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Our Stories :: The Journey from Doctor to Parent

As written by Dr. Jane Aronson for American Infertility Association
November 13, 2000

ben & mama

People congratulate me daily and ask me how my life has changed since Ben came into my life. Obviously my life has changed in a myriad of ways concretely. I am tired and a bit thin and pale. How could I get any thinner? Anyway, it isn't easy being a "Mama" to an infant, at my age, but I am having a lot of fun. Every morning, I am up at 6 a.m. with a boy who is talking and happy; he smiles at me as I pick him up to change him. He gets his morning "bottie" in bed with my partner and me. We listen intently to his gentle, rhythmic sucking sounds; we are heavy with exhaustion, but we sigh and exalt in his happiness.

It is still hard to believe that I really have a son. When someone asks me "How is your son, Dr. Aronson?" I hear the words, but it is so difficult for me to take these words in and believe them. I answer quickly and briefly, thinking that maybe, I don't have a son; maybe if I answer, I will hear myself and realize it isn't true. I dreamed of a boy for 25 years and at 49 years of age the dream is real and I feel at peace; my life has fallen into place. I was sad, wanting, and longing all these years and this dear, sweet person, Benjamin, named by my partner, Diana, has smoothed out my edges, put my life into perspective, given me the balance I needed. His little handsome face fills my vision all day; I race home to him and yearn for the smell of formula on his breath and a chance to see his eyes become little slits and his lips open just a little with that sound he makes when he is happy. "haah". I long for him to suck on my nose.he is teething miserably.

Benjamin Lerner Leo Aronson, named by Diana, after my brother, Barry, who died too young, is my 7-month-old son who I met on August 27 in Hanoi, Vietnam when he was 4 months old and I went by taxi to his orphanage called Tu Liem, to pick him up. The facilitator called us at the hotel the morning after we arrived and asked, "Do you want the child?" What a question! We joke about this question even now. He was referred to as "the child" quite often during our three weeks in Vietnam. At Immigration and Naturalization Services, "Bring the child to the window, please, Dr. Aronson". At the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, "Please show me the child, Dr. Aronson."

Ben became real for me for the first time on June 12 when he was two months old and the "referral" from International Mission of Hope arrived at Spence-Chapin Agency. His medical exam and birth certificate were faxed to my office and his pictures were e-mailed as well. I was on the Long Island Railroad on the way to work when the social worker called me on my cell phone to tell me about the arrival of the referral. I cried and could hardly ask a single question. I called Diana, immediately after I got off the phone with the social worker. She was on the stage of Avery Fisher Hall in Manhattan, preparing for a commencement for law students; she cried and told everyone about Ben and everyone cried as well. A baby had been born and everyone felt the joy of this miracle.

His beginnings are simple and quite familiar to me as an adoption medicine specialist. He was born most likely the day of his discovery in that hospital bed. On April 14 his mother brought him to a maternity hospital in Hanoi and placed him on bed #27 while two witnesses observed. The name of his mother, "Nguyen Thi Thanh" was written on a piece of paper attached to his clothes. He was described as "very weak and thin" by the witnesses. Nguyen Van Nam was the name given to him by the staff at the hospital and he stayed in the hospital until May 8 when he was transferred to the "Feeding Center for Orphaned and Malnourished Children of Cau Giay" in Hanoi.

He was cared for in a tiny room with two cribs low to the ground covered with bamboo mats. Several sweet babies slept in each crib; the backs of the cribs and the windows were covered by sheets to prevent light from entering the babies' room. A poster of Santa Claus loomed over my Ben's crib. Once a day Ben was actually held and fed, but all of his other feeds were accomplished by bottle propping. He lay for hours at a time staring, untouched, and unstimulated with clenched fists with his thumbs pressed deeply into his palms. He was described by his nanny as very serious without too many smiles.

We brought him to our hotel in Hanoi, "Hanoi Towers" which is located on the old site of the "Hanoi Hilton", the prison where many American soldiers were captives of the Vietnamese government during the war. Hanoi is a fantastic city. People live on the streets, industriously working, selling their wares, cooking meals, and smiling and squatting effortlessly, even after a typical 14-hour day. The food was spectacular; every meal was fresh, creative, and inexpensive. I could go on and on. We still say now that if Hanoi were just a few hours away we would spend weekends there. The people were friendly; they stopped in the streets to share our joy about Ben's adoption. They frequently gestured with their thumbs up when we confirmed their suspicion that he was a boy from an orphanage and we were Americans taking him home to New York. "Lucky boy" was the frequent exclamation. We were pretty obvious, as two middle aged gray-haired women, walking around Hanoi with Ben in an umbrella stroller. Strollers are a hazard in a city with no traffic control and thousands of motorbikes going in all directions at once. Families of four straddle their main mode of transportation, the motor bike, dressed in suits and dresses, thinking nothing of the informality and danger or of it all; it is after all cheap and easy to travel by motorbike in a small city like Hanoi.

We spent almost three weeks in Vietnam, initially planning lots of travel to the celebrated beaches of Da Nang and the countryside of the Mekong, but alas, we spent 17 days getting to know a boy, named Ben. We never went anywhere, except Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. We studied him and felt his wants and needs; we discussed in detail what we thought every motion and moan meant. We shared every strategy to make him comfortable; we worked through the night to nourish and support him. He was a very serious and as Diana describes, "contemplative" child. We made jokes that he would be a physicist. He didn't seem to have much of a sense of humor. We nicknamed him the "Dali Llama". We never heard a real belly laugh. What we saw was a very gradual emergence of a sweet fellow who was learning how to trust and believe in this world. We agonized some days when we realized that he could only look to the right comfortably; he had developed a comfort on that side because of the bottle propping and we began the therapy of forcing him to move to the left in order to interact with us or be fed. He had developed compensatory increased muscle tone to be able to feed and survive. He worked hard and changed slowly. We started to see him sleeping with his head to the left some nights. In fact after about a week, he slept through the night. We joked about how he must have felt when he first met his moms.two middle aged women with gray hair. So he said, "I better be a good boy because these women aren't going to be able handle much". We still joke about this because it appears to be true on some very long days when we realize that our bodies ache all over and we beg for sleep. Ben knows us and he is kind to us.

So we got to know him and we fell in love; in fact we are still falling in love. He charms us from moment to moment. He is doing well with his physical and occupational therapy to improve his muscle tone and range of motion. He will be seven months old tomorrow and he thinks that he can crawl, backwards yes, but not forward as yet. His therapists say that he works very hard. This is who he is and we are happy for him. And each day, I realize that I do have a son, Benamin, my right hand man. That is what you will find in the bible about Benjamin. His mother died in childbirth and he became his father's right hand man. He is our right hand man.

People ask me how my life has changed. That's how this story began. It is an easy question to answer. I no longer define myself by my profession. I am Ben's mama. I am at ease with this new identity. It slows me up and makes me feel like being less than perfect is fine. I can be late; I can have stains on my right shoulder from Ben's spit-up. I can say no to doing this talk or being on that committee. I want to run home after a talk because I know that Diana is at home with Ben and I want to help or relieve her. I run home after work to be with him, play with him, feed him, change him into pajamas, and put him to bed. Diana and I check him many times after he goes to sleep. She says, "Let's go see the boy". We turn the dimmer up slightly and admire him in his crib. We stare at his beautiful face and stay too long.he starts to move and we push one another out of the room. We smile and go to bed exhausted, but thrilled about our boy from Hanoi, Ben.

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  This page last updated September 16, 2003 5:39 PM EST