I hardly slept last night. It wasn’t because I went to bed at midnight, or that I had to get up so early to get my boys from the airport. It wasn’t even the newborn squeaking hungrily every so often from the bassinet beside my bed. I couldn’t get my mind to stop replaying the scenes of the day, scenes of heartbreak and loss.
That evening I picked up a newborn from the hospital, not that unusual for foster parents, but this case is different. This baby is the brother of our other foster baby, and over the last months I have come to know the birth mother very well. The day after the new baby was born I brought Baby J to visit them in the hospital. Bonnie was so pleased and proud. She posted a hundred pictures of him. She hugged and cuddled, nursed and fussed over little Jason. We had all waited to see if CPS would intervene, and it appeared they were going to hold off and allow Bonnie to try to parent.
When they called me yesterday morning to say they were getting a court order to take the baby I cried. This baby coming into foster care is a guarantee of heartbreak. Heartbreak for Bonnie as her baby is wrenched from her. Heartbreak for a baby who can sense …
The day that Meggie was taken away, I sat numbly on the floor of her room, back against the wall, knees pressed to my chest, occasionally crying, but mostly just sitting and staring. My parents and sisters had arrived earlier to hold her one last time and pray with her before she left. They remained because they knew I needed them. They helped to pack the last of her things, took apart her crib, and rearranged the furniture, as if we could somehow make the gaping hole less obvious. The crib went into the attic, where it was later joined by Jenn’s. And there it stayed until a few weeks ago--
--When I took her crib, her mattress, and her butterfly quilt, down from the attic, loaded them, along with a lot of other baby stuff and five kids, into our van and headed for Wisconsin.
My baby sister Amy and her husband are in the process of becoming foster parents, and having no kids of their own, needed some things to get started. When we arrived, we set up the crib and bed, arranged the toys and books, then headed out to buy a mattress for the bed. It was kind of fun getting the room together, but a cloud of unease followed me throughout the day. There was no way to handle …
Washtenaw County currently has about 300 children in foster care and a desperate shortage of foster homes. Our licensing workers call us semi-regularly asking for names of anyone we know who might be interested in fostering, anyone at all.
When a child or children cannot be placed in a home several things happen. First the caseworkers start calling homes that are less and less ideal for that child. An ill-fitted placement is better than no placement at all. Sibling groups have to be separated. Kids are put in homes that will take them temporarily and then will be moved multiple times as a long term placement is located.
While these things are bad, two are worse. The first is this: Kids who can’t be placed, even young ones, will be sent to a homeless shelter overnight and a placement will be sought again the next day. The second is this: Many, many teenagers are being placed in group homes, essentially modern day orphanages. In the words of a Navigator I spoke with in November, “If they weren’t already damaged, the group home will damage them real quick.”
When the subject of foster home shortages came up at a recent foster parent training I asked why they thought that …
Last year a baby I had never met spent his first Christmas in the ICU. Doctors worked to get him breathing on his own, believing he would be blind and mute for the rest of his life.
This Christmas he is safe. He is healthy. He is happy. He is loved. When he is sad, his face turns to mine. When he needs love, his arms reach for me. When he is scared, his voice cries for me.
And I wonder…
What will his next Christmas be?
Whose arms will he reach for?
Whose voice will calm him?
Will he know love?
And I thank God for this time. This baby. This Christmas. May it not be a happy oasis in a desert of his life. Rather, may it be the standard.
Always arms to hold him.
Always a voice to calm him.
And may those arms --that voice-- be mine.
I have always held that each human life is precious and deserves a chance, but sometimes that belief is challenged.
As our foster baby’s birth mother rose to her feet today I noticed a tell-tale bump. We hadn’t seen her in a few weeks. Now, there was no denying the obvious. What heretofore had seemed normal post-partum weight was the beginning of another human life. Baby J. is going to be a big brother.
Pregnancy in mothers of children in the system is the norm. Our first foster baby, Megan, was the seventh child born to her twenty-five year old mother. Before her adoption was even finalized Meggie herself was already a big sister. Praise God that her adoptive family greeted Meggie’s newborn sister with open arms.
Our county faces group after group after group of six and seven siblings, groups that have no hope of staying together in a foster, let alone adoptive, placement. Rarely do any of these siblings have the same father. This causes more problems when members of the various birth fathers’ families decide to take in the ones related to them. The sibling group is broken and the sibling relationships lost.
As I loaded J. in his carseat my mind was on the baby to …
Tomorrow will mark a year since we lost Jenn. More than once I have gone to write about the day she left, the purple fuzzy jammies with white polka dots, the look on her face as I walked away… but I just can’t. Even a year later the wound is still too raw, the pain too deep.
For the first few months I felt empty and brittle, as if the slightest touch or one insensitive word would shatter me into a million pieces that could never be reassembled. Though I didn’t shatter into a million pieces, I will never be the same. And that’s okay.
It’s hard to carry a grief that few people understand. Yes, she is alive. There is hope for her future. Ours is a God of miracles. He is watching over her; He will lead her to the cross. But, the harsh reality is that this baby, who I love, is being raised by a heroin addict. Each day I need to place her back into the hands of the Father. If I couldn’t do that I would be those million shards strewn across the floor. I have learned more about trust in this last year than in my other thirty-four combined.
I can’t look at pictures of her. As I go through Photo Gallery with my kids and stumble onto a picture from those eight months, something …
One of the hardest things about foster parenting is taking a child who thinks that he is yours to a visit with a birth parent he doesn’t know at all.
All morning I am tense. My hands tremble slightly, and I keep forgetting what I am doing. I don’t even attempt to eat breakfast. The kids joke and I attempt a smile, which gets nowhere near my eyes, not having heard a word. I snap at them over nothing, and they pat my shoulder to show me that it’s okay. I pack a diaper bag overflowing with snacks, toys, and extra clothes. Finally, I get the baby dressed in a cute outfit, making sure everything matches and nothing is worn out or stained. A friend once had birth family file a complaint because the child was wearing two slightly different white socks. The story has stayed with me.
I arrive a few minutes early and hold the baby in the car until the last moment. Then, kissing his fluffy baby hair, I gather his bag and hurry across the parking lot to the DHS building. Inside he sees his parent and leans nervously into me. I talk to him happily, soothing. I whisper one last prayer that only he and I can hear. The caseworker arrives, ready to take them back to the visitation …
Ah, sweet Meggie, the first baby that I brought home who would not stay, the baby that I fell in love with in a matter of days and spent five and a half months loving and raising before she was taken from us. When she first left I e-mailed each month on her birthday to see how she was doing. After several months I called her caseworker to check on her. I was devastated to hear that, while Meggie was at that time still safe with a good foster family, it appeared she would soon be going to live in a very bad situation.
And I stopped e-mailing. I stopped calling. I couldn’t bear to have the worst confirmed. I wanted to hold onto my fragment of hope that maybe she would be okay, that God wouldn’t let that happen to her. So the months passed and I hid in my fear, embracing ignorance of the truth rather than facing the pain that truth might bring.
Finally, as an important meeting loomed, things were dredged up that I had tried to keep buried. I found that I was just barely brave enough to seek some answers. I was going to have to face the truth of Meggie’s fate no matter how much I wanted to keep my head buried in the sand. And so, with shaking, hands I e-mailed her new …
The car that took Meggie away pulled into my driveway and there she was, just as I remembered her. Her brown hair stuck straight up and she seemed to recognize me with her quizzical little smile, almost as if she knew that she had come home at last. The ache in my heart eased. I picked her up and clung to her as I carried her to the rocking chair in her room. I began to feed her, tears of anguished joy pouring down my face, not understanding how she could be there but thrilled beyond reason to hold her again…
And then I woke up.
Baby Jenn’s parents walking up to me, “We think that she’ll be better off with you, and we miss our freedom.” They hug me and put her back in my arms. She turns enormous blue eyes on me and hoots happily, bopping up and down in excitement. As I take her in my arms pure elation mixes with disbelief, I turn to find little Meggie, as the tiny newborn I first loved, laying in a hospital bed, abandoned and alone. She wears only a diaper, her ribs poke out from too thin skin. Seeing no one to care for her, I scoop her into my other arm. She nuzzles into my neck. So does Jenn. I cuddle them close, feeling a blinding unspeakable relief and joy. I …
I’ll be honest, when the call came asking if we would foster Baby J. in fewer than five minutes I had said, “no.” I had plenty of good reasons; there were numerous complications with his case. Plus, we were busy. We weren’t even in the state at the time. I was already numb with grief and had five kids to care for, never mind two new puppies. I had no time for one more thing.
But, he stayed on my heart, I felt no peace, and they called again. They didn’t have anyone else who could stay home with him. They needed someone who could really care for his special needs. Yes, they could get someone else, but it wouldn’t be a good situation for the baby. I said we would consider it. Then, I hung up and asked God to send someone else.
He sent us. Sometimes God says, “no.” And that’s okay. Because He knows better than I do what J. needs, what I need, what my family needs. I’m not the first one to beg, “Oh, Lord please send someone else.” These words are just an echo of Moses, who spent nearly an entire chapter of Exodus trying to convince God that He had the wrong man, his words uncannily like my own: “But Moses said, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.’” ( …