Beatrice's Blessing

Her heart beats love for her little boy. 

It's etched across her face and emanates from her dark eyes.

"He loves it when I lay him across my chest," she shares. "Then I talk to him and he just smiles and laughs back."

She calls him Blessing, even though that's not his given name, and he is her treasure. He is about 18-months-old but only has the mobility of a 2-month-old - with rigid limbs. His body is his prison, but his mind alert. He's a healthy size and has a charming, perfectly round face. He smiles a lot.

Beatrice explains to me how at 8 months of age her baby son was stricken with menangitis. She stood by his side vigilantly for months in the hospital. The other moms with their infants told her to just leave him there. To abandon him. They said that babies are a dime a dozen and her's was now handicapped, so wouldn't amount to anything. It was a waste of her time to stay. Many other mothers have done the same. After all, abandonment is a culturally expectable way to handle the overwhelming situation of an unwanted child in Liberia. Abandonment in the hospital, at a police station, or even under a market table, is what loving mother's do. Some leave their broken babies in the rainforest to "let nature have it's way." Additionally, one needs to be careful as some of these children are handicapped because of demon posession. Thus is the mindset of many Liberians in regards to disabilities.

But she ignored them. She loved her baby too much. Peer pressure is a powerful thing in any society, but in Liberia it's almost crippling. Beatrice stood out as strong, different. She shamelessly displayed her love for her handicapped child despite the wagging heads of family and strangers alike.

It's been almost a year and Blessing never regained his former mobility and strength. The meningitis caused irreparable brain damage and the Liberian medical system knows nothing about physical therapy after serious injury.

She's here because she can't take care of her little boy while bringing in an income to care for herself and her two elementary aged girls. Blessing's father is out of the picture and Beatrice has done what she can to make an honorable living. Hand-washing clothing for people who have a little more money than she does. She can do this at home while keeping an eye on her kids. It's backbreaking, knuckle shredding work. 

But it's not enough. And she doesn't trust anyone to watch Blessing if she leaves for another job. Nobody loves him like she does, nobody will care for him like she will, and he'll likely be neglected or even abused if he is out of her sight. That's what happens to many handicapped children in Liberia.

So when Beatrice heard about the possibility of her Blessing being adopted to a loving family in the states, she decided this was the answer. The adoption agency I was working for was one of the few that tried to find adoptive homes for special needs children. One of the few that was able to care for them. So despite - no - because of her great love for her son, she placed him in our adoption program.

She trusts us, she trust me, and she's seen our foster home for special needs children and infants. She believes this is the best. With tears she kisses him good-bye, planning to come and visit periodically.

Blessing adjusts well to the foster home. His foster mom is very patient and loving. We can tell he's happy. We see a lot of sweet smiles. Word is sent that this little boy is in need of an adoptive family.

But one night he gets a fever. It's low-grade, and he has no other symptoms. I run a malaria test. It's negative. As was our normal protocol, I plan to take him to a clinic in the morning if he's still running a fever.

He died in the night.

With his extensive brain damage due to the meningitis, it was probably a brain bleed, though there's no way to confirm it.

And I am given the task of telling Beatrice about Blessing's death.

When I began working with the adoption agency and orphanages, I never once thought that this would be in my job description. 

The thought of what I have to do is bitterness in my mouth and I feel like throwing up when I call Beatrice to tell her to come in to the office. I evade her question as to Blessing's wellbeing. She knows something is wrong.

Should the office of an adoption agency have a designated place for breaking devastating news to birth family? I wish they did. I am given a store room with a large mattress on the floor.

We sit down on the mattress and I tell Beatrice what happened. She breaks into devastated, heaving, shrieking sobs. They echo through the whole office. I weep with her and alternate between holding her and letting her writhe on the mattress. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done. But not has hard as it is for Beatrice to hear the news of her baby's death. 

After the tears run dry she heads home. To all her broken dreams of her little boy. But to two sweet little girls.

Healing comes. We are friends and we visit. One day she comes to my house where I am living with my missionary parents and I am not home. My mom greats her. She's been aware and involved in the whole story. They talk about Blessing and cry. Mom shares scripture with her about the hope we have in Christ. How Blessing is healthy and happy in Heaven. Beatrice gives her life to Jesus. Beauty from ashes.

Beatrice and her two girls.

If I had not been involved with Blessing's life he still would have died. But I had the heartbreaking privelage of walking this road of suffering with his family through this experience. And through it Beatrice came to Christ. Though only Heaven will tell if the decision was sincere. Unfortunately I lost contact with Beatrice after I went back to the states. 

Blessing and Beatrice's story stands out in my mind as an example of the great need for a daycare center in Liberia for handicapped children. Currently the options are to take care of your baby and starve, work and have your child abused, or abandon your child for the sake of the other little ones you have at home. I simply cannot imagine being in such a position.

In my daydreams I envision a home where parents can drop off their disabled children and go to work during the day. The home would provide food, therapy, education, medical treatment, and loving interaction from caretakers. Right now there is an organization, His Safe Haven, establishing a center in Liberia for the already abandoned special needs children to live permanently. Some of these children are even available for adoption. But there are thousands of others that could use help. Many of whom are like Blessing, who's mothers don't want to see them go, but have no other choice.

It's a dream, but one of my many dreams for making a difference in Africa.

This story took place in the fall of 2006 and is part of my series of my journey with orphan ministries in Liberia.

(The photo at the top is of an abandoned special needs baby we cared for in our orphanage.)