At her local church in Yerevan, Armenia, Siranush lit a candle and prayed that her daughter would survive the night. Lusine, 22, was hovering between life and death in a nearby hospital after a terrible car crash. As Siranush pleaded for her daughter’s life, she offered up something in return. “If you save Lusine, I promise I will find out what happened to Meri,” she prayed. “Wherever she is, I will find her.”
For Lusine was not Siranush’s only daughter. Five years earlier, she and her husband, Artur, had a baby girl. But after a long delivery fraught with complications, the baby, Meri, had died.
At least, that’s what they told their family. But as Siranush prayed that night, she was also grappling with something heavier on her conscience. The fact that Meri had not, in fact, died at birth.
“We committed a sin about Meri,” Artur says. “But now we wanted to find her again.”
And so with one daughter fighting for her life, Siranush and Artur began, belatedly, to fight for their other one – the daughter born different who, like many similar children in Armenia, are needlessly torn from their parents and put into institutions.
The “sin” Artur talks of began on August 12, 2009. Siranush’s labour was not going well. The baby’s heartbeat was weak and doctors performed an emergency Caesarean. After an interminably long wait while Siranush had the surgery, a gloomy-looking doctor appeared before Artur. She explained that while his wife had been saved, their daughter Meri had been born with heart defects and Down Syndrome.
Then their trusted family doctor broke even worse news: Meri would very likely die within a few days. She said it was best if Siranush and Artur returned home and left Meri to die peacefully in the hospital. “You have other children already,” the doctor reminded them.
Siranush was fiercely against leaving Meri behind, but Artur gently persuaded her to follow their doctor’s advice. As small-scale fish farmers, the couple had no medical knowledge or reason to doubt the professionals if they said it was hopeless.
And so Siranush and Artur’s secret began. The questions about where their baby was were so painful, Artur says, it was simpler to tell everyone she had died.