OKNO ŻYCIA: The Baby Drop Box Next Door

Yesterday Alex left to to return home to the U.S., and rather than sit home and be bummed about it, Elliott and I spent the afternoon out and about.  We took a tram trip to a big mall on the north side of the city and spent a couple hours browsing around and having lunch in the food court.

On the way home, Google Maps took me on a tram route I had not been on before, which dropped us off on the opposite end of our street than usual.  This end of the street was far more deserted, but it was still daylight and I felt safe and content strolling down the snowy road with Elliott strapped to me in the carrier.  Since I hadn’t been on this end of the street before, I took my time walking home to see what shops and restaurants were on the way.  And then, just a block or so from our apartment, I came to something that stopped me dead in my tracks.

Tucked between the row of shops was a narrow piece of a building featuring only a small window front.  The window did not look into the building, but was rather the front of a large, glass box.  The bottom of the box was lined with soft-looking blankets and pillows, similar to what you might see in a baby’s crib.  Then I noticed that the window I was peering into wasn’t a window at all, but a hatch-like door that pulled open from a handle at the top, similar to the hatch where I drop packages at the post office near my house at home.

It was a baby drop box.

The realization felt like a punch in the stomach, and I stumbled back away from it in horror.  A baby drop box.  Standing there in the snow with my once-orphaned, once-abandoned son resting against my chest, the realness of it all was too much to bear and I felt the urge to vomit right there on the sidewalk.

Elliott rubbed his eyes against my collarbone; it was time for his afternoon nap.  Even so, I felt rooted to the spot, unable to tear my eyes away from the contrast of the soft bedding and the cold metal handle of the hatch door.  This could have been him.

I corrected myself immediately, the sick feeling in my stomach getting stronger.  This was him.  He may not have been left in a baby drop box, but this was the start of his life.  It hit too close to home.  Right here in front of my eyes, not two feet away.  Just one day after our adoption of him was complete, I felt the weight of orphanhood unlike anytime before.

On the spot where I was standing, mothers just like me have felt the greatest pain of their lives.  I tried to imagine unstrapping Elliott from me, pulling on the cold, metal handle, laying him down and then having to make my legs walk away.  It was something I could not even fathom, and yet is enough of a reality to warrant the existence of such a thing.

Baby drop boxes have been getting a lot of attention recently with the documentary coming out in a few months about a particularly well-known one in Korea.  I have watched the trailer and read articles about the countless babies whose lives have been saved through these drop boxes – babies who would have otherwise been left to die alone.  And each time I have rejoiced at the chance at life they have given, the good work the drop boxes accomplish.  I have mentally commended those who devote themselves to such an incredibly worthy cause.

Even though all of that is still true, accidentally and unexpectedly stumbling upon one with my brand new son, I was overwhelmed by the other half of the equation.  The mothers.  The fathers.  The grandmothers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles and cousins who never were.  The guilt and the grief and the “what ifs”.  The babies who turn into children who must carry the weight of abandonment and trauma and grief even after they are a part of a loving family, if they even get that chance at all (most won’t).

It is nice to think about the babies that are saved from being left to die.  It is comfortable and makes us feel warm and fuzzy.  And while I truly rejoice at those saved lives, my heart aches for the chapters that came before and after the drop box.  The chapters of grief and despair and of having no other options, and the chapters of orphanhood.

The chapter of orphanhood is one I now know well.  It’s one I have seen with my own eyes, up close and raw and personal.  I’ve rocked it sleep, I’ve held it while it sobs from grief, I’ve stayed up all hours watching it beat its head on the bed from trauma-induced night terrors.  Orphanhood is truly a nightmarish burden carried by the world’s most innocent and vulnerable.  Standing there in front of the drop box, it was this side of the story that turned my stomach.

When I finally pulled myself away, I took a mental note of the sign above the window, planning to research it when I got home, naively hoping I misinterpreted the blanket-lined box.  It took only a quick internet search to confirm what I had seen.  The sign said “OKNO ŻYCIA”, which means “Window of Life”.

I haven’t been able to get the encounter out of my head since, feeling scared to even walk down the street to have to pass it again.  Even so, I am thankful that I came across the baby drop box.  It confronted me with a lot of realities and a lot of emotions that have given me a more complete picture of a complex issue that is very personal for me, especially in light of my own recent life experiences.

Now when I hear about these baby drop boxes that used to feel a million miles away, I will not only celebrate the incredibly courageous men and women who devote themselves to caring for these abandoned children, but will always remember how it felt to stand in front of one with my once-orphaned son in my arms.  Just like adoption, these baby drop boxes represent a mixed bag of redemption and loss, and I never want to forget the incredibly horrible and incredibly beautiful reality of those two things in tandem.


baby drop box

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