An Adopted Son

How One Woman’s Love For A Chinese-Nigerian Child Became One Of The Most Complex Adoption Cases In Modern China

0516_feature_13

It was late autumn 2007 and Lynn, a 21 year-old unmarried Chinese girl from Jilin, was heavily pregnant. She had told her parents about her impending motherhood, but there was a problem. The father, Moses, was black. Having no interest in fathering the child, he had flown back home to Nigeria, abandoning Lynn. For Lynn’s parents having a black child was unacceptable, and they made it clear to Lynn what her choice was. Either terminate the pregnancy, or be cut off from the family forever. Initially Lynn had tried to acquiesce to her parent’s wishes. She sat in the hospital awaiting an abortion that she had already paid for. A few minutes before she was due to go in something inside her said no. She couldn’t go through with it. She stood up and walked out of the hospital.

After giving birth, most Chinese women ‘sit the month’ spending 30 days relaxing, regathering their strength and gene rally trying to recover from childbirth. Lynn decided to take a slightly different approach. She flew to Nigeria.

Just weeks before the birth, Lynn contacted a Beijing-based pro-life charity called China’s Little Flower (CLF). They say part of their mission is to” build a culture of life by reaching out to those who are rejected, abandoned, deemed as useless, and who have no voice.” Essentially, people exactly like Lynn. But there was a problem: CLF is in Beijing, and Lynn was in Guangzhou and due to give birth very soon. Brent Johnson, CLF co-founder, contacted a friend, Jenny Smith, Executive Director of True Children’s Home in Dongguan. Now disbanded, True Children’s Home was an organization that helped Chinese orphans get important medical care, be put into foster homes, and eventually to find adoptive families. Lynn’s case was a bit at outside their realm, but they were eager to help.

0516_feature_9“I got an email from Brent [from CLF] saying that there was a pregnant woman in Guangzhou, her Nigerian boyfriend had left her, and her parents didn’t want anything to do with her,” says Jenny. “Brent asked me if I would help her. I said ‘yes, what does she need?’. Brent said ‘I really think she just needs someone to hold her hand.’ So, I got her contact information and shared it with my friend Denise.”

Wild gray hair, almost constantly smiling, and speaking in the thick southern drawl, that pretty much everyone from Tennessee has, Denise Allen, 55, is a remarkable woman by any standard. Ranging from eight to 30 years in age, she has eight children: four biological, two legally-adopted, two non-legally adopted. She has spent most of her life either involved in charity work, church work, or fostering children. She is one of those people that makes you question your own life and if you are doing enough good in the world.

“We came to China in 2006 with our youngest daughter. When we returned in the fall of 2007, after a short trip home, we were empty nesters,” she says. “For three months! Let’s just say I didn’t have so much gray hair back then.”

A gift from above
0516_feature_10In November 2007, Denise and Jenny travelled from Dongguan to Guangzhou to pick up Lynn. The plan was Jenny would select a hospital for Lynn to give birth safely while Denise and her husband, Stephen, would welcome Lynn into their home for a month or two, until she got back on her feet. In the end things worked out very differently.

Grateful for the support she was getting, Lynn insisted that, Denise’s husband, Stephen, name the new-born child. And he duly obliged, calling him Nathan, meaning ‘a gift from God’. After giving birth, most Chinese women ‘sit the month’ spending 30 days relaxing, regathering their strength and generally trying to recover from childbirth. Lynn decided to take a slightly different approach. She flew to Nigeria.

“I begged her not to but she insisted,” says Denise. “Her boyfriend left just after the baby was born. She was living with two strangers, and 12 days after the caesarean she flew to Nigeria to convince Moses [the father] back. She was insistent Nathan needed a father.”

Trouble in Africa
0516_feature_1While Lynn was in Nigeria, Denise received a phone call in the middle of the night. It didn’t sound good. Lynn and Moses were arguing, shouting at each other.

“She was trying to get the phone from him. He was screaming, ‘You want me beating you, you want me beating you?’. When the phone went dead, we didn’t know if Lynn was alive or dead. We didn’t know anything about Africa or where she was. About two hours later she called, crying, to let us know she was beaten but alive.”

Lynn never did drag Moses back to China, but one thing she did do was get Moses to marry her on that trip. This way, she could get a hukou [residency permit] for Nathan, so he could at least be sure of going to school. “That’s how much she cared for Nathan; Flying half way around the world to marry a man who had left her, so Nathan could be sure of a good education,” says Denise. “Whatever mistakes she made, no one could ever question her love for the child.”

“She was trying to get the phone from him. He was screaming, ‘You want me beating you, you want me beating you?’ When the phone went dead, we didn’t know if Lynn was alive or dead.”

One or two months turned into a year. During that time, Lynn struggled to handle the pressure of trying to raise Nathan without the help and support of his biological father and her family. “We begged her to let us help her so she could raise him. She didn’t feel she had the power to do it. So, she told us she wanted to leave and asked if we could take care of Nathan,” says Denise. “We told her we would, but only if she let us pursue adoption. We would not babysit open-ended forever. On December 28, 2008, she wrote a note, which I still have, stating that she wished for us to adopt her child. Then, she left.”

2016©Marty Allison

2016©Marty Allison

By October 2009, Lynn had married a Chinese man, but he did not want anything to do with Nathan, insisting that Lynn even remove him from her hukou.

“He is a really sweet guy, and actually good with Nathan but none of his friends or family know that his wife had a child. A black child. There is no way they could accept it.” says Denise.

Adopting an orphan in China is a relatively straightforward process, but it becomes a lot more difficult if a child is not technically an orphan and still has a parent. And Nathan did. Things were looking complicated. Late fall 2009, things got a lot more complicated.

Heartbreak
First, Denise spoke to an adoption specialist who gave her advice that didn’t sit easily. She told her that they should give the child back, that Moses was a deadbeat dad, and if she gave Nathan back, he would be returned within two weeks. “She assured us if we would stick to her plan, we would have Nathan back, for sure. I said ‘ok but we need to tell Lynn we are going through with it’. But this lady said ‘No, she doesn’t really want the father to take the child. Don’t tell her. She will put you in the middle and blame you’. So we agreed,” says Denise. “The day the father was coming to pick up Nathan, Lynn just happened to Skype call us. We hadn’t spoken to her in almost a year. At this point, I had no choice. I told her and she went ballistic. She begged us to keep him for three days until she could get there by train. Steve explained it was too late. We must stick to the plan.”

0516_feature_12In the middle of the Skype conversation, Moses arrived to pick up Nathan. Before doing so, Denise claims he admonished Lynn, blaming her for everything. Then, he left with the child.

“I was distraught. Two friends had come over to console us. Then, about five minutes later, a policeman knocked on the door and said, ‘We have just received a call from a woman in Jilin who says a black man has kidnapped her child from the American couple she left him with,” Denise said. “My thoughts were ‘Yes, yes! Go, and get him! Go, and get him!’ There was a policeman standing there smoking a cigarette and I was thinking, ‘You just got a call from a woman saying her child was kidnapped. Go do something!’ Instead, they took my husband to the police department. He told them the truth. They interviewed him three times while Jenny and I paced the floor, waiting to hear if Nathan was coming back. It was a long night.”

Over the next two days, the police tried to track down Moses, but Denise says he kept making excuses not to meet. Lynn also arrived from Jilin by train (almost a two-day journey). After interviewing Lynn, perplexed about what to do, the policeman in charge of the case asked Denise who she thought should have custody of the baby.

0516_feature_6“I told him everything. I told him about Moses leaving. I told him about Lynn going to Africa. Based on previous behaviour, I said if the father gets the child, then I think the boy will be taken back to Africa and Lynn would never see him again. On the other hand, after all Lynn had been through, she still insisted that Moses was Nathan’s father and she hoped he would have a relationship with him,” she says. “He listened to me for a long, long time before saying, ‘I have decided what I am going to do. For now, you will get the child. We will bring him back to this home.’ It was a miracle!”

And that is what happened.

Finally, on the fifth day, the police tracked Moses to a housing estate in Guangzhou. Nathan was being carried by a Chinese woman. When police asked the woman who the baby belonged to, she, first, said he was hers. Then, she said his father and mother were up in the apartment, sleeping. The police informed her that the baby belonged to Lynn, who was there with them, and duly instructed her to give the baby to Lynn or be arrested. Nathan was 22 months old, had no idea who Lynn was and was terrified! She immediately showed him photos of himself with Denise and he began saying “Mama! Mama!”.

On Jan. 31, 2015, Moses relented and offered to sign over adoption documents. Denise and Stephen’s journey was almost over. The handsome boy that they had named, raised, and been with for the last seven years was now almost their son, legally.

Despite the Allens having looked after Nathan for his whole life, adopting Nathan was still difficult, indeed. He wasn’t technically an orphan. Steve and Denise were over the age in which they could legally adopt (50) unless the child had some kind of special needs (Nathan didn’t), and Moses hadn’t exactly been helpful. Added to that, adoption fees for American citizens to adopt Chinese children can run as high as 30,000 dollars, as English teachers and charity workers they just did not have that kind of money.

Endless difficulties
0516_feature_8Nevertheless, these were obstacles she set about to overcome. She went to three doctors to try to get them to confirm that Nathan had special needs but they would not. Exasperated she went to a fourth doctor and pointed out that one of Nathan’s toes was raised slightly to lie on top of the other. Though it doesn’t affect Nathan negatively in anyway, the fourth doctor relented and agreed to issue a document saying he has a raised toe. This was enough to say that he had a special need.

They fundraised too: Denise daughter Brittany started a GoFundMe page, Jenny Smith and her family pitched in. And there were credit cards too. To this day Denise and Stephen are thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt.

On Jan. 31, 2015, Moses relented and offered to sign over adoption documents. Denise and Stephen’s journey was almost over. The handsome boy that they had named, raised, and been with for the last seven years was now almost their son, legally. They were almost over the finishing line, but the journey had been unbearable, and there were times they wondered if it was ever going to happen.

Then disaster struck. Four days before she was due to sign the papers for the adoption, Lynn got cold feet and decided she would not give up the child. It looked as though after mothering him for eight years Denise was going to lose him. “It was one of the worst days of my life,” said Denise. “I took Nathan aside and told him that after two sleeps, he must tell Lynn he wanted to go home.” Two days later Lynn called and said Nathan had been crying non-stop for two days and wanted to go home. The adoption was back on.

Mother’s love
0516_feature_4

Leslie, 25, is one of Stephen and Denise’s non-legally adopted daughters and has lived with them since she was 18 years old, but has known them for much longer. “I nearly lost faith that Nathan wouldn’t be able to stay with us … All my life I met people when I was in orphanages, people who came and said they would help,” says Leslie. “They would give me some candy, say they loved me. Social workers and things, but they were always gone so fast. Denise and Stephen were different. I never knew that people could love so much, before them.”

On March 14, 2016, Guo Neisen officially became Nathan Isaac Guo Allen. “It took seven years, two months and 16 days, but we got there,” says Denise in a mixture of pride and exasperation. “We are truly blessed.”

0516_feature_5Jenny Smith has been one of Denise’s closest confidants throughout the adoption process, and she also sometimes had her doubts. “At the end, when Lynn decided she wanted to take Nathan for a few days at the last minute, to make up her mind. My heart was broken,” she says “I sent Lynn an email. Telling her that we remember the day when we picked her up, and I attached a picture of Nathan. And asked her to put aside her feelings and Denise’s feelings and choose what is best for Nathan.”
Legally adopted

On March 14, 2016, Guo Neisen officially became Nathan Isaac Guo Allen. “It took seven years, two months and 16 days, but we got there,” says Denise in a mixture of pride and exasperation. “We are truly blessed.”

0516_feature_2Amongst all this, of course, it is difficult not to think about Lynn. The woman who gave up her child in the hope that he could have a better life. She still sees Nathan when she can, but it must be difficult. The only contact I had from Lynn during the course of this story was a brief voicemail, and you can hear the sadness in her voice. “I would rather not talk about this,” she says. It is also difficult not to think about the hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of children in China and the world who have not been as lucky as Nathan, the ones that do not having loving homes to go to– people who might never feel a mother’s love.

Denise’s list of children is a long one: Grant 30, Blake 29, Brittany 28, Kelsey 27, Leslie 25, Chelsie 20, Hannah Kate 15, and Nathan who is almost eight. I imagine their household, either in Tennessee or Dongguan, as something akin to the Waltons albeit a very modern version. The Allen family, all God-loving people, speak to each over Skype often and most, but not quite all, have met in person—it is surely only a matter of time.

The adopting of two Chinese children cost Stephen and Denise over 60,000 USD in various administration and agency fees. Treasures of Hope is starting an adoption fund to help with this and will be holding a benefit dinner this Fall.

Category Feature Stories