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The Japan Times, June 1, 2001
"The day we met Sho-chan"
By Mary Sisk Noguchi

My son did not fall in love with me at first sight.

On the day we met, Sho-chan had been awakened prematurely from his afternoon nap, and was feeling grumpy. The caregivers at the children's home had told him "Mama" and "Papa" were coming, but to him the words were meaningless. Holding Sho in her arms, a caregiver opened the door of the room where my husband and I anxiously waited with the social worker.

It was a sweltering summer day, and I was suffering miserably from morning sickness. After years of infertility treatment, I was finally pregnant.

During the course of treatment, we had also applied to adopt a child through our local public child welfare agency. The invitation to meet Sho had come just two weeks before we learned I was pregnant. It looked as though we might be blessed with two children this year, and we wanted both of them. We prayed this meeting today would go well.

The door opened a bit further, but the caregiver and Sho seemed to be moving in slow motion. In the instant before I saw my son's face for the first time, I had a crystal clear revelation: "This very moment I am about to become a mother. Once I have actually seen this child he will be mine-- in my heart, if not on paper." My eyes drank in the sight of him as they finally entered the room.

Sho had been placed in the children's home by his birth mother when he was 3 months old. 25,000 children live in Japan's 527 state-run or subsidized children's homes. They are rarely discussed in public, and most are not available for adoption. The majority of Japanese who place their children in the permanent care of the state will not relinquish their parental rights. They would rather have their children remain in institutions, until the age of 18, than be adopted by strangers.

Sho's birth mother was an exception. She had recently agreed to allow his adoption, and the social worker was anxious to find a family for him immediately. After his second birthday, in just a few weeks, he would be uprooted from here and moved to a different institution, one for older children.

Of course, Sho was unaware of the enormous effect this encounter could potentially have on his future. Still, he sensed that something was in the air, and he was tense as he gazed at "Mama" and "Papa" for the first time. Clinging ever more tightly to the caregiver's neck, the poor little fellow burst into tears.

How to win him over? I offered him the toy we had brought, which he accepted, and then patiently bided my time. Gradually moving closer, I spoke a few words. Within an hour, Sho was sitting in my lap, listening intently as I sang children's songs in English, a language he had never heard before. My husband fed him his dinner, which he dutifully ate without uttering a single word.

As we set out for a short walk, just the three of us, with Sho in the middle, he reached up to hold both of our hands. "Poppo," he finally said, pointing to the pigeons outside, his first word to us. And when we left that evening, he stood in the entryway, waving "bye-bye" with a bashful smile on his face.

"Please let me know at the end of this week if you would like to proceed with the adoption," the social worker said as we parted, but we called her first thing the next morning. There was never any doubt: Sho-chan was ours from the moment we laid eyes on him.

Our family's story continues in:
"Sho-chan's send-off"