Chosen Ones

By Catherine Wang

When Susan Nanus looked into those brown eyes on her television screen, it was love at first sight. After watching countless videos of babies, she knew her search had come to an end. She had found her soon-to-be child: a month-old girl named Natalia. Dozens of stacks of paperwork later, Nanus boarded a flight to Moscow to adopt her baby girl.

Nearly 16 years later, Natalia – renamed Lili ’11 by her adoptive mother – recalls the story of her adoption without hesitation, as if she has told it numerous times before.

“I’m not protective of the information,” she said.

The process Lili’s mother, a single woman, went through to adopt her consisted of hiring an adoption lawyer to manage her paperwork, getting screened by an adoption agency to ensure she was “fit” to be a parent and watching short videos of babies playing with orphanage caretakers. After watching Lili’s video, Susan took it to a doctor to make sure she was healthy, before finalizing her decision and going to Russia. A second generation Russian herself, she always knew she wanted to adopt a child from Russia.

“I don’t know why. I guess it would be easier if I looked like her,” Lili said of her mother’s choice.

For a week, Susan visited Lili’s orphanage for a few hours every day, in order to familiarize the baby with her new mom.

“It’s actually a funny story,” Lili said. “The baby orphanage I was living in was so poor, the women working there didn’t have [baby] clothes to give to my mom, so she just took me from the orphanage naked.”

Lili knows her biological mother was a woman in her 20s who was financially and mentally unprepared to be a parent when she gave birth, but little else. Until recently, she did not care to know more. But in the past year, Lili has become more interested in her lineage.

“I’ve always been into family history and genetics,” she said. “But really, I just wanted to know who I look like.”

Susan Nanus still had the one-time address of Lili’s biological mother, and Lili found a telephone number for that house using public listings.

When Lili called that number, she found out that her biological uncle still lived in the Russian village she was born in, as did her 20-year-old biological sister, who was brought up by her biological grandparents.

Last August, Lili sent her first letter to her sister. Since she can only “sort of” read Russian, Lili wrote her letter in English. A friend of her mother translated it into Russian, and Lili sent both versions to her sister. In early January, her sister replied, asking to see a photo of Lili. Lili sent a picture of herself and is currently waiting for a reply.

Lili has never returned to Russia. She plans to go at some point in her life, though she is not interested in meeting her biological family.

“It’s more like a cool detective thing, rather than reconnecting with my family,” she said. “I don’t really know them, you know?”

Lili considers her relationship with her adoptive mother to be like a friendship. She said her mother is not bothered by her daughter’s recent inquiry of her past.

“She understands that I would become curious at some point,” Lili said.

Lili said she does not have any negative feelings about being adopted.

“I don’t know any other way,” she said.

Hannah Rosenberg ’11, who was adopted at birth, agrees.

“[Being adopted] doesn’t make a difference,” she said. “It’s not as traumatizing as the media makes it out to be.”

When they knew they wanted to adopt, Rosenberg’s adoptive parents contacted an adoption agency, which matched couples looking to adopt with pregnant couples. Rosenberg’s adoptive parents met with her biological parents before Rosenberg was born. Each couple was pleased with the other couple, so Hannah was adopted.

“My mom’s really open about my adoption process,” she said. “Anything I ask her, she always tells me.”

Rosenberg has seen pictures of her biological parents from before her birth, and she knows basic information about them. Her birth mother was 21, and her birth father was significantly older, either in his late 30s or early 40s.

He left his wife and got together with Rosenberg’s birth mother, but when they found out she was pregnant, they realized they could not raise a child together.

“I think it’d be really weird,” Rosenberg said of meeting her birth parents. “It’s not as emotional for me as it probably is for them.”

Rosenberg, an only child, does want to meet her two half-brothers. Her birth father had a son with his first wife before she was born, and her birth mother had a son when she was 10.

“A brother’s kind of cool, since I’ve never had siblings,” she said. “I would want to meet them to see if we look alike.”

Unlike Lili and Rosenberg, Jake Fernandez ’10 – who was also adopted at birth – wants to meet his birth mother, and is planning on doing so sometime next year.

“It would be nice to meet the woman who started it all,” he said. “Apparently I look like her.”

Fernandez was born in Arizona as a result of what he calls “faulty contraception.” Because his birth mother’s pregnancy was unplanned and she was financially unable to support a child, she knew she could not keep Fernandez. Rather than get an abortion, she decided to put him up for adoption. She hired a lawyer and interviewed numerous prospective couples before finally deciding on Fernandez’s two fathers.

For them, finding Fernandez’s birth mother was a stroke of luck, since their earlier attempts to have a child through a surrogate mother or other adoption agencies all failed.

“Gay parents were uncommon in the early ’90s,” Fernandez said. “So having a kid was more than slightly difficult for my two dads.”

In the months leading up to Fernandez’s birth, his birth mother and adoptive parents spent time together, and when Fernandez’s mother gave birth, one of his adoptive fathers was in the hospital room holding her hand.

Since then, however, contact between Fernandez and his mother has been limited, since it was so hard for her to give him up.

“Growing up, I knew where I came from,” Fernandez said. “My parents were very clear with my place in their life and [my birth mother’s].”

Like Lili, Rosenberg, and Fernandez, Gabrielle Kuhn ’12 and Annie Wasserman ’13 were adopted at very young ages.

Both Kuhn and Wasserman were adopted from China. Kuhn was adopted from Wuhan city in Hubei province, and Wasserman was adopted from Guandong province. In rural parts of China, parents prefer to have boys to help with heavy labor.

Because of China’s one child-policy, which restricts each family to having only one child, it is not uncommon for parents to abandon their newborn baby girls on the street.

“I was found by a woman named Guiying and to honor her, the orphanage named me after her,” Kuhn said.

Her adoptive mother kept Guiying as her middle name.

Because parents in China frequently abandon their newborns rather than bring them to an orphanage so as not to be caught by the government for violating the one-child policy, orphanages typically have little information regarding their children’s families.

“I have no clue at all who my [biological] parents are,” Wasserman said.

“Sometimes [my adopted sister] and I are like ‘It’d be cool if we knew our biological families,’ but I’m not so curious that I’m dying to know,” Wasserman said. “It’s just something that’s in my head.”

For the time being, Kuhn is “pretty comfortable” knowing nothing about her biological parents.

“Why do I need to meet them?” she said. “My real mom is the mom who raised me, and shaped me into what I am today, not my birth parents.”

Wasserman shares Kuhn’s feeling of disconnection from her biological parents.

“I don’t look at my adoptive mom as someone who adopted me,” Wasserman said. “She’s just my mom.”

Wasserman’s family belongs to a “Families of Children who are Adopted from China” club, and she attends the club’s annual celebration every year. She is also a member of the Harvard-Westlake Chinese Culture Club.

“I find that it’s unique to be adopted, especially since I wasn’t adopted in the United States,” Wasserman said. “It’s kind of cool.”