A Mother’s Love
In Rwanda, we are surrounded by adoptive families (yay!) and ministries that support orphans here in Rwanda. Truly, one of the big reasons we wanted to come to Africa was to get a better picture of this orphan crisis we hear so much about in America.
I never referred to this article when it came out, but our story was highlighted in the NY Times back in June.
I was honored to be a part of this article on such an important topic and in such a widely-read publication. Also, I’m relieved that the one (and probably only) time I’m quoted in the NY Times, it doesn’t involve me being mugged or an article about eating one’s weight in chocolate covered pretzels.
Last week I was humbled to go with a mother as she placed her 11 year old daughter at a boarding school for children with special needs. I lack the eloquence to describe this bittersweet moment, but it reminded me of so many conversations I’ve had (with myself and others) about birthmothers. Spend enough time in the adoption world, and the issue of birthmoms relinquishing their kids will come up.
Since our experience, I’ve openly stated that if we ever adopted internationally again (and I hope we do!), we would not adopt a child with a living parent. While legal to do so, the standard for immigration in the US is that if there’s a sole surviving parent, the parent must be destitute and unable to provide for the child. This is rarely, if ever, a reason to adopt a child.
When I was with this mother taking her child to boarding school, I saw first hand the reasons why I couldn’t adopt a child with a living mother.
First, this mother was relying solely on word of mouth from other people in the community and her daughter’s counselors in deciding to take her child to this boarding school. She doesn’t have the ability to do countless hours of research on schools to find the best situation for her daughter. There aren’t many schools to choose from, and her means and circumstances don’t allow her to make the inquiries we are used to in the developed world. She has to go on trust. In this case, I believe she was given trustworthy advice.
A mother who takes her child to an orphanage does the same. She hears things in the community or maybe someone encourages her to do so. In some cases, it’s likely the right decision and gives the child a more stable environment with his or her basic needs being met. In some cases, she may understand that her child is now an “orphan” according to international standards and looked upon as a child needing a family. But how could I, as an adoptive parent, ever know for sure what this mother was thinking at this drop off? How could I be sure that those who she trusted in making the decision were trustworthy? Add to it the fact that, in our case (and many many like it), the orphanage director who was counseling mothers was making money off of referrals, and there’s no possible way that this mother had a trustworthy and objective counselor. If the orphanage has something to gain by a birthmom placing her kids with them or placing them for adoption, you can be 100% sure that any adoption would be tainted with corruption and coercion.
The second observation I made was when the school staff was informing the mother about her visitation rights. It reminded me of comments I’ve heard from adoptive parents (and things that I previously thought as well). I often here well-intentioned adoptive parents justify adopting a child with living parents because if the parents were truly loving they wouldn’t take them to an orphanage and then not visit them.
I have no doubt in my mind that this mother I met loves her daughter. I watched her wash her child’s feet before we left, nervously enter the facility, and hand the director her daughter’s blanket – her one solitary possession. But I also can’t imagine the challenge it will be for her to visit. Between finding someone to care for her other children, walking to the bus, waiting for the bus, paying for the bus, and walking up the mountain the rest of the way, the challenge overwhelms me. If she doesn’t visit, it’s not for lack of desire or love.
Similarly, there’s no doubt that most mothers who place their children in an orphanage do it as a loving gesture – an attempt to provide a better life (at least by some standards). Many do so with the intent of returning, but returning and visiting isn’t as easy as hopping in the car and driving over. In the case of our adoption, the birthparents were a plane ride away on the other side of the country, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t long to see their children, and it also doesn’t necessarily mean that they no longer wanted to be the children’s parents.
I came to Rwanda to see this side of things. It’s easy when we sit in our big homes in our cozy neighborhoods for us to judge the woman who leaves her child with strangers. It’s something that almost never happens in the developing world. Now that I’ve seen, I can start to understand a small piece of the life of a parent who struggles to care for her children. I write this to memorialize the love of mothers for their children and to honor the love and trust that mothers have when they place their children in other people’s hands. I want the world to know that an African mother loves her babies, just as mine loves me. We need to do more for her so she can love them in her own home.
Originally published by Amanda Bennett August 27, 2013.