Miriam’s Cup: A Ritual for Adoptive Mothers of Chinese Daughters

Only you—adoptive moms and adopted daughters—know what ritual feels right for your circumstances, but here’s one possibility for mothers. After the parsley (symbol of rebirth) is dipped in salty water (symbol of tears), raise Miriam’s Cup and recite the following:

Miriam’s Cup, brimming with water, reminds us that Moses has two mothers: Yocheved, his birth mother, and Bithia, his adoptive one, daughter of Pharoah. Moses’ sister Miriam understood that sometimes it takes tandem mothers to create and rear a child, that neither Yocheved nor Bithia could do it on her own; each needed the other.

And so when Moses was three months old, and Yocheved had woven a little ark and lined it with bitumen and nestled her child inside and pushed it off into the Nile — that self-same river in which Pharoah decreed “every Hebrew boy be drowned” — well, then, Miriam hid herself among thickets of papyrus, at a distance, the way Chinese birth mothers do when they place their babies inside lotus roots or celery leaves, or in a crowded market or on a doorstep, weeping until a stranger finds the package and exclaims, “Whose beautiful child?”

Indeed, Pharoah’s daughter exclaimed exactly this, and it was she who named the baby Moses, explaining, “I drew him out of water.” And Bithia adopted Moses, as Miriam — the prophetess — knew she would, and Bithia gave him life, and a feeling for his other mother, and she gave him privilege and a bicultural mission.

My daughter’s other mother, I thank you. I do not know your name. I do not know you. You do not know me. We will never know each other. But we needed each other to create and love and nurture this child. I pray that you have found comfort and blessing.

You abound in blessings, God, creator and nurturer of the universe, who sustains us with living water. May we, like the children of Israel leaving Egypt, be guarded and nursed and kept alive in the wilderness, and may You give us wisdom to understand that the journey itself holds the promise of redemption. AMEN.

A Letter To All The Lost Daughters Of China
by Anchee Min

I feel connected to you, orphans adopted from China. The Yangtze River runs in our blood…. We are all females, Chinese females, the kind an old saying describes as “grass born to be stepped on.”

Why is it the girls who are lost? Don’t take it personally. Please understand that Chinese women are cultivated to suffer. Giving away a daughter to someone, a childless sibling or a great aunt who is in need of caring, was considered a virtue. Girls were presents, companions, kitchen-hands, bed-mates, baby-making machines….. China is an agricultural country where hard labor is a means of survival—a man can carry 300 pounds of soil while a woman 150. See my point?

When I was five, my mother was pitied every time we went out. It was because she had three daughters. “Look, a string of crabs!”

…In 1995 I helped launch a movement called “Mothers, Save Your Daughters.” It started with a report…about a couple who murdered five of their infant daughters in the hope of gaining a son. The news shattered me. I believe that if only that couple had had education, the killing wouldn’t have happened. They were peasants and illiterate; they were not in touch with their consciences.

There are struggles of course. How can a mother not [struggle] after she carried you months in her body? You might be the result of her hesitation. She couldn’t do it; her heart opposed her and her hands shook. So she thought of an alternative. If a child is strong enough to endure, she might escape her fate.

Each of your birth mothers was not sure, but she wanted to do her best for you for the last time. She might have traveled as far as her money allowed her, to a richer area and a busier market where she would lay you down and hide you…. For her you will forever be a “broken arm hidden in her sleeve.”

Oh, how I wish your Chinese birth mothers could read this. They would be comforted, relieved, and released from nightmares that haunt them.

Excerpted from the introduction to The Lost Daughters of China: Adopted Girls, Their Journey to America and the Search for a Missing Past by Karin Evans. Republished with permission by Lilith Magazine.

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