What is the life of an orphan like?
The life of an orphan in Eastern Europe, more often than not, goes something like this…
She is born, beautiful, pink, and tiny. She coos, cries, and likes to be close to her mommy. But she has Down’s Syndrome. The doctor tells mom and dad that the best place for her is in an institution, where doctors and nurses can appropriately care for the immense and expensive needs of this flawed child. The mother wants to keep her baby, but the doctor continues to discourage her, filling her mind with thoughts of her child being bed ridden, and the burden of being in a wheel chair all while needing expensive medications and doctors visits, not to mention the shame she will bring to their family. Her parents relinquish their rights, and she is sent to live in a cold and drafty orphanage.
She is only a week old, yet she lays in her crib alone all day and all night. Her hands are the only comfort she has, so she keeps them close to her face and chews on them when she needs to feel safe. She is changed one or twice a day in the crib. She is so uncomfortable lying in a soiled diaper for so long all the time that her skin burns, but they never put any medicine on her. She gets a sponge bath every once in a while… in her crib. She is fed, while laying flat on her back… in her crib. She chokes and aspirates her cabbage water formula into her lungs, but nobody picks her up to pat her back. She continues to eat from her bottle, but since the nurses have cut the end of the nipple on the bottle off for faster feeding, she continues to choke. She chokes during every feeding. She is lucky that she is able to clear her lungs herself. Nobody ever picks her up. She is never held or rocked or sung to or comforted. Her head hurts, she is too little to roll herself over, and her muscles are too weak, so her head is flattening on the back. Her body aches from always being in one position. She often cries for hours sometimes in hopes that someone will come and help her or hold her. She is desperate to feel the warmth of someones arms holding her close. But no one ever comes. She wonders if her mommy will ever hold her again. What happened to all the promises of medical care the doctor was talking about? The doctor was lying. There is barely any medical care here. Her orphanage is one of the worst ones.
She was finally listed on an adoption site! Maybe, just maybe, she will be chosen. So many have scrolled past her listing, watching her precious round face and big brown eyes go right by. She is left to disappear into the sea of “lost children”. She lays in her crib and watches as a few other children around her are taken “home” with a new mom and dad. Why won’t anyone come for me?
She is now 3 years old.
She spends her days exactly the same way she always has, in her crib, 24 hours a day. Some foreign aid workers came to her orphanage and gave her a toy which hangs on the side of her crib. This toy is all she has, and she loves it! Her hands are raw and sore. She has chewed on them for comfort and entertainment since she was a baby, and now they are close to infection, they are so red and raw. But it doesn’t matter. She continues to chew. This new toy helps take her mind off her boredom and gives her hands some healing time. She cannot sit up on her own because her muscles are too weak. She is barely 11 pounds, a product of the very nutrient-deficient formula. She does not know any other food besides cabbage water formula. She hates it. It’s sour and chunky and gross. But it’s the only food she ever gets, so she eats it anyway. The nurses still feed her while laying flat on her back. The bottle nipple hole is still too big and she still chokes. She no longer cries, ever. She has lost all hope than anyone will ever really hear her. No one has ever come for her. She does not know how to use a toilet. She has never seen one. They give her 1 diaper change every 24 hours. Her skin still burns from her soiled diaper. They still never put any medicine on it to soothe her irritated skin. The nurses say she is to be transferred soon…
She just had her 5th birthday. Alone. She is 9.5 pounds.
She amazingly has survived her first year inside the adult mental institution. But barely. She is one of the less than 10% that make it the first year. Her Down Syndrome diagnosis makes it a miracle that she survived this long. They took her only toy away from her when she was transferred. She has nothing… again. The windows in this prison are too high up for her to be able to see what outside looks like, so all she has to look at is the haunting environment around her which she calls “home” . The bars, the suffering, the darkness. She wishes she could see outside. She remembers seeing it once, when they transferred her to this place. It was like nothing she had ever seen before, it was very bright, but it was new, and she liked it.
Her precious, thin little face has bruises and cuts and scars all over it, and all her hair is shaved off. She wants to feel something besides the numb that consumes her. So she lays on her side and bangs her head against her crib bars. She can’t even feel it anymore. Her hands are raw once again. She chews all day and most of the night. She doesn’t get sponge baths anymore. Her skin itches from the filth. She used to love getting her bath because someone was with her, touching her, looking at her, acknowledging her. But that is gone. She lays awake at night, pitch black dark all around her, afraid by all the sounds she hears. People screaming and moaning. The child in the next crib over is choking for breath. His muscles are atrophied, and he can’t move, so he, in a way, suffocates as he lays there. Her life in this dark, cold, scary place is fading. She is growing weaker by the day, and nobody cares.
She, this little girl with no name, has been sentenced to a life inside a tiny crib where she will never be allowed out for any reason. She will never get to celebrate a birthday. She will not ever be loved, hugged, sung to, cuddled, smiled at, played with, tickled, given toys, or spoken to. She will never know what ice cream tastes like. She won’t ever run and play or explore the world outside. She will barely be fed and will know only pain, suffering and distress. She has since suffered a great deal of neglect and inhumane treatment that comes with living in such an awful place. A mental asylum is a scary place for a little child to be. She is not crazy, and she doesn’t have schizophrenia or some other mental issue that may make her a danger to herself or others. Her only crime was to be born into a society which labels her imperfect (like we all are!). She has medical needs, but don’t we all? Stories like hers are not rare. They are not uncommon but, in fact, happen to thousands of children in over 25 countries all over the world. Can you imagine how her life could have been different if her parents were given the chance, the education, and the encouragement needed to raise her themselves? Or how different her life would be if she were adopted by a loving and good family?
Thousands of orphaned children in Eastern Europe are regularly transferred to mental institutions between age 4 and 6 where more than 80% die in the first year. That number goes up to a staggering 90% or more if the child has Down Syndrome! Kids do not even need to be mentally ill to be sent to such a place. Any disability makes a child an outcast in this part of the world. Like in my story above, many, many of these orphanages and baby houses are poor, receive little aid, and the children are malnourished and underweight. That is just where they start out. It gets even worse at the mental institutions.
Children in institutions (other than in Eastern Europe) all over the world may not experience this exact scenario. However, each and every child growing up in an orphanage will most likely live lives filled with loneliness, abuse, neglect, starvation, and sadness. They will all share the similarity of a life without love. A life without freedom. A life without a chance to be who God created them to be. They may never know what it is to giggle out of pure joy or get hugs and kisses from a mom and dad who loves them. They will never get the chance to just be kids. Many of them will die alone and scared.
This is where God has recently placed my heart: to advocate for these kids, to do my best to bring about awareness, and to strive for change in the systems which choose to treat these children in such an inhumane way. I need the support of all my family and friends to make this successful! So when you see a post about a child in need, step out in faith with me and help get these kids stories out there! And please, don’t underestimate the power of prayer!
(The photos of children pictured are as examples,and the scenario above was written by me, not about a specific child)