Monday, May 2, 2011

Review: Sofia's Journey & Daughters' Return

Three years ago, our local FCC chapter brought Dr. Changfu Chang to the area to show his documentary film Long Wait for Home, where he talked to three sets of birth parents in China who had abandoned their children under differing circumstances.  It was, not surprisingly, a riveting and fascinating account.  Not surprisingly, I was eager to attend when he came back with two new films to share.  The first, Sofia's Journey, I'd read about here, but the second, Daughters' Return, was new to me.  Both, however, involve girls adopted from China searching for birth parents in China.

In Sofia's Journey, a very articulate Sofia shares her need to know about and meet her birth parents.  She reads from a letter she wrote as a child where she says poignantly that there is "a hole in my heart" where they belong.  That hit me strongly as it reminded me so much of Zoe.  The family had searched before, but on this visit they focused on finding the finder in hopes there might be a clue to Sofia's birth parents there. Indeed, they find something they hadn't bargained for -- the finder had taken Sofia home, unofficially adopted her, and parented her for 7-8 months before taking her to the orphanage.  Confusion reigns as the story changes -- they didn't "find" Sofia, a go-between had brought her to them from her birth parents who had to relinquish her.  More confusion -- the birth mother had actually lived with them for a month and acted as nanny, yet they claim they don't know who the birth mother is, have no name, have no location.  But one thing the family does have are 7-8 months worth of pictures of Sofia before she was taken to the orphanage.

In the Q & A afterward, Dr. Chang addressed the pressure imposed on the family to take their adopted daughter to the orphanage.  Essentially he said that the family had a boy and wanted a girl, but they were threatened with job loss and heavy fines if they kept their adopted family.  The family figured if they had to pay a large fine, they'd rather do so for a biological child, so they relinquished Sofia and later had a biological daughter.

Sofia's Journey raises many more questions than it answers for Sofia. She still hasn't found her birth family.  The changing stories from her adoptive family in China is confusing.  One concrete piece of information she did learn -- that the date she thought was her birthday was not in fact her birthday, had instead been made up by the orphanage -- is devastating to her.  Still, she feels a real connection to this Chinese family that obviously loved her and took good care of her for her first months.  

In Daughters' Return, the focus is on two girls searching for birth family in China.  You may have heard the story of Eline from the Netherlands -- her story was revealed in a Dutch documentary. There are updates about Eline and her birth family, and the story of another child, Ricki adopted to the U.S., combined in this documentary.  That combination made it difficult for me to follow the two stories at times, and I admit to feeling fractured and confused while watching it.  I'm going to write mostly about Ricki's story since that's the one I tried to follow most closely since it was new to me.

Ricki was almost 5 years old when she was adopted.  From the beginning, she kept telling her new parents that her name was something different from the name the orphanage told them.  The only information they were given about Ricki's past was that she had been in foster care before being brought to the orphanage 18 months before.  The family returned to China in 2000 and brought a large gift (from many adoptive families) to the orphanage.  At that time, they were given additional information and taken to meet the foster mother, Mrs. Fang.  She gave conflicting stories about Ricki's history -- that she found her at the train station at 7 months old and brought her home.  That someone from another village had brought the baby to her.  That a woman from the mountains was her birth mother and brought her.

After Ricki's family returned to America, the foster mother wrote them with other stories -- that she did know the birth family. Finally, that Ricki was her daughter's daughter. That's when she asked for $10,000.

Then out of the blue, a letter from a completely different family  claiming to be Ricki's birth family.  They revealed that they were unmarried, had tried to keep Ricki despite threats from birth planning authorities and lack of support from the father's parents who did not want a girl baby. They hid the baby, passing her from family member to family member.  They wanted to place her in a "fake adoption" and then get her back later.  When the mother became pregnant again, and discovered it was a boy, the father's family agreed to the marriage.  Ultimately, the girl was seized by birth planning authorities.  The parents asked Mrs. Fang to try to get the baby back from the birth planning authorities, and she did.  They later learned she had taken the baby to the orphanage.  The father went to the orphanage several times to try to steal the baby back, but never succeeded.  The last time, he did not see his daughter there and learned that she had been adopted.

During the Q & A session, Dr. Chang told us that losing the baby had driven the couple apart.  The mother was never able to forgive the father for giving in to his parents and not keeping their daughter.  In fact, during an argument she stabbed him in the stomach and they later divorced.  Then despite the divorce, the teamed up to try to find out where their daughter was.  They learned that Mrs. Fang had been getting packages from America, and her son finally gave them the address of the family and they wrote Ricki's family.

Whew!  There's more, including the meeting for the birth parents and Ricki, in the documentary.  Despite the disjointed nature of the story told, it was a fascinating account .  Dr. Chang says Ricki, now 18, is planning to spend two months of this summer with her birth parents in China, and Dr. Chang will do a follow-up documentary about that.

I'll post later about some of the other things Dr. Chang said during the question and answer session, about Chinese culture and his point in making these adoption documentaries, but for now I'll quit!  I would recommend watching both documentaries if you have a chance.


Wendy said...

I think these films are so important beyond the girls' individual stories--they help to stop the progression of myths and blatant lies that agencies and AP's perpetuate and pass on to their children. Children's stories are unique, broad sweeping statements about wanting a boy or the OCP isn't cutting it!

Anonymous said...

The "truth" is so elusive in China. I think as adopted children start to search, they will discover a big difference between what Americans and Chinese think of as truth. I worry that the girls will judge this harshly.
My 8 year old wants to find her birth parents. Her paperwork states that she was "found" by the orphanage director. To me, that raises all kinds of reg flags about what paperwork has been invented and what we would ever be able to find out. I would love to be able to give her the gift of knowing her Chinese parents, but I don't think it will ever happen.