Saturday     Feb. 23, 2002                        Volume 726 - Ben


Following my recent column, many of you have written to offer sympathy and to express surprise that I
had lost a child.  A number of you have asked me to write about that experience.  It seems to me that so
many of you have supported me in so many ways, and for a seemingly endless period of time, that I forget
you were not always part of my life and that you could not possibly know about Ben. It is my privilege to
share Ben's short life with you.  Moreover, as my defense team could tell you, my experience with Ben
sustained me from the time I became a news item (above the fold, front page) through the trial.
There were two sentences that were my constant refrain back then.

The first was: "This isn't the country I thought we lived in!"
The second was: "The worst has already happened."

Obviously it was the second that referred to the loss of my child.  Ultimately I came to understand that
I was comparing apples and oranges, nevertheless the strength was there when I needed it because of Ben.
I wrote a letter to Ben, it was written several months after his death and was obviously more for me than for Ben.
I needed to sort out my thoughts and work on closure.  I had lost my Mother at my age 24, my marriage at my age 37,
and my Father at my age 39. Although I believed I had handled each loss with grace, I realized when Ben died
that I had not found previous closure and it compounded my greatest loss, that of my son.  I was then 43 years old.

This is what I wrote to Ben:

"Dear Ben,

 I have crawled through fire since your death.  There are no words to describe the loss of a child.
 It is unspeakable, it is profound.  It is a violation of nature.  I recall that I cried when Jim Henson died
 shortly before your birth, I was saddened that you would miss his great talent.  I never dreamed that you
 would miss the Muppets as well.  I never imagined that our time together would be so painfully short.

 I wanted to give you the world, I would gladly have given my life that you might have yours.
 I was never given a choice.  I have, instead, had to find a way to survive without you.
 It has been painful.  I have lost my baby, my son, my best little buddy.
 You will always be a part of my life, of our family, and of our history.
 There will forever be a place in my heart that belongs only to you.

 There were eight of us in the room with you the night you died, I gave each one an opportunity
 to hold you and say good-by.  And then it was just you and me again, Mother and child.
 I held you in my arms as God took you into His.
 Each person in that room died a little with you that night...

 I have wanted to grieve for you and to get it right this time.  I want you to be proud of your Mommy.
 You gave me the greatest gifts of my life.  You gave me back to me.  I loved you the moment I knew of
 your presence.  You were the reaffirmation of my love of children.  You brought me peace and gave me joy.

 You brought me love.  Never could there have been a more wanted child. You strengthened bonds with
 our entire family as well as friends.  You brought new friends into our lives and you touched many lives in
 significant ways.  You are my hero.  My heart breaks as it yearns for the moments we never had together.

 You have left me the greatest legacy of all, yours is a legacy of love.  You cannot be replaced, nor should you be.
 I am not the woman I was when I conceived you, nor should I be.  I am not yet the woman I will be when I have
 incorporated your loss into my life but I am trying very had to become that woman.  I want you to be proud of me.
 I have discovered strength I did not know I had, I have also experienced pain that was once beyond my comprehension.

 I am reminded of something Dr. Sporn said in 1983 after I had survived total, and unexplained, kidney failure.
 He told me not to thank him, he said he had no idea why I had lived or why I was not on dialysis for life.
 He said to 'thank the man upstairs' if I wanted to thank somebody, and he said that God must have some plan for me...
 I thought that plan was our life together...  My arms are now empty, I long to hold you for even one more moment.
 It cannot be.  Do you know how much I love you?  Do you know how much I miss you?

 Your sisters have given me love and support throughout.  They loved you so much, Ben.  I can still hear
 Margaret Lynn's words as she stood beside you at one hospital while I was in another hospital across town.
 She called and said, "Oh Mom, he is SO beautiful!"  The night you died, by now in the out of state third hospital,
 Liza slept with me.  I awakened to find her arms wrapped tightly around me.  They, too, have suffered your loss.
 I can never forget finding your brother-in-law, Lynn's husband Richard, alone in our dining room, simply sobbing.

 Your eyes, I remember how you looked back at me as the Doctor took you from my arms after delivery.
 I have thought about what you may have been trying to say.  Perhaps you wanted to tell me that you loved me,
 to be brave, that I would know what to do...I haven't always known what to do, Ben.  I have felt shattered, lost,
 alone and fragile.  I have needed to use every resource available to me and even that has not always been enough.

 I have burst into tears in the middle of Safeway, I have had moments when I could only lie on the floor in my office.
 I have not attempted to run from my pain, I have tried very hard to face it.  I have allowed myself to feel it and to
 grow from the pain.  This has been the greatest sorrow of my life.  I intend to survive and to make you proud of me.

 I have begun to think a great deal about how I might best proceed.  I want a child in my life and I want to move
 forward carrying along the best parts of you and me.  I have begun to think of the countless children born without
 families who love them or are able to care for them.  I believe that I am meant to give love and comfort to a child
 already born and who needs me.  With that in mind I have researched Romania and adoption needs in that country.
 I have recently met the adoption requirements for this country and for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
 Unfortunately there are, as yet, no American adoption agencies involved in Romanian adoptions.

 On October 17, 1990, I will fly alone to Romania. I hope to find your new little brother or sister.
 Absent the support of an agency, I have hired a Romanian translator and I will stay with her family.
 I truly believe that a child waits there for me.  This is a child who could not have been part of my life
 had you not come first and led the way.

 My blessed Angel, my beloved son, I will love you always.  Forever there will be an empty place in my life
 and a part of my heart and very soul that will belong to you.  I am grateful to have borne you, my life has been
 made richer by a little boy named Ben.  I love you, my sweet baby boy, I always will.

 With my love always, Mama"

Ben Hiatt Steele was born on May 25, 1990, and died on May 29, 1990.  He was born with an undetected
AV. malformation.  It was not caused, preventable, or genetic.  He was moved from Henrico Drs. Hospital,
after birth, to the Medical College of Virginia.  He was then flown to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore where
heroic efforts were made to save him.  Those failed and he died in my arms.

I did indeed fly to Romania on October 17 of that same year and there was a little boy who surely must
have been waiting for me.  I was there before the laws had been determined regarding adoption and
I simply waited it out.  I found Adam in a village about two hours from Bucharest on October 19.
He was living with his 19-year old birth Mother, her siblings and parents and her 2 year old daughter.
They had a dirt floor and cardboard roof.  There was no plumbing, no electricity, and they had only two rooms.

Adam Hiatt Steele was adopted in Romanian court on November 7, 1990.  His birth Mother and I held hands
as we waited for the Judge to conduct the hearing and give the final adoption order.  Adam was my child
the moment I pulled back his blanket and found his huge eyes looking right into mine, court simply made it legal.
I then satisfied more requirements for the USA and made our travel plans.  Adam and I arrived in Richmond
ten days before Thanksgiving.  It had Been a year of love and loss and renewal, we had a great deal to celebrate
and give thanks for that Thanksgiving.

Following our arrival home, I initiated American adoption proceedings.  Adam became the first child adopted on
foreign soil to be adopted a second time in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I wanted every protection afforded him.
Following his second (American) adoption we went to Norfolk INS for our citizenship appointment.  Adam has full
American citizenship.  All of the i's were dotted and the t's were crossed when I raised my right hand in his behalf
that day.  George Bush, Sr. was president at the time.  Sadly, Starr and Co. would later suggest that Adam had been
illegally adopted and that I had been threatened by the White House.  Perhaps they forgot it was an adoption that
occurred during the Bush One years... They never investigated Adam's adoption because they knew it was legal.

Instead they simply traveled Richmond suggesting that there might be something amiss.  The purpose was to hurt
Adam and me as they flexed their muscles as a warning to me.  The theory, one of countless theories they trotted out,
was that I had been threatened into lying.  The problem they encountered with each attack was that I had been telling
the truth, repeatedly, before the White House even had a clue I existed.  I had never met the President or worked
for the government.  I did not know Tripp, Lewinsky, or anybody working at either the Pentagon or the White House.
I had never been to the White House, not even as a tourist.

Someday I would really like to meet President Clinton and Senator Clinton.  I would just like to shake hands with
two great American leaders.  I would also like to meet the man, woman, or child who made it out of Romania
with an illegal adoption!  I thought we were doing well to get out of there with legal paperwork!!

Bottom line, Ben's death was one of my life's greatest tragedies, Adam's adoption was one of my life's greatest gifts.
Ken Starr and the Office of the Independent Counsel, prompted by Kathy Willey, were willing to terrorize me endlessly
and willing to go after my child for one reason.  They, together with their partisan allies, were determined to destroy our
President and to seize power. I found myself standing in the path of an out-of-control freight train.  It was driven by
Ken Starr and loaded with all of the power and resources of the United States Government.  I never even saw it coming...
In the end as an ordinary citizen, I witnessed extraordinary events in the history of our country.

My part was easy, I simply told the truth.

Our losses have been great and most of our struggles have been post trial.
Having said that, I still wouldn't change a thing.
I did the right thing, it was the only thing I could have done.
The consequences were apparent and unavoidable but the OIC did not destroy us.

A little boy sleeps in the room next door, I am here, we are fine.
We still have each other.
I, of all people, know what that means.

Julie Hiatt Steele

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