My son turned 18 on January 1. It is a milestone for him, and a good time for me to reflect on what it means to be a mother. Being a mom has provided me with so much joy, and has certainly helped me to be less selfish, more loving, fun and creative.
I had my son much later in life, so I had the opportunity to volunteer and work abroad for many years. In 1987, I sold all my possessions so that I could volunteer at an orphanage in Bangladesh. To say that this experience was life-changing is an under-statement. I was not prepared at all for the culture shock and poverty. Despite the challenges during my six month stay, I learned several powerful and meaningful life lessons that have stayed with me all these years.
The orphanage was located in Dhaka, the capital city.There were approximately 400 children and handfuls of staff including cooks, nurses, teachers and administrators. I was one of six volunteers. At least once per week, a young mother would show up at the locked gates holding an infant or young child. She would drop to our feet and beg us to take her child. Our job was to ensure that the child was actually an orphan so we would travel back to the mother’s home and interview the neighbours. When the neighbours confirmed that the child had parents, the mother would again throw herself at our feet, crying and begging for us to take her child. My younger and more judgemental self was shocked. How could a mother abandon her child? What kind of mother could do this? I now understand why.
Children at the orphanage were provided with clothing, health care, an education, and three meals a day. What mother would not want to provide these things for her children? It must have been agonizing for these mothers to consider that the only option would be to leave her child with strangers. As a mother, I now understand this act of love.
I keep the photo in this piece in my office .I gaze at it every day as a reminder to be grateful for everything that I have, and for being able to provide for my child. I am grateful that in my country of abundance, I have never had to consider a Bangladeshi mother’s agonizing act of love.