Five weeks old. That’s when a foster baby can enter daycare. So on top of no maternity leave, foster parents also have to find acceptable temporary caregivers for their newborn charges, which can be people they choose to be emergency backups. In my daughter’s case, I was one.
An emergency caregiver goes through a simple background check and fingerprinting, but in order to pass that, there’s a lifetime of being a decent person that came first. For what it’s worth.
The timing of those five weeks was great, from just before our Christmas break into the first of the year. Some days my younger daughter would come along, or Papa, as my husband wanted to be called, would stop by between jobs to get some cuddle time in. My older daughter would pop in as she could, but for the most part it was just me and Baby A all day long.
Funny thing, when my kids were newborns, I had no desire, time or ability to plot out a schedule of any kind. I’m a blowin’ in the wind kind of gal, so I liked the freedom to do what we wanted. I didn’t work outside the home until our youngest was a few years old, and I wasn’t worried about chores. My husband and I loved our cozy home and our laughing kids.
With Baby A I was introduced to apps that keep track of how much a little one eats and sleeps and needs a clean diaper and probably lots more that I wasn’t aware of. And surprise! My daughter wanted the rundown when she got home to plot things out. That was probably the hardest thing for me, getting used to keeping statistics like Baby A was a baseball player.
I would drive home thinking I didn’t know how many ounces of breastmilk my babies drank, I just knew they had plenty of wet and soiled diapers. Nor could I tell you how long they slept. The chill-out hormones running wild in me knocked me out so I napped with them, and we all woke up rested and content and oblivious to how much time had passed. But then, those were my own children, and I didn’t have to answer to anyone for their progress.
With this foster baby, I guess there needed to be some way of proving she was getting enough formula and her body was functioning as it should, but it all seemed tedious to me. Time would tell if she thrived or had some struggles, and my eyes would glaze over when it came time to count. I was more interested in how many smiles I saw in a day than how many diapers.
Even though I don’t like rigid schedules, I did develop a rhythm with Baby A. I’d brew some coffee and try for a daily devotion and journaling time before she woke up, followed by breakfast. Of course her needs always determined what happened when – that much was the same. Then feeding and changing and dressing, playing and singing and talking until she was ready to sleep again. And reheating abandoned coffee.
I often let her sleep on my lap or the couch right next to me as I knitted washrags for her baths. We had lots of quiet times, no tv, or on very quietly. There was a little song from an old movie that I would sing to her, “Baby Mine”, and it became our thing, singing while I changed her to hold her attention (I never made it past the second verse because she didn’t like being exposed). Or as I held her close to calm her if she were fussy.
As had happened with my youngest, I got to watch her roll over on her own for the first time at only a couple of weeks old. Of course it was a one-time thing that didn’t repeat for months, but it was thrilling, the shocked look at finding herself flipped over.
Almost everything brought a smile to her face. Yes, a real smile. Yes, almost right away. Her resting face always held a hint of it, the corners of her mouth perpetually curved up. I spent most of that five weeks enjoying those smiles. And she wasn’t just smiling at nothing. Baby A had great focus, especially looking into the many faces of people who held her, and she was alert whenever she was awake.
One thing that was just the same as with my own kids, was how fast that first five weeks flew by. Before I knew it the day came when she could officially go to daycare, where others would feed and burp, change and cuddle, rock and put her down to sleep. And I’m sure they would be efficient and conscientious.
But they wouldn’t be me.
There’s a passage in Luke 2 that’s telling all that happened around the birth of Jesus. Mary and Joseph traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, with Mary very pregnant because she gives birth shortly after they arrive. Meanwhile, shepherds are out in the hills where first one angel appears and announces the birth of the Savior, Messiah, Master, and then a huge choir of angels joins them all, singing praises to God over the birth of this child who forever changed the world. And all the details aren’t mapped out for us, but the shepherds went to find Jesus, and I’m sure they couldn’t help but share all the excitement they’d experienced with Mary and Joseph.
When a baby is born, each mother, each father tends to think of them as their own. And for years many of us have that luxury of caring for our own children in our home. If they are in daycare, we know that they will return to the security of our family in our home every day.
With a foster baby, there’s a very real sense that this baby doesn’t belong to the foster family, or the birth family, or the local children’s services agency. At least nothing is for sure until a lot of steps are taken and all the options explored and eliminated one by one.
One thing that I have no doubt of, after spending five weeks in the heaven of being with Baby A almost every day, is that each baby is made by God with a plan and a purpose. And for however long the relationship lasts, after those five weeks I was deeply sure that I was privileged and honored to love this child from the beginning of her days, no matter what course her life would take, no matter how many different people enter it or declare claims on her or make plans for her.
In those weeks I thought a lot about Mary, and the wonder and confusion all the attention given to her baby must have created in her, and this verse kept going through my mind: