...As we prepare to see the pictures of our Ethiopian-born children for the first time, I cannot stop thinking about their first mother, their "Enat," with whom our children will have lived for the first and most formative period of their lives. What would it be like to be her, I wonder endlessly. But for a quirk of fate or the placement of God's hand, I, too, might have been born into her world of poverty, a world of little hope and less opportunity, a world where she has had to contemplate and then act upon a decision that will divide her own family, and provide another woman hers. Often when I think about her, I find myself holding my arms tightly around my chest, pressing as hard as I can, wanting to help her hold the pieces of herself together after committing to such an act of love for her children, such an act of loss for herself.
Despite the infertility that plagued Geoff and me in the years before and after the birth of our son, I have known the unexpected joy and elation of learning that I was pregnant. I know what it's like to fall to my knees in gratitude for that small being inside of my body. But what was it like for her to learn the news that she was pregnant with her firstborn, then her next? Did she, like I, respond with delight and joyful thanksgiving - or did she fear what kind of world she would bring them into? Did she, like I, wait with anticipation for the first time that she could feel them move inside of her, and breathe a contented sigh when it finally happened? Did she, too, wonder what their little faces would look like and imagine a future for them that surpassed her own prospects? Did she give birth to them in her home or, like me, was she able to get to a hospital and be cared for there? What was it like for her when she first took them into her arms? Surely her heart, like mine, grew in proportion to her love for them. Did she stroke their cheeks, hold them to her breast, count their fingers and toes? Did she birth other children - brothers and sisters to the ones we will divide from her by an ocean's width?
I wonder, too, about how she experienced her children's early months, early years - oh, that I could glimpse into the crystal ball of their lives for just a moment to see firsthand the tragedies and triumphs of life in their corner of the African Horn: what kind of babies were they? what kinds of things interested them as they became aware of their surroundings? how old were they when they took their first steps? what were their first words - mama or dada? did they have a dada?
Then I imagine what might have changed in her life to nudge her in the direction of carrying her two children to an orphanage. Did her husband die - did she even have a husband? Did she become ill? Could she/they not work? What caused her to be unable to provide for them? I wonder what calamity must have befallen her - what curse of humanity forced her and so many like her into making a choice that no mother should have to make? When she first thought about taking this drastic step, how did she react? If she birthed more than our two, how did she choose which amongst them she would keep with her and which she would send elsewhere for a different opportunity in life? How did she make this decision that would complete my family?
Finally, wanting to turn my head to avoid thinking about it, I brood about that day...the day she rose from her sleep to take irrevocable action. How did she manage to get up, knowing that this would be her last morning with her offspring? What did she do on that morning to prepare herself, to prepare them? What did she make them for breakfast before they set out on foot - did they have enough food to even make that possible? Did she tell them in advance what she had planned or did she wait until they arrived at the orphanage? How did she say good-bye? How did she, how could she, actually leave them? How could she leave them and remain intact? That act I am unable even to imagine. Knowing how much I wanted my son, waited for him, longed for him, treasure him, I think about what it must have taken on her part to leave her children with strangers, to somehow trust that her children would have better lives with others than the ones she could provide for them. In similar circumstances, would I love my child enough to make the same choice? I cannot touch there too closely, out of sorrow, out of respect.
I dream about her, that woman my children will grow up wondering about, perhaps longing for: dream of tears; of aching arms; of yearning and regret; of if only. I also dream about who my children resemble, whose smile they share, where they inherited their love of music or artistic ability. Will they inherit her hands or the features of a grandparent they will never know? I dream for them, too, ache for their loss.
Geoff and I hope, against all odds, that we will be able to meet this woman while we are in Ethiopia, and spend time with her. We would like to ask her the hundreds of questions that fill up six pages of my computer's memory - yes, about medical histories and other factual information, but also about the other things: what did she love to do with her children; what is her favourite colour; why did she choose these names for her children; what are their favourite foods; what does she wish for their lives; what is her happiest memory; and so very many more. We would like to be able to take pictures of her with her children...all so that we may be able one day to help our children answer some of the questions they will surely have about whose hands theirs bear resemblance to.
More than anything, I want to be able to thank her, as I do now silently, hoping she will hear my message, hoping that she will find comfort in it. No words, no token, will be enough to tell her how endlessly grateful I am for her gift - for the opportunity to mother her children when she is not able. I imagine, though, being able to take her hands in mine and thank her for the honour, the blessing, of raising children that I will introduce to the world as my own. I will promise her, before God, that I will love and nurture her children with my whole being; that they will be my children as well as hers; that we will not forget her; and that we will meet again, if not in life, then in eternity.
My Ethiopian-born children will call me mommy and grow under my care and love and teaching. But there will always be two women that they rightfully call mother...enat. I will not forget her gift, will never overlook her place in my children's hearts, and will honour her presence amongst us...her place on our family tree.
* Thanks for your comments, Michelle, Eileen, Dana. I debated whether or not to post this, because it feels fairly intense to me, but our children's Enat is someone who factors almost as much in my mind as our yet-to-be-identified Ethiopian-born children...so I decided to go ahead with it.
Dana, I'm glad that this touched a cord with you - it was your post on the yahoo forum a week ago or so that spurred me on to posting my own thoughts on the matter.
Michelle, I've been thinking about your two, knowing that they share a birthday with Matthew - I hope that, despite the sadness this day will inevitably bring to you and your children, that it's also a wonderful memory for them of their first birthday in Canada...I so hope that our children all meet some day!
* Thank you, too, for the comment about children also longing for their biological fathers. My post developed, quite simply, from my perspective as a mother, but I don't view the loss of one biological parent as being more profound than the other; I'm sorry that my post didn't acknowledge this. I would love to hear more about your son's journey, and how you are helping him deal with the loss of his ababa; I'm glad that he has you.
* Kate, thanks for your heartfelt comment, and for your wishes for our family to be all together soon. From your lips to God's ears!