Published: September 20th 2010September 20th 2010
Sorry this post got out a little later than normal. Better late than never though!
Yesterday was defined by our trip to the orphanage and it went well as far as these trips are concerned. We traveled about 3 hours by van with a driver and guide to Anyang City. Once there, we went straight to the orphanage, known in government parlance as the Anyang City Social Welfare Institute. We were fortunate to meet Julia’s nannies and see her crib as well as see the room her crib had been in. The nannies were clearly very devoted to the many babies present but there were so many babies and so few resources.
In reading typical accounts of other adoptive parents visiting their child’s orphanage, a few predictable impressions emerge.
First, most parents describe an “eery silence”, not at all the typical loud chaos you would expect in a room full of under-supervised children. But a moment’s reflection reminds us that crying is a human behavior, which like all behaviors is retained only if it is effective. If crying does not change a baby’s circumstances, then it is a waste of time and energy and, human nature
The Gate to the Orphanage
Anyang City Social Welfare Institute
being what it is, this behavior quickly extinguishes.
Secondly, most parents describe having an urge to ‘rescue’ all the babies they see in the orphanage, to ‘take them all home and get them out of there’. Admittedly unrealistic and trite, I have to say that to walk into that place, I was overwhelmed with that exact sentiment.
So we knew that Chinese orphanages are often unnerving and unnaturally quiet places and ours was no different. Many of the children were awake but just quietly observing us in detached fashion. Some of the older kids would silently smile or even wave but mostly what we saw were very flat detached affects among the children in the orphanage. It felt to me like we had entered a dark little sealed closet in the household of humanity, a small forgotten dead-end Twilight Zone where hopes and dreams go to die. The stillness and silent desperation was stifling and overwhelming to all of us. And it's important to note this was a good
orphanage with good people who had painted it with kid-friendly murals and kept it clean. This was an orphanage that by global standards was a model of order and
respectable standards with a dedicated and caring staff. And yet the realization that we were peeking into just one, single, infinitesimally tiny corner of the Earthly orphan universe left me feeling a bit suffocated, trying to wrap my mind around the enormity of all the suffering on this planet.
It is too much.
After having spent the last 4 days with sweet baby Julia, she is now magically so much a part of our family that I can’t imagine my baby spending the past month in a low slung steel crib in the sensory deprived corner of that dark little room that was her home.
That life was her tangible reality such a brief moment ago that when we asked to see her crib, it still had her name tag on it. And yet it already feels like it was ages ago that she could have been a part of that place.
As we walked around the orphanage, we could only imagine what was going on in Baby Julia’s 11 month old mind. She seemed genuinely happy and smiley to see her nannies but deliberately avoided eye contact with the orphanage director. Not sure what to
Walking up a ramp in the Orphanage
There were no staircases in the orphanage, only narrow winding ramps.
make of that but this was probably due to her simple unfamiliarity with the director.
Julia continues to love riding in the baby back pack strapped up on my shoulders. She seems to feel safe and happy, packed in up high with a good view of everyone and everything going on around her. Consequently, Shannon and I made the strategic decision to deliberately keep her mounted up high in the back pack for the duration of the orphanage trip so that no well-intentioned staff would try to take her out of our arms and potentially confuse her about another change of care-taker. This method seemed to work well. Throughout the entire visit, she just rolled with it.
She is such a good baby, still attaching deeper every day. I got some great pictures of this with Julia smiling at Shannon on the drive to the orphanage.
After visiting the orphanage, the orphanage director took us all out to lunch at a nice Chinese restaurant. It was a very generous thing to do and we expressed our gratitude to her at the end not just for lunch but for her role and her staff’s role in delivering our
Julia's crib location in her room.
She spent the past month of her life mostly in this corner.
little Julia safely to us through a chaotic time in her life. We gave a bag of gifts to the orphanage including diapers, wipes, other baby items, and a nice extra stethoscope that I’ve had for years but never use. They seemed appreciative of these things and, more importantly, seemed appreciative of our adopting Julia.
From the restaurant, we all packed back in the van and traveled further, deep into the heart of the international-adoption emotional Twilight Zone by making a visit to the Train Station where Julia was found as a newborn baby. It was in this place that she was found lying all alone by a police officer and from there her life in the orphanage/foster system began. Knowing full well that making a record of this place might be extremely meaningful to Julia in the future, I couldn’t help but be struck by what a crazy
thing life is.
How is it that we could walk into this train station as a whole intact family and stand there smiling for pictures in the very place that marked the most chaotic moment in this little girl’s life a mere 10 months prior? In our hearts was
This crib had already moved to a different room but still had her name tag on it!
a bizarre mix of anxiety and joy.
It was the mystery of international adoption compressed into the nutshell of a single moment and place.
On the surface, child abandonment is often portrayed as a selfish reckless act, sexist and misogynistic in motivation, unforgivably endangering of the child, and even inhumanely monstrous through the looking glass of American Idealism. And yet, if the birth mother’s circumstances are so extremely desperate as to lead her to set down her own baby in a train station, quietly turn her back and briskly walk away, we must consider the darker alternative to abandonment.
The annual global incidence of infanticide is estimated to run into the millions. Death to these children may come through the willful violent act, but is more likely to happen through simple environmental exposure, or deliberate relative neglect through the withholding of food or medicine in favor of another (often male) sibling.
The world is a hopelessly tapped-out place for countless babies and their mothers. So what at first blush might seem to be an indecipherably rash and thoughtless act on a dark October night in a train station turns out to be a selfless daring act
Julia's Name Tag on her Crib.
The 3 Chinese characters say An Xu Er (pronounced AHN SHOE URR). The surname "An" means Peaceful and is given to all the kids in this orphanage. The first name "Xu Er" means a child like the cottonwood seeds. (The fluffy cottonwood seeds which float around in the wind in the late spring.)
of gratuitously maternal love.
And we have a beautiful
little person to show for it. How indescribably lucky are we?!?
The act of child abandonment here in China is rash and thoughtless indeed
, but only in the sense that the mother who takes makes this move does so at the highest risk to herself. Getting caught in the middle of this act is dealt with severely by the Chinese government. Life will never be the same for the birth mother either way. The reasons for abandonment are complex and open to much debate, but in the end... There is a birth mother out there to whom we owe a debt we cannot repay.
Pray that we will always do right by this little girl and honor this woman’s love for her daughter.
There are more photos below