I’m listening to a lullaby that Natalya used to sing, and it makes me think of Veroushka. It makes me think of Natalya singing lullabies to her daughter, and suddenly I start to see it from a different perspective.
For me, Veroushka’s loss is this terrible wrenching thing, like she’s being kidnapped. But that’s because of my stuff. That’s because when I was taken from my foster parents, it was like that for me.
And it’s not that Nata didn’t grieve for Veroushka, but her being taken away was not a surprise. I don’t know if Natalya knew what day they would come for her, but she knew they would come. It was a sad day, a bleak day, but it wasn’t a kidnapping. Natalya gave them permission to do that: Natalya knew this was the best thing for her daughter and so she did it.
It occurs to me that I don’t really know whether the adoption was Yuri’s idea or if it was Natalya’s idea. It was certainly mutually agreeable, as it was economically advantageous for Yuri. You aren’t supposed to buy babies when you arrange an adoption, but there are such high fees involved in the process that it’s not very difficult (I would think) to siphon some of this off to the birth mother. Or, in this case, the birth mother’s pimp. I also know that Natalya was allowed to bring the baby to term for economic reasons as well: if men didn’t have peculiar desires that involved pregnant and breastfeeding young women, Nata would have been forced to have a second abortion. She was allowed to give birth that time only because there was money in it: Yuri was, after all, a businessman, and the bottom line was almost always his primary objective. There is money in baby selling, but there also needed to be money in the months when the mother was visibly pregnant, or the loss of income during that time wouldn’t make the selling worthwhile.
Nata’s first pregnancy was terminated because there wasn’t any money in it. She was only 13 years old, and her body had hadn’t fully arrived at puberty yet and it would have been like looking like a pregnant child; she was pregnant almost as soon as she started menstruating. And no one really wants that. But, in the second pregnancy, she was older. She was only 15, but she looked like a woman. And so she could still bring in some money.
Anyway, I realize I didn’t really think about what life was like in the months when Veroushka was with Natalya, that Natalya was trafficked when I wasn’t there. I was trafficked mainly when I was with her: I was trafficked at church and I was trafficked at Yuri’s, but I wasn’t trafficked otherwise. But Natalya’s life was only trafficking.
So she’s out all night working the streets while her baby cries at home, or she’s bringing men back to her room and servicing them with her baby there in the same room or maybe left briefly in the care of another sex worker, and that’s no way to raise a daughter. It just isn’t.
Also, she had the example of my life. She knew from looking at me what lay ahead in Veroushka’s future. She knew the trafficking wouldn’t start when Veroushka reached puberty or even when she was 10. It would start as soon as she could walk, and that she would be groomed for that kind of life almost as soon as she was born.
I cannot see Natalya going on like that if she felt she had any other choices. And so something has been arranged. I didn’t know what had been arranged—she probably told me, but it was all too painful to take in, and then when the day came I was too overwhelmed by my own memories to add all of this up.
Anyway, Natalya rescued Veroushka. She got her out of that kind of life, and Veroushka is safe now. I don’t know that Veroushka is alive, but she probably is and the first few months of her life may be her only exposure to horror and then only indirectly. Only through what is happening to her mother, that she may not know was horrifying.
I have to grieve for her loss from my own life, but not the loss of her as a person or of her future. Natalya was a good mother and she understood that her own desire to keep her child with her was less important than the child’s need to be safe from exploitation. And so Nata did that. She got her daughter out and to safety even though it was painful to do that. Even though the months after Veroushka was taken were the bleakest days she had ever known, even though the grief was paralyzing and it was sometimes difficult to think how to go on anymore. She did that.
I’ll tell you what I remember of my tantrum the day Veroushka was taken. I remember pounding my fists against Natalya—not hard, but in that ineffectual way a small child does. I remember Natalya holding me. I remember hitting Natalya like that while she held me as tight as she could while I hit her until I finally stopped and dissolved into sobbing. And then she just held me.
I could never do that when I lost my foster parents. I was taken away, and there was no one to hold me or to keep me safe even when I was so angry I wanted to hit anything, anyone, even the person I loved most.
The day Veroushka was taken must have been one of the most painful days of her life, but she held me. She helped me contain my anger and my loss when she just needed to be held.