I adopted a baby boy whose life was going to be very short. He was missing most of his brain, and was profoundly retarded. It was virtually a miracle that my Zachary lived long enough to get into a book of waiting children. Yes, I was afraid. At first, I hesitated. But my heart won out, and I am so wonderfully glad it did!
Oh my little Zachy. How do I write about my precious baby boy? My sugarplum, cuddlebug, koala bear, sweetiepie? For this child I had prayed. It was only fitting that first of all I name him Samuel, like Hannah in the Bible did, when God gave her the baby she had longed for.
Little did I dream, while I was searching the books for my next child, that Zachy was being born silent and unmoving, half an hour away. Even after he began breathing, he lay limp and unresponsive, in the delivery room, surrounded by doctors and nurses. His head was very tiny, and an occipital encephalocele bulged out through a hole in the back of his head. No one knew how much of his brain was contained in that sac. His eyes did not open. His beautiful, peaceful Chinese face lay in repose, unmoved by the experience of birth.
Zachy was dearly desired, and loved from the start. But his expected short life span, and devastating disabilities were heartbreaking for his birth parents.
Zachy's brain had not formed properly, but was, in the words of one doctor, like scrambled eggs, and most of that was in the sac outside his head. There was no way to put it back in. In spite of the sterile dressings, it would soon become infected. There was nothing to be done but wait for him to die.
What anguish his poor birth parents experienced, I can only imagine. Twelve days went by, and the sac did not become infected, and Zachy did not die. So a surgery was done to help him stay alive. The sac was removed.
He was taken home, and cared for with love and tenderness, and even, humor. They obtained infant stimulation for him, working hard to help him develop if he could. Darling pictures were taken of him posed with tiny sunglasses on, cute outfits and funny hats. He learned to gurgle in his throat, which was, at least, a beginning of vocalization. He learned to smile when his cheeks were stroked. It was clear that he was well loved. But they could not keep him permanently. He was up for adoption, but they were keeping him home until a home was found. They loved him so much, they did not want him to have to move from home to home, as he probably would in foster care. Fifteen long months went by. No one inquired.
Then I found his picture in the CAP book, printed three thousand miles away. This was the book for the children who were the very hardest to place. The place where parents wanting to adopt a very disabled child, or large sibling groups, etc. went to look. Zachy's picture was a truly terrible one. It left no room for anyone to fantasize that he could be any less disabled than he was. He actually looked kind of dead in this black and white picture. Face expressionless, tiny pointed head sprouting a bit of hair standing up on end, eyes which had not completed forming, just open a crack, tongue protruding a bit from his mouth. I was taken aback. My first feelings were disbelief and compassion. That poor little baby! He really needs a mommy! Where is he? So I made a phone call. To my astonishment, he was only half an hour away from our home! What was he like? I wanted to know more.
(C) 2004 Rosemary J. Gwaltney