“They’re Just Babies”
Rachel Brower, UG Student
The piercing sound of a baby’s cry catches my ear as I round the corner towards the infant care room. The numerous families, dressed in button-ups, neatly ironed suits, and print dresses all carry their Bibles and pens as they hurriedly drop off their younglings en route to the second-hour service at Fellowship Bible Church. Though the babies in the infant care room range from birth to six months, they still seem aware enough to understand they are leaving the comfort of mother’s arms. Their tiny faces contort, their fists clench, and their mouths open to make known their dissatisfaction by their only means of communication – crying. However, it never ceases to amaze me that once passed to a caregiver who can also offer precious love and attention, these little ones learn to form trust with their new environment very quickly.
The culmination of the eleven fussing babies just less than six months of age doesn’t appear half as overwhelming with the outside noise now blocked out. Having hung the bags in their proper places and posted the schedules for each child, Doug, Kathryn, Jill, Linda, and the newest volunteer, Christen, all focus their undivided attention on filling the numerous needs of the little ones around them.
Whether picked up, spun around, rocked in the chair, fed a bottle, or given exclusive attention during playtime, it was phenomenal to watch each baby’s state of well-being improve exponentially. Every one of these children that had just been upset were now calming down and forming stable roots of trust in their new surroundings. In a matter of ten minutes, there was only one child who remained inconsolable, due to the fact that she was getting over a mild flu.
Feeling a subtle nudge at my shoe, my eyes dropped below to find a large, semi-inflated rubber ball. Surprised, I followed its path of travel back towards the face of little Joshua, who seemed even more surprised that he could actually roll it. Almost six months old, Josh, a Sunday regular, shakily held himself up as high as he could to gaze at me. With sparkling brown eyes and cheeks rosy from playing, he let a charming smile slip across his face and babbled something that I am certain only he could understand. I smiled back and marveled for a moment at how he had never cried since the beginning of this season’s day care.
“He’s a really happy baby,” Miss Kathryn sat down in the rocking chair across from me, eyeing her foster son as he rolled happily about on the floor.
“He sort of looks like you guys.” I smiled as my eyes darted from his face to hers and Doug’s.
“That’s the funny thing,” Doug chimed in, burping baby Elijah in his arms. “He’s not even really ours.”
Raising my eyebrows in curious surprise, Kathryn continued on. “We were blessed to receive Josh just two days after he was born in the hospital. God called us to become foster parents, put him specifically in our hearts, and we were there as early as we could to scoop him up and love on him. He is like one of our own now.” She smiles proudly, rocking newborn Molly back and forth in the chair, keeping an ever-watchful eye on baby Josh as he explored the floor and all of its crevices.
“Wow. Did he have it rough?”
“Not really. He definitely was more fortunate than his siblings. He was literally in the hospital for two days after he was born; then we took him in, so he didn’t have to go through much of a harsh environment at all. His brothers and sisters are a different story, though. There are eight of them, thankfully all in different places and families at this point. But they had to endure some neglect and unsettling environments in their early years, so they all have personal setbacks of their own. Some were passed around and had their settings change so much, they actually developed tendencies consistent with ADHD. One of his sisters was neglected during her first years of life while the family used drugs and failed to provide food. When her time did finally come to be placed into foster care, numerous behavioral issues were prevalent; she would rebel, lash out, and push the limits to test and see who, or if, anybody would still love her. Due to those impactful younger years, she has developed a starvation mentality, eating whatever she can, and is currently overweight.”
I was enlightened to this new perspective as she continued her reflection on past experiences with infants and the significance of a stable, caring environment. Even though they are just babies, they are affected by their settings, learning to process trust or mistrust with the world around them. When their needs are not met or they are passed around to other organizations and inattentive families, it actually stunts their growth into healthy children and adults.
Clearly passionate about the topic, she went on to expound on articles she had uncovered about a foster center in Russia, known for having poor, neglectful workers and mass amounts of children who grow up developmentally challenged. Most of those kids, Kathryn stated, had experienced early childhood neglect and trauma, on top of being handed into an institution. The center, better left unnamed, would have rows and rooms of babies that were cared for as far as feeding and changing, but were never personally held or talked to.
No matter how many physical needs are met, babies receiving a lack of caring responses actually grow up learning not to feel emotion.
“The staff members would literally just let them cry and never tend to them. These babies actually grew up not knowing how to communicate, unable to cry, feel pain, or comprehend human emotion. There are actual brain synapses that form at birth, requiring physical touch, love, and care in order to activate and continue developing. When left un-stimulated, healthy childhood development never fully takes place.”
“Why do you think those babies are treated like that?”
Kathryn rolled her eyes and lowered her voice. “Because…‘they’re just babies, and should be handled as nothing more…’” Her long brown curls bobbed back and forth while she shook her head in disappointment. “Unfortunately, that’s the attitude that some parents and foster center staff members have. They don’t see the crucial importance of the child’s age. Some assume that they are mindless consuming machines when they are that young, not real human beings with hearts and emotions.”
Both passion and disappointment could be heard in her voice as she let her eyes wander down to Josh, who, looking over his shoulder, seemed to be sensing her tension and checking to see if she was okay. With a few words of gentle encouragement from her, Josh’s face twisted back into his usual grin and his wrestling match with the ball continued.
Surveying the room, it was evident that the workers were faithfully pouring out their time, energy, and attention into these little ones. Each one was touched, seen, heard, and thoroughly attended to. Though draining, day care experiences never ceased to be enlightening and rewarding. Having heard this contrasting perspective, gratefulness and appreciation for these children seemed to fill the hearts and minds of the volunteer team. Whether swaddling a child, administering a bottle, or simply speaking in soft, reassuring tones, the caregivers carried the honorable responsibility to provide a foundation of trust and safety on which these blessed children could continue growing.
“They’re just babies,” is a profoundly true statement at this stage in life. They are young, vulnerable, impressionable, and fragile. Their beginning steps may not have occurred yet physically, but they have psychologically and emotionally formed ties to their view of the world, their immediate environments, and the ability to trust and receive love from those around them.
“They are just babies,” and they should be tenderly handled as nothing less.