I remember like it was yesterday. I was in the airport, waiting to board a plane after attending a week long conference. My cell phone rang, it was my husband. “There’s a baby boy who needs to be placed tonight, do you want to take him?” We had obtained our license to be a foster family the week before I left. After a short conversation we agreed to take him. The plane ride home found me deep in thought, filing through our supplies in my mind, making mental notes on what we would need to get immediately. That evening he arrived. He had a tiny cast on his leg, only one of the three twist fractures on his legs needed to be set. Nineteen of his ribs were broken. He was six weeks old. When asked how long he would be with us, we were told six months to a year, maybe longer. When all the paperwork was signed and questions answered, the case workers left our home and we were on our own. As my family went to bed, I took the first night shift, gave him a bottle and held him as he scream cried for over an hour. I wondered to myself, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?” I even understood in a deep place in my soul how this kind of crying could drive a person to abuse.
The next morning I called the hospital from which he was discharged. “I need to speak to someone who cared for an infant who was discharged last night. I don’t know how to burp him or change his diaper without hurting him.” I was told I’d have to wait until after the weekend and speak to someone in medical records. “But he’s hurting, you treated his injuries and I need help.” Finally under the anonymity of ‘if you had an infant with broken ribs and broken legs, how would you…’ I was able to get some answers. He healed quickly and was a strong, happy baby who rolled over, sat up and walked early in his first year. He didn’t exhibit any learning delays from his injuries. He became part of our family, although at first glance it was obvious he wasn’t ours. Our teenagers learned lots from him – how to change diapers, make bottles, introduce solid foods, redirect his attention when he was getting into something he shouldn’t, how to make him laugh and how good it feels to snuggle with a baby who loves you. Most importantly they learned to love across racial and cultural barriers. He was with our family for fourteen months. Several years later I still tear up at the mention of his name.
Most people, when we introduce our foster babies, say “I don’t think I could do that, I’d get too attached and never be able to let them go.” It’s true. When you foster, you feel that way. When you spend midnight hours rocking a baby, you get attached. You hurt for their situation. You rise up in anger against the person who hurt them. You hold them as they withdraw from drugs they were exposed to in utero. You take them to the doctor, the WIC office and the CPS office for evaluations and planning meetings. You buy them cute clothes and toys you think they would enjoy. You take them for family visits and awkwardly share them for an hour once every week or two, feeling sadness for parents who are missing out on their child’s milestones. You talk with other foster parents as you wait for family members who never show up for the visit that you drove an hour to get to. You go to court and wait hours for a chance to know what the future holds for your foster child, so you can prepare your own children for the upcoming departure. You read in the newspaper derogatory comments about foster families who mistreat kids or uncaringly take them just for the money (I have yet to meet anyone who does this for money). After months, sometimes a year, of treating the child as a part of your family, suddenly they are gone, sometimes with just a few hours notice. You grieve, miss them, wonder about them and in our experience, never hear from the placement family. You rest up and do it again.
Often, as I do life with a baby on my hip, people approach me with questions – either verbally or with their eyes… and I love to engage in conversation with them. I believe there are many potential foster parents out there walking around at the ball field and grocery store who need a nudge to action. Their eyes tear up when they hear the stories of our babies, they long to do something but hesitate. I say to them, “follow your heart, you have it in you to do this, the kids need you!”
If we think we can control anything about the foster children who are part of our lives, we are disillusioned. I believe fostering has taught me to love firmly but hold on loosely. To see the dignity in the eyes of every child and fight for them. To advocate for fair and decent treatment of children regardless of the way their parents are behaving. To encourage our culture to stop judging and start loving. To support the professionals who work in archaic offices, doing heart wrenching work, in crummy working conditions for marginal pay. To not judge the ones who have been at it for years and seen their once caring heart become crusty. We have an obligation to step outside ourselves and do something to help children who are hurting.
This, I believe.
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