In the short, happy life of Lian McLean-Smits it was a remarkable month of June. One week, he was dozing blissfully in his tidy but rather drab digs in China that he shared with other children and old people. The next week, he was bedded down on the other side of the world in the posh Toronto neighborhood of Rosedale with new parents, a new sister and a new name. Now nine months old, Lian is part of a new wave. In the past year, increasing numbers of Canadians searching for children to adopt—like his adoptive parents, 37-year-old actress Sonja Smits and Atlantis Films Ltd. TV producer Seaton McLean, 40—have turned to a welcoming China. “There have been a lot of problems with foreign adoptions and we wanted to find people who were an honorable and reputable bunch, and we didn’t want to be paying bribes,” says Smits. “Basically, we wanted to find a group that was aboveboard.”
Smits, who starred in the TV series Street Legal and The Diviners, a television movie, and McLean already had one adopted child, Canadian-born Avalon, now 41/2. And they had despaired of finding a second child in Canada when their social worker suggested they try Children’s Bridge, a non-profit Ottawa agency that handles China adoptions. After they applied, they were fingerprinted by the RCMP on behalf of Interpol, had to provide financial and personal health information and be approved both by the Ontario ministry of community and social services and the Chinese adoption authorities. Documents had to be translated and exchanged. “Our file,” says Smits, “is two inches thick.”
But their application was approved last April. “Once that happens,” says Smits, “they offer you a child. They say this is the child we have selected for you. They supply the name, a picture, the head circumference and the date of birth, which they often guess at because most of these children have been abandoned”—not uncommon in China whose tough population-control law forbids couples to have more than one child and, given the Chinese preference for boys, accounts for the fact that nearly all the children offered for adoption are girls. “If you say you want this child, then all the paperwork goes back with the kid’s name attached.”
Two months later, Children’s Bridge called Smits and McLean and said they would be leaving for China within a week. They flew with 12 other couples and two single women to Shanghai, “where,” Smits says, “you’re met by somebody who takes you like a bunch of ducks to the hotel and you kind of cluck around.” The next day, they took a 1 V2-hour train trip to the 150-year-old orphanage at Suzhou, which cares for children, some of them physically and mentally handicapped, and old people.
The Chinese adoption authorities threw a banquet to complete the process. “You’re given another set of thumbprints, you’ve sworn that you’ll take care of him and love him forever, educate him and all that, and in the morning you swear some more stuff and they say, ‘OK, the baby will be brought to your hotel at 10 o’clock,’ ” Smits says. “At a quarter to 12, there’s a knock on the door, you open it and they hand you your baby. Then they leave, and you and your husband hold the baby and put him on the bed, and you realize how perfect he is, and you say, ‘My God, how did we get so lucky?’ ” She declines to disclose his original name— “that’s his business”—nor how much the whole venture cost (although Children’s Bridge charges $15,000). Lian, she says, is a Chinese name which, roughly translated, means “to love deeply.” Smits says that because of the background furnished by the Children’s Bridge agency, “the one thing we knew was that it would be a girl, and when the offer of a boy came in we were in shock to say the least” The Chinese did not explain, she says, “but one theory is that actresses, believe it or not are highly revered in China and the way you honor someone is by giving them a son. People at the orphanage said they hoped that one day he would be an actor or a director.” Smits and McLean spent five days touring Beijing while Canadian immigration officers prepared their son’s documentation. Passershy, she says, frequently asked to have their pictures taken with Lian. “They would ask if he was ours and when we said, Yes,’ they would give us big grins and huge thumbs up.”
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