Every year, more than 1000 children are abandoned by their parents, most of them at the maternity ward. Their childhood starts in a social institution or separated from their parents and are brought up by strangers.
The active social work, psychological support and mobilization of different specialists around a child are the main factors, which help for coping with the situation of vulnerability and the hardship in the life of a family.
Siyana…a little girl, born on the eve of the most magical of all Christian holidays – Christmas. Mummy Iva and daddy Vasil already have two older children and are looking forward to their third being born in the end of February this year, but…the baby decides to surprise them by arriving earlier. On Christmas Eve, a little fighter is born into the world, weighing just over three pounds – Siyana. Placed in the Department of Neonatology of the University Multi-profile Hospital for Active Treatment “Plovdiv”, under the watchful eye of Dr. Diana Argirova, the tiny Siyana fights for her life for 40 days. She is given strength by mummy Iva, who is there with her little hero every day. However, Iva is at the end of her tether, overwhelmed by her emotions and fears, which only a mother who has been confronted with the same situation can understand. Her husband – abandoned by his mother as a child and raised by his grandmother and grandfather – struggles with self-doubt and insecurity, which leaves him reeling with guilt. He is seldom at home, does not come back until late in the night so that he won’t have to see Iva’s face while she’s crying… from helplessness. The fear of losing their child, rather than bringing them together, tears them apart. Entrapped by their chaotic thoughts and consumed by their own fears, in their powerlessness, they make an emotional decision – to abandon Siyana… They announce their decision to the doctors in the Department of Neonatology who are taking care of Siyana and with whom we from the Community Support Centre “For Children and Parents” cooperate in translating our mission – not to allow a single child to be separated from its family – into reality. When we learnt about the risk at which Siyana found herself, we immediately sought to make contact with the family. The case was entrusted to Stela Alexandrova, social worker, and Mariyana Kostadinova, manager of the team “Social Work”. Whom our specialists met and spoke with were two insecure and confused parents – the mother was in postnatal depression and the father was at a loss as to how to help her. From the onset of the conversation, it became clear that their decision to abandon their child was in actuality an emotional one – that they did not want to leave their baby but were simply afraid. “Siyana was born early, we are not ready to take care of her, what if she has disabilities and I am not capable of looking after her…”, Iva shared her fears with us. A myriad of questions whose answers we began to seek. And we did find answers and solutions. Over the course of the next 30 days, our team remained by Iva and Vasil’s side. We helped them begin to feel more sure of themselves and maintained close contact with the experts who were taking care of our little fighter so that she could leave the Department of Neonatology healthy and come home to mummy, daddy and her two older sisters. We supported the family emotionally and materially: we provided them with a baby bed and a newborn baby set – clothes, towels, a baby bathing tub, skin care products, bottles, a dummy, etc. We also provided adapted milk for premature babies so that the little girl could gain weight and overcome the need to be given enzymes to support the work of her digestive organs. We were by their side on the day when Siyana was released from the hospital: she was the very picture of a Grim Brothers’ heroine – “Hair as black as ebony, skin as white as snow, and lips as red as blood” – and weighed almost 5.3 pounds. We continued to support the family and the development of the child. Together with Dr. Argirova, we will monitor the little girl’s growth and state of health until she becomes a year old and, if necessary, she will benefit from the rehabilitation therapy offered by the kinesitherapist who works at our Centre, Hristo Spasov. With the help of the American nonprofit organization “Rays of Hope for Bulgaria”, which supports children in need, we provided the family with a baby stroller, a feeding chair, and a baby walker. As of today, Siyana is a seven-month-old baby girl who is just like all other babies her age – smiley, happy to be with her mummy, daddy and two sisters. We continue to be there for them because we believe that every child deserves to live in a secure family environment and to have its chance to reach its full potential. From January this year until now, thanks to the coordinated efforts of our team at the Community Support Centre ‘For Children and Parents’ and the teams of 3 hospitals in Plovdiv, 9 children were saved from being abandoned and are now living and growing surrounded by the love of their birth mum and…
Nevena is a “child of nobody”. Born by a mother but raised by the state. She doesn’t know maternal love, dad’s embrace. Instead, she spent all her life in childcare homes along with other boys and girls like her – abandoned. During her time there were no foster parents to replace loneliness and isolation with true love and care. So there was no way out for her and for the thousands of other children like her. Life in a home has left its heavy scar on the heart, soul, behavior and habits of Nevena. She is 35 years old, mature woman, but only at age. Some daily tasks and activities are a challenge for her – it’s difficult, sometimes impossible for her to get close to somebody, to build a friendship and a complete connection. Accustomed to institutional life, even today, after so many years, she can’t get away from it – for 5 years she lives in a Temporary Placement Center in a small town with her husband, who is rarely coming home and constantly working so they can get out of there. Despite all the challenges, they both dream of a child and decide that despite the difficulties, they will make their dream come true. Two years ago, Hristo was born – a wanted and waited boy. Nevena and her husband are in the seventh sky, but the mother’s euphoria passes quickly. A few days after they get home, she falls into a deep postpartum depression. She doesn’t know how to care for her child, her husband is not at home and there is no one to support her. “The depression just stirred me. It took my throat and didn’t want to let me go”, said Nevena. Frightened and confronted by the challenge, Nevena feels like she can’t cope with the child, and maybe it is better to separate it from her. Then the Center connected our Community Support Center “St. Sofia” and our specialist in early childhood intervention Petya Uzunova started to work with the family. In the beginning, Petya’s meetings with the mother are weekly and the conversations are almost daily. They talk about many different topics, discussing the stages of each child’s development, for which Nevena knew almost nothing. The mother says she didn’t expect the child to need constant attention and care and Petya tells her that she can’t expect at three months the child to be able to take care of itself – to eat alone, to be alone. They talk a lot about the whole life of Nevena, who, after the first meeting, understands that she can trust Petya and she is there only to help her. She shares a lot of things with her – she remembers her childhood and gradually, encouraged by Petya’s advice and comments, she starts to understand herself, her reactions to her child and her fears. Nevena realizes the truth – she never had a family, a mother and a dad to love her and that this, after 35 years, affects her relationship with her child. But she realizes something else – she couldn’t cause this life to her own child, and whatever it costs, she and her husband will do it and they will not be separated from their child. Meanwhile, Petya makes a screening assessment of the child to make sure it is growing up normally. She says that despite her fears, Nevi takes good care of the child, it is always dressed well, fed and despite all the challenges – it grows up well. “The biggest challenge for Nevena now is to overcome her inability to attach to Hristo, to devote herself entirely to love, to let it embrace her without any fear”, said Petya.” Our support for Nevena and her family continues. Petya keeps visit them at the Center and together they go on a walk – Nevena tells her about her daily life and about Hristo, who has already walked, and soon she is expecting to hear his first words. They were even our guests at our Day of the Child holiday. Petya guides her, gives her advice on how to stimulate his development. He also talks to his dad, whom she encourages, despite his busy schedule, to be more active in the care for his son. Petya recently shared another joyful moment from their family life – their refurbished room at the Center, which is now much more welcoming, better furnished and better for the little Hristo, for whom is yet to “conquer peaks”. Nevena and her husband are encouraged that they will soon have their own home. Yes, the consequences of living in the institution leave traces, always lurking and choose the “most appropriate” moment to remind about themselves. But the story of Nevena and her son is another example of how with proper support given on time, the tracks are slowly erased, and someday – maybe they will be erased…