(From the archives. I rerunning some of my “People Who Kick Ass” series.)
My Chicago suburb is home to one of the world’s most famous and respected adoption agencies called, “The Cradle.” I’ve driven past the agency, which is housed in a majestic stone building, hundreds of times.
Since its founding, The Cradle – which deals in both domestic as well as international adoptions – has placed nearly 15,000 children into permanent homes. Every now and then, I see a picture in my local paper about a fundraiser or benefit for the celebrated agency, where – once ago – Gracie Allen and George Burns, Bob Hope, Al Jolson and Donna Reed all adopted children.
But I had heard something about the agency that I thought might be urban legend. Supposedly, there was a program through which volunteers could help care for the babies. I was suspicious. I knew very little about adoption but I doubted that infants actually lived inside of the agency. I assumed the babies lived in foster homes while they awaited their birth parents’ decisions as well as the adoption process.
I was wrong.
Last week, I picked up the phone and called The Cradle. I wanted to find out if they really had a program where volunteers could care for babies. The answer was yes. It turns out that the Cradle is the only adoption agency in the United States with an onsite nursery. An average of six to eight infants at a time spend their first days, weeks and even months of their lives in the nursery which is staffed twenty-four hours a day by both a registered nurse as well as an infant specialist. The volunteers I had heard vaguely about were called, “Cuddlers.” But, there is at least a two-year waiting list to become one.
Could I come see the nursery, I asked. To my surprise, I was again told yes.
The third-floor nursery looked how I hoped it would. It was bright and clean – and its windows opened to let in fresh air. Butterflies and caterpillars decorated the windows and walls, and I was told that a Christmas tree occupied the room in the winter. During a two-day blizzard this past year, the staff nurses brought in blankets and pillows and stayed overnight. They were prepared, I was told, to stay as long as they would be needed.
The nursery was filled with cribs, rocking chairs and – to my delight – books. When I looked in, there were two Cuddlers helping the staff members care for three babies. (There have been as many as 18 infants in the nursery at one time.) I watched one of the Cuddlers read a board book to what looked like a one month old. As she read, he went from the quiet alert-state to a gentle sleep. When his eyes closed, the Cuddler put away the book and continued to hold the baby in her arms.
I was told that because of the nursery, birth parents can take their time while they decide what’s next. Some choose to bring their children home. Many choose to pursue adoption. This is a place where they know their babies are well cared for while they make their decisions.
Lynne Firestone coordinates the Cuddler’s program. Lynne, who adopted her two adult children through The Cradle, pointed out that the agency needs to have people who can take care of the babies no matter what. “They [the babies] can’t get enough constant care, loving and holding,” she said. “It helps them feel that the world is a good place.”
Toward the end of my tour, I was taken to the room where the adoptive parents – if they didn’t already meet in the hospital — see their babies for the first time. It was called, fittingly, “The Belonging Room.”
NOTE: If you want to volunteer to become a Cuddler, you’re out of luck at the moment. But, if you want to support The Cradle you can visit their website. They also have an Amazon wish list for the nursery, where you can find everything from pacifiers to diapers to swings.