Over the course of the last year, I have held seven orphaned babies in my arms. I have changed their diapers, fed them bottles and held them while they slept. The first baby I ever cared for was named Regina. She had the most beautiful eyes with the longest eyelashes I have ever seen on a child. She was smiley and cuddly with a calm demeanor. When I picked her up she wrapped her hands around my arm and nestled into my chest. She was so confused in this place with unfamiliar faces where her Mama was no where to be found. She closed her eyes and fell asleep almost immediately. I just held her in that hospital chair and fought with all my strength not to lose it in front of the staff. I was so angry at her mom. How on EARTH could you leave your child in a hospital? What kind of heartless human being would you have to be to abandon a helpless baby? I cried the entire way home.
Over the course of a few months, I spent hours every week just holding sleeping babies. They craved touch so badly. Almost instantaneously, each one would fall asleep shortly after I picked them up. The hospital staff thought I had some crazy gift - I knew it was just their deep need to feel love again. During those hours I had absolutely nothing to do except think, pray and try to make sense of this beautiful tragedy in my arms. What started out as a very condemning heart toward these birth moms, changed over time to one of love and compassion for them.
A few weeks ago, we had kind of had a dramatic morning involving my daughter. She picked a hot pepper from our garden and touched her face with the oils that were on her hands. She immediately had an intense reaction and a lot of pain. After a lot of screaming, terrified looks and a container of yogurt rubbed on her face, she finally calmed and fell peacefully asleep on the couch in our living room. As angry (and frightened) as I was a few minutes earlier because she had disobeyed and touched the pepper I told her not to touch - I was quickly filled with complete love and adoration of her as she lay there sleeping. She was mine and I loved her with this intense feeling that is absolutely unexplainable in human terms. I was suddenly reminded of the babies in the hospital and the birth Moms who left them there.
I could never imagine being so desperate that I would abandon my child in a hospital. I could never imagine a situation so destitute that I would think my babies could be cared for better by someone else but me. I could never imagine that my child would be better off without me. But for hundreds of thousands of Mamas around this world - that is their reality.
So often, people that hear what we are trying to do (Dominicans, Haitians and Americans alike) respond by saying something along the lines of "How selfish is that Mom?" "How horrible!" "I can't even imagine!" But let me tell you something; abandoning your child in a hospital is one of the least selfish things a mother could do.
Have you ever lived in such poverty that you eat pies made out of dirt? Have you ever watched one of your children die from starvation? Have you even been tricked into a life of prostitution that is dangerous, not only for you, but for your children too? Have you ever been addicted to cocaine because that's how your pimp keeps you under his control? Have you ever been sexually abused as a child to the point that, as an adult, you think you are worthless and can't climb out of a hole of depression? Chances are, most people reading this have never and will never experience any of these circumstances. But for a huge percentage of women here in the Dominican and in many countries around the world - that is their reality.
Do I think one day these women up and decided in order to live the life they want they need to kick their kids to the curb? Not in a million years. Do I think that some of them have fought and tried and prayed for a way to get out of the life they are living, but can't? Absolutely. Do I think that in one of the most unselfish moments of their lives they decide their children deserve better, even if that means giving them away? Oh my goodness, yes.
In a perfect world we wouldn't need to care for other mothers' children. But we know this is not a perfect world. And whether you know it or not, Mamas, we see you. We love you. We wish we could have found a way to support and love you and help you take care of your own children but we promise we won't let them be alone. We will take care of your children. We won't let you down. We won't let the toughest choice you have ever had to make, be made in vain.
Brave, brave, Mamas.