Thursday, January 13, 2011


In early December one of my street friends, she who once brought me a striped rose, who spent much of the warm days of summer and fall reading on my porch, who looked as though she had stepped, sweet and slightly grubby, from the frame of a PreRaphaelite painting, came into the shop and sat in the chair usually occupied by Champ.

For her, Champ was glad to make room.

She looked pale. The storms had been hard for a while, and she was staying beside the river with a friend. He, at least, had a tent. A little better than a single tarp to keep the rain and wind off.

"My stomach hurt all night long" she said.

I looked at her, considering. I knew she was pregnant, but she had said the baby would be coming in mid January. I had been looking for housing, support, and help for her and the coming child. We had just managed to get a copy of her birth certificate and started applications for services and foodstamps. She'd just had her first meeting with the midwife who delivered my babies, a dear friend, two days before.

"I didn't get any sleep at all" she said.

I asked what kind of pains these were. I asked if I could feel her stomach during a time of pain. It was rock hard. I made some phone calls, the last to a nurse friend at the clinic. He asked to talk with the young woman and then told me "Holy sh*t, get that girl to the ER".

Which I did, with the help of a customer who was browsing. I left the shop wide open, telling another customer to take her time and I'd be in touch later.

And a beautiful baby girl was born that night. Her mother called her Reign. She had her mother's red hair and the face of an angelic elf. Yes, I fell in love with her at first sight.

Child Protective Services immediately moved to take custody of this baby. I gathered all my contacts and all my fierceness and got the mother and child into a local women's shelter and got Child Welfare to back off for a moment.

And we had a party at the bookstore celebrating the child and her mother, a party to which everyone came--street kids and very important business people and folks from every corner of my community. Oh, we loved that baby and her mother, and we were so happy. The light itself seemed rose colored. Gifts and supplies poured to this baby and her mother from all over the country, not only from our little town. We were so glad.

I saw her daily, the little one and her mother. Her mom was having some new mother adjustments, for sure. Sleep was hard to come by. She couldn't have friends at the shelter, so met them in town. Child Welfare had watchers everywhere, who reported that the baby was out in all weathers with the mother.

I got calls from investigators. I told them I thought the mother and baby were doing quite well, thank you.

But the baby began to lose weight, and the public health nurse began questioning the young mother's feeding style. To me the mother cried "I am feeding her, I am doing everything they are telling me, I don't know what's happening."

The baby saw a pediatrician every week. He noted the weight loss but didn't seem alarmed, not really alarmed: "come back next week, we'll check".

The mother said the baby spat up a lot. I wondered. I asked the nurse, my midwife friend, and doctors "could there be a physical problem?"

All of them said no, all of them pointed at the mother--a street waif, after all, a little wanderer, a tough girl who didn't thank everyone for their advice--all of them said she was obviously not feeding the baby enough. Or at all.

I saw her feed Reign, often.

But a week ago the police backed up a child welfare person and my young friend was confronted at the local market. She unwrapped the snuggly sling that held Reign against her body as she shopped, and handed the little one to the waiting child welfare officer.

And then she went back to the shelter and cried all night long, rocking in a corner, clutching one of her daughter's sleepers.

I went to the meeting with Child Welfare the next day, to sit beside her and speak on her behalf. Perhaps my passion was admired, but "the baby has lost weight since birth" they said, and the baby was indeed hospitalized up north. Slam dunk neglect case. She was going to foster care; the hearing a few days later would just be a formality.

The next day the doctors at the hospital diagnosed Reign with pyloric stenosis, a condition whereby the infant could not assimilate her food; it would not pass into her intestines from her stomach in sufficient quantity. Surgery on Saturday.

I thought "well, it's obvious this isn't her mother's fault; she'll come back to mom". And Reign's mother was by her side as much as the hospital allowed, day and night, watching and holding the baby's hand and taking over some of the feedings under the watchful eyes of nurses.

The judge said she should have known her baby was sick. Clear neglect. There will be a trial at the end of the month.

So today Reign went away from the hospital with some foster parents; we will not be told who they are. I am sure they will love her.

And today Reign's mother came to me, with her bundles of legal papers, and her determination, and a sheaf of photos of the baby, and her bemusement.

Me, I alternate between tears and fury. But when I talked with the current child welfare worker and she asked "are you continuing as an advocate for this baby and mother?" I said yes, forever, wherever they are, whether they are together or apart. Yes, I am here for them.

Someone has to be.

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Blogger am said...

Sending love to Reign, her mother, and to you and to her foster parents. Gandhi said love is the strongest force the world possesses. Reign appears to me to be part redwood tree and part rhododendron in spirit. May she thrive.

9:13 PM, January 13, 2011  
Blogger marlyat2 said...


6:24 AM, January 14, 2011  
Blogger christopher said...

It's a tough call. I was married to a child welfare MSW and know very well that most workers labor under a clear directive to err on the side of caution in child abuse issues. If they relax even a little and events later go against their professional decisions they lose their jobs and perhaps even their careers, so they take this as personally as the distressed mothers do. This is just what is. I have no opinion but I do have an observation, and that is we so root for mothers that sometimes we will overlook (a denial mechanism) actual trouble when it is in the gray area. That is why child welfare workers are given that kind of hard as nails directive, to prevent denial errors.

1:13 PM, January 14, 2011  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Thanks dears; I love your image am. And Chris, I know the hearts of the workers in CW are good; one of the workers in this case (now not on the case) has asked if I would let him stay in touch with me, and if he would be welcomed at my shop. My answer was yes to both questions.

But in this case Reign needs her mom. And vice versa.

3:44 PM, January 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My immediate response is of course to make sure the baby is taken care of, even if it means taking her away from the mother. But on second reading, and trusting your judgment, I would say that what they really both need is assistance. I don't know what drove this girl to the streets, but that's no place to raise a child. Hopefully she will get help and will be able to raise her child. If she can't, then perhaps the best thing for her baby would be some kind of adoption. Heck, she sounds like she needs to be adopted too. :(

4:29 PM, January 14, 2011  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

The good thing coming out of this is that the family of the mother has come forward with support and concern, upon being reached with the news of this little one.
But yes, both the mother and child need a lot of love and a lot of support right now. The mother's story is complicated and includes survival of difficult things indeed.

6:07 PM, January 14, 2011  
Anonymous marly youmans said...

Good that progress is being made in the right direction, or so it sounds...

Jarvenpa, thanks for the fb comments. I am practicing absence from everything online except email and blog until I catch up a little to where I should be (hence no reply--I do whip by to read mail from my daughter, but that's it at the moment. I simply must get much accomplished in the near future. Too many books coming out!)

9:41 AM, January 15, 2011  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

marly--don't worry about replies, esp. on FB for goodness sake. I mean, when someone says something about a wonderful line of your poetry what are you supposed to say anyway? "yes, I am great"?!
And here, yes, this sad but hopeful case winds on and on.

9:52 AM, January 15, 2011  
Blogger Nomi said...

I worked in Rhode Island's child welfare agency for six months and was told that I was "too creative" to remain.

I was not an investigator of neglect and abuse...

I am glad that Reign and her mother have you, and grateful for your sharing this.

Reign is loved on the East Coast...

3:19 PM, January 16, 2011  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

I just bet you were creative, Nomi!!
I just read an article about the proposed budget cuts in California, mostly to health and human services. One consequence, said the head of that department in this county, is that the number of child neglect cases will increase a lot.
Almost every young woman I know who is unsheltered will eventually tell me about a child she misses, who was adopted out. And many of the young men have similar stories.

5:23 PM, January 16, 2011  
Blogger Nomi said...

Have you seen Reign or her mother and or foster family lately ?

Sending Love,

Word verification is: boallyss ?!

6:27 AM, February 06, 2011  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

I see Reign's mother nearly every day; I have not seen Reign since she was taken by the foster care system. On Valentine's Day I will testify in court on behalf of both mother and baby; meanwhile Reign has again started to lose weight and will be admitted to the hospital (she may be there now) for further tests and possible additional surgery. Reign is still a lovely little baby, now almost two months old--I have seen photos, snapped by her mother during her all too short and infrequent allowed visits up in the northern town.

11:01 AM, February 06, 2011  
Blogger Lucy said...

Just catching up here, and can only wish you, and those you care for, good courage, as always.

11:15 AM, February 07, 2011  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

Good luck on Valentine's Day!

4:10 PM, February 10, 2011  
Blogger heavy hedonist said...

What a terrible story. I hope and wish the best for Reign and her mother, knowing that together they would be happier.

1:40 PM, February 16, 2011  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

What happened on the 14th?

3:57 PM, February 17, 2011  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

The court case has been continued till the 7th of March. Reign had surgery in SF, her mom was with her for the 10 days of hospitalization. Yesterday mom and baby returned to my region; mom was dropped at the bookshop, baby taken further north to the foster mom's home. For a brief moment I got to talk with my little friend Reign. I told her she was much loved, and her mom and many others were fighting for her. She gazed at me with her lovely blue eyes and smiled. She's looking good.
It broke my heart to have her leave. Her mother is also doing well. Send us good energy, please, all.

4:31 PM, February 17, 2011  
Blogger LiVEwiRe said...

Such a difficult case that must be, in many respects, really. I think it says alot that Reign's mother is showing so much strength knowing that they will be going separate ways. Hopefully one day that will count for something. For now, just good thoughts to all.

9:19 PM, February 26, 2011  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

Three days. Luck!

11:38 AM, March 04, 2011  
Blogger Nomi said...

How was the hearing ?

Love to all ~

9:49 AM, March 08, 2011  

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