When Melissa Alice, a 3-month-old abandoned at birth by a drug-addicted mother, entered her very own room yesterday with her new foster parents, Dorothy and Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), the magic moments began.
Dorothy Fauntroy giggled as she placed the baby in a new crib in front of a wall decorated with a row of teddy bears that stretched from floor to ceiling.
Like tour guides, the Fauntroys showed the baby how to turn on her balloon lamp, pulled out the new clothes and toys that had been tucked away in the closet and gingerly placed her in the seat of an automatic swing by the window.
From that seat, Melissa Alice, her fingers stuffed in her mouth, stared back and forth at the faces of the Fauntroys and their adult son, Marvin, who by then were kneeling at her feet.
"Welcome home," Walter Fauntroy said as he kissed her on the cheek.
"I think she may get spoiled, but she's already been shortchanged so she's entitled to some special attention," said Dorothy Fauntroy.
At times, Walter Fauntroy seemed speechless as he played with the child. "I'm just excited," he said as he stood back to watch his new daughter.
Until yesterday, Melissa Alice was one of eight babies who lived in a D.C. General Hospital nursery for so-called boarder babies, infants who are medically ready to be discharged but have no place to go. Most of the babies were born to drug-addicted mothers.
In the hospital, Melissa Alice was called "Ebony" by the nurses. "She was always a calm and happy child," said nurse Oglatha Smith. "She rarely cries and is always looking around. She's a bit nosy."
After learning about boarder babies last September, the Fauntroys decided to become foster parents to a child who was born drug-exposed. Although the couple wanted to adopt Melissa Alice, city regulations prohibit adoptions by people who are more than 40 years older than the child they plan to adopt. Fauntroy is 57.
The Fauntroys completed an eight-week training course in January and were introduced to Melissa Alice, a name that they gave the baby, a few weeks ago.
The couple recalled that meeting yesterday when they went to take the baby home.
"A social worker had asked if we wanted to meet her," Dorothy Fauntroy said. "When we walked into the nursery, she was in a swing and she just lit up like a candle. It was just like I was her mommy."
Melissa Alice's mother had used crack cocaine and marijuana during pregnancy. Since crack became the drug of choice here, more and more babies are born drug-exposed. Stanley Sinkford, head of pediatrics at D.C. General, said yesterday that of the 2,000 babies born at the hospital each year about 600 are born to drug users.
In recent months, the city's Department of Human Services has been aware of as many as 30 boarder babies in city hospitals in one week.
Although Melissa Alice's mother, who has seen the child only once, has not relinquished her legal rights to the child, a judge decided that the baby should be placed in a foster home, according to hospital officials.
The Fauntroys plan to keep the baby permanently. In about a year, they intend to become foster parents to another child so that Melissa Alice will not grow up alone. The Fauntroys also say they are prepared if the baby's mother returns.
"If someone comes for her," Walter Fauntroy said, "they are going to find the most loved baby in all the world."