Silent Tears

Why did she sleep as flat as a board? What is her deal with the bowls? How much did she really have to fight to live?

It only took me 6 months but I finally completed reading this 350 page endurance test of one woman’s heart wrenching experience in a Chinese orphanage. “Silent Tears: A Journey Of Hope In A Chinese Orphanage” is the reprinted journal of Kay Bratt’s time volunteering in an orphanage during her husbands time working in China. Kay was looking to make sure her time in China was worthwhile so she looked into volunteering in the local orphanage – she never details the actual name of the orphanage but through geographical references in the book, the orphanage appears to be in the area of Shanghai. We found this very interesting considering Meili’s orphanage is only a couple hours west of Shanghai so her story became all the more personal.

I decided to purchase this book in an effort to understand Meili’s early institutional life. Not surprisingly, there is a dramatic lack of information coming from the sterile worlds of Chinese orphanages so my unquenchable thirst to understand my daughters early life lead me to this book. I will tell you that the read is tremendously difficult – like walking through waist deep snow – and will most likely create a kind of readers tunnel vision, keeping you from being able to engage in any other pleasure reading. I highly recommend it but be prepared to be shaken to your soul if you have adopted or are adopting. Things have changed a lot in the Chinese orphanages since the publishing of this and other books but the general information should provide some background to the life of your new Asian treasure.

A couple things we learned…

  • Meili was a 3rd degree cleft lip & cleft palate baby and evidently, these babies quite often do not make it. The reason for this is their inability to properly suck their bottles down in the short time allotted for meals. Due to the openings in their mouths, there is little to no suction and the overcrowded orphanages provide no time for nannies to personal help these ailing babies. So they slowly begin to die from malnutrition. In the more heavily funded orphanages, these occurrences are rare as the staff is larger. I also believe the foreign adoption revenue is a motivator to care for these little ones (the corrective surgeries are relatively cheap in China) until the adoptive family assumes responsibility. Either way, these simple physical abnormalities can sometimes become a death sentence – how amazing is Meili? :)
  • Often the children are fed every meal in a bowl! We marveled in the early weeks of our return how Meili would carry around any bowl she could find – most of the time completely empty. she never let it escape her sight – we paid little attention to her very visual expression of her life experience not knowing its history. When I stumbled across that one little sentence describing a simple afternoon feeding, it hit me like a ton of bricks! Now we give Meili everything in a bowl and she is just as happy as ever. Meili loves bowls!
  • After seeing the marks on her legs (see earlier posts) we became very concerned at her propensity to sleep completely flat when we got home. For weeks we took pictures and scratched our heads – I even jumped on Google to figure out if they tied down the babies at night in the orphanages. Then I read in Kay’s book how the nannies would dress the kids in 3 layers of clothes and then tuck them in so tightly that they could not move at bedtime. As is the case with most of what we learned about the practices in these orphanages, they have the best of intentions however an alarming lack of empathy is often the impact. Their reason for tucking in the children so tightly was at night the orphanages would get terribly cold and there were no nannies to watch the kids. They did not want any of the babies to wiggle out of the only thing protecting them from the chill in the air.

We now find Meili sleeping on her side all the time and that brings a smile to our faces – nothing like seeing our daughter make a choice for herself! There was so much more in the book but it was an enormously difficult read due to the difficult recounting of regular abuse in the orphanages. Kay was quite often placed in very difficult places, trying to decide if helping the helpless was more important than shoving an abusive nanny into the tiled walls (of course, she never said that but is my interpretation). I highly recommend the book – just like reading a history book to understand the current state of affairs, Kay Bratt’s “Silent Tears: A Journey Of Hope In A Chinese Orphanage” will provide some much need background on the life of your adopted child.