Steve Biko Academic Hospital, Pretoria, South Africa. The Embrace-community’s yearly Mother’s Day-outreach kicks off. Cheerful women’s voices echo in the halls of the massive hospital. Twelve volunteers, all mothers, are on their way to deliver gifts to mothers in the hospital. Elsewhere in the country, similar outreaches are taking place.
In the first ward we enter, mothers who are waiting to give birth greet us. Most of them are experiencing complications. Doctors do rounds in jeans and sneakers. Lives in utero and outside of it hang in the balance. The atmosphere is heavy, muted. One woman talks of her blood pressure that is too high for her baby that is now twenty five weeks in utero. Doctors advise that she abort.
“Who am I to choose between life and death? I refuse to make such a decision.” Desperation.
The woman next to her is frail, her eyes wide with devastation. She just lost her baby. She grips her phone as if it is her last hope of any connection whatsoever. The gift in my hand feels redundant. Then, Lauren steps in; her focus today is the bereaved mothers. These mothers receive special packages and affirmations.
Down the hall, we find the mothers with new-borns, the atmosphere instantly lighter. We walk in with gifts and smiles on our faces. We congratulate, talk about the new babies and ask questions. Mothers show off their babies with pride. Some feed, others just hold their bundles. Hope truly is a bundle of new life.
I stop at a mother who is wrapping a bright pink sarong around her body. Her daughter is dressed in soft yellow. She asks who we are and I give her more information about the community that supports, celebrates and connects new mothers.
“How long have you and your daughter been in hospital?” I ask.
“Two weeks now.” I have to put my ear to her mouth to hear her properly.
“Has your baby been ill?”
“No. I can’t go back home. So now I am waiting to hear of a place of safety that she and I can go to.”
“Is it your first child?”
“No, my second. I gave my first baby up for adoption. And this time, I won’t do it again. I will stay with her. I carried her for too long and worked too hard to bring her into life.” Her eyes look far beyond the hospital room. Her demeanour is resilient, brave. “Thank you for not forgetting us. Nobody has come to visit me in the past two weeks. In the end, we just want to know that we are not alone.”
I walk out into the hall, past beds where the other volunteers are talking to new mothers and sharing gifts. I find Melissa, the organiser of today’s outreach, with a bundle bright pink in her arms. The tiniest of faces with a mouth like a rose peeks from between the blankets. She is fast asleep. I see her little bed behind Melissa, in the hall.
“She was born two days ago. Her mother has given her up for adoption. The mother is not here. This little one now has to go to a place of safety.” Tears are in Melissa’s eyes. She brings the baby closer to her face so that their cheeks touch. A holy moment. Quickly, a few women surround her. Everyone agrees, “If only it was as easy as walking out of here with her and taking her home…” Hearts pour out to this little girl. Some put their hands on her and start praying, especially for her fate. I can’t help but think of the worry the new proposed adoption regulations are causing in our country.
One after the other, volunteers come from rooms into the hallway. Eyes tell of full hearts. We hear of a mother who literally has nothing here for her and her baby. Olivia and I talk about the excitement that surrounded our children’s births. How we prepared for months on end, making sure that nothing was lacking. We remember how friends and family showed up at hospital to share in our joy and how we couldn’t wait to announce it to the whole wide world. Some of the women here today are completely alone, with nothing. Unthinkable, a world where this happens. Incomprehensible, the thought that some mothers do not even know where they are going with their babies when they leave here. I can’t even begin to understand.
The gifts are soon handed out. Our time here comes to an end. Our voices are a bit more muted as we walk through the halls, out of the massive hospital and into sunlight.
It’s Mother’s Day. I walk between mothers from the hospital, away from mothers in the hospital and I think of my own mother. The complete vulnerability of all mothers I see today, outside and inside the hospital, stays with me. My own vulnerability as well. Vulnerability that has been a part of me since the day I became a mother and that will never leave me. The same vulnerability that is in new-borns that sleep in their mothers arms and drink from their breasts. Vulnerability that yearns for connection. Vulnerability free from judgement. For where there is judgement, there can’t be love. Vulnerability that truly sees and appreciates, even when we differ fundamentally. Only in vulnerability, we can truly connect. And today, I am privileged to see the amazing connection between mothers in this group of volunteers and mothers in this hospital. Connection that comes from our vulnerability as mothers.
Love that compels… The love of a mother. I think of the words spoken in church this morning, “Mothers establish God’s love on earth.” God poured out his love in every woman, even in our brokenness. It is part of our design. Love unending, unfathomable, unconditional. Love that gives birth, that adopts and that fosters. Love that mourns. Love that defines housemothers and caretakers of orphanages. Love so big and overwhelming that it can’t do anything but love, thus compelling us to love. Love that courageously protects our children. Love that enlarges our hearts to such an extent that we can house the fate of all the world’s children.
It is the most beautiful thing on earth, this love that compels in complete vulnerability. The love of a mother.
The love that I see in every mother I encountered today at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital.
Thank you, Embrace, for the privilege.
Contact Embrace: www.embrace.org.za