The story stayed with leave me, and I found myself returning to it again and again in my mind. What had driven that baby’s mother to leave him not in a hospital, police or fire station—safe havens, all—but on a subway platform? And what random stroke of luck or divine intervention averted all the horrific ends to this tale—and there could have been so many—and instead turned it into one of salvation and grace? As I mulled over these questions, it occurred to me that there was an even bigger theme here, one that was both mythic and archetypal. The foundling, the infant abandoned and rescued, is motif that occurs over and over in literature and can trace its roots as far back as the Bible. Wasn’t Moses himself a foundling, set in the ark and concealed in the bulrushes by his mother, whose fear for his life was so great that she was willing to give him up to save him? And wasn’t Moses rescued by the most unlikely of saviors, an Egyptian princess who found and then raised him as her own?
It was the connection to the Moses theme that sealed the deal for me; this story was too good, and had too much in it, to leave alone: I had to write it. But because I am a novelist and not a journalist, I made several important changes along the way. I turned the man of the real story into Miranda Berenzweig, a single woman who has not thought of having a child but whose biological clock is nonetheless ticking loudly. I changed the baby boy to a girl. And unlike the real story, in which no one came forth to claim the child, I introduced the birth father, an up-and-coming black real estate broker who did not know he had a daughter. Once his paternity is proven, he steps up to claim her. This plot turn raised issues about what makes a good or fit parent and once again, I found I was once again grappling with a Biblical theme—this time, it had to do with King Solomon who must adjudicate between two women who come to him with an infant each swears is her own. Both of my characters have a claim to the abandoned baby as well but which claim is the one that should prevail?
Novels can come from surprising sources and lead to equally surprising destinations; sometimes their themes are not out there front and center, but are buried in the story and must be coaxed out gently. I did not know that my reconfiguring a contemporary news event would take me back to ancient stories and universal themes, themes that stirred my heart and mind—and galvanized me to write.