I read Joanna Connors’ insightful article regarding motherhood and the compelling and dramatic story of the rescue and recovery of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight from a house of horrors just last week in Cleveland, Ohio. The article considers how rape, an ancient violence, helps to set in relief the capacity of mothers to stand firm for their daughters and to thus aid in their recovery. I read parts of the article to my mother yesterday and she described the difficulty she imagines for Amanda Berry in having to explain to her daughter that Ariel Castro, the man responsible for decades of brutality against the women, is her father. Though I do not discount the difficulty, in my reading, Berry’s daughter would seem less inclined to grand delusions regarding domestic life and thus may not need to reconcile the reality against a well-lit fantasy. Thus, I do not discount that child’s witness to Castro’s monstrosity in negotiating her world. Moreover, to Connors’ point, the long history of sexual violence against women gives Berry a catalogue of cruelties to draw from as models of endurance. In addition to the mythological examples that Connors cites, there are historical ones. In an American context, enslaved women who were routinely raped for both the slaveholders pleasure and profit offer a model. There are also the twenty thousand children said to be born from rapes during the Rwandan genocide. Jonathan Torgovnik erases the seemingly unknowable dimension of these stories in his book Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape. The book features photographs, like this one of Valentine with her daughters Amelie and Inez:
Torgovnik’s photographs are accompanied by interviews with the women, survivors of dastardly deeds. Valentine tells Torgovnik an achingly honest story of her growing feelings for her daughter who was the product of the unimaginable brutality she endured:
I love my first daughter more because I gave birth to her as a result of love. Her father was my husband. The second girl is a result of unwanted circumstance. I never loved her father. My love is divided, but slowly, I am beginning to appreciate that the younger daughter is innocent. Before, when she was a baby, I left her crying. When it came to feeding, I fed the older one more than the younger one, until people in the neighborhood reminded me that was not the proper thing to do. I love her only now that I am beginning to appreciate that she is my daughter too.
More of these stories are chronicled in a video entitled Intended Consequences that you can view by following the embedded link.
So many of us have made life work through “unwanted circumstance.” Valentine’s reflections remind us of the significance of community for helping us to grow and nurture love when it seems most unlikely.