Beverly was only hours old when her mother plodded into the emergency room: sick, tired and covered in sweat. Like a cobbled horse, she limped towards the triage nurse whose eyes were focused on the clipboard in her hands.
The whisper, fierce with pain, caught the nurse’s attention.
Nurse Anna put down the clipboard just in time as the young woman shoved a small bundle, wrapped in a worn, red flannel shirt, into her arms. Without another word, Beverly’s mother turned away slowly, stopping once as if she might reconsider, but then began slowly shuffling out of the double doors.
Anna, the pretty little ER nurse, gape-mouthed and speechless, just watched her go. She had been trained on the new Safe Haven laws: A mother could legally drop off her newborn at a hospital with no questions asked. From the training, Anna knew that most of the Safe Haven babies were the results of hidden pregnancies, fearful mothers or violent households. The law had been passed to deter women from leaving newborns in bathrooms, dumpsters and open fields. Anna knew in her heart that this mother had made a better choice for her child. However, she couldn’t stop judgement from oozing out of her pores.
Glancing down at the tiny baby, a smile played on her lips. What a pretty little girl, she thought, with skin the color of cafe au lait. The smile died suddenly as her trained eyes, looking over the child, alerted her that something was terribly wrong.
Don had been the social worker on call that night and was therefore summoned to the NICU by the doctor.
Dr. Brown explained to Don how Beverly had arrived at the hospital as a baby Doe. Don also learned that when babies were dropped off anonymously, the hospital assigned them a name rather than calling them baby Doe in an effort to personalize them more. Once adopted, the parents name them permanently.
Detailing her condition, which included a metabolic issue coupled with a serious heart defect, Dr. Brown decreed that Beverly’s prognosis was terminal.
Shaking his head, he uttered those words, “There’s nothing we can do”.
Don learned that Beverly would be in NICU for about two weeks (if she survived). At that point, she could be moved to a long term facility to keep her comfortable. Don’s heart grieved for an unloved baby, never knowing a mother’s arms or hearing the steady assurance of a mother’s heartbeat.
He asked Dr. Brown, if it would be feasible for the child to be placed with a medical foster parent. Dr. Brown’s eyes were sympathetic as he answered. Glancing at her chart, he agreed that the child could be placed with a trained caregiver as the daily regimen would not be difficult. A home nurse could visit 3 times weekly to administer injections and to check on the feeding tube.
Then he met Don’s eyes, his face stern.
“This child is going to die. She will die a little more every day and there is NOTHING, short of a bonified miracle, that will change that. Why would you put a foster parent through such a heart breaking ordeal”?
But Don thought of Beverly, in the NICU and decided to try.
Don was compassionate and dedicated, but was not the main hero of this story.
Enter Mr. And Mrs. Debussy. The Debussy’s were an older couple, transplanted to the South from California, where they lived, loved and raised a family for 50 years. They were relatively new foster parents, but they had a speciality from which Don would draw. Mrs. Debussy, at 51 years old, was a retired nurse, who had worked in the NICU. When she heard about Beverly, she did not hesitate and agreed to take the baby into her home.
Mrs. Debussy made the daily drive to the hospital, sitting in the NICU with Beverly. She talked, sang and even read to the tiny little girl. When allowed, she would hold and rock Beverly, holding her close to her chest. The nurse informed Don that Beverly had come to recognize the voice of her “mother”. If, Mrs. Debussy walked into the room when the infant was crying, the child would stop briefly upon hearing the foster mother call out to her.
Mrs. Debussy, with her pale skin, expertly made up and her platinum blonde hair looked more like an aging star than a mother. But as she held, rocked and sung to Beverly daily, her true identity came to light.
She was an Angel.
Beverly went home with Mrs. Debussy after two weeks. Don saw Beverly with her foster mother at the Debussy home. Beverly’s nursery, painted pink highlighted with tiny grey elephants dancing along a chair rail border, was the room of a princess. Mrs. Debussy showed Don the frilly dresses she had purchased in various sizes.
Afraid that she might not grasp the real situation, Don gently reminded her that the doctor’s prognosis for Beverly was 3 months at best. Mrs. Debussy smiled at him.
“Sweetie, I know that Beverly is going to die. But until God takes her back, she is alive. She will know love and comfort every day of her short life, if I have anything to do with it!’
And she did.
Beverly lived with Mr. And Mrs. Debussy for 11 months, before she passed away. She grew into those frilly dresses. The doctor expressed his amazement at her development at every follow up visit. But Don knew the truth.
Those wonderful, loving, self-sacrificing foster parents prolonged and enhanced the life of a terminally ill child with Love.
Every time Don saw Beverly, she was smiling and cooing. In his mind, he compared her quality and quantity of life to what it would have been in an institution. There was no doubt in his mind that Mrs. Debussy gave this child a will to hold on as long as possibly to her tenuous life.
Beverly’s funeral was heavily attended. Mrs. Debussy had advocated publically and often for more medical foster parents and for children with special needs like Beverly. Don even saw the head of a state agency sitting in the front row. Everyone seemed to know about Beverly and Mrs. Debussy.
Foster parents make a real difference in the life of children, who for whatever reason cannot live with their birth family. Like the man in the parable, Mrs. Debussy walked on the beach and noticed a struggling starfish. She picked it up and gently placed it back in the water, watching as it revived and swam away.
With the same gentle, loving spirit, she placed Beverly back in the hands of God, thankful for the time they had together.
What is your legacy?