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.


Anonymous said...

A friend just pointed me to your blog and I was completely blown away by this story. An adoptive mother of two and a journalism professor, I'm in the middle of doing research on how the mainstream media covers international adoption and would welcome your input. Could you email me:

Thanks, Ginny Whitehouse
Whitworth College
Spokane, Washington

Anonymous said...

As I'm wondering if many other mothers have done when reading this article, all I could see in that photo of the child left with a note, was my daughter's face. She too was left inside a hospital, and as I recalled that fact, my tears continued to fall as I read. Thank you, thank you for a most valuable blog.
Val in MD

Anonymous said...

I have three children from China. One through the NSN program and two Waiting Children. My sn daughter was found at one week old with two holes in her heart and suffering from pnemonia. She was hospitalized for 42 days. It breaks my heart to think that her birth parents could not afford medical care.

Anonymous said...

As a mom of a daughter adopted through the Waiting Children program, this really hit home. Our daughter was 7 months old when she was left at the orphanage. She was obviously well cared for and developmentally on track at that time. But her heart condition must have become overwhelming for her parents. I am relieved that I have a reason for her abandonment, but so saddened at the thought of a mother leaving a 7 month old, beautiful child because of lack of money to care for her medically... My heart cries for her.

Anonymous said...

I often wonder about my child's origins, and yet so little is written about what a birthmother must go through...your research is at last a link to our children's past.
My daughter, abandoned at 2 weeks of age, was left with a simple note, stating her birth date and time. I often wondered why she was left. Over the 5 years she has been my child, I have found pieces of the puzzle, one by one, that link together to tell her story.
Given the name Tai Xiao, which translates to Too Little, was she a premature baby? A scar line marked her upper lip, and faint marks crossed her nose. My search for answers on these took some time to uncover, and only recently have been solved. The out of order tooth progression appears to have been the result of cleft lip. CCAA's match for me brought me a Special Needs child that was kept a secret. The scarring marks were from an animal that ran across or scratched her young face in the time before our meeting at the age of 10 months. Now that time has passed, the x rays show that this child of mine also had cleft palate, yet another disfiguring reason to abandon a young one. Her evolving episodes of mental illness and bipolar disorder show deeper scars of abuse and genetic damage that only time will tell how she can recover. I fear that all my love may not be enough to heal all the damage she has been burdened with. The pieces have come together so slowly, I pray for the strength to glue her life together to be more than what it could have been.

Anonymous said...

I just found this article. My S/N son always wants to know why his Chinese Mother did not want him.I give him the some reasons as in the article and comments. I try to explain it was because they could not afford to have his cleft lip and pallet repaired. It is reassuring to hear the same from others.

Thank you.
Jeannie Braden
Lancaster, Ohio

Anonymous said...

I just came across this article and totally agree that oftentimes abandonment happens because a family cannot afford to pay for a child's medical needs.

I doubt though that the mother in this story would know that her daughter was a hepatitis B carrier. As a mother to a child with Hep B, I know that the great majority of kids will test negative before they are 6 months old. Also, Hep B immunizations wouldn't suggest that a child has the virus. The only thing that would suggest that is if they got Hep B immunoglobulin shots within the first 24 hours after birth. Hep B vaccination when they're a month or two old would be completely pointless.

The fact that an infant gets Hep B immunizations doesn't imply that a child is infected with the virus. I certainly wish more children in China were getting the vaccine! Medical reasons may very well be the cause for this child's abandonment, but I doubt the issue is Hep B. There's no medical treatment for an infant with Hep B anyway so there would be no financial obligation. I think in this case, there was another cause for abandonment.