Thursday, October 31, 2013

"She'll be okay."

"Are they taking her tomorrow?"
"Yes, that's exactly the way it feels."
"I'm sorry, honey. She'll be okay. Do you want to come over in the afternoon?"

I met Melody's parents before today. Twice. The first time they were two hours late to their visit with her. The second time they barely looked up from their phones when I brought her into the room. They don't look anything like me. And I don't mean their skin color. Dad has multiple facial piercings and Mom has arms full of tattoos. And no ring. But they made the decision to take her home after almost two months in my care. So today I brought her back to the agency so they could have her. So they could take her from me.

I walked into the room wondering how much sadder I would be after the "return." How much more will I doubt their ability to parent? Will they be dressed nicely today? Will they pay attention to her?

Am I being racist?
No. Classist.
Maybe "just" judgmental.

Melody's beautiful. She smiles and she coos. And I wonder what will happen if she has to "do without" or if she's ignored. Will she stop sounding so happy? Stop looking so pleasant?

Her parents are on time. They seemed happy to see me--to see us. But, God, was I skeptical.

We walked into the room. I've been in that room before. I placed Jibraan into the arms of his biological father in that room--a man who didn't know he had a son until Jibraan was six weeks old. I introduced April to her moms in that room and listened as her forever mother, Rachel, presented April's birth mom with a book of poetry. My eyes filled with tears in that room as Jonathan's father promised his birth mother they would love him and take care of them.

Melody's parents sat down and I leaned over to hand her to one of them. Her father took her from me and, in that moment, there may as well have been no one else in that room. He tucked Melody into the crook of his arm, began to whisper, and she began to coo. She was home.

Can you live on love? I'm not so sure. But at least she would have that. She will definitely have that.

"Do you have any questions for Ann?" asked the social worker.
Melody's parents looked at each other.
"Just...thank you for taking care of her. Thank you...don't start crying now...Okay?"

Okay. She'll be okay.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

It's time you know the truth.

Just before Thanksgiving, three years ago, the daughter of friends was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. She needed platelets as part of her treatment. As so many in our community, I dutifully clicked on the link provided by my friend and took out my calendar to schedule my platelet donation. For whatever reason I first checked the FAQ’s to ensure that I was, in fact, eligible to donate platelets.
But I was a nursing mother.

And, therefore, ineligible to give platelets.
I considered encouraging Rami to wean. Because, if you’re doing the math, Rami was about two years old and we had enjoyed nursing for a good amount of time. But the little girl’s mom was an avid nurser, herself, and I knew wouldn’t advocate my weaning my son, even to help her own daughter.

Rami weaned on his own soon enough and I set out to donate platelets at the end of the month. A Sunday would be most convenient for me, after all, and the next available Sunday would be in three weeks.

Two weeks went by and I got on the scale. And found I had lost all of my “baby weight.” Enviable, right? You’re jealous, aren’t you? 
But I’m only 5’1” and have a fairly petite frame and having “lost all my baby weight” actually meant I didn’t weigh enough. 
Not enough to give blood to help save the life of a stranger and not enough to donate platelets to help the daughter of a friend.

I was crushed.
I considered trying to put the weight back on.

I continued to struggle with how to help this family and the other two families in our community dealing with cancer diagnoses. I signed up to make meals. “No lasagna,” said one vegetarian family. “No sugar,” requested one carnivorous family. “Organic is preferable,” said the third family. So, I ordered pizza and boiled pasta and all but gave up. I would receive an email request to make a meal for one friend in the morning and close it thinking, “I can’t cook!” Then I’d reopen it in the evening, resigned to making just one meal (How hard could it be?!) only to find that now not a single meal was needed for that month.
I felt helpless.

I prayed. I gave charity.

It just wasn’t enough. Not for me, anyway. I wanted to heal the sick. I wanted to wipe away all the pain their families were experiencing. But I couldn’t.

Then I received an email. It was distributed on a community listserv. There was a need for families to act as interim care providers for newborn babies awaiting adoption. It was short-term. Weeks, usually.
That! THAT I can do. I can’t donate platelets or give blood or even cook. But I can take care of newborns. I can feed them, I can bathe them, I can diaper them, I can hold them.

And I do.

As I type, five-week-old Melody is slowly falling asleep on my lap. She will soon join her family in her new home. 

Two friends have had babies in the past month and I haven’t signed up to make a single meal.
We had take-out for dinner, tomorrow’s lunches haven’t been made, and there are dishes piled high in the sink.
But Gavri changes diapers, Sariti gives bottles, Rami has learned to dry newborns’ tears, and James has perfected his technique of eating his meals with an infant sleeping on his knees.
Over the past two years, we have cared for 12 newborns in our home. And now you know why.
Because, “that! THAT, I can do.”