Mike & Dawn Figgins: A pair of China dolls

Mike & Dawn Figgins' family grows again 

By DAVID GREEN

It takes a lot of patience to become the adoptive parent of a Chinese baby. Several months worth of patience.

But once the connection is made, it’s all worth the long wait.

That was the experience of Mike and Dawn Figgins—twice over. The couple has traveled twice to China to bring back an orphan to their home in Fayette.

figgins Dawn explains that their own child, Mackalyn, was the result of a high-risk pregnancy. They wanted a second child, but not the risk that could easily arise from her own pregnancy.

She read an article in the Toledo Blade about adopting orphans and it piqued her interest.

“It just touched my heart,” she said. “I knew if we were going to do it, it would be the right thing.”

Later, the Figgins saw an item in their church bulletin about Asian children needing homes. They contacted an agency and the application process got underway.

Why a foreign adoption when so many American children need a home?

There are cases in which a child is given up for adoption, but then later tracked down by the biological mother and returned to her through legal action, Mike said. That’s a heart-breaking possibility they’d rather not face. Adopting a child from Asia, he said, pretty much eliminates the possibility that years later someone is going to come knocking on your door to claim their child.

And why China?

That’s just one of those hard-to-explain notions.

“I knew in my heart that was the place,” Dawn said.

There’s no shortage of orphans in the People’s Republic of China. Male babies are still preferred due to the tradition of the male child caring for his parents. It’s a form of social security, Mike said. The country operates under a one-child system as a means of controlling the expanding population. Some families are allowed to have a second child if the first-born is a girl.

Many children are abandoned. The Figgins’ first adopted child, Jillian, was placed at the base of a bridge. The second, Jocelyn, was left at a seafood restaurant.

“Parents typically put them in a place where they’ll be found,” Dawn said. “They want them to be cared for.”

She describes the application process as long and hard. A visit to the federal immigration office in Cleveland. Finger-printing through the FBI. Clearance through the state child protective  services office. Letters of reference. Training in Chinese culture. Home inspection. Proof of income and job security. CPR certification.

The list of requirements is extensive. Some are adoption agency-based, some through the U.S. government and others from the Chinese government.

Every document must be notarized and forwarded on to a county office to approve the notary. Then it moves on to the Ohio Secretary of State to approve the county’s action. The growing dossier moves on to the agency and finally to the Chinese consulate.

If approval is granted by the Chinese government, a photo of the baby is sent, along with minimal medical and developmental information. Next, it’s time for the prospective parents to sign a form stating they accept the child. It’s rare for a rejection, Dawn says.

“Once you see the referral photo, you’re hooked.”

Eventually, final approval comes from China and then you can start making travel arrangements.

“It was 26 months from start to finish,” Mike said about the first adoption, then down to the 14 months the second time around.

The Figgins flew into Beijing and spent a couple of days traveling. The Americans are encouraged to see the country and take photos to show their children as they grow.

With five other families from northwest Ohio, they flew nearly 800 miles south to the orphanage in Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan. At the orphanage, workers held up photos of the babies to match up the new parents with their child.

“The first time we went,” Mike said, “we had some time to talk to the caregivers at the orphanage. The second time they handed us the babies and they were gone.”

Dawn says she’s glad she wasn’t a first-time parent, because Jocelyn, who was 13 months old, cried for a good share of the first four days.

“I kept telling myself, we don’t look the same, we don’t talk the same, we don’t smell the same, the food is not the same,” Dawn recalls. “I knew it would take me more than four days to adjust.”

There was additional paperwork to be completed by the Chinese government before heading off for more at the American embassy. Finally, the child received a medical checkup before a visa was issued.

An oath is administered for the child to become an American citizen—the status actually took effect at the immigration office at O’Hare Airport in Chicago—and the process was complete. The trip from Fayette to China and back home again took 17 days for Jocelyn, ending April 8.

The adoption process is an emotionally challenging roller coaster ride, Dawn says, but it was an easy decision to go back for the second child.

“We wanted some companionship for Jillian,” Mike said, “and we wanted to bring another child out to give her opportunities she wouldn’t have in her own country.”

The Figgins aim to provide the girls with some cultural heritage of the country they left behind. Traveling in the country gave them a small foundation.

“It gives you a whole new appreciation of their country and what people there go through day by day,” Dawn said. “A lot of them have a pretty tough life.”

There are two youngsters from the Hunan Province who have escaped the orphanage and are settled into a new life in Fayette.

  - May 11, 2005

 

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