Babies are born into this world into different situations, and while most babies are born into loving families, the range of parents is amazing. Some parents have special "birth plans" and pediatrician appointments already established before the baby even leaves the hospital, while other babies need Child Protective Services (CPS) because the mom's living situation is unsafe or unstable.
Baby M was a small baby girl born during my second day of service in the newborn nursery, the daughter of a mom who told Jim, the intern, that she had used drugs, smoked a pack a day, and injected an IV "speedball" (cocaine and heroine) during her pregnancy. The situation was not unusual, but it naturally made the hospital staff a little concerned. Dad was in prison, mom was acting a little strange, and it was unclear whether mom would be able to take care of Baby M.
CPS offered to check mom into a residential rehab facility so that she could live with her baby, but mom was upset about not being able to take care of a dog at home. Since mom's urine tox tested positive for methamphetamines, and so did Baby M's, the staff decided to keep the baby in the nursery until mom detoxed a little. Usually, babies stay with their moms in the hospital rooms in order to promote bonding. Gone are the days when u see babies lined up in little rows behind a glass window, the newborn nursery is usually a quiet place when no circumcisions are occurring (just kidding).
Jim, the compassionate intern, urged that Baby M stay with mom to encourage bonding. Maybe spending time with her baby would convince mom to take CPS's offer of a second chance. Disappointingly, mom didn't seem to be interested in taking care of Baby M...who spent the same amount of time in the nursery as before.
Whenever we saw Baby M -- small, quiet, with a rounded nose -- sleeping in her crib alone in the newborn nursery -- I would look at Jim with a funny expression and he would shrug his shoulders at me with an air of disappointment. Jim really cared about Baby M.
On Friday, Baby M's mom was discharged from the hospital. CPS informed her that Baby M was going to be taken into foster care, but the full impact of the news seemed to escape her and she left.
It was quiet in the nursery that Friday afternoon. It was getting late -- 5 p.m. -- and people were leaving for home and the weekend. The sun was growing dimmer over a spectacular 15th floor view of San Francisco and the only occupant in the newborn nursery was quiet little Baby M waiting to be picked up by the foster care program at 6 p.m. Her eyes were open, but she was silent, so I picked her up and rocked Baby M in my arms for a few minutes to say good-bye. As I thought about how all of the other babies in the ward had gone home with happy families and all of the love and opportunity that awaited these other babies -- tears started coming to my eyes thinking about how Baby M was left behind in the hands of strangers.
When Baby M's mom dramatically returned to the newborn nursery the next afternoon -- glassy tears streaming down her face because she couldn't find her baby in the Well Baby Nursery or anywhere in the hospital -- it was hard not to feel sorry for a mom wearing dirty tennis shoes with rolled down socks and a red sweatshirt who didn't realize -- like many of us -- what she had lost until it was truly gone.