I’ll never forget the sound of that baby’s cry. Scream would be a more appropriate word. His teenage mother stood in my office, desperate for formula for her baby. They had just returned from a trip to Chicago and had missed their regular pick up day for their WIC checks. Mom came to the clinic straight from the bus station. She didn’t have any of the required identification with her, including her WIC book, so we were unable to print her checks for her. It was one hour before our clinic closed. Her boyfriend had her WIC book and he was willing to bring it to the clinic, but he couldn’t get here within an hour, as he was without transportation and would have to walk quite a distance to get here.
I called the “211” emergency food pantry line and was able to find a food pantry, about three miles away, that would leave a can of formula outside their back door for her, as they were just about to close for the day. Mom and baby would have had to walk the three miles, in the cold, dark winter to pick up that can of formula and then walk two more miles to her house.
In the meantime, baby was starving and was letting us all know how he was feeling. Mom had been feeding him water mixed with infant rice cereal for the past two days, which was not satisfying him whatsoever. Now, here’s the rub. We had a closet full of powdered formula that other clients had returned, but we weren’t allowed to give it out because it had caused problems for us in the past. (Clients had been treating us as a food pantry and expecting our clinic to just give out formula.) That formula was all earmarked to be sent to a food pantry so hungry babies could be fed. Do you see the irony in that? The dietitian in charge at the time refused to bend on this issue. She was firmly standing her ground and the formula was not to be given to this client. So the formula stayed put, and baby stayed hungry. I had never been so irritated and frustrated about a rule in my entire life, and mom and baby were not leaving until his hunger was satisfied.
Thankfully, our clinic is down the hall from the hospital newborn unit. I called and asked if they had some formula to spare for our emergency. I was most grateful when they told me to come pick up a six-pack of ready to feed formula for the baby. I was glad to find some people who were willing to bend the rules for an emergency, and I can’t think of a bigger emergency than a starving baby! As I returned to the office with the formula, I was stopped in the hallway by a grandmother looking for formula for her granddaughter who was also out of milk. Are you kidding? I thought. What are the odds of a day like this? But, as the grandmother did not have the baby with her at the time, I felt less pressure and less guilt in saying, “Sorry, I can’t help. Have you tried 211?” as I stood there holding the 6-pack of formula.
What a relief it was to see that sweet 3-month-old baby greedily gulping down his milk! While he was quietly eating, I was able to spend some time with mom and instruct her on parenting issues regarding the importance of not missing WIC appointments and planning ahead to make sure her baby always has something to eat. Hopefully, that is a day that I will never see again and hopefully, that is a stress that mom and baby will never know again, as well.
This whole situation reminded me of our larger world-wide hunger issues where we often hear about Third World Countries whose residents are starving, while warehouses full of food sent by the United States is left to rot as it is caught up in red-tape issues. This wasn’t the first time that we have seen a mom and baby in this situation, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. There has to be something that we can do to help in immediate need situations like this. Punishing the mom for her poor choices by making her baby suffer is definitely not the answer! Maybe we need to do a more effective job of promoting breastfeeding while our moms are still pregnant, so formula issues will become non-existent. Maybe we need to do a better job of teaching parenting skills to teenage moms. Maybe we need more meetings where we put our heads together to come up with solutions for this problem. And maybe we could all call on God to lead us through this difficult situation, to bring more babies to that stage of greedily gulping down milk instead of screaming from hunger. We are not a Third World Country and this situation should not exist in the United States, the richest country in the world!
Dearest Jesus, you have given us bread from heaven, containing all sweetness within it. As you fill our hearts with your love, we ask that you also fill the stomachs of all your children with the nutritious food we need to survive. We echo the words of Your own prayer to the Father..."Give us this day our daily bread." Amen.