TALLAHASSEE, FL – His newborn legs were bare and cold to the touch.That chilly May 6 morning, his short-sleeve onesie was wet, his diaper was soiled, his white bib was stained. Curled up in the bed of a Nissan pick-up truck, he was without a hat, a blanket or a name.
He was less than a week old. And he was all alone.
No one knows when the baby was stowed in the truck bed or how long he was lying there. It would be a college student who, drawn by the sound of hushed cries, discovered him while walking through the parking lot of the Meridian Apartments on High Road. Rattled, the 22-year-old called the police. It was 8:26 a.m. Within minutes, an officer arrived, followed by paramedics.
As events unfolded, helpful strangers found themselves at the right place, at the right time to help an abandoned baby out of place in a cold world.
And just a week later, as if by divine design, that baby had a name, a home and a grateful mother who longed to nurture a newborn as her own.
His name is Caleb, but his mom and dad call him Charlie.
Lights and sirens
Leon County EMS Captain Steve Suarez had just grabbed a cup of coffee on West Tennessee Street when a dispatcher’s voice piped through his field truck.
Come with “lights and sirens,” the dispatcher said. He arrived in two minutes.
Tallahassee Police Officer Beth Bascom already was on the scene at the student apartment complex. In her arms, she held what looked to be a “cold, scared and young baby.” All he had was a green pacifier and one unused diaper; a loosely tied shirt was partially wrapped around his head and body, the police report said.
“The biggest concern we had at that point was exposure to the elements,” said Suarez, who arrived about the same time as an ambulance with two paramedics on board. “We could tell he was relatively new to the world. I think we were all struck by how cold and alone he felt in the pick-up.”
That Saturday morning something told Suarez to put a special equipment bag in his truck. It contained a warming mattress designed for babies and children. The EMS field supervisor had only used it once before while training at the Miami Children’s Hospital.
Suarez called it “an incredible coincidence” that left him thinking a higher power was at work.
Temperatures dipped to 49 degrees that morning — 10 degrees colder than was common for that time of year. What were the chances he of all people, with the specialized child-warming equipment and experience, was just two minutes away when the call came?
“It gives me chills just thinking about it,” Suarez said. “It was one of those days I was honored and thankful that we do the work we do.”
Sirens blared as the infant was rushed by ambulance to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. Waiting in the emergency room for the baby’s arrival was a supervising respiratory therapist just in case the newborn had trouble breathing.
‘My heart went out to him’
Lorraine Nichols will never forget that morning.
Little was known about the infant, who was given the computer-generated name “Whiskey Doe” at the hospital. Nichols, a respiratory therapist for 18 years, said he was hypothermic, his body temperature dangerously low, even after the warming efforts of the paramedics.
His paper-thin skin was peeling. He wailed from hunger pangs. Doctors estimated he was five to seven days old since his umbilical cord had fallen off. Based on the seed-like appearance of his stool, he’d been breastfed.
“My heart just went out to him,” said Nichols. “He was left alone and there’s no telling how long he was really there.”
When he arrived, Nichols monitored his breathing and oxygen intake. For the most part, the newborn was fine – cold, hungry, and wet – but fine. No drugs were detected in his bloodstream. He had no obvious abnormalities.
As a supervisor, Nichols works wherever she’s needed throughout the region’s largest hospital. That morning, she happened to be working in the ER.
Right place, right time.
Nichols is a two-time breast cancer survivor.
She and her husband, Charles, had spent tens of thousands of dollars on in-vitro fertilization before they were advised to stop trying. The hormones could bring back the cancer.
The couple turned to adoption, completed the exhaustive vetting process and was told it may take years to identify a baby.
Nichols longed to be a mother to a baby like “Whiskey Doe.”
She fell in love; she bonded the way mothers do when they cradle new life. She was glued to him. She called her husband, telling him about the abandoned baby and her hopes to adopt him. He wholeheartedly supported her.
As the newborn remained at TMH for observation, she speed dialed the Florida Department of Children and Families and her case manager at the Children’s Home Society regarding a possible adoption. DCF empowered Nichols to make decisions for him since the infant had no one.
The abandoned baby arrived at TMH weighing 5 pounds, 7 ounces. Four days later, 6-pound, 7-ounce Baby Charlie went home.
Charlie arrived May 10 at the Nichols’ four-bedroom northeast Tallahassee house in a new rear-facing Graco car seat. A plush cushion supported his head. A soft grey and white polka dot blanket kept him cozy.
He was safe and secure. He wouldn’t be cold again.
The house, which sits at the entrance of a quiet cul de sac, was plastered in family portraits of his instant, forever family: his parents and three grown siblings, two brothers and a sister, and eight grandchildren (one on the way). Next door to a giant framed taekwondo jacket and belt mounted on a cinnamon-painted wall was Charlie’s room.
Block letters spelled out the baby’s nickname on a banner.
Inside his nursery, a white crib was lined with baby lion linens. On the aqua blue walls Charles hand painted colorful air balloons, flying airplanes and smiley face clouds. Charlie was spelled out in even bigger block letters on the front-facing wall.
Everything about the nursery said the Nicholses were, once again, proud parents.
Lorraine always wanted a baby girl, but she couldn’t bear a child. Fertility treatments could have been a death sentence. The couple was told it could be years before they found an adoptable baby. The odds seemed stacked against them.
Baby Charlie arrived one week before they were about to call a private adoption attorney — a costly option — so Lorraine could live her dream of being a mother to a young child.
“I truly believe that what God has for you is for you,” she said. “It’s on his time, and God said, ‘No you’re going to get Caleb this time.’ And Caleb came with us.”
The couple already had a crib and some baby necessities. They had installed childproof outlet covers and doorknob spinners since the Children’s Home Society vetted and cleared the couple for adoption in November 2016.
Married for 20 years, theirs was a May-December romance that took root.
Lorraine, 46, is 20 years younger than her husband, who is retired from the Army. They met when she was a cashier at the old Albertson’s grocery store (now Kohl’s) on Apalachee Parkway. He’d walk in with his three bouncing young children, ages 4, 5 and 9. It was quite the sight.
They both were facing a divorce. In time, they found a life mate in each other. His little ones carved a path to parenthood for a woman who always loved children.
“I helped my husband raise his three children,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who they belong to, I love them.”
The first week
Although she raised his kids, being a mom to a newborn was different — terrifying even.
Days and nights were consumed by feedings every two hours and fragmented sleep. Nichols feared she’d “break him” — first-time mom jitters.
“Oh Lord, what have I done,” she thought. Reality sunk in.
Lorraine, admittedly, was delusional. She thought she could care for the newborn without the benefit of maternity leave. She was wrong. Nichols ended up taking nine weeks, three weeks shy of the maximum leave allowed at TMH.
Throughout the haze of instant motherhood, she was thankful.
She was finally living the wonder and worry of nurturing a newborn, from changing diapers and “blowouts” to sifting through mounds of gifted and purchased baby clothes, including church suits with matching neck and bow ties.
This is what she’d been missing. This is what she’d prayed for.
Every day, Lorraine talked to God. She wrote prayers and praises on Post-It sticky notes. On her side of the master bathroom, a sheet of yellow notes covers the inside of her “prayer closet,” inspired by the movie “War Room.”
This is where she asked God to make a way, one that would lead to a child who needed her.
Right place, right time.
Two weeks ago, she and her husband sat at their oval-shaped dining room table decorated with holiday plates and napkins. A 9-foot Christmas tree shimmered in silver tinsel and ornaments.
In a sweet child-like voice, Lorraine snuggled against Baby Charlie’s soft cheek and said, “Mommy, I made it through, and I’m 7 months old now. You didn’t break me.”
Lorraine wants to be perfect for him.
She consulted her “Baby Center” app as often as she does her Bible. Co-workers and her Bethel Missionary Baptist Church family showered her with advice, encouragement and baby gifts. Her husband Charles, is the ideal stay-at-home dad. He pitches in and leans on his experience juggling his young children — two followed his military footsteps.
Fatherhood is different this time around. He’s not the Army drill sergeant raising children on his own after his first wife walked out.
At, 67, he enjoys being a support system for his faithful wife who works 12-hour shifts three days a week at TMH and teaches part-time at Tallahassee Community College.
“I just wanted to support my wife,” he said. “Whatever she wants. Whatever makes her happy makes me happy.”
Since Charlie’s arrival, the father-son moments are too many to count. The baby combs dad’s beard with his fingers and plants wet, slobbery kisses on his bald head.
“I love Charlie,” he said. “That’s my buddy, my best friend and my sidekick.”
On Sept. 7, four months after Baby Charlie appeared in their lives, his adoption was finalized.
Since then, the couple has tackled each day while planning for the future. Baby Charlie has a passport for a family cruise in March. Swim lessons set up in April. Taekwondo classes by age 3 or so.
His parents will encourage him to play an instrument. They’ll urge Baby Charlie to attend and finish college. He’ll receive a full ride from the state if he goes to a Florida school.
Wrapped presents bunch around the base of the Christmas tree at the Nichols home. A motorized train circles its base. Relatives traveling from as far as California and Texas are set to meet Charlie.
They’ll witness the baby’s christening on Christmas Eve. For the occasion, he’ll wear an all-white pantsuit and dress shoes. They’ll take turns holding Charlie, who’ll likely steal their hearts with every coo and cry.
This Christmas will truly be special.
“I feel all goodness for him and that he’s going to be somebody,” Lorraine said. Her gentle rocking lulled him to sleep in her arms. “And it’s all God’s plan. I just really believe that, and I tell him that all of the time.”
She can’t but pray for Charlie’s birth mother, who nourished Charlie with her breast milk. Who knows if she was alone when he was born. Who knows what made her, or someone else put the newborn in the back of a pick-up truck owned by someone who didn’t even live in the apartment complex where he was found.
Lorraine said there are too many what-ifs to count. She thinks of them all. Yet she doesn’t judge the mother or the father.
“All I can do is pray for her, and I still pray for her to this day because you don’t know what people go through or are going through,” she said. “I can just imagine that she wanted her child to be safe.”
She prays a divine message may reach the mother to let her know the baby is in good hands. He’ll have a good life.
“It’s just been amazing,” Lorraine said, looking down on his face. “This is my Christmas gift.”