I am standing in a room at the ICU of a local hospital. A nurse in blue scrubs walks in with a pink satin-covered hat box.
"Here you go," she says and places the box on a counter top before leaving the room and shutting the curtain.
I turn from the body on the bed and walk over to the box. My initial thought of "What the hell were they thinking?" is quickly replaced by appreciation for the compassion of those who would prepare this makeshift coffin. I slip the cover off and look at the tiny baby inside. The OR staff washed her and laid her on a bed of white cloth. Her little arms are crossed over her chest and a towel covers the lower half of her body. A six-month-old fetus. She's red because there is no fat under her skin, but other than that she looks perfect.
I sigh and place the lid back on the box. Then I return to her mother. A 25-year-old woman with long, stringy dark hair. Huge bandages cover her abdomen where an emergency c-section was performed the night before. There are scrapes on her knees and dirt under her fingernails. I also notice dirt on the bottoms of her feet where she must have been walking around barefoot. I take photographs.
Nurse Katie walks in and begins telling me the story. Beth, the mother, came into the ER last night in excruciating pain. She was having contractions and her cervix was dilated 3cm. The doc couldn't detect any fetal heart beat. Beth told the ER staff that she'd done cocaine two days before. Before she lost consciousness, she kept saying, "I'm so sorry, Jake. I'm scared." Jake is her 18-month-old son.
Beth was rushed into surgery but it was too late. The baby had died when the placenta separated from the wall of the uterus. This was a direct result of the cocaine use. The OR staff couldn't stop the bleeding and Beth died on the operating table.
After several hours of interviewing family...friends...doctors...I somehow get through this case and go home. I sit out on the porch in my backyard, overcome by sadness. I think about the little boy, Jake, who lost his mother. I think about how Beth's friend said she was curled up with him napping on the couch the day before. I try to reconcile the loving mother with the woman that, according to witnesses, purposely tried to abort her fetus by overdosing on cocaine.
I am hurting inside and I call LHM to talk. He listens quietly and after a minute says, "Well, Polly, if you think we should try to adopt Jake I'll support you. We could make a good home for him."
I am touched that he would even contemplate such a thing. I smile and say gently, "It's not like taking in a stray puppy, you know."
After worrying over the whole thing for another few hours, I call Peter, the friend who is watching Jake. We talk for a long, long time. He tells me more about Beth. She was kicked out of her apartment a few weeks ago for not paying the rent. She and Jake were living in a homeless shelter when Peter took them in. Peter got her a job, a new car, and an apartment. You see, he and Beth had been best friends since high school. "She was there for me at a really bad time in my life and I told her I would always be there for her." He was trying to help her get her life back on track. "If you'd only known her five years ago," he says. "She was such an amazing person."
I ask about Jake and what would become of him. Peter's voice cracks and he tells me that he will adopt Jake and raise him as his own. "I'm a single guy and I've never had kids before, but I have a good job and I'll make sure this little guy has a wonderful life. Besides," he says, "when he smiles he looks just like Beth. How could I not love him?"