girl child: dreams, hope and marigolds.
Years ago I went and caught babies in a government run maternity hospital in India. I was marked with a hunger for justice, with a dream to see the poor, labouring women of the world, receive care in a clean and safe birth environment. It was and is a big dream. It grows stagnant on the days I’m overwhelmed by Florence’s needs. But it’s still there.
In India, there were countless tiny infants, varying shades of brown, from varying levels of poverty. The poorest mothers, the tribal women, set apart by their thick white bangles and purple and red garb, didn’t receive prenatal healthcare.
They were village folk.
They were women, and they were poor. If these struggles didn’t set them apart, then their language or religion did. They were always and often pushed to the margins, crowded in there with very little room to grow.
They didn’t have a chance.
There were no doulas or midwives or water births, no beeswax candles to burn at the birth, no prenatal yoga or perinatal herbal soaks.
These are all good things, wonderful and extravagant things that all birthing women deserve.
But first, they deserve nourishing food and care and capable, trained hands to help guide the baby out.
These women came to the hospital where we were, often trekking for days. Sometimes by the time they arrived, the life within them had turned still, the once beating heart no longer heard through a doppler. They had been working, they tried to explain, in the fields and carrying jugs of water, that’s all. Was their baby okay? Even when the little bundle lay still at their feet, or in their arms, they had a hard time understanding that the infant had passed away. We tried communicating in gestures and with our very broken Telugu or Hindi. I will never forget the moment they realized that death had swallowed their child. Palms smacked to foreheads, pounded skin, pounded off the red powder bindis and sindoors. Their fingers would curl, orange tipped with henna, nails stained to rust.
There’s was no rich cocoa butter or nourishing oil to slather onto their expanding bellies, although coconut oil was sometimes used sparingly. But often their malnourishment ran so deep, and their skin broke and stretched wide. I could almost see the child swimming beneath them, the fragile skin, translucent, pulled apart like a delicate web.
They were trying to nourish the child within them with watery daal and rice. But there was no proper nutrition, no care, no vitamins. Even if some prenatal care was available through a village hospital, lack of education or fear kept them away. No one told them, much of anything at all. Often they had delivered previous children at home, and yet they were still childless. Their babies, dying during birth or shortly thereafter. And yes, the girl child may have been abandoned; another burden, another burial.
Some were desperate for a boy child. For these women, the revelation that they had given birth to a girl caused deep shame and regret.
How can one despise their own?
It took my breath away, when I saw the deep disappointment in her milky brown eyes. A head turned away, a hand shooing the unwanted child. We would place the baby girl by her side, on a metal bed marked with dried blood. There were no blankets, so the infants were often wrapped in scraps. Please mama, we would beg silently, take this one in your arms, feed her and call her your own. In desperation we would bring the child to the breast, hoping for an instant bond, a breakthrough. They were stunned or disgusted or still as night.
Oh mother India, what have you taught your children?
I remember the triumph, when I found out I was carrying a baby girl. It was a victory for me, a reminder of my year abroad. I was carrying a blessed girl, and I wanted her, so take that injustice! I wanted her to have the name Marigold, after the sacred celebratory flower, marking festivals, life, holy occasions. She would be my girl, a symbol for all the lost ones in India.
Florence Marigold. My flourishing flower.
I still struggle with this dream, now that we are in the thick of her diagnosis. But God, I say, I stamped her with this name, to symbolize the injustice I have seen, to remind myself of this dream, to tell her one day.
I dream about taking her back there, nestled into a wrap, hanging off my hip. I dream of this because it’s impossible right now. We can barely go anywhere within our city, let alone to another land. I keep dreaming though, of taking flight, of showing my children the world, the wounds.
The injustice happens on a hospital bed now, to my own daughter, in my own city. How can I help her? How can I empower her?
In my emptying, I am being filled with more dreams, with more fire. This is how He is using it for good. He is swapping out my heart of unbelief, of small dreams, of fear, for His own heart.
It still feels impossible, for His heart is huge, and it pounds relentlessly for justice and hope, and yet the hunger increases.
So I wait, eyes on the horizon, looking for a flicker, a flame, an impossibility made possible.
Dreaming still, dreaming here in the dust.
Gendercide is a very real problem in India and China and other nations. Girl babies are aborted, killed, murdered, abandoned, because they are girls. To learn more about this and how you can help, watch:
“The film tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son. Global experts and grassroots activists put the stories in context and advocate different paths towards change, while collectively lamenting the lack of any truly effective action against this injustice.”