Providence, R.I. – Five years ago, my husband Lorne, our son Sam and I traveled to China to bring a baby girl home from an orphanage in Hunan. Our house had gone mournfully silent in April of 2002, when our five year old daughter Grace died suddenly. Since that day, our lives had been marked more by what used to be than what could be. Until Annabelle.
"Our family is revived," Sam announced in our hotel room in Changsha as we watched our eleven month old daughter grin at us.
Back home, strangers stopped me. "Your daughter is beautiful," they said. Daughter. For me, the word daughter was fraught with anxiety, even terror. On that night in April, a doctor looked at me hard and said: "Your daughter is not going to make it." Within 36 hours, my daughter was dead.
On a bright Monday morning five years later, when I went into Annabelle's room, I found her lying in a crumpled heap on the floor.
I called her name, over and over, remembering that night in the hospital when I screamed Grace's name until my voice grew hoarse.
Since Grace had died, I had met enough families with losses heaped upon them with Jobian intensity to understand that no one was safe. It was that understanding that almost kept me from having another child. The risk was too great.
As a teenager, a green eyed boy sailed us across Narragansett Bay, stopped under the Newport Bridge and dared me to jump overboard. Without hesitating, I stood on the stern and leaped. The current beneath the bridge was so strong, that within seconds it sent me far from the boy and the boat. When he finally reached me, I laughed as he pulled me aboard. I would do it again, I remember thinking. For years afterwards, when I sailed those waters, I always thought of my sixteen year old self, how willing I had been to jump off that boat into the unknown. But after Grace died, that girl seemed like a stranger.
Then one March day, a Chinese official called my name, and I stepped forward with as much bravery as I had when I stood on that stern in Narragansett Bay. I held out my arms for my daughter. And happily, eagerly, I jumped.
But racing to the Emergency Room where our ordeal with Grace began, cradling Annabelle in my arms, terror took hold. How could I have dared to love a little girl again? As I held Annabelle's limp hand I remembered navigating these same corridors, my other daughter's hand in mine.
And then I heard Annabelle's voice, clear and strong. Alive.
What I believe is this: there is no safe route through life. When we offer our heart to others, we do not know what will happen. It might break. It might grow. It might take us places we never imagined. But isn't that the risk of love? To be willing to stand on the stern on a beautiful summer day and, not knowing the outcome, leap.