A social worker’s life is never dull, but nothing could prepare Houston Independent School District’s Gayle Kamen for the adventure of finding her daughters and forming her family half a world away.
Kamen and her husband’s journey to adopt their daughters in China is chronicled in the just-released book, Our Blessings from China. The book is a collaborative effort of nine authors across the country who adopted from China over a ten-year period.
“This was a labor of love and each story is so poignant,” said Kamen. “My chapter is titled ‘Born in China, Loved in America.’ International adoption has changed dramatically and it is so contingent on the political winds. We were very fortunate to adopt our Jennifer, 11, (now at Pershing) in 1998 and Melanie, 8, (now at Herod) in 2001.”
Kamen is a Licensed Master Social Worker, working at Herod Elementary, Long Middle School and Johnston Middle School. Kamen has been a social worker for 30 years and a trained mediator for 20 years.
“The book is a snapshot of the past 10 years of adoption in China and how each family was moved towards humanitarian efforts while building their own families and meeting their personal needs,” said Kamen. Kamen and her husband, Larry Weinstein, started looking at international adoption when Kamen was 40, and thus began the paper chase of financial records and personal documents which were sent to the U.S. State Dept., translated, and sent to China.
Due to the country’s one child policy, among other things, there have been large numbers of baby girls up for adoption in China in recent years. China established the one-child policy in 1979 to limit the country’s population growth. In 2007, China established new guidelines for would-be parents seeking to adopt, with new standards regarding parents’ age, marital status, income, weight, medical history, and criminal history.
“When we went to China, it was an adventure. I didn’t know how I was going to make it, but we were treated very well and it all went great. We adopted our first daughter when she was one; she had been abandoned at birth. We bonded with the other parents who were there to adopt, and then we came home and started our lives. What makes my story unique is that we’re Jewish, so we had our daughters converted to Judaism. Pretty quickly after adopting Jennifer we wanted another baby,” said Kamen.
Kamen and Weinstein thought it was important for Jennifer to see someone in their family who resembled her, so three years later, Weinstein went by himself (right after 9/11) to get Melanie, their younger daughter.
“I love the diversity in the public school system; that’s very important for me, for my daughters,” said Kamen. “We try to bring a lot of different cultures into our family. We deal with a lot of questions, but our life is really good.”
“We get to celebrate new years three times during the year,” said Kamen’s daughters. “The Jewish New Year in the fall, January 1st New Year, and Chinese New Year in the winter.”
The Long Middle School library is hosting an author event for Kamen on Jan. 27 from 4 – 5 p.m. She will be discussing her book, Our Blessings from China, and various aspects of international adoption.