I have felt desperate as a mother before.
The first time I felt desperation was twenty-four hours after the birth of my first son, when my exhausted, injured body began to betray me and I no longer had the strength to care for my child.
I felt desperate when my son wouldn’t stop feeding, and yet was always hungry and fussy, and I couldn’t figure him out. My body was in constant pain for trying, and yet I couldn’t give him what he needed.
I felt desperate a few months later when I had two babies taking turns waking up all night. I would be breastfeeding Rainor one hour, suctioning Robert’s trach the next, squeezing in thirty minutes of sleep, then repeating. Night after night.
But the most desperate I’ve ever felt was when depression and anxiety became my constant unwelcome companions, and I could barely keep my head above water. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to care for my kids–I had four of them by then. Terrified that something was wrong with me. Terrified that things would never get better, and I would face that sense of hopelessness for years to come. I felt completely desperate and alone and scared.
But I realized yesterday that I know nothing of desperation. Not a single thing.
I realized this when I saw pictures of mothers holding the hands of their screaming children as they tried to run away from the tear gas that had just been thrown at them. When I read their stories — how their young children had nearly choked on the fumes. How a young, single mother named Rosa had traveled for weeks with four kids, on her own. After being struck with tear gas, they returned to sleep in their small tent in the overcrowded migrant camp another night. Rosa’s youngest is four months old and has a fever. She has no medicine for him. She is alone.
I can only imagine that Rosa is truly desperate.
You see, my desperation was always surrounded by safety. When my body gave out on me, I was in a hospital surrounded by professionals who could care for me and my baby. My husband and mother were right there. With rest and care, I was fine. When my body didn’t make enough milk for my son, there was formula. There was a trusted family member that gave me extra breastmilk. My child was never in any danger of sickness or starvation.
When I had two babies up all night and felt at the end of my rope, I had kind friends and family members who would come over for a few hours so I could get a nap. When I was pregnant and tired and so, so busy with my little ones, I had proper nutrition and vitamins and Netflix and a sweet, understanding husband. I had prenatal care for myself, a team of brilliant surgeons and specialists for my son, and a sturdy roof for all of us to sleep under.
And even when mental illness became an overwhelming burden to bear, and I faced such fear and loneliness, still I had all my needs cared for.
I had a husband who loved me. I had food and clothing and medicine and a warm house for my babies. We had an abundance of all that we needed. My mind may have been a mess, but still I was not touched by desperation. Not in the way these mothers at the border are desperate.
These mothers and fathers have been traveling, mostly on foot, for six weeks to reach a border where they hoped to grasp at freedom. They surely heard the stories of families being separated at the border, and I’m sure the news that military troops were being deployed to meet the caravan reached their ears. But whatever situations they are escaping from were so bad, so desperate, that to them this chance of freedom was worth it. Even if they have their children torn from their arms, they know at least their children will live. So they came. Thousands of them, hoping for asylum. Safety.
And we sent them running with tear gas.
I cannot get these images out of my mind. I cannot shake the heaviness in my heart. I make three meals a day for my children, I tuck them into warm beds at night, I set out clean clothes for them to wear in the morning. And I struggle under the immense burden of sorrow for these people waiting in desperation at the border of my country, as my own countrymen meet them with hardness of heart and violence.
We have all seen the images of refugees in the middle east, and raged against the injustices being done to them. And now we have a chance to help refugees escaping violence, poverty, and persecution. They are at our border, at the very door to our country. They are coming to us with nothing but their lives, asking for our help. And we–with images of Lady Liberty and our proud, tattered flag framed in our living rooms–deny them. We idolize the symbol of hope in our harbor, with her torch and her proclamation of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We idolize our liberty, fight for it, defend it with pride–all while denying even basic human rights to those who are truly desperate.
This is a great cloud of shame over our country.
Let me be clear–crossing an international border while seeking asylum is not illegal. These people are not trying to enter illegally, they are not coming to steal our jobs or take advantage of our healthcare. They are coming with empty hands, arms filled with tired children, asking for safety. Asking for a chance to start over and live in freedom, just like every one of our ancestors has done at some point.
My great-great-grandfather, Lydic Abildgaard, came here from Denmark in the late 1800s, escaping forced participation in an unwanted war. He was welcomed. He became a contributing member of this society. His children and grandchildren went on to do wonderful things. Now, generations later, I am simply considered an American. But I would not be if Lydic hadn’t known he could come here and be given liberty.
So why can we now not extend the same welcome to these immigrants? These desperate people are no different from my great-great-grandfather. Or yours. Which of us does not have a story like this? Yet, even as I write those words, I groan, because I know that’s not entirely true. African-Americans have stories of how their ancestors were brought here against their will and enslaved. Indigenous Americans were here long before the rest of us, and they have a story of how we came, persecuted them and stole from them. These are my stories, too.
Oh, my country of Liberty–your history is a mess. It is ugly. Is this not a good time to begin working on our redemption?
I keep asking how I can help, what I can do to ease the desperation of the people crowded at the border, waiting weeks or months to even be able to ask for asylum. If I were single and childless, I would be dropping everything to be right next to them, helping in every practical way. That’s not my situation, and I obviously can’t leave my own children to care for others. But I can help. I can send money with reputable organizations who are there in person, doing the work (Border Angels is a good one–you can donate here). I can write, using my words to spread a message of acceptance for those who are coming to us in desperation. I can pray for safety, health, and provision for these dear souls.
And, perhaps most importantly, I can keep my eyes open. I can choose not to look away and ignore. I can gain knowledge and read stories and take in the haunting images I know I won’t be able to forget later. I can bear this bit of their burden for them. Ignorance is not bliss, my friends. Knowledge is powerful. Knowledge moves us to do what is right, to stand up and resist those who do evil.
These are not strangers at our border. These are my sisters and brothers. My neighbors. Fellow mothers and fathers with children just like mine. I cannot in good conscience turn them away, or even look away from them.
I see you, desperate ones. I stand with you, and I will fight for your freedom, just like others have fought for mine.
More posts you might like:
Embracing the Ancestors of My Adopted Son
The Fire Inside and Why I Have to Write
The End of Myself – Land’s End, Maine