○ A 67-year-old woman who gets pregnant again after losing her only child years ago cannot get care from public hospitals
○ A group of Chinese women in their 50s and 60s are choosing to give birth to help heal after the death of a child
○ These women face harsh judgement from the public and a lack of policy support
Zhang Heng, a 67-year-old woman in Beijing, should be thrilled. Recently she succeeded in getting pregnant with test tube twin babies.
But her brave choice did not bring her the blessings a normal mother-to-be usually gets.
She cannot get service from public hospitals, which consider it too risky for her to give birth, and many people have accused the silver-haired woman of being selfish for having a baby at her age.
“I just love children and want to have one of my own. [Now it seems] as if I was a guilty person. Am I doing something wrong?” Zhang said in a recent interview.
Zhang lost her only son four years ago.
She has made efforts to adopt a child, but all in vain. In the end, she and her husband decided to turn to a test tube baby, and succeeded this June in Taiwan. But due to her high blood pressure, a big hospital in Beijing suggested that she terminate her pregnancy, and the health department even reportedly asked several major hospitals to report to them if she tries to get treatment. This has put her under a lot of pressure, and she dares not go to the hospital for routine checks. Instead, she stays at home to rest.
“Having another child is the best way to cure the trauma [of the death of a child]. It is a thing that only people like us who have gone through the pain could understand,” explains Li Qing (pseudonym), 65, who lost her only daughter over 20 years ago and then gave birth to another daughter.
According to news website Netease, a study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences shows that as a result of the family planning policy in the past decades, there are 150 million only children nationwide. More than 1 million families have lost their only children to diseases and accidents.
These are known as shidu families. Many of these families have, in spite of their advanced age, chosen to have or adopt another baby to help heal from their loss.
It is not an easy decision to make. This group of women, mostly in their 40s to 60s, is bound to shoulder more pressure in getting pregnant, giving birth to and bringing up a child. Besides economic pressure, the psychological issues facing these parents, many of whom live with the trauma of the loss of their first child, is worth more attention from society, experts say.
A hard choice
Cui, a 60-year-old mother from Wuhan who lost her son in a traffic accident five years ago, called for the government to help Zhang Heng “pull through” now that she is already pregnant. “Rejecting her is equal to killing her,” said Cui.
A mother of 3-year-old twins, Cui now lives alone with the children in Weihai, Shandong Province, because there the kids can enjoy free kindergarten.
“My husband needs to stay in Wuhan to take care of his 96-year-old dad. He travels to meet us for several days every month,” Cui said. Now they basically rely on their pension to support the family.
But even at the most difficult times, Cui never regrets their decision to have new babies at 56, saying the children “allowed them to see some hope.”
Cui did not make up her mind to try a test tube baby until she saw her husband was in deep depression and on the brink of collapsing.
“He talked to nobody, and only chatted with our [deceased] son every day. If we did not figure a way out to cure ourselves, he could not hold on long,” Cui told the Global Times.
When she began seeking to have a test tube baby at 55, she was rejected by public hospitals in Wuhan, who said they were not allowed to give the procedure to people above 49. Later, she risked going to a private hospital and started the painstaking process of getting pregnant.
Since Cui had entered menopause, she suffered from tremendous pain. She received injections of progestin every day. In the process of embryo transplantation she also suffered complications that almost claimed her life. Seeing the pain she suffered, her husband wanted her to give up, but she persisted.
Li, who gave birth to her second child at age 46, tried for several years visiting hospitals for a solution. Her husband is also the only child of his family, so having another baby became the only source of hope to cheer the gloomy family.
In the past decades, many grieving mothers have sought to heal themselves by having a test tube baby, like Cui and Li, or by adopting children.
“A family that lost their only child lives in darkness. The arrival of a child could make such a family come back to life immediately,” said Zhang Jing, a teacher at the Chinese Women’s University who has been engaged in providing help to shidufamilies.
A marginalized group
After the news of Zhang Heng’s pregnancy at 67 became public, many accused her of being selfish. “Having two babies at 67, then you are already more than 80 when the children grow up. Can you take good care of the baby?” a netizen asked. “Having a baby is not to please yourself.”
Cui said there were people saying she was “irresponsible” to her face, persuading her not to have children after she was already pregnant.
People like Li and Cui have to bear glances and cruel remarks, sometimes unintentional ones. When picking up their children from kindergarten, they are often mistaken for grandparents.
They are even rejected by other shidu parents who do not choose to have another child. According to Li, those who choose to have children again, or adopt a child, are kicked out of online chat groups where such families meet.
Guo Min, who made headlines for having twin babies at age 56 in 2011 after losing her only daughter, has been fighting alone raising the twins in Beijing after her husband got paralyzed. She does several part-time jobs as an accountant and finds it hard to make ends meet. She is the rarity among shidu parents and frequently accepts media interviews, in the hope of drawing more support for her children.
“People like us dare not to fall ill. We have to take good care of ourselves so as to accompany them as long as we can. It is heartbreaking to think, who will take care of them if we leave the world?” said Cui.
Their subsidies from the government for their loss of their only child will be cancelled once they have a second child. They used to organize groups appealing to China’s National Health Commission, writing letters or sitting quietly, for more support from the government, but without any result.
Li used to worry that as a senior parent with limited money and energy, she could not provide her child a good environment for growth. “After all, we are much older than the parents of her classmates.”
Once, when her daughter was in middle school, Li was selected as an outstanding parent and asked to deliver a speech in front of all the students and parents at a school conference. She hesitated, fearing that her age would draw her daughter into controversy. But her daughter encouraged her to make the speech, regardless of the possible rumors.
“When you are outstanding yourself, your children will not feel inferior,” said Li .
She is usually cited as a good example in picking up life again successfully among shidu parents. But the scar remains: She will cry whenever mentioning her lost daughter.
When Cui successfully delivered her twins three years ago, at the age of 56, it was described by the media as a “miracle.” But Cui said she did not feel encouraged at all. “I lost my son after all, and I’d been crying for him throughout the pregnancy,” she told the Global Times.
According to Zhang Jing, many think that the pain of shidu families could be healed with the arrival of a new baby, but in many cases, it doesn’t get rid of the pain.
“Some well-educated families are doing better, but some families have not walked out of the shadow of losing their children at all, which influences their way of raising children imperceptibly,” said Zhang Jing. “Some overly indulge the children, while some inevitably put their feelings toward the lost child on the second one, for example, by crying on anniversaries. It is not fair to the second child.”
Zhang said that some shidu parents, in struggling for more favorable treatment from government officials, would bring their children to the relevant department in a threatening gesture. She regards this as “using the child as a tool” and said it is bad for the children’s growth.
“We should respect these senior mothers’ rights when they decide to have children. Given the risk, the social insurance system should be improved to allow the hospitals to dare to take such patients,” said Zhang.
“Meanwhile, these families need more help from relevant departments in terms of economic support, psychological guidance, child growth, and so on.”
– Global Times
The 2018 Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference is scheduled for April 8 to 11 in Boao, Hainan Province. The forum will be themed "An Open and Innovative Asia for a World of Greater Prosperity."
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