Imagine walking into a cold, hard-stoned room with a stench of filth and bacteria like you could never imagine. The walls are bare with only drawings from volunteers who came for a short time over the years.
Each room is small. Six dirty cribs, once knowing the color white, stack side by side, leaving only a little space for the nurses to get through. A child in each crib is lying there in soiled rags. These rags, or so-called diapers, have not been changed since morning.
The heat is so unbearable in the rooms, yet the children are wrapped in layers of clothes and blankets. One of the dirty, vomit-covered babies catches your eye and you bend down to pick her up.
The Romanian nurses look at you suspiciously, seeming to wonder why you would want to pick up this dirty baby, but you wonder why they have not. You pick her up, cradle her for just a minute.
As you get out a wipe from your bag, you begin to wipe her face, which reveals her beauty. You lay her down on the changing table, take off layer-by-layer of her soiled clothes and clean her even more.
Stopping just for an instant, you glance over to see her name: Monica. Now you start to use her name. What’s in a name? We never wonder that, but yet it is so important. As you say her name, she lights up. She finally has an identity. Coming prepared, you pull out lotion, powder and cream and tenderly treat her like the princess she truly is.
Next, you pull out a diaper and fasten it on her. As you lift her up in full view, you notice how her ribs sharply poke through her thin skin. Yet she is beautiful. Her brown hair, now that it is cleaned, shines over her soft brown eyes and olive skin. How could anyone leave her abandoned? Suddenly, you hear the rattle of bottles.
“Oh, good!” you think. She looks very hungry. But you look at the orange mush in the bottles and wonder if it’s nutritious at all. But anything, you conclude, will do. You gasp as they prop up the bottles on blankets and shove them into the sleeping babies mouths. The nurses don’t take the time to hold or feed them themselves. Or perhaps they don’t have the time.
Then the nurse reaches for Monica. Since you can’t speak the language, you motion to see if you can feed the baby yourself. The nurse shrugs and hands you the bottle. So you sit and feed her in your arms. You notice that she has made no eye contact the whole time you’ve spent with her.
You begin to motion her face toward you with the bottle. Slowly you see some progress, but not enough to satisfy you. So you make a mental note to come back each day to work specifically with this baby. You begin thinking how important it is to spend time feeding a child.
In America, we quickly look past these simple gestures. She drifts off to sleep. As she sleeps in your arms, you sing to her and tell her stories that were once told to you as a child; stories like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “Jack and Jill” and “Mother Goose” rhymes. These stories, once so meaningless, now seem your only way to communicate through her dreams.
Then you tell her that there is one true love that has never forgotten her, that will never abandon her. Perhaps you are speaking this to comfort yourself. ... You whisper, “Jesus loves you, will always love you.” in her ear.
After a while, you place her back into her run-down crib. With one last glance in her direction, you slowly leave the room. You start to wonder as you walk away, how could you possibly make a difference in this hospital. But then the thought comes: That one moment in Monica’s life made a difference. And that one moment changed your perspective.
Jessica Hamilton is a Charleston native who returned home three years ago after graduating from Winthrop University. She is a kindergarten teacher who has a passion for writing and drinking coffee.