He was abandoned at the gate of the orphanage. It couldn’t have been in plain daylight. The dusk in the air was most likely the rough projection of the dark and light battles on her inside. Battles of love and shame, fear and guilt hurried her hands like the wind hurries the moon away. They had to do it quickly, silently, and carefully. To abandon your helpless, small, newborn kin is illegal and punishable with prison and loss of public reputation.
She was a mother whose soft arms and cajoling eyes struggled to tell her heart to let him go. But let him go she must! He wasn’t what they hoped for in a son. He wasn’t fitting their paradigm and life trajectories. And so, he must go. Away from her kin. Away from her sight and presence. Deep into a place where street eyes don’t go and neighborhood bodies rarely walk. A place that boards orphans and no one knows their real name. A place where silent cries make no real commotion and small breaths warm no one’s cheeks anymore.
I think I know his mother. Or at least some of her. I know she was scared. Scared of her own soul reminding her with every birthday of the small, little boy with missing fingers and an extra toe. Ashamed of her mind’s million reasons why he was not good enough, strong enough, perfect enough, deserving enough of life with her. Broken at the future that will always have his shadow but never his voice. Pained at the ruthless circumstances that ruled her out, killed her hope, darkened her predictions, poisoned her love for him. Weak in the face of pressuring mobs and heartless laws.
And yet, she was courageous enough to slip her baby by death’s knives and sail him down her own river of cemented state orphanage. It wasn’t a Mosaic casket she laid her boy in, but a 2.5 square meters Asian box, built by a civilized society at the gates of a stern, cold world. She was determined to pass him well from her warm, tired bosom to the government’s stiff premises. Compassionate to let her feelings tie him tight in a blanket, with a red note, and the smell of a home on his skin. And hopeful. She must have silently hoped that humanity will not completely abandon him and that a family will gather him into arms of love and compassion. Hopeful that her inner cries would comfort his. Hopeful that his breath would warm someone else’s cheeks.
Motherhood doesn’t stop when the baby leaves our arms or wombs. Once a mother, always a mother. We can hide our eyes or stiffen our hearts: but the baby’s ties tangle us forever. That’s perhaps how I know that, though she abandoned him then, she won’t stop thinking of him today. She took him away from her breath, but his smell still warms her check—reminiscent breezes of her baby’s lips. She separated him from her family but he is still connected to her memories.
Today, this boy is in our family. Adoption is the other way of birthing a child—the undoing of abandonment, the pulling in of the outcast, the family-ing of the parentless, the gathering of the rejected, the loving of the love-less, the connecting with the disconnected. Adoption restores what abandonment rejected. It enriches what rejection depleted. It loves what pain broke down.
My motherhood sees her motherhood. I look at my boy and I see a fleeting shadow of her in him. She remains close to him if only in her dreams. My boy is dressed in layered motherhood and he doesn’t even know it.
I know my motherhood is richer and fuller because she chose to mother him first. I benefit from her hard choice to let her son live. I gained what she lost. I love what she rejected. I mother what she abandoned. I live with the one she parted with. I get to hold his little frame and hear his beautiful giggles. His lips kiss my cheeks and his words whisper sweet loves to me. I hold his hands with missing fingers and see God’s wonderful creation. I am grateful to his first mother who chose life for him in the dusk of an Asian street, at the gate of a cold orphanage, in the struggles of her conflicted, broken heart.