On December 23, 2000, at 6:00 pm I gave birth to my first daughter, Lila Talbott Wells. Until that moment, truthfully, I wasn't very interested in children. Mine or anyone else's. They were cute but distracting, often even a bit annoying.
Then she came and, as it happens with every new mother, my heart burst open with a force of love I had never known possible. 16 months later I was pregnant again, thrilled to be delivering a sibling for precious Lila, and questioning how on Earth I could love another one as much as I did her. February 23, 2003, Harriett Merriman Wells was pulled from my cut belly and whisked to the NICU. A ferocious love literally pulled my broken body out of bed and down the long hall so I could sit with my baby - against doctors' orders. What I knew then was that my love pie did not split to accommodate another child, it grew & expanded. Deep within my core, from a source unknown, flowed more and more reckless LOVE.
Over the years I have continued to fall in love with children... not just my own (our third Katharine Elizabeth Wells came on March 4, 2005), but ALL of the children of the world. And I have learned that my heart is big enough.
My husband David will climb Africa's tallest peak Mt Kilimanjaro in a month to support Unite's work with Sister Crispina Mnate and her St. Joseph's Orphanage and Heaven School. In preparation, he (out of necessity) and I (for moral support) have been going to spinning classes at Soul Cycle, the most challenging and intense form of exercise I have ever done in my entire life (sad, but true). One day, during one class, one instructor said off the cuff, "You must use up all of your energy before you can make more. Trust your body." In that moment, with my burning legs going round and round and sweat dripping from the tip of my nose, I got it.
When my girls were babies I breastfed each of them exclusively for more than a year. Anyone who knows me might just take one look and assume that this was easy given my naturally well-endowed bosom. Not so. Those first few days, weeks and often months were littered with moments of excruciating pain and utter desperation. There were times (now known to be growth spurts) that my babies would suck on my breasts for hours upon hours leaving me exhausted, flattened, cracked and bleeding. They screamed and I wept, unsure I was capable of providing what they needed. New mommies are often advised during these times to supplement to more quickly ease the discomfort, the babies' and our own. Rarely are we advised to wait. To endure. To trust that our bodies, if given the chance, from somewhere deep within our core, will create more.
To me, love is like energy and a mother's milk. It is only after we give away all we believe we have, when we are certain we have not an ounce left within us and when our rational selves are screaming at us to pull back, retreat, protect... that we are able to access that place where supply is infinite. When breastfeeding, the front milk which flows easily and often at the most inopportune times (e.g. at the cry of a strangers' child, which of course reinforces my belief that all women are mamas of the world) is not the most nutritious. Instead, it is the hind milk found in the very depths of the breast that is loaded with fat and nutrients. And reaching these precious life-sustaining droplets takes time, patience, commitment and often a great deal of discomfort. Yet, once shared, the child thrives and the mother, when allowed to honor herself and her body's natural process, will survive and will source more.
One of the many reasons I cherish my work with Unite and return to Tanzania as often as possible is that in this journey I have met countless women who support and care for (in one way or another) children who are not biologically their own. Whether she embraces the weeping child of a stranger, welcomes hungry children to her table even when food is scarce, pays an orphans' school fees or raises children of the less fortunate as her own, never does she turn a blind eye to need. From such women as these who step forward to love and serve as best they can (often with the scantest of resources) and who support one another other in doing the same, I have been inspired and blessed to find and tap my own inner infinite supply of powerful, life-changing, life-giving love. And for that... for them... I am eternally grateful.
Today, with our three daughters, four dogs, and now 47 orphans.... I have a hunch and a prayer that we are just getting started.