On April 1, 2009—while driving to teach—I heard an NPR story about thousands of children stolen, just after birth, during Franco’s dictatorship. This was no April Fool’s joke. I listened to this broadcast and others that emerged over time. It was incredibly systematic: Parents were told their infant had died, the newborn was then sold to a more politically suitable family, the hospital offered to take care of “funeral plans”, birth records were destroyed. Of course, this news story went straight to my core, but like any other day there were papers to grade, student meetings, etc. The broadcast, harrowing though it was, faded from my field of vision.
Two years later, after the birth of our son, the stolen babies reemerged in my consciousness. Every time I would bathe him, dress him, wipe milk from the corners of his mouth—the Spanish babies would flash before me. A cyclone of images: a blue “freezer-baby” the nuns would keep on-hand to show the new grieving mother, Dr. Vela and his metal crucifix, the white sheets, the blood-sheets. I became a hunted thing. These mothers, these 300,000 infants wouldn’t let me rest with my newborn.
After a year of these predatory images, I got really annoyed. During my most intimate moments of motherhood (my son discovering how a bird flies, the unity of snowflakes, the scent of a horse) I was accosted. Was I to have no peace? And so I began writing toward this thievery, toward the scents and textures of Spanish infants and mothers whom I had never met. Toward nuns and doctors who could perpetuate such crimes. Writing toward attendance, toward threshold and clemency.
Illustration by Tom Moore, an illustrator who lives in St. Louis, MO.