A mother bids farewell to her child: “Be happy, okay?”
The child was a day old.
It couldn’t be helped. Or maybe it could have been. There were various reasons why “Rie” (a pseudonym) felt she couldn’t raise her newborn daughter. They parted company at a venue called Konotori no Yurikago (Storks’ Cradle), in a corner of Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto. It’s a “baby hatch,” where mothers can leave – anonymously –their infants, and be more or less assured that quality care will be arranged.
Journalist Nobuyo Morimoto, who wrote a book on the subject, surveys cases and discusses the relevant issues for Josei Seven (July 16).
Storks’ Cradle opened in 2007. As of this past March it had received altogether 155 infants – most less than a month old but a few (eight as of December 2019) more than a year old.
Rie’s daughter would now be 10. Rie seems eager to talk. She arrives at her rendezvous with Morimoto accompanied by two nursery-school-age sons – who may one day be surprised to learn they have an older sister. The two boys are a handful. Morimoto smiles. She understands. She has two boys herself.
Rie had been married five years. She’d wanted children but had been unable to conceive. Then, separated from her husband, living with her mother, she suddenly found herself pregnant. At first she was happy. Then anxiety set in. The child was not her husband’s. She didn’t know what to do.
Saying nothing to her mother or anyone else, she simply let things take their course. She hid her swelling belly under baggy clothes. She consulted no doctors. “I’ll raise the child,” she thought; but as her term drew near, practical difficulties intervened. Money was one, shame another.
A TV program she saw featured Konotori no Yurikago. Here was a new possibility. She would keep it in mind. Meanwhile, she made up her mind to give birth at home, unassisted. It’s what women did in the old days. Was she less tough than they?
The baby was born at 1 p.m. in the bathroom of her mother’s house. The pain was terrible, but she bore it. The anxiety was worse. What now? What of the child’s future? She had no idea. She was at sea. She couldn’t think.
Her mother came home from work at 3 p.m. “Wait,” she said – and left the house, returning shortly afterwards with diapers, baby formula and other necessities. “I had a feeling all along,” said the older woman. “I kept wondering, ‘When is she going to tell me?’”
The next day they drove (we’re not told from where) to Jikei Hospital. “Be happy, okay?” Rie turned to leave. “Wait.” She was surprised. She hadn’t expected to be confronted by hospital staff.
She needn’t provide any information she didn’t want to, she was told – but if she didn’t, she might regret it later. Think it over, the staffers said. Some time in the future she might want to make contact; or the child might want to make contact with her.
Morimoto, in her Josei Seven report, mentions a boy in his early teens who was similarly left at the baby hatch. He was adopted into a loving family, and is happy and grateful – “but I do want to know my real parents,” he says. “What was my father like? What was my mother like?” It’s tormenting to have no idea.
The right to know is universally recognized, and everything possible is done to fulfill it – but there are risks, experts point out. Unforeseeable emotional wrenches aside, there is also the fact that some parents may have been potential child abusers. Sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone.
Rie knows only this about her daughter’s fate: She was adopted at six months by one family, and then later by another one, where she is now growing up apparently happily, “one of the family.”
Does Rie want to see her? “Of course,” she says, “I feel I do, but when I think of her relationship with her adoptive family… I don’t know… maybe I shouldn’t.”
But a time may come when she will change her mind. Or maybe the child will seek her out. “If she wants to meet me – yes, I’d want to meet her. If she wants to meet me…”© Japan Today