From the moment I heard those words about Ruth, the floppy-limbed, dark skinned, bright eyed sixteen-month-old baby who would become my daughter, I’d drawn a mental picture of the place she’d been born.
In my mind I saw a long white corridor with a well-lit room at the end of it. Inside a frail baby lay gasping for breath in an infant bassinet while her young mother, still sore from birth, climbed from her nearby bed and slipped down the hall, leaving her three-pound baby behind.
Why she’d left I could only imagine. Did she suspect her daughter would die? Did she already have too many children to care for? Had she been raped? Or simply unprepared to be a mother?
Either way, this birth mother’s decision meant a better life for Ruth.
After three months in this same hospital, Ruth (still weighing only three pounds) would be taken in by Welcome Home Africa, a wonderful babies home two hours away in Jinja. There a doctor would diagnose Ruth with cerebral palsy, a condition that limited her ability to control her muscles. The orphanage director would then send Ruth to Maine, where my husband and I would meet her and begin the process of adopting.
From the moment we met her, Ruth became the center of our family. Because she could not walk or talk or race around the house, Ruth drew us to herself with her eyes and smile. As she grew and learned to communicate, she astonished us with her determination and sense of humor. For someone who couldn’t speak, Ruth said a lot.
I often wondered when and how to share with Ruth the story of her birth–of the hospital and of her mother slipping away. Ruth’s language skills weren’t specific enough for me to fully share these details with her. Then in February 2011, at age seven, Ruth died unexpectedly in her sleep.
We lost not only our daughter but the chance to share with her the remarkable story of her birth and of her journey to us.
Still searching for answers nearly two years after that tragic night, this week I typed ‘Mulago Hospital’ on the Internet. The pictures I found of the maternity ward, weren’t anything like the picture I’d drawn in my mind. Instead of white walls, I saw dingy rooms filled with women, some on beds, some lying on plastic sheets on the floor of the hospital where they’d come to give birth. Overwhelmed looking women pushed their own hospital beds down dirty, crowded halls.
In their eyes I saw the despair Ruth’s birth mother must’ve felt when she first saw her tiny infant and decided–for whatever reason–that raising her was too much. The poverty. The suffering. The potential needs of this child.
And I wonder again, how our dear Ruth, so weak and helpless, found her way into our home and hearts–even as I continue to wonder how we could have lost her.
And I think of Ruth’s birth mother–somewhere in Uganda still–who surely wonders as I do what became of her daughter. If there was a way, I would wrap my arms around her and tell her how deeply loved her daughter was, how greatly missed.
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away,” Revelation 21:4.