What is more universal than a smile? Or more precious than a child? It becomes a truly small world when a heart is big enough to adopt. In the case of Sandy and Cecil Hill, their hearts opened wide to welcome two little girls, aptly named Faith and Hope, into their lives. The toddlers, who once lived worlds apart, now share the closest bond—sisterhood.
The Hills saw their parental role as a result of divine intervention. Their destiny finally unfolded after years of trying and hoping and waiting, although not as predictably as imagined. An advertisement on adoption from China in their church bulletin caught their attention. Within days, Sandy’s mother and father had given her similar announcements from their respective churches, and the Hills went to work researching lifestyles and cultural values of Chinese society.
They found that drug and alcohol use is almost unheard of among most women in China and that newborns are, on average, in good health. Given the risks involved in adopting, prospective parents’ desire for a healthy baby is high, and the Hills were no exception. In addition, they learned that many Chinese families feel compelled to surrender their infant daughters to keep or have a newborn son due to sanctions surrounding a one-child-per-family government policy. The Chinese perceive males as being better able to contribute to the economic welfare of a family. Also, it is customary for a son, once married, to bring his new wife to live in his family’s home to care for his aging parents. The chances of adopting a baby girl were looking very good for the Hills.
In 1998, 4,291 of the 15,774 immigrant visas granted by the United States to foreign orphans were issued to children from China.
The Hills, like thousands of U.S. families, saw an opportunity to give a stable, nurturing home to an innocent baby waiting in limbo. They contacted an American adoption agency that worked with China and began the waiting game. Baby Faith came into the world on January 20, 2000, and into the arms of her new family in December of that same year.
If Faith was a “planned” child, Hope proved to be a special version of an “unplanned” child. While sitting around the kitchen table celebrating Cecil’s birthday with friends, the phone rang. A young woman said that she had heard from a friend of a friend that the Hills wished to adopt a newborn. They met this seeming windfall of adoption opportunities with some skepticism because three similar situations had previously fallen through. Although failed adoptions are common, Sandy said the grief was similar to the miscarriages she endured. There can be a feeling of vulnerability when one’s future as a parent is dependent on the emotions of a birth mother because even if a pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted, people can change their minds. The Hills decided to take the risk one more time and arranged for the teenager—who was nearly eight months pregnant—to receive legal counsel, as well as psychological counseling from a woman who, years ago, placed her own newborn with a family better prepared for the role of parenthood. The fourth time proved the charm.
If timing is everything, then so is chance. Although plans had been underway for Faith’s international adoption, the couple brought Hope, biracial and American-born, home first. The nature of the semi-open adoption allowed the Hills to hold their daughter just minutes after she was born, on October 19, 2000. All the while, Faith, still in China, awaited her destiny. Within six weeks of Hope’s birth, the girls united under one roof and one surname.
Expectation is the starting gate from which any parent heads in the direction of their child’s personal journey. From the moment of a baby’s birth, human nature prompts us to find similarities between the newborn and parents, or other family members. We are eager to identify innate talents and personality traits, as well as to point out familiar idiosyncrasies. The Hills, like most adoptive parents, have no such point of reference. When one of their daughters does something new, they look at each other and say, “Where did that come from?” Sandy says, “It’s fun for us to watch as Faith and Hope develop personalities and interests. We make no assumptions, nor do we have any expectations regarding who our daughters will become or how they will turn out. We don’t expect them to look like Grandma or Uncle Danny. Maybe one will be musical or artistic. We enjoy getting to know them for who they are and helping them become who they will ultimately be.”
The contrasting nature of each of these adoptions presents the Hills with two possible scenarios which face all parents who adopt. Their role as Hope’s parents include elements of an “open adoption,” whereby the birth mother and the adoptive parents communicate. The level of communication varies from situation to situation and may involve telephone calls, photos, and occasional visits. The advantages of an open adoption are obvious: greater insight regarding a child’s history (including medical background) and ethnic or racial heritage. These, and other aspects, aid parents in caring for both a child’s immediate and ongoing physical and psychological needs.
Whereas Hope will one day know part of her history, Faith’s awareness comes only from the precious Asian features reflected back to her each time she peers into a mirror. The only information the Hills will ever have is the one inch photo of their infant sent from the orphanage in China, and some sketchy details about where she was found. Many of the young children are abandoned in public places with the hope that their child will be rescued and adopted, and to protect their identity from being revealed to authorities. Along with Faith’s American name, Sandy and Cecil chose to include her Chinese name given at the orphanage, Xiao Xiu, which means “Little Beauty.” In the few days the Hills walked through the city of Guangzhou holding their new baby, crowds of local residents approached to admire her face. Sandy said, “They seemed enthralled by her beauty and charisma, even at ten months old. Her Chinese name seemed to be a perfect fit, so we kept it as her middle name.”
Faith and Hope continue to draw the attention of people on a daily basis. Whether strolling through their Bel Air neighborhood or shopping in local stores, people gravitate toward them. The reaction and comments are overwhelmingly positive “even though we don’t blend in and we don’t look like the other families,” Sandy says.
The Hills still marvel that these two innocent lives ended up in their care. They tell each other that the arrival of the girls into their lives is part of a bigger plan. Sandy explains, “When people approach us to ask questions or talk with our daughters, especially teenage boys or girls, it gives me the opportunity to share our experience with adoption. It’s a win-win-win situation, truly the best outcome for the teenage birth mother, the adoptive parents, and the baby. If you know of someone who is facing an unplanned pregnancy, tell them that they don’t have to raise a child on their own or have an abortion. There is a third option that is often overlooked. So many people like us are ready, willing, and able to love, cherish, and raise a child.”
Sandy points out that adoption is not second best. “I couldn’t possibly love a child any more than I love Faith and Hope, even if I were to have given birth.” Although it is obvious that their daughters are adopted, Sandy and Cecil see them “only as our children. We waited and prayed for a family for so long. They are such a joy, and truly the light of our lives.”