Top positive review
Heartbreaking and deepening account of the effects of China's one-child policy.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 9, 2016
Kay Bratt's account of her experiences in one of China's Welfare Institutes for Children was riveting, heart breaking and personally upsetting. Thank God for Kay for shining a light and making a difference there for children who could not speak for themselves as well as for the well-meaning workers clearly over their heads and functioning without the support and tools they needed to care for the babies and young children in their charge. I could not put the book down and frequently cried and felt anger at a system and government so overwhelmed and misguided.
I am an adoptive China Mom well versed in the reasons so many of our daughters were relinquished to China's Welfare Institute system as infants. Some of information we've been given has been generalized and perhaps improved over reality as we traversed all the steps of international adoption. What shocked me about this book was the time frame of the early 20th century. Our family was formed in 1995 from one of the first Welfare Institutes and cities from which Westerners began adopting our daughters. The book's time frame of around 2005 was upsetting, especially in view of the descriptions of care and inadequate surroundings.
My only view at the time of my daughter's first months came from the disposable camera I gave the Institute director on the first day and which she returned a week later with the final adoption papers. We weren't allowed (by China's government policy) to visit the place where our babies spent their first few months, or see where they were initially found. I later only saw in the photos of the Welfare Institute what they thought I wanted to see. And we were home in America when I picked up the prints at our camera store. They included a large, overcrowded group crib with 7 swaddled babies laying side by side. The older toddlers looked up at at the camera (one or 2 smiling, the others sad) and the ones not yet walking seemed to sit placidly in stationary "walkers." The grounds appeared either falling apart or "under construction." The three women we parents met when they delivered our babies to us at our hotel in Hefei appeared warm and caring. However, the language barrier prevented some important gathering of information.
Kay, your book filled in some gaps. I can now understand a little more why my daughter had a dark keyloid scar on one hand from being tied down. Perhaps they could tell she would be left-handed and they wanted to "correct" that tendency. Perhaps they were trying to prevent her from pulling off a blanket or rolling over onto another baby. On the other hand, she was not that mobile after 7 months spent in a crowded crib which no doubt kept her warm over the winter without heat in the baby room. She couldn't lift her head, much less roll over. But I have never thought they were cruel or inept -- just dealing with the tools and experience they had at the time. What shocked me about the book descriptions was the time it took place -- 5 to 10 years after our adoption. I had assumed conditions had been much improved by then. However, the unnamed city of the book was likely not among the first hand-picked locations where China's Welfare Institutes for Children were open to international adoptions.
I know that much has and is changing in China. We had the opportunity to visit my daughter's home city and Welfare Institute when she was 11 years old in 2006. It had been refurbished via funds and fees from the many adoptions and was perhaps one of the model institutions. It looked much better on the outside. Our tour was controlled and we were only taken to view the two nursery rooms -- one with babies assigned to adoptive parents and waiting for their adoption day and the other with infants waiting for hospital space for medical care, including heart conditions. But what was comforting was to meet the same Director and nurse who'd cared for my daughter whom I had met at the time of adoption. They were both the warm, caring women they appeared to be 11 years earlier.
Now that China's one-child policy has been expanded to two children and adoptions are now possible within China, life for its daughters and its handicapped or critically ill children will be better. Perhaps more of them can remain in their birth families. I hope so. I still feel deeply for my daughter's birth mother and father who do not know how beautiful, smart, funny, healthy, and strong she is. I also feel eternally grateful for the divine guidance that led me to become her Mom. How lucky for us both.
Kay Bratt's book pulled no punches, yet in the end conveyed an understanding of the formidable task of caring for babies and ill or handicapped children their parents couldn't keep for some reason. She broadened my understanding, even after all the research I personally have done, of the terrible choices birth parents all over China have had to make over the years. I thank the author for her honesty and understanding and her willingness to bare her heart and soul in the re-telling of her experiences. And I thank all the others she galvanized to volunteer with her. This is a book that should be widely read by other China adoptive families, including their children when old enough to handle the information. It should be read by anyone -- it broadens our understanding of the different conditions people face all over the world for varying reasons. And it sheds light on all the earth-bound angels we have, here and in China and beyond, who love and care for children growing up in conditions most of us cannot imagine. Thank you, Kay.