Story about an abandoned child (to help deal with guilt, worthlessness, loss of trust.)

Taking the Chance to have a New Life

The boy I am going to tell you about was born to a young woman who already had three children. She was poor and her family were often very hungry. They lived in the Deep South of America. The woman loved her children and wanted to try to feed, clothe and send them to school. When she found she was pregnant for the fourth time she wondered how she could possibly cope with another child.

“God will provide,” the preacher told her.

She thought that that would be the only way the child would survive, if God provided. She did not think that she could feed yet another child. Her milk had run dry with the third child, a little girl. That one, she had hoped would be her last. But Nature has a way of changing things around, and less than twelve months after the birth of Lisa, a boy was born. He was called Abe. As the mother suspected she could not find enough food to feed herself and provide milk for the baby.

Fortunately her sister who lived in the vicinity had milk to spare and she offered to feed the child. This was a great relief to Tam, the mother. At least the child would live for a few months without being a drain on the meagre resources of her family, while she got her strength back. Tam went back to her cleaning job, taking Lisa with her. Little or no money came from Tam’s husband who liked to sit around in the local bars all day. Tam would spend the money she earned on food rather than take it home to be stolen by her man and used for beer.

Life was very hard for Tam and her family. The baby Abe often stayed with Tam’s sister for days at a time. Tam was too tired to pick him up. Tam’s sister was a kind woman who had a little more money than she did, as her husband brought home a wage for his family. After Abe was about six months old and her own child reached 9 months, her milk dried up. Her husband said it was time the baby Abe went back to his mother. He said it was hard enough to keep his own family clothed and fed, without having to feed little Abe, who after all was her sister’s child, not hers, and certainly not his.

Her sister felt very uncomfortable about approaching Tam with the problem. In truth she knew that Tam was hoping that she would be able to keep the child for a year or two ‘just until she got herself straight’. Tam’s sister didn’t think that would ever happen.

“Just get rid of that useless man, then you’ll have a chance to get straight.”

But Tam didn’t think she could do that, after all he was the daddy of her children and she had married him. In her marriage vows she had agreed to take him for richer and for poorer. Poorer they were, but the promise still held.

Tam begged her sister to keep the child. Her other children sometimes went to bed hungry and crying. She prayed to God asking what she should do.

In her dream she saw herself taking the child to the mission house. They would take him and she would vow never to have any more children.

The people at the mission tried to persuade Tam to keep her child, but she said it might die if she did. At least the child would have a chance with them. Nothing they could say would persuade her otherwise. They could see how thin she was and they knew about her other children so they agreed to take Abe on one condition. She must never try to ask for the baby again. They would change the child’s name and hopefully another family would adopt him. Tam agreed and feeling very heavy hearted left the baby in their care.

There was an orphanage at the mission; there were ten children of various ages. People would come and adopt the younger ones sometimes, but somehow Abe, now called Michael, never found parents as a baby. He stayed at the orphanage and grew up with the gossip of the other children and the carers moving round his mind. He learnt that his mother did not want him and that because of him his brothers and sisters were starving. The carers were not very good at keeping the news from the villages to themselves. They heard that Abe’s sister had died, and of course this news travelled to Abe who was now seven years old. In his young mind he thought it must be his fault that his family were hungry and his sister had died. He wished he had never been born.

Fortunately there was plenty of food in the orphanage and Abe grew up to be a strong young lad. He was taught how to read and write, and he helped in the garden to grow fruit and vegetables for the orphanage.

A man and his wife appeared one day saying they were looking to foster a young lad. They had lost their own son and wanted to give another child a chance in life. They did not want a baby but a boy of ten or eleven who would enjoy working with the animals on their farm. Abe, now Michael was the only boy of that age in the orphanage. He had grown used to his life there, used to feeling guilty, knowing that everything was his fault and that he was worthless, or why would he have been left by his own mother? When he heard that the couple were looking for a child of his age to foster he did not want to go with them. He did not feel he could trust them. They too might decide he was not good enough, then where would he be?

The matron of the orphanage knew Abe well enough to understand what was going through his head.

She said to him, “Sometimes we have great difficulties in this life, and the only way to get over them is to face up to them. We have to grab our chances and make the most of them because they may not come again. You have a chance here of having a loving family. For some reason it has not been offered to you before, I don’t know why but it certainly is not your fault. It was not your fault that your mother could not keep you. It is not your fault that your sister died. Bad things happen in life, but so do good things and I believe that this is one of them.  You are not stupid. You have the chance of a good education now. I’m telling you to take it. Yes, you’ll be scared. It is hard to trust sometimes when you have been hurt in the past, but unless we try to trust others, nothing good can happen with new people in our lives. You don’t want to be stuck here with us for the rest of your young life now, do you?”

Abe thought about what had been offered to him. He realised maybe for the first time that matron knew how he felt and what he was thinking; it was the first time that he thought that maybe he had been thinking wrongly. He understood enough about life now to know that it is not a child’s fault that it comes into the world. The child is not to blame if his parents cannot look after him for whatever reason.

He began to realise that from his experience in the orphanage usually children do not know the reasons their parents give them away, sometimes they guess and guess wrongly. It doesn’t do any good blaming anyone, the parents or the child. What happened, happened. The question is how to deal with it.

In Abe’s case he took the chance and after a wobbly start he became a member of a proper family. He let go of his feelings of guilt and his foster parents explained that his mother had been told that she must never try to contact him again. But she had not abandoned him in her heart even if she was never to see him again. She had moved away to another town and Abe thought that maybe when he was older he would try to find her to tell her he had forgiven her. That thought made him feel better. The solid tightness in his chest loosened and he was able to look people fully in the face and know he was a worthwhile person, even if bad things had happened to him in the past.

Abe grew up and became a teacher. He always paid extra attention to any children in his class whom he knew had been fostered. There were always one or two. He helped them to value themselves and their talents and to be the best that they could be. He did a good job.

Questions

1. Does this story remind you of anything in your life?

2. Why do you think little Abe felt guilty, as if he had done something wrong?

3. Do you think a baby or young child can ever be blamed for becoming an orphan or needing foster care?

4. Why do you think that Abe was unsure about going with the family who offered to adopt him?

5. Do you think Abe worthless, or did he manage to overcome his early difficulties and become able to help others?

6. How did the story make you feel? Why?

A woman wearing a blue nun’s headgear told me this story as I meditated for Corrine.

Abandoned at Birth (death of a twin)

Abandoned at Birth by a Twin

 On July 24. 2014 an item about woman’s hour was about the difficulties and feelings of parents who lose a twin baby at birth.  It explained why my story below was so helpful for the survivor twin.

I gave this story to a young man with severe mental problems who was living in a therapeutic community for young people. The manager of the community told me about him. My objective at the time was to find out if my stories were helpful to ‘counselling clients’. I asked him to tell me as little as possible about the client, just the main issue which was creating problems for the person. He told me that the client had been abandoned at birth by his twin, who had died, and that his mother had a section in the freezer for his food, and the rest of them ate nice stuff. At that point I asked him to stop immediately. I did not want any more details. That was literally all the information I had of him. I had had no background whatsoever in these matters.

I wrote the story which came to me through the usual rapid channel. I asked the manager to vet the story to see if it was appropriate for his client. He told me it was uncannily like the lad’s story, and entirely appropriate for him. Two months later on my seeing the manager again he told me the story had brought about a turning point in the boy’s life. He was now nearly ready to pass his driving test, was out in the world and looking forward to his future for the first time.

 

THE STORY

You may be forgiven for thinking that abandonment by your own twin would mean very little for a person. It is true that for some people who experience this event there is no particular sense of regret or longing. They feel complete in themselves and although they inevitably wonder what their other half would have been like, they go through life in much the same way as any other person who has perhaps lost a brother or sister at birth. There is a little sadness but not much.

For the mother too there is always sadness, always a sense of loss. Some mothers bear it more easily than others. For some there is always a small gap in their lives, a small ache in their hearts. For a few there is a deep longing for the absent person. They may blame the surviving twin in some subconscious way for the death of the other. They may feel that the survivor has been too greedy for life and has taken the life of the other for himself. He may be perceived to have taken too much sustenance from his mother’s blood, too much space, too much air, or too much time during the birth. The misguided mother may feel a sense of failure and wish to project the blame of failing to bring two babies into the world on to the one left behind. This usually happens when there are no other brothers or sisters in the family. The mother perhaps had only one chance to produce her children and she failed one of them.

My sister was one such woman. It was very sad. First she had a girl, successfully. There were no difficulties for her. The girl was much loved and treasured, and my sister and her husband hoped for a boy to follow her soon. It was seven long years before she became pregnant again. Such joy! She hoped and prayed for a boy. When she was told she was carrying twins she felt she had been doubly blessed. She would care for them so well. She planned how she would manage her twins. She sought out women who had had twins and discussed it at length with them. She prepared two little cots and two sets of clothes. Everything was ready for her two boys, for this is what she was convinced she had kicking bravely away in her belly.

The time came for her labour. In those days husbands did not attend their wives’ delivery. My sister was attended by her doctor and a midwife. Her husband and I waited downstairs. We heard the cries of one baby and then we waited. He paced the floor up and down. Water was fetched, the first baby was welcomed, and we waited. Finally, three hours later my sister delivered the second twin. He was smaller and blue, she told me, and he was dead.

It was such a strange time. Although they had their longed for son they could not be happy because they had lost a child. They were weighed down with their sense of bereavement. No one could convince them otherwise.

The child who survived was very hungry. He cried and sucked and cried and sucked. In my sister’s mind this showed her that he had taken the available food from his brother in the womb. She needed someone to blame, as her sense of failure was so great that she could not bear the burden of it alone. She had to share it so she shared it with the surviving twin. Gradually, in her eyes, he became the cause of her loss. Instead of rejoicing in the fact that he had been born and survived, and was strong and healthy, she saw him as a parasite. She knew in her heart that this was not so, but in some twisted turn of mind she relieved herself of her guilt by blaming the living twin. Her husband was drawn into this way of thinking too. For reasons of his own he colluded with her shame and guilt and was content to put the blame on to the survivor whom I shall call John.

And what of John? How did all this affect him? As a young baby he became aware of a distance between himself and his parents. They did not hold him and love him in the way that his needful baby heart desired. He cried a lot and only food seemed to comfort him. His sister soon grew impatient with his crying and looked on him as something of a nuisance. He had taken his mother’s time and attention off her more than she was prepared to accept. John grew up with a deep sense of aloneness. Something was missing from his life and as a baby it felt like a lack of love. When he was old enough to understand, he learnt about his twin, and began to long for him with a deep yearning which, of course could never be satisfied. His mother’s resentment of him became deeply ingrained and he himself felt in some way responsible for her disappointment. He felt apologetic about his own existence. He wished his brother had survived and not himself. He wanted to give up his own life, as it seemed so meaningless, lonely and empty without his ‘other half’ to share it with. The family took to giving him his own food; it was kept separate and was different from theirs. They felt he ate so much, and was such a good survivor anyway, that he could eat cheap junk food. They needed careful nourishment, as they considered they were more sensitive than he was. He would watch them eat delicious meals while he had to manage on beans on toast or sausages.

Somehow most of the other relatives had been drawn into this myth of the greedy, tough twin. They did nothing to change the situation. I did express my opinion about the unfairness of it all, but I was talked down.

Eventually, fortunately John met a lovely girl who was able to see through the mistaken thinking and who gave John back his sense of identity. He realised that each person is a separate individual, worthy of love and attention in their own right. Each person has their own path to tread and their own lessons to learn.

I am pleased to say that John now has a family of his own, and each member is loved and appreciated for what they are. I am now a Great Aunt to one set of twins, and strangely enough to a single survivor of twins. This one is a girl and she was treated with great love and affection from the day she was born. She does sometimes wonder about her dead sister, but does not need her to complete her life.