For a baby born at 28 weeks—a full three months early—he was doing remarkably well, "feeding and growing" until he was big and strong enough to be cared for at home. As medical residents on the neonatal unit, we rarely saw this baby's family. But when we were able to reach his mother by telephone in between her work shifts, she was always loving, caring, appropriate, and eager for the day when her son, a perfect illustration of how modern medicine can impact even the tiniest baby's chance for a long and healthy life, would be ready to come home.
We rotated to other parts of the hospital, and this baby faded out of mind until we ran into the new resident caring for him and learned there was a Child Protective Services investigation underway. After a moment of confusion and bewilderment, our hearts sank as we understood what had happened: CPS and the medical team were concerned his mother—young, single, and working two full-time jobs in a town hours away from the hospital while supporting two other toddlers at home—simply could not pull together the resources to be present enough at the hospital to demonstrate her competence and commitment to caring for her baby.
After a few moments of collective frustration, anger, and most of all sadness for this family, we went back to work, shaken by yet another example of poor, disadvantaged parents being held to impossible standards. Cases like this are particularly painful for us because they stand in stark contrast to another situation of, we would argue, more serious parental neglect: Parents who deny their children the basic and essential medical care vaccinations provide.