Beverley Lewin, LMSW, adoption consultant.
It has been 11 and a half years since I first started doing home studies for parents considering adopting from China. I have wanted to visit so that I could hold the babies, if only for a short time. Maybe somewhere in the recesses of their little memories they would store this feeling of knowing that someone had held them while they drank their bottle or had rocked them to sleep. As I had few other commitments, this summer seemed a good time to go to China. For the past 20 years I have run a preschool camp in the summer. This year I worked for only 4 of the 6 weeks and I decided, no matter what, that I was going to China.
I couldn’t think of a better travel companion than my 16 year old mature and compassionate daughter Gabbi. We searched numerous volunteer programs and chose the one that most closely suited our needs and our travel dates - China Care. With great anticipation and some apprehension, we left the organized, familiar, DFW airport and traveled via Tokyo to Beijing. In Tokyo we had a short 6-hour layover. We stored our luggage and took the subway to visit the fascinating Narita Temples nearby. We then left for a three hour flight to Beijing. We arrived at 9 p.m local time in the busy, crowded airport, somewhat overwhelmed. We were met by a Chinese woman and her husband who spoke no English. We travelled in their taxi with our luggage tied into the open trunk of their car to our hotel, which was about 30 minutes from the orphanage where we would be working. After a day to recover and do a bit of sightseeing, we reported for duty. For the next two weeks we worked 7 days a week, 8 hours a day, from 6:30 a.m - 2:30 p.m - 6 of those hours helping to take care of 8-10 very special-needs babies.
These babies, ages 1 month to 1 year, came from about four different state orphanages in different parts of the country to Beijing to receive surgery or other medical care that their orphanages were unable to provide. The first thing that struck me about our orphanage was the cleanliness and kindness of the Ayis. These are committed women who work tirelessly feeding and playing with these broken little bodies, some of whom will never sit or walk, others who - after their surgery for cleft pallets, heart defects, colostomy bags - will hopefully find forever-families. Those that do not will not be returned to their orphanages. They will reside in China Care’s privately owned orphanages until they are 18 years old.
I worked among these 5 ayis, 4 regular workers and 1 supervisor, none of whom spoke any English. So I needed to find a role for myself, a way to make a difference in the short time that was to be there. How easy it is to gravitate towards the cute, active, outgoing, and appealing baby with whom everyone wanted to play. I decided that as much as I too would play with these babies, it was the immobile ones with the large heads and limp legs, the victims of spina bifida and other ailments, that I would try to work with, to strengthen their neck muscles, and try to stimulate them visually. I saw the ayis watching me fearfully, worrying that I would disturb the shunts in their heads but, after a short while, then they relaxed and smiled seeing my charge smile or begin to vocalize.
At times it was difficult not being able to talk to anyone for 6 hours. My daughter was working in the toddler unit in a different building. It was much easier when the two volunteer physical therapists from New York were in the room, or other medical personal showed up. Then time sped by.
I was fortunate to be able to visit two hospitals during my visit. One visit was for the purpose of switching out the ayis after a four-day shifts at a baby’s bedside. The other visit was to bring a baby “home” after his cleft-lip surgery. What a beautiful little boy! I was lucky enough, in my short stay, to see the results of a before- and post-surgery. The transformation was startling, the hope boundless that maybe now someone would want him.
Among the reality checks was one I had when I worked in the hospice section of the orphanage. I can only say that angels take care of these babies and love them, knowing that they may very well pass away at any moment..
For both my daughter and me this was obviously an awe-inspiring, maturing experience. To witness these babies’ trauma cannot but help develop one’s maturity.
I now know with certainty that when I try to prepare my clients for their adoption that nothing is more important than giving these children a home with loving parents. Ayis come and go. Volunteers come and go. Where is the connection? Where is the bond? Where is the attachment? How will they ever learn to form permanent relationships without knowing they belong to someone? So after you read this, go home, and hug your children, and be grateful for their minor flaws and mostly be thankful that they have you as parents.