At midday, the corridor in front of the neonatal intensive care unit at Gia Dinh People’s Hospital is quiet.
Inside the unit, two babies who’ve been there for almost three months are not making much noise, either.
Belly full, baby Na falls asleep as soon as she finishes her bottle. Right next to her, Nhim is hungry and impatient, and is sucking on her fingers, whining. Tran Thi Thanh Thuy, head nurse of neonatal intensive care unit, postpones her rounds to feed the baby.
Just as she finishes with Nhim, Thuy receives a newborn. She holds the little one close to her chest so he can feel some warmth before giving him a bath and a change of clothes, getting him ready for a health check.
The little baby has been abandoned by his family after his mother, who was HIV positive, passed away. Thuy holds the little baby close to her chest so he can feel some warmth before giving him a bath, change of clothe and get ready for health check.
Luckily, the baby is quite healthy and can drink milk well. He hasn’t been infected.
Na, Nhim and the newborn are unaware that they are abandoned babies, but the knowledge sits heavily in Thuy’s heart.
“You will only stay here with me for a few months, then you’ll go to the child protection centre with your friends,” Thuy tells the baby sadly.
Head nurse Thuy feeds an abandoned baby. She carefully keeps all of the babies’ information, as well as their photos, so it can be easier for their mother if they want to find them again.
“At the beginning, I would get really mad when I received an abandoned baby. I couldn’t understand how a mother could be so heartless.
“Now, after 27 years, I can’t remember how many babies I have taken care of. One after another.”
For 27 of her 48 years, Thuy has been a mother to newborn babies abandoned at the hospital.
As time passed and the more cases she received, she developed an understanding of the mothers’ perspective. Of course, it would be ideal for the children to be nurtured by their mothers. However, sometimes, being in the child protection centre or getting adopted would be a better option for little ones.
The majority of the babies she has taken care of have been ill, born to young mothers who “made a mistake” or those in deep economic difficulties.
“They would bring their babies to the hospital, do the paper work so the baby could be treated and looked after by the doctors, and then just quietly leave. They wouldn’t pick up our phone calls, most of the given addresses are incorrect.
“Sometimes, when we are able to get hold of the mother, but they would cry and reject the baby. There was one girl, we used all sort of methods to try and persuade her, and she accepted (to take the baby back) but then abandoned the baby again,” Thuy recalled.
For babies born to addict mothers or those who want to “enjoy” life without the burden of babies, nurse Thuy thinks the child protection centre is a better option. She says she doesn’t know if it’s a good thing for them to stay with their mothers.
It’s like many babies can understand the hard work of their “mothers”. They eat and sleep very well. There are those whose eyes keep searching for their families, and Thuy and her colleagues respond by becoming mothers. They make milk, change clothes, diapers, cuddle the babies and sing sweet lullabies. Even the young, unmarried nurses at the unit are good at handling newborns.
“They only get a bit cranky when they are hungry or when their diapers need to be changed. The nurses here and I often joke that we are training soldiers,” Thuy said, smiling.
When the babies reach a full month, mother Thuy will name them after famous artists, doctors, professors, businessmen or people with lucky lives.
“They are already unfortunate; I give them those names hoping their future will be better.”
After 2-3 months, when the babies get stronger, Thuy has to say goodbye to them.
The nurses’ happiness is to see the babies grow up strong and healthy and be able to find a family.
“The other day, a boy came back to visit us. He was abandoned by his mother because he was born premature, weighed only 900 grams and had clubbed feet. He was adopted by a family, and got treatment for his feet. Now he’s in year 12 and a very good student,” Thuy said.
Dr Nguyen Anh Tuyet, deputy director of the Gia Dinh People’s Hospital, said that in the past few years, the neonatal intensive care unit has been constantly receiving abandoned babies. Most of them are ill or born prematurely. Thuy and other doctors and nurses take care of the babies using the hospital’s own fund.
She said that in the past 10 months of this year, the hospital has received 10 abandoned babies. In two cases, the mothers were found, one baby was adopted and three were moved to the child protection centre.
Dr Tuyet could not praise the nurses enough. “They not only look after the babies, but also try to make contact and find their mothers. Some get attached to the babies, they cry a lot when they have to say goodbye. Then after work, they would run to the centre to visit the babies.”