A Crib Away But A World Apart
Someone responded to my blog Just How Big Is A Billion with the question, “Why do you even care?” The post in question focused on explaining how (insanely) huge a billion is, and then, building upon that talked about wealth inequity in America. I won’t rehash the post here, but I do hope you’ll read it.
Why do I even care? The question stuck with me. It bothered me. So I carried it around, thinking about it. Chewing on it. Examining it. And finally, I settled on a single moment in my life that brings it all together for me. What you read next is my “why.”
Our twin daughters were born seven years ago on a crisp September day. After more than six weeks of hospital bedrest (miserable), I’d made it as far as I was going to with the pregnancy- the girls would be delivered at 34 weeks and 5 days. Pretty good for twins. They were delivered via c-section and both arrived healthy with energetic cries that made tears of joy stream down my face. After the loss of an earlier pregnancy and a struggle to become pregnant again- our baby daughters had arrived healthy.
But they were a little early, so they needed to stay in the NICU for a short while- just to get going on feeding. Sofia was a petite 4 lbs, 11oz, and both needed a little extra attention. In the NICU at Overlake, we were situated right by the nurses station- primarily because the suite (bay?) across from the nurses station was just fractionally larger than the other bays in there, so could hold all the equipment for two babies.
While there, another baby was born and admitted to the NICU. The nurses did their best to be discrete, but given our proximity to the nurses station we inevitably overhead things. This other baby was intersexed (you may be more familiar with the term hermaphrodite, but I believe intersexed is the preferred term now). In addition, the baby was born prematurely to a teenage mother who had been a methamphetamine drug user throughout her pregnancy. It was clear immediately that this child was going to have a lot of challenges to overcome from the beginning.
Then we saw the family. But we didn’t see them in the NICU, we saw them in the halls of the regular maternity ward. In fact, we never saw them at all in the NICU. The baby’s mother and her family never visited the baby. It’s fair to say from observation that they were not a nice family. The family looked like they were straight out of Deliverance and it was apparent that even under the best of circumstances it was not a family you would want to see a child born into; to say nothing of a child with a host of challenges, including one that can carry a huge amount of lifelong stigma.
The nurses were on the phone with social workers, CPS, doctors, and specialists of all kinds constantly about this child- there were just so many things going on. And of course, on top of all this, the family had no insurance- so even getting the care needed was difficult.
And yet, this baby was just one day old. I could see the baby swaddled in the crib just 20 feet away and even with the various tubes and clothes and the little tiny hat that all newborns wear in the hospital, I could see a sweet face. She didn’t look any different from our daughters. When the nurses picked her up to feed her (I’m just picking a pronoun- I’m not sure), she could suckle a bottle. The nurses were obviously taking extra time to ensure she had human interaction and touch.
As we sat across the way, doing Kangaroo care, snuggling our little girls bare-skinned against our chests, I could see the lonely crib across the way. My heart ached for her thinking of the world she was born into.
There was a moment when I was laying one of our girls down in their shared crib and gazing at them with all the awe and love that a new mother has when looking at her baby. As I heard a nurse on yet another call with a social worker- trying desperately to arrange some service or another for this baby, this wave of despair hit me, and I just leaned over Audrey & Sofia’s crib and wept. Hot tears streamed down my face as the full force of the starkly different paths that lay ahead of these three babies became clear.
This wave of despair hit me and I just leaned over Audrey & Sofia’s crib and wept. Hot tears streamed down my face as the full force of the starkly different paths that lay ahead of these three babies became clear.
I couldn’t stand the profound unfairness of it all. Our girls, through no fault or result of their own had the very best possible road ahead. Not that we would be perfect parents, but the girls were born into a loving, happy, stable family. They were healthy and above all wanted and joyously welcomed into our lives. And yet, I didn’t really “know” them. Yes, they were from my body, but had one of our girls been born intersexed or with some other challenge or disability, it may have been a shock, but we would have rallied every available resource at our disposal to immediately begin to address the issues.
Obviously, I didn’t wish this had happened to one of our daughters, but that moment showed how so many of your cards are dealt AT BIRTH. It’s not about effort or worthiness or merit- for the child it is pure dumb luck. Yes- you can say a lot things about the young mother or her family or her choices, but to that brand-new day old child, it’s nothing more that an incredibly raw deal. It’s like she was born to a different world altogether.
Each of us, has experienced a watershed moment that defines our perspective- it may have been something you experienced personally, or observed, or read about, or watched in a movie. Truly, there are hundreds or thousands of moments that shape our worldview. More than any other experience, that moment, wrapped up in the joy of my own children’s birth and yet crying tears of sorrow and frustration for an anonymous and truly innocent child, sums up why I even care.
The hand of fate that defines the start of our lives was revealed for what it was- a crapshoot. Babies are not blank slates at birth- in fact, they are just the opposite, so many of the cards have been dealt the moment you take your first breath. It is precisely because of this fact, that it is our duty as humans, as a community, as a society, to do our best to give each person, each baby, a fair shot at life.
I still think about that little girl and the direction her life has taken. Obviously, I have no idea whether she even identifies as a girl or a boy. Whether things have gone her way or gone horribly against her. I was unable to help in that moment, but I do hope that the choices I make, the words I write, the things that I speak up for will in some way make the tiniest difference in her favor, wherever she is.
Thanks so much for reading! I appreciate your time and support!