As do so many little girls, Kelly McElwain dreamed of growing up, getting married, and having children. ##M:[more]##What made her dream a little bit different from that of most other little girls was that her vision of a family included a baby girl from China. “Ever since I was 10 years old, I knew that I wanted to adopt a child. I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to Asian culture, but one day, when I saw a Christmas card my mom had received with a picture of two adorable girls who had been adopted, I felt a chord inside. And I knew that adopting a baby was something I would do someday.”
Kelly, now 38, lives in Plainsboro and works as a live-out nanny to a local family. Her dream of getting married and becoming a mother hasn’t happened yet, and she understands that some dreams don’t always come true on schedule. But there are other dreams you do have the power to move along. After all these years of imagining her family, she was finally moved into action when a good friend of hers in California adopted a baby girl from China two and a half years ago. The infant had been abandoned in a marketplace. Her mother had left her there, hoping that somebody would find her and take her home.
The abandonment of baby girls is something that happens all too frequently in China where a government concerned about overpopulation has had a one-child-per-family policy in place for 25 years. Some estimates say the policy has helped reduce the population by at least 250 million people.
In a traditionally rural and Confucian society that historically has valued sons to help till the fields, to carry on the family name, and to care for the parents in their old age, some parents have refused to accept their own baby girls as their only child.
Twenty years ago, when I worked for the Associated Press in Beijing, stories of baby girls left in wells to drown or abandoned on hillsides to die of exposure, were not uncommon. Although the government has cracked down against the worst abuses, the main criticism of the one-child policy is that it still stimulates discrimination against female babies who may be aborted, abandoned, or unregistered.
“So now this has become more than about fulfilling my dream to become a mother,” says Kelly. “This is about potentially saving a life. There’s an unwanted baby on the other side of the world waiting for me. I want to save her.”
She says she would have adopted a baby 10 years ago, but it’s always been money that has stood in the way. It costs $16-20,"000 to adopt a baby from China. Another hurdle she’s had to face is the fact that she would be a single parent. Chinese adoption agencies accept only seven percent of their applications from single parents. When she started calling some 35 adoption agencies back in February, she discovered that the special needs program had children considered more difficult to adopt, so she would stand a better chance of adopting a special needs child. While she didn’t feel that as a single parent she would be prepared to raise a child with serious special needs, she was willing to adopt a child with the most common special need — a cleft palate — something that could easily be fixed with surgery.
So with the help of friends, Kelly decided to hold fundraisers. So far this spring she’s held four yard sales in the front yard of her Mayfarth Terrace home and there are more to come. Most of her sale items have been donated by members of the community. “People I don’t know have been coming to help. One woman brought a TV and it sold that day. Tears come to my eyes because I didn’t know there was so much good in the world. Everybody talks about how everybody is so self-centered, everybody is in such a hurry, and there’s no community spirit in this town. And I say that’s a lot of bunk. What I’ve seen is unbelievable.”
While she has raised thousands of dollars, Kelly still has thousands left to go, and a whole lot of bureaucratic hoops to jump through as well. She’s developing a website about her personal journey so that she can start a non-profit organization devoted to helping other people like her.
“I’ve known I was meant to do this. This will make me a more complete person. And I will love that little girl.” She doesn’t know that little girl’s name yet. She doesn’t know what she looks like. But Kelly is certain that her daughter is out there, waiting for her. And she can’t wait to bring her home.
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