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I was touched by the response to a previous article of mine where I discussed my adoption from Romania back in 1991.
I came across a documentary from 2004. From The History Channel: Turning points in history Series Ceaușescu’s Kids.
I advise you that it does contain images that some viewers may find distressing. It’s also 45 minutes long, so I would advise watching through wifi.
This documentary briefly follows the history of Ceaușescu’s child policies with testimonials from orphanage doctors, parents of children put up for adoption and of a Canadian woman who went out to help. October 1 1966 saw Decree 7.70 come in to force, outlawing abortions and contraception. Only after the fourth child can a woman be considered for an abortion. This law was enforced by doctors who were given the nickname ‘The Menstrual Police’. They would check and monitor the female workers to see who was pregnant and to ensure the pregnancy was not stopped.
A doctor who was a medical student at the time described how she saw cases where women were not allowed to receive first aid until the District Attorney had come down and interrogated them to find out if they had induced or had help getting an abortion.
Ceaușescu went on to create the image of ‘Father of the Nation’ through propaganda he would strengthen this image, however the children that were used in these films and events would be children of party officials and be disinfected so as not to give the President an illness.
Childbirth was regarded as a show of loyalty to the state. Initially between 1966 -67 the birth rate doubled, with the average number of children per family reaching four, however Romania hides a dark secret. 20% of newborns die, the highest rate in Europe.
Under Ceaușescu, disabilities did not exist. So when a baby was born with visible disabilities parents were encouraged to leave them in institutions or they were told by the doctors that the child had died and then they were sent to the institutions – these would be in remote parts of the country.
The documentary explores the repetitive things the children did, in comparison to an animal pacing up and down in its cage. I myself have a visible sign of institutionalisation, one that has been visible throughout my childhood and comes now and then in early adulthood. My head used to sway from side to side, uncontrollably and unnoticeable to myself. It is a semi-permanent reminder of my past – a past I can’t remember.
In 1968, Ceaușescu’s popularity with the West soars and he is seen as a facilitator of peace between Israel and Palestine, and China and the USA. Ceaușescu’s main focus is on bringing down the national debt. Every citizen must pay their share of the debt. The west praises Ceaușescu for his fiscal responsibility yet his citizens are starving, cold during the winters and with no electricity as Romania sells everything it produces.
By 1983 the workforce starts to decline, the birth rate falls below the level that it was at when Ceaușescu took office. Stricter rules are enforced. Anyone over the age of 25 who is childless, regardless of marital status, is taxed. Doctors are fined for every infant that dies in their care. The abortion rate increases to 60% – all of them illegal, which forces another change in law. Decree 4.11 states only women over 45 and with at least 5 children are to be considered for an abortion. Doctors who induce and women who have abortions face trial and prison sentences.
It is a bit of irony that I myself am pro-choice, backing a freedom that was denied to my birth mother with the anti-abortion policies in place. This may well be the only reason I am here today. It’s shocking to think that I may owe Ceaușescu a debt, even though it is because of him that I faced a rough start in life. Had the Berlin wall not come down, had Ceaușescu been allowed to stay in power, admired by the West as he was, things could have been so different.
In my previous article I mentioned that I felt I had to ‘earn the right to be here’. This shocked some close to me. In explaining it I compared it to a soldier who has survived a conflict where they lost many friends. It is not unique for them to feel a sense of guilt about it. I too carry a similar guilt. I don’t think I will ever shake it off. Knowing my past and the history of Romania I do find it hard at times. It was purely by chance that I was picked. I didn’t fight to be picked. I was too weak to do anything.
Romania can and has been compared to that of a baby market for the West. In a way I can understand this comparison. With all the good intentions the prospective parents had, money was made out of these adoptions. It was a sign of a desperate nation. As one woman put it ‘Only poor nations sell their children’.