I thought of her the morning I first held my daughter, but I didn't yet know her name. Cradling new, beautiful, perfect life in my arms, I rejoice. Yet in that moment I remember: the sweet often has the bitter, and I think about the babies born that day who would not remain in their mothers' arms. Faceless and nameless, yet no less precious than my sweet Cora Eve.
Vivian... that is the baby's name. Cora's birthday-sister.
Her mother is a sister of sorts to me… Labor bore down on her at the same time it bore down on me, and life's first breath seared both baby's lungs for the first time on that cold January morning. For nine months, their lives formed in much the same way. Darkness, warmth, a mother's heart beating close. But on that day - the 5th of January - these two little girls' lives took very different turns.
I do not know how a tragedy begins, but I do know it must have started in love. As my body swelled and belly fluttered, so did hers. The heaving sickness, the aching back, the feeling that your body is no longer your own… This journey to life is not completed by accident. Life is far too easy to end, so when Vivian gulped air for the first time it must mean she was birthed in love. And for nine short days, maybe she remained there.
I want to know the mother's story. Beyond the hard cold facts of "Baby girl born January 5th. Abandoned at a store on January 14th." So much lies between those dates - a whole lifetime, really. The only life this mother knew with her daughter. Nine short days. I know how I soaked in every detail of my baby in those same days; memorizing Cora in the darkness of early morning feedings - the shape of her nose, the curve of her toes, and the way she nestled into my chest as she slept. I can still hear the sighs and groans; the little snores of a fresh babe recovering from the work of being born.
Did she have those moments, too? Quiet moments in her room, alone with her baby? Did she imagine a future for her little girl? Was it different than the one they both face now? In those early days, did she know that a painful separation was only days ahead? And baby Vivian… did she rest in the comfort of her mother's arms? Did she hear the whispers of love spoken softly in her ear? Does she carry that with her today? If her heart weren't broken, would this story have ended differently?
Driving home from a friend's house on a cold, windy night in early February, we passed darkened storefronts and shuttered shops. Out of nowhere, the image of a small box sitting on a step came to mind, filled with blankets and a most precious cargo… and then I imagined Cora in the box, wrapped tightly in a blanket to shield from the cutting wind. Unimaginable, really. A nightmare beyond description. The pain of it made me shake my head; to shake the thoughts away, and I reached over and touched her hand… felt her fingers curl around mine. But this nightmare is Vivian's reality; her mother's reality. For that is where she was placed. In front of a shop… her newborn fingers grasping wildly in the cold air, but no mother's finger to hold. Unmoored, unconnected… abandoned.
Who left her there? How did they walk away? I wonder what happened to their heart as they turned away… I know part of it must have been left in a box on a shop's step. Did her mother know what was happening? Was she the one walking away or was it another who did the deed? Maybe she had been told the baby was dead? Did she get to say goodbye? How? Why? My soul aches… it is so unfair! I shout it to the heavens. The scream may not be audible, but it comes from my deepest places. This is not right! Babies and mamas need each other! What drives a mother, a father, a family to wrapping up their baby in a blanket, putting her in a box, and setting her on the front step of a shop? How do they ever recover from that?
I think about her mother on the tenth day. On the eleventh and the twelfth… Her chest swollen with milk, swollen with the life she is supposed to be able to share with her daughter. Yet her daughter is not there to receive it… Her body still raw and exhausted from birth, yet her daughter is not there to fill the hours of resting with the sweetest of joys. And Vivian… sweet Vivian. I dress Cora in a pink dress from my infancy and a bonnet and cardigan knit by a great-grandmother's gnarled fingers for me, 29 years ago. A legacy stitched with love… her story in creamy yarn and frilly pink organza. Cora will always know her history. Vivian will never know… she'll never even know the name her mother called her; she'll never wear her grandmother's dress. Cora has a book filled with photos of her first days, of the many people who love her. Vivian has a case file. Cold, hard facts telling the saddest of stories…
Sadness tastes like anger in this kind of broken story, but I know there are only victims in this tragedy. Unable to blame, unable to point fingers, unable to know the why or imagine the how… I lay it all down and let my heart instead turn to hope, the only place it can really go…
There is always hope… His work of redemption in a broken and bruised world. We only need to look to see the goodness… to see the places He dwells and moves. Vivian was abandoned, but she was also found. She now lives surrounded by love in a small foster home on the outskirts of Beijing. And someday I believe she will be adopted into a family of her own. But just because the hard work of redemption is transforming this young life doesn't wipe away the tragedy of her beginning. And as I cradle my own daughter, my heart grieves for Vivian and her mother - who have both endured a loss that defies my words. A loss that leaves me aching… hoping and praying for a day when there will be no more orphans.
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