I Had to Give Her Back
I’ll never forget the way she felt in my arms. The mother handed her to me, and the baby lay limp against my shoulder, her dark hair was soft and wispy against my neck. She was so tiny.
The mom sat down in a nearby chair, and I motioned to give her daughter back, but she smiled and waved her hands in a way to say for me to keep holding her little one. I walked around the front of the room, trying to use my broken language phrases to greet and thank everyone for welcoming us to their church service. I glanced up at the mother, and I could tell that she was talking about me with her four other daughters who were waving and smiling at me.
I looked down, and saw that the baby had the longest lashes and biggest brown eyes I had ever seen. She was the little one I had heard so much about, the youngest of six children. My Indian friend Joy knew them, and had told me the news when she was born. The parents were from a lower caste, illiterate, and unable to provide for the children they already had – two of them living in a local orphanage. The girls still saw their parents occasionally, but had been given up to have a chance at a better life.
When I arrived in India only a few days before, I had learned something that shattered my heart. Because the parents were unable to provide for their children, this mother was trying to sell her baby – the baby I was now holding.
I looked again at the baby’s mother, and I was puzzled by the look in her eyes. I walked over, and tried to hand give her back. She motioned for me to keep holding her baby, and spoke rapidly to me. My friend came over to help translate, and that’s when I learned why the mother had given me her baby to hold.
“She wants you to take the baby home with you. She wants you to give her a better life,” my friend explained. I looked again at the mother, and that’s when I saw it. What her eyes were saying did not need translating.
Take her. Love her. Please.
Heart to heart, mommy to mommy, the blinders fell away from my eyes. I saw that she was doing the very best she could for her family. She loved her family so much that she was willing to do what she had to do to provide for them – even if that meant selling one child to provide for the others, or giving her to a stranger in hopes that she one would have a better life with me in America.
I wished with all my heart that I could take this baby girl home with me. I had three growing boys waiting for me back in Kansas, and they have always prayed for a baby sister, my husband and I had wanted to give them a baby sister, but I knew I had to give her back.
I asked Joy to explain to the mother that I couldn’t legally do as she asked. I nuzzled the baby’s soft head one more time, and handed her back to her mother. “I’m so sorry,” I said in English as I turned to go, willing myself not to cry – not just yet.
Our group was rushed out of the church and to the waiting car to take us back to where we were staying. I somehow managed to hold it together until I was alone in my room…and then I broke. I called my husband and cried. He tried to comfort me over the phone, but I couldn’t shake the memory of the mother’s pleading eyes and the way the baby had felt in my arms.
I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but it is actually a far too common story. Mothers who live in the slums and villages we visit in Kenya are sometimes faced with the agonizing choice of watching their children starve, or trafficking one of the children to save the rest of the family.
We recently heard about another Indian mother who sold her baby, a single mother who could not provide for her children, only to change her mind the next day. She went looking for the people who bought her child, wanting to give back the money, but there was no trace of them or her baby. They had vanished, and she was heartbroken.
On our travels in 2016, I also met an amazing woman named Christine. She started a dried fish stand outside her house in rural Kenya. The look of pride and accomplishment on her face and in how she carried herself was evident. She had something deep inside that the other women were missing. She was providing for her family, and she had HOPE.
SheHopes is committed to providing women with job training and helping girls stay in school. We currently have sewing classes taking place in India, where women come five days a week to learn so they can stand on their own, and we’re making plans for more job training classes. We want to give women and girls around the world the tools and opportunities to provide for themselves financially. Sometimes hope looks like a sewing machine, a fish stand, and knowing that you are not alone.
I’ll never forget how that precious baby girl felt in my arms. I had to give her back, but my wish for for that precious baby girl is that she will never have to know a world without hope.
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