Gloria Gery:
A Mother in Spirit

Reprinted with permission from...

A Mother in Spirit By Charles Bonenti, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Although she has no children of her own, Gloria Gery is learning, at 60, what it's like to be a mother.

She found out in Romania, where she just spent three weeks holding, feeding and cuddling infants abandoned by their biological parents.

It came as a surprise, she said in a phone interview Monday from her home in Tolland, "how quickly the bond [with each child] developed and the intensity of it and how much you care. Now I understand being a parent."

Gery, a semiretired software-design consultant, went to that former Iron Curtain country last month to work as a volunteer at the Tutova Clinic in Barland, about four hours by train from Bucharest. The clinic is for infants and toddlers whose parents have abandoned them because of health or economic problems. Because the clinic is understaffed, most of the children spend their days alone in their cribs.

Without the stimulation of human contact, they become lethargic and often fail to thrive.

"There is a human need for touch and warmth and security," Gery said. "You just die without stimulation."

So that's what she volunteered to give -- by signing up with Global Volunteers, a Minnesota-based charitable organization that has been arranging such "volunteer vacations" in 18 countries for 21 years.

This was her second trip to Romania. She went for two weeks to the same clinic last December.

At that time, she went alone and had 37 children to look after. This time, there were seven other volunteers, including her husband, Robert, and she had 12 children in her charge.

She found the experience even more intense.

"It broke my heart to leave them," she said.

Gery kept an online journal of her experiences both times. It can be read in full, with pictures, at

Early in her visit last December, she wrote:

I am loving this experience. . . Here's my typical day: 7 a.m. wake up. . . . breakfast ... at 8 and picked up ... by Dan, the night nurse at the clinic.

"After a 20-minute drive, I walk in, change my shoes and we start bringing the "non-mobile" babies (who are my charge) into the large playroom. I have between 10 and 12 all day. We bring them in one at a time and place them in either little jumper seats that the volunteers have brought or on pillows on the floor surrounding me in my white plastic chair.

"The aides then bring in bottles for each child and the babies, who range from 2 to 9 months, "drink up" as best they can until I can get around.

"I hold Mihai (Michael) first since he is the tiniest at 6 pounds. . . and then I work my way through them up to another Mihai who looks like the Michelin Tire Man. Today they were all dressed in the new outfits that I brought and it was such fun. I took a bunch of pictures. No one who knows me ever would have expected this!

"The clinic is incredibly clean. The stunning thing is how little crying there is. The babies are so used to being alone in their beds that once they see me, they smile, reach up and/or are just frantic to grab me....

"By the way, I sing away all day behind the closed door. They fall asleep in my arms when I sing "True Love" and they all cheer when I sing "UConn Husky."

I couldn't be happier with things. . . . although the evenings are dark and long. Thank goodness for books (and my 25-watt light) plus the Internet cafe to catch up.

Gery said she and her husband, a semiretired insurance executive, have always traveled extensively, but after reading an article about volunteer vacations in Business Week magazine last year, she decided she wanted a more "hands on" experience with people -- young or old.

She found the opportunity in Romania through the Global Volunteers Web site: [The missions to Romania cost volunteers between $2,000 and $2,500 exlusive of air fare, according to the Web site.]

Although she said the experience was emotional and that it was difficult to leave the children behind -- she is going back again in January -- she is not prepared, at her age, to adopt an infant.

"Older people don't have children for a reason," she said, complaining of aching muscles. "They're demanding!"

Nor does she regret her decision not to have a child of her own in order to pursue her professional work.

It was "a trade-off" she said, but one that has left her and her husband with the resources to help children who have no families of their own.

In addition to their volunteer work in Romania, the Gerys have also "adopted the orphanage," giving money and mobilizing friends to do the same."

"Too many people bring children into the world unaware of the consequences," Gery said. "I had parents who were always there. I know how critical that was to me."

On the evening before she flew home last Sunday, Gery wrote in her diary:

This trip was so different than my individual trip in December. ... I spent time with less than one third of the kids -- and as a result developed intense emotional relationships with them.

As I laid on the floor with these babies all around me I was overcome. Somehow they sensed I was leaving......Four of the children were right on or next to me and were fussing and looking directly at me and demanding to be held or covered. I could hardly bear it.

Who would have thought this would happen to me at this point in my life? Certainly not me.

I am weeping as I sit at this computer in the lobby of the hotel. I hope no one comes by.... but then what do I care.

Return to Gloria's Romania Journal Home Page