Confessions of a Social Worker

Death May 4, 2008

Filed under: Hospital — Jenni @ 7:59 am

I knew my internship at the Children’s Hospital would be hard and by the time my second month rolled around, I had already witnessed numerous deaths in the Emergency Department and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. My supervisors made it look so easy and they effortlessly went on with their days after a baby died. I would soon learn that I was cut from a different cloth.


Victoria, a Vietnamese baby, had been born prematurely. After spending months in the NICU, she was allowed to go home. But her home stay was very brief and within a few days, she was back in the hospital. Before long, the NICU transferred her to the Children’s Hopsital PICU. She stayed there until she was 22 months old. She lived almost her entire life in the PICU.


Her mother spent every day with her, talking to her, bathing her, holding her, praying for Victoria to become well enough to breathe on her own and eat on her own. That day never came. We knew it wouldn’t. It was a waiting game for Victoria. We all were just waiting for the day that her body would shut down.


That day finally came at the end of a social work shift. My supervisor was heading out early and left me in charge until the evening worker came on duty. And, of course, Victoria coded almost as soon as my supervisor walked out the door. A devastating wail came from Victoria’s room as her mother pleaded for the doctors and nurses to save her daughter.


“Please don’t kill her. Please don’t kill my baby. Save her. Victoria come back. Come back!”


We all rushed into the room. All of the nurses had grown connected to Victoria and her family. We all had. We’re not supposed to but it’s hard not to. I rushed to Victoria’s mother as everyone else rushed to Victoria. She was trembling and pale and started vomiting. I held the tiny little vomit bucket and thought, “What the hell am I doing here? What can I possibly say or do to help this woman who is losing her baby?” Then she fell to the floor. The mom was sent to the Emergency Department to be evaluated and Victoria was pronounced dead.


I drove home that night with tears pouring from my eyes. This was how I usually drove home from the hosptial. Every shift emptied me and filled me with mistrust, sorrow and uncertainty. That day was the very first day I started to realize that this work just may not be the right work for me. I can’t shut my emotions off but it seemed like the only way to make it through a day when you are surrounded by the death of children.




I didn’t sign up for this….

Filed under: Early Intervention — Jenni @ 7:41 am
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Seven years ago, I started my first full-time job in Early Intervention. Excited and nervous, I headed to my new office for my first day of work. My supervisor shared my case list with me and some notes from the previous Service Coordinator. She suggested that I spend the day reviewing my case files and setting up home visits for the rest of the week. Armed with a truck load of case files, I headed to my desk and settled in.


Two hours later, my phone rang. Yay! It was my first phone call. Maybe someone was already calling me back to schedule our first home visit.


“Good Afternoon. This is Jen.”


“Uh. Yeah. Are you my new worker person? I’m Tamyra Blue.”


“Hello Tamyra. I don’t see you on my list but I can check with our sec…”


“No. They gave me your name and your number. You’re supposed to pay my rent this month. It’s due tomorrow. So, are you bringing me my money?”


“Um. To be honest, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ll need to check and-”


“No. This is crazy. You people are supposed to help me and I need my money now. How’m I ‘post to pay my rent this month. I have a baby you know. I can’t get kicked out.”



What? This lady was being a royal bitch. I told her I would need to get back to her. Turns out she was just referred to our program that day and was assigned to me but the referral hadn’t even made it to me yet. Someone had told her our agency can help find community resources and she took that to mean that I would be writing a check out to pay her rent.


I thought I was going to be working with developmentally delayed children under the age of 3. Sure, I’m working in the poorest sections of Boston but do my clients really expect me to pay their rent and fix all of their problems? I would quickly learn that for most of them that’s exactly what they expected of me. I didn’t sign up for this…


The Birth of a Family May 3, 2008

Filed under: Adoption,Uncategorized — Jenni @ 10:15 pm

The other day while sorting through my mail, I came across the newsletter for the open adoption agency for which I used to be a Birthparent Counselor. Their mail always causes my heart to ache a little bit. I loved the agency so much. The itty bitty staff was sincerely devoted to openness – true openness – in adoption and they put 110% into their work. Working for them felt like home but being a Birthparent Counselor required being on call around the clock and for me to do a good job, it had to become my life. Leaving the agency was one of the hardest parts of moving back to Massachusetts for me. I knew I would never find another agency like that. Anyways, I digress.


I took a deep breath and opened up the newsletter. There at the bottom of the 2nd page was a family I worked with while I was a Birthparent Counselor. Their beeming smiles and glowing faces warmed my heart and gave me something to feel good about at the end of my crappy day. As I reviewed the newsletter, the Sprint case flooded my mind.


Families at my adoption agency needed to create a scrapbook of themselves and a letter to the birthmom. All of the family books were loaded into a rolling suitcase and whenever a birthmother decided she wanted to select a family for her baby, I’d wheel the suitcase to her and let her review the books for days. Of course, I always reviewed the books too and from Day 1 had decided that if I were a birthmother looking for a family for my baby, the Sprints would be my first choice. They were perfect in every area. Their deep love for each other was evident throughout their entire family book. No one could ever doubt that those two – Mark and Denise – were the truest of soul mates. Athletic and committed to charity causes, the two made Ghandi seem like an underachiever.


It didn’t take long for them to be selected – and ultimately rejected by a birthmother. It just wasn’t the right fit. That birthmother selected another family and it all worked out beautifully. But, Mark and Denise were devastated. Their infertlity and miscarriages were painful enough. Being rejected by someone because they didn’t think they would be the best parent for their baby was crushing.


Within 1 week, another mother had selected them. I set up the first meeting and accompanied them all to dinner. Jasmine was one of my favorite birthmothers. A freshman in college, she had her head on straight. She had been in a committed relationship with her highschool sweetheart but shortly after they broke up, she learned she was pregnant. He didn’t want the baby and, honestly, neither did she. She tried to have an abortion but couldn’t go through with it. When she began researching adoptions, she knew open adoption was the right choice for her.


We met 1-2 times each week to explore some clinical issues and make sure she was deciding on adoption for the right reasons. Her family, especially her mother, very strongly disapproved of her decision to pursue adoption. Her mother wanted to raise the baby herself but Jasmine believed her baby deserved a chance at being raised by 2 parents that desperately wanted a baby. She didn’t want to say goodbye to her child forever because she loved her baby but she did want to permanently give up her parental rights.


I’m positive Jasmine would have made a wonderful mother had she chosen to raise her son but she had career aspirations and held steadfastly to the dreams she had for her child – dreams she believed she couldn’t fulfill. She knew Mark and Denise were perfect the minute she opened their book and when they met, it was like they were all old friends. Their conversation was easy and their bond was instant. Over the final two months of the pregnancy, the three spent lots of time together, getting to know each other and hashing out the terms of the open adoption.


Jasmine and I continued to meet and her parents continued to pressure her to keep the baby. On her delivery day, Jasmine called me and asked me to meet her at the hospital. She and her boyfriend (not the baby’s father) had gone to the hospital alone to have the baby but her mother found out and met her there. Her mother was in the delivery room when her son was born – a baby she named Aaron. He was gorgeous with a full head of fiery red hair.  A perfect baby.


When I entered Jasmine’s room, twelve eyes turned to glare at me. I, of course, was the evil adoption social worker who had poisoned Jasmine and convinced her to give up Aaron. I was stealing him and giving him to 2 devil parents. Of course, they would never understand the dozens of hours I had spent with Jasmine encouraging her to parent Aaron herself. The countless community resources and supports I had shared to help her parent Aaron. The numerous game plans I presented to her with ways to meet her own goals and those she had for Aaron. When it came down to it, they just couldn’t understand how she could ever choose to give up her baby.


I ignored their evil glares and gave Jasmine a hug. It was obvious that she was in love with her little boy. Her family cleared the room and as we chatted, she told me (without my prompting) that although she loved Aaron, she was more sure than ever that she wanted Mark and Denise to be his parents. She had already called them and told them the good news.


I left to get her some more water and ran into a pale and frantic Mark and Denise. They had seen Jasmine’s family in the waiting room (the family had never wanted to meet them) and they were terrified. They were shocked that the day had finally arrived for them to meet their child. But they knew that Jasmine could change her mind at any moment – even up to 6 weeks after they took placement of him. Their hearts were bursting. Jasmine asked them to come in and meet their son.


Within a few days, Jasmine and Aaron were released from the hospital. Jasmine carried him out with Mark and Denise walking beside her. Outside, they decided not to say their goodbyes and, instead, Mark and Denise asked Jasmine and her boyfriend to come back with them to their house. I said my goodbye to everyone and left the hospital with a hopeful heart.


The placement continued perfectly with Jasmine, Mark and Denise successfully navigating the unchartered waters of open adoption. Mark and Denise are Aaron’s parents but Jasmine is his birthmother and although she has no rights, is a very special person in their lives.


I don’t keep in touch with Mark, Denise or Jasmine but if a picture speaks a thousand words, the beaming family photo of Mark, Denise and Aaron from the annual open adoption fundraiser told me everything I needed to know.