Beyond Adoption: Serving Orphans in China
Hosted by Sam Waterson
A Bridge to Love - Embraced by Two Worlds
Grace Robertson was born in Shanghai China, grew up in New York City, and finished her high school education in Beijing, China. She has written about her unique perspective in Women of China magazine. Cover Photo: CHEN MAN
By Brooks Robertson
This evening was bittersweet, mostly sweet. Nancy, Ming (our driver and friend) and I went to the Embleys after we returned from meetings in Beijing. We were racing up Jingmi Lu, the road connecting downtown Beijing with Shun Yi, the area where we live, to say goodbye to Ma Li Na, the little baby who was heading back to her home in Hubei Province after a month of recuperative care with the Embley family.
Certainly hard to believe it was just two months ago that Nancy, Ming and I had visited the Little Flower Infant Hospice (horrible conjoining of words) to visit the children, all of whom had been brought there by parents or caregivers to...die. Ma Li Na was two months old, lying uncomfortably in a crib, breathing sporadically with thrush evident at the corners of her mouth. We took turns sitting with her that afternoon. I noticed when I rubbed her tiny back, gently petted it actually, that her agitated breathing would calm down and her eyes would shut in momentary slumber. However, within moments of taking my hand away, she would awake, gasping for air. She was tiny, even for a two month old.
The kind people who started and run the hospice had called Nancy the day before we were to leave for home, New York City, for the Christmas holidays. Serena, a Little Flower co founder, told her that Ma Li Na’s parents were farmers from Hubei and had made every effort to raise money for the surgery that might or might not save her life. Even with the help of family, friends, neighbors and others in their village, they were able to raise only one tenth of the cost. Heartbroken, and with the aid of a friend, they drove their daughter five hours to Little Flower so she would be in a place where she could die with dignity, surrounded by loving caregivers. Serena actually had called Nancy about another child who our foundation, The Grace Children’s Foundation, was assisting with life saving surgery in the United States. Serena spoke of Ma Li Na because she was on her mind, so close to death. That’s when Nancy told me we must go by the hospice before we left.
We spent the evening following our Little Flower visit saddened, as always, by what we had seen at the hospice but, as always, grateful and amazed by the wonderful care these (mostly) dying children were receiving from a committed and loving staff of caregivers, primarily young Chinese women from the community. Nancy was immediately in touch with her colleague, Dr. Liu. He runs TEDA, a state of the art cardiovascular hospital in Tianjin where he also serves orphaned and disadvantaged children in need of heart surgeries. He told Nancy that from looking at Ma Li Na’s x-rays, it appeared to be a near impossible medical situation – “incurable.” He himself did not have the requisite skills to perform the surgery necessary to give her a fighting chance; few did. However, his classmate from medical school, Dr. Wu, would be the one to talk to about this particular situation if Nancy could get in touch with him at his hospital in Beijing where his every moment was scheduled with surgeries.
Nancy, not surprisingly, was able to find him. He said he had looked at the x-rays forwarded to him by Dr. Liu. The baby’s situation was complicated, a complex procedure necessary that would now be made more difficult because of her pneumonia. No positive outcome could be guaranteed. However, he would operate on her that day. Our flight back to the States was made even longer by not knowing Ma Lin Na’s surgical fate. After the thirteen-hour flight, Nancy was on the phone back to the hospital before the plane had even stopped at the landing gate upon our arrival home. Ma Li Na had made it through over eight hours of surgery. She was in a fragile state but alive. Time would determine her fate. Within twenty-four hours news came that she was progressing. Within a week she made it out of I.C.U. Her parents were summoned, stunned and overjoyed, to her bedside. Having left her to die with dignity they were now hurrying to welcome her back... Her mother spent every night by her hospital bed for the next three weeks. Her father, prohibited by hospital policy to stay overnight, got a room at nearby hotel.
When we arrived back from New York, our first stop was the hospital. Left behind was the gasping, dying baby. In her place was a healthier every day baby, breathing easily on her own. Along with TGCF’s recently hired (but longtime colleague) Country Director Decun Qian, we visited her often until she was ready for release. Since her family had no heat in their home in Hubei, it was determined that the best course of action was for Ma Li Na and her mother to stay in the Beijing area until she was at full strength and winter’s cold ebbed. Through The Grace Children’s Foundation’s Children’s Resource Exchange Center Nancy was able to locate several families willing to foster Ma Li Na during her rehabilitation. Soon it became apparent that the Embleys, a large, wonderful family who lived near us on the outskirts of Beijing, were the perfect fit. Both baby and mom were swallowed up into their loving household of parents, four children, dog, cats, turtles and fish too numerous to count. Ma Li Na’s dad went back to Hubei to tend to her ten year old brother as well as his farming duties.
Time passed. Ma Li Na grew healthier, stronger every day. And then one day, the time came...to say goodbye. So, last night Nancy and I arrived to see the family off. Dad had returned from Hubei with the friend who had originally assisted them. Amazement abounded. Pictures, tears, laughter ensued. Mom especially was overcome with love and emotion for the miracle of her returned child, as she put it. As diapers were being packed, hugs exchanged, Dad asked me to come outside. He went to his car and took two huge bags out of his trunk and silently, smilingly, handed them to me. Two huge plastic bags chocked full of...peanuts. He had grown them and offered them to us in thanks. I was overcome with gratitude and, at that moment, the knowledge of possibility. I cracked some open and began eating, much to his delight. As we were standing there in the driveway, smiling at each other, his wife and daughter, Nancy, the Embleys, everyone came out to pack Ma Li Na and mom into the car. Weeping, mom again hugged everybody and told Nancy and me that we were always to be Ma Li Na’s grandparents. Honored, though blanched with the implication of age, we agreed.
Then we all stood motionless for a second as the car pulled out, headed back to Hubei, back to the farm, back to their lives. Goodbye, Peanut. Thank you.