Media file: haiti-earthquake-women21_9333_9655.jpg
Image by Andre Lambertson, Haiti, 2010.

When we arrived on Monday, our fixer, Andre, told me that he had a message from Venia. She wanted to give her son to me so that I could raise him as my own.

Venia was raped two days after the earthquake and had her baby in October. When we first met her at the end of summer, she had a joie de vivre that I found striking given everything that had happened to her. But once the baby came, she became more subdued. The young woman who had once seemed so hopeful now could not see a future for herself or her son. She said that when she looked at Richard, she remembered the rape and was depressed that she couldn't even say who his father was, because she was raped by four men and didn't know which one had impregnated her.

We went to see her on Tuesday, and she said again that she could not take care of Richard, so if I would not take him, she would give him to an orphanage. I held Richard as she told us how hard it had been for her. She had stopped breastfeeding because she didn't think her milk was good enough for him, as she herself didn't have enough to eat. She was feeding him powdered milk instead of formula because formula is twice as expensive. And she did not have enough money for diapers—Richard was dressed only in a shirt, and, as baby boys are wont to do, peed on me shortly after our arrival.

I asked Venia if she wanted to give Richard up simply because she didn't have money, or if it was that she truly did not want to be a mother. She is only 22. Before the earthquake, she was working in a supermarket and as a street vendor. She was saving to go to school. Being a mother would entail more days of exhaustion, sacrifice and a deferral of the dreams she once had.

But I told Venia that if she wanted to keep Richard, if she truly wanted to be his mother, we would find a way. Of course, the challenge is that she cannot work because she has to take care of the baby. She does not want to leave him with just anyone because she is afraid that people won't take the necessary precautions to protect him from cholera.

Venia admitted that when she thinks of being without her baby, she cries. And so we agreed that she would look into the cost of child care, and Andre, who knows the owners of the supermarket where Venia used to work, said he would ask if they would rehire her when the store reopens in a few weeks.

Throughout the conversation, Richard lay in my arms watching me intently. He's a wonderful baby. I realize that right now Venia thinks I would make a better mother, in part because I have more money. But she loves Richard and I know she is not going to stay stuck in this place forever. Still, it is not my decision to make whether she keeps him or not. This idea that I have, that love is as important as money, is one I can afford to have because of where and how I live. Venia may well decide that it's simply too much, being a single mother, living in a tent, with no job and no support.

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