I stand up as the social worker enters the hut. She has a bundle in her arms and I start to reach for it before Jonathan puts his arm on my shoulder and I pull back. Haji follows the social worker and behind him comes a young girl. Everyone comes in and sits down on mats and now the hut is full.
“This is Mama Emma, our social worker, and this,” Haji points to the beautiful cocoa skinned woman with the baby, “ is Eshe.” Her name, ironically, means “life.”
The birth mother. Haji had told me she would be there, that she wanted to be there to meet us but I hadn’t expected someone so young, so very young. I looked at the girl and I could feel my eyes starting to tear up. She has come to give away her baby wanting only to give her baby what she knew could be a better life. I feel a nudge from my husband and know he is trying to reassure me and help me through this. It is heart warming to know that he knows me so well.
We both smile and reply, “Jambo.” It means hello in Swahili. It’s one of the many words we have learned.
There’s a lot of talking and translating and although I am trying to pay attention, my mind keeps being drawn to the bundle in the social workers arms. I see a little arm peek out of the well-worn fabric of a kanga (a colourful piece of cloth which can be worn as blouse, shawl or head scarf) and I yearn to hold her. I look away and find myself looking right into the eyes of Eshe, the birthmother of this little bundle. She and I look right at each other and even though it only lasts a second before she looks down again, I recognize myself in her eyes.
“Mandy...Amanda,” says Jonathan and I am back in the conversation. “Were you listening?” He looks at me and realizes I wasn’t. He continues, “The last thing they need to know is if we would like to rename Aminah. Aminah is her African name and traditionally they get a Christian name as well but the mother decided to leave that up to us.”
I turn quickly and look at the mother. She continues to look at her hands. This is a privilege I was not expecting and my heart swells at the kindness this woman is showing us. I look at Jonathan and he nods in my direction. I know it’s up to me if we change the name and I know at that moment that we will.
“What is your Christian name, Eshe?” I ask.
“Maggie,” she replies quietly.
“Let’s name her Amina (which means peaceful and secure), but call her Maggie, after her birth-mother,” I say. Eshe looks up at me then. She has understood enough of the conversation to realize what we are doing and there are tears in her eyes and I feel my tear ducts starting to water as well.
Haji says, “Well, that’s the last of it then.” He nods in the direction of the social worker and she stands. Eshe quickly jumps up as well and grabs hold of Mama Emma’s arm. We all turn to Eshe. I think I heard a small gasp escape from my own mouth. I hold my breath, wondering if she has changed her mind.
Maggie says something in Swahili and I see Mama Emma nod at her and hand her the baby. She takes the baby, pulls back the kanga and gazes on the face of her baby. I’m still not breathing. I look at Haji. He nods his head as if it is all going to be okay and I let out my breath quietly. Maggie lowers her head to the baby and whispers a few words I cannot hear but wouldn’t understand if I did. She gives the baby a lingering kiss on her forehead and then walks toward me. She kneels in front of me and hands me Amina. I look down at the most beautiful human being I have ever seen and then look up at her mother and realize Amina gets it from her. I want to say so many things but I don’t know how so I just look at her. I try to convey to her with my eyes and my heart that I will do my best for this little girl. I want Eshe to know that I will protect this little girl and love her and help her and also, that I will remember this day, this sacrifice. I will tell this little girl of the wonderful woman who gave her to us and of the great sacrifice I know it was for her. I will make sure this moment is remembered, cherished and shared.
I look down again at little Amina and when I look back up, Eshe has moved next to Mama Emma and is being shepherded out the door.
Check back tomorrow to see how the family adjusts to this new little bundle of joy!