“I wanted to be a doctor. Unfortunately I didn’t get the grades I needed in China so I decided to come to New Zealand to study. I arrived when I was 20 and I couldn’t believe how lonely I was at first. It all seemed so strange. The thing that struck me most about New Zealand was the lack of people. In China it is so much busier.”
Julie is a quiet young woman and she felt lost until she got to know her homestay family. They were good to her and she become close with her homestay “mother”.
“One day my homestay mother asked me what was wrong. I was upset and I said that I thought I might be pregnant. My homestay mother took me to a pregnancy counselling centre and they did a pregnancy test. I was pregnant. I was so shocked. I just didn’t want to believe it. The counselling centre could not say how far on my pregnancy was, so I went to the hospital for a scan. I was told I was about four months pregnant. In China I know that people have abortions if they get pregnant unexpectedly, so my first thought was to get an abortion. I was horrified to find it was too late. I just wanted to get rid of this problem. I wasn’t thinking that I had a baby inside of me. That only hit me when I asked if it was a boy or a girl. The doctor was reluctant to tell me at first, but then said I was carrying a boy. I was so happy. Suddenly I felt different. I had a healthy baby boy inside of me and I began to feel connected to him.”
The hospital staff explained that the two options open to Julie were to parent her son or to place him for adoption. She faced her decision with only the support of her homestay mum and a young Chinese friend.
“I didn’t feel I could tell my parents or my other Chinese friends what was happening. I was too ashamed. Here I was in New Zealand to get good qualifications. How could I return to China as a single mum? I also knew that I was struggling to keep myself fed and clothed. There was no way I could afford to keep a child as well.”
Julie’s homestay mum took her along to the local Child Youth and Family Adoption and Information Services Unit to discuss how adoption works in New Zealand.
“My Social worker spoke clearly and very slowly. She explained about benefits I might be able to get but because I wasn’t a New Zealand resident I realized that I didn’t qualify. She told me all about the adoption process. In China if adoption does happen it is usually a secret and the child isn’t told it is adopted. In New Zealand they have ‘open’ adoption because they believe it is best that the child grows up having contact with the biological family as well as the adoptive family. In this way the child never has the shock of finding out about the adoption. I was also pleased to discover I could choose the family for my son.”
Julie was quite clear about the sort of family she wanted. It was important to her that the couple was similar in appearance to her and the biological father because she didn’t want him looking out of place in the family. She also wanted to find a well-educated family who were financially stable. She was equally clear that she didn’t want her son’s biological father to know about or have contact with him.
“The relationship was already over when I discovered I was pregnant. We split up because I discovered my boyfriend had a drinking problem and he was abusive to me. Even after we split up I received threatening text messages from him. I don’t want him having anything to do with my child because I don’t think he will be a good influence on him.”
Julie selected two couples from the information she was shown. She eventually chose one and kept the other in reserve.
The time leading up to the birth was very difficult because Julie didn’t want any of her Chinese friends to know she was pregnant. She kept away from friends and continued with her job. Each week she called her parents back home.
“It was hard trying not to let my voice show what I was going through. I had to pretend everything was fine. I think my mother may have understood but I don’t think my father would have accepted my pregnancy.”
When the time came for the birth, Julie continued to be staunch. “I went into labour at 4am and after I had given birth I left the hospital straight away and went back to the homestay. I took my son, Ben*, with me and looked after him there for a month. The social worker advised me against doing this but I really wanted to give him some time with me. It was very hard. I cried a lot of the time. I was tired and emotional but I knew I only had a month with him. Towards the end of the month I began to negotiate the level of contact I would have with the adoptive parents I had chosen. They were reluctant to let me see him more than three times a year and when I talked it through with my homestay mum I realized I wasn’t comfortable with their lack of openness. I decided to change my mind and select the other couple. It was a hard decision but it was the best thing I could have done. I am a very quiet person and I want Ben to have a lively family life. The first couple was very quiet but the second had a daughter who was very friendly and lively. I immediately felt comfortable with them when we met and I knew I had made the right decision to place Ben with them.”
Julie had to face the heartbreaking day when she handed Ben over to his adoptive parents. “I really don’t like crying in front of people but I couldn’t help myself. I was so sad. They came to my place and took him away. They said I could visit as soon as I wanted which helped. After they left I went to work because I thought it would help take my mind of Ben and how sad I was.”
The first year was very difficult but, because of Julie’s reluctance to show her emotions in front of strangers, she turned down the offer of counseling made by the social workers. Two years on she still admits to feeling sad at times, but she has seen what a lovely boy Ben has become.
“The adoptive parents email me every week and I get to pop in when I want. Sometimes I have him for the day, which is really neat. He is so lovely. I am so proud of myself. I have a beautiful son and his adoptive family loves him very much. I gave him the chance of life and I chose the best family I could for him. I know that if I had had an abortion I would be saying my son would have been two now. Instead of that I can say he is two. It makes me feel very proud. I know he will have a happy life. I am going back to China but I will stay in touch with the adoptive parents by email and we will visit each other in the future. “
“I hope that other international students who find themselves pregnant will take courage from my story. It has been a hard two years but I am so happy with the way the adoption has worked out. I really am proud of myself and I love my son. He will always be a part of my life no matter where I end up living.”
*Names have been changed.