– Nonfiction by Cynthia Hunter –
Second Place Winner of the 2020 Dreamers Stories of Migration, Sense of Place and Home Contest.
The room is small, jail-like, with windows high in one wall. The air is humid. Breathing requires deep heavy intakes of energy. The bits of daylight filtering through from outdoors feel as artificial as the activity taking place here.
There are only two babies so far, both fretful with fevers. They are clothed in matching fleece outfits despite the sweltering temperature outside. I am sweating in a sleeveless sundress. Perspiration dots the forehead of every person in this room.
The door opens. The second round of babies have arrived. This is our orphanage, and my heart lurches as sobbing infants are carried in one by one in the arms of their nannies. Their tear stained faces howl with round, wide open mouths as they are passed to waiting parents.
Each baby’s name is announced loudly before she is brought into the room, but I can not hear anything except the crying. The babies have no experience with pale faced adults, half of them male. We have been sharing five month old photographs among ourselves for three days now, but I can not recognize any of the babies. They are all smaller, thinner and more anguished than any picture we have seen.
There are twelve couples, and me, in this room. I have lost track of how many babies have been carried in. When I look around, every couple has someone screaming and twisting in their arms.
I keep my eyes on the door, but time passes and no one else comes. Our interpreter, Lee, talks to the guard at the door. She approaches me, saying, “Wait. It won’t be long.”
I don’t want to wait, but there is nothing else I can do. I have been waiting over a year already, through long months fighting against breast cancer, and the possibility of losing my baby. I won, so really another few minutes is irrelevant, but they stretch out forever until my heart begins to crack with imagined scenarios of loss.
The door opens for the last time. She is here, not crying, just looking around at all the others, wondering at their sobbing. When the nanny brings her close, I see that she is so very tiny, but her arms reach out to me without hesitation. She laughs, a throaty, hoarse sound far larger than her body. I take her into my arms, and she fits perfectly.
She gazes at me with liquid dark eyes, trying to decide whether she likes me or not. She touches my face, as I tell her, “I am Mommy.” I wonder if she can even hear my words with all the chaotic noise.
Her fuzzy pink sleeper is on backwards twisting around her thin legs awkwardly. Her hair is shaved back from her forehead, a sign that she has come from the hospital. I learn this later tonight from Lee, when she tells me I almost did not get my promised baby. She has just recovered from pneumonia, only pronounced healthy enough yesterday to come on the two hour bus ride.
She weighs less than my cat at home, but she is warm and snuggly. She decides that maybe she should cry some too, and tears start to wet my shoulder. She is holding on tightly even as the sobs come. I find her a baby cookie. She gums the arrowroot until it is a soggy mess, then offers me some. I pretend to eat, and she is laughing again.
I am not oblivious. In these sweet moments, my happiness hinges on another woman’s sorrow. What must it be like to carry a child knowing for nine months that birthing a girl is unfeasible? How will I one day convince my daughter that she was truly loved, when the only proof I have is that she is alive, not dead?
In later years, when news of baby trafficking emerges, marring China’s adoption record, my daughter’s anger will be so encompassing, she will have no way to contain it. I will be powerless to help her find a sense of equilibrium about her past. The pain will be immense and seemingly endless.
This heartbreak does not take place until twenty years in the future. In-between will be the years filled with laughter, love, and being together through days and days that overflow with the simple contentment of being a family.
On this first day in 1999, with the noise of twelve other sad babies around us, there is just my daughter, happy here, with me. Whatever the future is going to bring for us, this is a blessed day – here – right now.
About the Author – Cynthia Hunter
Cynthia Hunter retired in 2019 from a 33 year career in education. As a teacher, one of her favourite subjects was teaching writing to her students. With her newfound time, she decided to revisit her own love of writing. She enjoys penning short stories, poems and skits for both adults and children, and also, working on her new blog, smalldolladventures.ca, where she tries to integrate her love of writing with her hobbies of doll collecting and crafting.
**This story by Cynthia Hunter received second place in the 2020 Dreamers Stories of Migration, Sense of Place and Home Contest.
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