by Joy Casey
The orphaned children NewLife Ethiopia cares for in our Joyful Place orphanage have all been abandoned. The story of the fragile babies brought to us by the police begins with a mother who most likely is not married – young — and afraid. The babies are only days, and sometimes hours, old. Some are found with the cord intact lying by a stream or in a copse of trees, others are wrapped in an old towel lying by a school fence or in a busy market place or in the waiting room of a crowded clinic. The majority of these babies are underweight, most times acutely so. Their mothers did not have enough to eat.
A woman raising a child without a husband in Ethiopia faces a hard life. The social pressures and implications of having a child outside the bonds of marriage are unbearably hard. Here in America the stigma of birthing a child without a husband has been almost entirely eradicated and our culture provides resources for food, lodging and education to single mothers. In Ethiopia, there are no resources for a woman to draw on. An unmarried mother in most segments of Ethiopian society is looked down on and most likely will never marry. The condition of her baby demonstrates the mother’s inability to provide for herself… it does not take much imagination to put oneself in her shoes.
In the not too distant past, Ethiopian women were allowed to place their babies for adoption. This is no longer the case. No matter the circumstances of the pregnancy or the condition of the baby, women are expected to parent. For a young, single woman without family support, this is an untenable situation to be in. The young woman probably hides her pregnancy under loose, traditional clothing and when the pains come, goes off by herself not knowing what to expect. The fear she would experience during childbirth without seasoned support is unimaginable. To have to face her community with a tiny baby, equally as fearful.
For every child brought to our orphanage there is a mother dealing with the aftermath of just giving birth. She strives to hide the bleeding, her engorged painful breasts, and the deep, deep sorrow of leaving her baby to an unknown fate.
Working alongside unmarried pregnant women for almost four decades, my heart aches for these unknown mothers. The best thing we can do is gratefully receive the little bundles of humanity and tenderly bathe, feed and love them. Eventually, each of these little ones will be placed in the arms of a new mother who will continue with their physical care and also conscientiously cultivate a love for the Savior of their soul as well.