I’m a speech-language pathologist, and Leah* was on my caseload in a preschool for language-delayed children. With jet-black frizzy braids, two deep dimples, chubby cheeks, and a mischievous Cheshire grin, she won me over at first sight. She was positively adorable.

The official class yenta, she’d simultaneously initiate preschool politics while arbitrating recess spats, exhibiting pragmatic skills that far exceeded those of her counterparts. Exuberant to a fault, she’d sing the daily songs religiously with bulging eyes and an upturned head until she was hoarse.

Once, on the day after her older sister’s wedding, she stood in the corner, highly insulted. Why? “Because no one wished me mazel tov,” she explained dolefully.

But for all her charm, five-year-old Leah exhibited serious developmental issues.

Leah exhibited serious developmental issues

Desperate for sensory stimulation, she would roll on the floor, hug teachers incessantly, and literally hit her friends, which she perceived as a mere “tap.” She would push and shove and press the crayon fiercely into the paper, unintentionally earning the title of “most aggressive child in the class.”

Then there were the eating abnormalities. Leah was obsessed with food. While the other children would leisurely munch through their sandwiches, chewing each bite thoughtfully and deliberately, Leah vacuumed up her hefty grilled cheese in less than a minute, after which she’d begin wildly foraging through her knapsack—or those of her friends—for more gastronomical treasures.

In my therapy sessions, I sometimes dispense small snacks as reinforcements for a particular exercise. Leah—a robust, clearly well-fed little girl—would enter my room with dreamy, glazed eyes, head straight to the snack in the corner, and attempt to sneakily grab a few from the bag when she thought I wasn’t looking. At the end of the session, when I’d hand her five chocolate chips for a job well done, they’d fly into her mouth within milliseconds. And then she’d be on her knees, begging for more.

Finally, there were the emotional holes. Adorable Leah experienced intense separation anxiety; morning goodbyes to Mommy were torturous for both, awash with high-pitched screams of abandonment. When someone knocked Morning goodbyes to Mommy were torturous for bothon the preschool door, she’d panic, fleeing into the folds of the teacher’s skirt for safety. And in a clear reversion to infantile patterns, she’d insist on having a bottle at night and each morning—and bringing it to school.

Three weeks into the school year, I took a good look at Leah’s file. In a flash, all was clear.

Leah was adopted. At six months old, she was removed from her birth parents by Social Services due to acute neglect and abandonment. She was found to be severely malnourished and sensorially starved. She had been left to cry for hours on end, without being cradled or rocked or caressed by human touch.

Immediately adopted by her current warm, loving parents, Leah does not know yet of her true identity. But her behaviors—her perpetual craving for warmth and envelopment, her never-ending quest for foodstuffs, her deep fear of all adults but the ones she’s learned to trust—tell a tragic, wordless story, a tale that defies understanding.

In today’s corporate world, where the go-getting, invulnerable CEO is the pinnacle of achievement, it’s become painfully common for devoted mothers to feel subjacent on the totem pole, or even worse—unproductive.

But Leah’s story testifies to the real movers and shakers, the authentic molders of lives, the most powerful species of all: mommies.

Leah was adopted

It’s no coincidence that the very first woman on Earth, the foundation of all future femininity, was named Chavah (Eve), from the Hebrew root-word chai, life. A woman’s essence is her ability to create and nurture life, and Chavah’s divinely bestowed name proclaims this truth for eternity. Even if she is physically incapable of birth—like Leah’s adoptive mother—the strength remains: she is a giver, a lover, a cultivator of souls.

As mother of all life, she wields an unrivaled power.

* Names and details have been changed.