© 2008 by Janice Byrd

Janice Byrd of McKinney: Cherished daughters

The tide is now turning for young girls in China -- and for one in particular
Monday, December 31, 2006

Three months ago I returned from an incredible journey to China, where my sister adopted a two-year-old girl. My sister chose international adoption because she did not want to live with the fear that the birth parents would “reappear.” She had visited China earlier and had seen the plight of so many abandoned girls.

In 1979 China initiated a one-child policy for couples. They enforced the policy in the cities by punishing violators with fines, demotion or termination at work, and by withdrawing government benefits. Traditionally the Chinese have favored male children celebrating their births with fireworks and parties. Not so with baby girls. Those who were not aborted were abandoned in the hopes of having a boy the next time.

Exceptions to the one child policy were made for couples of certain ethnic groups and for couples in which the husband and wife were both “only-children,” or both had master’s degrees. Today, after twenty-six years, some young men wanting to marry must look elsewhere for a bride, and every village has an orphanage filled with girls.

Despite all the classes that my sister took to prepare her for a Chinese adoption, like any first-time parent, she was in for a few surprises. Since the girl was not wearing diapers, we learned to run to the potty whenever she kicked off her panties. Soon we discovered that Lisa was proficient with chopsticks! She entertained herself by doing gymnastics—backbends, somersaults, and the splits, but she insisted on being carried everywhere we went. At night she talked to an imaginary friend. Strangest of all was when she saluted the Chinese communist soldiers she saw marching across the television.

I was there to give moral support to my sister and to pass on motherly wisdom like, “don’t fix her hair until after you’ve gotten her shirt on,” and “she really is going to need more than one outfit each day.”

Keeping a two-year-old confined in a hotel room, communicating through gestures, introducing strange foods and eating utensils to a toddler with a cleft palette, and dealing with the girl’s grief proved to be one of the most challenging and ineffable experiences of my life.

We met large groups of parents from Spain and France who had come to China to adopt. Chinese people would stop to talk and ask my sister if she was taking the girl to America. I noticed their plaintive expressions as they all inevitably said, “she’s a very lucky girl,” to which my sister would reply, “I’m the lucky one.”

Have you ever given second thought to discarding something because somebody else saw it as valuable? Or, maybe you’ve seen something you once owned for sale in an antique shop at a price close to the mortgage on your home, and it gave you pause. That’s the expression I saw on the Chinese faces as they silently asked, “how could so many people want what we have given away?”

The Chinese are now starting to adopt Chinese children. Today, most of China’s parents are “only children” and therefore can legally have two children of their own. Increasingly, couples are keeping their firstborn daughters, and if the second is a girl, they are more inclined to keep her too.

It will be a long time before all of the little girls are spoken for, but the Chinese are beginning to look at their children differently. Every baby may not be wanted by her birthmother, but she, or he, is wanted by someone.

Janice Byrd of McKinney is library director of the First Baptist Church of McKinney, a book performer and a Voices of Collin County volunteer columnist. Her e-mail address is Janice@JaniceByrd.com.

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