As we left the hospital with Baby J. the nurse told us to bring everything on the counter; they would just throw it out if we didn’t. So, I upended the pink plastic medical bin into a bag and didn’t look in the bag again until we got home.
My husband Matt was holding the baby, my sister Jenny making dinner, the kids circling me with interest to see what treasures I had brought from the hospital. (You know, besides a baby). I pulled out five tubes of antibiotic ointment, about twenty syringes, blue gloves, adhesive tape and then a long cylinder of some sort with one tapered end and a twist on lid on the other. A flashlight? I twisted the end, but no light came on, instead it started to shake. I looked at my sister confused. She began to laugh.
“Is this what I think it is?” I asked.
“Um, yup, I think so,” she laughed, “When Ella was in the hospital they rubbed one on her back to help loosen the gunk in her lungs.”
“Huh. Yeah, J. did have breathing trouble there for a while.”
“Hey, what’s that thing?” one of the kids asks, “A toothbrush?”
Another comes over and looks at it with interest.
“Ooh, it’s a back massager!” He takes it, turns it on and trots over …
When you look at a helpless baby, whose body will bear the scars of a grown man’s rage for the rest of his life, a lion awakenssomewhere within, ready to defend that child at any cost.
The wounds we bear from the loss of our foster babies still bleed crimson, as I bend to pick up little J. from the hospital crib. His eyes are glazed, his diaper dirty, every inch of his face covered with burns. My hands tremble as I gently lift him, not because I am nervous, but because I am afraid. I know where this path leads. I will fall helplessly in love with him. Our time will be too short. He will go to live with relatives as the plan already indicates. I will be left with a broken heart, mourning his loss as those who came before him are dredged back to the surface of my grief. Is that a place I can choose to go?
I haven’t decided that I will bring him home yet. But, if I don’t, who will? I cuddle him close as a recent conversation with my five year old replays in my mind.
“Mommy, when is baby Jennifer coming back?”
“I’m afraid that she isn’t coming back, sweetie.”
“But, we can go visit her! When can we go visit her?”
“I’m sorry, honey, we can’t see her anymore.”
“Why not?” …
I walked slowly into the jewelry store. The sales girl, young with long blond hair, asked if she could help me. I said that I was looking for a charm with a pearl on it. Megan means “Pearl or Precious One.” The young woman pulled out two trays of charms, and showed me three with pearls. Two were large and gaudy, but one was simple, with just a tiny pearl, like my tiny baby. I asked if she had a helmet charm, too. She showed me. It was thick and chunky, like my little Jenn who wore a helmet for four months. I said that I would take them both. She showed me the bracelet that went with them and how it works. I reached a finger out, touched the little pearl and began to cry.
The poor sales girl kept saying it was okay and did I want a tissue. I told her very briefly about our babies, gone from our arms but never from our hearts. She didn’t know what to say. She boxed the bracelet, and I paid. Then I walked with red eyes through the mall and out to my van. I drove partway across the parking lot, then parked again. I opened the box and took out the charm bracelet. I removed the charms and, holding them in my palm, just sobbed.
At last, I threaded them back on, first …