It started with the letter. That's when I was first introduced to our daughter's birthmother, or at least the thought of her as being a real person, just a few short months before Nico was born.
Annie and I were sitting at the kitchen table discussing our dream of having a family together when Barbara, our appointed caseworker, casually swept us to the topic of birthmothers. Even before she asked the question, I had an answer or at least an opinion that wasn't the most positive retort to share at our homestudy.
?Now that you have an understanding of the adoption process in China, what are your thoughts about your daughter's birthmother?? Barbara asked.
Immediately my mind went into newsreel mode, replaying those short made-for-TV news documentaries illustrating the plight of children in overpopulated, impoverished China. I can still hear the accompanying dialogue, sensationalizing the despair of children, especially infant girls being ?abandoned? in public places by birthmothers caught in a web of government restrictions and cultural bias.
There was that word again -- abandoned -- that I couldn't get to fit with the vision of this sweet, innocent infant with the dark almond shaped eyes, my yet to be born daughter of China, my breath of new life.
In another instant my voice broke before Barbara could finish her next sentence.
?How could any birthmother give up her child without knowing who will take care of that child!? I exclaimed. ?Doesn't she know, doesn't she understand how precious this life is? This child means everything to me. How could this baby not mean something to her??
I think that, in a sense, Barbara was pleased at my protective outburst. She recognized that this parent-to-be was already in a possessive, ?my daughter? mindset that meant if I had to, rowing a boat to China to be with my daughter was probably not out of my realm of thinking.
?Before you come to any conclusions about the actions of your daughters birthmother, I want you to put yourself in her place for a while. I want you to consider what life may be like for this woman, possibly a very young woman, who may feel that she has no other choice for herself or her child. For her, this may not be a decision based on love or personal choice, but on her experiences and understanding of life itself. After you have given adequate time to think about her, I want each of you to write a letter to your daughter's birthmother.
?Let her know how you feel about her decision, but more importantly how you feel about the daughter you will forever share.?
Her last words struck me to silence: ?...the daughter you will forever share.? Because I had already experienced unconditional love in my life, I knew how to give that same love to the baby I had yet to hold. Without conditions then, would I not also have love and have compassion for this mother who gave our child life?
My mind was racing. I was oblivious to the conversation that was still going on from across the table. I tried to visualize this woman who was pregnant with our child. Was she alone or did she have a family to care for her? Was she an angel or a tramp? What led her to believe that her daughter may be better off without her, or would even survive the separation? My list of questions seemed endless. If only I could meet her, talk to her and share our passion for family. Would that encounter answer my questions and would it bring a world of relief to a mother who was about to abandon her child to the fate of life with a stranger?
There it was again, that word! Creeping into my psyche at every possible turn. The reason I was having so much difficulty making the pieces of this family puzzle fit together. ?Abandoned? didn't match this image of a mother who may be sacrificing or risking everything she cherishes about her existing family by carrying a child full-term only to leave that child to the mysteries of the night. I was trying to transfer my educated definition of the word, ?abandoned,? to the final moments a birthmother would share with her child. There was more to this scenario than my western mind could comprehend. She must believe the life she carries has value, to her and to the world, otherwise termination would have been swift and unnoticed. The rest of our meeting that evening was a blur. Now that Barbara had opened the ?birthmother box? I had to know more about what was inside and how this mother-to-be got to this life-changing decision to give up her child.
I didn't sleep well that night. Images of this birthmother now seemed real and almost touchable in my half-sleeping, half-awake state of mind. It would take me another two weeks to sort my maze of feelings and offer on paper my passionate pleadings for the child of my prayers and dreams. The more thought I gave to the contents of my letter, the less my first opinion seemed to matter. Armed with the little information on Chinese culture I had at the time, I began to see this woman change from perpetrator to victim. With pen and paper I could offer little more to her than my feelings of respect along with assurances that our daughter would be safe, well cared for, and definitely loved.
Much has changed over the past five years since that night at the kitchen table. The doors to the issues of child abandonment in China have been opened but the images are still not crystal-clear. Through the dedicated efforts of experienced researchers and adoptive parents has come a wealth of information and insight into this topic. Is it population control or cultural bias that fuels this endless cycle of birth and abandonment? Probably a measure of both, along with a plethora of other factors unique to the people of our world's most populated nation.
In this country we can only relate the term, ?billions? to money, not people. China has 1.2 billion people or 21 percent of the world's population but only 7-10 percent of the land suitable for cultivation. With a current growth rate of 1.5 percent, 160 million more people will be added to the population within the decade. From a socio-economic standpoint, China will continue to struggle to meet the needs of their growing population in this decade and well beyond.
Add to this element of population growth the historical significance of cultural bias and the situation becomes even more difficult. For thousands of years, Chinese cultural traditions have dictated that every family must have a son or risk dishonoring their ancestors. The birth of a son is celebrated with fireworks but the birth of a girl is not acknowledged. More than six million women in China are called ?Lai-De? or ?Zhou-Di? both of which mean, ?next time bring a boy.? Boys also represent the social security for aging parents. Sons are obligated to provide for the parents when they can no longer provide for themselves. Girls, on the other hand, are seen as ?temporary,? since they will eventually marry and move away to take care of a husband and his family. With the new generations of Chinese, these cultural biases are changing, but ever so slowly.
Abandoning a child is illegal in China and carries a stiff penalty if discovered. Some parents, however, are willing to take the risk because they do not want to waste their only chance of a child on a girl.
Explaining the Chinese government's one-child policy and the historically significant cultural biases to our Chinese children will be a serious task for even the parent with the steeliest of nerves to tackle. As important as this information may be to the historians and demographers, I believe the real focus for parents with children from China should be on the children we have at home. When the difficult questions arise, our children will not focused on the facts of child abandonment. Instead they will be driven by emotions and our logical explanations will be of little consolation to our wounded children.
The day will come soon for many of us when our daughters of China will ask that most heart-wrenching of questions, ?Why did my other mother give me away? Why was I abandoned??
Perhaps your explanation will come from deep within, based upon your own emotional and very personal experience, one experience you gain as you write that letter to the birthmother of your child. After you have a sense of what a birthmother must endure, put yourself in your child's mindset by wearing that cloak of abandonment. Separate yourself from all that you own, all that you recognize as comfortable, and ultimately from all the people you love and who have loved you. For that brief instant, you are truly alone. Not by choice but circumstances beyond your control. When we get closer to understanding the feelings associated with being abandoned, we will get closer to understanding how to communicate with our children at their time of need. Our logical explanations will be of little value to a young child's mind already filled with the emotions and sometimes grief associated with the discovery and comprehension of a first mother. Recognize that for some of life's puzzles, there are no logical explanations and until more is learned about the issue of child abandonment in China, this may very well be one of them.Click Here to Subscribe and Read These Great Stories too:
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