Sunday, 8 September 2013

“There’s always room for a baby”

“You saw me crying in the chapel.
The tears I shed were tears of joy.
I know the meaning of contentment
Now I am happy with the Lord”

Most people across the world would hear this song and would think of Elvis Presley. For me, those very words have a completely different connotation. Elvis released the song as a single in October 1960, but when the record hit the charts in this country, it coincided with saying goodbye to a very special baby whom my family had fostered and loved with all our hearts. We knew that she was going to a family who would love her every bit as much as we did, but, at that time, we did not know that we would see her again and, until today, would maintain precious communication with her and her adoptive family. For the five months during which we fostered this special baby, until the day she was adopted, she was dearly loved. After she left us, every time that the radio burst out with Elvis Presley singing “You saw me crying in the chapel”, the words came too close to home and the tears started again.

I am proud to say that, having had eight children of their own, my parents fostered no fewer than eighteen infants until the Child Protection Society, as the Catholic Children’s Society was then known, located a family for them. My mother freely admits part of their motivation was because she and my father could not bear the thought that my youngest sister to be the only family member who had no experience of a new baby in the house. “There’s always room for a baby”, she declared on more than one occasion.

“There’s always room for a baby”, or words to the same effect, were probably on the lips of Lou Xiaoying, now 88, and her late husband, Li Zin, who died 17 years ago, a Chinese couple living in dire poverty on the edge of a rubbish dump in Jinhua, in the eastern Zhejiang province of China. This phenomenal couple saved no fewer (and possibly more) than thirty abandoned babies, starting with a baby girl whom Lou Xiaoying found in the street in 1972. “Watching her grow and become stronger gave us such happiness and I realised I had a real love of caring for children. I realised if we had strength enough to collect rubbish, how could we not recycle something as important as human lives?” she explained.

Lou Xiaoying and Li Zin already had a daughter. The State’s one child policy would not allow them to have other children – but there was no law to stop the couple rescuing babies whom their own parents had discarded. Because they only survived by recycling rubbish from the dump, there was no way in which, after the fourth adoption, they could provide a home for all the little ones whom they found. There were, however, other couples who longed to have a baby and would happily open their homes and hearts. Thus it was that Lou Xiaoying and Li Zin managed to find homes for at least another twenty-five infants whilst, in spite of their ‘extreme poverty’, somehow providing the best home that they could for their own expanding family. Their adopted daughter, 33-year-old Zhang Juju, remembers her mother going out to the dump several times each day in the hopes of finding sufficient recyclable materials to keep them all alive.

As happens in most large families, the children helped to look after each other, thereby creating an unbreakable bond between them in spite of their impoverished surroundings.

When Li Zin died, Lou Xiaoying continued with the work that she and her husband had begun so many years earlier. Her youngest child, Zhang Qilin, retrieved from a dustbin, is now seven years old. “He looked so sweet and so needy. I had to take him home with me,’ she said, ignoring the fact that she was 82 at the time and not really well enough to care for the many needs of a small child.

Now, Lou Xiaoying is very ill and has little time left to her. One of her concerns is that there are still innumerable abandoned babies, nearly all of them girls, many of whom will die unless other compassionate people take on the responsibility of rescuing them. Yet, elsewhere in the world, increasingly complicated government regulations have led to a reduction in the number of international adoptions.

One organisation which specialises in cross-border adoptions, says that those babies who become available for adoption in China "are generally 8 months to 5 years of age at time of referral. Primarily they will be infant girls between the ages of 10 to 14 months old. Some boys are available, primarily with special needs. Generally the health of the children is good, but developmental delays are to be expected. The children are cared for in orphanage or foster care settings."

One of the difficulties, of course, is that some unscrupulous individuals know that there are couples who are desperate to adopt a baby but are impeded for one reason or another by the official channels. The cost of an international adoption can range between £9,500 and £22,500 because of the mountain of legal fees and paperwork involved. This offers some criminals an unequalled opportunity for making money by setting themselves up as apparently legitimate agencies and then selling trafficked babies. Adoptive parents believe that the agency is bona fide, happily take their new baby home and, unknowingly, leave a distraught family wondering what has happened to their abducted child.

China has its own trafficking problems which have come about as the direct result of its one child policy. More boys are allowed to survive than girls, so that there is a shortage of girls when the boys reach marriageable age. The dire poverty of some rural families leads to them selling a baby or two. A boy is worth approximately £5,000 and a girl, £3,000.

In Britain, there is an ongoing debate about whether or not same sex couples should or should not be allowed to adopt. Yet we also periodically hear of married couples who are would-be adoptive parents but are turned down by the authorities because of their weight or their age. Recent legislation has made it easier for inter-racial adoptions and has quickened the frequently long drawn-out process of form-filling etc.

Lou Xiaoying simply got on with the job. She and her husband saw the babies and rescued them. After 40 years and more than 30 rescued infants, she is now being hailed as a heroine and, many would say, a living saint. Reports have said nothing about her religious faith or lack of it, but God is surely deep within her heart. The same might be said of her late husband, Li Zin.

“There is always room for a baby.” What a tragedy that not everybody agrees! Three cheers for those who foster and those who adopt!

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