Adoptive parents learn this phrase as part of our "training" to become parents. I must say, however, that I've only recently really understood what this means. In the past couple of days, the loss that starts adoption has been very forcibly brought home to me... and it hurts.
The first instance was a news article about a "baby hatch" in Guangzhou(1). Now, for the adoptive parent, Guangzhou is something like the end of the rainbow: it's the last stop on the way out of China with one's new son or daughter. It's a place of Red Couch photos and Shamian Island and silks (qípáo) and blocks of shops selling last-minute momentos to be laid up for future birthdays and Gotcha Days. But...
A "baby hatch" or "baby safety island" is a place where people can safely abandon their children. I've heard about these things being tried elsewhere in China and South Korea, and they make a sort of grim sense: better that a child - perhaps an infant - be abandoned where he can have hope of immediate care rather than in a park or at a bus stop or simply outside an orphanage where he may have to wait for hours in the cold and rain before being found. How terrible is it that such things are necessary? And what sort of person makes use of one?
I have often wondered about this. How can a person abandon his child? Do they not care? Are they monsters? Judging by the photos taken by surveillance cameras outside the baby hatch, the answer is an unequivocal "no".
These are desperate people. Either because of the loathesome One Child Policy or else because they cannot afford the sort of health care that their child must have, they are driven to it. I cannot imagine a more terrible decisions that a person would ever have to make: "I either give up my child forever and she might live, or I keep her and she will almost certainly die."
And this tragedy has been replayed millions of times in China and other countries.
To commemorate the lost children of China, French artist Prune Noury has created The Terracotta Daughters(2). These are like the famous Terracotta Army of the Emporer Qin Shi Huang(3), unearthed near Xi'an in 1974. However, instead of soldiers and horses, the figures are of children, representing the millions of Chinese children who have been abandoned or killed due to the One Child Policy and the Chinese social preference for sons over daughters.
I have mentioned before the blog Red Thread Broken, which is written by a Chinese adoptee. She had this to say about the Terracotta Daughters:
As a Chinese adoptee and someone potentially displaced because of societal preferences for males, this project is one that impacts me deeply. When I look at these statues, I see the little girls who were forcibly aborted by the government. I see the daughters who, through infanticide, never had a chance. I see a clay shadow of the Chinese girl I could have been. As I sit at my computer half way around the world, I acknowledge that I am a statistic – that I, too, am one of China’s missing girls.(4)
A parent who gives away his child. Who lives with this for the rest of his life.
A child who grows up wondering what his life MIGHT have been. Who never knows WHY.
A country that must, sooner or later, come to terms with the fact that it threw away millions of its own children.(5)
My wife and I hope to see the Terracotta Daughters when the exhibit comes to New York. We hope to take our daughter. She will be too young to understand it, but one day, she WILL be old enough. She will ask questions. What shall I tell her?
(5) One especially telling comment in the article about the baby hatch (see Note 1 above):
China has money to lend to America, but doesn’t have money to help the impoverished common people, and even confiscates their land by force. Corrupt officials and unscrupulous businessmen in collusion, robbing and killing people, totally lawless!