China first allowed foreigners to adopt Chinese children in 1992, and although that government has begun limiting such adoptions again, the number of children adopted by parents in the United States reached its peak in 2005. A total of 7,906 Chinese children found new homes in America that year.
Lia McManus, daughter of Fairmont physics teacher Jeff McManus, is proud to have been a part of that 2005 wave of adoptions.
McManus and his wife, Ann, aren’t quite sure why they decided to adopt in the first place. “We had two sons, but we just knew that the family wasn’t complete; there was something missing,” said McManus. “A ‘calling’ would be the best word to describe it.”
Lia was adopted at the age of 13 months. “I was only a teeny-weeny,” said Lia, now 8 years old.
The family doesn’t know much about Lia’s background. “There are a lot of legal problems in China if you abandon a baby, so many of them are left at the door of the orphanage,” said McManus. The only definite information they know is the province she was born in, Jiangxi.
For the first year of her life, Lia was referred to as Suyuan in the state-run orphanage. Her Kettering family decided to call her Lia because the family thought it looked Chinese but sounded Irish, much like McManus. “It was a nice combination of the two,” McManus said.
While most adoption processes take a long time due to submitting applications, choosing an agency and learning about the children up for adoption, international adoptions take even longer. For the McManus family, the entire process took about 15 months.
“A lot of it was waiting time. There are so many hoops to jump through, and you have to know how to fill out the paperwork,” said McManus. “There is a home study process everyone has to go through. They want to know how you live your life and what your family is like.”
Just like the birth of a child, emotions run high when parents see their adoptive child for the first time. Lia officially became a part of the McManus family on July 13, 2005, and McManus remembers the day clearly.
“There were about 10 families that were all getting their children on the same day, and the nannies walked in from the orphanage with babies in their arms,” said McManus. “Everyone was crying. Holding a child for the first time that you’ve known about for a year and have seen pictures of is magical. Lia laid her head down against her mom as if to say, ‘Now I know I’m home and I’m never going to be shuffled around again.’”
As Lia grew up, it became apparent that she would fit in just fine. “Nobody quite knows or understands how the matching process works,” said McManus. “It’s a miracle because Lia is perfect for our family — I just think God knows what needs to happen and makes it all happen.”
However, for Lia there was some adjustment involved. The sound of the Chinese language is very different from the sound of the English language, so it took Lia a little longer to talk. “She had to unlearn Chinese and start learning English, but she was pretty caught up by the time she started school,” McManus said.
But how did the rest of the family feel about the addition of a new member? McManus says his two boys, ages 4 and 6 at the time, were ecstatic. “To them, the idea of a sister was cool,” he said. “A new baby in the house is always exciting.”
To commemorate the event, the family put together a book filled with diary entries, emails and photos for Lia to treasure as a keepsake and to gain insight into what her life was like before she was adopted. “I read through the whole thing in a day!” said Lia.
Obviously, it takes a special kind of person to want to adopt. “You need to have the fortitude to go through the whole process. It’s an emotional rollercoaster,” said McManus. “But the rewards for us have been so great, it’s hard to imagine not wanting to go through all that.”