It is the first time that Leona Blades has been separated from her 14-month-old baby, Brandi, and it is an empty, forlorn feeling.
Not just because it has been 13 days.
Not just because Brandi is several thousand miles away.
Not just because her mother does not know when she will see the baby again.
No, what really hurts is the maddening way it happened.
Blades, a 25-year-old unmarried mother from Sepulveda, contends that she is separated from her baby simply because she got bad advice from the personnel of Eastern Airlines, the airline she used to travel to her native Trinidad in the West Indies to show off Brandi to her family.
Blades said she called Eastern a week before departing May 1 to ask whether she would need a passport or birth certificate for her baby. The woman she talked to told her no, she said.
On the day of her departure, when she presented her tickets to Eastern check-in attendants at Los Angeles and Miami en route to Trinidad, nobody asked her if she was carrying proof that Brandi was an American citizen, the mother said.
It was only when the time came to fly back from Trinidad on May 10 that an Eastern check-in attendant informed her that the baby would not be allowed to land back in the United States without proof of citizenship, Blade said.
The mother said Eastern gave her a one-day extension on her ticket. The next morning she went to the U.S. Embassy and heard much the same story.
"I was pretty nervous and very upset," she said. If she stayed to unravel the red tape she would not be able to report on time the next day to begin a new job as a trainee for a pension administration company.
"I didn't want to lose my job," she said.
So Blades left Brandi with an aunt and flew home alone, confused and miserable.
"To have your daughter literally taken away from you at the airport, it wasn't an easy thing for me," she said in an interview. "Brandi has never been away from me. At my aunt's, they said she's been fussy and has broken out in a heat rash."
Mired in Phone Calls
Since returning here, Blades has been mired in phone calls with passport authorities in an effort to secure a passport for Brandi. This involved some confusion, she said, because of insistence by bureaucrats that she bring passport-sized pictures of the baby with her.
"I kept telling them that I didn't have those kind of pictures and that the baby was in Trinidad," she said wearily.
Even when she straightens that issue out, Blades said, she still won't have the money for the round-trip flight to Trinidad, which she said costs as much as $1,000.
"If anyone at the airports in Los Angeles or Miami had just told me I would need a birth certificate (to bring the baby back), I could have called a friend while I was at the airport and had them send it to my family in Trinidad. It would have gotten there in time for me to come back with Brandi," she said.
John Cline, an Eastern customer relations staff member at the airline's executive offices in Miami, said airline guidelines for issuing tickets to Trinidad specify that a child must have a passport if he or she is traveling with a single parent.
A Gray Area
But the fact that Blades was traveling with an infant--who was not required to have her own ticket--created a gray area, Cline said.
"If we can identify that there is an infant, we can inform the parent of the (passport) requirement," he said. "The problem with infants is that we don't always see them" at the ticket counter.
Cline said he could not verify Blades' account of the information she said she received when she called Eastern.
Tommie Porter, a Woodland Hills woman who met Blades while working and is now Brandi's godmother, said it will probably take at least a couple weeks before mother and daughter are reunited.
"What she's going to do now is send a copy of the birth certificate to her cousin in Trinidad so the cousin can obtain a passport at the embassy there," Porter said.