Wednesday, December 15, 2010

a sad start to life

There's a homeless man that usually sleeps in the alley behind the parking garage at work.  I don't know where he's gone, but hopefully he found somewhere warmer to sleep.  It's been in the single digits overnight here lately and the wind chills have been well below zero.  I get an ache in my heart and a chill in my bones every time I see him (or don't see him and wonder if he's okay).  I always wonder what life path led him to the alley behind a downtown parking garage.  There are shelters less than 2 blocks away, so I assume it's his choice to sleep on the street.  Does he have mental health problems?  Is he an addict?  A veteran?  He doesn't ask for food or money when I see him.  I want to help him but I don't know what to offer.  In a way, I hope to see him again when the weather turns warmer and in another way, I hope I don't.  I hope he's found somewhere better to be. 

As much as I have felt for this homeless man over the past year, nothing has shaken me to the core like the true story I heard about bit by bit on Tuesday.  At about 7am, a co-worker came into the office and told myself and a couple of others that she didn't want to ruin our morning by grossing us out, but we should avoid the stairs in the parking garage because she walked upon a scary scene.  Intrigued, we all begged for more.  We were hungry for the gory details. She said that when she was coming down the stairs to the 2nd level landing, she spotted a large amount of a thick, red liquid all over the place and as she worked her way around it, she saw that it was literally dripping from one step to the next.  She swore someone was murdered.  In case that wasn't bothersome enough, she said that there were bare feet footprints all through the "red liquid."  No one wanted to call it blood.

The comedian in our group said "the security guy last night had a jug of red kool-aid, maybe he spilled it."  "No," she said, "it was chunky."  The comedian comes back with "well, maybe he drank too much kool-aid and threw up."  Ha.  Ha.  Ha.  We kind of left it at that and went our separate ways, careful to avoid using the stairwell in the parking garage as we headed home, our thoughts focused on how fast we could get our cars warmed up so we could get to our respective homes and snuggle into our respective cozy covers. 

Some time later, another friend I work with texted me asking if I saw anything scary in the parking garage.  I quickly responded that I didn't see it but I heard about it and asked if she knew what happened.  She wrote back that a homeless woman had given birth in the stairwell.  I'm not sure what I had been expecting to learn, but my heart instantly dropped to my feet and a million thoughts and questions filled my mind.

Are they okay?
Is the baby even alive?
It was 7* F outside.  7!
Was she alone?
She didn't even have shoes.
Did she yell out for help?
I was working 100 feet away while this was going on.
Did someone find her in the middle of giving birth?

I found out a few moments later that the building security guy reported that this was what had happened and that mother and baby were sent to the hospital and both were doing fine.  Initially, I felt immense relief.  But moments later, the same thoughts in my head were playing over and over, like a broken record. 

Was she alone? 
It was 7 degrees. 
She didn't even have shoes. 

I wondered if our building security guy, who gets to work around 5:30am walked up on her during or after?  Or did he hear this from someone else?  What if it had been me?  What could I have done to help her?  I'd like to think that I'd call 911 - duh - then sit there with her and ... well, then what?  Tell her to push?  I have given birth, but I don't know if I could direct someone through it. 

When I got to work last night, a girl who works the afternoon shift said that there was a sign posted on the elevator doors saying the 2nd level stairwell landing was closed due to being professionally cleaned after someone had given birth there earlier in the day.  I'm sure that made a few people do a double-take. 

I finally had the chance to talk to our building security guy this morning.  He said he arrived at 5:37 yesterday morning and walked right through the area where all this birth-giving allegedly took place.  He saw nothing.  Then, at 6:01 someone else who works in my building came in and asked him what all the ambulances were doing there.  So sometime between 5:37 and 6:01 in the morning, this woman, this mother, in a moment of urgency decided that giving birth in our parking garage stairwell was her best option.  And she birthed a precious, innocent newborn baby.  Then she apparently called 911 or the parking garage attendant from the help box in the stairwell lobby.  Barefoot, while holding her baby. 

At that time, the building security guy didn't know what had happened other than there was a bloody, gory scene on the second flight landing of the parking garage.  It wasn't until 2 hours later that there were detectives and forensic evidence photographers swarming the area, roping it off with their yellow homicide tape.  He said that he asked one of the photographers what had happened and eventually he learned that a homeless woman had given birth just moments after he walked through her labor and delivery area. 

He said that his initial reaction, which I'm guessing would be the same as many of us, was to think Ew, gross...what if I'd been 10 minutes late...what would I have done?  I would have gotten blood all over my clothes.  I would have had to go home and change.  I would have helped her, but ... Ew.  He said that he was shocked by the number of people that came through the door and didn't even mention what had happened.  His initial reaction of Ew turned into one of empathy.  He said lots of people who did ask what happened laughed, made jokes, or made other rude and insensitive comments. 

What led her to give birth in the stairwell?  Did she not realize what was happening to her body until it was too late to get to a hospital?  Was she afraid that, because she is homeless, CPS would automatically take her baby away?  Is that why she didn't go to the hospital to begin with?  I wonder if she has issues with her own mental health.  Or addiction.  How could a pregnant woman so close to going into labor not have a place to stay?  What if that was you?  What if that was me?  And my precious baby Theodore...

I have given birth in a comfortable, controlled environment with pain medication.  It was the scariest and most exhilarating experience of my life.  I wanted the people who love me the most surrounding me.  I can't imagine have such a drastically different experience and the thought of it breaks my heart for this woman.  I have something in common with her because we are mothers.  We know what it's like to grow a baby in our bellies.  We know what it's like to wait with anticipation to see that tiny face and kiss those tiny fingers.  I ache for her, not knowing what path life will take her and her baby on.  With such a sad and scary start, we can only hope for the best.  I hope this mama has a chance to raise her baby.  I hope she's able to meet her baby's most basic needs and provide the little one with lifelong unconditional love.  In the end, everything else is extra.

So, if it were you...if you were the one that walked up on this woman giving birth in a freezing concrete stairwell, what would you do?



  1. Ohh my! You warned me but ohh my!

  2. What would I do... I would do the only thing that there really is *to* do. I would help her in whatever way I could. I would immediately call 911, maybe even call up to my coworkers for help, water, blankets, etc.. I may not know nothin bout birthin no babies (Miss Scarlett) but I'd do my very best to make her comfortable and hold her hand.

  3. I would know that it is only by different circumstances and interactions in our lives that this was not me giving birth in the cold. This makes me ill that this happened in what is supposed to be a "modern, industrialized" nation. If you know where this woman is, could you post...I will send her something.

  4. I don't know where in the midwest you are, but where I live a lot of the homeless shelters are REALLY dangerous, and even people who are social workers and case workers will suggest to people about to become homeless that they not go into shelters. It's not just about your stuff getting stolen - it's physically unsafe.

    I've heard that aside from money, most homeless people want socks, blankets, books/magazines, babywipes, and high calorie drinks and food. I give food sometimes.

    To answer your question though, I'd call 911 and stay with the woman. Tide and cold water gets blood out of clothes.

  5. Thanks, because of your post, I've had this song in my head all night and morning! :)

  6. Thanks for the comments guys, and for everyone that commented on my facebook page as well. Sam, thanks for the link - I haven't heard that song in ages! I think it's stuck in my head!