There is an instinct in a woman to love most her own child - and an instinct to make any child who needs her love, her own. ~Robert Brault,
Mama………… such a beautiful word. It connotates warmth, strength, support, nurturing, discipline, and most of all, a deep, unconditional love.
It, or some variation of it, is used all over the world. But why wouldn’t it be……..motherhood is a women’s issue, a GLOBAL women’s privilege. Can anyone other than a woman give a baby protection within the warmth of the womb? Can anyone other than a woman put a baby to her breast and provide nourishment from her own body? Would life, as we know it, exist without women?
“Mama! Mama!” I hear in the distance, but it is the nudge on my arm that brings me out of my daydream. “Can you give us some chips?’ she asks. I pull myself up from the chair and go to the kitchen.
Glancing back, I can’t help but smile. There they sit on her blanket on the floor. Their heads, topped with unruly, dark curly hair, are so close together that they touch. Their eyes, dark like melted chocolate, stare at the television. “Shaun the Sheep,” one of our favorite shows, is on.
February 21, 2006. I will never forget that day because I became a mother for the second time. Coming to me just a few days before my birthday, I considered her to be my gift from God.
November 10, 2010. Another bundle of joy entered my life. This time a boy. He was unplanned, but nonetheless, a welcome addition to the family. Coincidently, his father, sister and brother’s birthdays are all in November. Yet another of God’s precious gifts.
I have three children. Two of them did not come to me in the usual way. Nor did they come to me with a lot of cooing, awing, and words of congratulations or best wishes from excited relatives and friends. In fact, it was the opposite. The arrival of my children, my beautiful angels, resulted in fights, threats, hurt and rejection.
Although I am not their biological mother, I AM their mother in every sense of the word. They are my adopted babies.
The worldwide statistics about orphans are overwhelming. According to the Third Annual Report to Congress on Highly Vulnerable Children in 2008 there were approximately 163 million orphans - children who have lost one or both parents.
The United Nations Population Division estimates that in worldwide there were 260,000 adoptions in 2010. Sixty percent of adopted children are under age five at the time of adoption. Girls are adopted more often than boys. Birth mothers tend to be young and unmarried.
But let’s bring these numbers a little closer to home.
Israel’s Ministry of Social Welfare statistics show that in 2010, 18 babies were adopted to Arab families. They can not predict how many women get pregnant and have abortions instead of calling a social worker. The birth mothers range from ages 18 – 35. They feel that thay have no options but to give up their babies.
Now back to my children’s story……….
The fact that I wanted to adopt a child was not unusual for me. I knew that one day, regardless of whether I had biological children or not, I would adopt. But as fate would have it, the possibility became a tangible thought in my mind when I realized that I would not bear more than one child.
Convincing my husband was not easy. He is after all, a product of his society.
Amongst Arabs, adoption is an unusual step to take even for childless couples. Statistics from Israel’s Ministry of Social Affairs state that 85% of Christian Arabs in Israel approve of adoption, while only 65% of the Muslim community approves.
Ninety percent of the babies that are put up for adoption in the Arab sector of Israel are born to unwed mothers. Since sex outside of marriage is strictly forbidden, a pregnancy would be highly unacceptable, as would the result of that pregnancy (the baby). This conservative, traditional society is quite unforgiving about unwed women bearing children, so much to the point that many of these women fear becoming victims of so-called honor killings.
My belief is that in the case of adoption, culture and religion collide, and many people falsely cite religion as the reason for adoption not being acceptable.
Hadith (sayings) from the Prophet Mohammed:
The Prophet said, “I and the person who looks after an orphan and provides for him, will be in Paradise like this,” putting his index and middle fingers together.” (Sahih Bukhari Vol.8 Bk.73 No.34)
The best Muslim house is that in which is an orphan is benefited; and the worst Muslim house is that in which an orphan is ill-treated.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)
The form of adoption in Islam is more a guardian / foster care relationship (kafala). The child may live with his / her guardian, however he must retain his family name, and he may not inherit from the guardians.
My husband hesitantly agreed to visit a Palestinian orphanage with me, where I dropped off bags of used clothes that people donated. Once there a little old girl captured his heart, and that was all it took – he agreed.
Unfortunately we could not adopt her, but eight months later the social worker called to tell us that a baby girl waited for us.
My joy was dampened a bit as I bought the items the social worker told me to take with me.....an outfit, milk, a bottle, baby wipes……….because I could not share my excitement with my in-laws.
However, I did not predict the outpour of rage that we faced – actually that my husband faced. I did not discuss it with anyone. My husband’s mother was totally against the adoption, and naturally the rest of the family fell in line with her.
The next morning, the moment I saw my baby, I pulled her into my heart. So tiny and frail, at 2 days short of 3 months old, she looked like a newborn. On the drive home, I kept looking at her, amazed and a bit confused.
Not one member of my husband’s family came to welcome her. I probably felt the same rejection that the biological mother would have felt had she kept her.
A baby rejected twice – by the biological mother and by society. Insensitive comments from acquaintances still ring in my ears:
“What’s her story?”
“Who is her family? My reply, “We are her family.” “No I mean who is her family, he asked.” I echoed my answer. “You don’t understand,” he persisted. “I mean WHO is her family?
“Aren’t you disgusted to touch her?” “
“Why did you choose such a dark girl?”
“How can you put her in a house with your son (implying sexual misconduct).
“If you go on vacation and don’t want to take her, put her where you got her from for those days.”
I swore that day that I would do everything in my power to protect this innocent child, my daughter.
We lived three months, somehow avoiding and being avoided by people. I put a wall around myself and my daughter, imagining it to be similar to the wall that any woman who is giving her child up for adoption would build around herself.
During this time, my husband would tell his family stories about her. “My mother wants to see her,” he told me one day. Reserved, I took her to my mother-in-law, and placed her in her lap. In that instant, three months of rejection dissolved as everyone gathered around to look at her.
With her acceptance, came that of others. My mother in law changed completely. She and my husband’s aunt, who lives with her, now sponsor orphans in Gaza.
One morning, I received an unexpected phone call from the social worker. “She has a biological brother, and will you take him?” she asked. Tears wet my cheeks as I wondered ‘why did the birth mother do this again?’
There was no denying that he is her brother – they looked so much alike. Though lighter in complexion, they had the same toes, and the same mischievous look in their eyes.
And in spite of a few objections (not from my mother in law) he became ours! I did not have to face any rude questions this time, although two and a half years later, people are still curious if they are biological or not. I ignore them.
I wondered what are the birth mothers thinking as they go through the pregnancies?
Rosan Eid, social worker with Israel’s Ministry of Social Welfare answered some of my questions. Using Mace (name changed) a birth mother (not my children's) as an example, she described the birth mothers: “They deny they are pregnant, letting themselves believe that there is a problem with their period. As the pregnancies advance, they attempt to cover their growing stomachs with large clothes, or just spend time alone,” she explained. “By the time they admit it, it is too late for an abortion,” she continued. “Mace told her brother and a social worker, but many do not tell anyone,” she said. Toward the end of the pregnancies, the birth mothers go to homes for pregnant women. “Many fear for their lives,” she said.
Mace, as most birth mothers, was enveloped with guilt, sadness and depression. With a sense of hopelessness, she felt angry because society would not permit her to keep her baby.
Mace’s minute with her baby happened 12 years ago. Today she is married and has 3 children. Her husband who struggles financially, carries the knowledge of what she did, and she suffers through his verbal abuse.
My children have warmed the coldest hearts. They made people realize that orphans are normal children, innocent of the circumstances of their birth. People in my community who think about adopting sometimes discuss it with me. I offer my encouragement.
Still there is hope - the Arab community is becoming more accepting of adoption. The Social Welfare Departments in the cities and several women’s organizations teach about and encourage the use of birth control. The high schools provide basic information also.
In 2008, Buds of Hope, was formed to offer support to adoptive Arab families. In a society where motherhood is expected to be achieved, the women who are not able to have biological children, loose self esteem, Buds of Hope gives women a place to talk about their situations in a non-judgemental way. According to their director, there are 400 adoptive Arab families, 100 of whom attend their programs. They give lectures and courses, and hope to many families while they promote adoption in the Arab community.
I often wonder about the birth mother. As I went home carrying a baby, what did she feel as she went home with an empty stomach? As I was celebrating their birthdays was she making cakes in her mind? As I would rock them in the middle of the night, was she hearing their cries? As I watched them take their first steps, did she hear their giggles as they stumbled over shaky legs? When I heard them say “mama”, what was she hearing? And as I was being rejected by society, was she feeling accepted (or acceptable) now that she is baby-free?
If I had the chance to talk to her, I would tell her please learn about birth control, and better yet, avoid dangerous situations, because no child should have to go through the pain that mine might suffer in the future. And she should not have to suffer more too. I would tell her that the kids are doing great, are loved dearly. And I would tell her Thank You.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2012: Frontline Journals