Friday, August 03, 2007

little monkey

The baby lying in the crib in the darkened room can't be the child I'm here to see. This is a baby, not a 14 month old child. My referral says 14 month old child. This baby, this very, very thin baby is not who I'm looking for, but this baby looks like she's in trouble.

Mom picks her up and we take her to the light in the living room. She hands me the baby, only she's not a baby, she is a 14 month old child, wasted and shrunken, skin hanging in folds from her thighs, her backbone rigid through the thin urine-stained t-shirt she's wearing.

Her eyes are sunken and there's no spark there. Her gaze is dull and unfocused. I hold her and she does not move, she is limp in my arms. She does not make eye contact, I cannot engage her. My finger placed in her hand does not elicit the typical baby grasp. She is alive, but barely.

I am shaking as I hold her. I am terrified she's going to die in my arms. I ask mom about her feeding, when does she eat. "Not very often, she sleeps a lot and she's getting weaned." She's on formula only, about twice a day, 6-8 ounces, according to this mother creature sitting across from me.

I tell mom I'm taking the baby with me to the Justice Center. I get on the phone with the judge to make it happen. We go. She weighs 11 pounds and some ounces. She weighed 6.5 at birth. Babies triple their weight in the first year. This one is grossly underweight, on the verge of dying with dried out skin, wisps of hair, slow heart rate, low body temp.

I hold her at the Center, try to get her to drink formula from a bottle. She is too weak to suck and the milk dribbles from her mouth. She is in such bad shape she's admitted to the hospital, put on IV fluids. With hydration, she regains some ability to eat and begins taking bottles. The nurse tells me this by phone before I go to bed.

I'm at the hospital next day. The change is dramatic. She is still emaciated, with drooping skin, bones everywhere, still sick, still in danger. But she sees me. She makes eye contact, she's still in there. I pray she is not brain damaged from too little protein. I pick her up and she clings to me like a little monkey, her tiny wrinkled hands grasping my hair, her head wobbling on her scrawny neck. I breathe in her little baby scent and I kiss her cheek and she coos. It is the first sound she has made throughout this ordeal.

I think of what might have happened had I not found the family that day, if mom had not come to the door, a more typical behavior for families in trouble. I think this baby is supposed to live, was supposed to be rescued and I am grateful that this one is saved. I curse parents who harm their children, but I am enraged by parents who intentionally do not feed them, who starve them on purpose. I don't know how they can do it: the chronic crying of a starving child must surely get on their nerves. Ultimately there is silence, but it takes a while. Once the baby is too weak to cry, there is nothing but quiet and lots of sleep and then death. This one was saved. She does not haunt my dreams, but I can sometimes still feel her clinging to me, her little monkey hands, her small husk of a body, cool next to my own. This one was saved.

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Blogger Tank said...

Yikes. You really did it. Some of us may have thought your Jamaican announcement was purely metaphorical.

But after reading tonight's blog, and recalling some of your past posts, of course you adopted an impoverished boy. That's the sort of thing you do.

You're not just an angry belle, are ya? If I thought you were a cool lady before (which i did), you just got even cooler.

August 04, 2007 2:08 AM  
Blogger Ms. Place said...

Ah, this piece of brilliant writing broke my heart. The most innocent and defenseless are these tiny babies whose suffering goes unnoticed in so many cases. With such a bad start in life, many never recover.

My two Sudanese Lost Boys are victims of malnutrition and they will never know full health. Now young men, they suffer from a variety of chronic illnesses, ranging from poor vision, bad teeth, chronic stomach upset, to diminished immune systems.

I am not terribly religious, but when it comes to these cases, and when it comes to the many children who died after knowing nothing but suffering in their short lives, I pray that there is a special place in Heaven for them. There has to be justice for them somewhere.

And yes, like Tank, I too wondered about your cryptic statement 'I adopted a son,' and your relative quiet since your return.

What a beautiful soul you have, Lynette.

August 04, 2007 8:07 AM  
Anonymous lynette said...

tank, ms. place, thank you for your comments. the memory of this baby came to me late last night. she was one i encountered in the last days of my work as a child abuse investigator.

i've been away almost three years, so this is one of those kids from the past. i kept feeling her little hands on my face last night ~ so strange, the body's ability to remember.

so this is not my new child ~ just a purging of memory from the bad old days. i hope she is okay, still. i know the effects of malnutrition linger, ms. place, just as you've said (and what an angel you are, speaking of beautiful hearts).

i'm going to post a photo of my jamaican son, then to the farmer's market. smooches, pumpkins.

August 04, 2007 8:26 AM  
Blogger Doralong said...

I have always hoped that if there is a hell that there's a special place reserved for those who harm children- where the most heinous torments are saved just for those sick souls.

It boggles the mind.. jeeze I feel guilty when I yell at mine..

Good thing there are people like you out there looking out for the lost children of the world.

August 04, 2007 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Kamrin said...

I had a baby like that once. Turns out this was the third child, and the third time that mom has starved the kids for attention. She would starve them, and tell members of her "church" that the babies wouldn't eat. They would intervene and give her tons of attention which she loved. She would then change churches and have another baby. She moved into my jurisdiction on the third and we were lucky to catch her and stop her! There are very few things worse than feeling a babies bones like that.

August 04, 2007 9:02 AM  
Blogger Tank said...

Okay, so it was sorta metaphorical. But a perfect preamble to the actual story of 22-year-old Bryon, and a great read too. Looking forward to more details, as always.

And thanks for your comments on my blog. You are a woman that matters.

August 04, 2007 6:02 PM  
Anonymous grrsteve said...

What an angel you were then.

And are still, Lynette.

August 04, 2007 8:18 PM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

Damn. How long did you do that type of work, Lynette? That had to tear at your insides.

August 05, 2007 1:24 AM  
Anonymous tater said...

Can you hand me a tissue? I know it is these horrific injustices which have helped to create the amazing person you are today, the witnessing, the actions you were there to perform. I am amazed by your strength, and the ability to remain human in the face of such inhumanity and cruelness. Which is harder to imagine, those that kill their children with violence, or those that ignore them to death? My heart and mind just can not process or fathom the wanton self hate that allows a person to aim such malevolence at their proginy. It just tears my sense of humanity to shreds. I am so grateful that people like yourself are willing to wade into this blackness and attempt to bring light. I could never be that strong. You humble me.

August 05, 2007 8:14 AM  
Anonymous lynette said...

doralong, me too, and intentional starvation seems so incredibly cruel. it's methodical, deliberate, premeditated. i cannot understand it.

kamrin, you're an angel. and that crazy dynamic was one we saw a lot of too ~ using the starving child as a means of focusing attention. makes me think mandatory birth control until a potential parent passes a complete psychological exam might not be a bad thing.

tank :-) . . . MC . . . it tore at my gut, thus i no longer do it. 16 years of hopeless kids and families was enough. selling antiques is such a trivial thing. still that urge to help pops out.

tater bug . . . please, honey. the great hope and inspiration i have comes from people like you who lived through horrors as children and survived them. that is a testament to such strength of spirit that it humbles me.

August 05, 2007 10:01 AM  
Blogger rodger said...

You are an amazingly strong woman to have done that work for so long and not become jaded. I really admire you for having done the work so few of us are capable of performing and inspiring others to follow in your footsteps.

August 06, 2007 5:12 PM  
Blogger Ronda said...

Did you ever find out what happened to this child? I hope it found a loving home. So sad, some people should never have children.

August 07, 2007 9:07 AM  
Anonymous lynette said...

Ronda, her dad eventually regained custody of her, though he had watched her deterioration and had done nothing. Mom admitted to not feeding her enough in an effort to save money, which she spent on her Bingo habit. Insane, yes? I hope she is well. I hope she doesn't have any lasting ill effects from malnutrition.

August 07, 2007 11:16 AM  

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