I’ll Walk Alone so You Don’t Have To (Part 2)
Adoption wasn’t the end of the journey. I felt called to be a foster mama. This wasn’t my path to family planning because there is no destination. The calls continued to come and I continued to say yes. One particular March I had 5 different little ones stay at different times for 28 days out of the month. There were two more baby boys that came for short stays, one of them only a couple times. During one of his weeks with us, I remember rocking him at night with tears streaming down my face because I was questioning everything. He was the saddest baby I had ever encountered. He never stopped crying. If he ate before having a bottle or was given a bottle too closely before food, he would throw up. The next day, after being up all night with him and then working all day, I looked up from cleaning the floor to my daughter and we both burst into laughter. I just sang out “babies are hard!” and she laughed even harder replying, “babies are so hard!” That has continued to be our motto. But I pray, I pray over each of these babies. I pray that while they are with me they feel God’s abundant love and learn there is a Father above who promises to hold them close. I pray that when they leave me, He will cover them with his protection and will never leave their side. I pray they will grow up to know Him and learn to love Him.
We then had a sweet girl for about 3 months. We fell in love with her too. Sadly there were signs of neglect and abandonment. We worked with her to gain strength and develop skills to reach milestones. She had inexplainable trauma and her nervous system was the only form of communication for us to help her anxieties. Could a baby have anxiety? Yes. I would hold her sweating, trembling, body for hours trying to calm her after coming back from visits with her birth mom. She would grab fistfuls of my hair or shirt, burying her face in me, clinging as if her life depended on it. I had made so much progress with her to increase her intake, only to call her nurse crying because she refused to eat after visitation. Each week we would progress, visit, regress. There were countless emails expressing our fear for her medical concerns and trauma responses to visitation. The attorney appointed came to visit us one time after reading a 3 page report on this baby’s conditions and case. She simply asked me what I wanted her to do about it. I could have screamed. THIS IS YOUR JOB. In her resume that I later researched, it read that she was an advocate for high risk kids (those who cannot speak for themselves). I was astonished, there was no advocacy here. One Saturday when I was at work, I stepped away to take a phone call from her caseworker. She told me that babygirl would be returned to her birth mother Monday. I instantly fell to the floor, legs giving out from under me. I held my hands over my mouth to hold back the sobs so no one at work would hear me. I couldn’t breathe. If my life depended on it I couldn’t draw a breathe. I managed to stand up, splash my face with water, suck it up like my dad always told me to do and walk back out to my next client. In the next 48 hours she called me mama, took her first step, and then she was gone. I discovered months later that she regressed and didn’t take her “first step for her birth mom” until four months later.
It was as if God knew she would be leaving us, because the last week she would be with us I would have my first boy back for a two week stay. We had grown to adore his stays with us. I had been asked to adopt him. I had been interviewed to adopt him. The day they took that sweet baby girl back, I clung to him and held him so tight. Throughout the following week he would run through the house with the medicine my heart needed, singing, “Be happy, Be happy, Be happy mama, be happy.”
On a Friday I received a call that my boy had a baby brother. After much discussion of the importance of sibling preservation and connection, the newborn would be placed with me. The plan was that big brother would come back and be placed in my home on a permanency plan towards adoption. Sunday evening I went to pick up his newborn baby brother less than 48 hours old. Baby P would turn our world upside down. I got to introduce the brothers to each other and we spend the next two days together before big brother would go back to his current foster home. Little did I know he would be walking out of my door for the last time.
I spent as much time as possible doing skin to skin with baby P and wearing him, very quickly discovering that my sweet babe breathed differently than most. We were in the ER with him within the first week, but they couldn’t help him because he was too small. When he was less than 10 days old, I came home from work to him napping and became more concerned with the way he was breathing. I quickly realized he was not waking up. I tried everything and called everyone I knew. He was still not waking up. I drove my daughter to a friend’s house 25 minutes away, tried waking him in the car to no response, and then drove another 30 minutes to a specialty hospital. I unfortunately parked at the opposite end of the building near the maternity ward where I had brought him home from. I was no where near the emergency department. I ran as fast as I could through the hallways of the basement of the hospital to the ED carrying a newborn in his carseat, jostling around with no signs of waking up. His breathing became louder and more laborious. We spent 3 days in the hospital learning how to feed and adapt to his needs while waiting for a diagnosis.
The weeks that followed held numerous doctor appointments, assessments, and assigned therapists. We were prescribed specialty formulas and specialty bottles which were to be fed in specific ways. Even with his diagnosis and medications, the breathing became something I was acutely aware of. I would wake up instantly if his breath caught and stopped, which it did quite often. My babe was so sick. He could barely keep any of his formula down. I could have cared less about the soiled clothes or furniture. Some doctors said maybe he would grow out of it. His caseworker accused me of being possessive and dramatic concerning his health. I pushed, and advocated, and begged for specialists, to the point of refusing to back down until an appointment was made. You see, I have no power in making medical decisions for my children so my hands are tied. I can assure you that as long as they are in my care, they will receive every service and every level of care available to them. Weeks turned into months, P’s brother never came back. The caseworker finally admitted to not feeling like scheduling the meeting that needed to happen to make the move. It took over 3 months to have P seen by a specialist who immediately sent us for testing. What should have been a 30 minute appointment turned into nearly 6 hours of testing. No one was talking to me as I held my naked baby in a random hospital basement hallway alone. I finally begged the radiologist to give me anything to go on. Against his better judgment he said that he could only tell me what I could google. Every single ounce of information stated this potential condition was or could be fatal. Had he been my biological son, I would not have left the hospital. We would have been rushed into emergency surgery. But this is foster care, so we went home. We waited for the specialist to get the results. She said I might have saved his life. She had never seen it this bad before. But there was a waiting game due to foster care. I was asked if I wanted him re-homed, because he was now considered “medically fragile” and my license was not qualified. I said no. If he was my biological son, I would learn everything I had to in order to help him. So in the meantime of waiting for approvals and appointments, I was trained and certified as a medically fragile foster home to accommodate his needs. Another month passed and we finally met with a surgeon. An appointment was made that could accommodate myself, an advisor, birth mother, and caseworker for a pre-op consultation. As this world-renowned surgeon explained the procedures, I remained stoic and calm as to allow the birth mother to absorb this very scary information. She had no questions, and finally asked if he would eat normal. None of us had an answer, the procedure did not lend anyone thinking he would. The surgeon then asked me if I had questions and graciously explained to the birthmother the effects his condition had on me as the primary caretaker. I broke. He validated what I had been handling for all this time and none of it mattered. I just wanted our baby to be ok. I don’t know how anyone could listen to how their baby would be cut open and not feel what I felt. The caseworker was disgusted with my sign of emotion and I later was reprimanded for it. We still had to wait for papers to be signed and permissions to treat to be processed.
Finally it was the day for surgery. No one came. I held his tiny hand and my friends held me up while they took him back. I couldn’t tell you what we did while we waited. I just remember being escorted into a tiny room by an exhausted surgeon with two of my friends so they could help me remember what I was about to be told. All I can remember is the look on his surgeons face. He said in all of his experience he had never had a procedure like this turn into what it did. You see, his intestines were wrapped around his main blood supply and none of P’s organs were where they were supposed to be. When you touch an organ in surgery it begins to shut down. Everything was put into place and recovery would tell us when and how each organ would restart and function. I remember him saying, all I can tell you is this baby requires acute care, this is not the end of his medical story.
Him and I would spend the next several days in recovery. Unfortunately his organs were not showing signs of life. Against advice of the original surgeon, efforts were attempted to manually assist his recovery. We waited and waited. His birth mom came to visit once at which time I was asked to leave the room for. I hadn’t left his side since surgery. Finally they felt they could justify his discharge. I knew he wasn’t ready. I begged them to call his surgeon, but they said he could continue to recover at home. We were home 3 days all together again, my sweet and patient girl and our strong little man. I wanted everything to be ok, but even my daughter knew we needed to go back. The next morning was the scariest, and back we went, rushed into the ER, only to wait. We waited another two days and were then rushed into a second emergency surgery. The day after surgery I was given no option but to leave my baby’s side and be put into a board room where over 12 team workers discussed his placement with me. It took some time to get to the one worker’s point that they remove him from my care. When asked if his care was in question, she replied, “no, his care with you has never been in question.” I then asked what was more important than that? He is lying alone in a hospital room, his hair falling out, yet here we are. The meeting had nothing to do with him or his needs. I was berated, verbally assaulted, racially profiled, and deemed inept to care for him because we didn’t match. No one, not a single person, spoke against her. No one asked her to calm down when her earrings popped off as she stood over me. I sat stoic, composed, and calm. Meanwhile, there he lay with this team not advocating for him, not making his needs a priority. We left and upon his discharge he would not be coming home with me, his only caregiver, the only one trained to care for his needs. It didn’t matter that I was the only one who listened for every breath he took. The decision was made. They didn’t even care where he went as long as it was not to my home.
I returned to his bedside for another two weeks. I fought hard for him. I prayed until I was so mad that I couldn’t pray anymore. I advocated until the last second. On discharge day, which was held up for 6 hours because the worker would not accommodate her superiors and sign his release to me, I brought P home to heal. Each day could have been our last together. A month later, he remained in my home to continue to work through therapy and recovery. Once healed from his surgeries, he miraculously hit every delayed milestone. He was incredibly strong. I was so proud of his accomplishments. When we were reunited with my daughter, she celebrated alongside me, being the proud big sister she is.
I accepted another baby girl who was deemed failure to thrive, and we kept pressing on with now two babies, 4 months apart. There would be lots more doctor appointments and P still stopped breathing on occasion, but when lifted to my chest our breathing would sync. And then Covid hit. I was out of work for 8 weeks. 8 weeks I got to hold him while he napped. I cherish that time. I always will. I got to just be, my daughter and two sweet babies. One baby was crushing his milestones, and as he would hit each one, though delayed himself, it further magnified baby girl’s own delays.
When restrictions began to lift, I returned to work and reunification was quickly the priority for his caseworker. She was determined and nothing would stop her. We were fortunate to be a part of all of his firsts. We were thrilled we got to celebrate his first birthday. He and I have a bond that compares to none other. I love all of my little ones fiercely, but when a baby depends on you medically, it’s deeper, it’s different. A fateful Monday afternoon on a zoom court hearing, reunification was granted. I thought surely I only had a couple hours to say goodbye. Surely any mom wouldn’t want to wait a millisecond longer than they had to be reunited with their child. But it wasn’t about that, it never was. The caseworker had won. That was all. Nothing happened. It would be 5 days until she had time to pick him up. Those 5 days were painful but a gift of extra time with him. Each moment until the last time I saw him was a gift. P, you have my heart forever son.
Throughout the year P had been with me I inquired numerous times advocating for the brothers to be together as planned. A month after saying goodbye to P, I asked again if big brother had been adopted yet. He hadn’t, so I pressed to see if I was still on the list. I was but even though he was now 4, there was family in front of me. But they would look into it. More months passed, until one afternoon I received a random email. “Would you still consider adoption of the older brother.” I called a friend and sobbed. I couldn’t get the words out after all this time. I didn’t want to be ripped around anymore. I didn’t want to hope. Was it a sign? All signs felt like they were fading. He was not even 2 years old when I met him. But we had a so many precious memories. How had he gone all this time with still no permanency? So I said yes, I want to be considered. I was almost too scared to pray. I knew my heart wanted to be his mama. I wanted to tell him all about his baby brother as he grew up. I waited two more months until the meeting. I sat on my couch with a friend when I received the call. They chose family. It wasn’t me. I felt numb. All of my childhood strategies to suppress all feeling was just bootcamp training for this moment. I wasn’t going to get to be his mama. I still get periodic information not intended for me about the brothers. Big brother couldn’t stay with his relative, and he still doesn’t have a permanent home. Baby brother has had a hard 2nd year but remains with his birth mother.
I didn’t intentionally skip the details of my little baby girl. She developed from a limp, lifeless, tiny malnourished infant who was not comforted by touch, into a happy chubby, well attached, sweet and easy little girl. When she came, I had to hold her at arms length and gently rock or bounce to calm her. That natural inclination to cuddle and hold her close felt anything but natural and comforting to her. As she became a healthy chub of a baby, her therapists joked that we weren’t sure her tiny little feet that we had been so worried about in the beginning, would hold her up! Sure enough she gained strength and slowly but steadily hit muscular milestones. She was always a quiet baby. It wasn’t until she had been with me for some time, while talking with a client about how her grand baby cooed and made all these baby noises, that I realized my baby had never done any of that. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the only sound she ever made was crying. She was almost 10 months old when my daughter and I were sitting in the living room with her that she let out her first sound. I can’t even take credit for hearing it first, as a proud big sister jumped up from excitement of hearing her make a sound! We’ve worked with an incredibly patient therapist. The day she asked me if sweet baby girl ever laughed, I was overwhelmed. “No, she never laughed.” I felt guilty for not even noticing. So I would fake laugh to work with her. I’d laugh with her until I heard that first little giggle. We are so infatuated with our silent little babe. We love discovering just how much she understands. I’m confident one day she will decide she is ready to talk and I can’t wait for the world to hear what she has to say. We will be lucky enough to celebrate her 2nd birthday with her this year. We don’t know what her future holds. Will she ever be taken way? We love her our angel baby fiercely.
Saying yes to the next placement was hard for me because she was the first after two gutting heartbreaks with my boys. I received a call midday on a Thursday. She was moving from another foster home. All weekend I questioned, why did I think I was capable if someone else wasn’t? God? Are you sure it’s me she needs? I can’t do this. I’m not capable. And God replied, “No, but I am.” So yet again I put one foot in front of the other. I’ve had to do that each day because I am not capable, but I am willing. I am willing to fight for her, to advocate for her, to beg and plead, to get her the help she needs. I remind my daughter often, and I think it’s myself who needs reminded, that a handful of months cannot repair, undo, or heal years of hurt. But she deserves to learn what it feels like to be safe, to feel loved, and to build healthy relationships. This is our family for now. This is who we are called to love right now. So here we are, 3 girls.
I’ll more than likely say yes to the next phone call that comes because on the other end of that call is a little one in need. Each call opens my heart up to knowing that a child out there exists. Even the calls that don’t work out I still feel connected to. When I get a call I feel deeply inclined to say yes because the reality is that you can go months without receiving a call. I have wanted to quit. I have had more then enough reasons to quit, but this is a calling. I am exactly where God needs me. I still hold a glimmer of hope that He has a really special person that can add to my ever changing family and to give my kids a dad. Until then, I want them to know that God is their Father, through the good and the bad. He is always there and has never changed His mind. For some reason He chose me to show His love to through me. Serving my kids has been immensely fulfilling and has overflowed my heart and my home with love.
The biggest challenge for me is that I feel like I can do everything. Let me be honest, I have to do everything. But the reality is I cannot work and be home with my kids. I simply can’t be in two places at once. I have always somehow had in-home childcare. It has never come easy, however, just like everything else in my life, I have to have faith that even at the last second, God always comes through and provides. We have been blessed with a few exceptional ones. I guess it’s so difficult because it’s where I feel vulnerable. I have to be dependent on someone else. I signed up for this wild journey, they didn’t. I’m committed to this weird process, they’re not. I should be able to do it all. But who am I kidding? It has taken a village, a very small select village. My definition of family has far surpassed biology. Family is who has come alongside me and loved my kids with me. It is important that you know that people only support you from their level of understanding for your situation. If you want to support someone, listen to them, actually purposefully listen. Research, just a little, so you can understand their process or experiences and have some knowledge of their world. Ask questions, ask all the questions, show that you care, that you’re interested and willing to learn. Actionably support them. Show up, help out, jump in, and volunteer because they will rarely ask. Pray for them, but connect and ask for specific dates that you can mark on a calendar to pray for them. Check in on the outcomes. Set your own reminders if you have to. Send a note of encouragement or let them
know you are praying for the
Please notice that no where in this story did I label a child. Can you help me put a stop to that? These babies, no matter how old, did nothing to earn or deserve this title. They didn’t have a choice. I did. I chose to become a foster parent. These are “OUR KIDS.” These kids live in our neighborhoods; they need love, they need us to look out for them, they need us to step up and speak up. Don’t slap a label on them because they are children; they deserve a chance. Don’t force assumptions on them because of the hurt they have experienced. Do something, and if you can’t do anything, help me shift this terminology. They are kids, our kids, in foster care.