Dreaming Meets Reality

‘Forever Lily’ Mixes Adoption Memoir With Dream Sequences

Posted April 9, 2007 at 3:50pm

Mixing the realities of overseas adoption with dream sequences, Beth Nonte Russell’s “Forever Lily” tells the story of a mother’s journey to China to find a daughter she was destined to attain, against all odds.

The comparison of dream-life to reality seems a constant throughout the book, especially in the initial moments in which Russell, a former Capitol Hill staffer, describes first meeting her daughter, Lily:

“What I am feeling in this moment is akin to awe; this person who has been rejected and abandoned being carried down the hallway, toward a fate she cannot guess, toward people she does not know, maintaining an expression so serene … .”

While “Forever Lily” is considered a memoir, Russell feels the story, which first appeared in a self-published version before being released by Simon & Schuster on March 6, is “a symbolic story as well as a literally true story.”

The thematic use of dream sequences by Russell throughout “Forever Lily” could be attributed to her feeling that “I don’t see the book as [being] about adoption, I see it as about opening your heart, I see it as about spiritual truth.”

Outside of the book world, the Chinese adoption process also is a combination of the dream world meeting reality, as many couples must meld their hope of adopting a child with the miles of red tape that seem to surround the adoption process on both domestic and international ends.

Craig Jagger, who works as the chief economist for the House Agriculture Committee, is the adoptive father to two Chinese daughters, 6-year-old Margaret and 2-year-old Carolina, with his wife, Joy, who works as the director of economic policy at the Department of Agriculture. Jagger noted that, as government employees, he and his wife had come to expect a large amount of paperwork but were still subjected to an additional home study process, which lasted nearly a year and a half.

Despite the extensive work required to adopt his two children, Jagger said the adoptions are the “best thing we’ve ever done,” and that, when it comes to his daughters, he and his wife “can’t imagine life without them.”

Adoption hoops are not just a domestic issue. Russell noted that China is beginning to tighten the reins on what is currently a “business-like,” fairly straightforward adoption process, in what she believes to be the “first step in eventually not being an adopting-out country at all.”

Russell noted that, out of the estimated hundreds of thousands of Chinese children put up for adoption each year, only around 7,000 adoptions occur from China into the United States. In addition, according to Russell, beginning in May, China will deliver a “big blow to those in adoption community” by implementing stricter guidelines for Americans who have hopes of adopting from their country, including a parental age limit of 50, restrictions on adoptions by single parents and even a maximum capacity for the body mass index of adopting parents.

Red tape and regulations aside, parents who adopt must deal with a whole other issue — the large amount of psychological issues surrounding the introduction of an adopted child into their home and community. As Russell said, “I think in some sense, when you adopt internationally, every child is a special-needs child.”

Factors including time spent in an orphanage and an unknown medical history can be stressors for parents who are, at the same time, grappling with their own issues of raising a child with a different background than their own, as well as the fact that many adopting parents are often older than many parents with biological children, Russell noted.

After helping husband Randy, an agricultural lobbyist, in raising his three children, Russell was 37 when she adopted Lily, now 8, before returning to China four years later to adopt her second daughter, Jaden, now 3. Still, Russell feels their ages and place in life allowed her and her husband more time, money and resources to devote to their two adopted children.

Russell equally was pleased that her new family blended so well with her husband’s children, who were all high school-age and older by the time Lily and Jaden became part of the family, and she noted that “it was like a confirmation to all of us that we had sort of made it, and it was almost a reward or a blessing.”

Russell and her husband are committed to helping any parents who need assistance. As soon as Lily entered their home, she and her husband “had felt from the very beginning that we were going to, probably for the rest of our lives, work and help in this area. We thought we would start a foundation, so that we could get some resources together.”

Last year, the couple founded the Golden Phoenix Foundation to support parents in the international adoption process. The couple currently runs the organization out of their home in McLean, Va., but hopes to eventually move the organization into a formal office space.

The couple has received endorsements from adoptive parents such as Jagger, who said, “When we decided to get a second child, Randy and Beth were a great inspiration to us.”

“Forever Lily” is serving as an additional vehicle for encouraging those looking to adopt from China, and Russell admitted that, “it does seem to touch people in a way that I could only have hoped.”

Throughout the press touring she has done for her book, Russell said she’s heard feedback from readers who have made the decision to adopt as a result of reading her book. For Russell, this is the ultimate reward.

“I feel that’s the most I could hope for regardless of how many books are sold,” Russell said. “It’s just been very gratifying and almost humbling, to know that people would embrace it and accept it in that way.”

Returning to her dream once again, Russell provides commentary on the role destiny has played in the book’s publication, saying, “it feels to me so often that this book, this story … there’s a plan for it, and its really outside of what I might want. … Things just seem to keep happening to move it along. I have no idea what the overall purpose is, but it definitely seems like it was meant to be.”