Hopeful Hearts - how it all started...
Source: Helene's Diary
Finally I am able to write something about it. It took a few days before I recovered after this unexpected event. It started like this, on Friday the 8th of November 2002 in Nanjing.
Around lunchtime I was on my way to the bakery in town by car with my neighbour Mira, because we both had an appointment there. But everything turned out completely different. We drove over a busy road along the Bai Ma Park. Next to the road, against a tree, I saw a red blanket with, unbelievably, a baby in it! I immediately turned around and went back to the spot. Meanwhile 2 pedestrians had stopped and were looking at the baby without taking any action. Because we had a car, we decided to take the baby along and take it to a doctor. In the car we discovered it was a little boy. He had a note on his breast with his date of birth as well as 30 RMB (Chinese Renminbi, and worth approximately 3,5 Euro). The date of birth was written in Chinese characters as well as the western date. The small child was very quiet and continued sleeping. Mira and I have passed that tree many times since then.
The first thing we could think of was visiting our own European doctor. Unfortunately we were just a little bit too late as he had already left for lunch. We then decided to go to the local orphanage, which was in the same neighbourhood. There wasn't anyone in the office either, probably due to the fact that it was the lunch hour there as well. We did not continue our search for anyone there because I had an uncomfortable feeling and I did not really want to leave the baby there. So we quickly went back to the car and decided to continue our original journey to the bakery. We suspected that the doctor would be having lunch there as well.
Meanwhile I had contacted my husband Jos and Mire her husband Mike. Jos was flabbergasted and did not quite know what to do or what to say. Mike had the afternoon off and decided to come over and help us and offer any assistance he could give. Mira bought milk and a bottle in a supermarket nearby and when the doctor actually did show up, we decided to take the baby back to the clinic for an examination.
At first sight he seemed healthy, although he was very thin and had very dry skin. The baby was also a bit yellow but that is quite common with babies his age. We did notice however, that there were signs of blood samples having been taken and because of that our doctor decided not to take any more blood. His assistant tried to obtain information from the hospital we suspected the baby had been in, but to no avail. Meanwhile Mike had arrived. We thought about simply taking the baby home and not telling anyone about it. But I imagined that if the mother knew nothing about this event and the father had left the baby without her knowledge, she might be looking for it, or maybe the parents would change their minds, or imagine if something happened to the child and he died in our house, how could I explain that? Without notifying the authorities we could be in big trouble… However this would mean that after notifying them, the child would have to go to the orphanage. In the end we thought it would be best to have the baby registered and because we did not want to expose him to any more travelling we went home.
Once we were at home we gave him a bottle with milk and a clean diaper. We had some really small diapers, which belonged to my daughter's baby doll. Of course we also took some photographs and then the children came home. They found it very sad for the baby to be abandoned but also very exciting and fun. To gain a brother, just like that, does not happen every day.
My youngest daughter asked, "Does he have a name yet"? And I answered no! She had a good look at the little chap and said; I think "Loetje" is a good name for him. As of that moment he was Loetje to all of us.
Meanwhile Mike and his assistant, who had also arrived, went to the orphanage. From there they were sent to the police to register our find. Upon arrival there the police were already waiting for them as the orphanage had called to inform them. The police wrote down our names, the date and place where we found the baby and asked them if they had any additional information. Mike called us and informed us that they were coming home with the police to collect the baby and take him to the orphanage. We asked if we could come along to take him there and we were very happy that they agreed and that it did not turn out to be a problem. Mire stayed with the other children and my daughter, and Mike and his assistant came along.
We drove behind the police and I was holding Loetje all this time. The ride to the orphanage was weighing heavily on my shoulders and I was very emotional. Because I am in the orphanage every week as I work there as a volunteer, I did have some hope that they would trust me and let me take him home so I could care for him. It was around 5pm when we arrived. Some of the caretakers were just leaving to go home. They walked back with us and told me it must have been fate that I had found this little baby. After that we spoke for 2 hours with the department heads of the orphanage but it did not work, the rules are rigid and we were not able to break the rules. I had to leave him behind…. All of a sudden the procedure became extremely formal and I had to give Loetje to a policeman so he could hand over the baby to the head of the orphanage. Fortunately we were allowed to go upstairs with him. First one of the caretakers gave him a bath and a doctor arrived for the first check up. After that they dressed him in orphanage clothes and he was put into a bed. After we checked if he was warm and comfortable we went home.
On Monday the board was going to let me know if they could make an exception for me because they knew me very well and also knew that I care very much about babies. Till Monday I was allowed to visit as often as I wanted and I also could stay with him the whole day. This is quite something because ordinarily the finders stay completely out of the picture. Leaving him behind was very painful and I was very emotional even though that sounds crazy. After all it wasn't my baby and I had only known him a little over 6 hours.
Reactions and commentary
During the weekend we had several reactions from Chinese people in our direct vicinity, for instance: Maybe the mother was not married. Maybe it is a second child (although that is unusual as it was a little boy). There is probably something wrong with him and the parents do not have the money for a hospital. Maybe there was pressure from the family as you are only allowed one child and in that case it better be healthy. If you do not have a child yet you have a second chance.
Here in China you do not have to register a child within 24 hours as in Europe. Also giving it a name can wait.
We also had our own reactions:
You could see that this was not just an impulsive act. The place had been chosen in a very busy street. They did write a note and added some money to the note. He was well taken care of and was warmly dressed and wrapped in a blanket.
It was very hard for us to understand why someone would do something like this. It cannot have been easy for the parents to do this, the pregnancy and also taking care of him for 8 days.
I do wonder what is going on in the parents' minds and especially the mother. It is not really possible to do something like this.
The decision of the orphanage
Monday, 3 days later. I spent as much time as possible in the orphanage with our little boy. Because of that it was a very restless weekend. Things were going well with the little boy; at the beginning he slept all the time and drank very little. Then he started drinking better, almost finished his bottle and was looking around. His skin has also improved, is less wrinkled and fits his little body better. He is very, very tiny. According to the note, he was born on the 31st of October and is now 11 days old. Unfortunately I was told today that it would not be possible to take him home. The orphanage has the suspicion that something is wrong with his heart and they want to keep him there for observation and have him undergo a thorough medical examination. They are not yet able to tell me when this will happen or how, but they will keep me informed. I can keep on visiting him as often as I like and that already gives me a lot of pleasure. I am allowed to feed him, caress and cuddle him and also change his diapers. That is already quite special in this orphanage. They do not really allow too many outsiders in their organisation and usually the volunteers are only allowed in on Wednesdays. It is quite a breakthrough but it's not exactly what I wanted. I would have liked to have him in my own house and to take care of him in our personal environment. We now have to wait and see what will happen. It's all going very quickly and it is also very confusing. And on the other side it's not… In one weekend I all of a sudden feel as if I am the mother of an additional child.
Contemplating and plans for the future
Everything that has happened is making me very confused and it is giving me weird feelings. It is not usual in Holland that you simply find a child. I have heard that a kind of foster parent plan has been set up. That would mean that it is possible to temporarily take care of a child in one's own home. I had hoped that this would be a possibility for our little boy, but this seems to be much more difficult for a foreign family than for a Chinese family. Adoption? Yes, that is a completely different situation. Anyhow, that's food for thought for sure, but I would definitely like to know a bit more about his health.
Finder's keeper is the saying, but alas that is not quite possible here.
The cardiologist - the medical test
Our little boy Loetje, has now received an official name in the orphanage. His official name is now "Shi Xue Song" which means, picked up under a snow laden pine tree. We will continue calling him Loet or Loetje because it's more familiar to us. Loet was very ill all of a sudden. When I arrived in the orphanage he was no longer there. He had been taken to the sick bay, which belongs to the orphanage. An intravenous infusion was attached to his forehead and he was breathing with the help of an oxygen mask. The nurses were not able to explain what exactly was going on, why he had such hard time breathing and why he was so very ill. They had already told me that he had a problem with his heart but without a proper examination they were not able to tell me what exactly the problem was.
The nurses told me that he was on a waiting list for an examination in the hospital by a cardiologist but that it would take at least 2 months before it was his turn. I found it very hard to take that this examination would take place so late, so we started to look for other possibilities. First we asked the orphanage to try and get an earlier appointment because he was in such bad shape. Because the doctor of the orphanage was not available at the moment they did not give us much of a chance, but we were allowed to call back in the afternoon. However they did not think that the doctor would be able to shorten the waiting time. The orphanage children would have to wait their turn, just like all other children.
Meanwhile, Susanne, another volunteer at the orphanage went to our doctor in the SOS clinic to ask if he knew the name of a good cardiologist. He actually did know a good one: Dr. Kong. Due to his reference we could visit him the same afternoon for a medical examination.
To do this we had to obtain permission from the orphanage first. Unfortunately he was not allowed to come with us as he had a fever. When we called Dr. Kong to cancel the appointment, he simply said, but then I will go there tonight and have a look at that little boy! We were very happy with that decision but we again had to seek permission. Happily we did, not for the same night but for the following day instead.
So that is how it continued. The cardiologist Dr. Kong came the next day. In the orphanage they did their utmost and they had even had an x-ray made. Dr. Kong turned out to be a very friendly and calm Chinese specialist who studied in Germany and spoke fluent English. Therefore the communication was very pleasant and uncomplicated. It could not be done better! During the examination Dr. Kong discovered a clear heart murmur, but Loetje would have to go to the clinic for a more detailed examination. Together with Dr. Kong we discussed the situation with the people in charge of the orphanage. The director was willing to give permission for further examinations but wanted a guarantee that we would finance eventual further treatment. It sounded somewhat crude, but I was quite happy with this answer. The orphanage does not have any money for expensive treatments for the orphans, so they did not want to submit the baby to any unnecessary stress if further treatment would not be possible. This gave me the impression that they really do take everything into consideration regarding the possibilities and the future of the orphans. After discussing the situation with our family and friends we decided to guarantee further treatment. We agreed that Loetje was allowed to undergo further examinations when he was strong enough again.
The volunteers and the work group
Since about 5 years around 8 foreign ex-pat wives are allowed into the orphanage to do voluntary work on Wednesdays. Because of this, we have a good relationship with the orphanage and a relationship has been established to the children, the staff and the management of the orphanage. After we took Loetje to them, we were able to talk about other things happening within the orphanage. The director told us that there were 10 other children who had heart problems. Due to the language barrier we had not realized this before. One of the 10 had died that same morning; another girl I knew well, Nanna, was at the same time in the sick bay and quite ill. In her case, I had been aware that she had a heart problem.
Because of all this we decided to start a work group, out of this group we started "Hopeful Hearts" to see if we could help out and actually do something to improve this specific situation. In the beginning we simply started with a few volunteers of which some were already working in the orphanage. (Note: a description of Hopeful Hearts will be published at the end of the diary)
Continuation medical examination
Monday November 25. We took Loetje to the hospital. We used our car as an ambulance and one of the nurses from the orphanage who speaks some English also went along. When we arrived at the hospital the cardiologist was waiting for us. The nurses of the hospital were also involved and we received preferential treatment as Loetje was allowed to be examined immediately. An echocardiogram was made very quickly and it turned out that Loetje had 2 holes in his heart. He was not in immediate danger, although a simple infection could turn into a life-threatening situation and should be avoided as much as possible. One of the holes would close by itself and the other one would have to be looked at in 6 months.
We were very happy for Loetje. However, our happiness was somewhat restricted because in the same orphanage we knew that Nanna, who was only one year old, was in a very bad condition. So, we decided to make an appointment for her as well, as we wanted to have all heart patients checked up and find out what exactly their conditions were. We have decided to simply arrange for financial support to continue treatment. We already discussed this with Dr. Kong the cardiologist, and he would like to help the children. He refused to accept money for the visit to the orphanage and said, 'if you foreigners are willing to help our children, what should I ask for'? Also for the visits to the hospital and the echo he did not want any money. We think this is too much. For new children and additional examinations we will have to pay, but we are already very happy with his support and help. The plan to have the other children examined has to be discussed with the orphanage and we need approval.
Meanwhile we have come up with a plan to start a collection in the International School and we also want to see if we can make a plan to write to several international companies. We would also like to work together with Amity (an international charity active in Nanjing as well). With the help of Amity we might be able to continue with Hopeful Hearts even when we move on and away from Nanjing. We made a plan how we could achieve and improve the situation for the children and the orphanage in general.
Loetje is slowly improving … a moment of consideration
I still visit the orphanage every day to cuddle Loetje. Yesterday the head of the orphanage has asked me to start coming less because my daily visits are against the rules. To continue the good relationship I will now come every other day. I keep an eye on Loetje and I am looking and contemplating how to improve and increase the help for him. At home we have discussed the possibility of adoption but we are not sure about this. We are no longer 20 and already take care of 4 children. However, I would like to take care of him and therefore I am trying to find out what the possibilities are. Maybe it is possible to take care of him during the day? Or in the weekends? In the orphanage they say that something like that is only possible after a period of 3 months. Those 3 months are needed to see if they can find the real parents. Because of this an advertisement is put into the newspaper with specifics about the baby and the place where the baby was found. So we have to wait and see.
The end of November
Loetje is ill again and again has an IV. It is quite sad to see such a huge needle in that tiny little head. It is quite normal in China to give medicine via an IV but I personally think it's a terrible sight. He is also drinking too little and is not gaining enough weight. The oxygen mask is also in use again, I do what I can and am allowed to do but its not enough.
Wednesday December 4. I came back from a visit to Loetje and was walking away from the building with Susanne, another volunteer when a police car stopped at the entrance of the orphanage. Four policemen came out of the car and had a little girl with them who looked about 3 years old. They showed her to us and made it clear that she was beautiful and that we should take her with us. We were very surprised and did not quite understand how this was possible. Someone came by who spoke a bit of English and translated for us. As it turned out the little girl had been abandoned in the city. She had a note with her, which said that her mother was very ill and her father would have to work very hard to pay for the operation of his wife and could therefore no longer care of the daughter. The father did not know if his wife would ever get better and so he was asking if someone would take care of his daughter. Yes, we were ready to take her with us but that is not allowed, not even in China. We felt powerless and very, very sad, but there was nothing we could do. This caused us to feel even stronger about doing something for the orphanage and all these children. There are more than 300 children in the orphanage and it is not possible to take them all home and take care of them, that is the reason the orphanage actually exists. All of this is very emotional and very confusing for me.
The middle of December
Loetje is ill again and again they are giving him the IV with medicine in that tiny little head. It is almost impossible not to catch a cold during the winter. Most children in the orphanage lay very close together and it's easy to pass on a cold or other infection.
We are leaving for the Netherlands in a few weeks. We have to take care of several matters and visit relatives. I have been asking for information via email from someone who has already adopted 2 children in China and what measures were necessary for the adoption. We decided to start the Dutch adoption procedure and to collect the necessary documents. When we left, I gave Loetje a tiny teddy bear with some of my perfume on it so he would not miss me so much. That was a very hard moment for me. Maybe it's good to create a bit of distance because it's not always very easy. In the orphanage they do not really understand why I keep on coming back to him. I cannot really explain it either. To always talk using your hands and feet is not easy. The caretakers feel as if I am watching them all the time and actually that is what I'm doing. Because I am there almost every day I have the chance to see how the orphanage is functioning on a daily basis. I sometimes make comments and that can be annoying for the people who work there. In their eyes I was spoiling Loetje, I was bringing him new clothes and also diapers. I also wanted him to be able to drink outside the normal feeding hours. The caretakers had a hard time with that as they have regulations and set times for feeding and other necessities.
The time back home cannot pass quickly enough. I really want to come back to China badly. In Rotterdam we went to the theatre and the performance was called Vliegeltje. A young girl was acting in it and her name was Loetje. That cannot be a coincidence…. That is fate.
On Monday, December 30 we were back in China. I could not wait to see him and immediately took my bike and biked to the orphanage. They were very surprised to see me in the orphanage. Loetje looked reasonably well. He had not grown much but I was very happy to see him. On Tuesday I was not allowed to visit but on Wednesday I could see him again.
Wednesday January 1st
When I arrived in the orphanage one of the caretakers came to me immediately. She started talking and making gestures; I noticed that Loetjes bed was empty. I asked if they had taken him to the sick bay again. She said no, he was no longer there. What did she mean? I looked up her words in my dictionary, he had died. I did not know what to do anymore and had to sit down. After that the tears came. They were very nice to me and tried to comfort me. They went and got the nurse who went to the hospital with us as she spoke a little English. It was all very strange and I felt very odd. She told me I should not be sad because Loetje had been very ill. I did not quite understand what had happened but I did understand that he had died early that morning. They did try to reanimate him but to no avail. What I did understand is that he choked on the milk, after they had fed him. I did not know what to do, I felt empty and very, very strange.
After half an hour, I took my bike and went home to share the news with the others. We were all very sad and my two daughters were crying too. My oldest daughter then asked if I was going to continue to try and help the other children. Yes, of course I will was my answer, I owe that to Loetje. He opened our eyes and made us aware of what is happening at the orphanage. I had to give his short life some deeper meaning and because of that Hopeful Hearts came into life.