Nearly eight years ago, Madonna went up against Malawi’s highest court to win the right to adopt then-four-year-old Mercy James.
Fast forward to today, the songstress opened the country’s first-ever pediatric surgery and intensive care center, which she named The Mercy James Institute for Pediatric Surgery and Intensive Care, after her now-11-year-old daughter.
At the opening ceremony on Tuesday, Madonna recalled the emotional three-and-a-half year journey she went through to call Mercy her own after she had successfully adopted son David Banda in 2006.
“I met Mercy soon after I met my son David, but they were living in different orphanages. David was in Mchinji in Home of Hope, and Mercy was here in Blantyre at Kondanani. Mercy was suffering from malaria, and David from pneumonia. And when I held each of them in my arms, I whispered in their ears, that I would look after them. And I promised them that they would grow up into strong and healthy adults,” Madonna told the audience at the Queen Central Hospital.
“I was granted permission to adopt David first. And some time later, I filed a petition to adopt Mercy. But this time, the judge who was presiding said no. I was recently divorced, and she informed me, as a divorced woman, I was not fit to raise children and that Mercy James was better off growing up in an orphanage,” the seven-time Grammy winner continued.
The adoption raised strong public reaction because Malawian law requires would-be parents to reside in Malawi for one year before adopting, which Madonna did not do. In addition, she was in the process of legally separating from second husband Guy Ritchie, citing irreconcilable differences. Mercy was placed at Children’s Village following the death of her teenage mother.
“If you know me, you can imagine how I received this information. It’s true, I am a freedom fighter. I am a feminist. I am a rebel heart. But I am also a compassionate and intelligent human being. And if you cannot give me a logical reason for the word ‘no,’ then I will not accept the word ‘no.’ I hired a team of lawyers, and I took my case to the supreme court, and it was not an easy battle,” Madonna said in her moving speech.
“The adoption laws in Malawi had not been reformed since the early ’40s, and it had not occurred to anyone to change them yet. So my argument was that women have been raising children for centuries, on their own … not to mention the fact that I was doing just fine raising my own three children,” she said.
David’s adoption had been rushed through because a court had granted an interim order, but Madonna faced more judicial pushback in Mercy’s case.
“I never gave up. And I never backed down. And I believe that if you want something badly enough in life, the universe will conspire to help you get it. It may not be exactly when you want it, it may not come exactly when you think it’s gonna come. It may not come in the package that you want it. But if you persevere, you will win,” the entertainer emphasized.
Concluding, “I fought for Mercy, and I won. It wasn’t easy. And with the blood, sweat, and tears of so many people here today, we fought for this hospital—and we won. So I’m here to say: never, ever give up on your dreams. Never stop fighting for what you believe in. And finally: Love conquers all.”
All of Madonna’s six children, except daughter Lourdes, were at Tuesday’s ceremony. David Banda danced with kids from the Jacaranda School for Orphans, Rocco painted a mural in the hospital and Mercy James gave a speech, calling her mom “the bomb” — and then dabbed at the end.
The Mercy James Institute for Pediatric Surgery and Intensive Care at the Queen Central Hospital was funded by Madonna’s charity, Raising Malawi, which she founded in 2006.
Madonna said the center has been up and running since the end of June, and the first surgery was completed last week, nearly two years after construction began on the center in 2015. The facility includes three operating rooms for children’s surgery, as well as a day clinic and a ward with 45 beds.
This article originally appeared on People.com