Sometimes I forget to be sad about orphans. Crazy, I know. But I’m so enveloped in the joy and the second chances and the life that is in this place that it’s easy to forget that at the heart of all of it, a great loss exists.
Then there are days like today. We’ve been waiting for about a week for a set of twin girls to arrive. Mama (Mrs. Siafwiyo, Haven director, my boss, my mentor, my Zambian mother away from home…a whole post coming soon about her!) got a call last week saying we should expect the girls any day. They stay far away, buses only come on certain days, but sooner or later we knew they’d arrive. Today was the day, only there were not two baby girls. Only one made it. The other sister died a couple of days ago, before they reached us. Their mother is dying in a hospital a couple of hours away. The father has 5 other young children, and the baby has nothing to eat and no one to watch her.
So we welcomed a new baby girl, three months old and darker than any baby we have. She has been crying ALL day. Well, she’s worn herself out a few times, literally crying herself to sleep. We’ve passed her from auntie to auntie to auntie, strapping her on our backs, trying to give her something at least slightly familiar. Everything else is new to her. Being inside, drinking from a bottle, a new type of bath, wearing a diaper, different milk on her stomach, no sister, no mother, no father. I’m not sure I’d stop crying, either.
Research says no matter what the age, an infant feels the loss of a mother. We’ve found that to be true many times over. Sometimes babies do come to us seemingly unscathed, unaffected by the monumental loss they’ve just incurred. But sometimes, like today, they seem to feel it deeply. Nothing comforts. Nothing soothes. Nothing takes the loss away. Try as we may, we are not the mother to this baby girl. She looks up with big, pleading eyes, as she roots around on the nipple of a bottle that just doesn’t fit quite right in her mouth, and she seems to know it, too.
It came back around to my turn in the rotation tonight, trying to quiet and comfort this screaming baby. This time I tried rocking her while patting her bottom and gently jostling her. She kept crying a good while, but finally she settled down and for the first time all day, she was awake AND not crying at the same time. We’re making progress.
Today was a real reminder of the pain these children go through. Thankfully, she’s just a little one, and she’ll recover quickly. Tomorrow she’ll cry less, and the next day even less, until she attaches to us and becomes comfortable in her new home. She’s already sucking better than she was this morning. Her stomach will get used to formula. She’ll become accustomed to our schedules and bath times and diapers. And we’ll watch her grow up, doing for her what we wish her mother could have. We’ll cheer when she starts smiling finally, when we start seeing signs of adjustment. We’ll be there when she starts sitting, crawling, walking, talking. We’ll help her learn to share and play nicely and sing songs about Jesus. And then one day, a year or two down the road, Lord willing, we’ll hold back our tears as we hand her back over to her family, who we pray have been anxiously awaiting her arrival just as fervently as we’ve been dreading her departure.
And in many ways, she’ll be right back where she is today, mourning the loss of her mothers. Her village will look new to her. The food will be slightly different. Candlelight will replace electricity. The clothes won’t feel the same. The bed won’t be like hers. They’ll sing different songs. Her new siblings won’t know her nicknames or how to push her buttons. Yet.
But they will eventually. And just like she’ll adjust to life with us, we pray every day that our babies that go back to their villages adjust back to life with extended families again, too. Losing your parents is hard. But God is good. He comforts us and goes before us and restores what has been broken. He knows full well the injustices of the world, and He will set them right one day.
Tonight, I’m praying God’s comfort for a grieving father as he sits beside his dying wife, with empty arms longing for his daughters, while our arms are full.