This isn’t supposed to be happening. A man my age, warming up baby formula, peeling back dirty diapers, holding my nose as I deposit them into a bag.
This isn’t supposed to be happening. An infant wailing, me lifting her over my shoulder, just above a small towel, and tapping her back until she — happily for her, not so great for me — burps out a glob of goo.
This isn’t supposed to be happening, but it is, to my wife and myself, a baby girl, with all the squeals, shrieks, coos, hiccups, big eyes, soft breathing, and happily waving hands and feet of an infant, who has no idea how she got here and no idea why.
Here is the how and why: Her name is Nadie, and she was brought to the orphanage we operate in Port Au Prince, Haiti, from a village outside Miragoane. We were told she had been fed little beyond sugar water for the first six months of her life. She weighed just 7 pounds, was lethargic, barely responsive, and had conjunctivitis that was swelling her eyelids and filling her eyes with fluid.
We immediately took her to the hospital, where blood work confirmed malnourishment and anemia. After conferring with doctors in the U.S., we decided the best thing would be to get her here for a few months and try and address her serious, potentially life-threatening issues.
That explains how she ended up in Michigan, and our house.
It doesn’t explain everything else.
A baby? At our age?
Like the feeling my wife and I suddenly have when we wake up, where the first thought is “How’s the baby doing?” Like the sudden evaporation of time as we stare for hours at her incredibly expressive face. Like the sinking of our vocabulary into a series of repeated infantile sentences, like “You’re a hungry little girl, aren’t you? Yes! You’re a hungry little girl, aren’t you?…”
We sound like dolls who have their “talk” button permanently pushed.
Those of you who have raised children no doubt recognize this behavior. For us, it is a first. Although we have overseen more than 70 kids through the doors of the Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage since taking it over in 2010, we have never had a child so young.
And never at our ages. I remember as a kid asking my parents how old you had to be to have kids, and they said they had theirs in their 20s.I defiantly proclaimed, “I’m going to wait until I’m 30!”
Nobody mentioned 60.
But here we are, well into that decade, buying Huggies, pack and plays, bottle warmers. Here we are, strapping Nadie into a car seat, pulling a little shade over top so the sun doesn’t make her squint and cry. Here we are, undressing her in the doctor’s office, placing her on the scale, and rooting for a higher number.
By the way, about that doctor thing. I need to salute a Bingham Farms physician named Marty Levinson, who, without as much as a glance at his busy schedule, immediately agreed to see Nadie when I emailed him from Haiti, and has overseen her comeback ever since. His staff literally cheers out loud as Nadie’s weight has risen from 7 pounds, to 8 pounds, to nearly 10 pounds.
Her anemia, with iron drops, has gone away. Her blood levels have risen into normal territory. Her head size (therefore her brain) has increased dramatically. Levinson calls her “a miracle.”
No argument here.
It truly does take a village …
Which explains why we now spend hours chronicling Nadie’s attempts at rolling over, or pointing as she kicks the little plastic shapes that hang from a mobile, or making noises to elicit the toothless smile that lights up her face and all the faces looking back at her.
Her curiosity fascinates us. Her tiny grip fascinates us. Her sleeping fascinates us. We have quickly devolved into those people who go on endlessly about “the baby” and it is only through the grace of our family and friends that we are not told to shut up already.
Instead, our family and friends have joined in the nurturing of this little miracle, watching, feeding and changing her right alongside us. They put in countless hours. They sleep over. The transformation of our world has been total, complete and almost instantaneous. In less than a month, the house has become a nursery.
I shouldn’t be surprised. This past week marked the 25th anniversary of a book I wrote called “Tuesdays With Morrie,” which led me to reread parts of those conversations with my old college professor, who was dying from ALS. In one, I asked him what he would tell people about having children (I was in my late 30s by that point, freshly married) and Morrie said, while he wouldn’t tell anyone to have or not have kids, he would say that “there’s no other experience that can substitute for it.
“If you want to know complete responsibility for another human being, and to know how to love and bond with another in the deepest way, that’s the way you do it.
“And I would not want to have missed that experience.”
Now, thanks to life’s crazy timing, we are getting our crack at it. It doesn’t matter that this is temporary, that in time, Nadie will return to the orphanage and grow up there. It doesn’t matter that she is not ours. I learned long ago that love for children has nothing to do with your blood and everything to do with your heart.
She is not ours, but we are hers, totally and devotedly, every goo-goo, ga-ga, poopy moment. This isn’t supposed to be happening, not at our age. But how blessed we are. It is.