In response to the “The Myth of the Mourning Birthmother”

Social media is a blessing and also a curse. On my Facebook feed I was presented with a link to this blog article, which was written eight years ago.

The Myth of the Mourning Birthmother


I don’t know the organisation that commissioned this research. But the language and the tone (in my opinion) are extremely anti East Asian. The author, it appears, is married to an East Asian originating from rural China. That said the writer’s understanding of rural Chinese culture, politics and historical traditional cultural practises appears sparse.  The writing is infused heavily with Western sensibilities and is very much from the point of view of white, Western privilege; casting a very “judgemental” eye on rural Mothers and the cultural differences between Eastern and Western values.

I’m not saying that the Chinese don’t love their children, but it is not often the emotionally-invested love that we in the West feel.

So what is the author saying? That the love expressed by an East Asian mother, because it doesn’t appear to this Westerner as, ’emotionally-invested love that we in the West feel,’ is by its very nature inferior? Therefore if inferior it is questionable? So the Western parent who transracially adopts should not concern themselves with the birth-mother’s feelings because they basically don’t have any?

But speaking generally, I believe that it is dangerous for adoptive parents to project their own emotions onto women in China.


Chinese girls arriving in Wellington for adoption, 1963

I beg to differ, if anything I think the reverse. To few adoptive parents spend any real time learning to understand the true differences between cultures or learning Chinese, or at least where their children can be taught real cultural skills. I do not consider “Chinese Sunday schools” where children a taught the odd Chinese folk song. The obligatory “fan dance” and the ubiquitous New years celebration as giving children instruction in cultural skills. Such light-weight and usually Euro-centric programs, will not educate or equip the child to deal with their new bi-cultural life.
The real reasons why they were able to adopt the East Asian child(ren) that they have, is not just about China’s One Child policy. It is not simply a difference in cultural lenses or ways of being. It runs deeper and is far more complex and not simply Western versus Eastern ways of doing things.
Yes this piece was written in 2006. The West (I hope) has learned much more about culture, history and politics especially with publications such as, Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran. However the organisation that posted this article is still in existence, so…

When a (Chinese) birthmother is faced with the “unfortunate” birth of a girl, she will do what is viewed to be in the best interest of that child — the girl will be taken to a family with all boys, or a childless family, or left to be found and brought to the orphanage. It is an act that is understood, and done with little fanfare and emotion.

Who says that it is done with, “little fanfare” in whose eyes is what these families feel driven to do, done without thought, pain or long-lasting effect?


The picture above would seem to contradict the writers assumptions. Assumptions based on meeting just two rural Chinese mothers who had handed over a child to an orphanage. That and his account of a Mother  who put her daughter (a foundling that she had taken in and raised as a single mother) into an orphanage.


“I had married a man who already had a daughter,” she related, “and so if we wanted to have our own children, I needed to get rid of my daughter.” Her “daughter” was a girl she had ostensibly found on the street at a few days old and cared for, as a single mother, for four years. Pressured by her new husband, they had both brought the four-year-old to the orphanage and turned her in as a foundling.


We only have the writer’s word that this is true verbatim and an accurate English translation.

We envision the birthmother watching the abandoned child until discovery is made, tears streaming down her face. We imagine that they deal daily with the guilt of this abandonment, and anxiously wait for the day when they might miraculously receive word that the child is doing well and being loved by a family.

Parents give up children to baby hatch

So he continues  – by reluctantly and rather begrudgingly acceding that Chinese Mother’s might well feel emotion, but it isn’t in the same manner as a Western Mother would. It’s not felt as deeply as their Western counterpart. Actually Chinese Mother’s don’t really harbour such feelings and even if they did, they don’t hang on to such emotions for long, because they are incapable of doing so.

As adoptive parents we should be careful before we assert emotions to our children’s birthparents that might be simply our own projections or assumptions.

In other words, don’t make the mistake of assuming that Chinese Mothers share the same range of emotions as Western Mothers.


To tell our children, for example, that their birthparents miss them, love them, etc., is simply communicating what we might feel, but does not necessarily communicate the reality of the birthparents. In all probability, they have moved on, looking to the future, and not dwelling on the past. Culturally that is what they are taught to do.


What the writers intent was I cannot say. I only have what is presented on the written page and my personal interpretation of what that writer has written. But by using the language in the way that he has. Constructing the sentences and therefore the sense both visible and implied by his choice of words and phrases, it all combine to infer that Chinese mothers, Chinese parents are not like Western Mothers and parents. That they do not feel emotions in the same way that people in the west do. This article belittles the emotional investment that East Asian parents have, as viewed by a Westerner. He takes great care to point out that these parents express love not in words but in deeds. For example making a sweater or the cooking of a meal. The article compares this form of affection to Western ways and in doing so, it comes across (to me) as inferring that “Chinese” love is inferior to the love a Western parent gives. Western parents show emotion by lavishing words and investing in human contact. Not in the giving of gifts or the preparation of a meal. The showing of affection through practical deeds is in Western eyes not comparable to Western displays of affection and is not as desirable or as acceptable.


“It had to be done,” they might very well answer us if we could ask them why. I believe for most birth mothers, it is felt and recognized that it has to be done, and it is accomplished with little emotion and less regret than we living here in the West often imagine.

a mother chocking on her sobs in the baby hatch after putting her child down.
a mother checking on her sobs in the baby hatch after putting her child down.


You see “culturally that is what they (Chinese Mothers) are taught to do.”
In other it is an inherent trait within Chinese nature not to care. If they did care then the Chinese would not “give away” their children. The article even criticises the fact that many children in China are raised by their grandparents.

a large percentage of families in China turn over raising of their child(ren) to the grand-parents, while the husband and wife work. For many of these families, the child is with her parents for only a small percentage of the time each year, most especially during New Year’s.

environment and cost means many parents seek help form their parents for childcare
environment and cost means many parents seek help form their parents for childcare

I find an in built cultural arrogance in this article. It extends not just to East Asian adoptees, but to East Asian around the globe. It cross the childcare, adoption sector and covers all industry sectors and walks of life. It is an attitude. The polarity of cultures clashing. The misguided assumptions of Western superiority. Based on Western stereotyping of East Asians females, families and ideas of how love is best expressed.
As I said the article is eight years old and yet it has been reposted.

2013 CCTV report –  number of babies being abandoned is dropping not rising.

This article in effect is making a case (in my opinion very badly) for why Adoptive parents should not engage with their child’s native culture. In my opinion this can only lead to further stress and trauma later on in life for the transracially adopted child.

Adversity, adoption and afterwardsI am very clear on my views when it comes to the education and support for East Asians that are/have been transracially adopted. There must be both cultural and linguistic support. That there should be substantive education for both the children and adoptive parents, which is continuous.
Articles such as these that latently or blatantly express biased and yes, Perputal-Child-Cover6x9_Cream_180institutionalised and structurally racist views are not helpful. They are of no benefit to either the adopted child or the adoptive parents.
Such attitudes enable adoptive parents to formulate, in my opinion, totally incorrect and inappropriate views and ideologies about transracial adoption and the impact that this intervention has upon the child.

In my opinion it gives parents a false sense of security. It underlines the false notion that West is best. I make no secret of that fact that I am an ardent supporter of pre and post adoption education and ongoing training for adoptive parents. Irresponsible articles such as this one whether eight years old or not serve no purpose at all other than to re-enforce negative racial stereotypes.