When someone gives birth to a baby boy, you wouldn’t say “can we switch babies?” Unless, of course, you happened to be neighbors to my Chinese husband’s family.
As the third son in the family, John dashed his mother’s hopes of finally giving birth to a girl. Their neighbors had the opposite problem — they had just birthed another girl, the third in their family. So the neighbors came to John’s parents, with a different kind of indecent proposal.
The way my mother-in-law and father-in-law tell it, there was no question what they would do. “He’s our son, we could never give him away,” my mother-in-law declared emphatically at lunch one day, as my father-in-law nodded his head, adding how the neighbors “had a crazy idea.”
But what about the neighbors themselves? I never got a chance to talk to them, but I have to believe they were simply anxious to get a son. After all, according to China’s longstanding Confucian values, it’s the son who must care for the parents. To the traditional Chinese, not having a son is like not getting a social security package. Plus, it’s just unfilial — sad, but true.
While I’m glad my in-laws never traded John away, I wonder what became of the neighbors. Did they learn to embrace their daughters as triple the happiness? Would they allow their daughters to care for them, as sons?
It’s hard to say. Even today, in my husband’s rural hometown, families may have a second child only if their first is a girl. The underlying message — that no one should have to “make due” with one girl — just doesn’t jive with my feminist sensibilities.
Chairman Mao once said that women hold up half the sky. But three young girls, young precious lives, couldn’t hold up a certain family from imagining the possibility of swapping their infant girl for the infant boy that would grow up to be my Chinese husband.
Have you ever heard about families going to great, often outlandish, lengths, just to get a boy?