How a good deed turned into a lifetime commitment—and a book
In 2005, Round Rock resident Cynthia Bowen was relishing life as an empty nester. She and her husband, Lawrence, had married and had children “too young,” but they felt fortunate to have raised their son and two daughters to be college-educated, responsible young adults. Once the kids were all out of the house and on their own, “it was our time,” Cynthia says. “We were enjoying doing all the things we didn’t have the time or money for back in the day: traveling, eating out, and playing.” They also “had three grandchildren living with my son and his wife in Dallas. Because they were in school and involved in many activities, I mostly saw them during school vacations and holidays for fun—the typical grandparent experience.”
Little did she know that a trip to Galveston in July would result in a life-altering experience for her, one she would later write about in her memoir, Proud Flesh: The Resurrection of Baby B: A Love Story.
A Brave Baby
In that summer of 2005, Cynthia went to the coast to visit her daughter, Dr. Kanika Bowen-Jallow, who was working as an intern at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to get a glimpse of her world as a doctor,” Cynthia says.
While visiting Kanika, Cynthia found herself standing next to the hospital bed of a badly burned 10-month-old baby boy. In her book, Cynthia writes that when she looked into the baby’s face, his eyes were fixed on her. She thought, “How brave you are, Baby B . . . still able to look upon a human face so boldly.”
“Baby B,” as Cynthia calls him to protect his privacy, had been scalded in the bathtub of his home in Mississippi. Because the local hospital did not have a burn unit, Baby B was evacuated by air to Shriners Hospitals for Children—Galveston, which is where he captured Cynthia’s heart. She began making regular trips from Austin to Galveston to volunteer in the burn unit, specifically with Baby B. Time went on, but no foster family came forward. “Baby B needed round-the-clock care, and many people were either not qualified or not otherwise able to provide the kind of care he needed,” Cynthia explains. That is when she and her daughter agreed to care for Baby B full-time until a qualified foster family could be found.
Cynthia moved into Kanika’s home in Galveston and cared for Baby B while her daughter put in long hours at the hospital each week. They were a tag-team in the evenings when Kanika returned home. It was an endless job, both mentally and physically exhausting.
“I felt a lot of guilt that my mom was there on her own most of the time,” says Kanika. “Fortunately, my dad came down every weekend to help and give Mom a break.”
From Journal to Book
During those months, Cynthia began keeping a journal to help her cope with the situation, as well as to keep track of all Baby B’s medical needs. “As Baby B’s caregiver, I was accountable to a lot of people—Child Protective Services (CPS), Social Services, and Shriners Hospitals—and I wanted to be able to give a factual account of the events that transpired during that very chaotic time, should I ever be required to do so by any of those agencies,” she explains.
Eventually, Cynthia was appointed Baby B’s permanent foster mother. The foster care agency in Galveston gave her permission to take Baby B back to Austin; however, Cynthia wasn’t aware that they did not share that information with CPS. “When CPS called and realized that we were no longer in Galveston, they threatened to come get Baby B,” says Cynthia. The agency assumed she had taken him without their permission, and she wasn’t able to convince them otherwise. It was then that Cynthia reached out to Texas State Senator Steve Ogden and explained the situation. Fortunately, he recognized an instance of poor communication between the agencies and verified her story.
Following that ordeal and in anticipation of the upcoming criminal trial of the biological mother, Cynthia’s journal became even more important. She resolved to keep track of names, dates, conversations, conflicts, and broken promises. “It was also important to keep organized notes about the amount of precise care, therapy and therapist appointments, and documentation for foster care,” she explains. “Keeping a journal helped me do that.”
Having the detailed journal also helped when Cynthia joined a new writing group and, subsequently, was encouraged to write the story of Baby B. “Because I kept the journal,” says Cynthia, “my memoir is a creative representation of the facts.” That recently released memoir, Proud Flesh: The Resurrection of Baby B: A Love Story, begins with a question: “What if your good deed turned into a lifetime commitment?” She shares the ins and outs, ups and downs of that good deed in the 245-page book. The trip to Galveston, she says, “changed the trajectory of my life and my family.”
It is clear throughout the book, and even more so when speaking with Cynthia and her daughters, that their family truly embodies the “it takes a village” mindset. In order to not spoil the story for future readers, suffice it to say that every member of the family played an integral part in Baby B’s “resurrection” and still does 11 years later.
Cynthia explains that it became important for her to write the book to share what she learned through the process. Beyond helping a child in extreme need—an extraordinary experience in itself—Cynthia says she learned what it is like to be involved with the criminal justice system and to work with CPS. She learned how the foster care system works and the complicated process of adoption works. “The average middle-class nuclear family has no idea how these systems operate or how quickly things can go wrong,” she says. “Often, we are too quick to judge or look away. I am proud that my husband and daughters and I didn’t look away; otherwise we would have missed the many gifts and blessings this unique child has brought to each one of us.”
Cynthia’s daughters, Kanika and sister Nicole Bowen, a special needs teacher, say they are proud of their mom for sharing the story. “She’s always been a great writer,” says Kanika. “Writing this memoir just made sense.” Nicole agrees: “We wanted her to write it to help people understand what goes into cases like this.”
They say the book allows those who participated in Baby B’s recovery process to know that (spoiler alert) he not only survived but is in fact thriving. Baby B is now a well-adjusted 12-year-old who loves sports and music. And the Bowen village is even more tightly knit than ever before.