My walk past the water cooler in the Maryhouse lobby happens often as the door right next to the cooler leads me to the coffee. Today was like any other day, the lobby was full which means babies laughing or crying, women shouting or talking. The phone was ringing mail was being checked and I needed more coffee.
As I walked past the cooler I saw one of my favorite guests standing right next to it, looking forward, her head was tilted and she was smiling, her one front tooth stuck out under her upper lip. She is wearing a beanie, a very dirty dress and construction boots.
“Hi Rachel, how are you?”
“Why won’t she give me her baby?”
This was a surprising response and I needed more coffee so I wasn’t thinking about Rachel’s history when I said, “Well, because that baby is hers. She loves her baby and would miss her if she were gone. You wouldn’t want to give up your baby would you?”
Rachel was looking at the baby adoringly until I asked that question. It’s likely the question that reminded her that she once had children but the severity of her mental health symptoms prevented her from caring for them so, they were taken. She didn’t want to give up her babies, but she did.
“I had babies, they graduated high school now. Maybe college. They are nice. I had babies…”
She then looked at the mother holding her infant.
“Can I have your baby? Can I just hold your baby?”
The mother looked at her, shook her head no and Rachel looked back at me.
“I’m sorry, Rachel.”
Rachel then walked off, garbage bag over her shoulder, dirty and sad.
This is not the usual water cooler talk. It’s not the kind of casual conversation most people are used to however, here at Maryhouse, where we strive to make every moment safe and sacred, people share the deepest longings of their hearts. Women lament the loss of their children, their struggles with addiction. Women cry out about being assaulted. Women struggle, honestly and hope for a better future. Water cooler talk at Maryhouse is startling and it’s real.