In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

What Would Become of Them?

In January last year, I composed several blog posts that alluded to the influence that some of the major international aid agencies were having on childcare policy in Haiti, following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

At the time, orphaned and displaced children were taken into 'protective' custody in camps that these aid agencies set up for Internally Displaced Persons. The perceived threat to children who were orphaned or separated from their families? Orphanages. They were considered to be sites of potential child trafficking. It was frustrating to have an empty orphanage - all most all of the children in our care, who were in the adoption process at the time of the earthquake, were evacuated to their waiting families overseas. We had the capacity to provide excellent care to orphaned and displaced children, but we were not permitted to take them in.

Following one of my posts a reader, who was affiliated with one of the aid agencies commented anonymously. He or she told me that orphanages should not exist, since the best interests of children and families were served through approaches to the 'orphan problem' that targeted communities, not just children. Although this person was not brave enough to go 'on record', (s)he wanted me to know that orphanages such as ours were obstacles in the path of development agencies. Why? Apparently, we suck up donor funds that they need to realise their goals.

I don't believe that our donors would necessarily give to larger aid agencies if GLA did not exist. They are inspired to give to smaller charities, charities with hearts and souls.I believe that they care about individual children: faces, names, stories.

In may 2010, a BBC reporter asked a representative from a British-based aid agency,
that is opposed to international adoption, how she would answer grown up orphans like the GLA staff member, who said that international adoption would have been the better option for him. Better than 15 years of institutionalization in his home country. Her answer: this was a sad story, but it was just one story. Her agency had to view the bigger picture.

These were words that chilled me. They chilled me then, and for some reason, they are haunting me this week.

A week ago, two children were admitted to GLA. Julenord was the first to arrive. He cast a pitiful form in the nursery. A faded, ashen skinned, stringy-haired little boy, whimpering, and writhing in his crib. At almost two years old, his spindly legs were too weak to support his body weight. He has never learned to walk. He grieved the mother, who loved him, and he didn't understand, yet, the depth and perhaps the fierceness of this love. His Mother loved him so much, that she surrendered him. 'Do you understand, that if you make this decision,' our Haitian administrator counselled,'You are giving up your parental rights? Do you understand that if you sign this paper, one day Julenord will leave Haiti? Do you know that you may never see him again after that? Are you sure this is really what you want?'

Melouse, a tiny, malnourished infant with Downs Syndrome,came next. Slowly starving to death since her birth, she was carried here by an aging Mother. A Mother who wept as she negotiated the rocky mountain road, with her precious bundle. Tears of sorrow, of regret, of resignation, and yet accepting this as the best option for her baby. She had tried.

It seems ridiculous to those of us who work at GLA, to even consider the scenario of closing our doors, and sacrificing Melouse and Julenord to 'the bigger picture.'

We hope that one day, there will be a viable social support network in Haiti, to support children and families like theirs. Then, birth families will not be forced to chose orphanages or adoptions versus selling their child into slavery, or raising them in extreme poverty.

Until then, we are standing in the gap, because if we did not, what would become of these children?

Pray for us, that we will continue to make the right decisions for each child that comes through our gate.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Two Special Babies

Late on Thursday afternoon, upstairs in GLA's NICU, I performed a visual exam, of baby Sonia, who had arrived home from Miami an hour or so before.

She had obviously grown, and filled out. She must have spent a fair bit of time enjoying the Florida sunshine, I thought to myself - her colour had deepened. I took in her crown of silky curls, glowing skin and a pretty pink, checked dress. For me, these were signs that she had been well cared for and loved during her three months in the USA.

Undressing my girl, my eyes fell on neat scar, that ran up her chest, stopping just short of her collarbone, and a bony protrusion over her right lung. Soon, I would learn that Sonia's surgeon had corrected six defects affecting her heart and its vessels. I traced that scar with my finger. I needed to do that. I'm not quite sure why.

Sonia's journey to health has not been an easy one. She developed osteomyelitis (an infection in her lower leg before she left Haiti and that required an extensive course of antibiotics. She developed a further infection in her PICC (IV) line together with a blood clot. Then, following surgery her incision line also became infected. She has returned to God 's Littlest Littlest Angels singicantly stronger than she left us. Developmentally, she continues to make impressive progress.

If anyone here needed a reminder that Sonia would continue to require a lot of care, that reminder came in the form of another angel.

Melouse is 4 months old and she weighs 6lb 5oz. I caught my first glimpse of this tiny elfin girl shortly before 8am on Thursday morning. The lady who was holding her, Melouse's mother was crying. I remember that Melouse looked pale, but very alert. When she was brought up to me in the NICU shortly before mid-day, it was immediately obvious that like Sonia, Melous had Down's Syndrome.

Melouse has a skin infection, fevers and swollen glands. Many Down's syndrome babies have weak immune systems. She is unable to drink from an ordinary nipple because like Many Downs's syndrome babies, she has low muscle tone. There are signs that her thyroid gland may be under active. These are the health challenges that are immediately obvious to us. We don't know yet whether, like Sonia, she Melouse has a heart condition and breathing problems. Whether she will have issues with her digestive system, vision and hearing. Whether she will be prone to seizures, or whether she will develop a form of leukaemia that is fairly common in babies children with Down's syndrome.

We have two beautiful and precious girl upstairs in our NICU. Sonia and Melouse. Special because they are unique, but also because they are and will probably always be high needs.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Merciful, Loving and Good

Last Sunday afternoon, the NICU staff called me to see a sick baby.

Kelly, an ex-preterm infant, had suddenly developed severe croup symptoms. He had a strangled-sounding cough, and his airway was so compromised that he couldn't swallow. His blood oxygen levels were low and frothy secretions were bubbling from his mouth and nose.I knew this was an emergency. I knew Kelly needed a competent anesthetist. I knew there were none close-by.

This couldn't really be happening to Kelly! He had been born 2 months prematurely and had survived at home for a month without an incubator, or oxygen. He had bean slowly starving, but he had made it here. He had done so well with us; he had filled out. He had become a beautiful, thriving baby and he had never been sick before..... I exhaled a long breath. I was attached to this baby, I was afraid for him, but Kelly needed me to be calm and confident in this crisis. He needed me with steady hands and a clear head.

Oxygen and nebulized steroids had no effect. Nebulized epinephrine helped to dilate his airway just enough, to make the next stage of his treatment safe. I sited an IV to give Kelly steroids that would reduce the swelling in his throat. Siting the IV was risky. Pain and fear might cause a spasm in his throat that would stop him from breathing all together.

Thankfully, kelly responded to treatment. I gave up a prayer of thanks for this mercy. No sooner had I stabilized Kelly than Dixie received a phone call.....

Minutes later, we were at the home of a terminally ill staff member. Exilia had been diagnosed with a metastatic brain tumour just five days before. Now, she was struggling to breath. She was in pain. She had lost control of her body functions. I found myself praying again for mercy.

The next morning, my prayers were answered, when Exilia lay down, rolled over, and stopped breathing.

Tears and groans and wailing filled our house. Angry, stunned, bewildered, difficult questions were thrown up. It was a painful loss, eased by the knowledge that God had answered our prayers. We knew that cancer was not the end of Exilia any more than croup had been he end of Kelly.

Two desperately ill people, one healed in the world, the other in eternity. One full of promise, an orphan with a hope and a future, a child who would soon be proposed to a family who desperately wanted a son. His whole life was ahead of him. The other had reached the end of her life, but she had left a legacy of dignity and endurance in the children she had raised. I gave thanks to my God. The one who had suffered in this world, the one who knew that we hurt. The God we could cling to - empathic, and eternally merciful, loving and good.

Kelly, recovering from his illness. He is now off of oxygen.

'Give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.' (Psalm 107:1)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails
And puppy-dogs' tails,
That's what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice,
That's what little girls are made of

(19th century English nursery rhyme)

Most of the families who apply to adopt from God's Littlest Angels request referrals of little girls. Most of the children in my nurseries are boys.

Last week,our Director shared with us that she has no families on her waiting list, for many of little boys that are ready to be proposed.

As I did my morning rounds at the baby house this morning, I wondered which of my boys, would have to wait for a very long time, for someone to say 'yes' to them.

Frantz? He is a chubby, beautiful infant, not quite two months old, and thriving in every way. If he were proposed now, it is possible, a stretch, but possible, that his adoption would be completed before his first birthday. He is a son that would make any Mother or Father proud.

Supposing Dixie doesn't have a family for Frantz, what are the chances that she will be able to place Jamesson, my three month old who has some developmental delays from malnutrition? He is weak, but gaining strength. How long will he wait?

And what about Blanco? At 8 months old, he is the calmest baby in the NICU. He is gorgeous and happy and contented. I'm sure he would be snapped up by a modelling agency. I took it for granted that he would be snapped up by an adoptive family too. Was I wrong? just doesn't seem fair that our sweet,determined boy, who is so loved by his nannies, nurses and volunteers, and who has been here for over a year all ready, should have to wait any longer.

And then there is Christophe.....I never met a child like him! He arrived in February, severely malnourished, weighing 12lb. He was 16 months old then. This boy has an incredible spirit; highly sociable, engaging, but also extremely dominant. I remember doing his developmental assessment a few months ago. Christophe had to be persuaded to co-operate. After a while, he turned the tables on me. 'Like this', he kept telling me in a tone of authority. I was taken aback. He wanted to be in-charge. He wanted to be a teacher, not a learner, and he was assessing me! I have always said, Christophe will be one of two things: a great leader or the most awful tyrant. It is my mission to make sure that he becomes the former, not the latter. He will bring a lot of joy to his 'forever family', but who are they, and when will they step forward?

I think there are many reasons why, our waiting families request baby girls. Many of them are reasonable. I can certainly understand why a single mother might feel more comfortable raising a female child, for example.

What if we think of it from a different angle? A prospective parent might wait several months, maybe over a year for a baby girl to be available. What if, all this time, the son that God would place in that waiting family, is also waiting.

I think that boys get a bad reputation. They are different from girls, there is no doubt about that but I personally adore them, and I do not find them more difficult to raise, than girls. I wonder if maybe, the single mother who hopes to adopt, has men in her life, a Father, a brother, a friend, a neighbour a priest, a pastor, who could be an excellent role model to her son. No-one can be everything or everyone to a child, girl or boy.

I know that many of you pray for our children. Would you pray that someone will say yes to all of our children? We have many boys, many sibling groups, many special needs children and older children who will be difficult to place. GLA is a good orphanage by Haitian standards. but it is not a family and children need a deserve to be set in families.

If you are a prospective adoptive parent, maybe your dossier is in Haiti, maybe you are in the process of gathering all of your paperwork, I am asking you to pray too. Might God be leading you to consider adopting a boy? If you haven't received a proposal, it is not too late to contact Dixie or your agency, and tell them, you would gladly welcome a boy into your family.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Sensing His Nearness

When I heard that two generators were out at the main house this morning, I groaned inwardly. The last time this happened on my watch, I had one baby on high flow oxygen, turning blue ever time the power went out, and her oxygen concentrator cut off, and another in the incubator.... The memory tailed off, as I became aware that today's outage was not life or death to anyone.
This afternoon, our sickest baby is 9 month old Osmaika. She caught an intestinal infection two weeks ago, and has not recovered in the same way that our other babies have. This little girl was born prematurely and like many premature babies, she has a very sensitive digestive system. She came to us in December, at the age of two months, after contracting cholera and being abandoned by her birth mother.

Osmaika is unable to tolerate anything orally. She is also unable to absorb anything but pre-digested proteins and fats, so we are drip feeding oral rehydration solution, vitamins, medicines, and a special medical formula, to her, via a feeding pump. She is healing, slowly. She is fortunate to have access to a combination of treatments from the developed and developing worlds. At GLA, we have integrated different medical and nutritional approaches into a method for treating severe or prolonged gastroenteritis that works very well for our most fragile babies.

The inverter has powered Osmaika's feeding pump all morning, and now, EDH (government electricity) is on. A second pump is charging, and if our power fails completely and both pump batteries discharge, we will turn to a no-technology feeding option. In a country where you cannot depend on a constant source of power, it is important to have a plan B and a plan C.

I am very grateful that we have everything we need for Osmaika, especially, the few cans of Pregestimil formula and the feeding pump that make it possible to nourish her just now. Apparently, God knew in advance that Osmaika would need these things. In this case, his provision came in advance of my prayer and because of that, I sense his nearness, his sovereignty, and his spirit, moving in Osmaika's life.