When I was a young mother, I was married to a sailor. A submariner. With about 100 other men, he was at sea half the year. 100 days at a time. Underwater. No communication. As you might imagine, the wives and children were a close community, a village if you will.
One time a group of the wives decided to take a trip. I agreed to keep one of the younger children for the week they would be away. The baby’s mother brought her to me on a Saturday morning. It was the first time I met the child. Her name was Mandy. She was about 8 months old.
She looked 80. Her skin was shriveled. She had a grey cast to her. She made no sounds. Her eyes were dull and distant. She hardly moved. She was clean, well dressed and fed. Her Mom had all kinds of equipment for her. But Mandy was barely there.
Her mother assured me Mandy would be no trouble. She said, “You can just put her in the play pen. She will be quiet.”
That baby girl made no protest when her mother handed her off to me. She never even looked to see her mother leave.
This child, Mandy, had not been in the hospital, but it was as if she was hospitalized. She spent her days lying in her crib, well tended, but alone. Her mother was present; she met the baby’s physical needs. But she never engaged or interacted. Mandy’s emotional needs, even the idea that she had emotions, went totally unrecognized. With observable physical effects.
At the time I was 22, my daughter Lisa was 2. I had a high school education, no experience, no skills. So believe me, I did nothing scientific or intentionally therapeutic for this child. I simply folded her into our usual routine. The three of us went to the grocery store and the park. We shared meals. I treated Mandy as my own.
And I watched an unforgettable miracle unfold.
That little girl bloomed before my eyes. Hour by hour her appearance changed as she came back to life. She started to mimic Lisa’s sounds and to initiate contact. She became interested in everything around her. She laughed. She filled out. Her cheeks turned rosy. She started looking and acting like a baby.
When her mother returned to pick her up, Mandy recognized and reached out to her. She had regained the courage to expect a response.
And, miracle #2, she got one. Her mother gasped and covered her mouth. Her eyes filled with tears. She said, “I never knew she could be so beautiful!”
Much later I learned of Bowlby and Robertson’s work on attachment and the stages children go through when separated from their mothers due to hospitalization. More on that in Part 2. Stay tuned. ss
(c) Practice Development Inc. You are free to use this story for teaching purposes only as long as you retain the attribution and do not change the story in any way.