Who Are All These Women and Why Are They Standing in My Dining Room?

Who Are All These Women and Why Are They Standing in My Dining Room?

It could get crowded in my dining room with those three other women, the mothers of my adopted children. It made things tight bringing food out and clearing the table, struggling to inch past them, the skinny and stout, all with black hair and brown eyes, and the wide cheekbones that are the national trademark of Nicaragua.

It used to bother me a lot -- their silent clucking at what was for dinner, the suspicious eyes cast on the siblings. The slight head shakes wondering why I went all the way to another country to find children for my family. It bothered me. They just wouldn’t quit.

But after a while, the other mothers began to fade. It got so I could hardly make out the embroidery on their blouses and then, in a few years, they were just shadows on the dining room walls. I was glad. I wanted them to stop looking at me as if I had robbed them. I’m not a thief.

I only took what was left behind. Don’t come claiming them now.

That’s what I thought then.

My two sons were abandoned as babies, one after he’d been held and carried and nursed by his mother for the first six months of his life and the other the same day he was born, maybe never having been held by his mother at all.

We didn’t know. There was no way of knowing.

A few years ago, we went back to the place they were left in Nicaragua -- a women’s hospital in Managua. There we saw young women with babies, sitting on benches under shade trees, waiting to see the doctor, waiting for food, waiting to be picked up. They might have been waiting to leave their babies like my sons’ mothers had left theirs so long ago.

We didn’t know. There was no way of knowing.

My daughter last saw her mother when she was a very little girl, maybe four or five years old. She told me she saw her mother in her rocking chair, she went to her and put her hand on her arm, and her mother was dead. This is what she remembers.

We don’t know why her mother died. There was no way of knowing.

When the other mothers faded in my dining room, I thought they were gone for everyone. I took the place they left vacant. I was the only mother.

But then in the courtyard of an old hotel in Managua amid the tropical plants and a tiny fountain, I learned otherwise. Miriam, the government official who had arranged their adoptions, agreed to answer my children’s questions. Now teenagers, they sat in a circle, their yearning clear on their faces. One after the other, in the Spanish they learned in school, they asked. Can I find my mother? What happened to her? Where did she go?

Other Mothers
Credit: carigcloutier.

“We don’t know,” Miriam answered in the gentlest possible way. There is no way of knowing.

“Es imposible,” she said.

They just looked at her, their yearning rising from them like a vapor and floating into the night air.

In that moment, I knew what I hadn’t known before. The other mothers hadn’t disappeared. They had gone to live in my children’s silent places, stayed in the way they told stories and laughed at jokes, kept them attached to a place thousands of miles away, and talked to them at night when I wasn’t listening. They had never left.

For better or for worse, the other mothers are still here -- with them. And with me. All of us are still here.


Jan Wilberg

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