My Name is Andrea, and I was Once Reluctant to Adopt a Boy

After adopting a little girl from China, Holt adoptive parents Eric and Andrea Olson open their hearts to a child they never envisioned themselves raising — a boy. This story originally appeared on Andrea’s blog.

This is going to be a tough post for me to compose. Why? Because the words I am going to write are embarrassing to me. Actually, I feel ashamed when I think back.  Granted, life is a journey and my belief is that as long as I make forward personal progress and strive to correct the traits and lines of thinking that I believe to be inhibiting me from becoming the person I wish to be, I’m on the right path.  So I’ll try not to be too hard on the person I was ten years ago when Eric and I first began our adoption journey.

Let me also state that these are my feelings.  Everyone is on their own path.  Please do not take offense.

Back in early 2005, when we first decided to adopt, we researched the different avenues of adoption and for many reasons we chose to pursue international adoption from China.  If I’m completely honest with myself, one of the reasons is that we were practically assured to be matched with the type of child we had already decided that we wanted: a healthy baby girl, as young as possible. I don’t believe that I recognized that at the time, however.

Back then, that type of child was who the Chinese government and the orphanages made available for adoption. It’s not that foundlings were never boys, or that no children with medical needs were in China’s orphanages, but rather that the overwhelming number of children made “paper-ready” were healthy infant girls … right in line with the overwhelming desires of the majority of adoptive parents.

You can read more here about the shift in China’s orphanages.  People continue to argue about whether or not there has actually been a decrease in the abandonment of healthy infant girls or whether it is some sort of conspiracy, but regardless, the overwhelming majority of children in China’s institutions needing placement now are children with medical needs, and the ones who are often looked over by adoptive parents are boys.

Why did Eric and I want a girl, and only a girl?  I had a fantasy, and it consisted of a lot of pink, hair bows, adorable dresses and sweet little girls.  Sugar and spice and everything nice. And of course, Sophia needed a sister!  Why I never entertained the idea that she would need a brother, I don’t know.  And come to think of it, when the gender discussion comes up within the adoption community, many families use the argument that their “daughter needs a sister” or that their “son needs a sister,” but we rarely hear many families say that their “son needs a brother” or that their “daughter needs a brother,” as was pointed out in my friend Kelly’s eloquent post on the topic, which you can read here.

I conveniently ignored my gender bias, and didn’t think about the fact that Eric and I had specified in our gender request that we were open to a girl only.  I didn’t have to think about it, as month after month, just as it had been for years, match group after match group arrived at adoption agencies around the world and almost all of the children referred were girls.  And then approximately one year into our wait for our referral, a match group arrived at a U.S. agency which contained several healthy baby boys. Some of these little ones were referred to families that had requested “girl only.” The ripple through the big China adoption web forums came swiftly.  My own feelings took me by surprise.

Shock. Panic. Anxiety.

It makes me feel horrible and sheepish to admit this, but I called our agency’s China program the next day, looking for reassurance that we would be matched with a girl as per our request. I was reassured that surprise referrals of boys were rare, and told that in some cases if a family that requested “girl only” was matched with a boy, the China Center for Child Welfare and Adoption would view the match as an “error” and replace that boy with a brand spanking new referral of a baby girl. Phew! Was I relieved.

But another feeling crept up within me. Disgust. I was sickened by what I was experiencing within myself.  Was my own desire for hair bows and all things pretty and princess-y truly an acceptable reason for discounting the idea of raising a son? And besides, I had already been blessed with a daughter. It wasn’t as though we already had three or four boys and desired to experience parenting a girl.

During the months that we had been completing our home study, preparing our dossier and waiting to be matched, I consumed everything that I could get my hands on regarding adoption from China.  I read all the China adoption classics such as Karin Evans’ “The Lost Daughters of China,”  Kay Ann Johnson’s “Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son,” and Lisa Ling’s National Geographic documentary entitled “China’s Lost Girls.” Oh yes, I immersed myself into the world of China’s abandoned girls, and these sources fed into my bias.  It was easy to ignore the fact that I didn’t want a boy when surrounding myself with content that helped me to believe that it was only the little girls that needed to be adopted.  Buying into this caused a huge moral dilemma, though. When I had thoroughly convinced myself that it was China’s girls (and healthy girls, no less) who needed families, and how tragic it was that they were being abandoned predominantly because of the gender bias that existed in China’s rural communities, I could no longer ignore the fact that my own trepidation regarding the possibility of being referred a boy, my own peace at the assurance that we could request a rematch if “mistakenly” referred a boy, was really no different than what had fueled the choices made by those families in China.  No, I take that back.  My own gender bias was actually far worse, as I had no socioeconomic reasons for my bias, no very real fears of being left impoverished and uncared for in my old age, which is what many rural Chinese families faced if they did not have a son.

Did these realizations make me yearn for a little boy? No. I still imagined how much more fun it would be to have a houseful of girls. I rationalized that I already knew how to parent a girl. I liked shopping on the girl side of the clothing store. I thought of girls as “sweet” and boys as, well, boys.  Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails. Looking back, I am aware that what fueled my preference was all about me. What I wanted. What I thought was best. But very slowly,  a change took place in my conscience. Meanwhile, as the standard process began to creep to a near standstill and more boys were being referred to families expecting girls, a passionate dialogue was taking place within the China adoption community.

I forced myself to begin imagining what it would be like to be the mom to a son.  I watched boys playing at the park, looked through little boy clothes when I was out shopping, and imagined what an honor it would be to raise a boy to be a good man, husband and father. I watched as friends and acquaintances who had originally desired only a girl opened their hearts to boys and were so blessed to have done so. I also talked with friends who were parenting sons, and I will never forget what my friend Tauri said to me while we were in China adopting in 2007.

“Nobody loves their mama like a little boy.”

Eric’s desire for another girl was, after much introspection and countless discussions with me and also with our adoption social worker, based in fear and in some respects a bit of complacency.  He was afraid that he wouldn’t be a strong enough father for a son, that he would fail at the task, and ultimately he conceded that somewhere in the recesses of his mind he felt a bit off the hook, so to speak, if we only had daughters. I’m a female, and therefore the task of handling all of the “girl” stuff would (he hoped) fall on my shoulders. This realization helped to open up an excellent dialogue between the two of us regarding our roles in the raising of our children, about what mothers and fathers bring to the table when raising children of the same and opposite gender, and about our expectations of ourselves and each other.
But the big turning point came one afternoon as we sat in our driveway during our garage sale. We were talking to a neighbor about the difference between raising sons and daughters. Eric said, “I just don’t want to get a phone call in the middle of the night from a son saying, ‘Dad, I’m in jail’.”  Our neighbor didn’t miss a beat with her reply.  She said, “With a daughter, you may get the phone call when she’s 15 years old saying, ‘Dad, I’m pregnant.”’

The look on Eric’s face is one I will never forget.

In 2009, we began our second adoption process. I wanted to leave our gender request open to “either,” but Eric was still steadfast in only wanting to adopt another girl. We talked, and talked, and talked. Our dossier was logged in and we waited for a match through the medical needs program. One month passed, then two, then three. We were open to many needs, some which were considered to be leaning more towards what was, back then, considered to be more than “minor.” Why hadn’t we been matched yet? It was during this time of waiting and contemplation that I learned that there were families that had decided to withdraw from the China adoption program completely rather than adopt a boy. These were not necessarily families with multiple boys who decided to adopt from China in order to bring a girl into the mix (and who, for whatever reason, did not wish to adopt a girl through the medical needs program). There were childless couples who could only envision themselves parents to a healthy girl, and did not wish to parent even a very healthy boy. That struck me as distressing.

On a rainy Saturday in December 2009, we were driving Sophia and MeiLi to Eugene for one of Sophie’s gymnastics meets. As is his style, out of nowhere Eric told me that he was open to adopting a boy. I was ecstatic, but also scared. And you know what? I felt a bit of grief. We were both letting go of the idea of a third daughter. We both loved raising our girls. Girls are great! But we felt that the right thing to do, the fair thing in our vision of the world, was to open ourselves up to the possibility that going down a path that wasn’t necessarily one that we would design for ourselves just might end up being one of the best decisions we had ever made, for our family and for a boy in need.

That evening, we called our social worker and told her that we wanted to change our gender request to “either.” On Monday, she communicated our decision to the China team at Holt. Thirty minutes later, our social worker called back. We had been matched!

It was Tristan, and we were smitten!

Five months later, this one-time reluctant mother to a boy couldn’t stop smiling as I held my SON! He’s my snuggle bug, a most compassionate and tender child, and oh so sweet.

Eric had found the strength to face his own fears and embrace the journey of being a father to a boy.

As many of you know, Tristan’s surprise diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension upon arrival home (we knew he had an already repaired large VSD and moderate ASD) propelled us to adopt children with complex congenital heart disease. We loved raising our son so much, nine months later we decided to adopt this precious boy!

It was our Bryce, our Bao Bao, our Super BaoBaTron! Cute as a button, a born comedian, and silly mischief-maker, he lights up our family!

And then, as our story goes, Bryce’s medical journey opened us up to adopting two more children with highly complex CHD. Those two children just happened to be girls.

Way back when, almost ten years ago, we were holding on so tight to a vision of our family and our lives. Letting go is so liberating, so rewarding, and so joyful!  We never could have imagined!

Andrea Olson | Salem, Oregon

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Click here to learn more about the children who need families from China!

Or click here to read more stories from families who adopted boys.

4 Comments on “My Name is Andrea, and I was Once Reluctant to Adopt a Boy

  1. Thanks so much for your authenticity, Andrea. I really enjoyed reading this and so much of it resonated with me. I have two daughters from China and fantasize about the third but find myself opposed to a boy and I see myself in your story. Becoming first time parents to a toddler was a difficult transition. Now I feel like I “get” parenting girls and might be out of my comfort zone with a boy…but that is very stupid and selfish reasoning especially when I have so many precious nephews whom I love dearly. Thank you so much for this article. Your family is inspiring.

  2. LOVED reading your story. I too was reluctant to adopt a boy. We brought our NSN daughter home in Apr 2005 and started the process for another, one year later. But we were caught in that long, long, wait for a NSN girl. In 2010 we finally felt freed to change to the SN program. For the next few months we kept getting files for boys and each time we said no. I told myself their “needs” were too great for us so saying no was easy. Then came a file for a little boy that we seriously considered (kindof). In the end, we waited to long and another family got him. I was OK with that telling myself it just wasn’t meant to be. My husband on the other hand was crushed…he was really looking for a boy and I was ignorant of that until then. I had to take a good look at myself and came to the conclusion I was being selfish. I repented and opened myself up to the possibility of getting a boy. The very next file was another boy. We looked at his file for a week and made the (tough for me) decision to take him. It was hard getting rid of the girl things and coming up with a boy name, but in the end, he has added so much to our family that I can’t even imagine life without him. Crazy how that happens…

  3. 20 years ago, we adopted twin boys from Vietnam. Even then, there was a long waiting list of people waiting for girls to become available, and so many boys they couldn’t find homes for. I have so loved parenting my boys. We are not in the early process of bringing home a 13-year-old boy from China…so excited!

  4. I am so pleased that my story resonated with you all! Thank you for your comments!

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