Sunday, August 4, 2013

Florence

Am I the world’s worst blogger, or what?

No apologies, just a desire to be better because if I don’t write stuff down here, I know I won’t remember it later, and I so want to remember it later.

For now, let me just start with the here and now, and maybe over the next days or weeks I can catch you up on what’s been happening the last couple of months or so.

I’m alone now with no visitors for the first time since the start of May! It’s a weird feeling, and I miss all who blessed us with their presence this summer, especially my sweet interns. I’ll tell you more about them later because I must keep on track or I’ll spend this supposedly here-and-now e-mail reliving the summer J.

You’ll be seeing a new face around my blog now, and it’s the face of a little lady who may stick around for awhile.

After her father drowned in a fishing accident, Florence’s mother moved in with her older sister until Florence was born. After Florence was born, her mother, a grade 12 graduate, was doing well and coping seemingly well with the death of her husband and the birth of her first born baby. However, two months after she was born, Florence’s mother was no longer okay. She refused to feed Florence, was harming her, and was mentally unsound to keep a baby safe anymore. Because they were living with Florence’s aunt already, the aunt took over all care giving responsibilities for the baby and her mother, but it became increasingly more difficult to keep Florence safe in the environment they found themselves in. The loss of Florence’s father and postpartum depression seemed to be too much for her mother to handle.

So when Florence was five months old, a couple of months after her aunt had tried desperately to keep both mother and baby safe, she came to us needing help. With tears in her eyes she told us of the horrible time they’ve had, the decline in her sister’s mental state, and her crushing feelings of guilt at either having to leave Florence with us or at having her stay in a dangerous situation. Decisions people have to make here sometimes are terribly difficult, with no easy solutions.

Ultimately it was decided that she would leave Florence with us while she sought treatment in a nearby city for Florence’s mother. She hoped that her sister would improve and that they would be able to come back and get Florence as soon as possible, as soon as Florence’s mother was no longer a threat to herself or her baby girl. She wept as she said goodbye and kissed sweet Florence’s cheeks goodbye, and I wept with her. She wasn’t leaving her newborn baby, a baby she’d not really bonded with because of her young age, but the baby who had lived with her and whose life she had fought for desperately for five months.
Florence's first day with us
There’s a reason why we don’t usually take babies that are older than a month or two. When we take a baby like Florence who is already five months, she is already solidly attached to her mother and aunt and the place where she lived. This severed attachment from people and places is a natural result of the loss of parents and family, but it is one of the harder parts of life for these kids. Sometimes children with great loss transition smoothly into a new life, new faces, new foods, new tribal language, etc. Usually it’s when they are really young. But some children have a harder time with it, and it’s heartbreaking.

When Florence arrived she was five months old, smiling, and babbling. She appeared to be a healthy, happy little girl, although we weren't sure what kind of damage might have been done in her former environment that wouldn't necessarily be evident right away. Over her first week, she gradually just started shutting down, withdrawing from the world around her. She wouldn't smile anymore, she ate sparingly and vomited almost everything that touched her lips, and she was completely lethargic and limp. Despite the fact that she spent most of her time being held or worn on someone’s back, she still seemed to totally understand that she was no longer home and with her people and she mourned.

In the situations we've had like this before, after a week or so the babies bounced back and adjusted well to their new life with us. But Florence didn't. She got so bad that she required hospitalization and even after that was simply lifeless. After meeting with a visiting pediatrician from America, we tried some different things to see if her little body would start positively reacting to her food and her new environment. Despite a few grins here and there and a little bit better digestion, there was virtually no improvement.
My job here is to make sure our babies are getting what they need to be healthy, thriving, developmentally progressing children. And it frustrates me to no end when what should work or what works for the others isn’t working for another. After a month with us, Florence should have been thriving and healthy, sitting and loving life.  But she wasn’t.


After exhausting all other options, I moved Florence home with me. I hesitated to do this right away because, like I said, everything else should have worked. I didn’t want to bring her home, help get her well again, and then bring her back and have her go through another severed attachment. But ultimately, helping give her life now is more important than the what-ifs of how she’ll react someday when she goes through another loss. Right now what she needs is a mama, some serious one-on-one, and a feeling that she’s not alone even though her whole little world has been turned upside down. They all need that, but most of them get to know their aunties from their first week of life and don’t feel that same loss quite as profoundly.
Early days, still a bit mad at the world
As I’m typing this, I’m rocking a sleeping Florence, about to go put her in bed for the night. She’s been home with me for a little over a week, and through the grace of God, we’re seeing some major improvements and I feel like I’m looking at a different child. She still vomited after every feed the first three or four days and whimpered incessantly like she was in pain. She still closed her eyes all the time to shut out the world, to escape like she probably used to need to do in her last situation. But now, though still a six month old, 11 pound bag of bones, she’ll hold her head up again all on her own. She smiles on her own, and occasionally even gets to giggling. She reaches out to touch my face when she’s eating. She looks for me when I leave the room instead of just staring blankly into space. She grabs hold of toys. She hasn't thrown up her food in almost 4 days and has the beginnings of a tiny double chin.


It's amazing to me the ability a six month old has to understand loss and grief and separation. It's even more amazing to me how resilient these babies are. Florence is starting to thrive, not because of anything miraculous that's been done but because love is being poured into a little life still mourning the loss of her actual mother. It’s a privilege, a hard privilege, to stand in the place of her mother until she can get well and take care of her sweet baby girl again. Please pray with us for Florence, her health and heart, for her mother that desperately needs healing, and for her aunt who must miss her every single day. 







2 comments:

  1. That's such a heartbreaking story. I've wondered just how deeply young infants feel loss and I assumed that they realized when their mother or the person they've bonded with was gone, but it's so sad when they feel the loss so deeply.

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  2. We are praying! (The Scarboroughs)

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