Friday, May 2, 2014

The Ghost at the Feast

Prithee, see there! behold! look! lo!
how say you?
Why, what care I? If thou canst nod, speak too.
If charnel-houses and our graves must send
Those that we bury back, our monuments
Shall be the maws of kites.
For most adoptive families, there is a perpetual ghost at the feast: the birth mother (fathers, for some reason, don't seem to matter).  The adoptive parent thus faces an ongoing issue: what shall he say to his child about her?
On the one hand, adoptive parents are told not to lie: there's nothing to be gained by spinning fantasies about her, even innocuous ones such as, "I'm sure she gave you up because she loved you" or "I'm certain that she would never have given you up if she'd been able to take care of you".  Note the euphemism: "gave you up" instead of "abandoned".  Of course, other people may be perfectly happy to (ahem) suggest things about the birth mother:
  • "She was probably a prostitute."
  • "I wonder if she was a single mother who had an accident."
  • "Guess she couldn't get an abortion."
  • Etc.
On the other, adoptive parents are told to be positive about the birth parents, if for no other reason than to avoid damaging the child's self-esteem: he may well already wonder if he's somehow a bad person and that's why he was abandoned, and thinking that his birth parents were also "bad" may only reinforce this belief.
So, what to say?  How do I help her to understand the ghost?  Indeed, do I explain to her that, to her birth parents, SHE may be the ghost at the feast?
Visiting a peasant family in Shandong, [author Xinran Xue] sees a newborn baby girl snatched from her mother and dumped headfirst in the chamber pot: the head of the family demands a son and, because of the one-child policy, will not let the daughter live. Two years later, the young couple pays Xinran a visit. They, along with the rest of the young people, have left their village to look for work in cities. The mother says she had two more daughters but her father-in-law gave them away to foreigners for adoption. “Have you seen any foreigners?” she asks Xinran, fearfully. “Do you think the foreigners know how to hold my baby?”(1)
I confess that my own view of my daughter's birthparents has been highly erratic.  I've (more or less) gone from despising them for abandoning my little girl in that park to (usually) feeling sorry for them as victims of the One Child Policy(2).  I've learned that (most) Chinese parents who abandon their children are not monsters, but rather desperate people who are making a terrible sacrifice in order to give their beloved children the best chance for a happy, healthy life(3).  I don't know the specific circumstances behind what happened to my daughter.  I can't tell her with certainty that, "Your birth parents loved you as much as your mother and I do, but they gave you up to us because they wanted the best for you, and I'm sure that there isn't a day - a MINUTE - that goes by when they don't wonder about you and wish they had been able to keep you."
But I probably will, at least until she's old enough to start understanding... even if I never do.

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