An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place,
or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.
~ Chinese Proverb
This proverb has become an important symbol during the process of adopting a child from China, as it often helps parents feel connected to the child they are waiting for. I was one of those people who held onto this thread as a way of coping with the long wait for my child.
My husband and I began the process for adoption in the China Infant Program in October, 2005. At that time, waiting parents were being matched with babies, the majority of which were girls, within six to nine months of completing their paperwork. We gathered the necessary documents, participated in the required home study visits and fingerprint appointments, and after a few irritating glitches, officially submitted our paperwork to China in August, 2006. We excitedly made plans and started collecting all that our new baby would need - a crib, clothing, toys, and most importantly, a name. Then we waited for our referral....
By early 2007 the wait time had gotten longer and our adoption agency predicted we could wait another three to four years for a referral. We began looking at other options - a domestic adoption program as well as the Waiting International Children (WIC) program for children with special needs. We decided to apply to both programs. There were now more documents, medical exams, fingerprint appointments, home study visits, and difficult decisions to be made with regards to which medical conditions and what ages we would consider in a referral for a child. The wait times in these programs were long, too, as more and more waiting parents were doing the same thing.
Many times throughout this process I had doubted there was a thread for me, but one day in particular, I was sure it didn't exist. On that day, I photographed red thread. I didn't know what I would do with the images. It was simply a way to deal with my overwhelming frustration and sadness. It was March, 2008, and we had just turned down our first referral for a child in the WIC program. The referral was for a 3-year-old girl with long-term medical issues, and my husband and I were in disagreement. We had spent an agonizing two months reviewing her medical file and talking with doctors in the US and China about her condition. During that time, I couldn't help picturing her in the bedroom we had decorated and calling her by the name we had chosen. She had already found a place in my heart. I gave all the reasons why we should say yes, and my husband gave all the reasons why he was saying no.
As soon as we finished calling our case worker to turn down the referral, I drove to the store to buy some red thread which I was determined to burn. I no longer believed there was a thread for me. And if there were, I didn't think I had the strength to follow it. I was determined to destroy it before it destroyed me. I had no words for anyone, least of all my husband. Twisting, knotting, and burning were all I could think to do. It helped me get through that day and the days that followed.
I burned the thread, but ironically and to my great annoyance, a small piece of it remained. I removed it in Photoshop and thought I had won. Little did I know that my red thread was, indeed, still intact. It was only five months later that we would see our son's face online. He was five years old and waiting for us in a Beijing orphanage.
Later, I realized that our red thread had been there all along. It had been there through our efforts to conceive naturally, through our loss and grief related to infertility, through our thoughts of sperm donors, through three failed cycles of in vitro fertilization, through years of trying to convince ourselves we didn't need to have a child, and finally through the long and difficult process of adoption about which I have only touched upon. Our red thread had held strong for the ten long years it took to connect us with our son.
The installation is an expression of the uncertainty and emotional upheaval during not only the adoption process, but during each stage of my journey towards parenthood, as they were all as equally isolating and life-changing. It is my attempt to honor and make peace with those experiences, while at the same time creating a space in which others may acknowledge and honor their own journeys.
~ Jane Kramer
Thread was made possible in part by an Individual Artist Grant from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing.
(Jane Kramer is a photographer, adoptee and adoptive mother. She lives in East Lansing with her husband, Dan, and their son, Eli.)