Mar 9, 2010

I adopted all my animals. Either they were from the pound, browsed for on, or someone didn't want them anymore. In any event, they joined the family. While I know babies are a lot different than dogs or cats, this was my only personal exposure to adoption.

A few weeks ago, while attending to the NICU babies, I noticed one that didn't seems sick and wasn't getting visitors. She was labeled a "boarder baby" on my rounds report. I asked the attending what that meant. He said "it means that she was born and her mom gave her up for adoption. She's just staying here until we can find a home for her." He turned away, and then turned back suddenly. "Hey, do you want her? She's really cute. She has a little heart murmur, but that will probably close within the first year."

I was surprised. I thought that finding a baby to adopt was a huge, prolonged process, and maybe it is. But they were looking for a home for this little one right away. What struck me as funny was the way the baby was presented. All of the animals I adopted had a similar advertisement. The only thing missing for the baby was the "free to a good home" sign, a cardboard box replacing the isolette, and maybe a listing on a website like

I told the doctor I wasn't really looking for a baby right now, but I hoped she finds a good home. The doctor looked disappointed and said he understood. And then he turned to one of the nurses and said, "Hey. Do you know if Susie's still looking to adopt? We've got a cute one here." She must have been adopted, heart murmur and all, because when I came back a few days later, she was gone.

Then I started working in pediatric gastroenterology, and saw the most medically fragile kids I've ever seen. I loved it- the challenge of keeping these kids thriving, comfortable, and developing as normally as possible. I loved the challenge of talking with the parents about every aspect of their complicated kid's medical health, and enjoyed the rapport that was built between the patient, parent, and physician of this pediatric subspecialty. I marveled at these young parents' ability to care for their kid and be so knowledgeable about the multiple medical problems they had. They knew much more about their child's care than I did as the medical student. Premature crack babies with a short gut due to resection of necrotizing enterocolitis, feeding tubes, Down syndrome, epidermolysis bullosae (where the kid was wrapped in head-to-toe sterile gauze because of the deep blistering), kids in strollers with oxygen and parenteral nutrition on board, little girls with Crohn's disease, rare metabolic defects, and everything else- these kids needed care. I would sit there and observe, wondering, how do these moms do it? They are happy, invested and knowledgeable about their complicated child's care. Every minute of their lives is consumed with this kid, and they accept it as a part of a full life.

What ultimately came to amaze me was that the most complex kids invariably came with an adoptive parent. The crack kid? The nice lady in front of me wasn't the one who had smoked crack while pregnant. She was the one that accepted the kid after the prenatal damage was done. The kid with cystic fibrosis? She sat breathing noisily on her adopted mom's lap as her adopted grandma fussed over her. It was absolutely amazing- the unquestioned commitment that these parents had to their kids, kids that sometimes had preventable problems due to another adult's irresponsibility.

I think when most people look for a pet, they want to adopt a young, healthy animal. But these moms had committed to kids with disabilities, with lifelong special needs. How much of a commitment is a dog, really? Fifteen years? Compared to a lifetime commitment for a child. It was one of the best lessons that I got out of the rotation. And I hope that the little boarder baby, wherever she is, was adopted by a mom such as this.


  1. I just wanted to say that I LOVE reading your are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing these moments with us.....

  2. Annie, I can totally see you contemplating taking that baby. It is amazing how parents just step into this role that they wanted in so many ways, but at the same time, every parent just wants a healthy child.

  3. Another great blog. Keep writing.

  4. When I was practicing, I had 2 or 3 of these moms as patients. You are right, they are special people. One was a foster parent for several teenage girls PLUS crack babies. And she had a full-time job as a social worker! How did she do it? Very gracefully and well. I will never forget her. Grandma Kay