21st January 2019 Quezon City, Philippines
When Doris Ramirez from the Phillippines applied for a place on the Human Rights Advocacy Program (HRAP) at Columbia University in 2014 she was not thinking about starting a family. However by the time she was awarded the place and a scholarship that helped fund it she was pregnant so she was faced with a difficult decision about what to do. She decided to join the program as it was an opportunity of a lifetime and was due to finished one month before her due date.
All 10 of the students on the HRAP program get admission to live at I-House so that is where Doris found herself living when she arrived in New York. All was going well until her waters broke unexpectedly when she was 5 months pregnant. She was rushed to hospital and spent the next few weeks there as doctors tried to give her baby a better chance of survival by delaying its birth.
Far from home, it was her I-House friends and the Filipino nurses at the Hospital who befriended her and kept her spirits up. Her I-House friends bought her food to the Hospital to try and keep her eating well as the American Hospital food was not tempting her.
On the 31st of October 2014, Maria Angelina Fatima R. Bacurnay was born weighing just over 3lbs. Amazingly just two days later Doris was back at Columbia determined to complete her program. Fatima was in the Hospital for another month in the special care baby unit before she was allowed out. So Doris juggled her studies with spending time at the Hospital with her baby.
By this point it was December and Fatima was at last discharged from Hospital but was not allowed to fly home to the Philippines for at least another month. The I-House team allowed Doris and Fatima to take up residence in a slightly larger room at I-House. Being a new mum is never easy and it was particularly hard for Doris trying to complete her program and care for Fatima. It was a snowy winter and often as the snow fell so did her tears of exhaustion as she looked out of her I-House window. Whilst it was tough there were also great acts of kindness and care by both I-House residents and also the Filipino nurses who had met her at the Hospital. The nurses seemed to be able to miracle up baby formula and other supplies when they were needed.
Fatima’s father was able to come and visit for long enough so that he could look after Fatima and Doris could complete her program, so he too became an I-House resident.
Just before they left to go home to the Philippines, Fatima was baptised and the party afterwards was held at I-House and there were special invitations to all the wonderful I-Housers who had lived on Doris’ floor and supported her so well. There were also plenty of others who came to see Fatima as a baby at I-House is not a usual occurrence and particularly one with such a story to tell. The HRAP program that year had 10 participants from all around the globe. Doris and Henry made them all godparents to Fatima.
Fatima’s birth certificate states 500 Riverside Drive as her address, I am not sure if anyone else has I-House as their birth address, I would love to hear if there is.
Doris told me hers and Fatima’s story over dinner in Gerry’s Restaurant in Quezon City where she and Henry live. Doris is a Lawyer specialising in Human Rights and never one to make her life easy is trying to work out how to get her Masters in Migration Studies.
She told me that they call Fatima their miracle baby as had she been born so prematurely in the Philippines it would have been very unlikely that she would have survived as the neonatal care is just not as good, a sobering thought for all of us who are parents. Their dream is to take Fatima to visit all of her 10 HRAP Godparents in their home countries which will be quite a trip.
My children are now 18 and 17 and I certainly still remember the first few weeks after my eldest was born as being utterly exhausting and confusing as I got to grips with being a mother. I can’t imagine trying to complete a university program at the same time! Spending the evening with Doris, Fatima and Henry was such an unexpected delight and Doris’ resilience was inspiring.
We have plans to meet at the NYC I-House 100 year celebration and Doris is going to bring a special candle with her as her family owns a candle making business. That really will be passing the light on….