 11 other sets of adoptive parents, travelled from the US to China on January 29, 1999, to pick up their children, Annie and Allie were eight months old.
"Our only expectation was that it would all be a blur," says Donna. "We knew that in a few minutes, we were going to be parents. It was mind-boggling. The fear of the unknown was about to be replaced by the fear of the known. I was numb. One minute we were childless, the next we are the parents of twins. We just went on auto-pilot."
To tell them apart, she put a dab of polish on the tiny fingernail of one of the girls. But before that, as she cradled Allie just after the infant was handed over to her, she whispered a promise to bring the girls back to visit the orphanage one day.
In the two years since then, one thing has become especially clear to the Miodovskis. Knowing that it is likely the girls will one day want to seek out their birth parents, and also aware that it may be next to impossible to ever find them, Annie and Allie will be one another's strength. "This way, they will always have each other," says their father.
They, like other families with adopted Chinese children in the US, can also take advantage of many the programmes and events available to them.
At the Miodovskis' comfortable home in Torrance, California, not far from Los Angeles airport, the scene is one you would find in many stable American households.
The girls are playing with one another, singing and skipping in their toy-filled living room, and are happily pointing to a home video playing, taken of the day they were handed over to their parents.
"My old life is over," says their mother. "I've waited a long time to be a mum and I'm really enjoying this. I see the value of being with them. I can't, in all good conscience, get them out of their house and schlep them to day-care. I'd rather be the one influencing them." Coincidentally, Donna is a twin, as is her mother. "It's a nice thing to keep in the family," she says.
And it's something that many prospective adoptive parents in the US are hoping for. "A lot of families here are waiting for twins," says an executive at a US government organisation involved in Sino-US adoptions. "They want more than one child, and would like to adopt two or three at the same time, but under the rules that isn't allowed. Usually, they have to care for one child for a few years before applying to adopt a second one," he says. When a pair of twins do finally come up for adoption, officials in China decide on the most suitable family. The executive says that twins are not given to single parents, instead allocated to couples that have been married for at least two years, are financially stable, and have the resources and home set-up to care for two infants. They are usually first-time parents.
"There really aren't any rules, and we have no figures to say how many twins there are. But we do our best," he says.
It will probably take a while for the China Twins Club to expand its membership base. Paula Woo, an American with a Chinese husband, is another mother of Chinese twins adopted from the mainland. They already have a son - who was 12 when they started the process (the Woos were exempted from the no-other-children condition underlying the adoption of twins, as their son was almost a teenager).
But in their case, adopting twins was the furthest thing from their minds. "We requested a toddler," Woo says. "But three weeks before we were supposed to travel to China, we got a call from our contact. He said 'this is very good news. Chinese people think twins are very lucky, and you are getting 18-month-old twin girls.'
"I was shocked to say the least. It had never even occurred to us. It was hard enough to get one child, but two?" Her husband, Leonard, had to put the procedural work into overdrive, getting an extra set of documents in place. "I still don't know how it happened, and I don't know that I'll ever know. I just think it was meant to be," she says.
That was three years ago. Her daughters, Kathryn Rose and Elizabeth Lee, will return to Maoming, southeast of Guangzhou, to the orphanage where they were initially raised, with their parents this year. "They were loved at the orphanage. The staff made such a special deal of them. When we got them, they were in great emotional shape, and since then, it's just been a joy."
Having another group of twins of the same ethnicity, says Woo, is an important for the girls' happiness. "I'm committed to making sure that we stay in touch with the Miodovskis and other families, so my daughters grow up with the sense that not only are they little Chinese girls from China, but they are twins and they have other friends that are just like them."
Families with Children from China: