Saturday, November 12, 2005
A Most Painful Decision
The woman walking into the Dalian Medical College Clinic in Liaoning Province looked unassuming. Arriving early in the morning on Friday, October 25, 2005, she carried her sick infant daughter bundled in a light green and while blanket in her arms. The child, born on August 10, 2005, was apparently a Hepatitis carrier, for she had received two vaccinations in visits over the past two months.
But on this Friday, the mother and child were not arriving for another treatment.
Videotape from the clinic security cameras show the mother and child entering the clinic at 7:43 am, and taking the elevator up to another floor. There she exits the elevator and enters the public bathroom. Less than a minute later, she comes out of the bathroom and takes the elevator back down to the lobby, where she leaves the building at 7:45 am.
In the hustle of the morning rush, no one seems to have noticed the woman leaving her two month old daughter in the public bathroom. A few minutes later, a clinic cleaning woman entered the bathroom and found the crying child in a red cloth bag.
In my last blog, I detailed one of the most common reasons for the abandonment of infant girls in China. The experience of this woman abandoning her daughter poignantly illustrates another factor that contributes to a significant number of abandoned children: medical problems that the parents feel will overwhelm the family.
As a researcher, the abandonment of children with medical problems is the most painful to investigate and document. One girl I researched in Haikou City on Hainan Island drove home for me the tremendous problems facing both rural and urban families that give birth to children with medical problems. The adoptive family was told that their daughter had stayed in the Haikou hospital for nine months due to severe illness. When we visited the hospital to investigate this girl’s story, we met 12 members of the nursing staff that excitedly recounted for us their memories of this small girl. When we asked if she had stayed in the hospital due to severe illness as the orphanage had suggested, they corrected us by informing us that the hospital had kept the child in the hopes that the birth family would return and retrieve their daughter.
As a parent, I cannot imagine the fear and utter desperation that must grip the parents of a sick child who cannot afford to treat that child. Millions experience that anxiety in this country, billions experience it in China. In the U.S., however, the government provides a safety net for families; in China, there is no safety net. Thus, thousands of infant boys and girls are left for cleft pallets and other medical problems that could be easily remedied if the family had the funds. Many of China’s poorest don’t have those funds.
China is working to address these issues, and medical insurance is becoming available to a growing segment of Chinese society. But the cost of insurance is still intolerably high for most Chinese, and many of them, like many here, gamble on their continued health with their pocketbook. Some lose, and lose big.
Post Script -- "Ying Ying" was taken to the Dalian orphanage, which unfortunately does not participate in the international adoption program. Her prospects for adoption are slim.