Tag Archives: foster

I don’t know how to say this…

I don’t know how to say this, and I know I need to just say it. I have wanted to get back here to write about my experiences as a first time mama of my very own baby, but I have not been able to bring myself to do it because I feel I have to close out the last chapter of my mommy-hood as a foster mama. Even though I have already somewhat written about my feelings and experiences of closure with the fostering part of my life, something new has come up.

Shortly after I gave birth to my son, I learned some news of my first foster baby, Little Dude. He tragically passed away at the age of two, likely due to parental neglect. Without revealing details, his mom and dad both broke some rules, knew they were breaking rules, and when Little Dude had an accident, they did not take him to the hospital as they should have since they were worried that all of their children would be taken away from them. When they finally took him several days later, it was too late.

I feel sad, mad, and afraid since hearing this news. I have not wanted to address those feelings or spend time grieving this loss because I am putting so much time and energy into my new role as a mom and all of the love, joy, hard work, tears, and anxieties that come with it.

I feel mad that the foster system failed Little Dude and his brothers. I feel mad that the decisions being made about his brothers are still not in their best interest. I feel mad that the parents did not make their childrens’ safety more important than their need to hold onto their children. I feel so sad that this sweet baby had to senselessly die because the adults in his life did not protect him. I feel sad that his brothers are having to deal with the grief of losing their little brother and the grief of being shifted from place to place to place with no sense of safety or home or family. I wonder if they worry that what has happened to Little Dude could happen to them. I worry that they are not getting what they need, especially since they all have some kind of a special need or medical need.

Part of me feels like my time with Little Dude, all of the love and care I put into him were for nothing. I know that is not true in my head. I know that the seven weeks he spent with me at the beginning of his life were so important, that he got invaluable love and security from my care, but my heart feels heavy that he is gone. I feel grateful that he is now in heaven where he can no longer feel pain. I continue to pray that his brothers will be reunited with the family that should be allowed to adopt them so that they can be together with a familiar and loving family that will take care of all of their special needs.

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So You Want to be a Foster Parent…

From time to time, people ask me about being a foster parent. Whether they have been considering it for years or have just recently thought about it, they always have questions. Most people don’t know anyone who has been a foster parent in real life and don’t have much of an idea what being a foster parent looks like day to day. Since different people have asked me to share what being a foster parent is like, I thought I would share my thoughts here.

I am no expert. I fostered two different babies. One was a preemie right out of the hospital. I had him for 7 weeks before he went to extended family members. After about 6 months, sadly, he went back into the system. The other was several months old when he came to live with me, and I had him for about 8 months before he went home to his birthparents. Unfortunately, about six months later he went back into the system as well. Cumulatively, I was a foster parent for less than a year. My experience was incredibly wonderful and incredibly challenging at the same time.

One of the first things I would recommend to anyone who is considering becoming a foster parent is to read “The Middle Mom” by Christie Erwin. She and her husband have made fostering their life’s work, and she has some great advice and experiences to share. One of my favorite lines in her book says, “God can only bless a heart that is willing to be broken.” If you do it right, foster care is heartbreaking work.

The single most important part of being a foster parent is to love completely, recklessly, without abandon, fully knowing that you will eventually be physically separated from that child. So many foster children become adults without having ever experienced loving attachment, which is essential for development. If you don’t know anything about attachment, please read up on it so that you can understand how vital it is for all children to experience. A lack of attachment has far reaching negative effects throughout a lifetime. Essentially, by making a commitment to love and attach to a child in the foster care system, you are selflessly allowing yourself to hurt so that they don’t have to hurt later on. At the very least, there will have been one adult in their young life with whom they have experienced attachment. Even if they leave you when they are very young like my babies did, and will not remember you consciously, their unconscious mind will remember. That experience will be embedded in their psyche forever, and will be vitally helpful to them as they grow into adulthood. They will remember that feeling of love and comfort, and it will help them to become more resilient teens and adults.

Being a foster parent is not like being a regular parent. If you are “all in” as a foster parent, you will feel every bit that child’s parent, even though you didn’t give birth to them. In addition to all of the responsibilities of being a parent, you also have extra duties. At the very least, there will be meetings with social workers, regular visits with birthparents, and paperwork. You must document everything you do with your foster child, including visits to doctors or specialists, visits with birthparents, medications you give, and bumps, falls, or illnesses they have. There are also periodic evaluations, phone calls with the child’s lawyer, occasional court dates, and team meetings. You are not a solo parent. You are a “team” who’s collective job it is to work towards reunification of the child with his/her biological parents. If this is not possible, then the goal of the team becomes to find a placement in a permanent home for the child to be adopted. It takes a lot of time for parental rights to be terminated, so the process is easily dragged out. I don’t know what the statistics are, but it is sad to say that from my experience and the experiences of others alongside of whom I have taken this journey, many times kids are reunified with biological parents too soon or without enough support and sadly end up back in the system, a trend that you are powerless to fight against, as you have few to no rights as a foster parent. Oftentimes it feels as if you are a glorified babysitter, although I urge all foster parents to fight that feeling and act like a true parent, no matter how you are treated.

Being a foster parent will stretch you in ways that you do not anticipate. In addition to being a loving, caring, safe, and educational place for a child that you know will eventually be leaving you, you also have to be prepared to work with all of the adults involved. This means working with people you may not agree with or get along with, remembering that this is one of the ways you can try your hardest to do good for the child who is in your care. At a minimum you will work with a social worker, or two if you decide to foster through an agency rather than through the county (I had two.), the birthparents, sometimes having visits separately if the parents can’t get along or there has been a history of domestic violence, and the child’s lawyer. It can be frustrating to say the least because often it can feel like the social workers and the parents do not understand what is best for the child. You feel like you know better since you are with them all the time, and often your ideas and pleas are listened to but not regarded. It is essential to be able to handle conflict with respect and grace, knowing that ultimately, the social workers and birth parents have more pull than you do. The best way to make a difference is to be a positive presence even when you disagree. It is important to speak up and voice your concerns AND to do it in a respectful way. When I went through hard times with this, I had to pray and pray and pray that God would fill in the gaps. And there were such obvious gaps that I SO wanted to fill but was not allowed to. I had to trust God to fill them in and to fill in my own that I sometimes couldn’t even see.

Also, realize that most often, as the foster parent, you will be responsible for monitoring the visits with the birthparents. Often birthparents have some kind of substance abuse issue or some trauma in their lives that stunt them emotionally. Many times you can be dealing with a birthparent who is physically in their twenties or thirties but emotionally is still a teenager. You have to have so much patience. Making the birthparents your enemy will cause so many problems. Work to love them and have compassion towards them. If you have children rather than babies, make sure you don’t speak negatively about their birthparents to them. Many times you will have to be the adult and hold your tongue. Remember that you are dealing with people who are hurting, and they feel jealous that you get to have so much time with their children. It can be hard for them to see a way out of their situation, even if it is easy for you to see what they “just need to do” to get it together. They are overwhelmed and need your help. I’m not talking about enabling. I’m talking about having a compassionate heart, an open line of communication, and healthy boundaries. This may be the very first time they have experienced anything like the relationship you could have with them. You could change their lives by your presence in it. Be deliberate.

If you are going to foster, you need a support system. I fostered as a single woman, and while I am so grateful for my experience, I would not necessarily recommend going down this road as a single mom. It is hard. Painfully hard. I had a great support system in close family and friends, but it was still hard. If you are planning on fostering as a married couple, be on the same page as much as possible. If one person is passionate about being a foster parent and the other agrees because they see how important it is to their spouse, things will begin to go south quickly. Pray and research and pray and plan and pray. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you. Trust that God will lead you to what is right for you.

Musings

I was just speaking with a couple of co-workers about the progress of some shared students, and one of them mentioned that the two of them were both moms. I didn’t catch it at first, but then the other one spoke up and said, “and so is she,” pointing at me. Her comment made me happy to be included, but more than that, it made me remember that, yes, I still am a mom. I am grateful for the reminder.

Love is Like a Stream

When I get a little emotional, my right eye begins to “leak”.  It’s like a little stream, but just out of that one eye.  I’m not sure why it happens that way, but it does.  As I was sitting in my bedroom in the Ikea “rocking chair” that was given to me by a friend who was moving, long before I had any idea I would be a foster parent, my eye began to leak.  I wasn’t alone as I sat rocking, my eye stream activated; Baby Incredible was lying on my chest.  He’s almost getting to big to do that now.  His legs curl up under him, and his arms hang off of the side of me.  

The first time I put him down for his nap, he woke up as soon as I left the room.  When it was clear he wasn’t going to go back to sleep, I went in, cleared off the rocking chair that had clothes piled on top of it…after all, what’s the use of it when there’s no baby in the house…and plucked him out of his crib.  He lay on me as I rocked, his ear against my chest, listening to my heartbeat.  We were both quiet.  I played with his hair, a little buzz cut now, his “jewish curls” gone.  His eyes fluttered, and my right eye leaked.  

I thought about how God knows just what we need, how he made the ultimate sacrifice for us, sending his Son to die on the cross, how all of my “sacrifices” for Baby Incredible pale in comparison to that.  I thought about how God knew exactly what I needed in that moment, and God is so amazing that it was actually what Baby Incredible needed, too.  We both needed each other, to have that skin to skin contact, for him to hear my heartbeat and for me to hear his breathing and smooth his hair and skin.  I don’t know if his mom rocks him when he is at home.  I know they don’t have a rocking chair.  I can’t imagine on her doting on him as much as I do when he’s here.  This is a gift for both of us.  

Everyone always tells new moms to sleep while the baby sleeps.  It is advice that seems to make sense.  New moms are sleep deprived and have a very demanding little human whose needs come before their own; moms need sleep.  This advice that sounds great in theory, doesn’t work out so practically.  There is laundry to be done and dishes to do and floors to be swept or mopped.  A lot of times, laundry or dishes or floors trump sleep.  Sometimes, though, holding your sleeping baby trumps all of that.  It is true for all moms that you never get that time back, but for this former foster mom, it is truer than true. I will never get back that opportunity to hold him a little longer while he sleeps, and I only get that opportunity once in a while.  

When I was a little girl, I had a lot of ideas about how my life would go.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a “co-parent”.  Never did I picture sharing my little boy with another family, one who gets to call the shots.  That’s really what I have become.  Where I once was a foster parent, now I am a “co-parent”.  That said, I am grateful beyond words that I still get to be in this little boy’s life.  Actually, it is a miracle of God that I am able to be a co-parent of sorts.  This kind of thing virtually never happens.  God is definitely working in this situation.  I am grateful for all of my friends who have prayed for Baby Incredible and me and his family.  I am grateful for those who continue to pray.  This is one amazing little boy.

It’s interesting to think about the way I once pictured my life in comparison to the story God has written.  When I was a little girl, I thought I would be married by the time I was in my twenties.  That’s when my mom and dad got married, in their young twenties: my mom was 20, and my dad was 21.  I thought it would be easy to meet my “prince charming” and that we would have a fairytale wedding and have a few years to enjoy some time together before we started having babies.  I thought I would begin having kids when I was in my mid to late twenties, and I thought I would be well into the rhythm of being a mom by the time I was in my thirties.  None of the messy realities of adult life ever entered my consciousness.  I never thought about not meeting my prince charming or not having kids before I turned thirty or of foster care or adoption or co-parenting.  My picture was that so many things were difficult for me during the kid part of my life that things had to go easier in the adult part of my life…easier, no.  Better with God, yes.  

God has given me an amazing man to live the rest of my life with, and I get to marry him in 77 days.  Although fairy tales are not real, God has given me such a phenomenal story that it feels just as good to me as if it were a fairy tale.  Erick, my incredible beyond words fiancé, and I have been through more than most engaged couples and have learned and grown so much through it.  We have each been on a journey that has been tying us closer and closer together.  None of that would have happened the way it has without fostering being in our lives.  God knew.  Every time I am fearful of what lies ahead for us, I think about God’s plan being bigger and better than I could ever ask for or imagine.  Even in all of my ideas of what my adult life would be like, I never pictured that I would get to marry my best friend, that he would propose to me in such a well planned, well thought out, and romantic way, singing a song to me before he asked me to marry him.  Never did I think that we would get to have the courtship and dating relationship and engaged relationship that we get to have.  Never did I think that I would have such amazing friends and family around me during such an important time.  I am truly blessed.  

God is never finished working until Jesus comes.  “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 1:6

Vulnerability

To write well in this true life, journal, memoir, autobiographical, blogging genre, you need to be vulnerable.  I have not been ready or willing to do that since Baby Incredible left my care.  Today, amidst a vast array of feelings, I began to experience these little “nudges” I always feel just before I write an entry, so here I am, messy and emotional and not at all sure that anything worth reading will come out of this exercise in transparency and vulnerability.  

Baby Incredible left a lot behind at my house and in my heart.  I have constant reminders of him.  The stroller is still in my car.  His pack and play is still set up in my living room.  The boppy hangs from it, looking sad.  His crib and changing table are still in my bedroom.  The changing table is still stocked with diapers, wipes, and diaper rash cream.  I find pacifiers everywhere: in old purses, in my car, in my garbage disposal, under the couch, or in my silverware drawer.  Every once in a while I will find a baby cereal puff on my floor.  The jogging stroller peeks out from behind the big comfy chair in my living room, one I used to sit in all the time with him and with Little Dude.  Funny that I never sit in it anymore; I didn’t realize that until just now.  His diaper bag sits on a small ottoman near the door, still filled with some of his stuff but also now with some of my things piled carelessly on top of it.  The foam mats I used to put on the floor for him to sit and play on are leaning against a piece of furniture in my living room.  His high chair is used for practical things like a small table fan that I can point at myself while I do the dishes in my hot kitchen.  The baby swing that I’m not sure what to do with swings the slightest bit when I have the swamp cooler on or a breeze comes in from outside.  There are ice cube trays of frozen pureed baby food still in my freezer and a smattering of bottles still up in my cabinet.  There is a box of baby oatmeal on top of my refrigerator.  Sometimes I swear I hear him crying from the other room.  

Baby Incredible left his little fingerprints all over my heart.  Am I sad?  Yes.  Do I miss him? Yes.  Do I understand God’s plan in all of this?  No.  But I do know that he has a plan.  Knowing what I know now, would I go back and change my mind about fostering Baby Incredible?  No.  Not in a million years.  I gave him all of the love I could give in the first eight months of his life, and I would do it all over again.  I pray so much that God will watch over him and give him a wonderful life in which he gets to have a relationship with God.  

I am learning so much in all of this.  As I am trying to learn to grieve this loss, I am learning that I am sad not just about Baby Incredible.  This loss has brought up other things for me…truths that have deep roots in my heart.  Babies and young children have always a source of comfort for me.  I have loved them and felt really at peace when around them.  I used to think I felt that way because I was “in my element”.  It is in more than that.  Babies have been a peace, a comfort for me, in a social world that was very anxiety producing for me.  I felt the safety of acceptance and unconditional from them, something I didn’t often feel with people my own age.  In essence, I am grieving the loss of that as well.  I got to feel that while Baby Incredible was in my care, and it was wonderful.  Now I am trying to learn to get that acceptance, love, and worth from God.  

There are miracles in this story, too, for which I am so grateful.  Since I took Baby Incredible back to live with his parents , he has come to visit me a few times and vice versa.  (This is part of the reason why I keep his things out at my house.)  His parents see the value in me still being a part of his life.  Praise the Lord.  I love that I still get to see him and be a part of his life.  The plan is for him to be one of the ring bearers in my wedding.  God is good.  

Goodbyes

I am getting ready to say goodbye to Baby Incredible. He will leave me in just a few short hours after spending the last 8 months or so with me. Even though I say I am getting ready for him to leave me, I can never actually be ready.

Although I did not give birth to him, I have been his mom, in every sense of the word, over the last eight months. Leaving him today feels like I am abandoning my own child. He is going to wonder where I am and why I’m not coming back for him…I keep telling him that I love him and that I don’t want to let him go. He may not understand, but I hope he feels my message.

Heartbroken is the adjective that comes to mind. Foster parents volunteer to get their hearts broken. They know going in that this is not forever, but they choose to put their heart “all in” to that baby anyway, to bond with them, and to attach to them, and to love them as if they were their own.

No words can fix such heartbreak, but God can. The most comforting words I have heard are these: “God can only bless a heart that is willing to be broken.” and “God loves this baby more than you love this baby.” Amen

The Best Mother’s Day Present

This past Sunday was my first Mother’s Day.  Last year at this time, I was just asking advice and beginning the certification process to become a foster mom.  What a difference a year makes!

Baby Incredible has been with me for a little over six months now.  In that time, he has grown a lot, and so have I.  I love him so much and constantly want to kiss him and make him smile and laugh.  He is such a wonderful blessing.  

Anyhow, the day before Mother’s Day, Baby Incredible had an unmonitored visit with his birth mom.  As I’ve alluded to in the past, Baby Incredible’s birth mom has not been the easiest person to work with.  She has a lot of ups and downs and has often tried to exert her power when she feels like she is too out of control of the situation.  Our journey has been tumultuous.  Despite this, I knew I wanted to make her feel special on Mother’s Day.  Baby Incredible is her son, and if he is important to me, she is, too.  I gave her a heart shaped coin purse with Baby Incredible’s picture on it and a twelve by twelve framed enlargement of one of my favorite photos of him.  I attached a simple card to the front that said, “Happy Mother’s Day.  I love you.  Love, Baby Incredible.”  

When I arrived to pick Baby Incredible up from his unmonitored visit with birth mom, she presented me with a card and gift.  She wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, and we shared a hug, a first for us.  

Later, I read the card…it was the best first Mother’s Day present I could have received.  In it, she genuinely thanked me for taking care of Baby Incredible and for helping her to grow up a little as well.  She wrote that she could never express the gratitude she has for all I have done.  She went on to say that although she told me once before that she wasn’t in this to make friends, she wanted to keep in touch with me “after this was all over” because I have played such a major role in Baby Incredible’s life, and she knows that he loves me a lot.  And at the end, she remarked that I had been such a gracious woman.  

Wow.  God is working.  What an amazing miracle that she wants to stay in touch.  This gives me hope that I will get to see him grow up a little, that I may get to visit him.  That is never a given when you are a foster mom.  God is working.

 

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