As work on a corporate project wound down, I made the call. I was ready to take home a "boarder baby."
Boarder babies are primarily victims of the crack epidemic, born of mothers who test positive for cocaine and cannot take care of them. They are taken by private agencies operating under the supervision of the city's Department of Social Services and given to foster parents temporarily, until they can be placed with relatives.
Unless people open their homes to them the babies languish in institutions, unloved, untouched, apathetic, cast off.
I had requested a boy. Having raised daughters of my own, I wanted the experience of a son. Next to "race" on my application I wrote "no preference," which meant he would most likely be black.
My only other request was that he be healthy, as crack babies go. I didn't have the courage my first time out to deal with the effects of extreme damage.
Two days later he was delivered to my apartment by a young man who had been commandeered as a messenger for the trip from Brooklyn to Manhattan by an overworked social worker friend. He put the infant in my arms and laid his worldly possessions down next to us: two small bottles of formula, one gray cotton sweater, one nightgown, three Pampers and the bright and pretty comforter he was wrapped in, made lovingly by some volunteer from some charity group.
In addition, there was a paper with his name, his mother's name, the hospital he was born in, date of birth and the information that he was on a three-hour feeding schedule. Then the messenger left. I don't remember if I signed a receipt. I think I did.
There we sat, this little being and I. Despite the oft-voiced concerns of my loved ones and friends, I felt perfectly capable of giving him up when the time came, knowing I had saved him from living death. Not without some pain and loss, of course, but I can always take another child and do it again.
Besides, deep down I believed some loving grandmother would come looking for him, eager to return him to the welcoming arms of his family.
Well, my son has celebrated his first birthday. He's a real hunk with "thunder thighs" and a smile and a squeal that sets my heart afire. His early, uncontrollable muscular tremors are gone and he is filled with the boundless excitement of discovery that all children feel when they are loved. I have gone back to the gym to be able to keep up with him.
No grandma has come to fetch him. No aunts, no uncles, no cousins. No mother. No one has even come to see him.
But I was recently warned that his mother had entered drug rehab and wanted her baby back. I was told to bring him to the agency for a visit with her, and to be prepared for her taking him on weekends until she was well enough to keep him for good.
We showed up for the visit with him sweet-smelling, smiling and full of trust, and me a teary, anxious mess.
She never showed up. Neither did her social worker.
We made another appointment for two weeks later. Again, she didn't show. Neither did her social worker.
The pain of these episodes is indescribable. To be a mother, to have that ferocious instinct of protectiveness and to be rendered impotent is truly hell. Rather than surrender to my helplessness I spent days on the telephone seeking the best advice I could find on my rights. Here is what I learned: I was as helpless as I felt.
The sanctity of the family rules supreme. Before the agency can go to court and move to have the mother's rights terminated, they first have to exhaust every effort the law requires. Until he was with me for a year I had no rights whatsoever. I was a paid baby-sitter for New York City, bonding or no bonding.
I understand that these laws were created for another time, another world, when mothers with emotional or financial problems deserved every opportunity to get their beloved children back, when grandmothers did come to fetch their precious babies if the mothers couldn't get it together.
But that was another time, before crack. The grandmothers are getting all used up, and statistics on getting clean and staying that way are hardly encouraging.
I have engaged a lawyer and am seeking to terminate the mother's rights. I will do anything within my power and possibly beyond to insure him a life where he will be valued and appreciated for the pure love and joy that he is.
JANE DOE, a New Yorker, insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals in efforts to adopt her boarder baby.