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One Canadian woman’s journey to adopting in Japan: Part I -- Deciding to adopt

22 Comments
By Melodie Cook

To be honest, I had never really wanted children.

Even as a small child, I remember playing “house” with my friends and being bored to death caring for dolls and pretending to cook and clean. Although I was interested in the interactions with boys as husbands, that was the extent of it for me. In addition, I wasn’t sure what good parenting was because both my parents worked and my sister and I were raised first by a series of live-in housekeepers, some of whom were not very child-friendly. Eventually, we ended up at the house of an unhappy neighbour. Every day after school, my sister and I would sit at the front window in her house watching anxiously for the sight of our parents’ car pulling into the driveway so that we could go home.

I was also bullied mercilessly when I was in elementary school. At the age of 12, I decided that no one was there for me and I’d have to be on the lookout for myself my entire life. (I also learned that if one can’t get by on looks, one had better develop other talents.)

My husband, however, grew up happily in the countryside in southern Japan and has said that he, unlike me, would happily return to his childhood days.

He had always wanted children. Years ago, when he was my student in an adult night school, he wrote “my son” on the information sheet where I’d asked students to tell me their goal for the future. He’s a total kid magnet, and given the choice he would rather spend time playing with children than chatting with adults. Whenever we’d visit our friends in Canada who had kids, he’d be in another room playing with them while I’d be sipping wine and chatting with the parents. In short, I enjoy being an adult, surrounded by adults. My husband enjoys being surrounded by children.

Then, something happened that made me realize something was missing from my life and that I wanted and needed to care for someone besides myself: In 2006, my new colleague and friend admitted that he suffered from bipolar disorder. Suddenly, I felt a strong desire to “care” for him and found myself helping with his classes, championing his sometimes odd behavior to others and offering to present with him (which meant that I ended up doing most of the work). In other words, I was acting more like his parent than colleague.

I suddenly realized that at 42 years of age, I felt I was ready to start a family. Childbirth was not in the cards for us. Not only was I probably too old to give birth, there were several medical issues that affected our potential to have our own kids. I had been in a car accident when I was in high school which resulted in a crushed pelvis. In addition, when I was 27 I had to have surgery for an ectopic pregnancy (I didn’t even know I was pregnant until I went to the hospital in severe pain). I remember, post-surgery, the doctor saying that my fallopian tubes were badly scarred and would have to be inflated if I wanted to try to get pregnant without problems. I’d also have to go with IVF, because timing would be tricky. Another doctor told me that our chances with IVF would be slim at best and would only lead to pain, expense, and likely, failure.

And so, we felt adoption would be the best way to increase our family. Later, after doing some reading, I realized that we had been putting ourselves and our needs to parent first. For potential adoptive parents, I would ask you to seriously ask yourselves why you want to adopt.

Adopted children of any age have particular needs and you will, in most — if not all — cases have to put your child’s needs before your own. If you have been in a child-free partnership for a long time, this will be a challenge for you. You will lose a lot of freedom, you will need to read a lot to inform yourself and your relationship dynamic with your partner will certainly change. Especially in a mixed-race couple, where expectations for roles, schooling, etc., will differ, you had better be prepared to communicate your expectations openly and clearly.

In Part II of “Adopting in Japan,” we’ll talk matter-of-factly about the procedures Melodie and her husband went through to meet their son — from being matched, to their first visit together and through the heart wrenching bonding process. We’ll also provide information on the time it takes, costs, alternatives to consider as well as some practical tips and advice. If you have any questions about adoption in Japan for Melodie Cook, please contact us at editorial@gplusmedia.com.

Melodie Cook (originally from Canada), is an adoptive and foster mother currently living in Niigata, Japan. She is also an Associate Professor at the University of Niigata Prefecture. After adopting her son in 2009, she started an online yahoo group “adoptioninjapan” in order to connect with other mixed-race families raising adopted children. She also has created a Facebook page where adoptive and foster families can give and receive advice and support. Both groups are private, so please contact her to join: cookmelo@unii.ac.jp.

© Savvy Tokyo

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


22 Comments
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One of my sons classmates from HS has 5 children of his own here, and he has adopted 4 other children as well, all 4 racially mixed, and abandoned from birth. He told me there was a huge amount of paperwork involved, and quite a few raised eyebrows, for both him, and his Japanese wife.

He doesnt give a damn, and he is one great father to ALL his kids! (His wife is a great Mom too!)

8 ( +8 / -0 )

I had a friend who adopted their two kids from Japan. The looks the mother received from other Japanese who asked her whose kids she was baby sitting and when she told them that they were hers were interesting. Some of our Japanese friends who met them insisted that the kids must have been mixed Korean, but having helped with the translation of the documents, they were told that they were full Japanese.

I often find it interesting the Japanese thoughts on adoption. We hear that family line is important, yet sometimes they will let the kids be raised in an orphanage than adopt them into their homes. Or, I have heard the "we didn't adopt because we didn't want to take the chance that the child we adopted would turn out to be a bad influence on society" to which all I can say is that you take that chance with everyone.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

we didn't adopt because we didn't want to take the chance that the child we adopted would turn out to be a bad influence on society"

Yet failing to realize, in their own self imposed ignorance, that they themselves are influencing society by their choice to not adopt when they have the means and the desire to have children of their own, but for whatever reason can not, and considered the adoption route, but did not go through for the reason stated here.

The stigma is that the child who is in government care or in an orphanage is somehow tainted, otherwise they wouldn't be there in the first place. Ignorance runs deep.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

A very good part 1, and sure to be an incredibly important and interesting look at this very distressing aspect of society here. Looking forward to reading Part 2.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

I get the feeling that the Japanese government and its citizens would rather place children in orphanages than have large numbers of them adopted by families from abroad.

Sad, but very few Japanese families are willing to adopt, and the orphanages keep the problem of "unwanted" children out of sight and out of mind, whereas placing them with families abroad would make the crisis much more visible. Shameful.

The odd thing is that adoption used to be very prevalent in Japan up until the 1950s or so. This was particularly the case with rural families in need of a child to work the farms who would adopt a child from a family with an "extra" child, and too many mouths to feed. Somehow, a stigma against adoption has developed in this nation since then.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Ironically, Japan is actually #2, after the US, when it comes to the number of legal adoptions. So it's not a concept that is completely alien to Japanese culture. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these Japanese adoptees are grown men.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/04/economist-explains-why-adults-adopted-japan

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Unfortunately, the vast majority of these Japanese adoptees are grown men.

@M3M3M3

I want to "LOL" that one (I have heard this before). Although technically these men are "adopted" by another family, in my mind it certainly doesn't count as "adoption" in the true sense of the word. It is an apples-oranges comparison to say that Japan is #2 in adoptions by including figures for adult-aged adoptees. It almost seems as if the government is trying to massage the statistics.

Still, interesting nonetheless, and it does suggest some a possibility that the strong Japanese aversion against adoption could someday change.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Very interesting article, cant wait for part 2.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

NPB pitcher Jason Standridge is one famous example of foreign person with an adopted Japanese child. I think he said it was for religious reasons, plus I can imagine at his pay level it is not much of a financial burden.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Anyone remember that American guy and his wife, a missionary-type person I think, in the 1990s, who was being chucked out of Japan because he couldn't get any more visa extensions, and this was causing a big problem for the several kids he had adopted here?

I wonder what ever happened to him and his family.

Luckily there are nice people around, even if governments aren't as helpful as they could be.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Good on them. Children are not for everyone, but this couple sound like they'll be outstanding parents. (Report back after the child has turned 20!) BTW, adoption of adult men to carry on a family name is not so uncommon around the world and was done in antiquity.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I suggested adoption for our second child, and my wife thought I was crazy. She couldn't understand why I'd want to raise someone else's child rather than one of our own. It's just not something people think of or really do here. When adoption happens, it's usually a family member's child, when there is a problem or a death in the family.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Ironically, Japan is actually #2, after the US, when it comes to the number of legal adoptions. So it's not a concept that is completely alien to Japanese culture. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these Japanese adoptees are grown men.

This is only because of families with no sons and the desire of the woman's family to have a man who will pass along the family name. Because of the laws regarding family registry, the "man" has to be officially "adopted" into the family and will take the surname of his wife rather than vice-versa as is common with most couples after marriage.

I agree with the apples-oranges argument as typically speaking "adoption" refers to children, and while semantically it's the same, it's totally different and in this case statistics should be thrown out the door.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I wouldn't mind adopting another kid but with a Japanese wife it is not in the cards...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

we didn't adopt because we didn't want to take the chance that the child we adopted would turn out to be a bad influence on society" oh dear , Japan and its brainwashed ideals that society trumps any personal dreams or desires the individual may have. Serious time to grow some nads Japan, stand up for yourselves live YOUR life, not some life thats been pre-programmed for you. And most importantly dont give a frack what people think about you, your life will be much less stressful.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

There are many examples of adoption in Japan where the older of a gay couple will adopt the younger, even if it only a few days younger, so that in the case of death assets and inheritance can legally be passed on.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

There are many examples of adoption in Japan where the older of a gay couple will adopt the younger, even if it only a few days younger, so that in the case of death assets and inheritance can legally be passed on

This happens and is also one reason why some non-Japanese people acquire Japanese nationality.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Thanks for your comments, all! -Melodie

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Thanks for your comments, all! -Melodie

Thank you for the article Melodie. Well written.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Great article, Melodie! Thanks for writing this. It's going to help a lot of people.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I suggested adoption for our second child, and my wife thought I was crazy.

Hmm...that can be read in two ways.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hah, so it can.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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