Safe and Sound: Glimpses of three baby boxes being used in the home
Kristian Manigo, 23, understands better than most why babies need to sleep safely.
Last year, in South Carolina, she said, a relative’s baby died when the mother rolled over in her sleep. Understandably, she added, the mother’s grief has been unbearable.
Kristian gave birth at Temple University Hospital on April 15 to her own baby, Darryl Frank Coleman III, and she is vigilant about where her infant son sleeps.
At night, her baby sleeps in a bassinet next to her bed, and she keeps him close by — in her arms or in the baby box from Temple Hospital — during the day.
She will feed him in bed, but never lets herself fall asleep until she puts him in his bassinet.
“That’s my biggest fear,” she said of rolling over onto her baby. “That would destroy me.”
Kristian gets help, especially in the middle of the night, from the baby’s father, Darryl Frank Coleman Jr. who works at Aksum Café in West Philadelphia. He gets home around 1 a.m. and watches over the baby until 5 a.m. so Kristian can get some rest. At this point, the baby never sleeps more than two hours.
Five years ago, Darryl Junior moved back to Philadelphia from Maryland without a job or place to live.
“I walked up to the owner of the restaurant one day and asked her, `Do you have a place for me? I could work today.’ She let me in the kitchen that day and I’ve been there ever since, “Darryl Junior recalled. “They’ve been behind me in every way.”
Kristian worked across the street at another restaurant. She thought Darryl was the most handsome man and kept thinking up excuses to go across the street to talk with him. Finally he got the message and they’ve been together ever since, three years now.
Darryl Junior’s own mother, Karen Coleman, the baby’s grandmother, can relate to the baby box. She was a twin, born prematurely in 1963 weighing a pound and a half. Where did her own mother keep the twins? In a dresser drawer, a predecessor of the baby boxy, in a sense.
• • •
Liz Marie Ausua, 20, gave birth to a daughter, Willeshka, three weeks ago at Temple University Hospital.
Mom brought her infant home to a rowhouse in Kensington, along with a baby box from Temple.
She didn’t bring her home to an empty house. The rowhouse teems with life — and with love
The other day, during a visit, Liz Marie Ausua sat on the living room couch, her son, Jhoniel, 4, beside her, eating a panini. Next to her, Liz Marie’s older sister rocked her own baby fast and quick, like a piston. Another sister, Cristina, 10, came in and sat on the couch as well.The family dog kept wandering in and out.
Little Willeshka laid in her baby box on the living room floor. Her father kneeled beside her, giving her back her pacifier every time she got a little too loud. When Willeshka opened her brown eyes, the whole family broke into wide, tired smiles.
At night, Willeshka sleeps in a crib that William lugs up to the second floor bedroom every evening.
During the day, usually in the living room, Willeshka rests in her baby box until she falls asleep. Then her mother will transfer her to the crib, which the father brings back downstairs every morning.
Liz Marie doesn’t like to leave her newborn daughter in the box too long, worried one of the other kids or family dog will bump into it or trample little Willeshka while she is on the floor.
Liz Marie is still getting comfortable with her new baby, as well as her new box. One thing was clear. Little Willeshka, named after her father William, appeared to feel right at home among all the action.
• • •
Shanon Williams delivered a daughter, Jada, at Temple University Hospital in May 2016 and was one of the first mothers to receive a Temple baby box.
The baby box and the information she received at the hospital changed how she took care of her baby. When she had Jasir, now 5, she would sleep with him at night and he would roll out of bed sometimes. But she kept baby Jada next to her in a crib at night.
Since Shanon already had a crib, she used the baby box in so many other ways: as a portable crib when visiting family; as a play area for Jada while working throughout the house; as a clubhouse for Jada’s two older sisters. As gate to keep Jada from climbing upstairs.
Jada’s father is incarcerated. When Shanon and Jada visited him, he was separated by a thick glass wall. The visit was so upsetting to Shanon she never went back. Jada’s father has never held his child in his arms.
But he is due to come home soon. In anticipation, Shanon has meticulously documented the birth. She filmed her early labor. She kept Jada’s umbilical cord and hospital tags — even a newborn diaper — in a small plastic pouch.
She would have loved for Jada’s father to see the baby box and all the ways she used it. But the box simply couldn’t last. As the box got ripped and torn she tried taping it back together. After seven months, Jada had long outgrown it, and it was worn out. All she has left is a card that came with it.
Shanon loved the owls on the box because they reminded her of Temple and she wanted to be reminded of the birth. “Everything on it reminded me of the day I gave birth to my child,” Shanon said.
“She’s my Temple baby.”
• • •
Michael Vitez, winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism at The Philadelphia Inquirer, is the director of narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org