Thursday, July 24, 2008

Book Alert: "Silent Tears"

Having had substantial experience in China, it is refreshing to finally read a book that presents a realistic view behind the curtain of China's orphanages. Many adoptive families have an idealized view of their child's orphanage. Families often ask me to "take pictures of my daughter's favorite nanny." Usually, however, I find that the children in most orphanages are treated as little more than an investment, with the cost in care being constantly offset to the ultimate reward -- the $3,000 orphanage donation.

"Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage" was written by a volunteer who worked for over three years in an internationally adopting orphanage in China's Jiangsu Province. She writes under a pen name to hide the identification of the orphanage, but in reality the conditions and attitudes she describes are found everywhere, in nearly all orphanages. Her story is at once infuriating, yet inspiring. It will leave the reader with a very realistic impression of the type of lives our children lived before being adopted, and the lives that those left behind continue to live.

Kay provided Research-China.Org with the following sample of her book. It can be purchased through Amazon.Com, and is highly recommended reading.


I entered through those stark, gray orphanage walls with more than a little apprehension. What would I find? Would the nannies accept me? Would the children be fearful of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed American woman? Would the conditions be as dire as I imagined?

So many questions and uncertainties that first day when fate brought me to the gates of a place that would burrow itself deep in my heart. It took time, but a year of keeping a low profile brought me acceptance and unlimited access to the children. For four years, I held the babies; spoke to them, sang to them, and fought their battles for them when they were too sick or afraid to do it for their selves. I played trading games with the administration, giving items of interest and paying many expenses. In return, they allowed me to duck under the red tape to place once-rejected children on adoption lists or send them for life-saving surgeries. With disdain showing in their eyes, they allowed me to comfort those who needed it, and cry for those who were beyond saving. I became a part of their world and they became mine.

It was a wonderful experience.
It was a heart-breaking experience.
An experience that changed me.
An experience I’ll never forget.

Upon my return home to the states last summer, I was faced with concern from my sisters and my parents. “You’ve changed,” they all said. I was afraid to ask whether they were indicating it as a good thing or a bad thing. There is no doubt that the many obstacles I overcame took their toll on me and brought out a part of me I did not know existed.

Digging back through memories, one of the early days at the orphanage went like this:

July 11, 2003
Ann asked me to initiate a new volunteer named Yolanda. She warned me that Yolanda was very outspoken and flamboyant, and asked if I would caution her about making derogatory remarks to the staff about the care and treatment of the children. She is worried we might be banned from our volunteer work if anyone is too judgmental.

I met Yolanda at the coffee shop near the orphanage, and as soon as I saw her, I knew there was going to be trouble. For one thing, the temperature was supposed to hit about 105 degrees that day. I was dressed for it in thin khakis, white T-shirt and hair up, but not Yolanda. She was Spanish, forty-one years old, and a fitness fanatic with a body that bespoke long workouts over many years. Yoli (she instructed me to call her) was wearing two shirts over a pair of tight silk pants with stiletto heels, her dark hair a wild mess of curls around her face.

Yoli was a fast talker and rapidly took me through her life story and what had brought her to China. Based on her many anti-American comments, I figured she was probably disappointed that I was going to become her volunteer partner.

Jumping in when she finally paused for air, I quickly shifted the conversation over to expectations of us at the orphanage. I tried to convey to her the seriousness of not making a bad impression and not criticizing the care of the children. I thought I was getting my point through, but was about to find out that not much gets through to Yoli.

After going through the proper administrative channels, we made our way to the baby area. As soon as she had taken one look, she started in with disdain and attitude. I told her she had to remove her shoes and wear the ones provided, but it was obvious she resented parting with her deadly weapons―although she did so and grudgingly put on the ragged slippers we all had to wear. The slipper policy is one of the few rules put in place to stop the spread of outside disease and one we all strictly obey.

For a short while, we enjoyed playing with the babies, but soon it was feeding time. It was the same as always: the workers prop the bottles on sheets and allow the babies to suck for about five minutes; then come and snatch the bottles away. The babies still appear hungry; I am not sure why they are not allowed more milk.

Yoli and I took the bottles we were able to hang onto and tried to move around to the babies who had yet to be fed. One little preemie boy looks like a shriveled-up old man. They never move him and his head is completely flat on the back from always lying in the same position. He is so skinny; he looks to weigh not more than four pounds. They had not bothered to give him a bottle so I grabbed one and rushed over. I realized why they hadn’t bothered; he was so weak he did not have the strength to suckle. I spent the next few minutes giving him drinks in small bursts by squeezing the nipple directly into his mouth.

When it came time to undress them for their baths, Yoli asked me to take care of the premature boy because she was afraid of hurting him. I picked him up and laid him on my left arm with his face in my hand. I was amazed at the way his little body fit on my slender arm. I massaged his shoulders and neck to help with the stiffness. I rubbed his tiny eyebrows because I remembered my baby girls both used to like that, and I was looking for a way to make him feel loved and comforted without causing more pain.

The worker took him from me and held him with one hand under his head and one hand holding his ankles. He was so stiff that he looked like a play doll. She held him brutally under the cold water, and Yoli wept. I was trying to hold it together because Yoli had already made them angry by her outburst of emotion.

I had prepared Yoli for the cold, brusque way in which the ayis behaved toward the babies, but it apparently had not registered. Under her breath, Yoli was calling the ayis dirty names; she thought they could not understand. They knew enough to know she was talking about them, so I kept my head down and did not respond. I know Yoli thinks I am a wimp, but I do not want to make things worse for the children.

The disgusted looks Yoli kept throwing their way did nothing but infuriate the women more. The workers passed the babies under the stream of water and then roughly dumped them into their cribs with a piece of clothing. Most of the time, they threw the clothes over their faces, causing the babies to struggle for breath underneath. Yoli and I rushed around dressing them and trying to calm them after the shock of the cold showers. What Yoli does not understand is the more compassion, pity, and outrage we show on our faces— the rougher the staff is with the children. Two of the infants had bruises that were not there last week; based on their limited mobility I can only imagine how they got them.

I hope Yoli’s attitude will not get us thrown out. Even though we cannot change the situation, at least we give the babies a little love and care while we are there. What I had learned from Ann is that we simply have to keep silent and do what we can. All the histrionics only make it worse.

The boy preemie is really struggling and I can’t get him out of my thoughts. I want him to prove to the workers that he can survive. It is obvious in the disapproving looks they give us that they think it is a waste of time to nurture him. If nothing else, this orphanage runs a flawless model of survival of the fittest. One final thought for the day―I hope that Yoli will not want to come back. To lose a new volunteer is sad, but it will be better for the children.

Things at the orphanage improved greatly over the years. I won’t say that it was a model institution, because it wasn’t. There were still issues of occasional abuse and neglect. However, with our team assisting the nannies in their daily chores and helping to care for the babies, the overall atmosphere became happier and safer. In time, I built a rapport with one director that called herself my Chinese mother. I was able to laugh and joke with some of the nannies, many of whom I had a genuine affection for. With a huge support network from local expatriates and international colleagues, we were able to provide urgent medical care for many children. Selfishly, it took me quite awhile to get over missing the ease and comforts of America and accept the hardships of my new life, but I discovered I could survive—and even flourish in a third-world country. To put it simply, I grew up.

Here is a piece from later in my China saga that highlights the changes in my demeanor:

March 16, 2006

Isn’t it strange how a key can just lose itself? Awakening this morning to a gorgeous, sunny day, I decided that since I had just spent three days in bed with a stubborn flu, I was going to ride my bike to the Ling Li, our local market, to buy vegetables for a salad. I haven’t ridden all winter, and it was time to begin my spring exercise regimen. However, since experiencing how rampant the theft of bikes is here, I first needed to find the key to my bicycle lock.

After a frustratingly unsuccessful search, I opted to walk—the day was lovely. As a writer, I am constantly formulating little essays in my head, and ideas come much more easily when I observe things at a slower pace.

But how is one expected to cross six lanes of traffic and two lanes of bicycles before the light turns red? I tried twice at different intersections, walking as fast as I could, but it was simply impossible. I would get perhaps halfway before the light changed, and then I’d have to race for the opposite sidewalk. How did others less nimble than me fare?

It was heartwarming to see many grandparents strolling hand in hand with their grandchildren. In China, it is customary for the grandparents to care for the small children while their parents work, unlike in developed countries where daycare is prevalent. It’s a practical concept if you don’t mind your parents living with you under the same roof, which is a sacrifice many new young couples here must make.

I passed several Chinese locals leaving the market carrying small bags of raw meat, which explained all the red splotches on the sidewalk that I delicately stepped over. They carry the meat home unwrapped and bloody—a dangerous bacterial breeding ground, particularly in this warm weather. The meat at the market hangs in the open, humid air; flies swarm everywhere, invariably settling on the meat no matter what the temperature outside or in. Ordinarily, I avoid the meat side of the markets because of the dirt, nauseous smells, choking throngs of people, and thousands of aggravating flies.

I strolled toward the market, trying to ignore the exuberant calls of “Hello laowei!” (foreigner) from a group of construction men.

I yelled back at them in Chinese, “Wo bushi laowei, wo ju zai zhe li!” (I’m not a foreigner, I live here!)

This prompted hysterical laughter; they weren’t expecting a sarcastic retort in Chinese from a tall, blonde American. Not wanting to encourage them further, I continued past without turning my head.

Nearing the market, I decided I’d better eat lunch before going to the open food area; the experience always throws off my appetite. Instead, I stopped at KFC, where I practiced ordering in Mandarin while the cashier practiced her limited English. The scene would have made for a great comedic skit.

I sat down to eat and quickly became the center of attention as people began staring, pointing, and commenting to their companions. I could almost hear their thoughts: “What country is she from? Why is she alone? What is she doing here among us?”

A few years ago, I would never have been able to withstand the pressure of being alone in a public place full of curious, gawking Chinese. Time has made me immune to this kind of attention. I stare right back and even have the language skills to tell them to quit staring. I’m learning to live through all the frustrations. Even better, I can keep a smile on my face and if I choose, engage in conversation. I have come a long way from the na├»ve, idealistic woman who first landed in this country some three years ago. Who was that person?

As I finished my meal, I realized I should not have gulped the entire cup of strange-tasting coke. I headed to the bathroom, knowing I’d be extremely lucky if it contained a toilet.

Luck was not on today’s agenda, and in any case, I needed to get over my squatter phobia. I hooked my bag over my shoulder and squatted like a local, not even bothering to look down and see if my aim was on. I figured my shoes needed a good wash anyway. Afterward I scrubbed my hands vigorously and strode out with my head held high. I’m no princess; I am no longer too good to squat. It only took me three years to come down off my pedestal.

I walked out of the department area and into the open food market. Upon entering, I was immediately harassed by dozens of vendors wanting me to stop at their vegetables. I ignored the aggressive hawkers and sought out a polite shop owner, a scarce commodity here where every kuai (Chinese dollar) earned means a decent meal or a bus ride. Eventually, I found one who smiled warmly as I stopped to browse her cucumbers.
When I stepped over to the fruits, a woman pointed at some strange objects and asked if I wanted any. They were round and yellowish and unlike anything I’d ever seen.
“Bu zhi dow, wo hai pa . . .” (I am afraid and I don’t know what they are), I said uncertainly and she handed me one to sample.

She laughed good-humoredly. “Don’t be afraid,” she said in Mandarin. I decided to live dangerously and bit into it. Delicious! It was sweet like a peach but not fuzzy, and small like a ping-pong ball but oblong shaped. I bought a dollar’s worth―Amanda is sure to love them. I wish I could remember what the woman called them.

More succulent-looking oranges, grapes, and apples beckoned enticingly, but my hands were full and I had to get everything home. I left loaded with the strange fruit, tomatoes, and cucumbers. It all cost less than two dollars, a remarkable deal by American standards. Heading to the street, I contemplated walking home for all of five seconds before waving down a taxi. I was weary from the stress of dealing with another so-called ordinary day in China.

In closing, let me say that there are days that I long to be right back there sitting in the sweltering orphanage nursery with a baby in my arms and a toddler pulling at my knees. I crave the challenge of going to battle for a child and feeling that triumph when they are finally adopted or a once-opposed surgery is successful. But then there are the still frequent long nights that memories of tragedies I witnessed haunt my dreams. I realize some people can only take so much sadness in one lifetime. I’ve had my share---this I know for sure.


Jeff and Madeline said...

I am very interested in reading this. I saw another reference to the book and wasn't sure who the woman was; I am looking forward to the read as I am always looking for truth. I know this is her truth, but one that I think can be applied on a broader scale.

Anonymous said...

I just finished this book. It's well worth reading for any parent who's adopted from China. We need to know the realities of how our children were raised so we can help them heal. Thank you Ms. Bratt for all your work and for telling your story.

Anonymous said...

I too will probably read the book. But, I firmly believe that my daughter came from a good orphanage. Maybe not a perfect situation but one that gave her good care and some love. She didn't show any signs of neglect or abuse. Bonding was a dream.

Shari said...

I can't wait to read this... Anything to better understand what our children came from. I also appreciated the exerpt just on living in China. Those are experiences I don't have to share with my daughter.

Mamacita said...

When we maet our daughter, we were give an ideal list of questions to ask regarding feeding times, habits, preferences for the baby. The nanny could not answer my questions. When I asked her, "What is special about this baby?" she said, "Nothing. She's just a baby. She does nothing interesting." That was the last question I asked. She was adequately cared for, nothing more, nothing special.

Anonymous said...

The writing style seems really over the top to me. And that 2006 diary entry - she has lived in China at this point for several years and still can't deal with the traffic, the food markets, or squat potties? She doesn't sound like she likes China or the Chinese way of life very much. I'll have to read the whole book to give her a fair chance, but these excerpts sound odd to me.

Anonymous said...

This book actually arrived at our house (from amazon) about three days ago. It's one of those few books I'm scared to read. I might just loan it to daughter's godmother first ... I think she's tougher. :( I *am* glad that we got it, just not looking forward to this, especially having now scanned through your "July 2003" excerpt. That's only one month before we received our daughter from her orphanage.
Yeah. Yikes.

Anonymous said...

Ok, since that last post, I picked up our copy, which has been sitting right behind the sofa literally for about three days now, and went through the intro and the prologue ... the girl with the bad leg; the motherinlaw; the park. Kay, MORE POWER TO YOU, and I am indeed happy that we have this book in our possession. But I was right, I just can't do this. Our daughter's godmother is a very wise physician, and I don't think I can do this book without her.

I think this is indeed an important book to have, and I'm very glad that we have it in our possession, because I have the very strong feeling that this is just going to flat out lay it on the line, isn't it. I'm just gonna need a little time to get through it.

pa, mom to K, who came home in September 2003.

Anonymous said...

I can hardly wait to read this book and hope more parents of adopted kids from China read it. I think so many parents want to believe the fairy tales we are told they defend them to the end rather than face the hard truths. The SWI where my daughter lived was huge. They gave us all little info sheets with our childrens' nicknames, favorite things, etc... All made up. Every birth note left with a baby was destroyed or we were never told of them. I have never heard of a single parent adopting from this particular SWI receiving a copy of a birth note. It means nothing to the caretakers. Every baby there was called "baby" except for kids that had been there for a long, long time. The ones soon to be adopted were kept in a special nursery after their files were sent to the CCAA, the nice nursery. More nannies, cleaner, toys. But before it was just a baby factory. They propped bottles and kept them alive, that was all. If every parent could imagine how the caretakers feel it might help them understand the care the children are given. They are poor, over worked and have children of their own. The kids come and go quickly and often die. They are not yours and if you get attached they could quickly be taken from you. To many of them the babies are the lowest of the low. Children of the poor, handicapped, unwanted, no family, abandoned. Their job is to keep them clean, fed and quiet. When you are worried about keeping your job to feed your family you dont have time to spend extra on one baby playing with them or cuddling. There are 10 more crying with hunger or wet. I remember the cold, detached looks in on the faces of all the nannies at the SWI. They hardly seemed to know our babies at all. I met about a dozen nannies and two directors, nice, professional but very cool toward the children except for two young laddies. If we looked in the direction of a nanny with a baby they would suddenly "turn on". Smiling and playing with a baby, as if someone has flipped their performance switch. It was obvious they had been told to behave this way around visitors. The babies always looked confused or stunned, as if they were not used to the interaction at all. I think a lot of parents romaticize the time their child was at the SWI. "The nanny seemed to love him" or "She bonded so easily". My daughter bonded quickly too but she was raised her first 12 months in a baby factory with no heat or hot water, propped bottles, tied to a potty and glider and ignored most of the time. She is just an easy going kid. It is hard to understand how anyone could not love a baby or want to care fo rthem well. But sometimes, a lot of the time, they just dont. People also romanticize the foster care forgetting how horried the foster care in the US often can be with people who are not living in poverty or poorly trained. Foster care doesnt mean they loved your child or even adequately cared for them or did not abuse or neglect them. For my daughter I know I am the first to love her in her short life because I am the first to really know her. I know this is harsh but life is not easy in China or other third world countries. My Indian sister in law says although she loves her home country every time she goes back to visit she thinks it stinks a bit more and is full of more beggers. She would never go back there to live. If adoptive parents would stop buying into the comfortable lie about their childrens' lives in the SWI's maybe the outcry would change the treatment they get. If we keep pretending everything is okay, that our child was lucky or special or the "favorite, and quite spoiled with attention"(hear that one all of the time), then we might be able to influence the directors to better train the caretakers.

Anonymous said...

I too am very interested in reading this book. I must say that our own daughter had a foster mother from 3 months old until we arrived in China when she was 12.5 months old. When we arrived back at our hotel after receiving our daughter-from her foster mother-I found a note folded under her foot inside her sock. The note spoke of how much the foster mother cared about our daughter. The foster mother included her address.

I must admit I have been quite negligent in my correspondence over the past 5 years-not sending photos as often as I had intended- but we have received notes from our dd's foster mother on 2 occasions. Last summer dd received a small package with a brand new dress inside. I was floored and dd was thrilled. I did send some stamps to dd's foster mother and address labels for us. Dd drew a picture for her foster mother which we sent and her foster mother was thrilled to receive. In her notes she has always spoken of how much they loved and miss our daughter and how they wish for her a happy life. In contrast to some of what Ms. Bratt has written about-I am brought to tears at the degree of love and care our dd received and tomorrow I am going to get another set of photos together to send to China.

Sharon said...

Just found you blog and am so grateful to read it. We arrived home with our 2 1/2 yr old 8 weeks ago and I am interested to read more. Thanks so much !!

Anonymous said...

That was hard to read. I know my daughter was fed with a propped up bottle, but she seemed loved and adjusted well. I always felt the caretakers were busy and doing their best in a very poor SWI.
I believe it's possible that the care given varies from SWI to SWI and even caregiver to caregiver (although I think the director might set an overall tone in any SWI).
I'll have to read this book to see if the children treated so harshly had problems at adoption. The book sounds like a valuable read.

Carmi said...

This book is going to be next on my reading list. Thanks so much for putting this out there for us!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, and thanks to Anonymous 2008-07-25_04:38pm for the fog-cutting analysis. The children we treasure so much almost certainly did exist in SWIs as just another task in a crowded workday for people who were just doing a job. We're grateful that our daughter got care enough to get through her first year, but we can't pretend it was pretty.

In our first day with her, we found out how she cried and fought when we tried to undress her and how she climbed up us like a terrifed monkey when we tried to bathe her. She'd obviously learned to fear those experiences. Her head was flattened in back, and she could hardly sit up by herself. All those things improved dramatically within a few days or weeks, but were saddening to discover.

We know a bit about her SWI environment from the photos we received with her, and from those taken by other APs who visited the place in her last few months there. It was a run-down place, poorly heated in the winter, with some of the kids sleeping in boxes. We did see ayis holding children in the photos, but as Anon said, it's hard to say what they did when no visitors were there.

The one ray of hope we took from those photos was that our girl was moving around in her little walker from shot to shot, often barging up close to the photographer, and looking much more alert and interested than the other kids. With the very engaging personality we found in her after a day or so, and the way she seemed to pursue contact and activity in thse pictures, we hope that she attracted attention and stimulation from her ayis to some degree.

A few months after her adoption, the SWI moved to a new building that's stunning in its bright, clean, modern, and cheerfful nature. It's like the difference between a new Prius and an old Ford Pinto. The pile of $3000 fees added up to a real improvement for the future kids who will pass through - or stay in - that SWI from now on. Our girl lived through the old version, and we'll have to find ways to talk to her about that when she's older. Books like these will help us a lot with seeing the process in a way we can't or won't now.

Anonymous said...

I used to be in denial about my daughters and their experiences as infants, but now that my daughters are both in appropriate therapy with a therapist who specializes in adoption and children who have experienced neglect, trauma, and institutionalized infancies, I know best how to support my children's fears and anxieties.

Being able to tease out the difference between what is developmentally appropriate, what is innate character, and what is learned from an infancy without constant and consistent love and care is a skill I had to acquire by facing the truth of my daughters' histories.

I am so happy that this book is out there. I hope that a great variety will continue to emerge for our children in the future when they seek perspective and history behind their lives and adoptions.

Kay Bratt said...


You just wrapped up in one comment 1 of 2 major reasons I went ahead and despite trepidation, published this book. Weaving fairy tales about children's histories cannot possibly help them--the sooner that the truths are uncovered, the sooner the children will heal. It is my prayer that many of your children DID have a decent orphanage and loving ayis, but for those that did not, it is insulting to them to pretend. I wish you and your family peace-as I do all of the children adopted from orphanages around the world.


Anonymous said...

I am certain our daughter got custodial care at best. We took her back to the orphanage and the walls were all blank and the kids were all standing in cribs, some of them tied by the ankle so they wouldn't crawl out. AFter the visit, my daughter said they kept her in "chains". She was about 13 mos or maybe a little younger when we got her but was so active that I totally believe she might have some sense memory of this.
I try to give her a fairly upbeat story of her finding and her first mom but I am sure it is worse than that. When she is older, I will talk to her about it some more, but for now, I think it is enough for her to know she was left behind.
I also have her in therapy and I agree with the writer who said it is very hard to tease out the different aspects of a child's personality. Our daughter is 10, she is diagnosed ADD, I finally found a therapist I liked who agrees she has anxiety and he thinks the anxiety may be her primary issue so it is difficult.
The good news is that she is overall doing just great after years of support and love.

Anonymous said...

The author is going to love you, Brian! I wonder how many people (in addition to myself) purchased this book as a result of your post? It should arrive today, and I'm really anxious to read it, as is my 12-year-old daughter from Gejiu. It comes at a good time, because I have recently had a heightened awareness of regret that my children have grown up so far from their native land, separated from their heritage. While I am still sorry this has happened in their lives, the excerpt you posted from the book made me realize that they are at least better off with me than they would have been if they remained in the orphanage.

Kay Bratt said...

Yes, Brian is my new best bud.


(Don't forget, that a portion of any profits from the sale of my book will benefit orphanages in China--I have not yet decided which 5013c to partner with but it will all be set up before the first royalty check hits my hand. Inquiries are already in place)


Musings from Kim K. said...

I read this book in one sitting and cried my own silent tears. We recently returned from China in March 08 with a 22 month old daughter that needed open-heart surgery. Kay Bratt is an amazing writer. This is a must read for parents adopting from China. I now have a much better understanding on some of the behavior that our daughter displayed when she first came to our family. I can't say enough how important her book is to my own healing process. Thank you, Kay.

Laurie McLean said...

I also highly recommend it. It explains so many things. I pray that it will have a good affect, not only by educating adoptive parents, but also perhaps helping those in China to see inside the orphanages too. Reading the book, I found hope in the story of the visit to the orphanage by a Chinese man who was also surprised and shocked by what he saw. He said something like, "The Chinese usually treat their children with such tenderness. This is not normal."

Jeff and Madeline said...

Just wondering why you are not posting the comments against the book.

Research-China.Org said...

I have posted all comments concerning Kay's book, and they have been all positive so far.


Research-China.Org said...

Wendy O says:

I know most of you have heard about (and possibly read) the book "Silent Tears" by Kay Bratt.

First off I would like to say that what Mrs. Bratt "reveals" in her book is something that ANY research into institutional care would reveal. The horrors of what happens to infants and children who are under the care of undereducated, overworked, underfunded, and untrained workers (in this case ayi's aka nannies) is nothing new and tragically often ignored by would-be adopters who want to believe in the "red thread" or whatever ladybug type fairy tale is deemed the lucky charm/connection depending on country involved. The fact of the financial matter is that there is a limited amount of dollars available in institutions and providing for the healthy versus the sick in terms of lasting survival/possible adoption, etc. is a sad strategy for running an orphanage, but one that makes sense when you take out the human element. Unfortunately, we are talking about human lives.

Mrs. Bratt is "horrified" a lot in her personal posts (which is what the book is comprised of) and very critical of not only the orphanage she volunteers at, but also of the Chinese and China in general. I agree that conditions are horrible, hard to bear, and beyond sad with the loss of life that goes on when so many babies are left for care and governmental support is at a minimum. I agree that not holding and loving a baby seems incomprehensible to those of us who love/wanted/dreamed of children; HOWEVER, the initial context in which she writes demonizes the women who are doing their job to take care of the children in a way that custom, regulation, and society demand, not to mention the personal toll it would take on each worker if they became attached to individual children. The author takes several "vacations" and/or "breaks" from her work because she cannot take the emotional burden and she only volunteers a few hours a week, not as a full-time occupation. Do the ayi's have that option? I don't think many of them can take off to the Great Barrier reef, the beach in Thailand, the USA, or even to the foot massages/in-home cook/drivers/maids that the author has the luxury of escaping too.

I wonder about this author and her CONSTANT judgment of the ayi's/directors/birthparents/Chinese society in that she never acknowledges her own faults. She did not want to move to China (her husband's job took her there). She never even dreamed of adopting a child from the orphanage (as many of the other volunteers she mentions have); instead, creating false hopes for one little girl especially and playing Santa to so many others as she drops in once a week for her volunteer time bearing cookies, milk, potato chips and yes, hugs and songs for the few hours she is there. While reading the text I found myself feeling horrible for the children, not just because of the lack of treatment for various illness and for the harshness that comes with being one of hundreds cared for under the roof of the orphanage, but also for the self-indulgence of the author and her tone in representing their country, their birthparents (whom she knows nothing of and seems to make no effort to find), and their future lives in China.

I do not disagree/dispute/ignore that the orphanage needed and received improvement due to the money raised by the author's and other volunteers efforts. I would never deny that the children were the better for having volunteers come and offer their hugs, snuggles, and moments of personal care--ALL children deserve to be loved, held, whispered to, sung to, and snuggled much more than the minimal amount of time that the orphans in this particular SWI received prior to the volunteers. What I fail to understand though is this idea that no one cared for them prior to the "saviors" from the Western world arriving. It takes the author more than half of the book to actually point out that there were several ayi's loving the children, striving to make their lives more beautiful with the limited resources they had, and giving the best care they new how to give--and trust me you have to really pay attention to find her acknowledge their efforts as they are mentioned as afterthoughts or "oh, btw's".

I haven't been this angry reading a book in a long time. I anticipated anger before I opened the book, but I thought my anger would be exclusively directed at the SWI's or the institutional realities, but it was always redirected back to the author. It was her condescension, her lack of respect for another culture, her white privilege attitudes, and her just plain rudeness toward all things Chinese (which she claims later in the book she has grown to love within the same chapter that she criticizes and keeps referring to China as a third world country--I guess she doesn't understand racism even on a basic level).

As a mother of a child with limb difference I can say that I have no love for people who discriminate via appearance or believe that a person has no value because they were born different, but I also have no love for those that provide a lot of lip service and still use negative terminology for illness/congenital issues/or any type of difference or status, whether that be an orphan, an adult, a person with mental, physical, or psychological issues.

I am sure many people will shed tears when reading the book, especially those who have buried their head in the sand thinking that all of the children are loved deeply and treated individually by the ayi's. I would hope that many shed tears or at least have concern for the children that passed on or who are still in need of care/surgery/etc. hopefully leading them to donate time/money/supplies to those still left behind and who are to come not just China, but around the world. My concern is that more stereotyping will come from this text. How many will read this and stereotype our children further (something the author doesn't have to concern herself with since she is not an A-parent) and come to the belief that the Chinese don't care or take care of children? After reading this and knowing the ignorance of the masses, I would say many. It must be noted that the time frame within the text was 2001 or so to 2004 and that things have changed gradually for many SWI's not just from Western aid, but also due to decreases in children needing care and the increase of fostering throughout China.

I have researched the orphanages that Madeline lived in during the time she lived in them and I know she is lucky to have gotten to leave her initial orphanage when she did and go to a privately funded one. Her original orphanage is in no way the same one it was when she was there in 2004; it has benefited from education, more funding, etc. I also know she is a lucky child in that she had a wonderful foster family, one that did not mistreat her and loved her then and now as their own child. I know she is one of the lucky ones in those respects (and we are more lucky to have her than she will ever have had luck or will have luck in her life). I also know she had no luck in having a lifetime of dealing with adoption, different race parents, and limb difference. I also know so many more children were not and are not that lucky, they show the scars (mental/physical/emotional/developmental) of having to survive alongside so many others needing care with to few workers to help them to receive all that every child deserves.

There are positives to the book--the reality is there for those who don't want to see it or have chosen not to about their childs time in institutional care, the sadness of individual children is revealed, and some of the bureaucracy that orphanages face surfaces, but the hype is much more than the substance, the personal life of the author overshadows the needs and ways to help the children, and the prejudice outweighs the justice. So there you have my review of sorts. I will leave you to decide if you want to plunk down the money for the book or instead send that money to someone who needs it--I wish I had.

Anonymous said...

Wendy O,

First, I have not read the book. I am in China and now that will have to wait. However, I would like to comment on several things you said.
I volunteered for a orphanage in northern China for 8 years, five (sometimes 6) mornings a week. I did go home for a few weeks every other year or so. I also had a full time job teaching, and did a lot of paperwork for the volunteer organization in my free time. My last experience volunteering was in May of 2008, and I plan to continue.
My points: 1) The vast majority of ayi (nannies) care very little for the children. This does not mean there are loving, caring, gentle ayi, only that they are few and far in between. I have seen horrific treatment over and over again.
2) Children being readied for adoption are often moved to better facilities, either CWI-run foster care or private-run facilities. The most handicapped, with the smallest chance of adoption, are left at the CWI. Adoptive families only see the best of what the CWI has to offer. Volunteers often see the worst.
3) Of course, we cannot know the birth parents. However, I do know that many children were abandoned simply because they were "different", and not because of any financial problems. How do I know? Well, we have had many children abandoned with ONLY slight physical problems that required no or little medical care. We have had children abandoned along with expensive medicines specifically for their condition. Also, in our city, we have some of the best Chinese cleft-palate surgeons who had reduced the costs of surgery to the bare minimum. I do not place the blame on abandonment totally on the parents, however. I have confirmed reports that doctors have repeated lied to parents about the severity and prognosis of their children's condition, either to convince them to abandon or to try to get them to pay exorbitant treatment fees to the hospital.
Do these things make me racist? Perhaps. It certainly take away a lot of my respect for the culture. However, the above points are not my opinions, but fact I have seen confirmed again and again.
My stomach turns every time an adoptive family comes in and talks about how wonderful everything looks. Of course the buildings look wonderful, they don't require love.
Visitors, especially adoptive parents, try to dismiss the stares (and can't understand the name-calling) they get on the street, perhaps because they are with a Chinese child. However, all white people are stared at. This is because they are different. All handicapped people are stared at, because they are different. Non-conformity is frowned upon, and children are abandoned for it.
Chinese culture is different. This should not make us upset. They drive crazy, can't make a decent line, and spit. These things are hardly important. These things are not WRONG, in and of themselves. As foreigners, we need to learn to tell the difference between cultural differences and right and wrong.
Child abandonment is wrong. There might be some extenuating circumstances where it is the lesser of two evils, but those circumstances are not present in the majority of cases I have seen. (I have seen thousands.)
More importantly, child abuse is wrong. The simple fact that the ayis are not paid much or don't get to go on vacations is hardly an excuse. There are hundreds of thousands of parents all over the world who care for their handicapped children and do not prop their bottles, slap them around, yell and scream and humiliate them, and they rarely get a break. At least the ayis get to go home after their shift.
Most adoptive families only spend 2 weeks in China. Please don't judge those of us who have spent a significant portion of our lives here, caring for the children that you get to take home to nice, comfortable Western homes and talk with your children about the nice things in China.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting Wendy's comment. It is exactly how I felt about the book. I was horrified by the condescension. It reminded me of those books written by white colonials. I also am surprised that people are shocked. When we were waiting to adopt, we were warned over and over that conditions were likely to be like this, and that our baby would likely have delays due to poor care. I saw a talk by Jane Aronson in which she told us to expect very poor care if our babies were in an orphanage.

Jeff and Madeline said...

To the last commenter who for some reason did not feel comfortable leaving his/her name...Perhaps you did not read my review of the text completely or perhaps you cannot understand that not all of what I said was in disagreement with you.
The point is this, when you take it upon yourself to write a book or post your diaries for the world to see then you have to accept criticism, I know as I am a writer myself. You also have to look at yourself and your own personal biases/prejudices/background and expect to have those who are in disagreement call some of your ideals into question.
I have never denied the good of volunteers or have never proclaimed that orphanage care and caretakers judgement/conditions/treatment are great/wonderful/ideal; it is the attitude and enthocentricity of the writer of THIS book that I called into question and felt the need to make known for other parents who have already done the research, been around the world, and who attempt at all costs to not compare our own values and cultures with another. There is no way to fully remove our backgrounds and priviledge from the conversation, but there is sure a better way to approach a book that is being taughted as authoritarian in adoption circles when it is clearly one person's experiences.
You may notice I was the first person to comment on this post and was looking forward to the book and how it could be applied on a broader scale, I was so hoping for that. Sadly, my hope is coming true, but in a negative way--I am seeing more prejudice or this idea of "Otherness" multiply on boards, on Amazon, and here. Making a change is ideal. Calling bad practices into question is an absolute, but not at the expense of the children that will live to defend statements made by this book. That is wrong in every sense of the word.
As for calling into question my motives or judgements about those who have volunteered, please don't make your own judgements--you do NOT know who I am, my background, where I have been, what I have done and not done for children around the US or around the world.

Anonymous said...


I was that "last commenter". I was also the one who wrote the "Death Outside the Dying Rooms" article. Just to be clear, I have not read the book. If indeed the anti-Chinese culture feelings come across in the book in the way that you have said, then I would agree with you.
My comments were more made because I have seen so many adoptive families and one time and one time only visitors to my orphanage praise the quality of care for the children without understanding the whole story, or even a small fraction. It seemed to be that this was the perspective you were writing from, while it could have just been about things specifically in the book. If I misunderstood, I apologize.
To be clear, let me quote from your review post:

"Mrs. Bratt is "horrified" a lot in her personal posts... and very critical of not only the orphanage she volunteers at, but also of the Chinese and China in general."

I would agree and have the same feelings about my orphanage. China in general? Sometimes, but I won't talk about that. Let's stay on the topic of orphanages and adoption.

"she... demonizes the women who are doing their job to take care of the children in a way that custom, regulation, and society demand, not to mention the personal toll it would take on each worker if they became attached to individual children."

I most certainly agree with this statement. I have only met a handful of ayis who were loving and kind to children, and about 50% were actually mean and cruel. Attachment to every child? Perhaps not, but I think that "do no harm" is a good standard, but the ayis most often find it hard to do even that. Chinese society may or may not support this kind of treatment. More likely, it is the orphanage culture, not Chinese culture, that allows things to get this bad. Demonize? Absolutely. I have met some women at the orphanage who were just plain evil.

"she cannot take the emotional burden and she only volunteers a few hours a week"

I have seen this with a lot of volunteers. For the record, I am male, and it is a lot easier for me to compartmentalize. Perhaps this was the reason I was able to spend as much time as I did there.

"How many will read this and stereotype our children further ...and come to the belief that the Chinese don't care or take care of children?"

I understand these concerns. I work in a orphanage for special needs children, so my experiences might be different. However, I think I can say that the majority of Chinese poeple do not care about HANDICAPPED children. This is very clear to me, and I have 8 years of experience to prove it. Thankfully, this attitude is changing, but it is a slow and tortuous process.

"creating false hopes for one little girl especially and playing Santa to so many others as she drops in once a week"

I understand this as well, and have seen it many times. I won't comment specifically because I don't know the details. However, one warning for volunteers and adoptive parents alike: Don't deceive yourself by doing something for yourself and claiming that you are doing it "for the children".

"What I fail to understand though is this idea that no one cared for them prior to the "saviors" from the Western world arriving"

This is perhaps the statement I disagree with you the most about. As late as 1999, the number of deaths just about equaled the number of incoming children at our orphanage. This was changed only by the care of western volunteers. We had to FIGHT with the staff to get things to change. EVERY positive change that I have seen in that last 8 years was in one way or another caused by foreigners. Even the improvements to the buildings, so dear to the hearts of the higher-ups, were funded by foreigners. Simply put, the Chinese do not care for handicapped children. This is a very broad statement with a few exceptions, but those exceptions are not enough to prevent the extreme majority of the children from suffering from what would undoubtedly be criminal abuse in the West.

Jeff and Madeline said...

I am sorry I cannot address you by name, but to the author of "Death Outside the Dying Rooms" article...

Please know that I am not and was not writing from the perspective that I believe that the quality of care is wonderful in Chinese orphanages, I thought I had aluded to that in my post but not strong enough it seems.

I agree absolutely that there are situations of care that are reprehensible, but the context of my post comes in full from the attitudes in the book being discussed. It is the attitude of the author in this particular text, not the message of SWI care needing improvement that I am arguing with. It is the "authority" this text is given in adoption circles from the same parents you are alluding too that saw the "good side" of the orphanages they visited and oftentimes, the only experience they have had with China and the needs of the children within the SWI's that I am trying to address.

There seems to be an attitude that this particular text is a must read and one that will give all the answers or speak to all experiences for those waiting or already back and for me, as well as others, this is just not the case. The message is lost in priveledge and prejudice when there could be so much good that comes from a text written by a volunteer. I cannot adequately explain, you would have to read the text. I don't think we are that far off the same page, but are finding conflict due to the fact you are not seeing what I am referencing.

Trust me when I say that I understand the prejudice in China about people with SN, my daughter has a very visible limb difference and had the scars of ridicule when we received her as she feared going out in public, she hid herself everytime we would get near an elevator, doorway, restaurant, etc. (she was in foster care and her foster mother has told us several stories of bad encounters they had in the streets). My husband and I are always debating the best time to take her back to visit as her foster mother would love to see her and she so wants to go and see her foster family again (we talk with them every three months on the phone and email weekly), but all three of us (my husband, her foster mother, and myself) agree that it is a fine line walking with her as she loves her Chinese heritage (and she should be proud), but also she will face so much criticism, those ideals of shame, and constant stares when we return. She has a large foster family and extended friendships that love and wait for her to return and yet, she has the public to face. But, for all the stares, cruel comments and bigotry she will face when we return, I can say she faces the same attitudes here all of the time only guised with smiling faces and whispers, but mostly in stupid comments. We hear the mean comments, we get the stares, we feel the eyes on the back of our heads always--America is not welcoming with open arms and non-prejudicial attitudes.

It is the attitude of the book that I call into question because that is the message--"we" the Westerners are good, "they" the Chinese are bad. These types of attitudes do not help anyone, especially our children and I wish the author or her reviewers would have noticed that and I had really hoped that A-parents would have seen it too (some of us have).

That was and is my point.

Anonymous said...

Just because we find at handicapped child of value in our society does not mean other societies do as well. Remember, the children in the orphanages are not just often handicapped but the children were discarded in the eyes of many. The children of the poor or handicapped children are looked upon in most cultures as the least amoung us. Yes, we love these children and we value them all but we live in a different culture and place. I understood why many nannies looked on their charges as just a job or with disdain. I understand when a Chinese immigrant asked me why I wanted a child someone had thrown away in China. Why did I want a girl and for that matter, one that was not wanted in the first place. He was not being cruel but was just asking to try to understand my culture. I did not like it but I understood. I dont care if the volunteers think the kids have cooties ro only go in once a month. They are needed. Every hand is useful.

Anonymous said...

I want to thank the author, Kay, as well as the posters Wendy O. and the gentleman who wrote "Death Outside the Dying Rooms" for sharing their opinions. I find all of their opinions very informative. I hadn't planned on reading Kay's book, since my daughter was fostered, but now, because of all the controversy, I must read it. But I would like to ask Wendy O. and the gentleman, to recommend books which they feel present their views about adoption in China, and China in general.
Many thanks for all of your opinions.

Anonymous said...

Could you please explain this comment? What do people do for themselves that they claim they are doing for the children? Thanks.
one warning for volunteers and adoptive parents alike: Don't deceive yourself by doing something for yourself and claiming that you are doing it "for the children".

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book yet, but from the comments of those who have it seems to follow the patterns I saw when volunteering at my first daughter's social welfare institute.
I'll have to say that some of the comments from what I call the "two week experts" really burned me. It's very easy to visit China and fall in love with the parts of the culture you see in your sanitized western hotels with clean toilets and air conditioning. It's totally different to live in local communities and deal with the cultural differences day after day. I just finished my sixth year in China. It is a country I will always love - but I am realistic about it. It doesn't have much to do with "respecting the culture", it has to do with the experience of living with it day after day.
Don't criticize those of us who have spent years dealing with squats, open air markets, smells you could not handle, crowded hot buses, and overcrowded orphanages until you have done the same.
I volunteered in a SWI for three years before they pushed the foreignors out. It was the hardest and most wonderful time of my life. I promised to never write about it and I have mostly kept that promise. But you, who live in your lovely clean communities with your sanitized comfortable lives need to hush your criticism of those of us who have held dying children, fed and held stinking babies, carried blind paralyzed nine year olds in foul diapers outside to feel the sun, pushed fruit into the mouths of children who didn't know how to swallow, taught a dwarf ten year old to touch a blade of grass... Where were you when we rode hot buses for hours to get to SWIs? Where were you when we spent our Saturdays in the heat and the cold with the children? Where were you?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the insight given by Wendy O. Personally, I'm not that thrilled with the book.

Anonymous said...

I personally think this book is very much worth reading. Many of us would rather not read about the horid conditions in some orphanages and there has even been criticism of the author's personal views expressed. It is writtten in the format of a journal and therefore includes the author's thoughts and feelings. Some, like Wndy, object to the tone of comments about the country and its people. Personally I think the good that comes out of the realization of what the inside of an orphanage can look like is well worth wading through any of the author's personal views of biases(which of course are very much to be expected in this format of a book).
I do not agree that the book demonizes the Chinese. I did not see where the author painted the Chinese with a broad brush. I personally think its value lays in what is is and how it is presented: as one woman's experience in an orphanage over a number of years. I had never before had access to that information.
And for me, it explains alot(confirms a lot) about my child and what her experience might have been.
I did not feel the author demonized the workers. When stating facts about children being kicked, hit, degraded it does not surprise me that feelings might enter into her descriptions in a memoir/journal. She did, several times, praise the woman who took care of the blind children and mention others who were kind. Some simply were cruel. Demonizing or describing?
Wendy, I am not sure I understand what you mean by " Calling bad practices into question is an absolute, but not at the expense of the children that will live to defend statements made by this book."

In closing, I have to say that I believe many who have reviewed this book are doing so in terms of the value it offers; the insight into a life few of us have experienced but surely some of our children have. My review does not address the author's style or whether the words themsleves were riveting. Its value, I believe is not as a great work of literature but as a true experience in an institution in a country closed in many ways to the sharing of information.


Anonymous said...

Me again, the article author. :) First, book recommendations: I have read few non-fiction works about Chinese orphanages. Certainly none that I would recommend. However, "Wild Swans" and "Red China Blues" are both very good pictures of China in general.
To the one who asked for clarification about my comment: There are many ways I have seen selfish behavior manifest as selflessness. As a volunteer, the biggest gripe I had was volunteers who only came when they had a friend or two with them to chat with, and then only played with the mildest handicapped children or the healthy ones.
I have seen lots of people come to the CWI just to look around, treating the place as an aquarium, thinking they were helping by cooing and pitying the children.
I have also written to Wendy to get her list of books :)
Also, I would rather remain anonymous because I am still in contact with the CWI in my city and would rather them not know some of the things I have said, both in the article and in the comments.

Anonymous said...

I'm half way through the book. I agree about the condescension referenced by Wendy and others. I also note quite a bit of self-congratulation in the author's tone (not only for her good works but for her mastery of Chinese). And she shows quite a bit of naivete about the world outside the US and her own frame of reference.

I can't help commenting that the writing is awful. I know it was the author's journal before publication, but it would certainly have benefitted from some editing, to avoid repeating nearly the same sentences in different entries, to clear up spelling and usage errors, and to fix some distractingly odd language. (Time passed imperceptibly quickly? What does that mean?!). As much as I like the benefits of self-publication, including providing readers wider access to material that publishing houses don't want to be bothered with, it wouldn't be that hard to have a friend skilled in English usage give the work a once-over before publication. Poor writing distracts from the content.

Having said all that, I do think the book could be eye-opening to those who were previously unaware of the realities of orphanage life, or who knew that abuses were existed but were not aware of the extent of the problem.

I hope that, if nothing else, the book does two things: I hope it helps current and future adoptive parents to understand the trauma that their children may have suffered, so the children can get appropriate treatment. And I hope the book motivates even more people to do what they can, physically and/or monetarily, to help the children in orphanage care, ideally not with a sense of condescension or self-righteousness, but with compassion.

Anonymous said...

This book is wonderful! I don't know what Wendy's problem is other than she thinks she is the expert. Never once did Kay Bratt claim to be the expert on all things, nor did she claim all orphanages are this way. She simply shared her own personal experience with us. Shame on you Wendy for being so harsh in your judgement of her. It was her experience and her experience alone, if you don't like it too bad.

Kay made it clear in her book that while she didn't agree with the way things were done ( such as how they weened the children from the bottle )she came to understand why they did it that way. If you have never volunteered in an orphanage how on earth do you know what it is like.

As both an adoptive mom and a person who has been in many orphanages throughout China, I can say I was offended by Wendy's comments. We all have our beliefs and customs we hold near and dear to our hearts. Who are you to make light of them. ( Yes, your rude comments on Red Thread's and ladybugs. ) You blast Kay Bratt for not being respectful of the Chinese and their cultures yet you do the same to the adoption community of which you are a part of.

I would encourage people to read this book. In doing so remember it is a memoir, a personal experience. Kay Bratt never claims to be an expert but simply wants to share her experience with one orphanage in China.

Great job Kay, and please know this books touched me on so many levels.

Anonymous said...

Wendy, you hit the nail on the head.
For those who have disagreed with Wendy before reading this book, I urge you to first read and then comment.
I began reading it in hopes of understanding and seeing why it is that my daughter had such serious issues after the poor care in the orphanage.
I expected to be angry with the Ayis for being cold or mean.
Yet something else becomes apparent while reading this book.
An inside glimpse into the mind of a white-privileged person.
The judgement is throughout the book with insinuations about why kids were abandoned such as "I can't imagine that just because of this skin difference, his parents abandoned him. He is still Chinese on the inside!"
How do you know why that child or any child is abandoned? And “still Chinese on the inside”!? A child born with albinism is also still Chinese on the outside as well!!

I bought the book with hopes to pass it to my child to help connect the dots, yet I worry about what dots this book will connect. It also shows a side of the Western culture, which all too often judges others and fails to recognize our own faults.

Kay, I know you did great work in China and I know you are offering us a priceless piece of our children’s history, yet you did so with such self-righteous words that it just makes it hard to view these serious issues through your eyes and descriptions.

It makes it hard to relate.

Kay Bratt said...

White privilege is a sociological concept which describes advantages purportedly enjoyed by white persons beyond what is commonly experienced by the non-white people in those same social, political, and economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). It differs from racism or prejudice in that a person benefiting from white privilege does not necessarily hold racist beliefs or prejudices themselves. Often, the person benefiting is unaware of his or her supposed privilege.

I had to look up the exact definition to analyze of what I am being accused. I am glad I did, for I really agree with the last line. “Often the person benefiting is unaware of his or her supposed privilege.”

In some comments/reviews (negative opinions) of my book, Silent Tears, I have been accused of carrying around my white privilege attitudes. I can’t deny that I am white. I can’t deny that I was born into a country that strives to regulate a corruption-free welfare system. I can’t deny I was incensed at the way various children in the orphanage I worked in were treated.

Should I apologize for that? I think not.

I am not racist and the majority of people I met in China I found to be interesting, friendly and just regular citizens striving to live life to the fullest they can. If in my book, I sound derogatory towards Chinese, it was unintended. My journal, on which the book is based, focused on one part of my life—my work in the orphanage. While trying to improve conditions for the children, I never dreamed I would be sitting here one day defending my actions and attitudes.

I have been criticized for the comment about having to sleep after my volunteer work in order to cope with all that I witnessed. Let me ask you, have you thought about how it would feel to hold a child in your arms while wondering if you’d ever see them again? Or have you ever struggled to find a way to comfort a child when even your touch is painful to his starving little body? Can you imagine the guilt we carried as children looked at us with beseeching eyes not to leave them as we were forced out the door when our “volunteer” time was up? How would you handle years of nighttime insomnia brought on by wondering if a specific child would make it through the night?

Tell me, how would you have coped?

I have been criticized for the attitude against the Chinese nannies that were forced to work in the orphanage without breaks, as I was jet setting around enjoying vacations. To clarify, my team worked in the orphanage every single hour that was allowed. If they had allowed us to sleep overnight there, we would have. In reference to home visits, when you have left your home country, your parents, siblings, whole way of life--- taking a yearly visit back is something that keeps you sane. I won’t apologize for it but I will say that after a time, I began thinking of China as home and that is where I longed to get back to as quickly as possible.

In reference to the excursions to other countries, the reviewer obviously has not had any experience or knowledge of expatriate life or she would know that most companies send expatriate families on mini-vacations to give them a break from the harsh reality of countries such as China. I agree the nannies can’t pack up and take a break from their life—but they are not forced to work at the orphanage, it is by choice they are there. Yes, they live in an oppressed society. Yes, they are probably treated unfairly. However, no hardship anyone can carry gives them the right to abuse, slap, kick, starve or ignore innocent children. In my defense, I recognized nannies in my book who were kind or at least humane in their duties; it is not my fault that they were rare.

I have been accused of praising my accomplishments of mastering Chinese. I never said I had mastered Mandarin, and do not consider myself fluent at all. I can only communicate in reference to children, hospitals, shopping and basic day-to-day issues. I don’t believe I ever hinted otherwise. To “master” the language of Chinese would take years of intense studying, which I was not prepared to do.

I knew opening up this book to the world would also be baring my soul. I agonized over my decision for a very long time and decided it would be worth the ugliness it would bring out of some individuals. It is just sad that many people cannot bear to acknowledge the facts of reality and would rather attack the messenger with unfair assumptions about their character or intent. I do know this—my book is written of truths I witnessed. I will not be a part of the hypocrisy of those who want to pretend the Chinese government is doing their best to care for their unwanted children. For those of you who want to play that game, you are just as much to blame as those who inflict the actual abuse. I came away from China with some scars that will remain with me forever. I wake up with imprints of faces still on my mind. At times, I don’t want to sleep for fear of dreaming about those I left behind. I feel a sadness that always lingers, even in joyful moments it sneaks up on me and reminds me that on the other side of the world, there is work to be done.

Perhaps I am more cynical than before my time there—I know for sure my family tells me I carry a more serious attitude than before. I for one will never again turn away from truth; I will not stick my head in the sand and pretend that the world is a rosy place. I will live the rest of my life trying to improve the fate of children. I will live my life with purpose—as a gift to the children that still languish in institutions around the world.

Does it bother me to be criticized and insulted by those who do not know the real me? Sure, it does, but that goes with the territory—and after all is said and done, I know in my heart that everything I have done, said and written is to benefit those who need it the most.

To those of you who have read my book with an open mind and realized that my goal is to educate parents and others about the plight of the children— I appreciate your support. I don’t claim to be an expert, and you have realized my story is based on one institute and one group of people. I appreciate the warmth and respect you have shown me.



Anonymous said...

Our translator made a point to tell us that the nanny taking care of our daughter loved her and I could certainly tell by the way she handed her to me taht our daughter was a treasure to her SWI family. Not all SWIs are terrible places.

Kay Bratt said...


You are absolutely right. In China, there are some kind nannies and some wonderful foster mothers. As stated, my story is based on only one orphanage. Your daughter was a lucky little girl.


Anonymous said...

"It is just sad that many people cannot bear to acknowledge the facts of reality and would rather attack the messenger with unfair assumptions about their character or intent"

Kay, we LIVE the reality. It is not something that we can avoid. We love our children and we live the daily reality of what horrible care can do to a child's brain.
Many of us have become "experts" in sensory issues, attachment issues, issues of trauma, therapy etc. because it consumes our days.

You offered a priceless glimpse and confirmation on why these issues have been formed in our children. For that I am thankful.

I agree that opening up and talking about issues that others do not want to hear has its negative side, no doubts on that one.

The point is that when you write about such an important issue and offer the world such critical details, you just have to be careful how you do it and the words you use (if you want 100% positive feedback).

Using derogatory comments or a saviour type personality will bring resistance.

I am curious as to where the beginning story came from about the mother who was left by her husband and chose to abandon her child?


Anonymous said...

I'm the "Kathy" mentioned in the review by Wendy O. Wendy and I have a strong connection between our children and yet we are on opposite ends of the spectrum on a lot of our views on many different topics. We choose to focus our energy on those things that we agree on.....and that works. I appreciate Wendy's insight into the book and I do agree with many of her points....not necessarily all of them.

To Kay, you put yourself out there with this book. You claimed Brian as your "best bud." You even asked folks to go to Amazon to write a review. My hope for you is that you wouldn't take things so personally, or be so offended, when folks give their opinion. It's simply their opinion.

Anonymous said...

I agree that not all SWI's are horrible places but dont forget the older chidlren who live there too. It is not always nannies who are abusive to the children. There is often a Lord Of The Flies scenario in the orphanages. I have heard story after story of small children being victimized by older or bigger kids. The caretakers are to busy to help them and they are expected to fend for themselves. A lot of those kids hoard things or food once adopted. All to often everyone focuses on the infants and their care. What about the toddlers and children left behind? One nanny can love you to pieces but the other nannies may not. The nannies rotate shifts and dont always live with the children in the SWI. An orphanage is a bad place for a child to live period.


Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book yet, it's sitting in my bag to be taken on a vacation...and I'm an adoptive mom. The nanny that I got to talked to showed so much LOVE in her eyes for our daughter, I asked her if she could "run" because I knew she could walk and the nanny said "Oh, I don't know, I didn't take care of her". It was such a JOKE! We had talked to her through a translater for about 20 minutes, and everything she had said was a lie....don't believe everything you see or hear when nanny's are talking about your children to you....

Anonymous said...

To the people saying Kay shouldn't take the reviews so personally, if the review was of her writing and not her intergrity than I would agree. However, the particular review that Wendy wrote was a direct attack on Kay as a person. I believe any of us who put our personal journal out there for others to read would also be accused of being self righteous or judgemental. Most people who journal are working though personal experiences both happy and sad. Journaling is a place to cherish good experiences, as well as, vent about those that are bad. Kay was working through her emotional response to the horrible things she was seeing.

I find it hard to believe those of you who are being so critical can't put the book and Kay's writing into perspective. IT IS A JOURNAL, A PERSONAL ACCOUNT!! I'm sure if you had a bad encounter with someone and you journaled, you too would write how you felt about the person and experience. I find it hard to believe if you witnessed the mistreatment of a child you wouldn't have harsh words to say about the person doing it. I want to believe that we all would have a hard time dealing with watching the mistreatment of children.

If you paid attention while reading the book you would see Kay did talk about those caretakers who were kind. She also mentioned as the book progressed that she understood why they did some of the things they did, but that doesn't mean it was any easier to witness. You should also have seen that she never claimed all orphanages are like this and that all caretakers in the orphanages are bad. Once again, she is writing about the one orphanage she was in and the caretakers she worked with.

One person commented on Kay stating "Brian is my new best friend." How on earth is that a bad statement? She is grateful he is promoting her book. So what!!! I have a business and I am both grateful and happy when someone points people in my direction. That does not make me a bad person nor does it make me shallow! Should she apologize for wanting people to hear about her book?

I agree with the statement if Kay puts herself out there, some people may not like her book. However, I disagree with the nasty way some people have choosen to present their opinion. On the flip side of the coin, if people want to post negative reviews and personal attacks on Kay I believe she has the right to defend her character.


Anonymous said...

I have trouble reconciling the thoughts that SWIs can be very bad places yet IA should be slowed down or stopped. I've always thought that I was doing a good thing adopting my daughters yet people are now trying to make me feel guilty about taking them from their birthcountry. I had the same conflicting thoughts when I saw all the people lined up at the US consulate, wanting to come to the US. My daughters just breezed through. I believe it's a mixed bag that they live outside China (loss AND gain), but I cannot believe it was better for them to remain in an SWI or foster care instead of with a forever family, regardless of country. I think Kay's observations help me understand specific issues with one of my daughters and help me feel less guilt about bringing my daughters home.

Research-China.Org said...

I have wanted to keep out of this conversation, but this question requires comment.

It must be realized that international adoption is good IF it is conducted ethically. The problem is that many of these children would not be in the orphanages were it not for the international adoption program. Events in Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangdong and other areas show that the IA program is driving the orphanages to create incentives to bring children into the orphanages. The SN children, many with unadoptable problems, create a financial demand-supply circle that perpetuates the vicious cycle of unethical behavior.

What is needed is a complete disruption of this cycle (a proverbial "hard-boot") whereby the funds received by orphanages is disconnected from the adoption programs (domestic and international). Only then will there be no incentives (or greatly reduced incentives) to procure children unethically.

But that leaves the SN children described by Kay. The Central Government MUST fully fund the care of these children instead of neglecting them as is currently done. The IA program as it is currently constituted is designed to shift the care of these children from China to the world.

Given the current budget constraints of China's orphanages (except those involved in baby-buying) the financial realities dictate that the directors minimize expenditures as much as possible. Thus, instead of hiring the best caregivers possible, often the least educated and inexperienced are hired, resulting in the situations that Kay describes. One ethical director I spoke with last week is struggling to maintain quality of care for his 45 special needs children (unadoptable) on the funds received from his small number of international adoptions. He has not yet paid his staff for last month, and is growing increasingly frustrated that the Central Government doesn't do more to assist in the long-term care of these kids. It is this financial pressure that has resulted in the wide-spread corruption that plagues the program.

So, rather than thinking that we are "saving" children from the conditions described, we as adoptive families should recognize that the IA program is to no small degree creating many of these problems. What is required is the direct funding of the orphanages by the Central Government instead of relying on the donations from IA families.


Anonymous said...

Overall, through the 15 years of IA in China, do you believe it (IA) has helped China's abandoned children or hurt them?

Research-China.Org said...

It is an impossible question to answer, since I don't know what changes would have been made without the the IA program -- would changes in the family planning policies been made? Would China have foud alternatives to its funding of the orphanages?

But if one looks strictly at the improved facilities and the lives of those adopted (of which I have three), it is easy to conclude that it has made a big improvement. But then I also have no idea if my girls would have enjoyed good lives in China either.

Answer that question and one will go along way to answering many others.


Anonymous said...


It's highly unlikely some or all of your daughters would have been adopted or stayed with their birth parents if it weren't for IA, and I'm guessing you know that. Until recently most Chinese people had little or no idea about orphanages or the children in them, and the one child policy has been very brutally enforced in many locations. If a couple wanted to adopt, it was a boy they would have likely pursued, and there were ways to get a boy without going to a social welfare institute--as you know. Without international adoption, there was little pressure to improve the situation for orphans, especially girls. So your daughters, like mine, would have grown up in an orphanage, or maybe, maybe have been informally adopted domestically by someone who did not already have a child, and perhaps some money would have changed hands to make that possible. Maybe.

If you can have a good life without a loving parent and family connections in China (or anywhere), I'd like to see evidence. There are still some older nsn children in orphanages in China. In most cases they are tightly bonded group, but they are very vulnerable to sexual molestation and decreased educational opportunities. They are mostly girls. We can say we cannot know what our children's lives would have been like if there had been no international adoption, and that's the truth, but we also can pretty well determine that social and financial hardship of some kind awaited most of them had they stayed.

What we cannot assume is that abandonments would have dropped if IA did not develop in China. The fact is we are still talking about a minority of children adopted from a huge and struggling population. If we look closely at the lives of the average person in the countryside (or the typical birthparent) we see an over taxed, financially burdened individual who is likely struggling to pay medical and school fees for any children he or she may have. (There have been some improvements, but the current internal taxation structure and its limited system for appeals is breaking the backs of many of these people.) Until you improve the lot of that population, you have not solved the larger problem. You cannot separate the situation of these folks from the hardships you see in an orphanage--which is one of the reasons I find Silent Tears unsuccessful as a book. It misses the point that the hardship the children endure is not separate from what a great many people (including orphanage staff) endure. We are sensitive to the suffering of an individual child, but many in Asia and elsewhere would point out that our focus on the individual makes us blind to the group.

We must give international adoption its due. It has created a spotlight on children without families, and it has improved and in some cases saved individual lives. It has created another model, and some of that model could be useful in China as it works on its social welfare system.

I respect your desire to expose and discuss the black market, child trading, and orphanages that could improve their care, but you simplify at times a massively complex situation, and the end result can be to shame parents who have adopted from China (when being a parent is already one long guilt trip over things you cannot control) or promote the closure of international adoption, when in fact there is little evidence that China will suddenly "step up" to take care of children without families or improve the situation if IA stops. It may, in fact, morph into something more sinister, as private buyers step up with more money and no screening. China is not ready to stop the one child policy. (See above comment about struggling country population.)

Should international adoption be better regulated, and should we all support that effort? Yes. Should every adoption be open? Of course. Every child has a right to know who they come from and to receive safe passage to a new family. And every birthparent must have a fair, safe way to make a choice. The ideal, however, when divorced from the realities and context of every day life in China and other places, can result in damaged kids. Some could easily point to our broken foster care system in the US as case study in how our higher western ideals and principles when divorced from pragmatic practice have crippled our ability to create an expedient, compassionate child welfare system.

Research-China.Org said...

You speak confidently of issues about which one can't be confident. Evidence suggests that baby-buying was occurring in 2000. Did it occur earlier? Who knows. The problem from the beginning has been a lack of transparency that prevents us from truly knowing anything about the situation. In a population the size of China's does anyone truly believe that domestic families could not have been found? I believe the IA program was created not to find homes for children that would never have found homes, but to provide financial resources for a program that the Chinese government largely didn't want to fund itself.

And I agree with you that should IA stop (which I don't believe will happen regardless of what corruption evidence is discovered) it would have a dramatic impact on the care of the SN children. But perhaps China would change its stripes, allow NGOs such as "Love without Boundaries" to have access to the orphanages and provide subsidized care to these children. Who knows?

Let me be clear on one point: The IA program isn't responsible for abandonments (largely), and it isn't responsible for trafficking (largely). These are giant problems in which IA plays a very small role. But the IA program is part of the problem in that it is another source of demand for healthy children. Do we as a society really want to be part of trafficking, or depriving a family their right to form a family? And can anyone speak with absolute confidence when these conflicts started? I can't.


Research-China.Org said...

One additional comment regarding Kay's book. I don't believe that her book is perfect, and it certainly doesn't address many issues as it relates to adoption. But the value is in presenting substantial evidence on the attitudes of many in China regarding special needs kids, the issues many face in the orphanages, and the problems directors face (and I believe her director was a very honorable and ethical person) in caring for these children. It is also valuable in presenting China through the eyes of someone who arrived in China with little previous experience -- I find her observations and experiences interesting, as I have experienced much of it myself.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Kay Bratt for writing a book that has long been needed. It's common for adoptive parents to believe that their child's beginning was better than it really was. How else do we deal with it? However, PLEASE EVERYONE, relax here! Stop being so critical about Kay's writing style, personal character, what she did or didn't like about her daily life in China, or even whether her account is accurate. YES it's accurate. SHE LIVED IT! This is ONE WOMAN'S PERSONAL account of her life in China. Her life. Not anyone elses. My hope is for people to take this book for what it is. A frank TRUE account of HER experience. Not your experience, my experience or anyone else's experience. It is hers and hers alone. Kay did amazing work in China. Her work and her courage to write this book deserves acclaim. She does not deserve to be attacked. Those who have critized the most have probably never spent time in China outside of their own child's adoption, not to mention YEARS of VOLUNTEER work in an orphanage. This is Kay's story. Not anyone else's. The point of this book is to tell it like it is. It's sad but this IS how it is in the orphanage Kay worked in. Instead of being critical and focusing on negativity, everyone should direct their energy into helping these children. The orphanage Kay worked in was not in the minority. It's a difficult fact for adoptive parents to face, but the majority of institutions have huge, huge problems. I'm shocked and very disappointed of some of the posts I'm reading. Good grief! Let's help these children instead of nit-picking Kay's book. Put your energy where it needs to be placed and where it can really do some good.

Anonymous said...

Since I haven't read it yet, is Kay's book limited to the treatment of SN children or all children in that SWI where she worked? I was under the impression that all children there were mis-treated. No?

Anonymous said...

One poster writes about Silent Tears:

"My hope is for people to take this book for what it is. A frank TRUE account of HER experience. Not your experience, my experience or anyone else's experience. It is hers and hers alone. Kay did amazing work in China. Her work and her courage to write this book deserves acclaim. She does not deserve to be attacked. Those who have critized the most have probably never spent time in China outside of their own child's adoption, not to mention YEARS of VOLUNTEER work in an orphanage. This is Kay's story. Not anyone else's."

It might surprise this poster how many people reading Brian's blog have actually worked or do work in orphanages in China or lived in China as well as how many give generously there (but who don't talk about it and certainly are not looking for acclaim when they do share what they know--and I'm not saying Bratt is looking for acclaim).

Some are uncomfortable with the book because it does just what the poster points out: Tells the writer's own story. The truth cannot be verified in this book or any other memoir. That's the problem with memoirs about extremely sensitive subjects.

If Bratt were alone climbing a mountain, that might work here, as we would be focused on her alone and her own personal struggle, but she is in fact using the stories of many other people to tell hers, and she's using a very vulnerable population as her source material. It's great to try to use storytelling to raise awareness, but the book waffles on an important distinction: Is it about the children or is it about her?

In such a situation the best book would have had other voices and a greater perspective. It needed more time and shaping out of respect to the people's stories she presents as true.

When we praise people for telling their own story, we usually point out their courage in telling a story that could cost them or someone very close to them personally (like a child or a parent) or make them relive their own personal pain. Praising Bratt for having helped or survived the pain and frustration of working in an orphanage does disservice to the children and the orphanage workers, who have a much more difficult life than hers and a much greater stake in this story. It was a privilege for her to be let inside, to see what she saw, and to be able to help.

Her risk in telling "her" story is only the possibility of receiving relatively faint criticism such as I have written here, and that ain't much.

The book is a good effort. I think some readers wish she had worked with a good editor to go further in doing the material justice.

Anonymous said...

...but the book waffles on an important distinction: Is it about the children or is it about her?"

- The above was taken from a previous poster and I have to say- obviously, this book is about the children!! Obviously! Kay is trying
to bring awareness to the conditions she witnessed in the specific orphanage she worked. Clearly she is hopeful this book will direct people's energy into helping these children. Nothing else. It's quite simple to grasp
what she's trying to achieve here.
I honestly can't understand all the criticism on Kay personally. It's her book. If others don't like her book, I challenge you to experience what she did and write another.

Jeff and Madeline said...

-----"The above was taken from a previous poster and I have to say- obviously, this book is about the children!! Obviously! Kay is trying
to bring awareness to the conditions she witnessed in the specific orphanage she worked. Clearly she is hopeful this book will direct people's energy into helping these children. Nothing else. It's quite simple to grasp
what she's trying to achieve here.
I honestly can't understand all the criticism on Kay personally. It's her book. If others don't like her book, I challenge you to experience what she did and write another."

I am sorry I had to copy the post, but the poster did not indicate their name...

Just remember that your "obvious" is not everyone else's and there are many of us who do not agree that the book is all about the children, not to mention even supporters of the book have made it clear it is a personal diary; therefore, about Kay and her experiences.

I think you may not be "getting" the criticism because you are lost in your own sense of priveledge or not working toward ending prejudical attitudes under the guise of help/enlightment or the idea that Western equates to better. To those of us who are looking at the book and seeing old attitudes and offensive speak, it is quite obvious as well and cannot understand why you are not getting it.

You are correct, it is a book; thereby making it open to criticism. It is what it is and not everyone sees it as a positive resource for AP's or their children. If you cannot understand the criticism of the text or the author's tone than you may want to do a little more research yourself--start with priviledge, prejudice, and don't forget the negativity of referring to a country and its people as "other" and/or "third world".

If nothing else Kay's book has opened the discussion that should be front and center--ideas of priveledge and how they apply and effect our children now that they are transnational and in most cases transracial adoptees.

Unfortunately some people are so offended that someone else would question the author's attitudes (instead of just praising her for the volunteer efforts) that they cannot see beyond to make change. Sad.

Research-China.Org said...

In today's politically correct world, it is sometimes deemed inappropriate to judge a culture as better or worse than another. This is the point that Wendy seems to be making.

However, there are cultural manifestations in China that are backward, ignorant, and therefore relatively worse than our culture here, just as there are other manifestations in China that are better than some here.

For example, the fear of most Chinese for dead things (clearly seen in Kay's book) has a long cultural history. When it is just a pet feeling, like my rabbit's foot, it is one thing -- when it impacts the care one gives a dying child it is another. Thus, to point out and criticize the superstitious beliefs of most Chinese is not showing "privilege", but trying to correct a very real cultural deficit. China's intense habit to "save face" in any negative situation is another cultural negative, seen today in the controversy over the gymnasts' ages at the Olympics. This also results in negative consequences in the care of children in China, most especially special needs children.

China is, by most definitions, a second world nation, but it is excusable for someone not to know that. Many of her qualities are marvelous and wonderful, but she also has cultural characteristics that should be criticized. To deny that is to ignore serious issues inside China, which are manifest in our children's histories.


Jeff and Madeline said...


I agree that China deserves criticism of some of its practices, as do we. I am also not denying, as I said earlier, that Kay's volunteer efforts and that of her counterparts was not valuable or that it should be dismissed--absolutely not; however, I do not agree with you that it is "excusable" to not understand bias/prejudice/priviledge in one's work (especially published). It is this allowance of "excusing" people for their attitudes that continues racism/prejudice/bias. Should we continue to excuse people because they are ignorant--no.

Research-China.Org said...


Perhaps it might be appropriate to give us a passage from Kay's book that you feel demonstrates the characteristics you describe. Generally speaking, I see a person that came into the situation with a lot of judgment, but learned along the way. Can you show us all a passage you feel shows bias, privilege, or racism?


Anonymous said...

Su Xiao Gou was loved and raised for 4 years by her parents. She was a victim of a tragic accident. Her parents started to pay for surgery to save their child and visited her many times in the hospital.
Possibly when they realized Su Xiao Gou was going to need so much more surgery to repair her colon, intestines and possible colostomy they made the hardest decision a parent would have to make.
They slowly abandoned their child in a hospital and knew she would be taken to the orphanage.

When Su Xiao Gou was in the orphanage, her parents did not disappear. They continued to fight for their child’s medical rights and even went to the media over this.
Su Xiao Gou missed her parents and seeing them on TV made her very upset.
The staff at the orphanage and the volunteers must have known where or how to locate her parents to notify them that their daughter did have surgery and she would be able to come home with them.
Why did you (Kay) place pressure on the director to have the parental rights terminated so she could be adopted internationally?
At first the director (who actually seems very ethical) refuses to do this, knowing full well that it is illegal. Then he caves in and places the finding ad only to later return to his original stance regarding Su Xiao Gou.
This girl belonged with her birth family.

Kay, was there more to this little girls story that was not written in the book? And where is Su Xiao Gou now? I would love to understand more about this situation and little girl.


Jeff and Madeline said...


I no longer have the text so I cannot quote a specific passage; however, I think Kay's response just a week or so ago shows she is still not trying to understand the criticism that has been made or trying to change the attitudes that prevade the book beyond looking up a definition.
...I have been accused of carrying around my white privilege attitudes. I can’t deny that I am white. I can’t deny that I was born into a country that strives to regulate a corruption-free welfare system. I can’t deny I was incensed at the way various children in the orphanage I worked in were treated.

Should I apologize for that? I think not...

Of course Kay cannot change that she is white or where she is from, but she can go the extra step to understand how that brings her to see things as she does and to take on the responsibility of acknowledging that priveledge before publication. It seems she is still under the impression or belief that Western equates to good--Eastern ideology equates to bad/wrong. I would really love to see an example of our government "striving" to regulate a corruption free welfare system. We may have that dogma, but "striving" seems a bit far-fetched and giving a hell of a lot of credit to the system (again, individuals strive, not our system as a whole).
No one is asking Kay to apologize for being white, but if you write about a subject that is in direct correlation to other's lives than you had better get it right beyond the experiences. You have a responsibility to the children that you are writing about and "Other"ing their culture is degrading and disrespectful.

As I said before, no one is trying to deny her experiences--they are her "truth", but it is the presentation of those experiences to the specific audience she is speaking and most importantly the children she is representing that should dictate her spin and should "strive" to honor those left behind. For those who are not understanding the argument, this does not mean that those who are finding these criticisms are burying their head in the sand about conditions--I think you will find that we are doing the very opposite; hence, our desire to initially read the text and continue our quest for "truth" and information (telling us otherwise is a cop-out).

Kay Bratt said...

I have had several requests for updates on Xiao Gou, so I want to take this opportunity to clarify a few things about her story. I can understand the concern of the adoption community in regards to her status, so I hope writing this will help to clear up some confusion.

In addition, I welcome any suggestions on how to proceed with her case.

Xiao Gou was indeed a victim of an accident that left her in ICU for months, recovering from the amputation of her leg. In the beginning, her parents stuck around, even going on local television to appeal to the public for donations to pay the hospital bill. They were unsuccessful in raising the needed funds, so ultimately made the decision to abandon their daughter, probably in the hopes that the orphanage could provide her with better future care than they could.

Once she was placed in the orphanage, the directors have stated many times they have never again heard from the parents and do not know their location. One of the nannies secretly told me that the father had come to the gates one day appealing to see his daughter, but was turned away. This was never verified.

My team and I used every avenue we could to try to reunite Xiao Gou with her parents. We offered to pay all of her medical expenses, but we were told not to do this. My driver, a well-connected man in the city, tried to get information but was also unsuccessful. I tried to draw on my friendships with several nannies to send a message to the parents, but the nannies clammed up and claimed to have lost contact. When I asked about hospital records, I was told that she was admitted to the hospital under a false name, leaving no way to trace her history.

At that point, with our precarious position of being guests (volunteers) in the orphanage, if we had stepped over the line and pursued any more investigation, it could have cost us our presence in the institute. For the sake of all the children, we had to proceed cautiously.

Reuniting Xiao Gou with her parents was our first hope for her. Three full years after the administration placed her finding ad, no one had come forward and no one claimed to have heard from her parents.

During this time, we continually pleaded with the director to place Xiao Gou in foster care—which was promised many times over but never happened.

After a time, her story was becoming known and a family from the states wanted to adopt her. Because of her treatment at the orphanage, we felt this was the next best thing if we could not get her back to her parents.

At first, we were told that this was possible, and then the answers began changing repeatedly. While all of this was going on, we were also fighting to get Xiao Gou the medical attention she needed.

Every little hurdle took a lot of meetings, phone calls and negotiations. The adoption fell through—because of constraints on both sides. However, we continued to try to help her through her medical issues.

In China, the doctors all said that Xiao Gou would never be able to have a prosthetic leg, but we didn’t want to take no for an answer.

After my return to the states, a Swiss doctor came to China and examined Xiao Gou. He indicated that she was a candidate for a prosthetic leg. Many more emails, phone calls, attorney visits, etc. later, (by the lady that took my place), Xiao Gou was finally approved to go to the states and be fitted for her prosthesis—all of this covered by a non-profit organization.

After an exhausting few months for the leader of my group to get the Visa’s processed, Xiao Gou and one of the nannies went to New York, and spent six months there.

While there, the man that fitted Xiao Gou and designed her prosthesis, became very enamored with her. She spent a lot of time with him and his huge family—and they have expressed a desire to be her forever family. This just proves that she captures the heart of all that meet her!

Though we have been met with opposition from every angle, we are not giving up on finding Xiao Gou’s family. Brian has graciously given me some helpful tips on the next direction to take, and with the assistance of a contact in China, we are going to do more investigation of Xiao Gou’s case and where it stands legally. For some reason, this child is caught up in a tangled mess of bureaucracy with many unanswered questions. Finding her parents and helping them sort out this awful tragedy would be a dream come true.

I am going to put this post on my blog--with some updated pictures of Xiao Gou.

Anonymous said...

I adopted my daughter at 17 months old from Hunan, China, 2 years old. I understand that she is Chinese, as she was born in China. To me, she is Emily, an American. Maybe someday she will be interested in China, and things Chinese, but right now she loves Dora and is princess Emily. I have read "Silent Tears" and it helps explain why for months after we were home we would find food hidden in many places throughout the house and her blanket was her most prized possession. It also begins to explain why when we brought her back to the hotel room the first afternoon, she sat on the floor and started to eat the lint off of the carpet, crying when we took it away. I don't care if her "caregivers" were Chinese or any other nationality. Anyone, under any set of circumstances, that can or would abuse a child, a handicapped person, elderly person or animal is cruel; and neglect is a form of abuse. I did not adopt my daughter,because she was Chinese, and I did not adopt to save a child. I adopted her to add a child to our family. She will be raised as another child in our family, and yes we know she "might" feel different but knowing my daughter she won't let anything get in her way. Anything that might help me understand how she lived before we adopted her is always welcome. I will not tell her that China is good or bad. When she is older, I will present her with the facts and let her make her own decisions. Until that time I welcome all insights.

Anonymous said...

Kay, I just finished your book. I can't thank you enough for writing your candid memoir of *your* experience working in this Chinese orphanage.

Personally I don't believe you have anything to defend or apologize for at all. Having worked on a Half the Sky work crew for two weeks in 2005, at the orphanage my daughters lived at in Hunan, I'm amazed at your fortitude and persistence. That being said I also completely understand the many gifts the children and your work have given to you. I understand how the children become embedded in your heart. I know they are with me and my daughters every day.

I'm grateful to you for sharing your experiences. I don't think they are unusual and I think it is important for adoptive parents to read them in order to understand the long-lasting effects of neglect, trauma and abuse that so many of our children will live with for their entire lives.

I don't believe you are condemning a country or culture. I believe you are condemning the maltreatment and in far too many cases abuse of these precious children. These are the forgotten, expendable children of China. You were asking for (and wisely demanding in some cases) accountability. The care each child living in an orphanage or foster care receives is only as good as the individual caregiver/ayi as well as the systemic culture. The fact that so much was done to present a good image when there were visitors to the orphanage indicates to me that orphanage administrators are more than aware of how much MORE they could be doing to provide adequate, humane care to these children. Of course there is a historical and cultural context that has led to the current situation in China but it doesn't excuse the way so many of these children are treated.

Thank you, Kay, for your courage in publishing the book. And for loving the children.

Anonymous said...

I read the book for its factual take on what life is like in a Chinese orphanage. In that regard it delivers. As an adoptive parent I am always eager for information, even anecdotes, that help me to understand and place into context behaviors I believe are related to my daughter's experience in an orphanage.

There are many books that discuss the extremely negative impact of institutional care on children. There are far fewer books and blogs describing orphanage life from the inside. I try to read everything that comes out, and this is the first one I've come across with this much information over such a long period of time.

Wendy O writes: "the initial context in which she writes demonizes the women who are doing their job to take care of the children in a way that custom, regulation, and society demand, not to mention the personal toll it would take on each worker if they became attached to individual children." Speaking in these kinds of generalities is an easy way to condemn another person's view point without providing detail. There is a middle ground between loving, tender care driven by feelings of attachment, and abusing and neglecting a child because you see that child as having no value. Kaye does not demonize all of the ayis. (I think she judges some harshly, but I don't think she demonizes - a loaded word to begin with - any ayi individually.) You are so concerned that she is judging these women, yet it seems to me you are implicitly judging Chinese culture and finding it wanting, as you imply that the harsh and uncaring way some ayis care for the children is the result of "custom, regulation and societal demand." I believe that any culture or country (including the US) that places children in underfunded institutions with poorly educated and underpaid caregiveers creates a situation ripe for abuse and neglect. While I understand this, I will never accept or rationalize the behavior of adults who individually choose to participate in and contribute to the abuse and neglect of innocent children. And as Kaye writes in her book, not all do.

For adoptive parents trying to decide whether to read this book, do so for its content, not as great literature or as a means to judge someone who gave of her time and herself to make positive changes in the lives of children.

Check out Jane Liedtke's blog "Ask Jane in China" for more information about life in China and Chinese orphanages. Today's posts are expecially relevant to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

I agreed with Wendy ) on some things. When I first started the book I cried. When I read how some the the AYI's treated the children I cried and was angry. When I read the input from an adoptive mom I felt her pain.

My disappointment or worry was for the little girl referenced in the book. I felt that she was led on and at the end of the book was more concerned that ever for her fate of being left there, knowing how the ayi's used her love for teh author and then to resign and leave her there. I was upset and still am. Do I wonder about such a system YES I do.

But at the end I felt the author was selfish I guess is the word. TO not keep fighting for the little girl, for all I know she has.

It did give insight but I don't think it will bring about the change that it needs to.

I still at night pray for the little girl and am haunted by what the not so nice ayi's have told her and how she is treated. But reading the book I don't get the feeling that the author cares or maybe it is just to protect the little girl and she is still trying to help her.

Anonymous said...

I am not an AP, but I am a physician and I would like to point out that although we are horrified by what goes on in the Chinese orphanages, the United States has a very similar situation in the care of helpless individuals at the other end of the life span. Our nursing homes are institutions staffed by low-level, underpaid medical caregivers who do not always render compassionate care to their demented, non-verbal patients. Most of us have seen exposes on TV showing the abuse that goes on behind closed doors. It is astonishing the condition some of these poor people are in by the time they end up in the emergency room with a problem. I have seen people come in to the hospital with profound dehydration, blood tests showing they are not being given the medications they are supposed to get, etc. The bottom line is that the elderly are not valued in our society and in a situation where family isn't keeping close tabs, and the caregivers are over-worked and undercompensated, it's a set-up for abuse. I bet the Chinese, who revere their elders, would be horrified.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful book to keep as a momento for my daughter when she grows older of how her life was as a baby. And it illustrates how lucky she was to survive when so many don't.

Thank you - your feelings and comments back up other snippets I was told about my daughter's first months of life - and how close she came to dying.

Hopefully CCAA will put the fees up so that the CWI/SWIs can value these little ones enough to let them survive to get the cash if not for human morality.

Anonymous said...

My daughter came from the exact kind of orphanage Kay describes. I can tell by the pictures I have and also by the way she was when she came to us. I found the book very difficult to read.
I think anyone who finds the author's attitude racist is crazy. Brian makes a good point about that. Respecting another culture doesn't mean respecting every aspect of it. There's lots of stuff I find disturbing in Chinese culture. I think a lot of what's "wrong" in their culture finds it culmination in an orphanage. Does our culture have "wrong" elements? Yes, for sure. But the book is about an orphanage in China.
I was surprised the author did not more fully address the One Child Policy. The recent HBO documentary on this made very vivid for me the way this policy exacerbates the problem of girls and handicapped children being thrown away, sold, or abandoned. When you only get one chance at a child, you're not going to keep the girl, or the one with the limb difference or the birthmark. Not in that culture...