Family

Why I Handed My Newborn Over To A Stranger

Photo: KieferPix / Shutterstock
newborn baby

For days, I had unsuccessfully attempted to leave my house and walk three blocks to the park. 

Each morning I slightly tweaked my routine, yet the result was the same. I would gingerly push my buggy out of the house and down the bumpy sidewalk, and within seconds my newborn would commence a high-pitched screaming session. I felt the entire neighborhood’s eyes and judgment. I wanted to scream myself.

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It had been just two weeks since I had completed an extended hospital stay in Central London with my new baby who had suffered from a bacterial infection and jaundice.

Once he was deemed healthy and back home, my mother flew back to the US. My in-laws returned to Ireland. My husband resumed long hours in the office. I was alone with the baby, exhausted and clueless.

I tried to go to the cafe next door with the other new mums from my childbirth course. Their babies slept soundly or cooed gently in their arms as they enjoyed a meal. Mine screamed until I nursed him and even then refused to nap or settle. The nurses assured me he was fine.

I knew something was wrong. I eliminated everything from my diet — all that remained was mother’s milk tea and water-infused porridge. I was exhausted and dying for a coffee or even a shower.

One late July afternoon, I was determined to take a stroll to the park. I might even sit down on a bench with my baby like a normal mum. I nursed my screaming, unsettling, non-napping newborn baby for hours praying he might enjoy the little journey.

I put him in a new onesie and draped a dainty patterned muslin over him. I threw a dirty maternity dress and flip-flops on myself and stuck my greasy hair up in a ponytail.

After one block of the buggy rattling down the path, the baby began to scream. It was a grating scream that I had begun to resent.

 I had looked forward to going outside all day. I was dizzy, hot, and hungry. I tried to get to the end of the block. “Not today,” I sighed to myself as I turned around to head home.

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Defeated, I anxiously walked towards home, passing a long mansion block of red-brick flats on the way. Outside one of the entrances, an older woman in white clothing and a straw sun hat glanced over from her gardening. I was embarrassed to make eye contact. 

But I was also desperate for human interaction. “A new baby!” she delighted with a kind smile.

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“Are you alright?” she asked me, assessing my frazzled state. I explained the baby was not settling and I was exhausted. She nodded understandingly and asked if she could try to rock him.

Normally, I would have been a bit more protective. But we were in public view, she seemed kind, and I was making decisions intuitively as opposed to rationally. I acquiesced and felt relief as she spoke to him in baby whisperer tones, rocking him until he calmed down.

She introduced herself as Julie. She explained that maybe the little one could use a hat like the one she had on. It was a kind and welcome suggestion, not at all patronizing. She then invited us to come in for a glass of water and to sit down. Again, in my semi-comatose state, I agreed.

Julie’s flat was immaculate — flower-filled, bright, and clutter-free. She mentioned that she did not use the word “cleaning” but rather referred to the process as “environmental work” to create calm. We had such a lovely chat that I forgot all about the misery of those past few weeks.

I almost felt like a real person again. I learned Julie had been an actress and singer for years but had never married nor had children of her own. Yet she was so natural with my little one. As she sang “A Bushel and a Peck” in a soft, beautiful voice, he fell into a deep sleep. I thought I might pass out myself as well from the sudden calm.

I recall smiling as I returned home with my napping baby. I sat in a chair and had a bite to eat in peace. I did some laundry. I remembered, for a brief moment, what it felt like to be in control. The crying started up again after thirty minutes and I nursed for hours that evening, but I still felt better. I had hope.

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In the days to come, I visited a lactation consultant and discovered that the poor baby was tongue-tied and could not nurse properly to settle nor grow. We solved the problem and things improved. I returned to Julie’s flat in the following weeks with a lovely plant to say thank you.

We had tea as she played with my then three-month-old baby. I passed her on the street from time to time over the next few months and we exchanged pleasantries. At Christmas, she dropped a card under the door with a photo of a man and woman pulling a young child on a sled in the snow. It looked exactly like our family. I was so touched by the thought.

I soon returned to the office and became busy with work and baby, and we sadly lost touch.

Eventually, we moved out of Central London. But I think of Julie from time to time. At Christmas. When I return to my old neighborhood. When I question another’s motives. It’s incredible how a moment of kindness and humanity not only brought me out of a very difficult period as a new mum but also changed my perspective for the years to come.

Erica Jalli is an American ex-pat raising three global citizens in London. She works in finance and tech.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.