Illustration by Denis Shifrin.
What can be more natural than a newborn, embraced with love in the arms of his mother, leaving the hospital a few days after birth for a lifetime of love and care?
Sadly, this is not the reality for a growing number of newborn babies who are abandoned in hospitals. Currently, there are 41 abandoned babies countrywide. Most of them are born to prostitutes, drug addicted mothers or parents who are not willing or able to care for them. Most of the babies are born prematurely or with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Some are perfectly normal babies left in the hospital with no one to love them.
First Hug, Hibuk Rishon, is a nonprofit organization with a network of women volunteers who are dedicated to taking care of babies abandoned in 17 hospitals in Israel. Dr. Tamar Shlezinger, a social worker, thought about starting the organization seven years ago when she heard of an abandoned baby with Down's syndrome in a maternity hospital in Tel Aviv. She told me that as she sat for hours daily in the neo-natal unit with the baby in her arms, she dreamt of starting a small network of women volunteers who would do the same in all hospitals in Israel. Her dream came true. After caring for eight more babies, she became "the mother of the abandoned babies" and together with Michal Koriat, who shares her dream, runs a network of more than 3,000 volunteers.
An abandoned baby is doomed to a life of solitude in hospital wards, under neon lights and exposed to the constant crying of other babies. The medical staff, who are busy running the neonatal unit, provide for his physical needs, but don’t have the time to give him the love and care the baby needs to develop normally.
According to Jhon Bowlby's Attachment Theory, a human infant needs a secure relationship with adult caregivers without which normal, social and emotional development will not occur. The attachment of a baby to a mother figure affects his motivation, emotions, memory and his ability to create normal social relations in future life. Maternal Deprivation Syndrome causes a failure to thrive. Research shows that a stable, loving parental relationship is as vital to the survival and the physical and mental health of a baby as food and medical care.
An abandoned healthy baby may stay in the hospital from a few days to several months, depending on his condition and his mother's willingness to sign the consent forms for adoption (in those instances when she is present in his life). Even when a mother gives her baby away for adoption, the baby might spend months in the hospital waiting for a family. The fortunate ones go to foster or adopting families. An ill or disabled baby, for whom it's more difficult to find a family, may stay in the hospital for many months and often, he is eventually transferred to shelters run by social services for many more months.
Six months ago I first read about "First Hug"on the Internet and I knew instantly that this was something I wanted to be a part of. After a short screening process, including a graphology analysis and an interview with a social worker, I became a part of the First Hug family. I started caring for "my" first baby when he was only six days old. He stayed in the neo-natal unit for 5 weeks and was then released to a foster family. I heard that his mother, a drug addict and HIV positive woman, had left the hospital 24 hours after giving birth, leaving behind a beautiful healthy baby whom she never came back to see.
"My" second baby is E. I have cared for him for the last four months. Right after birth he suffered from withdrawal symptoms because the drug his mother had been taking throughout her pregnancy was still in his system. He was tested for HIV and Hepatitis and when the results came back negative we could hold him, feed him and change his diapers. I usually spend 2 to 4 hours weekly with him and it is a unique and very profound experience. It started as something I had to do because I had made a commitment, but soon I found myself thinking about him when I was not with him, wishing he was relaxed, clean, well fed and content. Now, I can't wait to see him and I am excited before every visit.
Sweet little E, you are 5 months old and still with no home or family. You lie in a small crib in the neonatal unit and are taken for walks in a stroller in the ward's corridors. We are not allowed to take you out and you can see the big world outside only through the window.
You have become a part of my life. You greet me with a big smile and I know this is the place I want to be. When I hold you in my arms, close to my heart, nothing else matters. It's just me and you and how good we make each other feel. When you smile, it's bliss. When I feel that for the two hours I spend with you each time, you are a happy little baby, it's priceless. Every time I leave you, I know I gave you a big dose of love. I pray that soon they will find a good family for you and I try not to think of how much I am going to miss you.
For more information, or if you want to make a change in a baby's life, please visit: www.tinokot.org.il or e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
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