February 1, 2012
The story of Cristian Fernandez is mournful. Born to a 12-year-old mother, Biannela Susana, the stars were not aligned in his favor. Susana was sexually abused by Jose Antonia Fernandez who ultimately went to prison and hadn’t seen Cristian in over five years.
At ages 2 and 14 respectively, Cristian and Susana entered the social service system as foster children. Cristian was found running around nude in front of a South Florida hotel while his 34-year-old grandmother was allegedly inside doing drugs.
As a former public health physician and employee of the State of Florida, I know the system well. If you attempt to make a referral to the social service programs, they would not ask about the patient’s problem, they inquire about the zip code in an attempt to turf her to someone else. If you called the Hotline for suspected abuse, they rejected the case for nefarious reasons even if there was suspicion of an unsafe household.
Attorney General Pamela Bondi wants to try 12-year-old Cristian as an adult for killing his 2-yer-old brother. He didn’t shoot him with a gun. He didn’t stab him with a knife. He knocked him unconscious when he shoved him against a bookcase in a fit of anger. He was home alone at the time babysitting. Cristian alerted Susana who came home immediately but didn’t bring the toddler to the hospital until 4 hours later. Had she brought the child in sooner, he might have lived. But Susana was probably afraid to bring him in because six months prior to his death, he was treated for a broken leg as a result of “wrestling” with Cristian.
Several questions beg answers regarding that emergency visit. Did the nurse, physician or hospital administrator call the authorities to report the 2-year-old’s injuries? Was an incident report made? In October 2011, the toddler and Cristian witnessed the suicide of his stepdad with a 9 mm gunshot to the head. The stepfather was allegedly being investigated after Cristian incurred a black eye. When Susana attempted to obtain family counseling after the suicide, she was placed on a “waiting list.”
Trying Cristian as an adult serves no purpose other than fulfilling a political agenda. He would be the youngest first-degree murderer in the history of Jacksonville. I urge the federal government to withhold tax dollars to the State of Florida for social services until a full investigation is done. Certainly Susana bears responsibility for her son. But the State could have done a better job as well. Every mistake has a lesson. How many does Florida have to make before they finally learn?
September 7, 2011
Although Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, had been a New York Times bestseller for months, somehow it had escaped me. However after hearing all the buzz about the movie, I was determined to see it even if I had to go by myself which ultimately happened.
Set in rural Mississippi during the turbulent sixties, on the surface, the movie appears to be about race relations between African American housekeepers and their Caucasian female employers, but as the lens sharpens, it becomes evident that the deeper meaning of The Help addresses issues regarding motherhood, fear, courage and trust. The characters are memorable such as Aibileen, an African American maid who has raised seventeen Caucasian children during the course of her domestic career. She becomes disturbed when the 2 year old that she cares for is emotionally neglected by her mother who is buckling under peer pressure from Hilly, the alpha woman who organizes the annual charity ball and spreads her unique brand of ignorance in the form of fear and intimidation. Hilly convinces her female counterparts that they all need to build outside toilets specifically for “the help” in order to avoid contracting mythical diseases. The discussion of Jim Crow segregation laws is nothing new in America. But what was unique about The Help is that we meet Skeeter, a young Caucasian college graduate who was raised by an African American maid whom she credits for giving her confidence. Skeeter looks beyond the occupation of the maids and seeks to discover their humanity. She asked Aibileen the very poignant question: “How does it feel to raise someone else’s children when yours are often left alone?” Aibileen diplomatically asks Skeeter to ask another question perhaps because it conjured up too much pain.
There are thousands of children left in the care of extended relatives or friends each year while their mothers work as domestic housekeepers taking care of someone else’s children. Some even leave their own country. I have met these women. I have been their physician. Their hopes and dreams for the future of their children are just as strong and vivid as mine. And if the truth be told, many housekeepers become an integral part of the family. What The Help demonstrates is that it is not easy to identify “them” versus “us.” The lines of those relationships are often blurred.
What we learn from the movie is that when women come together as a collective force, expect nothing short of triumph. The bond that unites us is far greater than the distractions that keep us apart.
July 27, 2011
No one likes pain, least of all pregnant women. Although obstetricians do a great job providing prenatal care and childbirth deliveries, there is always room for improvement regarding patient education.
The management of labor pain is usually delegated to the Anesthesia Department within a hospital or an ambulatory center. The goal of anesthesia is to eliminate physical pain and any suffering that might be a result of pain. However pain and suffering may not always be about cause and effect. To quote the literature, “Although pain and suffering often occur together, one may suffer without pain or have pain without suffering.” Some women want to eliminate pain and others view it as a normal process. However, to the well initiated, it is well known that women who are in pain and “suffering” do not progress as quickly in labor as those who are pain free. For those pregnant moms who would prefer not to have “drugs” here are some options however, please keep in mind that information regarding the safety and effectiveness of these methods is “scientifically” limited, meaning the subjects involved in medical studies to prove whether these methods work or not are small. Having said that, listed below are some of the most popular ways to reduce pain without drugs, however, please consult your physician or healthcare provider prior to using them.
1. Be in an environment that simulates home such as a birthing room. Although home deliveries are increasing, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not support this method.
2. Continuous labor support such as a doula
3. Immerse in warm water to cover the abdomen and reduce labor pain
4. Sterile water injections in the lower back to decrease back pain
5. Walk around the hospital during the early 1st stage of labor provided your vital signs are stable
6. Touch and massage therapy
7. Acupuncture and Aromatherapy
9. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
10. Obtain childbirth education
Listing these options does not constitute a personal endorsement of any of the methods but is provided to increase a pregnant woman’s options regarding enhancing her birth experience and having a greater sense of control regarding the process.
Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.
July 11, 2011
The jury has spoken and Casey Anthony will be released in exactly seven days. Ironically, her release from jail falls on a Sunday, when most people are communing with their Lord. I wonder if that’s an omen.
Orlando is a small town, contrary to its prominent persona of tourist attractions. I should know. I’ve lived here for over 15 years. The Anthony trial was practically in my backyard and the presiding judge attends my church. Despite all of the hoopla, I didn’t pay much attention to the notoriety until the closing arguments of the case. It’s not that I didn’t care it’s just that nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to the state of Florida. If it’s lewd, ridiculous, unethical and unfair, look for it to occur in Florida. I’m not going to pass judgment on Casey Anthony because the jury has spoken. But I never expected Anthony to ever see the light of day once the trial was over. But she will and let’s hope that the person who exits the jail is much different from the one who entered. Why? Because Anthony is young, presumably fertile and will probably become pregnant again. As a society, we need to provide her with a lesson in motherhood.
Children are our gifts and we as parents are their custodians, their nurturers and providers. We don’t own our children, they belong to our Creator. Unfortunately, they don’t come with a training manual; our experiences are usually based on trial and error. There is not a woman on this planet that has not experienced some level of anger or frustration either towards her children or her circumstances at some point in her life. Sometimes motherhood is a thankless job whose rewards are not immediately apparent. It involves delayed gratification, commitment, patience, and a profound sense of humor. Our children can be both our greatest source of happiness but also our greatest source of pain. It is a dichotomy, this vocation called motherhood. It is not for the faint of heart or an uncommitted soul. And it certainly isn’t for everyone. Therefore I implore Anthony to please consider all of her options before she ventures down the road of motherhood again. If she doesn’t want to have children, permanent sterilization is an option and if she has another child and decides that children are not part of her infamous tattoo that reads “Bella Vitta” or the good life, then please consider the option of adoption.
Caylee Anthony is dead. Neither a death sentence nor Casey’s freedom will ever resurrect her.
July 6, 2011
The drive through the streets of Addis was enlightening but not surprising. The streets were crowded with the movement of brown faces, cell phones, old women in layered clothes with shawl covered heads and teenage boys wearing hooded sweatshirts and urban culture. The poverty was glaring with tin-roofed shanty towns housing people who possessed the will to survive. Except for the rusted tin roofs and goat herders in the middle of the street, it could have been any urban city.
The adoption agency and its guest house were smack in the middle of the Hood. The van turned down a very narrow dirt alley with shanty towns on each side and stopped at a gray tin gate that was encased with barbwire. The driver got out of the car, rang a buzzer and a security guard appeared along with the tiniest female toddler with the brightest wide eyes, long eyelashes and the color of caramel candy. Alert and beautiful, she was immediately swooped up into my arms as I said hello. The other toddlers ran forward and the gate was immediately closed. I could clearly understand the need for a security guard. The driver introduced us to the staff and showed us our room. Lunch was to be served at 1:00 p.m. so we had time to see our kids who were housed in a compound less than 300 feet away.
It was the moment of truth and we didn’t know what to expect. Armed with a digital camera, a camcorder, two toy cars purchased at a budget store along with two hearts filled with love, we approached another steel, barbed wired door, not knowing what to expect. The door swung open to a yard filled with screaming children in active play. Two young boys dressed in black tee shirts stopped for a moment and I immediately recognized Mamush. Both my husband and I called out his name simultaneously and he rushed to us, then gave each of us the tightest hug and sweetest kiss. Kayamo followed but was a bit shy. I pulled out the toy cars still encased n plastic and frantically attempted to open them quickly. Kayamo received his first and proceeded to handle it like a trophy with other children in hot pursuit. To my chagrin, Mamush’s car was screwed (of all things) into a case and it was a struggle to remove it. The nanny finally succeeded and Mamush was also displaying his gift from his new parents. Wanzo lifted both boys in his arms and the magic begun. We spoke to their nurse who gave me an update about their medical conditions. We saw their very humble beds and dorm room that was no bigger than a narrow hallway. There were four beds lined one behind the other in a room lit with a naked 40 watt light bulb. I couldn’t wait to get them home. My husband showed them a short video and their nurse translated. There were ooohs and aahs as they smiled with delight. Mamush mentioned Daddy’s car and the boys beamed with pride.
We walked back towards the courtyard, and then Mamush grabbed my husband’s hand pointing toward a building beckoning him to come. Kayamo followed closely behind as I remained, observing the new bonding. Kayamo then stopped, turned and looked at me as I waved to him. He walked towards me, held out his hand and beckoned me to follow as well. As it turned out, it was lunch time and the children were settling down to eat. Kayamo motioned for me to take a picture of him and his 2 buddies. Then Mamush stood before the children and said a passionate Amharic prayer that the children recited enthusiastically. We asked the nurse to tell Mamush and Kayamo that we were leaving to allow them to enjoy their lunch but we would return tomorrow. Both boys gave us the sweetest hugs and kisses. Kayamo held me so tight that I hated to let go. Any previous doubt or fear about the decision to adopt was eradicated completely. We were the proud parents of two precious gifts sent from Heaven above. These were our precious children with whom we are well pleased.
July 4, 2011
Independence Day always reminds me of my mother whose birthday fell two days prior to the holiday. My mom made her transition almost ten years ago but in her honor, I’d like to share a page or two from my journal that describes my own experience of becoming a mother.
I’m presently flying on Ethiopian Air across the Atlantic Ocean. The plane dropped 10 to 20 feet because of turbulence and my husband became embarrassed because I started calling on Jesus; loud and in living color. He tried to force me to listen to some Ethiopian music via red, antiquated looking head phones but I emphatically say no, I prefer to have a conversation with God instead. I’ve never been one who suffered in silence and when it appears like we’re headed straight for the ocean, of course I’m going to pray. I’m not a religious zealot but calling out God’s name in the time of trouble is like using a password to enter a safe haven in the midst of a chaotic world.
The pilot lowers the altitude and the plane is peaceful again. Back to the boys. I often wonder how did I arrive at this junction called international adoption? Twenty years from now when my sons are in their late twenties, I’ll be a three-quarter of a century. How will they respond to me when we finally meet? We appear to be getting closer to Ireland and Paris.
August 24, 2008. Seven whole days after my birthday and my life has changed dramatically. We stopped in Rome for fuel and a change of airline crew. The new crew was tougher, a little more no-nonsense but still professional and polite. I looked out the window and saw the demarcation between night and day; the dark, black sky giving way to a pale blue sky with orange hues. It was beautiful. I look at the flight monitor and watched our plane fly over exotic places such as Khartoum and Sudan. My former life seemed millions of miles away as the plane ventured towards my unknown future.
We finally approach Addis Ababa and as the plane was descending into the city, I observed the beautiful mountains and virgin landscape. It was breathtaking and of course, I cried. We had to obtain an entry visa that proved to be painless. They didn’t ask us to declare money nor the prerequisite pictures we were so careful to remember to bring. They only seemed concerned about the $40 visa fee and quickly snatched the two crisp $20 bills out of my hands and stuffed it into their pockets. Most of the immigration workers were 20-something year olds whose families probably bought their positions through backdoor deals and old political ties.
(To be continued. Please see Part 2 on Wednesday.)
November 18, 2009
Some things in life simply defy logic. Was it a drug deal gone bad? Hatred for her daughter’s Caucasian father? An Attachment Disorder? Extortion? Jealousy? Guilt? Functional illiteracy? I’m trying to fathom what would make Antoinette Davis allegedly exploit her five-year-old daughter as a prostitute? Shaniya Davis is now dead, and I’m mad as hell.
Shaniya’s senseless death is a tragedy of epic proportions and an horrific awakening. She was allegedly conceived via a “one-night” fling between her parents, Antoinette Davis and Bradley Lockhart. Lockhart raised Shaniya for years but decided to allow her to live with her mother who had recently found a job and obtained new housing. Several weeks later, his precious child is dead.
Hotel surveillance footage shows 29 year-old Mario McNeill carrying bare-foot Shaniya in his arms. I was sickened by his image. McNeill admitted kidnapping the girl but is expected to plead not guilty to any other charges.
So here are the questions: Where was the community in the midst of all this madness? Did anyone not see something awry in Davis’s home? Did anyone not think it was strange that a wiry-haired dude was checking into a hotel room carrying a barefoot five-year old girl in his arms WITHOUT ANY LUGGAGE? Was he afraid she was going to run away? Was she drugged?
The days of informality are over. Child custody should be done under the protection of Family Law. Lockhart did the right thing without anyone forcing him to do so. However, for better or for worse, we have social service agencies that are mandated to protect children. Had there been a formal court relationship, Davis would have been subjected to a formal investigation before Shaniya was placed in her home.
As an African-American woman, I am outraged at Davis and McNeill’s behaviors. As a mother I grieve for Bradley Lockhart’s loss.
Rest well, dear sweet Shaniya. You have returned home to the angels. Rest knowing that no one will ever hurt you again.
August 31, 2009
I was glued to the TV this weekend, saying farewell to an American patriot. I know the end of human life is inevitable but oh how I wished Senator Ted Kennedy could have remained just a little bit longer.
Like most Americans, I admired the Kennedy family from afar and their compassion had far-reaching effects. President John Kennedy sent troops to the Deep South and protected the civil rights of my relatives. Senator Robert Kennedy transformed my beloved Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn community into a successful economic empowerment zone that created jobs and stability. We always looked forward to the annual ice skating party that was organized by Mrs. Ethel Kennedy even after that horrendous assassination. Because of Kennedy’s vision, the price of a Bed Stuy brownstone in today’s market begins at one-half-million dollars.
My introduction to the magic of Senator Edward Kennedy began in medical school during the early eighties when my former Assistant Dean, Dr. Van Dunn, resigned from BU to become the senator’s Senior Policy Advisor. Senator Kennedy was full engaged and committed to healthcare reform and Dr. Dunn had the privilege of helping him. Kennedy’s name re-emerged during the early nineties when I was working in a small southwest Louisiana community. Towns were buzzing for miles around about the marriage of Kennedy and a Cajun woman named Victoria Reggie.
I love walking through the congested WIC (Women, Infant and Children) department at work and beam with pride at the sight of beautiful, healthy babies and children. They are truly Kennedy’s legacy. If you’ve ever received a Medicare benefit, a WIC check, SHIP benefits, a Family Medical Leave, the right to vote or a COBRA benefit, you can thank Senator Ted Kennedy. He served “the least among us” nobly.
I hope more legislators and physicians will do the same.