Two days ago marked the first anniversary of my granddaughter officially joining our family.
Of course, my oldest daughter had been caring for her since she was a newborn, but the wheels move the way they move and she was 20 months old when she became a member of the Haas clan in the last way necessary.
In the legal record.
So in celebration I don’t want to write a whole lot, I just want to let you in on the life of my granddaughter, from the beginning to the present.
p.s. I am frustrated with never remembering how to find and move around pictures! So after 3 hours trying to get them in order, and not being able to find more early pics, I’ve decided to leave them random.
I hope wherever you are on this day of Thanksgiving that you are able to feel thankful for the love and the people in your life, no matter what circumstances you are in. Over her life we had a lot of uncertain times, but we have been greatly blessed to go through them because they led to her adoption and being a forever part of our family.
The last time I wrote about my daughter’s first foster baby it was about the day she had to hand her over to case workers to be placed in another home.
Last year this time, Baby A and Big Brother were adopted into that family, finding their forever home.
And after more than a year and a half of not seeing her, our whole family was invited to the adoption party! We were over the moon with excitement!
The day the official adoption proceedings at the courthouse happened was the day before my husband’s and my 33rd anniversary, and the party came a few days later. I don’t even remember celebrating our own milestone, I was so ecstatic that we were going to see Baby A, now almost 2 years old, with Big Brother and their new family.
We joyfully picked out presents for them all, looked back through the pictures on our phones from those brief two months we had the pleasure of helping care for this child, and ticked off the minutes until the day came.
As we drove out to their town I tried not to analyze my feelings. I was nervous (not normal for me), but I didn’t want to think about it then. I’d wait until later to dig into the reasons.
My daughter and Baby B had gone to Baby A’s first birthday party almost a year earlier, and we had been greatly reassured to hear our girl was surrounded by people who loved her and her older brother. And even more pleased to hear how Baby A remembered my daughter, the mother who cared for her in those first months.
It had certainly eased my mind.
And now I could see with my own eyes how our little girl was doing.
Then we arrived. As we expected there was a nice crowd of friends and family come to celebrate. We were welcomed in and introduced to a number of people and the names were all a blur.
I was trying not to look for her.
It was wonderful to see Big Brother, who we had the pleasure of meeting the day Baby A left our family to join with him in this one. He had made an impression on us then, and it was a delight to watch him playing and interacting with so many people. And he was still a sharp dresser!
We saw where the food was laid out, listened as our daughter and Baby A’s mom caught up on their girls’ milestones, getting our bearings.
And I knew she was there somewhere.
Then her Nana came alongside me and asked if I wanted to go see her.
I have to say one of the surprising things to me was the sense of honor I felt was being given to us as Baby A’s first family. In the grand scheme of things we were a part of her life for only two short months. This family had been dealing with the day-to-day sickness, allergies, temper tantrums, and mischief of the nineteen months that followed.
And also all the smiles and cuddles.
But even a year later I am still awed and humbled by the respect and thankfulness Baby A and Big Brother’s new family showed us all.
Nana pointed to where Baby A was eating in her high chair at the back of the garage. And all by myself I walked over to her.
I took in the same high hairline and beautiful rounded forehead I had kissed and nuzzled many times.
We were both wearing purple. I had loved to dress her in purple as it looked so good next to her rich, light brown skin.
She looked like herself, and my heart was so full I wasn’t sure I could stand it without yelling out loud or breaking down in tears, either of which would probably scare her.
I started talking in a low voice, saying some of the same things I used to say to her as an infant. I knew I was repeating myself a little, but I didn’t want to speak things unfamiliar to her, to us.
She was looking at her food, and she stopped moving, stopped doing anything.
To my voice.
She lifted her face and our eyes met.
I was bent over to be closer to her height, and that put us face to face.
I kept talking as I saw recognition come over her features.
A look of pure love.
And Nana asking if I wanted to hold her. Yes! Yes!!
I picked her up and it seemed like right away I was surrounded by my husband and kids, everyone wanting to see and touch and hold.
And it was okay to hand her over to my husband, her Papa, because it was hitting me that I had been living as if with my breath held all these long months.
I did not realize the fear until that moment. The fear that she wouldn’t remember me. Gone in the sparkle of that first look that passed between us.
There was lots of smiling and laughing, eating good food, Baby B at 18 months old toddling around clinging to my legs and wanting up in between playing with Baby A and Big Brother and the other kids.
As time got closer to when we needed to leave, Baby A’s family wanted to get some pictures of all of us with their girl, so we gathered across the street in a big grassy area. My daughter picked her up, someone else held Baby B, and we all smiled like crazy.
And when we were done, Baby A came over to me and I knelt down and let her look through newborn pictures of herself on my phone as I told her about them. She was amazed that I had pictures of us together, the same ones that are in a scrapbook she has.
Then we walked hand in hand with others back to the house, and she wrapped herself around my leg. I picked her up and she draped herself around my shoulders, this great big girl filling up my heart just like she did as a tiny infant.
As she nestled into my neck I sang the first verse of “Baby Mine” that I used to sing as I held and rocked her.
And she fell asleep.
Her family was a little surprised. They said she was hard to get down for a nap, but to me it was just like those early days.
They offered to take her off my hands. But I was willing to hold that child until I collapsed if I could! I did eventually take her into the house and sit down with her, but this knowing was like something I’d expect to feel in heaven.
I’ve talked before about how easily my heart jumped into loving Baby A when my daughter began fostering, and how I tried to hold back at first with Baby B.
There are people whose jobs involve working with lots of little people, and I’ve often wondered how they manage to balance their professional duties with their hearts. Although I’m not the preschool teacher kind of person, I know lots of them, and I marvel at how much love it is possible for them to feel for so many children at once.
But even so, a school year ends or a child ages out of a daycare or preschool class, and their time with them ends.
In fostering, if and when there may be an end is never something you know. At least not with much warning.
Baby B actually helped a little in my attempt to keep my head in control of my heart. When I arrived at my daughter’s house to care for her for a few hours that first evening, this child was a totally different personality from Baby A.
The earliest pictures of her show her classic stink-eye looks. She was not happy. She was not shy about letting you know that. She looked ready to fight the world.
Ah. A challenge. I could take a breath and focus on the tasks at hand, figure out the things that may bring a more calm, chill expression to her face.
My younger daughter was with me that first evening, and had the first turn holding her while I got a bottle ready. And unlike Baby A, who tended to lose little streams of formula out the side of her mouth, this child sucked that first bottle down in a heartbeat. She was all business, and intent on getting her stomach filled.
But even then, the scowl remained. Maybe it was just her newborn face. Maybe there was no connection to any unease in her body, or maybe she was just tired of being messed with and moved from one place to another.
So we passed her back and forth, changed her diaper, looked her over, noticed differences in the way her little hands and fingers, feet and toes looked from Baby A’s. Tried to figure out what her birth parents may look like, marveled at the richness of her skin color and her hair.
Very soon she was ready for more milk, and the second bottle went down as quickly as the first. Even burping didn’t relax the lines in her forehead.
For that first evening anyway I was able to concentrate on the baby’s comfort, on getting her to relax and open her eyes and be willing to take in her new world. Deciding how I felt about it could come later.
Just like with Baby A, the first five weeks of her life I took care of Baby B, at my daughter’s and sometimes at my house. The routine was less of a challenge for me, but for my teens at home it was a stressful time.
We were still fresh from the loss we all felt at Baby A moving to a different home, and there was a long time of aloofness before everyone was able to handle new feelings, fresh love for another foster baby.
Added to the schedule were visits with the birth mom, which was a first, one I had no frame of reference to show me how to navigate.
Here I was, grandfostering another newborn, love growing by leaps and bounds in my heart, despite my caution, and now needing to develop a relationship with the woman who gave her life.
Should I let on how deeply I was falling in love with Baby B? Should I put on a front of being just a caregiver with no strong attachment? Should I not communicate anything about my relationship to this child?
There were no classes for extended family to learn these ropes.
So here’s how I had to look at this.
No matter what the reasons might be for this baby being removed from her birth mom, there were some undeniable positives. This baby had no evidence of drug or alcohol exposure. Her mom had carried her to term without using anything that affected her negatively, that could be detected.
She chose to let this little girl live.
Mom did a great job carrying her and caring for her throughout her pregnancy, and every time I changed or bathed or dressed or fed B, I marveled at what a beautiful, spunky baby she was.
I do not know any of this for fact, but the proof was in my lap or held up on my shoulder or cradled in my arms day after day.
I am forever grateful to her birth mom for the healthy baby my daughter was caring for, from just a few days after her birth.
And love for the woman who bore this child also grew in my heart.
Baby B’s response to us changed quickly, and soon we were getting full-face smiles from the little charmer. She loved being held and looking into our eyes more than about anything.
And when I looked into her birth mom’s face, I could see some of the same expressions. I must admit, more of the furrowed brow mad at the world looks than the smiles, but nonetheless I could see the physical resemblance that will always be a part of her.
Reminding us that this child, like all of us, is a unique combination of her physical parents, and of the way she will be raised. And the tricky part is to bring out the best of all she is made of.
So a little more than two years ago, my daughter accepted her second newborn foster baby, just one month after the first moved to a new home with her older brother. I’ve already shared some of the similarities and differences in my experience with each baby, but this second placement came with a brand new addition to the routine.
Visits with mom.
While my daughter had Baby A, the birth mom never arranged for any visitation time, so I didn’t need to learn the ropes of taking a child to children’s services. In fact, other than going downtown for my background check, I had avoided driving in town for years. It wasn’t that I never had, or that I didn’t know where anything was, I just don’t care for busy city traffic. With Baby A I think there was one time I was needed to pick her up from daycare downtown, and the day my daughter had to turn her over, but both times I was a passenger.
Baby B’s birth mom was different. She wanted visitation very soon, and it was scheduled twice a week in the middle of the day under supervision at the agency. While the downtown daycare was operating it made it convenient for my daughter to transport her, but she had the occasional meeting or training scheduled, and I was available to ferry the baby around. Bringing her there involved a parking garage and carrying her in a car seat or stroller, getting her signed in and transferred to mom. If I was also picking her up after the visit, there was a coffee shop nearby to hang out, and then return to sign her out and pack her up to go back to daycare or home with me on occasion. And validating multiple parking tickets.
After her daycare location changed and the drive was farther from my daughter’s work, there were more times it helped to get her into town and let my daughter pick her up when the visit was over, so my presence at the visits became more frequent.
The biggest difference was that I got to know Baby B’s birth mom.
I didn’t need to know background details about her. And likewise I feel I shouldn’t say much of what I did learn, at least nothing identifying. But I’m a mom. I’ve felt five babies moving within me for the last six months or so of every pregnancy. I found myself knowing these little people I carried more deeply than I ever thought possible, before they were ever born. I couldn’t assume that she felt any less of a connection with the child that she had given birth to, who had to be removed from her arms and given to another person to love and care for.
I remember not wanting to offend or intimidate her in any way. If she didn’t make eye contact, I wouldn’t force it. If she didn’t talk, I was polite but didn’t ask a lot of questions. But I did feel for her. Because I knew how it felt to lose a baby.
I always smiled at her, tried to place Baby B from my arms into hers, or transfer the stroller right to her hands, and give her some reassuring thing to notice about the baby.
My daughter had shared her desire to see moms reunited with their child in her fostering adventure, and I was looking for the same outcome. So as a mom, I tried to encourage any good thing I saw her do or heard her say. There were a lot of long stays at the coffee shop, praying for mom, and returning to hear her tell Baby B that she loved her as I took her back.
There was hope for their reunion. For a long time.
I won’t go into detail, but in my understanding, when a baby is taken away from the birth mom, there are serious reasons that could be any number of things. And in order to regain custody, each mom would have her own set of requirements to meet, goals to be working toward and achieving, before the system would consider reuniting mother and baby.
The passage of time would be the only way to know if Baby B’s mom was able or willing to successfully meet her requirements. Time, and official meetings and hearings and I’m not sure all the hoops to be jumped through. But this was a process, and it had to be lived out, before a day would eventually come when either the birth mom could try to regain custody, or the door would be shut on Baby B ever being with her birth mom.
So until that day came, I had those occasional chances to make an impression on a young woman I grew to love and care for, who is still in my prayers, whose face I looked into as much as I could, seeing what Baby B might be like as she grows.
And I wanted her to see the love of God in me. I wanted her to see joy and peace and contentment, with the world, with the situation she was in, with her baby passed back and forth between us. I wanted her to know some of the love her baby was getting. I wanted her to feel it.
It took a long time, but she started looking me in the eye.
I can’t tell you what she saw, why she was finally willing to look. But what I wanted her to see was hope. Hope for herself, that I would be happy for her if she were able to do all she needed to do and someday take her baby home. Hope that even if she didn’t, she would know I still cared about her. And mostly that Baby B’s birth mom could always count on her baby being loved by people who also took time to see and love her.
Baby B had arrived. It was March of 2017, and once again, I had the joy of taking care of this second foster for much of her first five weeks. But this time I had the routine down from the beginning. And she came over to my house more than Baby A had, which made it easier to keep up with my own life.
If you’ve had more than one child added to your family, you may remember the novelty of everything the first one did, how you wrote down every milestone, took tons of pictures, told everyone the new things they were doing. And when the second came along, you noticed things, but didn’t take time to write them all down because for you they were no longer as surprising, and you were too tired.
With my daughter’s foster babies, I also felt changes from the first one to the second. With the first foster it was like having our first child: a totally new experience that I had no working knowledge of how it might go. But with the second, even though I was savvy about bottles and car seats and various gadgets to lay her in and use to keep her clean and comfy, it didn’t fully equate to the feeling of having a second child.
An obvious difference with Baby B is that Baby A was no longer in the home, so there wasn’t the need to divide time and energy between two babies like when we had our second child. There was still the newness of getting to know another unique person, learning her noises and cries, watching for any signs of feeding problems, getting adjusted to her sleeping and eating schedules, all the things any family has to learn about a new baby.
The biggest difference was that I knew all too well the possibility that this child may not be with us for very long.
And I have to admit, I felt myself guarding my heart a little, not with the love I showed her, but with the love I allowed myself to feel.
This was not new to me. Nineteen years before I felt the same dilemma. Our third child died and was miscarried in December 1997, and unknown to us we were pregnant again only seventeen days later. We were grieving the loss of our much-loved, much-wanted, tried-for-seven-years-to-conceive child. The whole family went on a scrapbooking weekend where the kids played around with Dad while I recorded our brief one month of having this child living inside me. It was a necessary exercise, giving thanks and remembering and recording all our joy and sorrow. It helped us all, me especially, be able to move on.
And after that early January scrapbooking weekend, it seemed we were able to look up from our hurt and timidly ask God what was next.
Just weeks later I was feeling hesitantly sure that we might be pregnant again, so at the end of a very busy day I managed to take a pregnancy test at our favorite coffee shop hang-out, where we all crowded into the bathroom to watch the lines appear, and then celebrated with the baristas who knew our struggles. And as we waited for our drinks to be made we decided to nickname this baby “Joy” while he or she was growing inside me.
In case it’s rubbing you the wrong way, whenever we were expecting, we always talked about how WE were pregnant. There were two people involved, both committed to raising any children God chose to bless us with. And the meaning of pregnant that I always loved was “full of expectation!” My husband and kids were as full of expectation as I was! I was just the one full of baby as well.
So in that season all those years ago I knew what it was to be deeply in love with a baby I had just learned existed, and then to have to commit that baby completely into the hands of God, trusting the plan of the one who created us all.
And then the joy filled reality that I was carrying another unique person that God was forming in my womb moment by moment! I was truly feeling all the feelings. When you know the finality of loss in this world, it tempers joy. It doesn’t eclipse it, but it lets you remember the sting that is possible.
It was time to put aside my sorrow and focus on taking care of myself and this new baby. God had allowed me that oblivious time of mourning to process my hurt and gratefulness for being allowed to carry our little one even for a short time, to feel that connection again. And I was back at the midwife’s office, arguing with her backup doctor that no, this wasn’t a twin of the baby I lost, I was sure this was a new pregnancy, and taking daily blood tests for a while to prove it, and then we were all amazed at how quickly I had been able to conceive again. After seven long years of infertility. It was truly two miracles in a row, and I was able to feel joy again.
Still I felt myself guarding my heart a little. I was already past the time when I’d miscarried, but to ease my mind that I was doing all I could I waited for various milestones to come and go, letting more and more of my heart be captured with hope that all would go well this time.
So two years ago, being immersed into life with Baby B felt much the same. I knew the possibility of loss after Baby A moved on so quickly. The circumstances were not ever in my control, but I could watch and see, could try to understand the system and how it all worked, and little by little I let myself begin to hope that we might be able to care for this child longer than the first foster baby. Beyond a couple of months, I had no experience or knowledge.
And my heart, I know my heart wanted so badly to be all in.
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.
February is often a frigid month in Northwest Ohio, but regardless of the weather that late winter of 2017, a cold numbness settled in. Baby A had moved on to a new family.
Life paused for a while. That day, after my daughter handed her over to the case worker, we didn’t have our routine to keep us busy. Our focus was suddenly gone. We hung out at her house, ate lunch, watched a movie, but then what? It had only been a couple of weeks of the baby going to daycare, and I was still tuned to her schedule.
My teens were struggling to understand and accept the uncertainties of fostering. I had time now to try to help them process, but I’m sure my words sounded hollow. I didn’t know how I felt from one moment to the next.
There were lots of tears over the next few weeks.
And hard lessons about love.
I Corinthians 13:4 says in the middle of the verse “love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious”. In the version I quoted a couple weeks ago it was worded, “Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.”
That was really hard to feel right after this little one left our circle of influence. Altruistically I might have said that I wasn’t jealous of Big Brother and their new foster family. But in my heart I was angry at the inability to control any of the circumstances. I really had to focus on the good that was happening for our girl, the bonds that were being created with her newfound brother, the care she was enjoying from a family with kids to love on her.
I was reading in My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers the February 11 devotion about imagination. How if we neglect it we easily can feel exhausted and weak in our faith. It goes on to say that when instead we choose to use our thoughts to focus on Jesus, it will be our biggest asset when times of trial come. I felt a big “Yes!” in my heart. I had been thinking about Baby A, how the only way I got through that time was to imagine the good things she was hopefully experiencing apart from us.
A new grandma would be caring for her some of the time, and I pictured her as being about my age. Someone to feel the warmth of her snuggles, learning the ways she liked to be held. Unlike our family, her new one had young kids. When my daughter had met them before she had to turn the baby over they had seemed friendly and interested in Baby A, so I could imagine her being entertained by their activity and the attention she was receiving.
Her new foster mom had wanted to meet her, to introduce her other children to Baby A, to reassure my daughter that she was eager to take in these siblings and immerse them in her family, before she took them into her home. So I would imagine another young woman experiencing all the firsts involved with getting to know our girl.
And of course, Baby A and Big Brother were discovering in whatever way they were able the wonder of a flesh and blood sibling.
And I found hope. God taking these hard things in life and working through them and in them, working them for my good. Even this.
It was a time of swimming through feelings for all of us, holding our breath to see how long my daughter would be willing to let herself adjust before diving into her next placement.
I watched her pack away the baby things, ready for the next one, much sooner than I was ready to have them out of sight. Two months of a baby in her house had shown her things to take care of while there wasn’t a little one around, and we inherited her much used and much passed down couch and loveseat in the process.
My stuff went in baskets where I could see them still, the little things kept at our house for when Baby A was with us. There was a hedgehog one of my sons had gotten for her at Christmas, and it was just too hard to part with it, so he kept it to remember her by.
And in the busyness of the short two months she was with my daughter, we didn’t have many tangible mementos. I have some scattered notes, the remnants of all that record-keeping my daughter asked me to do. Schedules of what days I’d have her. Pictures on my phone I had never developed. A handprint that I still haven’t transferred to our family Christmas quilt.
So many memories with no physical proof. No pictures of my heart to put in a scrapbook. But I believe that the most important things in life are the things we can’t see, that we have to know without being able to prove.
Because those are the only things we take with us.
The end of the love chapter, I Corinthians 13, says that one day we will know as we are known, but until that day comes there are three things that remain.
Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.
It will soon be two years, and I still haven’t talked much about it. The shock, the pain, the grief, the sadness, the rage. Even amongst ourselves we don’t speak of the deep hurt that descended on us, and there is much I can’t speak of because it isn’t mine to tell.
In one phone call of decisions made completely apart from the fullness of hearts with great hopes and dreams, life changed.
Have you had those moments? As time goes by they are pivotal in your memory. There is the before… and the after…, and in your mind your whole world turns around those moments of grave events or choices or decisions.
Baby A was coming up on two months old, her little personality blossoming, her relationships with each of us unique and special. I can’t say the whole family was as in love with her as I was, but all were being charmed by her eager smiles, and not one of us suspected we only had a few short days left with her.
Even when the turnover date was affirmed, I was numb at its suddenness. From my point of view, there had been every reason to hope that eventually my daughter might be able to adopt this child. There had been no contact with her birth mom, though the agencies involved were trying. There were no problems with Baby A that indicated she wasn’t being cared for in a better than expected way. The reason they were taking this infant out of my daughter’s home was because there was a need to place her in a different foster home.
Because they had discovered that she has a brother!
When I first heard about Big Brother I didn’t connect that they would want to put the children together in the same home, because I assumed he was being cared for by family. I don’t know details, but they quickly found that he was in need of placement somewhere safe and loving. And my daughter wasn’t able to take in a five-year-old boy as well as a baby. So the alternative the agencies pursued was to find another foster home that could take them both.
We were still clueless, while they were seeking out the right home for these siblings who didn’t yet know about each other. Searching through lists on computers, making phone calls, setting up meetings, deciding what day would work to pick up the children.
And then a call to my daughter. And our world came to a screeching halt.
She was so new to fostering that even though she knew this could happen, there was no frame of reference for anything she should or could do to question or delay the inevitable. And in the end, there wasn’t. Because these children do not yet belong.
Try telling that to people who are all in, who are loving hysterically, who don’t have an “off” button.
I can’t speak to what other people felt, though I was in it with them and saw the tears and heard the anguish in their voices. I can’t tell what my teenagers felt to have fallen in love with this child and now to have to somehow give her up and be ok with it. We weren’t ok.
I can’t say how people can work in agencies that move children around like pieces on a game board, distancing themselves from the heartache the children must feel when the familiar feel and smell and sound of the people who have cared for them disappears in an instant. From my point of view there is much about this system that is cold and uncaring and oblivious to what is truly best for the children and the people providing a home for them.
What I can tell is what went through my mind. A punch to the gut. Disbelief. Denial, and a hope that they would reconsider. Hurt for my daughter, for my kids, for my husband, for myself.
I was carried back 19 years before when I lost a baby through miscarriage. There were similarities that I didn’t want to relive. The initial pains, the disbelief that after waiting 7 long years we could possibly be losing this baby, continuing on with my plans for three days, denying that anything bad could happen to my baby. Pleading with God to protect this child. And then having to finally admit that I was helpless to stop what was going to happen.
And in both situations, my mind switched from groveling in what was happening to figuring out what I could do next.
Within minutes after I lost my baby I felt God give me some specific instructions of things to do, which gave us ways to grieve and eventually share our experience with other people going through the same situation.
With Baby A, I knew we needed to keep loving her as fully as we had been, and we needed to be able to send with her evidence of that love, of her place in our family, in our hearts, no matter what happened to her. Foster parents keep a life book for each child, documenting all the things any parent likes to have records of, so that wherever they go there will be an ongoing record of milestones, illnesses, doctor visits, achievements, and the writing and thoughts of their caregivers.
So we worked together to make a scrapbook of Baby A’s first two months with my daughter, madly printing pictures and laying out pages to assemble, at least one of us working nonstop for the next couple of days. There were clothes to be packed, blankets and wash rags and toys, books and bottles and formula. Her things. The scent of our familiar hands on them.
The day came after a fitful night of sleeping on the floor next to her bed. The last bath. The last pictures. Heads turned for the tears before the next last time of holding her to see herself in the mirror, see her favorite pictures on the wall.
There is so much more I want to tell, but I see that this post is going long, and I want to respect the time you have taken to read this. So I am going to stop here in the story, and pick up tomorrow with part 2. I won’t make you wait a whole week, but this story deserves to be told more fully than I can do it in this short space.
I want to leave you with one of my very favorite passages to mull over until tomorrow, a passage that has touched my life in many different ways over the years. As you read it, maybe you will think how it applies to your own life, to your own before… and after… pivot points. And if you’ve never read it before, let it cover you like a warm blanket, soothing your own hurting places. Because it’s written to you by God, who loves you no matter what you are going through, who loves you like this:
1 Corinthians 13:4-7The Message (MSG)
Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.
I want to explain what I needed to do once my daughter for real got that first call to place a newborn in her home. But before you can understand what I mean, I have to tell you a story about me.
My parents were from North Carolina and once a year we traveled down there to visit for about a week. Dad stayed at his mom’s, Mamaw’s, and Mom stayed with her parents, Grandma and Grandpa C. When us kids were little, we stayed mostly with our mom, so she could care for our needs. So that meant we spent more time early on with those grandparents.
Grandma C was intimidating. She could look very fierce, and demanded that everyone work as hard as she did. She prided herself on having the tallest corn around, made quilts out of the smallest scraps of material, cooked wonderful meals. She wasn’t really scary, but when I was very young I gravitated more to Grandpa C.
The house they lived in had the front near the road, and the back hung out over the side of a hill. There were stairs that went from the first floor down to the garden and farther down was a woods. Inside there was a stairway that went up into the ceiling, and you had to open a trap door to get into the rooms in the attic space, where my older sister and I were put down to sleep in a big bed together.
We had times when we would go to Mamaw’s for the day, have dinner, play with the cousins on that side of the family, but most of my early memories were of times spent with Grandpa C and my dad. I always felt they liked each other, that my dad thought more highly of Grandpa C than he did his own dad, for reasons I’ll talk about another day.
The main thing I remember doing was going fishing, on at least three different outings. A couple of times we were in a rowboat on some small pond, another time standing along the shore of a bigger lake where the water lapped up over our feet.
I also thought it was funny that Dad loved to fish with Grandpa, but he never went fishing at home. I guess it really was something Grandpa loved to do and wanted to share with us. We would come back to the house and Grandma would have bowls of cornmeal and buttermilk ready to batter up the fish and fry them for supper. I would sit in the dining room on Grandpa’s lap, looking out the back of the house and down the hill, smelling the fish frying.
If you asked me to recall Grandpa’s words I couldn’t do it. He talked, I probably did as well, but I was a shy, quiet child. It didn’t matter to me what was said, because we were communicating in a very nonverbal language. There was a softness in Grandpa’s eyes when he looked at me, a gentleness in his calloused hands when he picked me up and held me in his arms or on his lap, when he took my hand and helped me into or out of a boat, a playfulness when he threw a dead fish at me that was lying along the shore of the lake. He was patient, he didn’t expect me to be always busy, he didn’t expect it of himself. He was happy to be with me.
I could not have said in words what this all meant to me as a little girl. Not until years later did I understand that what I felt from Grandpa was unconditional love.
In the grand scheme of things this man that I loved deeply was only in my life a couple years. He died the spring when I was three. I was two the last time I saw him.
Just a couple short years later I would be in some hurtful situations that would affect me for the rest of my life, and I’d think there wasn’t anyone I could tell, anyone I could turn to for help. But in those experiences I held onto a feeling that I was loved by someone, somewhere, even though I couldn’t see him any more.
When my daughter decided to foster newborns, the curious comment I heard in a dozen variations boiled down to this: “How can you help take care of this foster baby and keep from getting attached? I couldn’t do it, I’d fall in love with her and not be able to let her go.”
And the alternative would be…
Sometimes you know it does no good to try to explain. But to the ones I felt would get it, I would answer like this.
When I was a little girl, I knew my grandpa loved me. He gave me his time, his attention, his affection. He opened his heart and his arms to me. He was patient and fun-loving and never too busy to sit with me and just be us. Grandpa loved me unconditionally. And it wasn’t just something I knew, it was something that shaped me more than he could ever have dreamed.
It helped me realize that when God tells me he loves me no matter what, he means it.
So I really had no choice, even though this whole fostering adventure was my daughter’s dream, even though while she was learning the ins and outs of it, I was helping my mom as she moved from life here into life in heaven. And later yet when her fostering classes were ending, I was pulling myself out of a time of depression and grief, never suspecting what grandfostering was going to mean for me.
I could only do one thing.
Love this baby, love any babies placed in my daughter’s care, fully and freely. I had to be all in.
Because this. My grandpa loved me unconditionally, and because of that I always knew I was loved no matter what by someone. I wanted this first baby, and those that followed, to know they were loved. And even if they were only with my daughter for a short time, I wanted to pour so much love over them that someday, when they hear someone say that God loves them unconditionally, they will know in the deepest part of them what that feels like.
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, “BabyMine”, 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:
Luke 2:19Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.
My heart, too, holds many things dear. Like how this child has changed my world.