I took two year old Jay into the nursery this evening for his jammies and story. Matt was already there with eight month old Jason. Jay saw the baby and began to laugh and crow happily, trying to jump from my arms. Matt set Jason in the crib. As soon as Jay was changed, he leapt from my arms to climb in the crib with his brother, yelling, “Hi, hi!” as he kissed, patted and hugged the baby.
Much of our day looks like this, Jay loving on the baby, the baby smiling and cooing back. We even call Jason “your baby” when we’re talking to Jay. When a child is in foster care and a new baby is born needing to go into care, the baby is placed with the sibling whenever possible. This is what happened with Jay and Jason. The system recognizes the sibling as the closest relative after the parents.
Watching these two bond, I understand the reasoning. They get to be true brothers. They share a room, stories, and toys. Jay sits on my lap and “helps” spoon feed Jason. But, watching them together gets harder every day. Because as they draw closer, the end draws nearer. You see, while we are adopting Jay, Baby Jason is being reunited with a birth parent soon.
Funny that tearing two siblings apart …
Baby Jenn’s birth mother had been addicted to heroin for six years when Jenn was conceived. Halfway through the pregnancy Mary* finally told her parents. Her dad gave her five hundred dollars to abort the baby, but Mary used the money for drugs and hid her pregnancy from her parents until she was in labor.
Jenn was born full term with thirteen different illegal substances in her system. She was addicted to heroin and began to scream and shake within hours of birth. The doctors immediately transferred her to a hospital with a newborn intensive care unit. Mary tried to make an adoption plan for her baby. She signed all the appropriate papers with an adoption agency, but with no birth father sign off, Jenn went into foster care.
I was called in when Jenn had been in the hospital for two weeks.
“I have another baby for you,” our licensing worker told me over the phone. My sister, who was helping me clean the attic at the time, began jumping up and down.
“Say yes, say yes!” she whisper-yelled.
“We’ve just been hit with so many newborns this month,” the licensing worker went on. “We’ve run out of homes for them. But I thought of you for this one because you’re willing to adopt. …
Betty: So fill me in on all these kids I see around here.
Me: Well, the one in the mismatched shoes is mine; so is the one trying to write on the wall. The kid on the table is mine, and I left a few at home. Those four are my sister Jane’s. This one belongs to my sister Terry.
Betty: Okay, now which one of these is Jane’s real kid?”
I knew immediately what she meant; Jane adopted three of her children and had one by birth, but I didn't like Betty's phrasing.
Me: Real kid? They all look pretty real to me. Jane hasn’t played with dolls in years.
We both laugh like what I said was quite witty. I look pleadingly at Terry to rescue me, but she is redirecting the wall draw-er.
Betty: What I mean is that she had one of them the normal way…
Me: There are lots of normal ways to have a child.
Betty: But, which one is hers?
Me: All of them.
She must have decided at this point that I was really dense because she finally spit out what we both knew she was getting at all along.
Betty: Which one is her birth child?
I would have just told her, because it’s no secret who is adopted and who was born into the family; it’s a nonissue, but I was a little irritated by the long lead in.
When he looks at me he doesn’t see pale freckled skin; he sees his mama. When I look at him I don’t see caramel brown skin; I see my son.
Well-meaning people (of different races) have commented that it might be best if we did not adopt our foster son because he is half African American. They tell me that it would be better for him to be “raised with his own kind.”
They advise me on how to raise a black child:
“Don’t dress him in overalls.”
“Don’t feed him watermelon or corn on the cob.”
“Don’t call him ‘bubba.’”
“You’re not styling his hair right.”
And they warn me:
“He won’t know his culture.”
“He’ll talk like a white person.”
“He won’t be prepared for racism when he encounters it.”
“He won’t fit into either white society or black society.”
You know what? They could be right. We are German-Irish and look it. He is all-American: black, white and native. Being a different race from everyone else in his family may be hard for this little guy.
But, you know what would be harder for him? Being ripped away from the family that loves him.
We are the only family J. remembers. He has lived with us for over a year and a half. He looks at me and he sees his mama. He looks …
Today, I sat in court with tear filled eyes as Baby J.’s birth mother chose adoption for him. Just like that, in less than fifteen minutes, he was legally a ward of the state, the first step in the process of our adopting him. As we left together, she asked if I was okay. In the elevator I thanked her for giving him, us, this chance.
A few minutes later, I closed the door of the car, and the tears came. Great gulping sobs. Joy because, by the grace of God, our baby won’t have to leave us. I’ll always get to be his mom. I’ll get to watch him learn to run, and teach him to read. I’ll be there when he is sick or scared or happy or mad. His future suddenly looks safe and secure.
Yet, so much sorrow is intermingled with that joy, because he has come to us at such a cost. Another family torn apart. Another mom who he will never call mommy. Her arms will ache to hold him, but he’ll be gone. The tragedy of our fallen world, so real, knowing that losing his birth family is what is best for this little guy.
And, I’m humbled that God’s best for J. is our family. Despite our flaws and brokenness, God has seen fit to once again bless us immensely. Gratitude overflows that He …
Newborn Meggie came into foster care because her mother tried to sell her. Meggie had seven illegal substances in her blood stream. When the attempted baby sale was stopped, the mother threatened to kill her and the hospital staff that intervened, “If I don’t get my payday, no one else can! I’ll kill her before you can have her. I’ll kill all of you!”
Meggie was the sixth child born to a crack addicted felon who didn’t have custody of her other children. Any sane person could see that the parental rights should be immediately terminated with no attempts made at reunification. Meggie bonded to our family, like any new baby would, and we were all set to adopt her. Then the judge on the case ordered her moved from our home when she was five and a half months old to be nearer the woman who tried to sell her so that they could be reunited, though the mother was in prison (again) at the time. Two weeks from now, this same judge will decide Baby J’s fate.
J’s case is horrific. I keep a lot of the details to myself, but those in the system who are privy to them wonder why they even tried to reunite him with a birth parent in the first place. Policy said they shouldn't. The …
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 …