Most people have several months’ notice before a baby appears in their lives. Dina gets an hour (or two if she’s lucky). Usually in the middle of the night, there is a knock on her door and she finds a social worker holding a baby. Sometimes they know the baby’s name, and that may be all they know about the crying bundle in their arms. They hand over the baby (let’s call him Avi) with a last hug and a sad smile, and then drive off into the night.
Dina looks down at baby Avi and welcomes him to her home, makes him a feed and changes his diaper and settles down to a long night of giving love, care and attention to this new arrival. Baby Avi seems to be about 6 months old, but could be small for his age due to lack of proper food and care. Strangely, he doesn’t make eye contact as a 6 month old should, and this worries Dina. Is he blind? Is he suffering from a mental or neurological problem? She knows nothing about the baby who has been thrust into her care and who is now her responsibility.
Unfortunately, she’s seen this before — babies who are unable to interact with people around them because they have been left in their cribs for hours on end, without anyone picking them up and playing with them, talking to them, cooing and making funny faces, as a loving family would. It’s not just their physical needs that have been neglected; they have been starved of human love and attention. Dina sometimes sees an awful phenomenon: the babies don’t cry! While sleepless mothers of new babies who are reading this might be feeling jealous for a moment, it’s really a terrible thing to experience. The babies have learned not to cry — there’s no point when no one is going to come to give them milk or comfort, so they lie in silence.
Dina runs one of eight emergency care homes across Israel for Orr Shalom. Her home is a temporary shelter where the babies will be looked after while welfare find a foster home or permanent solution for them. She has a husband and children, who are really delighted to discover a new arrival when they wake up in the morning!
But she doesn’t know anything about the child she is taking in — from simple things like his usual brand of milk formula to whether he has been vaccinated, or exposed to infectious diseases. Dina may uncover physical and mental issues over the weeks as she gets to know the baby, and more information is gathered about the family from the social services.
A typical situation is when the police are called to a home where neighbors have reported the screams and cries of a woman being beaten by her partner. The police arrive and take the man to custody, an ambulance takes the woman to hospital, and the social workers need to find a home for the crying baby who is discovered filthy and undressed in a dirty crib.
It takes weeks of constant love, care, attention and patience for Dina to get to know baby Avi, and bring a smile to his sweet face. She is helped by a Sherut Leumi girl, and they can care for as many as five infants at once, alongside her own family. She meets frequently with the social workers and medical team to discuss the babies’ progress.
She takes lots of photos of Avi in the home and with her family, which she puts in an album for Avi to take with him, along with a baby book where she records his favorite foods, toys, first words, so that in future years Avi will know his story, and have a record of his early months. It is these little touches that really impress me about Orr Shalom; the dedicated staff care so much for each child, going above and beyond and making every effort to help give them a brighter future.
Eventually, the day arrives when Avi moves on — he may go back to his mother or other family member who has been assessed and prepared by our team. Or he may be fostered by a new family, who are looking to give some extra love and care to a child who needs it. It is hard for Dina to say goodbye, as she has really bonded with baby Avi. But she is happy to see that Avi will be loved and cared for by a stable and warm family who will raise him as one of their own. And of course he takes with him the photo album and baby book with the story of his life so far and the kind lady who took him in in the middle of the night.