Last month, when the Chinese man sitting next to us on a plane discovered that we adopted our daughter from China, he seemed to be at a loss for words.
“You did?” he finally said.
Doug was already pulling up pictures of both of our kids on his phone. After studying the beaming image of our eight year old, this highly educated, clearly intelligent young man said, “I always thought that was an urban myth, girls in orphanages.”
Lord have mercy, I thought. It is no myth. She is no myth.
And here’s where the conversation got delicate. By no means did we want to shame him or his homeland but we also wanted him to understand the truth of the orphan dilemma.
Like most orphanages, my daughter’s orphanage was called a “Social Welfare Institute.” Seven stories high, it houses orphans of all ages, (mostly girls due to the one child policy which is so complex I’m not going to get into the how and why) the elderly who have no place to go, and the mentally and physically disabled. On the “baby floor” there were approximately eighty babies and out of those eighty babies only two were adopted “this time around”.
That is her orphanage. Just hers. There are hundreds more across the country. How many orphans are there in China? It’s hard to pin down a number but in 2009 the number of orphans on the Chinese mainland reached 712,000. (according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs)
Seven hundred and twelve thousand non-mythical infants, toddlers, children and teens.
So why did this very kind, intelligent, affable young man assume their existence was mere urban myth?
Simply put, because he hadn’t been told the truth. Or maybe more accurately, he hadn’t been exposed to the truth. In a jam-packed, bustling city, it’s easy to pass a building without giving it a second thought, without realizing it’s filled with orphans. And if media/government/whoever doesn’t talk about it…
No country likes to air their dirty little secrets. Our country included.
It’s an extremely complicated situation. Even as I write this my thoughts are divided: China is an amazing country with so much to offer, its people beautiful and resilient. In no way do I want to shame them. I want my daughter to be proud (and she is) she is Chinese American, proud of her birth country.
Then I sigh and shake my head. All of those orphans. All of those girls (and special needs boys) growing up in an orphanage who have little future outside its walls. All of those brave birth mothers who went against their government and placed their babies (typically before dawn) in obvious places like open markets and parks, to be found. Those women, those babies, THEY ARE NO MYTH.
We talked with our neighbor about the one child policy for a little while but we kept circling back to this: we love our daughter. She’s a great kid. We’re so blessed to have her.
I think we rocked his world that day. Not because of anything we said or did but because, before he met us, in his world, people like us didn’t exist. Because orphans didn’t truly exist.
As I write this, today marks our “Gotcha Day”. The day we first held our daughter. It’s hard to wrap up this post with a nice, happy, bright bow. She’s the bow, of course, sleeping in her bed in the next room. In most ways, she’s really no different than any other American kid, and we usually forget she’s adopted because she’s here and she’s ours. But every now and then I look at her and think of her birth mom and I wish I could send this woman I know nothing about a glimpse of my daughter—our daughter—in this moment. Bowling. Playing with her dog. Running with her brother. I wish she could see that the beautiful girl she grew inside of her is happy and healthy. And I wish she could know that she, as the woman who gave her life, holds a revered, honored place in our family, and always will.