I grew up hearing a phrase, “Once burned, twice shy,” and like all things words I had spent some time trying to parse out what it meant. I certainly had been burnt many times: candles, electric stove burners, oven racks, fireplace, car cigarette lighters, heating irons. The things that burn you may be things you really need or want to be able to use. So I had come to realize the phrase referred to caution, a hesistancy to stick your hand into something you knew would burn you.
So after Baby A left my daughter’s home in February 2017, I was ok with time passing before she took her next placement. Burned maybe isn’t the perfect analogy, but the grief when she left certainly felt like surviving as if through a fire. And I was hoping for time to heal before exposing myself again to being all in with a new baby. The second time around, yes, shy.
I wanted a couple of months or more before my daughter started entertaining the idea of taking in a new baby. I hoped, for her heart, that she was able to work through her feelings and be emotionally focused on the next child, and I didn’t want her to feel rushed or forced to accept a placement if she wasn’t yet ready.
She started getting calls that she declined for good reasons. When she told me about those coming in, my heart beat faster until I heard she turned them down. Take your time, wait for the one that feels right. It had barely been a month.
There’s another saying I heard as a child, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” That one I deduced had to do with British currency, and how if you were willing to invest a small amount, why not go big and take a real chance? That’s how I felt when I got the call.
Could I come over early evening that day? Because a new baby girl was to be delivered by a caseworker to her home less than an hour before my daughter needed to leave for work. Could I stay with her for a couple of hours until she got back home?
Just three months earlier, I was brand new to bottles and formula, but after two months with Baby A, I was a pro. So with younger daughter in tow, we headed over to start the next big adventure. With penny in hand.
Meeting Baby B was such a different experience from the first foster baby. Same general circumstances: a baby in need of care, fresh from the hospital, just a few days old. But we were all completely changed from three months before.
I was relieved to find my daughter just sitting with the baby. Not worrying about getting everything prepped. She only had a few minutes to greet this child, and I was glad she was spending it gazing at her, learning her little features, before running off for a few hours of work.
For me, I was ok not holding her right away. I guess that was the same when meeting Baby A, when I was not sure what my heart would do once my arms embraced her. Only this time I knew, and I felt myself holding back, willing to be in for a penny, but not sure if I would be able to chance my heart on her, if there was room in there with Baby A.
Maybe you’ve heard someone express that idea, that adding a new baby would be too hard because how could you possibly divide your time and resources between two or more? And the implication is, how could you divide your love?
I heard it as a parent, the protests increasing with the imminent birth of each of our five children, how hard it would surely be to raise more than the number of children the speaker was comfortable with. There seemed to be a widespread misconception that the more kids you have, the less able you are to care for their needs. But that wasn’t our experience. In fact, I felt like it got easier as there were more people to look out for each other. And since I didn’t pay attention to how expensive children are supposed to be, I was always content to see how “again God provided for bills he’d incurred.”
So here we were, my younger daughter and I, meeting foster baby number two. I let her hold Baby B first, watching them, taking some pictures, getting one of the premixed bottles from the hospital ready to feed her.
I was amused by the downright grumpy look on her face. This child definitely had her own opinion of this outside world she was now a part of. Her dominant expression was a scowl, though she was dry, warm, held gently, talked to quietly. Still she looked mad at everyone and everything. For a brief moment I thought maybe it would be possible to hold my feelings aloof for a while, just in case this didn’t work out. I knew nothing about her circumstances, and as with the first foster I knew my daughter’s hope was to be able to reunify this little girl with her mother.
So when it was evident she was ready to eat, I took her into my arms for the first time. I looked into her skeptical face, trying not to match it by smiling into those eyes as dark as my daddy’s had been. I’d always wished for a brown-eyed baby, and here she was.
She was impatient for milk, and as soon as I got the nipple into her mouth she sucked vigorously, emptying the small amount in less than two minutes. Yet another way she was different from Baby A, who had a perpetual dribble of milk out one side of her mouth, who took a long time to finish any bottle, needing burped often. Baby B was certainly her own person.
In my younger years, before husband and children, I imagined myself to be an adventurer, a risk-taker. I would list the things I expected to do in my adult life: skydiving, hang gliding, skiing, surfing. All things I never got around to doing.
And then, bottle finished, I lifted up this tiny bundle, wrapped my arms around her, and my heart leaped off the ledge.