Did you miss part one of this story? Check it out on my earlier post!
As I hurried through my chores the next day my mother took pity on me. “Go on, take the afternoon off. You work hard, and I know I’ve been tough on you lately. You deserve a break.” I shot her a grateful smile and took off through the woods to the midwife’s cabin. On the way, I gathered some likely looking herbs and mushrooms. Just in case I changed my mind, I thought, I better have a reason for wandering around in the woods. As I approached her cabin with my basket she came out of her cabin and greeted me.
She sat down with me at the table and said, “Now then, what can I do for you?” I hemmed and hawed a bit, chatting about this and that, enjoying the quiet peacefulness of her cabin and the hot tea and scones. After a few moments she asked if I wanted to see her latest drawings. She would often sketch images of newborns and their mothers. I said of course I would. As I flipped through the images, seeing the love and trust on the face of each child, the realization of what I was about to ask dawned on me. I had come to this cabin, this peaceful place, to end the life of a child. Not just any child, my child. I knew then, at that moment, I couldn’t do it. I finished my tea, went home, and resolved to have my baby.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think much about how babies entered the great, wide world. And that’s how I ended up delivering alone in a cellar. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming desire to push. The pain, so incredible, seemed to fade a bit now that I felt like I was actually doing something. One, two, three, four pushes later a big, beautiful baby slid out of me. Relief, finally.
Thankfully, I knew what to do. With ten little siblings I was no stranger to the post-birth process. I had everything ready. My little girl was perfect. Her soft, mewling cry filled the cellar as I rubbed her clean, tied off and snipped her cord, and swaddled her in a length of old toweling. Clumsily, I tried to nurse her as I rubbed her fuzzy head and waited for the afterbirth. Yuck, that was uglier than I thought. I tied the whole mess up in an old sheet I had stored away for just this purpose and tucked it away to bury it later. Then, I regarded my baby.
So beautiful, I cringed at the thought that I considered destroying her only months ago. As they say, there is no rest for the weary, we had miles to go before we could sleep. I tied her to my chest and wrapped us both in a cloak as I stole out of the house. I was so sore and exhausted, and all I wanted to do was sleep. First, though, I had to see her safe. I dashed off a quick note to my mother. Thankfully this little one arrived on market day, the day I went to a neighboring city to purchase items we couldn’t get in our small town. An early riser, it wasn’t unusual for me to leave before the rest of the house woke up. I quietly hitched up the donkey cart and headed off.
When I arrived, it was nearly dawn. The sky was getting lighter, and I could see the beginnings of sunrise in the east. Early morning drovers were beginning to move around. I had to go quickly. I tied the donkey at the market (no point in advertising my destination) and slipped through the streets to the foundlings’ home. I was so nervous that I thought for sure someone was following me. But every time I looked, nobody was there.
I knew where the home was, and that the nuns in charge were kindly. My mother took us often to drop off knitted items and extra food. I loved to play with the toddlers and snuggle the babies, and I knew that there were always more newborns than adoptive parents. I gently laid her in the crate at the door with a note and the envelope of money her father had given for her destruction. “I’ll be back,” I whispered. And off I went.
Leaving her was hard. But I had a plan.
When I arrived home from market that day, exhausted, bleeding, sore, and leaking milk, I pled a headache and went to bed early. The next morning, I buried all the evidence of the birth, bound my breasts, and took the first step to getting my daughter back.
Thankfully, the next part of my strategy was thrilled to believe I found him interesting. At 35, and more than slightly quirky, the local farrier didn’t think to question my flirtatious overtures. He was a charming and gentle sort of fellow, kind enough if not overly handsome. Within six months, we were wed.
I breathed a sigh of relief. My little one was almost seven months old now. I wanted her back, badly. Thankfully, my family’s charitable activities were well known, and I soon approached my new husband with an idea.
Until our own union was blessed, and of course I hoped it would be, couldn’t we adopt one of the foundling children? I confessed to him, with bright tears in my eyes, that I had always hoped to rescue one of the newborns. Why not now? Why wait?
He seemed somewhat puzzled at my question but agreed readily enough. The next day, off we went. I was gripped by anxiety the entire journey. What if she was gone? What if I didn’t recognize her? Babies change so much in seven months, and if there was more than one child of the same age I might not know my own from a true orphan.
When we arrived at the orphanage my palms were slick with sweat, and my heart was pounding. My new husband didn’t seem alarmed but merely explained why we were there and asked to see the available children. I indicated that we wanted a child under one, and they took us outside to the yard where they were getting some air.
There were so many babies, but I only had eyes for one. Far from not recognizing her, my heart leapt into my throat the moment our eyes met. I would have known her anywhere, at any time, no question. I couldn’t help myself. I flew to her side and said, “this one.” I was so anxious that my voice was shaking.
“I’m sorry, miss” said the worker. “This one has a sponsor. Those children are not available for adoption.” My heart fell. I picked her up and hugged her to me. There was no way I was letting her go – not again. My vision blurred, and I felt a pounding in my ears. To get so close and have to leave her - I couldn’t do it. I heard my new husband murmuring something about costs, donations, sponsorship of another child. I couldn’t believe my ears. Was he bribing them to give me my daughter?
The worker smiled cautiously. “Well,” she said, “one child is much like another. I am sure the sponsor won’t mind.” I relaxed. I felt like I was ready to cry. I finally had my child back, after months of waiting, and I was going to take her home! As we walked to the office to do the paperwork, she asked us if we would like to hear her story, and what they knew about her.
I panicked. Did someone see me? Did they know she was mine? Kind or not, no husband wants to find out his brand-new wife had a child with another man. This could ruin everything. I could end up back in my father’s house, completely disgraced. Before I could say there was no need, my husband spoke for us, “Ma’am, her story doesn’t matter. What matters is that today she’s ours, and she will be ours forever.” The matron bristled a bit at this. Clearly, she was looking forward to painting a disreputable picture of the child’s mother.
“Alright then. Here are the things that were left with her.” She paused. “Unless you’d rather not have that either?” I spoke up quickly, “No! No. We, um, we don’t need them. If she wants them, she can come back later, when she’s older.” She nodded and placed them in a box, “We keep them unless the child comes to retrieve them,” she said, “Or, the mother. Of course, that is much less likely.”
That night, I laid my precious daughter in the trundle bed. I couldn’t believe it. She was home, with me, forever. Rose. They told me that was the name that was left with her and asked if we wanted to change it. It was all I could leave with her, a name. My mother named me because she was afraid of mothering. I named my daughter because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to mother. I picked her name to give her roots so she wouldn’t leave and thorns so nobody else would touch her. Rose. My Rose.
As the years rolled on Rose grew and thrived. Although I married for convenience and to reclaim my child, I slowly grew to love my husband. He was kind to me and gentle with my daughter. Although there was love between us I was never able to become pregnant, and we adopted four more times from the foundlings’ home.
Rumor in the town is that my family knew something was wrong with me, and that my barrenness was why I married an older man so quickly. My husband never reproached me. When my tears over my childlessness grew to be too much, he just suggested we go and adopt another baby. After all, he would say with a twinkle, Rose had been with us so long she was even beginning to look like me.
One day, shortly after my husband’s passing, I heard that the foundlings’ home was being closed down. There was a new trend, fostering, that was replacing the old orphanages, and it would no longer be needed. I went to the home with some of the old fear and admitted I had left my child years ago. I asked if I could have her things. The workmen went right to the proper box. Recordkeeping was always excellent there, and they had me sign for it.
I went out into the garden for some privacy and opened it with shaking hands. As I knew, there was the old blanket I had wrapped her in. It was moth eaten now and yellowed with age, but I saw it just as I had decades ago. I set it aside. Next, an old note in my teenage scribble, “I’m sorry, I can’t keep her. Her name is Rose. Please, take care of her. I will try to come back. This money will care for her until I can return.” As I sat and remembered, I unfolded the blanket. Another note fell out. This one, in broad handwriting I would know anywhere, “A child was left on your doorstep three days ago at dawn. The mother is known to me, and I am certain she will return. The funds inside are for the child’s care and upkeep. Similar amounts will be delivered regularly. If at any time this child is released for adoption, these donations will cease.” The note was signed by none other than my husband. He knew! I remembered feeling like I was being followed. He must have seen me leave her behind. He didn’t know that day all those years ago that I would marry him. All he knew was that my daughter, my child, was in need, and that she needed to stay put until I could return for her.
Not every story ends happily ever after, but mine did. I could have killed my child with my own hands, died in a failed attempt to do so, or lost my daughter forever. My child’s biological father tried to buy her death, but her true father bought her life.
And, after all, life is the most beautiful gift that anyone could give.
I hope you have enjoyed this story as well as "Bella's Gift." Merry Christmas and have a blessed New Year!