Desperation and Hope

I traveled to Malawi with two wonderful colleagues last week and while visiting a small hospital outside Lilongwe, a tiny newborn captivated my heart and mind. She was lying on a warming table, bundled up in two swaths of colorful cotton fabric. We spoke to a nurse who estimated that this baby had entered the world at 28 weeks, much earlier than the full 40-week term. She is the tiniest baby I have ever seen.

Like a number of hospitals and clinics in low-resource settings, the hospital we visited had a Kangaroo Mother Care unit. When a baby is born prematurely or is very small for other reasons, the newborn is laid on the mother’s chest, skin against skin, and a cloth or blanket is then wrapped around mother and baby. The mother’s warmth replaces a nonexistent or nonfunctioning incubator and literally helps keep her newborn alive. Naturally, we wondered why this fragile baby was lying on the warming table instead of being nestled against her mother in the Kangaroo Mother Care Unit.

The answer came in a brief and very sad story. The newborn had had a violent entry into the world because her mother had tried to abort her. Surprisingly, the baby survived. Not surprisingly, the mother had injured herself and was receiving care in another ward of the hospital.

Can we imagine how desperate this girl or woman must have been to attempt to end her pregnancy this way, an action that could have claimed her life as well as her child’s? I cannot imagine, but I know that I cannot judge this mother whose desperation drove her decision to act. Her situation could have happened (and does happen) anywhere in the world where girls and women do not have access to basic health information and services, including contraception and family planning resources.

Standing close to the warming table I studied the newborn girl. She was breathing without an oxygen tube, but covered with so many layers of folded cloth that it was impossible to see if she truly was inhaling and exhaling. Only an occasional movement of her minute arm or hand signaled that she was alive. The nurse was surprised that this baby had survived the trauma. “She is a fragile fighter,” I thought, and I could not take my eyes from her. I wondered if she would live, if her mother would survive, and if in the end, her mother would want to take her home. At the very moment I stood observing this tiny newborn, she could have been wrapped against her mother’s chest, close to her heart, hearing and feeling her mother’s breathing and heartbeat, absorbing her warmth and love. But she was not. Instead, this newborn was already learning to fend for herself.

I pray that the fragile fighter and her mother survive, and if her mother remains steadfast in the decision that she does not want this daughter, I pray that someone in the village will. Please join me in the hope that this newborn girl will not have to wait long to be wanted and loved.

22 thoughts on “Desperation and Hope”

  1. Sharon:

    Your deeply moving story packs so many meanings and implications in its few paragraphs. Many people could have told this story, but it is the skill which with you’ve written this piece that exposes the subtleties of the issues, and their terribly personal impact on individual lives.

    Thank you.

    1. Thank you very much for your comments, Ann. Clearly that visit had a profound impact on me and on my colleagues. Sending you a very big hug!

  2. Sharon, I can’t shake the imagining what drove this mother to take this step. And while I am hopeful that the baby will grow up strong, I cannot help but be thankful for the culture that surrounds my daughters, one that is supportive of women. May this story have a bright ending–strong baby, resilient mother. Thank you for sharing what your eyes see with our minds. I am sharing this with my babies.

    1. Paula, thanks so much for your comments and yes, a strong baby and a resilient mother would be a bright ending. Let’s hold that hopeful thought. Sending a very big hug!

  3. Sharon,
    I agree with Ann that you have an extraordinary talent to tell a story so eloquently. This is a reminder that we should never judge an individual by their actions or decisions unless we have walked in their shoes. I will keep baby Hope and her mother in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing this story.

    1. Pat, many thanks for your comments and for giving this remarkable newborn a name! And thank you for offering to keep her and her mother in your prayers. We really can make a difference. Sending a very big hug!

  4. Sharon – Your beautifully written story is a carbon copy of how our son, Andrei prematurely entered the world in Bucharest, Romania. Thank God his birth mother cared and loved him enough to go to a hospital to give birth to him and leave him in a place where she knew he would be cared for. I thank Andrei’s birth mother every day for bringing him into this world (almost 17 yrs. ago), and I thank God everyday for leading us to him and making him our beautiful son. I will pray that both that “little fighter” and her birth mother find the strength to survive a long, healthy life.

    1. Mary, you are generous to share your personal story with us. It is beautiful and reminds us of the good in everyone Thanks so very much for this and for the prayers for mom and baby. Sending a very big hug!


  6. Sharon,

    Thank you for sharing this story. It makes me stop and be thankful for all I have…..and reminds me that I need to give my daughter a big hug today.

    A hug back to you as well

  7. I have read stories such as these through the years and wondered what moves women to make choices such as these. I am truly moved by the feelings I have for the mother and the child. What were the factors that preceded this condition. Fortunately for me I have never been involved in any such issue with friends or myself. I do have sympathy for those who have.
    Ruth L.

    1. Dear Ruth, thank you very much for taking the time to comment. I believe that somehow this newborn and her mother can feel our concern, our support, and out love. You are such a loving woman and have made a difference in so many lives. I send you love and a very, very big hug.

  8. I hope the little girl retains her ‘fighting spirit’, overcomes challenges and accomplishes great things — and that she finds many loving hearts and helping hands along the way ! Sheila

    1. Sheila, I love your expression of hope, and especially “that she finds many loving hearts and helping hands along the way!” Thanks very much for commenting. Sending a very big hug!

  9. Hi Sharon – I was deeply moved by your story – thank you for sharing it and reminding me how fortunate we are in the United States. We have so much to be grateful for (including the freedom to choose) that we often take it for granted. Helen

  10. Sharon,
    I have read and reread “Desperation and Hope”. I could feel your emotions as you watched over this newborn baby. I believe that your positive energy and love was felt by this little one. Thank you for sharing and of course for opening your heart and soul to this precious life.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment, Carol. I am grateful to you and to everyone who is sending love to this little girl because I, too, believe that that she can feel it. And to you I send a big hug that I hope you can feel!

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