when the past pops out of nowhere: “can you help?” a search for motherlove
the message popped up out of nowhere late saturday afternoon. this is what it said:
Are you the individual that wrote the article in the Chicago Tribune back on March 10, 1987 – Titled, “Police Hunt Mother of Abandoned Baby”? If so, I wanted to ask you a couple questions. And by the way…, I am that baby!
my heart nearly pounded through my chest. i wracked my brain. i couldn’t for the life of me remember writing the story. how could i not remember? i typed the words into a google search, and sure enough, up popped this:
Police Hunt Mother Of Abandoned Baby
March 10, 1987|By Barbara Mahany.
that was me, all right. so i started to read:
Baby “Patrick Doe,“ oblivious to the stirrings about him, lay docile in his incubator at Central Du Page Hospital Monday, interrupting his sleep only for bottles of baby formula every four hours–or an occasional grimace for one of the many news photographers parading with cameras through the nursery.
Outside the nursery, Glen Ellyn police undertook their first-ever search for “a missing mother,“ said Lt. Dennis W. Jamieson, and the bureaucratic machinery was put in gear to assure safe-keeping for the baby should his mother not be found.
In the western suburb, a team of police investigators was dispatched to track down “a recently pregnant woman, . . . no longer pregnant and without a newborn,“ Jamieson said. Police were distributing flyers with black-and-white photographs of the baby, and a teletype bulletin to neighboring police departments had been sent over the wires.
Baby Patrick, a healthy white infant thought to be 4 or 5 days old and weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces, was found early Saturday morning lying next to a redwood planter along the driveway of a home in an affluent Glen Ellyn neighborhood.
The baby, wrapped in two nightgowns and a plastic diaper bag, was discovered at 9:37 a.m. by George G. Dickey, of Lorraine Road, in Glen Ellyn. Dickey told police he first saw two plastic bags in his planter at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday, but thought someone had dropped garbage there.
When he went outside three hours later, he saw the baby`s head poking out from one bag. The other bag was filled with five disposable diapers and diaper pins.
Dickey rushed the baby inside, his wife changed it out of its soaked nightgowns. The couple then called the police and the infant was taken by ambulance to Central Du Page.
He was initially considered at risk because his temperature registered below normal, 96 degrees Fahrenheit, but doctors said Monday that Patrick was “in very good health“ and listed him in good condition.
Because the baby`s umbilical cord was tied with a rubber band, hospital officials and police surmise the baby was not born in a hospital, preventing them from tracking down his mother through hospital records or birth certificates.
By mid-morning Monday, calls from prospective adoptive parents were trickling into the hospital in Winfield, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Adoptive Infant Center of Illinois.
“As far as prospective adoptive parents are concerned, this is a dream come true,“ said DCFS spokesman David Schneidman. “But for the poor soul who decided to leave this baby for adoption, this is the biggest tragedy on earth.“
On average, DCFS gets involved in about two abandoned infant cases each month, Schneidman said. But, he added, those babies are rarely Caucasian, and “never before from an affluent suburb like Glen Ellyn.“
Officially, DCFS is now the baby`s legal guardian, Schneidman said, and if the baby`s mother is not found by the time Patrick is discharged from the hospital at the end of the week, DCFS will coordinate foster care and eventually recommend the baby`s adoptive parents. If the mother is found, DCFS will be one of the complainants in a child neglect suit, and if deemed advisable, will assist in counseling the mother.
For now, though, the curly-haired baby is content to lie sucking his baby bottles, lullabyed by a crew of doting nurses. It was one of them who thought “Patrick“ to be the perfect name for a babe born so near the feast day of the Irish patron saint.
nearly 28 years ago.
and, through mysteries and miracles of this cyber-age, the baby, now grown, now wise to the ways of the internet, had found me. he’d been banging on doors, getting no answers. he was trying to find his birth mother.
he found me.
for the next couple hours, a flurry of emails zipped back and forth. he told me what he knew. i leapt into reporter mode. and, most of all, mother mode: i too am a mother now. and i have a boy of my own, two boys, the older of whom is a mere six years younger than “baby Patrick.” i couldn’t imagine my boy trying to find his mother. i couldn’t imagine how achingly dark and lonely it felt, on the cold february night when “baby Patrick” wrote me, to be emailing strangers trying to find a shred of hope, a thread that just might lead back to his mama.
every word i typed to “baby Patrick” i tried to type as if i were a long-lost mother, searching for my long-lost boy. i tried to fill each keystroke, each space in between, with all the love a mother would ooze, if she’d been away for nearly three decades.
in a stroke of sheer miracle by the end of the evening, i found the detective who’d worked the case. he’s retired now, lives not far away. i promised “baby Patrick” i’d call the very next day, sunday, when it wouldn’t be so odd for the phone to ring. when i stood the best chance of squeezing in the words, “former tribune reporter,” the only words that i thought might get my foot in the door, might keep the call from clicking into the hopeless drone of the dial tone, the sound of getting nowhere.
i called, not long after church on sunday. after two or three rings, someone answered. hope rose in my chest. i heard a “hello.” i shot right in with, “Lieutenant Jamieson?” using all my reporter politeness, using all my don’t-hang-up-on-me hope. i figured the lieutenant might warm to being remembered by his rank. i was right.
he warmed, all right. and, as soon as i explained the story, how i’d gotten an email from this blessed kid, this kid searching high and low for his mama, soon as i explained how the kid was getting nowhere, couldn’t get anyone to return his calls, how we had to try to help, and i wondered if maybe he remembered if there’d ever been any leads in the case, had anyone ever gotten a whiff of the mother, the lieutenant wrenched open the file cabinet of his memory, and promptly riffled straight to the folder marked, “baby Patrick, 03/87.”
in piercing detail he told me everything he remembered. how the particular house where the baby was left was one tucked back from the road. but, he explained, there was a planter, a flower pot, he called it, down by the curb. “good place to leave something if you want it to be found,” the lieutenant offered.
but here’s the part where you might wince: the fellow living in the house could see from the window something sticking out of the pot. “he thought it was garbage,” the lieutenant recalled. the fellow walked down the drive — three hours later — saw two plastic bags, and that’s when he saw there was a baby in one. a real live squawking baby.
far as the lieutenant knew, no clues had ever turned up. he was pretty sure he would have known if they’d found the mama, or any hint of the mama. he even mentioned how, over the years, he’d driven his wife by the house, thought of “baby Patrick” every time. and since i asked, since i’d called on a quiet sunday afternoon, made him think back over the decades, he did have ideas of where “baby Patrick,” now all grown up, having been adopted and deeply loved but still in search of whoever it was who dropped him off at the flower pot, the lieutenant had ideas of where “baby Patrick” could turn. in other words, at least a trace more hope.
sure thing, i hopped off the phone and wrote “baby Patrick” as swiftly and furiously as i could get my fingers to type. i drenched each letter of every word with all the love i could muster, with mama love.
i wasn’t his mother, not remotely. heck, i’d barely remembered the story at first — a fact that rinsed me in shame. but in the hour of his darkness, in the hour of his hope beyond hope, i could imagine — piercingly — just how deeply his mama might be typing if she were on the verge of finding her boy.
so i infused every word with mama love. i prayed mightily that that love might — through some wild-eyed, otherworldly, transitive property — flow from his faraway mama’s heart to mine and to his.
we signed off, at the end of 24 hours, with what i hope was a lasting trace of something that felt a wee bit like mother-and-son connection. but, honestly, i worry it might have left him emptier than before.
it hurt to tell him that there’d never been a trace. it hurt to tell him the part about the man in the house seeing what looked like garbage bags. (i couldn’t bear to type those words, “garbage bags,” so i didn’t; i wrote, “i think of how your mama loved you enough to tuck you in what she thought was a safe place..”)
it made me think how in life we never know when we’re called on to be the instruments of love, of stitching together a shattered heart. it made me think about how, in a story i’d not even remembered writing, there was a someone who found in it the one trace of hope he so needed.
it made me think how much it all matters.
i wish like anything i could have helped him find his mama. and, short of that, i’m so deeply grateful that for one short day, and a flurry of a few dozen emails, i could imagine the love and the fear that would have riveted that mama’s heart as she left her newborn curly-haired boy on the side of the road, in a place she was sure he’d be found, with the few bits she could gather — the extra sleeper, the five disposable diapers, and, most of all, the prayer that must have slipped across her lips. and lasted forever in the deep down crannies of her heart.
and that was sunday, the very same day we found out a dear dear friend was in the ER, and would likely be going in for brain surgery. which happened wednesday, her daughter flown home from her first year of college, her highschool-aged son sitting tight, on a hospital couch, pressed against his papa’s side, all through the very long day that stretched into the night. it’s been a week in which all i could do was pray, and pray, and pray. an apt beginning to lent, the season of repentance on the road to redemption.
the reasons for prayer are many this friday morning. and the question to ponder is this: have you ever discovered that you were an unsuspecting player in one of life’s core dramas? and did that discovery make you remember, all over again, how very much it matters that, at every turn, we live a life of pure attention to all that is holy and good and filled up with love?
Only you would pour yourself into such a story – so lovely. Wonder if he ever found her….hope all of you are well and happy! XoxoxoSent from XFINITY Connect Mobile App
“I am that baby!”
You must have thought you were dreaming when you received that amazing phone call!!
Baby Patrick’s mother left him with a small offering for his immediate future and walked away. I cannot imagine what her thoughts must have been at that moment. Truly heartbreaking.
I’m grateful Patrick was adopted into a loving home. I’m so glad he found you in his search for his birth mother, that you were able to speak words of hope and kindness to him, even though your efforts couldn’t turn up any new information. I love that Lieutenant Jamieson never forgot baby Patrick and used to drive his wife by the house.
What can any of us do each day but try to think and act with love, even though we know love alone can’t reunite a lost child with his mother or prevent illness from striking our loved ones? All we can do is the little we can; the rest we have to turn over to the One Who Knows All Things, even the words our hearts can’t form. What else can we do but lean close to the divine presence?
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
Thank you for sharing this sad, sweet story. Sending you so much love. xoxo
Amy, your words and the scripture shared are pure loveliness.
oh so beautiful. so so beautiful. that psalm is pure heaven — but of course…..i love the way you read the story, and the message you draw from it. what can we do but live every breath in love, from love, with love…..as all of you always do here. and it emboldens us all. xoxox
You are the best kind of journalist, the kind that knows what “public service” really means.
sweetheart, i didn’t do anything other than what any other journalist would do…..i only wish i could have turned up more answers….
There could have been no better person for Patrick to ask in his search than you. You are a Mother, with a capital M to all who meet and know you. We know that even far away, your understanding, gentle arms would enfold us if we were to just ask. Your gift is very rare. Thank you for sharing it with us and the world!
i was grateful to be able to try to add a dollop of love to the equation, that’s all….
I am speechless. I can’t imagine writing that story and then receiving that phone call so many years later. Just, wow.
i know, pjv, just wow. the whole thing….xoxox
My goodness. I can feel your heart pounding from here. What a story, BAM. miss you tons! xo
Love the story Barbara! And everyone I am that baby.
So my first baby — an abandoned baby at Rush was mine for 9 months in mid 80s….. 6 months in the NICU then 3 months on Peds floor where I could be found for breaks and lunches. He went to a bug filled crib foster home on the west side where the neighbors watched out for me when I visited after they said, “WHAT are you doing here??!?”. An intervention by a boyfriend made me realize this was doing neither of us any good. Around his 2nd bday, I heard he was adopted by an administrator at La Rabida (he WAS a charming baby and well loved as an infant). My mom worked at Marshall Fields and one of her employees also worked at DCFS was going to bend –ok, break –some rules and try to find Linzie for me. My mom called to give me her info….I kid you not, the last time I spoke with my mom. She passed away the next day suddenly. Isn’t it just like her to go all Nurse Jackie and break some rules so I could see “my” kid. My life was turned upside down by her death (I was the age my daughter is now….WAY too young) so I never followed up. A whole bunch of people going out of their way –including the guy on the porch on the west side who’d walk me from my car TO the door–in order for a litttle guy and the only mama he knew to be together. As much as I still wonder about him and miss him (32 yrs old), I know all that love and attention paid off. I’m sure he charmed his way into that administrator’s heart. We worked SO hard on PT and socialization and skin to skin contact, he did extremely well for a 26 weeker. I have a photo of him at 37 weeks or so giving me a huge smile. “THEY” say that developmental milestones are going to happen at X number of weeks past their due date. Baloney. That kid was smiling like a cheshire cat from 37 weeks (aka 3 months old, give or take). He was all of 5 lbs then I think. Anyhow, thanks a lot for this dang post. I’m so wide awake now from reading VERYFAST to see the punchline of your story. That mama must have been so desperate and sad. I can’t imagine. Just as desperate to keep her secret, I’d imagine. Prayers for all
oh, melissa, what a story. i love how much you connected. of COURSE you connected. i am blown away by the thread of the story with your own mama, the last time you talked to her was about this sweet baby. and then you lost her — oh, honey……prayers for all indeed. xoxo
Great article Barb! This is Ben, the baby, “Patrick Doe”
dear dear ben, it’s rather a miracle that, all these years later, our lives still encircle each other’s. bless you a hundred thousand times over. i was knocked over when you wrote me — you are QUITE an excellent detective — and wished more than anything i could have carried your search to the treasure you were after. but, in the interim, as i wrote above, i filled my every move with motherlove. and that’s universal. i know that with my whole heart. it would be the answer to my prayer if you felt the love……
oh my goodness gracious. i love this! the miracles continue. and continue……tickled that you found this, touched that it touched you. i just quietly write over here, never really knowing where words will lead. praying, always, that they find the light…..
Thanks Barbara! 🙂 hope you’re doing well.
hullo dear B, never on facebook, so don’t know the latest. is there a sweet baby in your world??
Yep! He’s almost three months old. His name is Rexland John.
oh, gracious!!!!!!! huge huge congrats! will go check your blog. didn’t know you have one. love the title. a hundred blessings on your little boy!
Take a look at my blog, there are pictures of him in the about me section of the blog. Lifeoftheordinarydad.wordpress.com