Updated: May 26, 2022
Written by: Rhonda Nisbett Pierre, Public Health Liason at myLIFEspeaks
Listen to the audio version of this story, here.
One of the patients who started coming to LIFE Therapy early on was a little girl named Sophonie. This was before I lived here and was making trips in every three months. I remember the day Sophonie’s mom brought her to the clinic. It was obvious the mom had some cognitive issues herself, but in her arms was this little girl dressed up in a pink fluffy dress. Mom wanted to make a good impression, thinking maybe we would want to keep her.
Sophonie was clinging to LIFE. She was starving and it was clear had other medical and developmental issues. Mom refused to come further into the therapy room and tried to leave saying, “I will be back," which often means, “I’m giving my child to you.” Staff quickly realized this was what was happening and insisted she had to at least sit at the door where they could see her until therapy was over. Mom tried everything to leave in these early days.
She would often try to tell me how much I needed to keep Sophonie because she had nothing to give her. I would encourage her every time that she had given her LIFE and that Sophonie was given to her by God and not to me. Because Sophonie (and Mom) were in dire need of some nutrition, I made a deal. For every week Mom brought Sophonie to therapy, sat there, and waited, even if just at the door, we would give her a jar of peanut butter. Mom brought Sophonie to nearly every appointment, only missing when Sophonie was ill. No one thought Mom was paying attention during Sophonie's therapy sessions. She would sit in the doorway, facing out towards the street.
However, over time we noticed Mom was sitting a little further into the room. We purposely overlapped Sophonie's therapy time with another mother who had a very strong faith and a natural ease and patience about her. We hoped this other mother would be a good witness and model of how to care for more than just Sophonie’s physical needs. Sophonie’s mom began to show up a little early and stay a little later after therapy finished. She would wait for when the other mom came or left, spending time sitting in her presence. She was getting to see what it looked like for a mom to interact and bond with her child.
From the very beginning she knew the instinct for survival but not how to show love. Or maybe she was afraid to bond as she thought Sophonie might die. Mom came earlier and earlier to Sophonie's scheduled therapy time. She asked for a toy for Sophonie to occupy her while she sat and waited. Soon we all started seeing her playing with Sophonie when she didn’t think we were watching. She started to scoot further and further into the therapy room until she was eventually sitting next to us. Soon she was actively practicing activities we were doing to help Sophonie get stronger and develop her motor skills.
One day, in particular, Mom showed up to the therapy clinic excited and eager to show us something. When it was time for Sophonie's therapy appointment, Mom came in, plopped Sophonie down into standing, and said excitedly, “Look! She can walk now!”
She had been working with Sophonie at home when no one was watching, taking the skills we were modeling during therapy. As Mom matured, gained confidence, and became more emotionally bonded with Sophonie, she stopped asking me to take her child and instead began to ask for more things she could do to help Sophonie. She no longer needed the weekly jars of peanut butter for nutrition or motivation to stay for therapy.
Mom became confident in Sophonie and eventually came to us to ask if Sophonie could attend LIFE Academy. Mom did not question if Sophonie could go to school, she questioned when she could go since she now met the age requirement and was walking and starting to talk. Sophonie started in LIFE Academy’s special education classes where she quickly gained more social skills and learned how to play and interact with other children. Now she is fully integrated into general education classes.
Mom is not perfect and still struggles with issues of her own, but she does continue to provide and advocate for Sophonie and her younger child. She has been empowered to step into her God-given call as a mother.