She felt hungry but was too tired to cry out to the nannies. Almond-shaped eyes cracked open, the baby watched the three women tend to the many other babies messily, handing out milk bottles to each child, some eating lustily and others unable to finish on their own. It was feeding time.
There were rows and columns of babies, maybe five by nine, located in the “toddlers’ room.” Children breathed in the scent of musty dirt and dirty water, with the unbearable humidity feeding oxygen into their lungs. They each wore similar unisex shorts and shirts, so visitors never knew whether a child was a boy or girl as they also had the same bowl haircut. The sound of crying echoed in the suffocating atmosphere each second, some of them handicapped, and some of them lonely – but those who were already depressed in the mind were silent. And to work here, one had to be used to the sound of silence, the melody of death.
It was rumored that this girl was abandoned at a park, barely two months old, shivering not from the cold but from the lack of a mother’s warmth. The mother had already been in tears before leaving her poor newborn alone to face the fears of the real world; she had whispered prayers to the nonexistent stars above in hopes of providing any positive energy left to her daughter before her husband had to pull her away and reluctantly return home. The One-Child policy, which was implemented to save resources for all of China, forced the woman’s daughter further away from her forever. The mother’s yelps of pain were louder than her baby’s cries.
The baby was left there for several hours before being brought to the orphanage. The journey was most tough for her as her skin would never come in contact with the familiar scent of a mother’s love again. When she was first found, the baby wailed painfully for her mom’s intimate smell, begging heavily for breast milk, reaching out with her tiny precious fingers, dripping waterfalls of salty tears down her supple cheeks. Her throat contracted with endless screams of distress, pushing whatever sound out that she could so that her parents could find her again.
She wanted to somehow say “mama,” but she was still young and unable to speak. Because of her lack of affection, her mental health was impacted in ways no parent would wish to see their child. Her crib was located in the last row, which meant that the darkness was near and the hope for survival was lost. One of the ladies handed a bottle of milk to her, but she lacked enough strength to carry it within her feeble hands and instead laid still.
Her breath was slowing, exhales slowly escaping her body.
Sometimes, the baby would listen to the unfamiliar noise of a foreigner, looking to adopt a child and bring over to the western world. The giggles from some of the older children were louder during these times, hoping to be swept away into a dream far too good to be a reality. Several of these children would grow up in stable households, speaking perfect English, forgetting their real heritage – but if one was fortunate enough, the western parents would teach their adopted kids the history of their beautiful bloodline. And on special but dire occasions, these people would bring their families to this orphanage, which was the origin of where it all began. It was important to not forget where they came from.
Her eyes were open, desperate to grasp a little bit more of the world with the little energy she had left. And, soon enough, the baby took in her last inhale, never knowing how many people were wishing her the longest of lives, the strongest of women. If only she knew.
Why I decided to write this piece:
I recently learned about the One-Child policy more in-depth in my Chinese class. I think many people, including myself, don’t really understand the tolls this policy took on many Chinese families. I didn’t write this piece to sugarcoat the negative feelings initiated by the one-child policy, but I did write it to raise empathy for these Chinese families back in the late 20th Century, whose perspectives weren’t heard enough. Although the One-Child policy has now been lifted and loosened, China’s traditional cultures about having large families transformed after this government control, and many people don’t often know about this. I am hoping to personalize the act of motherhood, parenthood, and adoption in China in order to grow the understanding of the impacts of the One-Child Policy – by learning more about China’s culture, we can understand the meanings and ways behind their decisions, which can help prevent easy condemnation and judgment.