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The Mommy Factor

The Mommy Factor

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I’m a speech-language pathologist, and Leah* was on my caseload in a preschool for language-delayed children. With jet-black frizzy braids, two deep dimples, chubby cheeks, and a mischievous Cheshire grin, she won me over at first sight. She was positively adorable.

The official class yenta, she’d simultaneously initiate preschool politics while arbitrating recess spats, exhibiting pragmatic skills that far exceeded those of her counterparts. Exuberant to a fault, she’d sing the daily songs religiously with bulging eyes and an upturned head until she was hoarse.

Once, on the day after her older sister’s wedding, she stood in the corner, highly insulted. Why? “Because no one wished me mazel tov,” she explained dolefully.

But for all her charm, five-year-old Leah exhibited serious developmental issues.

Leah exhibited serious developmental issues

Desperate for sensory stimulation, she would roll on the floor, hug teachers incessantly, and literally hit her friends, which she perceived as a mere “tap.” She would push and shove and press the crayon fiercely into the paper, unintentionally earning the title of “most aggressive child in the class.”

Then there were the eating abnormalities. Leah was obsessed with food. While the other children would leisurely munch through their sandwiches, chewing each bite thoughtfully and deliberately, Leah vacuumed up her hefty grilled cheese in less than a minute, after which she’d begin wildly foraging through her knapsack—or those of her friends—for more gastronomical treasures.

In my therapy sessions, I sometimes dispense small snacks as reinforcements for a particular exercise. Leah—a robust, clearly well-fed little girl—would enter my room with dreamy, glazed eyes, head straight to the snack in the corner, and attempt to sneakily grab a few from the bag when she thought I wasn’t looking. At the end of the session, when I’d hand her five chocolate chips for a job well done, they’d fly into her mouth within milliseconds. And then she’d be on her knees, begging for more.

Finally, there were the emotional holes. Adorable Leah experienced intense separation anxiety; morning goodbyes to Mommy were torturous for both, awash with high-pitched screams of abandonment. When someone knocked Morning goodbyes to Mommy were torturous for bothon the preschool door, she’d panic, fleeing into the folds of the teacher’s skirt for safety. And in a clear reversion to infantile patterns, she’d insist on having a bottle at night and each morning—and bringing it to school.

Three weeks into the school year, I took a good look at Leah’s file. In a flash, all was clear.

Leah was adopted. At six months old, she was removed from her birth parents by Social Services due to acute neglect and abandonment. She was found to be severely malnourished and sensorially starved. She had been left to cry for hours on end, without being cradled or rocked or caressed by human touch.

Immediately adopted by her current warm, loving parents, Leah does not know yet of her true identity. But her behaviors—her perpetual craving for warmth and envelopment, her never-ending quest for foodstuffs, her deep fear of all adults but the ones she’s learned to trust—tell a tragic, wordless story, a tale that defies understanding.

In today’s corporate world, where the go-getting, invulnerable CEO is the pinnacle of achievement, it’s become painfully common for devoted mothers to feel subjacent on the totem pole, or even worse—unproductive.

But Leah’s story testifies to the real movers and shakers, the authentic molders of lives, the most powerful species of all: mommies.

Leah was adopted

It’s no coincidence that the very first woman on Earth, the foundation of all future femininity, was named Chavah (Eve), from the Hebrew root-word chai, life. A woman’s essence is her ability to create and nurture life, and Chavah’s divinely bestowed name proclaims this truth for eternity. Even if she is physically incapable of birth—like Leah’s adoptive mother—the strength remains: she is a giver, a lover, a cultivator of souls.

As mother of all life, she wields an unrivaled power.

* Names and details have been changed.

Malka Forster is a speech-language pathologist who lives with her family in the Judean Hills. She is also a freelance writer and copywriter whose work has been published in numerous Jewish publications.
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Daniela Dallas, Tx February 24, 2014

Sounds familiar The behavior of that little girl sounds just like my son, who in the end has been diagnosed with mild to moderate autism. It is a misleading article, because not every child that shows those kind of problems has been abused/neglected. I am not saying that there are not sad cases like little Leahs and i sure do not want to down play it, but for me as a loving and devoted mother it sounds a little insulting, because in the beginning it was thought to be maternal neglect that causes autism. Although your point of the story was very beautiful and much appreciated, to me it would have left a better note if it would have been brought across through a positive note! Reply

YK Minnesota February 20, 2014

I would love to see articles on the same subject, but that use positive examples, rather than negative ones.

While I appreciate the point trying to be made with this article, it bothers me that the author seems to be placing all the blame for a psychological/physiological impairment on maternal neglect. There can be many reasons for a child to have the difficulties listed. Most of which are completely uncontrollable. To put blame in the way it is done here can only lead those whose children do have uncontrollable issues to feel guilt at their own 'bad parenting', despite that they do more and better than the parents of any other 'normal' child. Reply

Anonymous February 20, 2014

Amazing article you should be giving talks. thanks for insight Reply

Anonymous February 19, 2014

Malka... this story sounds very familiar! Thank you for your encouraging words to all of us mothers who stay at home ... Reply

Racheli Sunny Isles Beach, FL, USA via chabadrc.com February 19, 2014

Therapy Question for Malka Forster: Im curious to know what was the course of treatment was for this girl Leah (that the article was written about). Someone I know also has sensory issues and also behaves very similarly to that of your description of this little girl. Do you have any tips for a parent with a child who expresses such developmental delay/sensory issues? Reply

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