Baby Holding


Our good friend, Jeena, told us a few years back to come hold babies with her.

"It is really important for their development," she said.

These babies are orphans housed in a government-sponsored clinic that is nestled in one of Seoul's crowded neighborhoods called Sinchon. The clinic is called Eastern Seoul Welfare Society Orphanage, and they encourage people to volunteer and hold the tiny Koreans that range in age from one-day-old to six months and counting.

We never had the time to take Jeena up on her offer until this past Monday. Considering it was our first time, my knowledge of the how or why these babies are here is limited, so I will simply write out what I observed.

We stepped into the orphanage around 2 p.m. and started following Jeena's every direction. Take off your shoes, grab an apron, wash your hands, and wait a little.

"They will give you a baby in a sec," she said. Jeena was in her zone at this point. She has volunteered at the orphanage for the past five years and brought many wide-eyed friends to help hold the little tikes. She has a rapport with the nurses because they trust her. As with any operation that needs volunteers, the paid employees are desperate for consistency. Jeena epitomizes that. Her heart was fully on her sleeve as she paced about the three nursery rooms that are filled with 20-30 babies each. She helped where she could, always minding us as we awkwardly waited, not really knowing how to help. 

And then, it happened. The nurse shuffled over to Liz and gently laid a baby in her arms. The smile on Liz's face was priceless. And the baby knew he landed a good one because a second after he laid eyes on Liz's gaping smile, he chuckled. Seriously, the tiny four-month-old did a classic, ha..huh..huh..ha, style chuckle. And giggles (followed by some misty eyes) came from Liz. I watched Liz as she walked to a nearby hallway to sit in a chair with the chuckling baby.

I know Liz pretty well, and I know this day would be one to remember. Like Jeena, Liz posseses an overgrown heart for kids in this situation. They are tiny, chubby, giggly and in need of love. Liz and these babies are a perfect fit.

Then kapow! Before I knew it, a nurse zoomed at me with a three-month-old. "Uh oh," I grunted to myself. But the nurse ignored it and slipped the baby into my awkward arm position. I looked back like, are you sure about this? She ignored that look too, and instead said a very gracious "thank you" in Korean.

I step-by-very-slow-stepped my way next to Liz. Her baby was still chuckling, and she increased in giddiness by the second. I slid into a chair and realized I hadn't even look down at the baby yet. So I did. It was a girl and she was perfect. Her eyes had already locked in and she gazed up at me intensely. So I gazed back. She kept gazing, and so did I. She didn't wiggle or shimmy for position. She didn't even blink...she just looked up.

After a few minutes, Liz leaned over and said in all seriousness, "Can we do this everyday?"

For two hours, we rocked, cradled, whispered, googly-eyed and wiped spit-up. The goal is to help get them to sleep. Once they are in a deep sleep, they can go back to their tiny beds and we can pick up another fussy baby. Sleep can be tough for these kids because in any given room, two or more babies are wailing and crying.

"A lot of important brain development happens when they sleep, so it is important that they get the sleep they need," Jeena explained.

This was unlike any volunteering I have ever done. There was no manual labor, no counseling, no teaching, and no painting a house. The only thing, and the absolute most important thing, is using your ability to love a baby that desperately needs it.


Kim Buff said...

As the mother of three amazing children we adopted from Korea I would like to thank you. Not a thought you wish to dwell on but at times my mind thinks about the many days that my babies were not in my arms to hold. To think of even one second that they were without that secure feeling of love by being held and caressed is hearbreaking.

So from myself and all of the other mothers who longed to hold our babies and could not, I thank you!!

Kim Buff

P.S. It is truly my desire to join you one of these days for some baby holding myself. :)

Sharon.Mom.Granny.Aunt Sharon said...

Too bad I didn't get to do this when I was there! How blessed you are to do this!

Rosemarie Healy said...

Oh this is just beautiful! It makes me want to come and hold a baby! What a wonderful experience you and Mark ran into! Your blog is beautiful! I am a friend of Mark's mom, Sharon, from a long time ago in Whittier.

melody said...

jeeeze, Mark--- your writing has got me all teary eyed today! But really, first re.write and now this. I still have tears in my eyes, even though I heard the story for you guys in person. I want to do this RIGHT NOW!

Alecia said...

THis post made me smile :) Wow! Human touch/contact is so important to development. -Alecia with