Baby J was hospitalized and the buck stopped with me...except it didn't.
"Jedidiah" was my 20th baby. Well, not really. He was only my 17th. Still not better? Here's the truth: I'm an interim boarding care provider with a local adoption agency--kind of like a foster mom. With the help of my family, I feed, burp, swaddle, and change the baby placed in my care until her forever family is ready for her. I wear her everywhere and awaken with her at night. When talking to the babies, my children refer to me as "Eema," the Hebrew word for "Mommy," as in, "Eema's going to change you now...hang on baby, Eema's just making a bottle."
I've had babies in my care for as short as five days and as long as nine and a half weeks. Some of my babies return to their biological families; most are adopted. None of my babies were taken from their birth moms--mom just didn't know if she was able to parent.
On a warm Monday afternoon, Jedidiah woke from his nap, and I picked him up to give him a bath. He felt unusually hot. In my 11-and-a-half years of parenting newborns, I have felt feverish babies--but never one three weeks old. I ran a temporal scanner across his forehead, wondering if it was just the ambient heat. The reading came back: "101.3." After confirming the high temperature, I called my case worker to let her know I was alerting Jed's pediatrician.
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At first, the doctor asked me if it would be inconvenient to drive to her Upper East Side office. Of course it would. If she could wait until tomorrow to see Jed, it would work better for my schedule. She quickly countered that she'd like to see Jed before the end of the day. As I started to make arrangements to get my kids' carpool responsibilities covered, my case worker called back: the doctor had changed her mind, and I should bring Jed to an emergency room.
"Mom?" they asked me in the ER. Shorthand, I knew, for, "Is this your baby? He's a lot darker than you."
"Why do you need to know?" I replied. I wasn't being combative. I just needed to know why they were asking. If they needed insurance information, they'd have to check with the adoption agency. If they needed to instruct someone regarding his follow-up care, they'd talk to me.
But I wasn't the mom.
It became clear that Jed was going to need to be in the hospital for at least the rest of the day. I texted my husband, "I'm sorry this is so inconvenient. I'm pretty sure I'm making the right choice by staying here with him." I felt guilty taking so much time away from my own children and saddling my husband with all the nighttime parenting responsibilities.
His response came back immediately. "What other choice do you have? Do NOT leave him."
I don't ever feel sorry for the babies in my care. I truly consider them to be my babies. But at that moment, I did feel sorry for Jedidiah. I brought him in, I was holding him, feeding him, changing his diaper, but I wasn't his mother. In that moment, it was as if he didn't have a mother, didn't have anyone to make decisions about his care.
Jedidiah started to fall asleep in my arms. My chair was uncomfortable, so I placed him in the crib. "BEEP BEEP BEEP," one of the monitors screamed. He started to cry, so I picked him up. I wasn't sure which of the several monitors he was attached to were going off, so I adjusted them all. The beeping stopped, and he began to fall back asleep.
A few minutes later, I put him back down in the crib. He cried again. The monitor started beeping, again. I held him, adjusted those leads again, and re-set the monitor. I tried to find a comfortable position so I could continue to hold him until he fell asleep again. "Third time's the charm," I thought. And, once he was asleep, I placed him in the crib. But again, Beep beep beep beep!
I watched the numbers on the monitor rise: 183...196... Beep beep beep beep! He was crying again. Two nurses came in with our doctor. One nurse ran to the monitor. The doctor rushed over to the crib and started adjusting the leads. Jedidiah was still crying. 196...207…
"Can I pick him up?" I asked. No answer. "Can I hold him? Please?" My hands reached around Jed and I scooped him up. 207...203... I held him close to my chest, snuggling him between my shoulder and my neck. 203...196... I hummed into his ear as the numbers kept falling. 196...187... The beeping stopped.
"I'm just going to hold him," I said. "He'll be fine now."
I sat for the next couple of hours holding "my" baby in my arms as he slept. His heart rate remained stable, elevated only slightly due to his fever. He'd be fine. No one had to feel sorry for him. I, his "eema," would stay with him while the doctors and nurses worked to rid him of his infection. One day, I would tell his forever mom, whoever she turned out to be, all about his hospital stay. His infancy was going to be different than some other babies' because one woman brought him into the world, another woman cared for him in his earliest infancy, and another would parent him for the rest of his life.
Different. Not necessarily worse than or sadder than.
"Are you the mom?" they had asked me.
"I am today."
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