Children come with surprises, and adoptions are no different. Our third son’s surprises began almost immediately after the baby led weaning period was closing to a completion.

I collected our newest little bundle of boy from the hospital when he was 6 days old. I would meet his birth mother, a Filippina domestic worker, at Hong Kong’s births registry later that week. To register the birth, she had to bring her passport. That was the first surprise. She had overstayed her visa by about a year. As soon as the officers saw the expiration date of her visa, she was immediately referred to the immigration department for deportation. 

But what about the baby?

Red Tape

Because his mother was in Hong Kong illegally, the baby was considered an illegal alien along with her. In order for him to remain in Hong Kong long enough to complete the adoption process, he needed his own passport and visa. The passport was easy; the Philippine consulate gave it to him right away. The visa was an entirely different story.

The Hong Kong immigration department would not issue a visa unless they were assured by the government’s adoption unit the adoption would go through. But the adoption unit would not begin the adoption, or even consider it a possibility, unless the immigration department first issued the visa. 

Neither department — though both part of the Hong Kong bureaucracy — would communicate directly with each other. They wrote sealed letters to each other, and I had to hand deliver each communique. For 13 weeks!

We were at an impasse.

Elevator Conversations

All this running around usually took me out of the house quite early each day, at the same time most of the rest of Hong Kong was on the way to work. That meant I was seeing a lot more of my neighbor, Mrs. Chan, in the elevator most mornings. For a couple of weeks she admired the new baby. But suddenly she started asking all kinds of questions. 

“Where does the baby sleep?” Our two flats were mirror images of each other, so this was an understandable question.

“Aren’t you afraid it will be too expensive to raise three children?”
“How do the other two boys feel about a new baby?”
“Does your husband approve?”
“Where will the boys go to school?”
“Don’t you think you need a maid to help out?” 

These questions came at me day after day for nearly two months. I always told her God would take care of all the details.

“We prayed for this new baby for two years, and God finally blessed us with exactly the child He has been preparing to complete our family,” I would tell her. “He is certainly capable of handling small details like school bills or sibling rivalry.” 

Then one day, the questions stopped; Mrs. Chan told me the reason for all her questions: She was pregnant with her third child. Both she and her husband worked in their own business, and her mother-in-law had been living with them since the birth of their first child to take care of the children. Now both the older children were in school. Mother-in-law finally had some time to herself — to play mahjong with her friends or go to the teahouse for a meal with them. The last thing in the world she wanted was yet another baby to take up her time. 

So the elder Mrs. Chan was putting a lot of pressure on her daughter-in-law to get an abortion. But the young mother did not want to get rid of her baby. 

Unfortunately, her husband did not have her back; no way was he going to stand up to his own mother in favor of his wife. 

They were at an impasse. 

Two Minutes at a Time

The past two months of talking for about two minutes in the elevator each morning had given Mrs. Chan the courage to face both her mother-in-law and her husband. 

“Because of you,” she said triumphantly, “I have decided to keep my baby.” 

Wow! My baby was only 2 months old, and he had already saved someone’s life! 

For the Chan family, another baby meant a larger apartment. The elder Mrs. Chan was still with them, but they also hired a maid so Grandma Chan could still have her retirement time. After they moved, we lost contact, and 20 years slowly took them out of my mind. 

A Surprise Encounter

Traveling home from across town one day, I made my way down the bus aisle, looking for a seat, when I was very loudly hailed by name. The woman waving at me was only vaguely familiar. When it became obvious that I could not place her, she helped jog my memory. 

“I’m Mrs. Chan. We used to live next door to you.” 

And there sat the mother-in-law — the elder Mrs. Chan — from so long ago, all smiles and ready for a chat. She made room for me to sit by her and proceeded to tell me all about the family. They had emigrated to Australia, and everyone was doing well. They were even involved with their church — another surprise, since there had been no church in their lives when I knew them. She spent the entire bus journey telling me all about the children, their school accomplishments, what they were doing for a living. 

But the one she spent the most time bragging about was the youngest — the one she had pushed so hard to have aborted. 

God works in surprising — erm, mysterious — ways, His wonders to perform.