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Was It Destiny That Matched Me with My Child?

Whether by chance or help from above, our coming together feels positively miraculous. By Bonnie Perkel

Recently, my six-year-old daughter snuggled up against me and returned to our ongoing discussion about how we became a family. I was hoping I’d answered all her questions clearly, when she suddenly implored, “Oh Mommy, let’s not talk about that terrible thing!”

I amazed that she could look upon one of my happiest memories as “that terrible thing.” Then she blurted out, “What if someone else got me? What if you weren’t my mom?”

Now I understood. Patiently, I told her how she is the only child for me and reiterated how we were meant to be together. Yet she had finally asked the question that’s always intrigued me—and other families formed by adoption.

I remember the concerns I had when I began the adoption process in 1995. I wondered how we would become joined in our journey as mother and child. Who would pair us together? Was a bureaucrat making this decision, or was some kind of divine intervention guiding our destinies? Or was it both?

I wondered how the destinies of birthparents are linked to those of us who wait for children, whether abroad or closer to home. Do our destinies determine that one family will carry these children into the world and another will raise them to adulthood? Is this coming together a totally random act?

Like many people waiting to be united with a child, I found myself writing a journal, for myself and the unknown child I was carrying—in what I called my “invisible pregnancy.”  Around the same time, an Internet discussion arose among some of us who were waiting or who had recently come home. We began to talk about destiny. Often when I logged on, I would read about the “red thread” that linked a parent to his child. Some people even began wearing red strings as a way to assert their belief in being fated to meet their child.

It was a concept I also came across in other sources. Ed Young’s beautifully illustrated book, The Red Thread, tells the story of a man and woman destined to meet and marry.

Although hardship and lost opportunities keep them apart, nothing can break the red thread that eventually brings them together. Today there is a magazine of the same name, written for and by adoptive parents of Chinese children. In its pages, the red thread is defined as an “ancient Chinese belief that all Chinese people are connected by a red thread that may tangle but will never break.”

Jeff McClure, a therapist and speaker on adoption, said at a recent conference, “Adoptive families are destiny believers. They always feel [their child] is a miracle. [That] just one change in their lives would have made everything different, [and] that things have happened for a reason.”

As I pondered the idea of destiny and the red thread, I wondered who was looking at my paperwork.  Would they look at the photo of me and choose my child based upon my sad expression, the energy I exuded, my size?  Would they actually read what I had written and develop their own reasons for linking us?  Although I wanted to believe that destiny was forging the path, I also imagined the person, or people, who actually matched children with families.

Rumors surfaced, in conversations and on the Internet, about the matching of children and families. I heard that the process was often handled at the orphanage, where a worker took two piles of documents—one for children, one for parents—and the papers on top of each pile were unceremoniously clipped together.  I can almost hear the orphanage worker chanting, “this parent, this child” as she flips the pages. This parent, this child—for life.

As I continued to wait, I wrote letters to my baby “Shu.”  I called her this because my mother’s chattering lory, a talkative bird, had starting saying “I love you my Choo” (or something that sounded like that) about the same time I started the adoption process. I knew that Shu was a Chinese name, so I began calling my unknown child my “little Shu.”  When I chose my future daughter’s official American name, it was Kira, because I intuitively felt that it suited her. It meant “the sun.”  I found myself calling my un-known child Kira Shu and planned to do so until I learned her Chinese name, which I would then give her as a middle name.

Days came and went, while my concerns ebbed and flowed. Sometimes the fears took on tidal wave proportions. How could I know I was doing the right thing? I felt the presence of my child waiting for me, and it was palpable. But I was still afraid. Then, one February morning, my phone rang at work. It was my social worker, calling to tell me I had a daughter in Jingdezhen.  She was born on May 10th, and her name was Chu.  From that moment on, I have never had the slightest doubt that we were meant to be together.

In an attempt to learn about others’ experiences, I contacted families who had adopted domestically and in various countries abroad. I asked: “Do you believe that destiny played any part in your adoption journey? If so, how?”  Parents often told me that they had found a “sign” that linked them to their child and that the child was perfectly suited to them.

“The thing that drove the fate point home for me,” one mother replied, “was when I stumbled upon the INS letter notifying the U.S. consulate of my official approval to adopt. It was dated the very day Ruby was abandoned and brought to the orphanage.”

Another mother said, “As a Christian, I have a hard time with the idea that God chooses one child to live and be in my family. That means that God selects others to die, to remain in the orphanage, to end up on the streets. I don’t see God working that way. I don’t believe in predestination.”

Having said all that,” this woman continued, “the oddest thing happened at Easter this year. I am sitting in church and a feeling overwhelms me that somehow a series of events had already unfolded, that decisions had been made that would lead to the abandonment of the girl who would become my daughter.  It wasn’t that the outcome had been decided, but her destiny had become fixed. We were going down two roads that would eventually converge.”

Then parents spoke about the belief that their child was perfect for them, their conviction was clear.  “I believe in my heart of hearts and soul of souls,” one woman said, “that the daughter I now have was the child God created for me.  I know that as surely as I know the sun will rise tomorrow. We are so much alike. We needed each other and were destined to form a family together.”

Yet I still wondered how much could be attributed to a perfect match, and how much to the long-awaited outpouring of love that has been stored up in the hearts of those who so desperately want these children. How can you quantify the pent-up maternal or paternal love that is finally directed toward the child who becomes your own?

As Adam Pertman, author of Adoption Nation, told me, “I sort of do feel destiny played a role, and I sort of don't. So much of the journey feels like happenstance. For instance, we chose the agency through which we adopted Zack simply because it was close by and because it had succeeded in finding children for friends, not because we did anything wise. Similarly, Emmy came into our lives because several birthmothers decided to parent their children for very diverse reasons, rather than because we did anything thoughtful or deliberate. But, yes, there's always the feeling in my soul that all of this was meant to be, that this is the path I was intended to travel, however circuitously I might have arrived at it.

“The answer is unknowable,” Pertman continues, “rooted in belief and faith. Inevitably, it's a self-satisfying prophecy, because we all want to believe that there's a reason we wind up where we do in life, and—especially for those of us committed to our families—that we were destined to be with the children we love so profoundly.”

Of course, there were parents who didn’t think destiny played any role in matching them with their children. One friend simply said, “I don’t believe in destiny, and the adoption process did not change my belief. My daughter and I are a great match, and I feel that my agency had more to do with choosing my child than anything else.”

Years ago, when I first began the process of adopting, I spoke with some of my philosophy professors about the theme of adoption and destiny. One said that international adoption may be a new kind of conception, in which “a being may be going through whatever body they can” to arrive in the family and culture where they belong. In other words, destiny will bring them to a new kind of family not based on biology.

I have never forgotten this image and was surprised when I found it echoed in a story from The Lost Daughters of China, by Karin Evans. This time, however, it was one of the Chinese facilitators of the author’s travel group who was voicing this belief. “We have a saying in China,” he declared. “We say that maybe these babies grew in the wrong stomachs, but now they have found the right parents.”

It is difficult to think in terms of “right” or “wrong” in this instance. I know that we are deeply bonded to our children, and I feel that their birthparents, even those who are unknown, are now part of our destinies as well.

As for me,  I know that my daughter and I might not be together if either of us had been born a few years earlier or later; if events in my life had not directed me to a man who told me I should call his wife, a program director in an adoption agency; if I had married the “wrong” man; if circumstances had not made it financially possible to afford the adoption. There are so many “ifs” I cannot possibly list them all. But there is one fact with no if, no uncertainty, attached: my daughter is simply, positively my daughter. As she snuggles by my side, she feels like a pure miracle—whether placed there by mere chance or by divine intervention. 

Bonnie Perkel lives with her daughter, Kira, in Newton, MA, and is on the board of Families with Children from China (FCC), New England.

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