After reflection on the anniversary of my abandonment date, I am writing this melancholy post in reaction to a series of photos recently shared worldwide of Chinese parents abandoning their children at the recently suspended baby hatch in Guangzhou. Given the limited choices available to Chinese parents, the baby hatch program was established to give parents a place to safely leave their children in the case they could not raise them. There are currently 25 baby hatches in China’s 10 largest provinces. According to the Guardian, China is expected to open another 18 baby hatches by the year 2015.
Between late January and mid March, the Guangzhou baby hatch took in 262 children. This was an unexpectedly high number, causing the baby hatch to close in late March. In late February, a photojournalist captured 24 hours at the Guangzhou baby hatch, exposing some heart-wrenching, tear jerking moments.
“February 28th, at 2:46am, the mother of a boy sank to her knees at the feet of a [baby hatch] staff member, wailing. After screaming, ‘I’m in more pain that anyone else,’ she passed out on the ground. Meanwhile, the boy was cheerfully pulling the metal door to the baby hatch. The mother tried to grab him, but he slipped away easily. She endured all kinds of hardships raising the boy, and after reading the news of about the baby hatch, she decided to take her boy here.”
“[February] 27th, a mother chocking on her sobs in the baby hatch after putting her child down.”
“On the night of February 26, at around 8pm, a small man less than 160cm tall, with unkempt hair, dressed in black, with only the yellow blanket he held in his arms being particularly eye-catching. Poking out from the black was a small head, with sunken cheeks and glazed-over eyes, its gender unable to be distinguished. The man slowly walked towards the welfare agency. At the entrance, he timidly asked the residents gathered there: ”Will they really let me in?” The man was stopped by the security guards. They asked him: ”How old is this child? Not yet 2 years old? Impossible! Overage children can’t be left here.” The man insisted for a few minutes, but eventually confessed that the child was “a little more than 4 years old”. Then he started to cry, and his words could not be understood. “If you don’t take [the child], no one else will. The doctor says [the child] can’t be cured.” The man sat under the shade of a tree, buried his face in the blanket.”
“On the night of February 27th, at 9:25pm, a father and mother pair wearing face masks approach [the baby hatch], a child in the woman’s arms, while the man carried a blue oxygen bag. ‘He has Pierre Robin syndrome, but what’s fatal is the softening of his cartilagines laryngis, and his posterior pharynx is closed,’ said the man who was slightly calmer [than the woman]. The child was less than one year old. ‘The sole purpose of us sending the child here is its survival. Life is above all things. We just hope our child will be able to survive here.'”
“The fallen leaves in front of the baby hatch have gone days without being swept. A discarded feeding-bottle lies by the roadside. In the quiet of the night, lights both warm and cold entwined, like the many scenes of sad goodbyes. On one side is the baby hatch, and on the other side was the world outside the baby hatch. This is the dividing line of fate.”
To view all of the photos, visit: Chinese Parents Abandon Children at Guangzhou Baby Hatch
These photos and captions all convey a sense of desperation, and many of the comments beg for other options. I don’t think it’s uncommon for those outside of the adoption community to think that one primary reason adoptees are abandoned is because of a lack of love on the behalf of the first parents. These photos show that is not the case. Many of the children left at this baby hatch had severe medical needs that the parents simply couldn’t afford to treat. I think these photos are absolutely essential for anyone who considers relinquishment and easy or callous decision for first parents. I also think these photos are a must-see for parents of adoptees from China. While my parents have been very reflective with me about my first family, I think biological families are often forgotten in adoptive homes – especially in international adoptions when the first family is unknown and seemingly worlds away.
I think the baby hatches in China raise another significant point on what is in the best interest of children. Surely having safe places to leave babies is better than the horrid stories the media likes to highlight of babies left in cardboard boxes. With this, I’d agree, however I have severe hesitations. While baby hatches may seem like a great solution to the problem of child abandonment in China, I believe this is the equivalent to putting a decorative bandaid on a deep wound requiring much more attention. Baby hatches may reduce the number of street abandonments, but these establishments don’t dig deeper or heal the root of the problem of abandonment. Would parents leave their children in the baby hatches if medical treatments for their children were available and affordable? Would parents resort to abandonment if the government condoned legal ways of placing children for adoption? Would parents feel the need to abandon their children without such a repressive family planning policy? Would parents abandon their children if social systems were in place to support families as opposed to secrecy, shame, and punishment?
I think those who consider themselves advocates of child welfare must look past the surface in oder to get to the root causes of social phenomenons such as child abandonment and international adoption. The longer one looks, the more complex, entangled, and historic the issues become. Simultaneously, simplistic ideas like baby hatches seem less soluble. When we truly value what is in the best interest of families and what is in the best interest of children, we will prioritize family preservation and the socio-economic, political, and cultural changes that must take place so that no parents have to be put in the situations in the images shown above.