The Ultimate Determination

I have a friend I met almost four years ago through a job.  Carrie and I were hired within a month of each other and had an immediate connection.  We’ve talked about our souls being connected in the past and I knew she came into my life to help fill in the gaps of my own inadequacies and I to help her in the same manner.  We only worked together for about a year before some political drama and employment cuts ended up with her out of the job.  The situation makes me cringe to even think about and I could easily go into a downward spiral of hatred considering what happened…  So I will stop there and move on.

Our friendship continued although, our face to face contact became more dispersed.  She and I talked about the possibility of a business venture since our personalities complimented each other so well.  She is slightly older than I and sometimes it felt like she had a lifetime more life experiences.  There were times I would smile and nod at her question “You know what I mean?” hoping she wouldn’t recognize I knew nothing before I could puzzle together some context clues.  Carrie has a knack for getting her needs met, her southern drawl could reel anyone in and convince them of whatever she was requesting.  Her dark curly hair is the kind most women would lay down big money to duplicate, and this is on the days she claims she didn’t have time to fix it her own way.  She has warm brown eyes, a bright smile, rounded face and naturally tan skin.  Carrie’s outward beauty barely begins to exude the beauty within, as she has worked her life serving others.  Her career has involved advocating for those who cannot do it for themselves, and she is exactly who I would want representing me if I were incompetent to make my own decisions.  Sounds like I have painted the picture of a wonderfully warm and generous human being who speaks softly, with manners and always kind and gentle.  Yes, this is true of Carrie in many ways although I would warn you…  Don’t cross her, she can outwit you and pull the totem your pride was standing on before you can catch your next breath.

These characteristics have served Carrie professionally and recently in a deeply personal way as well.  This story is about the ultimate determination I have witnessed in my friend and an incredible journey to parenthood I am so honored to be able to report.  Seriously incredible and worth making into a movie, I told Carrie she would be played by Angelina Jolie.

Two years ago Carrie talked to me about her desire to be a mom.  She had been in a number of serious relationships throughout her twenties and thirties, none of them amounting to “the one” worth marrying.  Since she was well into adulthood, built a professional career and firm foundation, Carrie felt the tug of parenthood greater than the need for following society’s approved order of becoming a parent (i.e. relationship, marriage than baby).

Haters – stop right there.  I know some people immediately get all judgmental when someone acts out of the realm of what is traditional.  Need I remind you a large number of youth grow up in single parent households in the present day, single moms can do just fine providing all the emotional, physical and financial support a child can possibly need.  AND there is no such thing as a traditional household anymore – family make-ups are all unique and no one is better than another – just different.  There is no specific recipe for what ingredients make for a healthy child – love and resources in what ever form they may come.  

So Carrie began with looking at her options.  She wanted the experience of being pregnant, of feeling the baby growing and kicking, and delivering it into the world.  She submerged herself into research about the medical advances in using donors and insemination.  She met with doctors and began preparing her body.  She revised her diet and workout regiment, she was religious about vitamins and necessary medications.

I can’t recall all of the details of each insemination attempt. I know there were many and I know a few took to pregnancies and all ended in miscarriages.  Between attempts she became well versed in the medical terminology, being able to converse intelligently with her doctors about what tests they were failing to administer which increased her chances the next time around.  She submitted her body to a strict regiment of shots and medications to prepare for and retain the pregnancies.  With each attempt Carrie was more hopeful and then more upset with each loss, feeling dreams of motherhood crashing.  Feeling pregnancy may not be an option for her she looked into adoption.  Adoption also appeared like a hopeless path as adoption agencies look for two parent households.  The foster-care into adoption situations would only consider her for older children, sibling sets or children with special needs all of which she felt unprepared.

I heard her talk about “This will be the last try,” leading up to the most recent medical procedure, and I was elated to hear the positive test results several weeks later.  Without trying to sound pessimistic I questioned how she and her doctors felt this one would hold better than the last and if she would on-going increased care.  I so wanted Carrie to experience to joy of being a mom, to carry a healthy baby and experience the terrific pain of childbirth, I just had a sinking feeling this might not work.  In March Carrie told me the news, there was no heartbeat on the sonograms and this pregnancy also ended in a miscarriage.  It was devastating to hear and I cannot even begin to imagine how she was feeling.  Weeks went by before I heard from her again, and this time it was a phone call I will never forget.

The day before Easter Carrie called to tell me she was going to be a mom and her baby is due by the end of the month.  I wanted to cry, I wanted to hug her through the phone, I wanted to be there with her getting to see the expression of joy she had to be having.  Words wouldn’t even formulate in my mouth to ask appropriate questions of – how did this happen?  She provided me with some background and wanted some information, since she had spent two years working on how to become pregnant she missed the nine months women usually have to prepare for the baby.

Through this phone call and conversations we have had since I understand the bizarre and amazing connections which brought my friend to motherhood.  Even greater, the determination my friend sustained throughout this journey demonstrate she can tackle whatever challenges a parent may face.

Carrie and her mom learned of a young woman who was pregnant and wanting to give her baby up for adoption.  The birth mom was addicted to a multitude of prescription drugs and knew she couldn’t be responsible for the infant after the birth.  She used throughout the pregnancy and had no prenatal care at all.  Shortly after meeting with my friend she agreed Carrie is meant to be her baby’s mom.

Carrie scurried to get all of the necessary legal documents completed including a home inspection and began making purchases for a nursery.  She paid for a hotel room for the duration of the pregnancy and time afterwards since the birth mom had no stable living arrangements.  And she took the birth mom to buy food and to doctors appointments where she learned she was having a boy.

The birth mom reassured Carrie about how even the baby knew she was his mom, when he would calm his movements when her hand was on the belly.  She the only person who provided calm for him in the chaotic environment his birth mom surrounded herself with.  Carrie said there were various times when several women and handfuls of children would also be staying in the hotel room when she came by with groceries.  During one such visit an ambulance was called when one of the birth mom’s guests had a gran mal seizure.  The way Carrie described the individuals she interacted with, they sound incredibly intimidating.  She certainly wouldn’t let any fear show, as she was there for her son.

The estimated due date provided Carrie with about a month to prepare, except two weeks early she was rushing to the delivery room with the birth mom.  The hospital staff requested Carrie’s cooperation to help the birth mom through the labor as she was the only one the panicking woman would respond to.  For hours during active labor Carrie was on her knees on the hospital floor to bring her baby into the world.  One Monday, at a perfectly healthy weight and size her baby was born, miraculously showing no effects from the drugs or withdrawal symptoms.  

You might think hooray, and it ends there…  Not for Carrie, with adoption it’s not over until the paperwork is signed by the judge.

Court was scheduled for Thursday, leaving four more days in the hospital.  Carrie snuggled her newborn and got to enjoy the first feedings and diaper changes, while in a separate room birth mom recovered.  The hospital social worker was obviously disapproving of the adoption arrangement and questioned the birth mom “wouldn’t you want your son to have two parents?”  When her questioning wouldn’t budge the birth mom’s decision she talked about child protective services coming to speak with her.  After the conversation with the hospital social worker, and without the knowledge of Carrie or any hospital staff the birth mom eloped from her recovery room.

Once the social worker and director of nursing became aware of what was happening they approached Carrie about taking the baby to the nursery, because she was not a legal guardian for the child (yet.)  The social worker and DON were no match for all Carrie had been through in the last two years for this child, and she made sure they understood how they had failed this child by making the birth mom feel insecure and allowing her to walk out.  She made sure they understood she would not allow her son to be punished by removing him from her care because of their mistakes.  Carrie tolerated the babysitter/security they staked out in her room for the remainder of the days leading up to the court hearing.

A head hospital administrator learned of the events taking place on the nursery floor and came to Carrie with an apology.  He offered two $10 gift cards to the hospital cafeteria as a gesture, ha – as if that could make up for the furry Carrie felt toward his establishment.

On the Wednesday evening before court the lawyers began drawing attention to the birth mom’s absence and her unresponsiveness to calls.  It was clear if she didn’t make it to court, the proceedings wouldn’t happen and the baby would become custody of the state.  Carrie’s mom stayed with the baby while Carrie went on a chase.  She drove to every sight she had ever been to with the birth mom, contacted each connection she had made with the birth mom and followed every possible lead to where she may be.  Around 2am Thursday morning Carrie found herself in a trailer park with some shady characters looking high out front.  She found the birth mom inside a trailer passed out and helped her regain enough consciousness to get into the car and return to the hotel room.

Despite the roller coaster of emotions during the week and a sleepless night before the hearing, Carrie made it to court with the birth mom.  In the meeting room before seeing the judge the birth mom continued to try to put her head down and sleep, with the lawyers looking on frowning for fear the judge may postpone the date.  Carrie insisted she stand up and jog in place with her to stay alert and ensured all of the final paperwork was signed and approved.

 

 

 

My friend Carrie’s story of becoming a mom is the ultimate determination.  Her son is as lucky to have her as she is to have him, and I am fortunate to have her friendship.  Carrie’s dedication to fulfill her dream is an inspiration to me and to so many others who have witnessed her journey.

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Lessons in Love, the Mother Teresa’s Homes – Kolkata

We toured several Mother Teresa’s Homes in Kolkata.  The five homes we toured reminded me of the Ramakrishna Mission, our temporary home in Kolkata, in the way that outside the walls of the center were bustling crowded chaos and inside was a friendly, peaceful sanctuary.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa

The first home was private although what we could tour was Mother Teresa’s tomb, a museum and artifact area and also a peak into her bedroom.  I thought it was a perfect way to start the day since it provided us with her background, turns out I never had much of an education on who she was before then.  Seems that most of my history lessons in school related to war and left little room for the world’s charitable heroes.  It was enlightening to learn about her purpose and drive to help everyone in need, especially in a culture where “untouchables” were ignored so easily.  What amazed me most in the museum was the poster of locations of Mother Teresa Homes around the world – including the United States and as close to my home as Denver, Colorado.  She unconditionally loved and taught others how love can help transform people’s lives even when they are poor, when they are hungry and when they are dying.

“Live simply so that others may simply live.” – Mother Teresa

Looking into her bedroom I reflected on how she lived so simply, a clear indicator of how she was unselfish and entirely devoted to serving others.  Mother wore the same blue and white sari each day and repaired her own sandals rather than purchasing new, she had artwork on her wall made by her own hand, small bed with a thin mattress, quaint wardrobe closet, desk and table.  The room was smaller than my first college dormitory and was located at the top of the stairs centrally located in the building.  Feeling a sense of her spirit in this way helped to prepare me for the rest of the tour.

“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”  – Mother Teresa

The second home we saw was an orphanage and center for people to come and get medication they could not afford.  At first I noticed the music coming loudly from the upstairs of one of the buildings.  When we walked in there were bright colors and blown up beach balls hanging from the ceiling.  Past the entrance a large room held rows of cribs for infants.  Upstairs was the room the music was playing, boys around the age of two were running back and forth across the room in fun.  Most didn’t seem to notice or care about the visitors at the gate and a few curious little ones came to check us out.  In other buildings were children with mental and physical health needs.  It appeared some of the kids might have had developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy and hearing or sight issues.  These children ranged in very young to around twelve years old, the room had rows of both cribs and beds.  Some children had severe needs and were completely crippled and immobile, these were difficult to witness.  I found myself wondering how each of these children came to live at this Mother Teresa’s Home.  Had their parents tried to care for them and what circumstances led to their decision to leave them?

Upon leaving this home, we waited outside the gates for our transportation to arrive.  A pretty little girl in tattered clothes with a big smile came up and started begging my classmates and I for money.  Having discussed what we all felt comfortable doing in this situation, as it happened so frequently, we opted to give food.  I first observed Jesi giving her a granola bar; the girl took it and placed it behind her back to move on politely to my next classmate.  Julia offered her another food item and again the girl placed it behind her back to step over to my next classmate in line.  A man came by behind the girl and took the food from her hands, I assumed this was her father.  While we were getting into the cars it appeared this girl’s parents were irate with her, maybe for not getting enough from us or for it not being money.  They came to the vehicle window and spoke in an angry manner towards us and the girl.  This situation was upset me to think how parents would exploit their children in this manner. I felt like it was a fitting time to witness this behavior, and realize how many of the children living in these homes being loved may have otherwise ended up begging on the streets like this little girl.

“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”  – Mother Teresa

The third home we toured was for the dying and destitute adults.  It had volunteers from all over the world who would help with cleaning, cooking and feeding responsibilities.  Men were responsible for going out and picking people up off the streets and taking them to this home.  All of the patients, including women, had shaved heads, many appeared mentally ill and some were incredibly frail.  Two long rooms separated males and females, each room with a long path down the middle and cots lined up on either side.  It was uncomfortable walking around not assisting in any way, all I could do was offer a smile to the woman as we passed.  The way we toured felt like we were visiting a zoo and walking through an exhibit.  These conditions were not comfortable and not dignified by Western standards, however, the alternative of dying alone and unloved on the streets of Kolkata are worse.  The fourth home was no less depressing, it was specifically for mentally ill and handicap adults, although there was one young male patient appearing very young and out-of-place.  His collarbone projecting through his body and I couldn’t help wondering what kind of future lie ahead for a boy like him.

“Joy is strength.”  – Mother Teresa

The last Mother Teresa Home we visited was my favorite of the day since we were able to really interact with the children in the orphanage.  The nun who showed us around was an obvious favorite of all the children in the yard since they all called to her and ran towards her when she was in their sight.  She took us upstairs to where there were infants and toddlers.  In one crib there was a tiny baby whose legs were so skinny it looked like her diaper would easily fall off.  The toddlers were all friendly and jumped into my classmate’s arms.  One older girl tapped my legs and waved hello.  I knelt down to talk to her, she spoke a little English and was able to tell me she was 14 and couldn’t walk because of problems with her back.  She told me she enjoys painting and pointed out a friend in the room.  I asked her if she attends school at the Mother Teresa’s Home and she looked at me funny and replied no, as if I should have known she wouldn’t go to school.  That made me wonder a little more about the homes and what happens to the children, especially if disabled, as they grow up and “age out of the system” as we might put it in the United States.  At the end of the visit we passed out candy to children in the yard which Julia had brought from home for a special occasion such as this.  We played for a while, some were able to communicate their names and gestured requests for what they wanted us to do with them like spin or go down the slide.  It was a necessary to end that day on a positive note.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

The lessons I learned from one month in West Bengal I will continue processing for the rest of my life.  And the people, the children and the conditions I witnessed in the Mother Teresa Homes was a day I will never forget.  I felt a deep sense of compassion for everyone I saw.  My judgement about this day was related to the Western standards for quality of life and how these homes were lacking, of course this was dismissing the fact that these homes far exceed the quality of life these individuals would have on the streets of Kolkata.  And my sadness was about these individuals not having the same opportunities a lot of the world takes for granted.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”  – Mother Teresa

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This post is the fourth part of my series about my summer traveling in India.  I went with a group of students to study the social welfare systems in Kolkata, this month marks the fifth anniversary of the trip.  I will continue posting about our adventures, programs we toured and paradoxes we struggled with this month in reflection of the trip that influenced me so greatly.

The noisiest shoe ever loved.

I am sadly putting to rest my daughter’s outgrown squeaky shoes.  Ironically, I say sadly since when the shoes were purchased I wondered how quickly I would be working to remove the squeaky device.  They were bought in haste back in the fall when I unintentionally brought her out without shoes, well maybe that’s not entirely true… I think it was more related to not having shoes that matched her outfit – yes I am that kind of mom sometimes.

Where we shopped I imagined there would be a wide selection of children’s shoes and I was mistaken to find only one brand available. A local Kansas City baby’s shoe company, Pickle Shoes, had a booth set up at this shopping convention.  At first notice I found shoes immediately that I loved for my tot, colorful leather with Velcro, some with flowers or birds.  My excitement was diminished when I came to understand ALL of company’s shoes contained a noise making air bubble in the heals of the shoes, similar to a dog toy.  Therefore with each step a toddler takes a squeak follows.  “How annoying,” I thought as I started to put a pair back on the shelf.  The salesman, noticing my disappointment, showed me the plug on the side and reported the noise is optional.  My mom ended up buying two pairs that day, these were the most often worn, most frequently commented on and most favorite shoes in her collection to date.  The best part is, the plugs were never removed and the squeaks I assumed would be annoyance were much appreciated.

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With her squeaky shoes on she draws an even bigger audience of adoration in public and gives even the most gloomy passerby a reason to smile.  At home the shoes came in handy as she became more adventurous wanting to leave my line of sight.  With the shoes to indicate her location I didn’t worry as much and when the noise stopped I was aware she must be into something and I needed to go check it out.

What would it be like if everyone’s shoes made more than a click of a high heel or screech of a tennis shoe.  What if everyone’s shoes made noise to reflect their personality or the mood they were in that day.  Buzzing to indicate someone obnoxious is coming, whistling tunes for feeling fun, a siren for someone who is cranky and a warning to move out of the way.  Just a funny thought, what would you want the sound from your shoe to be?