Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

When I had my first child I became mortal. It actually began somewhere around my sixth or seventh month of pregnancy when I got too big to move fast enough to outrun a would-be predator. Once the kids were born I was keenly aware of my need to stay alive so they wouldn't lose their mother. I'm thankful that I didn't become someone's mother in my twenties or early thirties. How could I have gone rapelling or done any number of other things that might have seemed overtly or even nominally liable to put my life at risk?

We all have our mother stories -- good, bad, funny, poignant, mundane. There's no way around it. Yesterday in Salon was an article, "Little girl lost, little girl found", an excerpt from "Comfort: A Journey Through Grief" by Ann Hood about the death of her daughter and subsequent adoption of a baby from China. "I never thought I'd be able to enjoy Mother's Day again. Then, life brought me Annabelle."

"They mark them, you know," someone told us before we left for China. "The mothers brand the babies they abandon. It's a sign of love."

We had heard stories about babies being found with a yam, a sign of how valuable the baby was. We had heard of a note left that simply said: This is my baby. Take care of her. We had heard of one baby found with a bracelet around her wrist, and another with a river rock to indicate she was from a town near water. But this branding was something new.

The group of ten families with which we traveled to China, all got our babies at the same time, in a nondescript city building in Changsha. Changsha is the capital of Hunan Province, and it is four hours from Loudi and the orphanage. Soon, people were lifting pant legs or the cuffs of sleeves to show the small scars on their babies. "They mark them," one mother said, spreading her new daughter's fingers to reveal a scar in between the index and pointer.

On Annabelle's neck I found a thick rope of scar tissue, round and small. The pediatrician examined it and frowned. "Don't get upset," he said, "but this almost looks like a burn that has healed."
We are all branded, I thought. Some of us more than others. Some of us with unconditional love and security. Others with pain, abandonment, bruality. Some of us overtly. Others covertly. But we're branded just the same.

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