Saturday, May 31, 2014


After nearly thirty hours and three airplane rides, we're home.  Both sets of grandparents, uncle, aunt, big cousin, and friends were waiting at the airport.  How nice to get such a warm welcome home!  Caroline did pretty well on the plane rides, especially the long flight from Beijing to Detroit.  A small group of professional dancers was on the plane next to Chrystal, and Caroline charmed them.  She also picked up a few dance moves; they urged that we get her into dance lessons as soon as possible.

I want to say a word or two about airport officials.  While I resent being patted down, questioned, scanned, and otherwise treated like a convict in Supermax, I have to say that at least the Chinese are rather more pleasant about it than our own TSA and ICE (or whatever it's called this week).  Yes, ICE got us processed pretty quickly in Detroit, but they were pretty grim about it.  The Chinese cops at least would crack a smile, especially at Caroline.

As we'd feared, Caroline is still on China time and woke us up at 4:00a.  She's quickly getting more used to the dogs; Mallory especially has been very good with her (as predicted, Sheepdog just sort of ignores her).  Caroline succeeded in using a sippy cup and a spoon, though much practice is needed.  She found more success in just grabbing her oatmeal... and smearing it all over her face.  Sigh... I'm told that this is normal for small children.

Who needs a spoon when you've got fingers???

Incidentally, her high chair was used by myself, my brother, our father and his older sister.

It's so great to be home.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


What an anticlimax.

We got up early this morning, which was rather hard on my wife as she's picked up either an allergy or a upper respiratory infection and can hardly sleep for coughing.  Put on "nice" clothes, including an adorable little sailor dress for Caroline.  A long-sleeve and pants is murder in this heat and humidity, let me tell you.  Oh, we were told to bring passport and AT MOST a small, clear bag with a change of diaper and maybe a snack.  No stroller, no diaper bag, no cell phone, not even a wristwatch.  Security kabuki.  Bah.

The line outside the consulate was enormous: there must have been a few hundred Chinese there, waiting to apply for a visa to come to our country.  As we were doing adoption, we went through the short line.  After waiting for a bit while other families arrived, we were sworn in.  Never swore an oath that starts with, "By affixing my thumbprint, I swear..." followed by a lot of rubbish about filling out all the forms we've done over the past eighteen months correctly.  Again, bah.

Then back to the hotel.

While Chrystal was resting in the room (i.e. praying for death), Caroline and I walked to the nearby Liuhuahu Park.  Allow me to say that crossing a busy street in China is not for the faint of heart as the average Chinese driver would be locked away in a home for the criminally insane back home: if the light turns green while one is in the middle of the intersection, he'd better hope that his guardian angel is on the job, or he'll be a pancake in VERY short order.  Trust me on this.

After a narrow escape from a speeding Toyota, we made it into the park.  Beautiful; I'll have to post pics later.  There is a small chain of lakes there; the grounds are manicured.  There is even a small rose garden, a gift from the city of Frankfort am Main.

After a very pleasant stroll, I took our two lives back in my hands and crossed the street.  Feeling peckish and suspecting that Caroline was, too, I stepped into Macau Street Restaurant, where Caroline and I split a large dish of chicken curry.  And I do mean "split" as the little swine ate about half as much as I did, crying if I didn't shovel it in as fast as she wanted.  I should add that, had I known that curry tastes so well, I'd have made it a regular part of my diet long since.  A quick stop at the 7-11 for chips and drinks for Chrystal, and back we came.

In all, a pretty nice afternoon with my daughter.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


While China has in general been pretty nice (the Chinese are very easy to like: friendly, open and just plain likable), travel has been anything but.  We arrived at the airport in Wuhan in plenty of time, checked in, and had a bite of dinner.  Got to the gate... and waited.  And waited.  Turns out that bad weather over Guangzhou was causing flights to stack up.  We boarded about an hour or so late... and waited.  And waited.  When they served dinner while we were still at the gate, I knew were for in for it.  A nice lady sitting in front of us gave us a pack of crackers for the children (like I said: the Chinese are very likable), and Caroline was quite well-behaved.  The same, I'm sorry to say, cannot be said for ol' Baba, who was ready to slaughter somebody for making us sit on the airplane.

Finally, sanity prevailed and they put us back in the terminal.  We waited for another hour or so, then boarded again.  I thought we were in for another hour or two, but the aircraft finally pushed back, and we were on our way.  Bumpy ride: they apparently weren't kidding about the weather.  We got to GZ at about 1:30am, frazzled and with a pack of fractious, exhausted children in tow.  Got to the hotel, got Caroline's head down, took quick showers, and passed out for a few hours.

Happily, the breakfast buffet at the China Hotel is everything people said that it is.  My only complaint is the coffee: it's good, but not up to Wuhan standards.  Further, it's served in small cups that are brewed individually.  Now, I appreciate the effort, but I need LOTS of coffee in the morning, so I'd prefer that they brewed a pot and gave us large mugs.  Oh, well... You take what you can get.

After a good breakfast, it was off to the health check up.  MADHOUSE!  A couple of dozen American families from several different agencies along with Chinese who were also trying to get health checkups.  Fortunately, the staff both of our agency and of the medical facility were first rate and got us all hustled through the process.  While waiting for the bus to go back to the hotel, I got my first look at GZ.  It is clearly more tropical than Wuhan.  The air is cleaner and the city greener, but the humidity... North Carolina can be bad, but it's not a patch on GZ.  I also have the impression that the people here are definitely smaller than in Wuhan; I am at least a half-head taller than even the tallest men I've seen, and this was not the case in Wuhan where many of the women were nearly as tall as I am.

We've met many other American families here; it's a large group.  I even bumped into a proud new adoptive father from Madrid, Spain.  In our group, we've got folks from Alaska, Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Kansas, California and even a family that lives here in China (and those are the ones that I can remember).  It's really a remarkable thing: people from all over America adopting children from all over China.

Caroline continues to do well.  She's becoming more inquisitive and active: she likes to walk around, holding on to a finger for balance.  She babbles and jabbers a lot.  As noted in her reports, she has a ready smile.  And has she got a temper!  When she's crossed, as she was when I thought she needed to settle down before bed, she can throw a tantrum with the best of them.  We let her cry that one out: she needs to learn that a tantrum will get her exactly nothing from us.  We've found that she will sleep soundly in her crib, but we've got to get her fast asleep in the bed with us first.  She cries when one of us leaves the room, but that's getting better.  And she LOVES to dance.  While I was doing paperwork downstairs, she apparently was rocking out to Ke$ha in the room.  My wife got some very funny video of this; I'll try to post it later.

Caroline also has a very healthy appetite and likes some surprising foods.  We ordered pizza from Papa Johns (!), and she just reached right into the box and helped herself.  We were amused but also glad to see this, as it was the first time she's really fed herself (we still have to give her liquids in a spoon, and she can put away some milk and apple juice).  She's learning to eat bacon and oatmeal and homefries.  She went absolutely nuts for the gan chau niu he (beef chow fun) that I had for lunch: I thought she was going to shove her face into the bowl.  After eating a good bit of my lunch, she ate about a third of Chrystal's hamburger and fries as well as some milk and spicy seafood soup and bread.  The diaper is going to be... interesting. 

We went to Shamian Island this morning and shopped.  We even bought a stroller, which we plan to donate to the agency people here for the use of future families when we leave as I really don't want to lug the thing on the airplane and, anyway, we've got one sitting at home.  We got silks and other knickknacks to put up for future birthdays and as gifts for some of our family members.  Taxis cabs are very cheap here, which is a good thing: it's about 40 yuan (ca. $7) to get to Shamian and back.  Not bad at all.  The agency was also kind enough to arrange laundry service for us, which was much appreciated as I was down to no clean clothes aside from an exercise shirt and shorts.

In all, so far, so good.  Our daughter is beautiful and smart and patient and funny.  God has been very good to us.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Random thoughts

There is so much to cover in just the few days that we've been here: China, Wuhan, adoption and, of course, our daughter.

CHINA / WUHAN - Our guide tells us that the Chinese have a saying: "If you want a fashionable address, go to Paris.  If you want a nice house, go to the States.  If you want to eat well, go to China." There is definitely something in this as the food I've eaten so far has ranged from the "that tastes pretty good" to the "I'm not sharing!"

--- As previously noted, the air is unbelievably bad.  We had to stop the older children in our group trying to catch raindrops in their mouths while we were out yesterday.  How even a blade of grass can survive here is a miracle.

--- NEVER play "chicken" with a Wuhan driver, because what we consider dangerous driving is a regular commute for them!  I may drop a line to Junior Johnson when I get back, as NASCAR would be as natural for these folks as swimming is for Hawaiians.

--- The people we've met have been quite nice and helpful.  My wife made eye contact with a little girl at the Carre Four and fell into easy conversation with the mother and grandmother.  Nice people.

--- The Yellow Crane Tower is worth a visit - even a day - in Wuhan.  Lovely grounds and gardens.  Apparently, there's a legend associated with it: a famous poet came to the site and wrote about its beauty (it overlooks the Yangtze River... or would do if one could see more than a few hundred yards).  Many years later, another poet came and, similarly moved, began his own ode.  People showed him the first author's work.  He read it and, realizing that his predecessor had said all that he himself felt, laid down his brush.  This famous act of humility and modesty is marked by a monument on the grounds.

ORPHANAGE - We went.  It was a kick in the gut.  I suppose that, as such places go, it is quite modern and well-equipped, with facilities for physical therapy and care for very sick / disabled children.  The children we saw looked well-dressed, well-fed and happy.  And yet... There is one little girl, about ten years old, who is considered too sick to be placed for adoption (very serious heart condition that the authorities fear would make air travel a death sentence).  She is lovely and bright.  And sad.  What family wouldn't be blessed with such a daughter?  Why does God allow this???

--- My wife was able to get some photos and video of a little boy whose family in America iscwaiting to bring him home.  She made them very happy.

--- We were scolded for not having Caroline in pants, jacket and socks despite the fact that all of us were wringing with sweat.  We were also admonished to keep her bundled up at night, A/C apparently being considered bad for a child's health.  Yes, the people at the orphanage care very, very much about the children.

CAROLINE - I've gone from thinking about gradvschool to thinking about the next thirty minutes!  She still cries, but last night was pretty good.  She sat on my lap while we ate: she likes french fries.  She LOVES fish.  Sometimes, she feeds us.  A smile is like Christmas.  She's so beautiful.  When she's upset, carrying her up and down the room helps calm her down.  We think that she was definitely the baby in the house as she likes (expects?) to be carried everywhere.

--- We learned that being spoon-fed liquids is a trick of her foster mother's to help with healing the cleft lip repair.  Seems to have worked as both my daughter and her foster sister have hardly-noticable repairs.

--- She likes to mimic me, whether it's facial expressions, noises or banging cups together.  Guess I'm really going to have to watch my mouth! 

--- Getting her down for the night is not easy: if she's not completely out cold, she'll have a meltdown when she realizes that she's in the crib.  I collect that not wanting to go to bed is normal for children, so I don't fret.

--- We think it will be only a matter of weeks if not days before she's walking.  Then we'll have to be on our toes!

--- Despite her height (and she is nearly as tall as the other adoptees in our group), she's got tiny feet and hands.

It hit

The other shoe dropped last night.  Dinner at a busy restaurant, a trip to the Carre Four (think WalMart) and being out later than we liked seems to have driven it home to Caroline that the people she's with aren't going away... and Mama ain't coming back.  She melted down at bathtime and started screaming, "Aaaaah-ma!" at the top of her (remarkably big, powerful) lungs.  My wife finally got her soothed (I was completely at sea on what to do), only to have it start back this morning.

Part of me is actually relieved: if she didn't mourn, I'd be forced to conclude that she is a psychopath. Crying for the woman who has so obviously loved her for the past sixteen months is normal and healthy.

Still, I think that we have considerable cause for relief.  Caroline likes to be held by us, will readily be fed by us, and will sometimes smile and giggle at us.  I hope that a few more days will end her grieving... and all we'll have to deal with is teething (oh, yes: she's got a couple of nice, big, jagged molars erupting) and being gassy / hung up.

One day at a time... Scratch that: I'm becoming content to take it thirty minutes at a time.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

First impressions

We arrived after nearly thirty-six hours of travel.  The flight over was misery due to seats that would be better off in a torture chamber than on a modern airliner.  Food on the aircraft was good; service was decent.  But those seats...

A few things leap out so far:

1.  The air quality is unbelievable.  Even at 3:00p, visibility can't have been above 1/4 mile, and was probably less than that.  What will their lung disease and birth defect rates be like in five or ten years???

2.  The city is tidy (little or no litter) but dingy.  Everything looks dirty

3.  The people have been friendly so far.  How they stare!  One young lady even took a photo of my (blonde) wife and paid her some nice compliments about her looks.  She ought to see my wife when she's not totally fagged out from travel, stress and want of sleep

4.  It's nice to see other people out with their children.  Two young ladies were trying to fly kites with their kids, which was hard due to a want of wind.  Out guide, "Bill", stepped in and helped out.  The kids enjoyed it.  He has done such a good job so far, gently keeping everybody on track and together.  He's very good with the children...

Perhaps I should digress here and write a few words about our fellow travelers.  The B family, who are adopting our daughter's foster sister, are Californians who've brought their three children.  Little K is an adorable girl; the two boys, N and L, are 100% boy, full of fun and energy.  The E family are Alaskans who've brought their son.  Like N and L, he is 100% boy, at full throttle every second.  I can see that I will have to get myself into much better shape just to keep up with my own daughter!

At any rate, the kids have taken right to Bill, who is himself the father of a nineteen year-old daughter.

5.  Bill arranged lunch for us in quite a nice restaurant today: we had a private dining room.  He ordered for us, so we ate in the Chinese style of shared dishes.  DELICIOUS.  I ate everything set before me, even the green stuff.  I told Bill that I wouldn't touch Chinese food as a boy, that I was scared of it (I didn't say that I grew up thinking that it was all cat and dog).  Well, THAT problem has been permanently solved!

6.  The people in general are, as expected, much slighter of build than most Americans.  They are not especially shorter, however, and we have seen some rather tall people.  Both of us look at little girls on the streets and wonder if Caroline will look that way in a few years

7.  I so wish that I had studied my Mandarin harder.  It humiliates me to be unable to speak politely to the people here, or even make basic desires known.  I know that I butch up what I try to say, and that makes me even more shy about trying.  Well, I get what I deserve.  Laziness is such a bad habit.

In all, I'm very glad that I'm here.  I don't say that I love the country, but I think that I could easily learn to do so.  I so, so, so much regret that things are as they are between our two countries.  There's no good reason for it.  There's no good reason that our country and China shouldn't get on as well as we do with Canada or Japan or even France.  I hope that, in some tiny way, our visit will help that.  Certainly there is one more American who desires peace and real friendship with China, who wants hands across the Pacific and not angry or even suspicious looks.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Off we go

Tickets have been bought.  Hotel rooms have been booked.  Paperwork has been gotten into good order.  Consular appointment has been made.  Bags have been (mostly) packed.  Arrangements to look after our house and our dogs are settled.  In a short time, my wife and I will climb onto an airplane that will carry us around the world and, in a real sense, into parenthood.  On the far side of the world, our little daughter awaits.  Does she know what's about to happen?  Does she understand that two people she's never seen before (well, we HAVE sent a photobook) will soon barge into her life and, with the best of intentions, carry her away from everything she has ever known?

And what will she find with us?  With me?  I worry.

And yet...

I will teach her to ride a bicycle.  Take her on walks.  Read to her.  Tuck her in at night.  Scare away the monsters under the bed.  Pick her up when she falls and kiss her boo-boos.  Go to her tea parties.  Put together her toys at Christmas*.  Teach her to swim.  Go to her school plays and soccer games (or swim meets or tumbling or dance recitals).  Help her with her homework.  Tell her that she's pretty.  And smart.  And special to me.  Teach her how to drive a car.  Tell her that she's better off without him, and that son of a b!tch had better not let me get my hands... Um... That is, that boys come and go, but that she'll eventually find the right one.  I'll tell her that I'm proud of her.  And that I love her.

I am going to be a father.


(*) I understand outsourcing and business economics, but would it REALLY break Santa to deliver the things already assembled???  I'm a chemist, not an engineer.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Baby proofing

It's been many years since I was a small child, and indeed many since I've routinely been around one.  So, my understanding of "baby proofing" is somewhat... limited.

We live in an increasingly risk-averse society.  My fellow old foggies doubtless remember the daily derring-do of childhood: riding bicycles or skateboarding without helmets; climbing trees or playing on playsets that didn't have AT LEAST four inches of approved rubber mulch under them; playing "tackle" football in the backyard; bottle rocket wars; drinking from a water hose or even a handy stream; riding in a car without a car seat; riding in the back of a pickup truck (just the thing on a hot day if the truck had no A/C); walking without adult accompaniment to the local quickie-market to buy candy, cokes, and comic books (the violent kind, naturally; I liked "Sergeant Rock"); etc.

All things that are now Frowned Upon and indeed might land a parent into hot water with the Authorities.

This all comes to mind as we have to complete baby proofing our house, yet another parenting task for which I have no training or experience.  Fortunately (?), there is the internet and... Amazon.  The list of things that one must do - and the associated list of things that one must buy - to be a "safe" parent is pretty staggering.  Just inside the house there are electrical outlet plugs and covers*; toilet seat locks; rubber corner guards and bumpers for tables and fireplace hearths; gates; various gizmos and gadgets to stop little hands opening doors and cabinets that they oughtn't; even covers to go on the bathtub spout.  I've even read serious advice about keeping the dog's water dish secured to stop the little one drinking from it or even drowning in it.  The list is almost endless.

Naturally, we'll set about baby proofing the house with diligence.  Things that can be made safe(r), will be.

And yet...

How did I and the millions of children of my generation and those before ever survive?**


(*)  Not needed in my opinion; I stuck keys in the outlet when I was a child and, after a little CPR (which is to say, shaking and screaming) from my mother, was just fine.

(**) In university, I had to read Village in the Vaucluse by Laurence Wylie.  One anecdote that sticks in my mind about life in the French village ca. 1955 was a little boy who, while skylarking during recess, fell from a wall and broke his arm.  He bore this with stoicism as he was expected to do by his parents.  He bore with equal stoicism the scolding he got from his teacher: "Jean, how could you be so foolish and careless!  Let this be a lesson to you!"

Some of my fellow students, most of whom were a good bit younger than I, were horrified.  The parents were monsters, the teacher an ogre, how could anybody be so cruel, sue the school, etc.  I knew from experience that my mother would have taken the same attitude as the French parents: "OK, let's get you patched up.  I hope you've learned your lesson."

A generational thing, no doubt.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The end of the beginning

At long last, we have received our TA and will be leaving for China very soon.

I don't really know what to say or to write about this. Perhaps it's because I've been working a lot of OT lately and am rather tired, but when my wife told me that our agency was starting to schedule our consular appointment in anticipation of the imminent arrival of the magic document, I just grunted and went on about my business. There was no particular feeling of elation, triumph, relief, or anything other than a vague sense of, "Well, it's about time."

My perspective has been changing a great deal over the past few weeks. My horizon has shrunk. Where I used to spend much of my time thinking about the years ahead ("Hmmm... What grad school should she go to?"), now I'm thinking rather more about assembling the crib, "baby-proofing" the house, packing, and just surviving the bloody long plane flight. And... D-Day.

If nothing goes wrong, I will be a father in less than two weeks. All the waiting and hoping, the paperwork and approvals, the worries and frustrations, are coming to the final moment when, in a city on the other side of the world, a little girl will become my daughter, and I will become her father.

Fear not: for I am with thee:
I will bring thy seed from the east,
and gather thee from the west;
I will say to the north, Give up;
and to the south, Keep not back:
bring my sons from far,
and my daughters from the ends of the earth...
Isaiah 43
The first photo we had of her, December 16, 2013


Caroline is going to help us share our good news:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Zhōng​cān​ (中餐)

People tell me that, once you become a parent, life is never the same again.  We haven't become parents yet (the damned TA still hasn't come!), but life has already changed for me.

I love to eat.  I REALLY love to eat.  However, for various reasons, my tastes were pretty limited when I was younger.  Other than pizza, spaghetti, and the occasional trip to a Mexican restaurant, my diet was essentially limited to Southern American cuisine (which is, of course, quite delicious).

This started to change in university when I became friends with some yank... um... people from the northern part of our country, I meant to say... who were (and are) excellent cooks and started to introduce me to dishes that I'd never tried.

Things changed a lot more when I traveled to Barcelona for work in my first job.  Despite dire warnings from my department head - "Don't drink anything that doesn't come out of a bottle or can, because you're going there to work, not be sick!" - I determined to at least try whatever was set before me.  Paella, squid, octopus, even snails (though, truth be known, I was three sheets to the wind at the time)... All delicious.  I should note that I got an upset stomach twice during my trip: once in Spain, and then immediately when I returned home and hit my favorite fast food joint after leaving the airport.

But Chinese food?  My father was in Thailand during the Vietnam War and told us horror stories about the things that Thais would eat.  From this, I got the idea that Asian food in general... Well, you're taking your life into your hands to even taste it. 

We live and learn.  When we started the process of adopting our daughter, I made up my mind that I was NOT going to spend my time in China searching desperately for a McDonalds or KFC.  I also decided that I was NOT going to live on fried rice, either: I WOULD try the local cuisine.  To help prepare myself for this, I asked our Mandarin tutor about where she likes to eat here in town.  She put us on to a local place, Sampan, that she told us was good and also authentic.  I'm so glad that she did!  I don't claim that Chinese food (Zhōng​cān) is my favorite, but there are some dishes that I very much enjoy.  The fried dumplings (jiānjiǎo) at Sampan are absolutely delicious; I can easily eat two orders and still not feel as though I've gotten enough.  Beef soup with noodles (Niúròu tāng miàn) is also very good as well as being served in a bowl about the size of a tureen for those of us with a healthy appetite.  But the dish that I think I've come to love best is beef chow fun (n chǎo niú hé).  This plate of paradise is conceptually pretty basic: stir fried beef, onions, bean sprouts, oyster sauce and wide rice noodles.  However, preparing it correctly - not turning the delicate rice noodles to mush, for example - requires a certain amount of skill, and I've read that the ability to cook n chǎo niú hé is an absolute requirement for those who wish to become Cantonese chefs, much in the same way that anybody wishing to say that he know how to cook Southern food has to be able to make fried chicken and biscuits.

Let's just say that they do it right at Sampan, including cooking with fresh (not dried) rice noodles.

I like to eat mine with hot Chinese mustard: I dip my chopsticks in the mustard - a little goes a LONG way - and put it on the noodles.  This causes my wife a great deal of amusement as the mustard is hot.  Blistering hot.  Thermonuclear hot:

SELF [upon taking the first bite] - "Ah... ah... ah!  This is so hot... OH!  I'm dying!  [shoveling in as fast as I can]  This is so... WATER!  I'm on fire... delicious!  MORE!  Oh, I can feel my sinuses burning out!  MORE!"

The owner of Sampan is often amused (amazed?) by my ability to wolf down a huge plate of chow fun (usually right after a double order of jiānjiǎo​): "You have a good appetite!"

With a plate of their chow fun before me?  YES, I DO!

I have read that the food in both Wuhan and Guangzhou is excellent, and I am looking forward to trying règānmiàn (hot spicy noodles) and dòu​ (a sort of fried cake or casserole of rice, tofu and other things) in Wuhan and, of course, chow fun in Guangzhou.

It's no wonder that I'm fat...

As a final note, before we were matched, all our research indicated to us that our daughter would likely be small and underweight.  We were not worried: if there's one thing my wife and I know how to do, it's put weight on a young 'un!  Given Caroline's actual size, however, our problem MAY be that she and I will fight over what's on the table... or go bankrupt trying to feed the two of us.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Ghost at the Feast

Prithee, see there! behold! look! lo!
how say you?
Why, what care I? If thou canst nod, speak too.
If charnel-houses and our graves must send
Those that we bury back, our monuments
Shall be the maws of kites.
For most adoptive families, there is a perpetual ghost at the feast: the birth mother (fathers, for some reason, don't seem to matter).  The adoptive parent thus faces an ongoing issue: what shall he say to his child about her?
On the one hand, adoptive parents are told not to lie: there's nothing to be gained by spinning fantasies about her, even innocuous ones such as, "I'm sure she gave you up because she loved you" or "I'm certain that she would never have given you up if she'd been able to take care of you".  Note the euphemism: "gave you up" instead of "abandoned".  Of course, other people may be perfectly happy to (ahem) suggest things about the birth mother:
  • "She was probably a prostitute."
  • "I wonder if she was a single mother who had an accident."
  • "Guess she couldn't get an abortion."
  • Etc.
On the other, adoptive parents are told to be positive about the birth parents, if for no other reason than to avoid damaging the child's self-esteem: he may well already wonder if he's somehow a bad person and that's why he was abandoned, and thinking that his birth parents were also "bad" may only reinforce this belief.
So, what to say?  How do I help her to understand the ghost?  Indeed, do I explain to her that, to her birth parents, SHE may be the ghost at the feast?
Visiting a peasant family in Shandong, [author Xinran Xue] sees a newborn baby girl snatched from her mother and dumped headfirst in the chamber pot: the head of the family demands a son and, because of the one-child policy, will not let the daughter live. Two years later, the young couple pays Xinran a visit. They, along with the rest of the young people, have left their village to look for work in cities. The mother says she had two more daughters but her father-in-law gave them away to foreigners for adoption. “Have you seen any foreigners?” she asks Xinran, fearfully. “Do you think the foreigners know how to hold my baby?”(1)
I confess that my own view of my daughter's birthparents has been highly erratic.  I've (more or less) gone from despising them for abandoning my little girl in that park to (usually) feeling sorry for them as victims of the One Child Policy(2).  I've learned that (most) Chinese parents who abandon their children are not monsters, but rather desperate people who are making a terrible sacrifice in order to give their beloved children the best chance for a happy, healthy life(3).  I don't know the specific circumstances behind what happened to my daughter.  I can't tell her with certainty that, "Your birth parents loved you as much as your mother and I do, but they gave you up to us because they wanted the best for you, and I'm sure that there isn't a day - a MINUTE - that goes by when they don't wonder about you and wish they had been able to keep you."
But I probably will, at least until she's old enough to start understanding... even if I never do.