Archive for November, 2011

Choice

Out at the playground yesterday, a woman who I had borrowed a tissue from to wipe my daughter’s runny little nose, looked at my two children playing, and sadly said, "My 2nd child would have been about your son’s age by now." Her sweet 7-year-old daughter was playing with Rosie and Leo, and there were a few other kids digging in the sand with them. It was a beautiful sunny crisp autumn day, and as I was a bit unsure how to respond, I just tentatively said, "Oh, really, what happened?"

She went on to explain that she got unexpectedly pregnant a few years after she had her daughter, and although they tried to figure out a way around it, this woman, against her own heart and will, got an abortion when she was 5 months pregnant. "I think about her all the time, and I wish I could have had her. It’s so unfair; it’s too hard – these government policies."

She felt she had no real choice. Her 2nd child would not have been given a ‘hukou’ – or a city citizenship card, and thus would not have had access to all the social benefits that hukou comes with. She and her husband could not have supported this 2nd child the way the system works now. They also would have been fined. Both of them came from the countryside in China (which means they were very poor growing up) – they did well in school, and made it into university (which is supposed to be the ticket to a better life). But now, their lives are still difficult in the city. With aging and sick parents and a daughter to look after, along with her full-time job that doesn’t pay enough, this woman’s burdens are still very heavy. Not to mention the grief brought by having to abort her 2nd child. She feels cheated and wronged by her government – who, by her own words, "Only look out for the big picture; they never consider individual circumstances or difficulties."

We went on to talk about the big picture of China’s demographic issues, and we got to talking about the fact that it’s actually really problematic for only children when their parents begin to have health problems. I have many brothers and sisters to help step in when my parents need help, but she only has herself. We talked about the fact that the policies are loosening up now, but she shook her head and said, "It’s too late for a lot of us."

I mentioned that although the government is loosening up it’s one-child policy, most young couples here in China don’t plan to have more than one child because they do not want the burden of supporting more than one child through school, and they’d rather spend those extra resources on themselves. She asked if these were younger or older couples, and I said, "Younger." She said, "Oh of course, they just don’t know any better yet. They haven’t really thought it through. Just wait until they are 40 and I imagine they’ll think differently, but then it may be too late for them anyway."

This is far from the first time I’ve heard the plaintive tone in a woman’s voice when telling me how lucky I am to have my two children. I see and hear it over and over again, and I know there are countless unborn children here in China being sorely missed by their mothers who didn’t really have a choice. But it is the first time someone has so openly shared with me her sadness over losing her own second child – a child she so dearly wanted. I can hardly imagine this woman’s grief, and I can hardly understand her unaffected candor, clarity, and tremendous courage in the face of such injustice. I’m really thankful to have met her.