It was Christmas time in Argentina, a beautiful country with friendly people. My missionary companion and I bought toys and went to visit the local “casa cuna” (orphanage). We were going to “do good” and just knew how warm, and happy we would feel. When we walked into the crib gallery, we beheld a room that looked like an airplane hangar with baby cribs lined up row after row from the doorway to the far, far wall. We looked at each other and immediately knew that this would be a far harder visit than we ever dreamed. It felt like going to a zoo with barred cages. But these little “cages” held human babies, over a hundred of them–maybe more.
We talked to the attendant, and she indicated that we could go among the cribs and put a toy in each crib. We didn’t have something for every baby, but swallowed hard knowing that at least some of them would get a toy. Although it would be another four years before I’d experience motherhood with my first baby, I knew after two or three cribs that something was horribly wrong.
We tried to happily chirp greetings to each little crib baby, smiled big and put a toy within the baby’s reach. Those poor little babies just sat there in their cribs, hardly looked at us, and didn’t even inch over to explore their new toy. That had no reaction whatever–nothing. After a few more cribs, my companion and I began to get hard lumps in our throats making it hard to speak and an engulfing sorrow pressed down upon us.
We trudged on until we had no more toys; and as we moved along, we lost our naivete step by step. When it came time to leave, we went back to talk to the attendant. (I can’t remember how many women worked there–not many.)
“When will these babies be adopted? How long do they stay here?”
She looked us over and said, “Most of these babies will never be adopted.”
“Well, what will happen to them in that case?
With almost no inflection in her voice, she said, “Most of them will die.”
Not enough loving arms, caressing hands, approving smiles, or even little games like “peek-a-boo to help these babies grow and thrive.
The attendant knew how desperate the situation was; she knew that all she and her few helpers could do was get the babies fed and their diapers changed. Taking time to hold one baby meant that the next babies would remain hungry and dirty.
My companion and I stumbled out of the door, too moved to speak, overcome with the shock.
I learned. Boy, did I learn. I vowed that my future babies would get extra hugging, caressing, and playing. When my four babies finally arrived, I always stroked their legs and arms, patted their bums, met their needs promptly, played silly games, laughed and cooed and loved them.
Once at church we were asked to take care of a months-old baby while the single mother had an operation and some recuperation time. My four little kids and I thought that that baby was the cutest, sweetest baby doll imaginable. At first she was very passive, she seemed to never cry but she never laughed either. She sat in her little chair mute. We began to carry her around, play with her, and practically never put her down when she was awake. Well, you know what happened. She began to laugh and reach out to us. She also began to cry when she needed something as she learned that her needs mattered. It was heart breaking to give her back when the time came–we loved her. You can’t imagine the report that came back to us.
We thought we had done a really good deed for the young mother and waited for her grateful words. When the Bishop reported back to us her reaction to our help, I once again saw those poor little Argentine babies haunting my memories. The mother said to the Bishop, “I don’t know what they did to my baby, but they ruined her.”
Ruined her? Why? Because she learned to laugh and cry and waken from a neglected life? Because she learned to communicate? I knew by the way that baby acted that she was put into a lonely crib and left there, just like those babies in the orphanage. She had been abused by a mother who did not nurture her–whatever the reason.
To you poor little Argentine babies who have inhabited my heart all these years, thank you so much for making me a better, wiser mother than I otherwise might have been. You poor little souls, how I wish I could have saved you all.
These memories overcome me once again with a profound sorrow, so I will sign off.
Remember. Nurture your little ones; love, caress, kiss, hug your babies every chance you get, and thank God that you have such a privilege. Their childhood will be gone in a heartbeat and in the future you will long for just one more day to once again hold your babies in your arms. Enjoy your great blessing before the sun goes down–tomorrow is nigh.