Tuesday, January 17, 2012
What shall I do with this child?
On Friday, a young, 20 year old woman calls us from the Liberty St. welfare office-- she is three months pregnant and homeless and welfare won't help her-- can we? She's sitting there with two suitcases and no bus money, so Ruben drives down, picks her up and brings her back to the office.
The story comes out: welfare won't help her because she was in a family shelter in September and left, and welfare (actually, the Dept. of Housing and Community Development) has a rule: no help available within one year of leaving shelter.
"Why did you leave?" I ask.
"Because when I went to the shelter, I was in the process of arranging temporary custody for my three year old son, and it happened faster than I thought, so once I didn't have him with me anymore, I wasn't eligible for shelter, and I had to leave."
Seems like Friday is always the day we have situations like this-- agency folks already looking toward the weekend-- a three day weekend, in this case-- and not reachable by phone-- not that a situation like hers is going to get resolved in a single working day anyway: the wheels of bureaucracy move very slowly. We make a lot of phone calls, nothing pays off; I'm getting ready to prepare her physically and psychologically for a night in the women's shelter at Worthington St. when Pat Murray from Nehemiah House calls me back-- they'll take her for the weekend. But while I'm talking to Pat, she calls her sister's boyfriend, who offered to pay for her to stay in a motel for a week, long enough, she hoped, for us to find her some real help.
I triy to talk her into staying at Nehemiah House, and using her week in a motel after that, but she's tired (and so am I) and just wants to be somewhere where she doesn't have to deal with any more strangers. So we wait for the money to be wired, and then I drive her to this fleabag motel. (And when I get home, a woman has responded to my Facebook post with an offer! Thank you!)
While all this is being negotiated, I get to hear a little more of her story.
"Where is your son now?" I ask.
"One of my foster moms took him for me."
"Did you grow up in foster care?"
"Since I was seven."
"Do you have any family in the area? Your mom?" (Because you'd be surprised how many kids who grow up in foster care wind up back with their birth parents.)
"No, my mom died when I was seven."
"That's terrible. What did she die of?"
"Kidney failure. She'd been in and out of jail, and she wasn't getting good care, and when she finally got out, and got on dialysis, she was pretty far gone-- she actually died pretty soon after."
"Any other family?"
"Just a sister-- but she's living with somebody else, and I can't go there."
"Let me ask you a question that's going to sound pretty rude-- have you considered an abortion?"
"I thought about it," she says, "but now I'm three and a half months along, and it's too late."
"Not really," I say, my voice trailing off.
"It just doesn't seem right, the baby's developing and everything."
I have yet to meet a girl who grew up in foster care (although I'm sure there are some) who will even consider an abortion when she gets pregnant. Those girls know abandonment only too well, and having an abortion feels like self-murder. I let it go, and drop her at the motel.
Tuesday morning, 10:30, and she calls me.
"I have to be out of here in half an hour, and I have no bus money."
"So the week turned out just to be a weekend?"
Ruben goes and picks her up, and it's back to the office, more phone calls, you name it, we try it. While we're making these calls, I hear her on the other line, arguing with someone.
"But I don't want to have an abortion.....Hey, that's not fair to say, it's not just as easy to have an abortion as it is to-- what did you call it?-- open my legs and get pregnant....No, he's 18 years old and doesn't even have a job....Can't I just come there for a while?"
Overhearing her gives me an idea, and this antiquated phrase comes into my mind...a Home for Unwed Mothers! I try to reach Brightside, but get an answering machine.
"Ellen, what's that Catholic organization that used to have those billboards that say, "Pregnant? Worried? You are not alone!'"
"Birthright," she says. So I google Birthright and find a place in Worcester called the Visitation House, and while my young friend is still on the phone, I call them and explain the situation.
"She's homeless and some people are pressuring her to have an abortion, and she doesn't want one."
The woman on intake takes me very seriously, gets my number, the girl's number, and promises to try to have an answer tonight-- and if not tonight, tomorrow. Meanwhile, it'll have to be Worthington St. Shelter for the night. (I have two homeless people staying with me right now, and not even enough blankets left to make up a bedroll.)
As I'm driving her to Worthington St., I ask her who was talking to her about having an abortion.
"My godmother," she says. "She's in North Carolina, and I was asking her if I could stay with her, but she says not unless I have an abortion. But I'm telling her, Who knows what my life will be like in six or seven months? I could have an apartment, a job.....and she says, Well, what about the son you already have? And I say, It's not like I just gave him up easily, I stuck it out for three years, and I do want to get him back....I did it for him.
"besides," she says, "it's kinda her fault I'm in this situation. She's my godmother and she promised my mother she'd take care of me, but she beat me all the time, and DSS took me away from her."
There's really not much more to say for tonight. I bring her to Worthington St., and I can tell she's scared, but I'll see her again tomorrow.
So my mind is swimming with all the points of intervention that could have made a difference in her life, even though we have to deal with the one intervention that may be within our power-- finding her a safe place to be. Birth control....a mother who wasn't an addict...treatment for her mother instead of prison...a better foster care system...a change in DHCD rules...parenting classes...group homes.....Money!
I think of myself, pregnant and nineteen, so sure I could pull it off, so unaware of all the trauma that lay ahead for me and my daughter....If you believe in prayer, and you have any to spare, please say them for my friend.