East&West Dialogue: Adoption Stories of Two Australian Families

East&West Dialogue: Adoption Stories of Two Australian Families


At our East&West Dialogues, guest speakers of different cultural background volunteer their time to share life stories, expertise, thoughts and/or concerns, and have a dialogue with the audience.

In this dialogue, two fabulous Australian moms, Mandy van den Elshout and Willa McDonald,also two distinguished career women, will share their family stories of adopting and parenting children from China, how they cope with cultural differences, and the joys, challenges and love along the ongoing journey.

Toronto Canada Time: Friday October 20, 2023 at 7:30-9 P.M. (Eastern Time)

Sydney Australia Time Saturday October 21, 2023 at 10:30 A.M. to 12 P.M.

Free online English event, translation caption of other languages available on Zoom

Zoom registration link:


Zoom will be open 15 minutes prior.


Message from Mandy and Willa

Path to Parenthood


By Mandy van den Elshout

Senior Lawyer at The Australian Children’s Laureate Foundation

I was born in Sydney, Australia. In my 20’s I was diagnosed with kidney disease and by my early 30’s was on dialysis.  I was on the transplant list.

I completed my Master of Laws whilst on dialysis and was working for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as a Media Lawyer when my husband and I applied to adopt from China.  We had no idea,  due to my illness, whether we would be approved for adopting a child from China. Most countries had very strict rules around the health of prospective adoptive parents. The Intercountry Adoption program had not long opened.  We would just have to wait and see if China would allow us to adopt.  There was no certainty.

During the 4 year wait, I was fortunate to receive a kidney transplant and one day we got a call.   We were allocated a 10th month old girl from Hunan Province, China.  We were so fortunate.   We applied again for a sibling for our daughter and after another 4 year wait, we were allocated a son from Bao’An, Shenzhen, China.   We were incredibly fortunate as we found out that China was closing its program for people who had kidney transplants.

Our family have been on a wonderful and at times difficult journey to incorporate our children’s birth culture into their life in Australia!  Chinese culture is so rich and has so much to offer.


By Willa McDonald

Senior Lecturer in Media at Macquarie University

I first thought about adoption when I was in my late 30s. I came from a big family, and in my younger years was never sure if I wanted children. I was keen to work and see the world. As mid-life approached, I realised I did want a family of my own, but that was difficult without a partner! Around that time, I was backpacking in Vietnam and met a woman who was on holidays from her job in Sydney as a social worker in adoption. She assured me that single women could adopt and encouraged me to put my name down. I did, as soon as I got home.

At the time, there were not many countries open to single woman from Australia to adopt. I put my name down for Romania, but while I was waiting in that program, Australia signed an agreement that allowed adoptions from China. It was like a light turned on. I knew very little about Romania beyond what I’d read in the papers, but I had long been fascinated by China. I had been there several times and had studied Chinese politics at university. I quickly switched programs.

After waiting three and a half years, I was allocated my older daughter, a one-year old from Guangzhou. In Australia, you have to wait two years before you can apply again to adopt. Once I did, it took another eight and a half years before I was allocated a second child. She was nearly 17 months old and from Fengcheng in Jiangxi province. I thought I had “aged out” of the system by the time she was allocated, so she was a delightful, if not daunting, surprise.

I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to have been given the chance to share my life with these girls. 


Everybody is welcome to meet with Mandy and Willa, listen to their interesting stories, and ask questions!

For inquiries, please email at infoW@eawlc.org.  Thanks!

  • Please consider to support us by volunteering, donating or participating in our endeavor to help people of different heritages break cultural barriers and get connected. Together, let’s make learning and connections happen!

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