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Something else I didn’t anticipate was how wrenching the experience of taking Mei from her caretaker would be. Our first daughter, also adopted and now 14, was born in Brooklyn and came to live with us when she was 3; she spoke English and had already gotten to know us. In Mei’s case, I did not give sufficient thought to what a terrifying trauma it is for a 17-month-old to be taken from the only home she’s ever known, separated from the women who have been raising her, and peremptorily handed over to complete strangers who look, smell, and sound different from anything to which she’s accustomed. Although we were anxious about the first meeting, we thought of it as a happy occasion, because that’s what everyone else seemed to expect. Instead, it was a heart-breaking scene: 10 families crammed into a conference room with 10 screaming toddlers who had no means of preparing for this baffling betrayal.
Mei cried for hours and remained subdued for weeks. One exception occurred when she saw She Mei Yi, who had slept in the crib next to hers at the orphanage, in a hotel restaurant a day or two after the handoff. Both girls’ faces lit up as they lunged for each other, as if to say, “I thought I’d never see you again!” Then they began enthusiastically biting and slapping each other—their way of expressing affection.
During a recent trip to Boston, where Mei Yi now lives, Mei was again reunited with her former crib neighbor. Although they were soon playing happily together and looking forward to future visits, the meeting was much less dramatic than the encounter at the hotel in Changsha. The two girls, now 4 years old, did not remember their early connection as much as their parents’ stories about it, and they were no longer desperate to see a familiar face. But I don’t want to forget the joyful relief of that first reunion, which reflected the misery caused by government policies that break up families and disrupt young lives. As grateful as I am for the opportunity to see Mei every day and watch her grow up, I realize that in a better world we never would have met.
Senior Editor Jacob
Sullum is a nationally syndicated columnist.