It was all inspired by a message on a Yahoo! Groups mailing list. Ann Lapin opened her email one day and had her curiosity piqued when she read that a local adoption agency was seeking volunteer interim care providers for newborns. The message, written in 2010, was from another mother who mentioned that her son wasn’t fully vaccinated yet, which rendered her ineligible to be a provider. Instead, she wanted to pass on the word to other parents of vaccinated children so that these not-yet-vaccinated newborns had a safe place to live temporarily until they were ready to go “home.”
The email “caught my attention right away,” Lapin said. After warming her husband up to the idea and then introducing her children to the prospect, the Lapins applied to the program, and went through an extensive background check before being approved as an interim care provider.
To date, Lapin has brought in 17 different infants ranging from 3–4 days old to 2–3 weeks old to their 1.5 bedroom Riverdale apartment. She’s had babies in her care for as little as four days and as long as 9.5 weeks, averaging about a month per stay for each infant. The baby typically is brought to the Lapins with one or two days’ notice (though she noted that once, she had only a few hours to plan), from discharge from the hospital until the baby is either placed for adoption or until the biological parent is able to parent and then the baby goes home with them. Typically, the baby goes from the hospital to Lapin’s apartment to his or her permanent home.
Interim care providers do all the things that mothers would do. While Lapin noted that that “we are not a foster family,” and the placements are never long-term, she is a temporary mother for these infants while in her care. “When we have a baby, I operate as the baby’s mother. I sleep when the baby sleeps.” She still wakes up every two hours if she has to, just like a mother would when the baby is in need of a nighttime feeding.
It certainly takes a lot, and it’s all volunteer work. Lapin is not compensated for the chesed she is performing in the community. The agency will help subsidize costs of diapers but Lapin relies heavily on donations from the Riverdale community.
Fortunately, though, the community has come through. And she’s not alone as an interim care provider either. There are fewer than a dozen interim moms in the NY/NJ area who support each other through messages and social media, but who also meet quarterly for training sessions, “anything from CPR to car-seat training to baby massage–hands-on required things that we need to know as caregivers who are appointed by an agency.” Doctors’ appointments are often scheduled together with other interim parents and appointments are scheduled back-to-back. The babies’ pediatricians come from a “well-respected Upper East Side practice” that doesn’t take insurance, but will still help these babies as a “labor of love,” as Lapin said. These doctors are “completely available to us as if they were our babies and our pediatricians.”
Today, Lapin’s children are older and have endured the responsibilities of being a newborn parent 17 times over. Her oldest daughter recently celebrated her Bat Mitzvah. A middle daughter is 10, and her son is nearly 7. But these children seem unfazed. “When you have a baby in your care, the baby has easily three if not four parents,” she said. Her children even fight over responsibilities for childcare, over tasks such as who is going to hold the baby or who will be burping the baby after a feeding. “The kids get very positive attention when we have a baby and they look forward to having a baby.” It’s not the same in the Lapin household when there is no newborn in their home.
And as a temporary mom, she is proud to show off her baby to the community. She tries not to shy away from her normal activities and is very active in her shul, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, attending services both on Friday nights and Shabbos mornings. She loves to bring the babies to shul but uses discretion as the infants are not yet immunized.
“The overall feeling is it’s such a special experience and we’re so fortunate to have the experience. I feel very empowered and encouraged by the community here and how they’re eager to help when we have a baby,” she said. “My goal in sharing my experience is to help others find a way to participate in their community.”
Lapin owns a Mary Kay business and can be contacted through her website at marykay.com/alapin. Ann also teaches classes at Fit Figure Boot Camp. When no one else is watching, she updates her blog (yourmamasarockstar.blogspot.com).
By Tamar Weinberg