|As the Executive Director of a Child Caring Agency, sometimes my job means doing a little investigating and public relations work. Our children sometimes come to us with little history and we need to uncover where they have come from.
But honestly, sometimes the things I do in a day seem I am in a movie. Here was one such day last week.
For years I have visited jails in the Philippines. Sometimes it is to see wayward boys, sometimes to see people in the community that were wrongly accused. Sometimes it’s for outreach and evangelism. Lately, it seems it is to see parents of children in my custody.
The justice system is a little different here in the Philippines and what you are charged with is often not what you did. You can spend 5 years in prison just waiting to have a sentence. The courts are so backed up. You can also be totally guilty and be let go after only a few months sentence because someone forgot to show up at court.
On this day, I am ushered past the 15 foot walls and guards in to interview again, a mother of 6 of our children. I am always startled when I see her. She is pretty. Her short hair neatly cut and combed. She is chubby, healthy looking. So out of place from where I know she is from and how her children were upon intake to us.
At the jail where the mother was held
She cannot read or write. Well, her name. But just barely. She tells me over and over that she was not a bad mother. She did everything she could just to take care of them.
I hadn’t asked her anything about her being a mother. And I don’t respond. I need answers to many questions. I need to know the history of these children.
When I ask her why at 4 years old, one does not speak, she tells me I am lying. When I ask her why the little one walks with a limp, she tells me nothing ever happened to him. When she tells me she never hurt her children but her neighbors framed her up, I ask her why. She says they were jealous of her. When I ask why the 3 year old screams in the night almost every night, she tells me he is just like that. When I ask why all the children are full of scars, she says it was her boyfriend’s fault.
the area where the children played, in front of their house..
the home of the children, where they were left by the mother
I stop asking questions. Maybe I don’t need to know, after all.
I have never been to jail and not left with a prayer over the one I have been there to visit. Today, I didn’t pray.
I leave angry at this mother for what she did to her children. But more angry at the partner who helped her abuse them and did not take care of her and beat her too.
I want to cry, I think. Mostly because the children she abused, I now care for every day. I have spent hours upon hours holding them when they cry, laugh, or scream through a temper fit. I have intentionally taught them that they can trust and they are safe. I have shown them that they are loved so much. When they wake up in the night with terrors, I hold them and sing to them. And sometimes cry tears over them as I pray their hearts would be healed. I have never seen such damaged children.
What horrors would drive a mother to hurt her children? Not just once. But over and over.
I have no answer.
Philippine General Hospital is one of the top teaching hospitals in the country. We have been referred a child with leukemia and I need to talk with social services and see the child for myself and assess him and how we could best meet his needs.
Sometimes what is written on paper is not really what is the true story and as I stood in the ward looking at the little boy,
His bones were brittle and had been broken accidentally. While they said he was aware, I don’t think he really showed regard for what was going on around him. He smiled yes. But only when touched or when he saw someone come near. More like an involuntary reaction. His hands were now stiff and unusable. He has a tube in his throat to help him breath. He has a tube in his nose so he can eat.
So I called for the doctor and after an hour discussion, I did agreed to take him. We were all on the same page. While he might recover from leukemia with weekly treatments, he would never return to a happy, normal little boy. His quality of life would be minimal. Very different than the referral stating a full recovery was expected.
If he would have been given continuous treatment, complications would not have happened to lead to this stage. If his father would have been responsible… But then I have never had to deal with my own child being diagnosed with cancer. And I have never been without a support system to help me deal with my children.
My heart heavy for the child, the father, and the other children whose eyes followed me the whole time I was in the ward.
What is your purpose here, God?
Missionaries of Charity.
Mother Teresa was an amazing woman. She is one of my heroes, actually. The home that is set up in honor of her name here in Manila, takes the “least of these”. But they must be bed ridden and have little chance of recovery. These children are mostly hydrocephalic and have very serious cerebral palsy.
photo from thomasiantriskelion.org site
It has been said to be a dark place. That they do nothing to help or push development. But really, when you look at their children, there is nothing to do to help their development. They need to be fed, cleaned, and loved until their Creator takes them home.
I think what the sisters do, in sacrificing their life to care for these children, is admirable. If I didn’t believe so, I wouldn’t have been able to transfer one of our children there. A decision I made from my desk. I had to.
He woke up as I called his name. He looked around. His eyes have always taken a while to focus. He looked well cared for. He was clean, his clothes nice and fresh. His teeth brushed. Even his hair combed. And my visit was unannounced.
The sister’s voice droned on and on about how they care for the least of these in the name of Mother Teresa. I went deep into my own world of flashing thoughts…
Did I do the right thing? Was I wrong to transfer him here? But how could we continue to care for him? How could we expect someone to adopt him? Did God understand I had to
How many times had my social worker and caregivers had this discussion. He was already growing tall, though he had no use of his limbs due to severe cerebral palsy.
He was heavy for my small, slightly built caregivers. He was male and we onlyhad female caregivers. He was requiring almost full time care and other children were being neglected. We were not set up for long term care such as he needed. We couldn’t afford to care for him. He wasn’t improving or developing on any level. Still very much an infant on all levels.
I had forgotten to tie my hair up and as I was leaning over his crib looking at him, and replaying the discussions in my head, I was surprised as his stiff little arm reached up and played with my hair.
Not once did he do this, but three times he touched my hair as though he knew me.
Are you okay, I asked him?
No one knows what he understands or not. No one knows what he sees, hears, or recognizes. But he smiled. And he ran his arm through my hair again.
I stood slowly, needing time to blink the hot tears away.
Thank you, sister, I said. I’ll come again. She smiled and hurried off to care foranother child.
The air hardly moved as I walked silently, alone, through the long, dark corridor.
I stepped into the sunshine and I had no answers.
So my mind and heart had little peace this day… but sometimes we must press on knowing that we do what we do for our God. We do what we do to the best of our ability and trust that HIS hand guides us and leads us in every decision and in every action.
God is still God even when we don’t have the answers.
I have been at many deliveries and seen many interesting birth situations. This was a little different. Christy was a 24-year-old in a women’s prison in another city. I had been there several times on different outreaches. The women were locked in a cell no bigger than 12 X 4. At least 30 of them. More than half of them had been in that same room for 2 years and more… waiting for their court dates. Christy had been in jail for drug abuse only 6 months when I met her. She was 7 months pregnant.
We had never offered to deliver Christy’s baby. It was a 2 to 3 hour drive on a good day and we had done no pre-natal checks, had no information about her previous 4 births. On the day that Christy went into labor, the police were understaffed and the warden refused to let her out of the jail to give birth. What was she to do? Several frantic calls were made to our home. I asked Bernadette to get a birth kit ready and away we went.
The drive seemed forever. Traffic was horrible, bumper to bumper almost the whole way. We prayed we would make it. When we arrived, Christy met us at the gate. She looked very tired already. We went into the tiny office of the warden, pushed two desks together, threw some papers and books in the corner and set our instruments up. Thankfully we had brought extra sheets so she wouldn’t have to lay straight on the desk. We covered the window with a sheet so the guards would stop looking in. Every time one of them would comment, you could see Christy tense up.
Dette and the girls left for a quick bite to eat so I could labor with Christy in quiet. As each contraction came harder and longer, I prayed with her. It was only a few hours and the girls were back. Christy had relaxed and thankfully was ready to push.
She climbed up on the desks and we put our gloves on. Mandy and Leah stood on either side and encouraged her and prayed. Finally, one last push and a beautiful baby boy was born. He was really tiny and we wrapped him up in a towel. The guards heard the babies first cry and banged on the door hollering and cheering. Sternly, we told them to be quiet because there was a problem with the placenta. It was very serious, I said. I didn’t hear a peep from them for the next hour. The placenta really took forever to come and when it did, it came in little pieces. It was a very tense hour as we prayed and Dette used her incredible skills to painstakingly pull the rest of the placenta out piece by piece. Thankfully, no bleeding.
Gently we cleaned Christy up and changed her clothes. The baby was dressed in a sleeper and she held him tight. She sat on the chair as though nothing had happened. She named him “Emmanuel” because it was so close to Christmas. Quietly we sat for a few holy minutes as she cried silently.
“What will you do with the baby,” I asked gently, knowing she would not be allowed to keep him even for a night. She explained one of her young cousins would take him. I smiled and said I would love to care for him if she would let me. Tears came to her eyes and she nodded her head.
“Please, Ate Cher.”
I walked to the small cell where 30 women lived together and showed them the baby. I told them to be kind to Christy and to help her recover. They all understood. Most of them had children on the outside and missed them terribly. They nodded and cheered, shoving their arms through the bars wanting to hold the baby.
I turned and let Christy give her little Emmanuel one last hug.
Then the girls gathered up our things. The desks were pushed back the way we found them as though nothing happened. The gate clanged behind us and I snuggled the babe close to me. I said a prayer, so thankful for the privilege of rescuing yet another baby.