• U.S.

To Our Readers, Aug. 14, 1995

3 minute read
Elizabeth Valk Long

The road to parenthood is often paved with missteps and disappointments, but for parents who for one reason or another choose to adopt, it is especially perilous. Senior writer Jill Smolowe and her husband Joe Treen (a senior editor at PEOPLE) traveled all the way to Yangzhou, China, to find their daughter Rebecca, and there were hazards all the way: interminable waiting lists; promising leads that fell through at the last minute; even political turmoil. As journalists, the couple were keenly aware that international events could at any moment close a door that had taken years to pry open. Just as they were about to leave for China, Washington and Beijing began fighting over trade issues, and rumors circulated that Deng Xiaoping, China’s aging leader, was about to die–an event that could presage turmoil.

But all the travails–and the travels–were forgotten the moment they had Rebecca in their arms. “When the woman from the orphanage handed her over,” Smolowe recalls, “Rebecca clung to me and never looked back.”

Rebecca, now 14 months, was constantly on Smolowe’s mind as she wrote this week’s story about the controversy surrounding “transracial” adoptions. “As I read about people who champion the idea that it would be better for children to languish in temporary foster homes than be adopted into families of another race,” says Smolowe, “I had to work hard to separate the reporting from my feelings.” Senior editor Lee Aitken, whose daughter Sophie, 4, was adopted in Bulgaria, argues that in stories like this, firsthand experience can make for better journalism. “At some point, the adoption ordeal always brings you face-to-face with your most basic values,” says Aitken. “You have to be very honest with yourself, and Jill knew that instinctively.”

Jill and Joe’s Rebecca now lives in a room decorated with mementos from China (“We want her to be acquainted with the culture of her native country,” says her mother). And in the mornings she wakes up in her own bed–a crib the size of the one she shared with two other babies in that Chinese orphanage. “For the first few weeks after we brought her home, Rebecca would open her eyes, gaze at me and simply beam, surprised and delighted, looking as if she wanted to say, ‘Oh, you’re still there,'” Smolowe says. “There are people who say to us, ‘Rebecca’s such a lucky little girl.’ Those people don’t understand. Joe and I are the lucky ones.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com