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Harsh gasps of air saturate the dimly lit room; it is the only sound within the room. A woman lies on a thin mattress in the center of the room. Her face is distorted into a grimace. The woman’s brow is marked with sweat and her cheeks are flushed with a ruddy, warm color.
Lying atop sodden sheets, the woman grips them tightly as another contraction wracks her frame. Panting from exhaustion and pain, she hazily registers the doctor’s voice.
Almost there. Maybe in five minutes…
Time passes slowly, marked only by intermittent contractions. At last she is ready. With an experienced eye, the doctor examines his patient. At last she is ready. In a firm tone he commands her to push. With her knees bent and her legs parted in a ‘V’, the woman begins to push, grunting with the effort. Her fists are clenched and she whimpers at the pain. Half sobs escape from her into the room as the woman continues to push. She is tired and her body is sore. The doctor coaches her. Keep on pushing. Quickly now. The woman’s brow is puckered in concentration. It takes one last push before the baby is born. A lusty squalling heralds the successful delivery.
With a quick snip the umbilical cord is severed. Using nimble fingers, he deftly ties the cord and with a quick flourish a knot is all that remains. The baby is swathed in a viscous, milky substance and the room is rank with the smell of birth. The doctor hands the baby off to a nurse to be bathed and made presentable.
After several minutes, the nurse returns with the baby. She enters the room and turns to the new parents. They all look the same, parents. Anxious to meet their child, a sort of bafflement that this is it, they are parents now. Curious about their baby’s gender, what it will look like. They all wear the same tired curiosity about the bundle in her arms.
Congratulations. It’s a girl. Born perfectly healthy.
A girl. She has ten fingers and ten toes. She even has a small dusting of fine, dark hair. Her skin is as soft as satin and is the same hue of light pink as a cherry blossom. She makes a few soft mewling noises but is otherwise content in her parent’s arms.
Holding their daughter, the parents are at a loss; bewilderment clouds their features. They think of what will come. Once she is grown, she will marry and move in with her husband’s family. She will not pass on the family name. Nor will she be able to take care of them in old age. This is their second child, their second girl. And she is already a disappointment.
Disappointment penetrates the room. It steals into the father’s posture, the way his shoulders are set; a dismayed slump. Worry, disappointment’s companion scores the mother’s face. It compresses the woman’s lips into a thin line, tightens her mouth.
They wanted a boy. A son to grow up strong and continue the family line. A man to care for them when they are grey with age. They are at a crossroads and a decision must be made. The government will not approve a third child and there are heavy fines for having an unapproved pregnancy. They cannot afford the risk of having a pregnancy that is not sanctioned by the government yet a son is needed.
The parents deliberate over what they should do.
She isn’t a boy. We need a son; a male child ensures our comfort in old age.
The mother nods, but what can we do? There is not enough money for the fines and taxes of a third child.
We cannot keep her then, he reasons. We must give her up.
But she is our daughter. Her voice is indecisive. Her mind jumps to the future, a future with no sons. Their longing for a son convinces them and the parents quietly desert their newborn daughter in some place where someone will discover her.
After two days, the baby girl is gone. The man carries her away early in the morning to parts foreign to himself. Sneaked in the night, checked for people, and left her in the unknown area. No note, no money, and no loving farewell. Only a blanket to keep her warm and a faint hope that maybe someone will do something for her. He is not the only one out before dawn. Others sneak out, check for people, and leave behind baby girls. Some by parks, others near herbal stores. Left anywhere that maybe someone will care to pick up them up. In this way, the woman and her husband and the mothers and fathers of China have cut all ties to her. They have cut carefully and snipped away at the embarrassment and shame of having a daughter.
Little thought is given to the baby girl that they abandoned. Regret is pushed down and the memories of their daughter are filed away into the corners of their minds, tucked away into little crevices. Life continues for the couple and eventually the woman conceives again. They hope that this time is different. That this time the baby will be a boy; a son to satisfy their longing.
Sometime later, the baby girl is found. She is one among the millions of baby girls that have been abandoned. The baby girls have been forsaken. Tossed out because they are not boys. They are girls who will never become the sons their parents yearn for. Instead, they become wards of the state. The girls are collected and are clustered within state run orphanages. There are tens of thousands of girls within them. Their futures are unknown. Many of them will remain in the orphanages throughout their childhoods, parentless. The fortunate ones are adopted. They are adopted out of China, in an exodus of China’s girls to foreign countries.
The girls are received well in their new homes. They are cherished. And in China, the number of boys rises and parents are relieved. They have their son. A fierce pride takes hold in China as thoughts turn to how strong their country will be made with sons. Sons for the army, for the fields. Everyone is pleased until they notice how great the ratio is. Their gluttony has punished them; there are too many boys. Then there is worry for the future, about wives for their sons. The abandoned girls are remembered and their absence is mourned. Who will keep the country strong when there are few children? Who will take care of our sons in old age?