Recently I offered to watch a friend’s one-month old twin babies so that she could get some time out of the house. Since I have seven kids of my own, I was feeling pretty confident that I could handle this job without incident. When I arrived, baby Joy was sound asleep, and baby Mark had just woken up and was ready to be fed. I happily settled down on the couch to give him a bottle. “No problem,” I assured their mom. ”I’ve totally got this.”
The first hour went great, and I was thinking how convenient it was that the twins seemed to only wake up one at a time. : ) But then right as Joy woke up fussing, little Mark (who had just fallen asleep), decided he didn’t want to be put down in the bassinet and let me know with an adamant howl. Uh oh, Houston…we have a problem. I now had two tiny babies crying at the same time, and I had to make the very difficult decision on which one got to be comforted while the other had to wait. For anyone who has experienced this, you know it’s a terrible feeling to not be able to quickly help a tiny baby who is crying. It goes against everything in a momma’s heart. It made me flash back to the first time I worked through the night in an orphanage, when a lot of baby rooms go down to just one nanny for the overnight shift. The room I offered to work in had 15 small babies, and the nanny went down the hall to make up the final bottles of the evening. It started with one baby suddenly crying because she had soaked through her clothing, but then suddenly it seemed like almost every infant in the room was adding her voice to say, “Please someone come help me.”
I am sure I must have looked absolutely panicked as I tried to hold one baby in one arm while rubbing the head of a second, all while trying to talk and convince the others that someone was there with them and that they were okay. When the nanny came back with the tray of bottles, the wails rose even higher as somehow they all seemed to know that food was near but wasn’t coming fast enough. And yes, of course I am completely against bottle propping, but guess what? That night I was rolling towels and trying to get the bottles at the right angle for the babies, because they were hungry, and there were just two sets of hands to get them all fed.
It was a very long night, and over the last decade I have thought about it many times as I have considered the difficult jobs that nannies have in orphanages, often for near minimum wage. For anyone who loves children, it is such a hard thing to ignore the cries of one baby when your arms are full with another. The young lady with me that night had 15 tiny charges in her care for an eight hour shift. When I left the orphanage the next morning, I felt like I had been through the wringer as there was absolutely no possible way for me to comfort every child, and yet every evening the same nanny would come back and do it all over again.
And so now here I was ten years later, trying my very best to make sure just two tiny infants knew they weren’t alone and that someone was near. I held Mark’s bottle with my chin while giving Joy hers with my free hand. I put one baby over my shoulder with another on my knees, feeling like I had accomplished the greatest feat possible by simultaneously rubbing circles on Joy’s back while swaying Mark side to side on my legs. I walked, I sang, and then I walked some more. And of course I thought of my own children a lot that day, and my heart was so saddened once again with the reality that there were far too many times when they were babies in an orphanage that no one was able to meet their most basic bonding needs. For months after my son was home, I would find him just lying in his crib after he woke up stoically staring at the ceiling, as he had learned that crying didn’t cause anyone to come get you. I would tell him again and again, “YELL for me when you wake up, and I promise I’ll come running.” It took a long time for him to believe me.
What our children experienced in institutional care is something that I think many of us try not to think about. It is just too painful to think that the children we love so deeply and completely were ever left wet or hungry or alone. But if I was struggling to care for just two babies in the way that a mom wishes she could, how is it possible for any nanny to fully meet the needs of ten? Yes, you can feed a child and change a child’s diaper – but the reality is that babies NEED a dedicated parent. They need someone to hold them when they’re sick and soothe them when they’re scared, or else it becomes very hard for their hearts to fully trust.
Today I am giving thanks to everyone who has opened their hearts to the orphaned and abandoned. Someday maybe everyone will understand that when children suffer, the whole world ultimately suffers as well. Until that day we must continue to try our very best to make sure every child possible knows their needs matter. We must work together to ensure that every child has at least one dedicated person in their lives allowing them to know love. While that seems like such an overwhelming goal at times, every baby we can impact is one more child who has a real chance at an emotionally healthy future. While it is easy to pretend that living in an orphanage doesn’t influence a child’s long term well-being, the reality is that far too many cries are still sadly going unanswered. There is still so much work to do, and I am so grateful to everyone who is partnering with us to make a difference.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer