By Crystal Thompson
Meggie Xiajing Zook is one lucky little girl. Not only does she have two loving parents who would do anything for her, she's also already had the adventure of a lifetime and she's only 2 years old.
Meggie was born on July 26, 1998. Later that day she was found at the gates of Wushan, China, abandoned by her mother. At about the same time, across the ocean and miles away, Mike and Darcy Zook of Havre began the paperwork to adopt a child.
Chinese tradition dictates the maximum number of children that a family can have, which in most cases is only one, especially if that one child is a male. In China, men continue to live with their family even after they are married. The man is then expected to care for his aging parents. Women do not stay at home after they are married; upon marriage they become part of their husband's family and are expected to help care for his parents.
It is believed that little Meggie may have been abandoned because she was an unauthorized pregnancy. Under China's government, all women must be registered through their work unit, these units authorize any and all pregnancies. They closely monitor the woman's health and reproductive cycle. Any baby born after a family has reached their "limit" costs the parents an average fine of three years wages. China's birth rate has stayed close to 1.5 percent in recent years, and the Chinese government has stated a goal to reach zero population growth rate in the next ten years.
The overcrowding in China makes it difficult for abandoned babies to find homes; it also makes it easy for women to have abortions. Orphanages are abundant in China, and often severely crowded with a majority of female babies.
Meggie was taken to the Children's Social Welfare Center in the city of Hefei two days after being abandoned, and remained there until last October when she was finally adopted by the Zook's. The Children's Social Welfare Center is one of Hefei's several orphanages where over three hundred young children await homes and loving families.
Mike and Darcy Zook traveled to China with a group of six other families from throughout the United States who were adopting Chinese children. The couple went through the Christian World Adoption organization to adopt Meggie. The group stayed in China for two weeks, getting a close and sometimes disturbing look at Chinese culture. When the time came for the families to meet their new children, tears of joy were evident on several faces.
"Everybody was so emotionally charged," Darcy said.
The Zooks said that Meggie was understandably upset during the first few hours after the adoption. Social workers assured them that this was perfectly normal, and that they should be concerned only if Meggie would have been unrattled by the experience. Within a few days Meggie had grown accustomed to her new parents, although she favored Darcy at first. Because the children were not exposed to men in the orphanage, Meggie was a little leery of Mike, Darcy said. It didn't take long, however, for Meggie to become a full-fledged daddy's girl.
The Zooks said that the first time Meggie seemed to be completely aware of her new family was a few days after she was adopted. Mike and Darcy took her to a department store in China to buy some new shoes. With the help of an interpreter the store clerk found a pair of red shoes for Meggie. He put one on her foot to see if it fit and apparently Meggie liked the idea.
"She said try other one for me too, please', and then laughed," Darcy said, "I think that's when she realized that all the stuff we were buying was for her and that she was ours."
Mike said that he and his wife considered adopting in the United States early on, but they had some problems with the way the system worked. The Zooks said that that they have gotten some flack from people who don't agree with their decision to adopt a foreign child, but they are happy that they did.
Mike said that some people believe children in the United States should be the first to be adopted by U.S. families; while others go so far as to say that white children should only be adopted by white families, black children by only black families and so on.
"We believe love has no color," Mike said.
Mike also said that the state of Montana requires a couple to act as foster parents before becoming qualified to adopt a child here.
"Emotionally, we weren't in the position for foster care," he said.
He added that he has undying respect for foster parents, but does not believe he could ever do what they do, saying that he couldn't bear the idea of a child being taken away from his home and potentially being placed back into an unstable home.
"Foster parents are some of the best people in the world," he said.
Another problem the Zook family had with domestic adoption was the "open adoption" system, which allows ongoing contact with the child's birth parents. The couple was leery of this option and decided that it wasn't for them. Mike said that he's seen many American adoptions fall through at the last minute because the birth mother changes her mind. He said that everyone he knows who has tried to adopt locally has had at least one failed adoption.
Foreign adoption has become a lot more popular and accepted in recent years. China has only be open to international adoption since 1992, but they now accept foreign families with enthusiasm. The Zooks said that once a family is approved to adopt out of China, the Chinese social system is very gracious to them.
"They treated us like royalty," Darcy said.
With celebrities like Rosie O'Donnell promoting adoption and organizations like Christian World Adoption working for families throughout the nation, adopting a child has become a more favored option for couples wishing to start a family. Several families up and down the Hi-Line have adopted foreign children through organizations similar to the one the Zook family used.
Mike said that he believes wholeheartedly that God is moving through these adoptions; his beliefs were strengthened recently when Havre couple Kraig and Kelly Van Voast adopted a baby from China. Mike said that the Van Voasts ended up adopting from the exact same Hefei orphanage where the Zooks adopted Meggie. When the two families got together recently, the two children recognized each other and called one another by name.
The Zooks are one of many Hi-Line couples who have found happiness with foreign adoption. Although the cost of foreign adoption is often times substantially more than domestic adoption (fees include vaccinations, travel, etc.), the rewards are priceless. Darcy said that she would love to adopt again, but the family is still recovering financially from Meggie's adoption. Mike said that Meggie is definitely big-sister material, but as for now she is content being the Zook family baby.