I have so many memories for which I am thankful. Particularly memories involving relatives and family. But there are also memories which served as learning lessons that I am also thankful for, even if they are not so joyful. Memories that teach you about the world, and make you thankful for what you have. This story is significantly longer than my usual blog post, so settle in.
My first job out of college was working for Children's Protective Services in Houston, Texas. I was the person who actually went out knocking on doors, investigating child abuse. It was a challenging job, high stress, and I really put my heart into it. There are many faces and situations that stick in my mind even now, 13 years later. One of those is the story I will share today.
It wasn't long after my three months at the training institute that my caseload began to rise. They tossed you right in once training was complete, because caseloads were enormous, as was the turnover. Being a social worker in such a large city is difficult work. About once a week, my unit took only Priority 1 cases for a day. Priority 1 cases had to be investigated immediately. As they came in, they would be doled out to us bit by bit. Priority 1 days were much more stressful than the average day, because you never knew what you were going to get or where you would end up. Chased by a gang, staring at a screaming mom holding a shotgun, wading through two inches of cat diarrhea sludge (while trying not to gag) to see if the kitchen cabinets had any food? These were all things that happened to me on Priority 1 days.
On this particular day I received my first crack cocaine baby case. The case had been called in by one of the hospitals, so I had to go interview the mother, the hospital doctor who called it in, and get a visual on the baby. Crack cocaine baby cases are cut and dry. You always removed the baby from the mother in these cases. No ifs, ands, or buts.
I drove to the hospital and sat down with the mother. She wore a loose fitting hospital gown and her hair stuck straight up like a troll doll, unbrushed and untended for weeks. She had that metallic sweat scent of someone withdrawing from hard core drug use. And her gummy yellow eyes could barely focus on me as I began asking her questions. She looked 20 years older than her true age. Having pulled up her history prior to the meeting, I knew that this was her ninth crack baby.
Her excuse, for using crack when she knew she was pregnant?
I was tired of being pregnant. I just wanted to get it over with. So I just used. So I could go into labor, see.
Anger. Such anger over the injustness. Although I logically realized that this woman had lived a difficult life, had likely seen things and been in situations I couldn't imagine, I was still consumed by anger rather than sympathy because of what she did to that baby. I didn't want to be in the same room with her. But I didn't let that show. I finished the inteview quietly and then went to see the baby.
I had never before seen a crack baby. Oh, Baby. Less than 2 pounds. He would've fit in the palm of my hand. Wires, tubes, machines, lights. Fighting. Fighting to exist, fighting to beat the drug addiction his mother imposed on him. So tiny, so still. But inside, a little heart, beating furiously to live, despite the fact that he was unwanted.
Merely days later, while Baby continued to fight for life, I faced the courtroom with the mother. The Judge wisely chose not to award her custody, despite her anguish. Perhaps it was because she was completely high during the trial. She spent half the time lying on the bench, and the other half waving her arms erratically and yelling. As I walked out that day, a lawyer grabbed me by the arm and said, "Is that your client?" I nodded with regret. "I just thought you should know that she was using crack in the bathroom just now". That mother wouldn't even wait through the court case concerning her newborn's welfare before using again.
That little baby? He'd be around 12 or 13 years old now. I think of him with such sadness. I hope that he found a family to love him and raise him and help him through the develomental delays that were likely caused by extensive crack exposure in the womb and extreme prematurity. I hope that there was never a Judge who decided to send him into an unsafe and unloving home. I hope that his mother found birth control, and that she stopped using drugs. I suspect that some, if not all, of my hopes are in vain.
So why am I thankful for this particular memory? Because it is a reminder. A reminder of how fortunate I am. To have family. To have friends. To have health. And it also serves to remind me that I devoted a portion of my career and life to trying to help others. Some days, I was more successful than others. Some days, I did make a difference. Regardless, I tried. Ultimately, it was the crack cocaine baby cases that did me in and led to a career change. I could deal with cases of abuse and cases of neglect. But my heart just couldn't handle seeing those tiny crack cocaine babies week after week. It was time to move on. However, I've never forgotten the wrinkled faces of those babies, and the faces of other saddened children I encountered through my work. And I've never let go of the hopes that they somehow found happiness in their lives. Daily, I remember that there are people who are facing the darkest of the dark situations in life, and that each of us as individuals can make a difference in a life.
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