N was the youngest of three sisters that I fell in love with during the course of our family tracing and reunification project. One of the very last projects post-tsunami.
N and her sisters were Burmese. So they were illegal. undocumented. marginalized. invisible. They did not receive the services they should have as the Thai families were assessed and offered government help immediately after the tsunami.
Three years ago, N's mom was just 22 years old. Her oldest daughter was 7.
Her husband an alcoholic.
N's mom was wasting away.
She did not have the option to give her child up. I don't think it would have even crossed her mind. She held N constantly-I never saw the two apart.
Baby N slipped through the cracks and died without any fanfare just a week after our project wrapped and I went home to the States. I was told that mom took her two girls and returned to her family in Burma which was the plan we had helped her to make prior to leaving.
I spent many hours over the course of many weeks in really crappy public hospital waiting rooms with that little family of women. Mom never spoke one word aloud. She whispered yes or no to the translator. She just sat and stared straight ahead. Her eyes were completely empty. I remember that she carried baby N to the squat toilet with her - she never would put her down or hand her over for a break. She was clearly exhausted.
There were a few times when we thought mom and baby had rallied but in the end, when I last saw them in another hospital waiting room (no hospital would actually admit them since they are undocumented migrants), N had wasted away to just 3 pounds at 6 months old. She slipped. She was gone. Is it odd to say that she was at her most beautiful just before the end? She was breathtaking and perfect.
Is this what women of the world are reduced to? Child marriage. Abusive husbands. Zero power. Zero ability to ask for help. Voiceless. Disease ridden. Ashamed. Carrying their dying babies until their last minutes on earth?
We talk about these stories from Africa but I promise you this is a world-wide epidemic. The female burden. I wonder if it is ethical to share these pictures on a public blog? But then I think about how this mother's story would have never been told if I weren't writing it today. I probably own the only photos of baby N ever taken. She represents millions upon millions of others.
I have no answer other than this: we need to recognize the women of the world. We need to stand in solidarity. We who have power and resources need to offer women options that work in many areas of their lives. We have to offer more than adoption.
I say this with all the transparency of a future adoptive parent. I want a child. But I do not want to take a child from her mother's arms. I just don't. N was beloved. N died. I cannot find a way to bridge that gap and make everything right if only I could have just taken her for my own.
Is it courageous that some women choose to give up their children? Yes. Can I stand to hear stories of women begging foreigners to take their babies because they can't fathom that anyone will help them keep the children alive? No. We talk a lot about choice in adoption but the tragedy is that there are not nearly enough choices offered to most mothers in this world.
So. What now? I feel convicted by my own story. Baby N reminded me of a piece of humanity I have let slip a little in this endless wait.
I don't want baby less. But I so want every mother to have the right to keep, nourish, sustain, and love her own child. That should just be a basic human right.