There are some things you read and they wreck you. Forever. Sometime before we were matched with our first son, Titus, I read this story about a baby girl found abandoned at a park and the lengthy note left by her heart-wrenched parents. And it cut to the very core of my mama's heart. We had lived in China and knew in theory why children with special needs were abandoned. (See my post here for more information.) But for the first time, as I bawled through these heart-broken parents' letter, I caught a glimmer of the other side of abandonment. The thousands of tears, the cripplingly guilt, the agonizing pain. And, for the first time, a horrific question took root in my mind that to this day I cannot honestly answer: "If I were in this same situation, could I selflessly give up my precious child, knowing it was the only way to maybe save her life?"
I've thought about these grief-stricken parents so much these past two years, just as I think about our sons' birth parents. My mind cannot help but add flesh to these bare facts and my heart cannot help but to grieve for their profound loss. I've replayed their story a thousand times in my head, imagining the months, days, and moments leading up to them placing their precious daughter in a garden to be found.
Please understand, I am not trying in any way to embellish an orphan's story or create a romanticized account of what happened to this precious girl or any other children abandoned. We strive to only tell our sons the facts we know about their stories. Period. Also, I am in no what saying I know what happened or understand these or any other parents' heartache. I just think that if we can pull back the curtain and put ourselves in their story, our hearts will break with compassion and empathy.
Now, let me ask you one question as you read this fictional account based on a real note left: "How will you make sure that these and thousand of other heart-broken parents' sacrifice does not go in vain?" May your compassion turn into courage: to adopt. To support others who adopt. To give to organizations that help preserve family units. And above all, to pray, that families will be able to stay together, that children in orphanage will have forever families, and that hearts who have been broken by inexplicable loss will somehow be healed.
"It must be tonight," my husband softly whispered to me.
"Why tonight?" My eyes and heart pleaded.
"It's the warmest night of the week. We've talked about this. We've waited. The medicine is running low. It has to be tonight." I could see tears form in his eyes too.
I wanted to be angry with him. I wanted to yell at him, "No!" But I knew he was right. I knew he wanted to do what was best for our baby girl. Just like me.
"Let's let her sleep a little longer. We can have dinner, give her a bottle, and then..." I couldn't finish the sentence. I couldn't even let my mind finish the sentence, think about what tonight would hold for us all.
My husband nodded his head and went to make us some fried rice in our meager kitchen. I looked around at our small flat, one that used to have beautiful furniture, used to have life flowing from it. And now, there's just a small mattress for us, two wobbly chairs, a few knick-knacks reminding us of those former days...and her.
Our precious girl. As I glanced around the room and rested my gaze on her, I couldn't help but spilling my tears yet again. I had heard about this happening to others, but I never imagined a year ago when I received the joyous news I was pregnant, I would be here. We would be here.
Here. At the place where we would have to illegally abandon our daughter in hopes of giving her the life we cannot give. Though we've begged, borrowed, and sold everything to try.
I couldn't help it, I had to pick her up from her tiny basket and hold her close, my tears spilling down her shiny black hair. I let my mind go back to those glorious days, those carefree days.
Days when we would playfully bicker about if she was a boy or a girl. The first time I felt her little flutter inside me. The time when my sweet husband pressed his hand against my growing belly and felt her little kicks. And the day she made us a family. I remember seeing her fuzzy hair, tiny button nose, and round eyes staring at me the first time. She gripped my finger as those she would never let go. And I never wanted to let her go. Ever. She was perfect. Our little "Mei Ling," our little "beautiful soul."
Until that first time I saw her shaking. I didn't understand. She seemed so healthy, growing big and strong. But then she had another shaking episode a few days later and we took her to the hospital. The doctors said she had "epilepsy" and needed medicine so she would stop shaking. Expensive medicine.
We used all our savings to buy this medicine, but the shaking episodes continued. We begged our family to loan us some money to take her to a specialist in another city. He gave us some new medicine, but said it might not work. Still, we tried another doctor with a new medicine and had to sell off our furniture and everything valuable to pay for it. Even if this new medicine worked for her, there was no way we could pay for it month after month. Year after year.
I'll never forget the moment when my strong husband looked at me with tears in his eyes, the first time he'd shown emotion through this ordeal, and said, "You know, there's only one way to save her life."
I knew. The thought had slowly crept into my mind, but I rushed to slam the door on it each time.
Abandon her so that she could live. Abandon her so she could get the life-saving medicine she needed. Abandon her in hopes that she could have a better life.
We wanted her and whomever found her to know that we tried. We fought for her. And that we loved her with our very souls. Just like any parent. A few nights ago, as her medicine was running low, we wrote this letter:
"We have spent all that we have and all that we can get to buy medicine for our daughter. But it is not enough. We do not expect you or anyone else to understand why we must do this, but we hope our daughter will learn some day that we loved her as all parents love their child. But if she stays with us, she will die. We just want her to grow up and have a healthy life."
I heard the wok clang in the kitchen and it startled me back to reality. It made Mei Ling jump too and give a soft cry. I carefully snuggled her and took her into the kitchen to get her bottle ready. Her last bottle I will ever feed her.
"Dinner's ready," my husband's husky voice whispered. I wasn't hungry, but we took turns trying to shovel food in our churning stomachs and feeding our girl for the very last time. She looked up at us with those big, round eyes and smiled. She grasped our fingers and tried to put them in her little mouth. I could barely hold back my emotions as I watched my big, brave husband whisper in her tiny ear through tears, "Always remember that we love you. Always remember that we want what's best for you."
"It's getting dark, it's really time," his voice turned to seriousness again. We already had a plan, but putting it into action was the hardest thing I'll ever have to do. Harder than nine months of morning sickness and bulging belly and swollen ankles. Harder than a c-section and those endless nights of feedings and crying. And harder than all those doctor's appointments and scraping to find more and more money.
I changed her diaper and put her warmest clothes on, then quickly packed a spare outfit and diaper, some baby formula in a bottle, and the rest of her medicine in a little bag. I securely fastened it to her stroller. The stroller we picked out together and dreamed of talking long family walks with. The stroller we will now put her in for the last time. The stroller that will keep her safe during the night until she will be found at day break.
My husband gave her one last hug and handed her to me. I couldn't do it. I didn't want to go. But I didn't want to stay here either. My mama's heart had to see her for the last time. I had to know she was put somewhere safe. It had to be me. And so, I had to go.
I placed her every so gently, eyes wide open, in the stroller, and tucked blankets around her little body. I put her little pink hat on and tried to say in my most normal voice, "Let's go for a walk." Maybe the neighbors would buy my calm demeanor. I was crumbling on the inside, but for her sake, for our sakes, I must look put together on the outside. My husband kissed my forehead and then hers. "Have a good walk" he said steadily and opened the door.
With the deepest breath and most ponding heart, I pushed that little stroller out of our home for the last time. I couldn't look back or I'd melt in a puddle of tears. Sweet Mei Ling squirmed a bit with excitement as we waited for the elevator. Walks are her favorite. Were her favorite.
We headed out of our apartment building, past the bustling courtyard, and to the bus stop. The plan was for me to take an hour bus ride to the most popular park in our city, far away from our neighbors and anyone who would recognize Mei Ling. I was lucky to get a seat on the bus and pulled Mei Ling out of the stroller once more. I whispered softly in her ear, cooing to her like I always did. I sang her favorite songs, the ones that would make her eyes light up and her little legs kick. And all of the sudden, life for a hour was normal, beautiful, delightful. I soaked in every second, every smile, every kiss on her little cheek.
And then the bus stopped. It was the end of the line and the end of my journey as a mother. And the end of Mei Ling's life as I know it. I oh so gently kissed her cheek for the final time, placed her in that stroller, tucked the blankets all around little body, and we walked into that park. Her eyes were starting to get droopy and my eyes were starting to get teary, though I bit my lip and as hard as I could to keep that dam from breaking. I located the tree that we agreed upon, that my husband checked a few days ago was out of sight from any cameras. Since the sun was going down, the park's visitors were heading home. I walked in circles a few more times, waiting for those precious eyes to close for one last time. With no one in sight, I dug into my reservoir of courage I had left and pushed the stroller under the tree. I thought she might wake when the rocking stopped, but she was snuggled in for the night.
And I turned around and walked away.
Away from the joy and pain and happiness and sorrow this bundle had brought us.
Away from from all our dreams and hopes.
Away from the hardest fight of my life.
Away from our "beautiful soul."