Supposed to be

We received word this weekend that Baby C may be going home with his mom after this morning’s court hearing. They asked us to pack all of his belongings and bring him to court so everything would be ready if the judge decided in favor of reunification. This was a little surprising since cases like this usually don’t resolve for 6-9 months—but certainly not altogether unexpected.

This weekend was a whirl of preparation. I wanted to send his mom as many resources as we could. I used the remaining funds from Baby C’s clothing allowance to purchase clothing in larger sizes and I redeemed the WIC vouchers for this month’s formula. I also sifted through bags of donated clothes and baby items to find gear to send home with him (and some to keep here for future placements!).

After washing and sterilizing everything, I packed it all in a bag that was given to us by Chosen for Life Ministries. Many times, a foster child’s belongings are placed in garbage bags as the child moves from place to place. Among many other services to foster and adoptive families, Chosen for Life provides a monogrammed duffel bag, towel, and pillowcase to many foster children. I love this statement affirming the dignity and worth of these little ones and their families!

 

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While many have asked us if we would adopt Baby C, we have tried to make it clear that our goal is to support his mom in seeking reunification. Our children know that we are open to adoption; but, throughout this process, we have talked to them about Baby C going home. When Gabriel (3YO) introduces Baby C, he says, “This is my bruvver C— and he is going home to his mommy one day.” While this has provoked a number of puzzled glances in my direction, it has been very helpful in establishing expectations for the children!

We told the children on Friday evening that Baby C may be going home after court. They seemed to take the news reasonably—with responses ranging from, “Good! He cries too much!” to “I don’t want him to leave us! I just love him so much!” Indeed, both expressed by the same the child…. Cora had some concern over her conflicting emotions. She wasn’t sure if was okay to want him to stay here and be excited for his mom. We talked through the process further—they jumped up repeatedly during the discussion to kiss Baby C’s little head—but they seemed to understand. After they were settled, we asked, “So, would you all be interested in inviting another foster child into our home in a couple weeks?” They stared at me blankly for a time before Abigail said flatly, “Of course.” They all nodded. So there is that.

This morning, Joanna (a sweet friend and respite caregiver) showed up to accompany us to the courthouse. (Another friend was watching Joanna’s children to enable this!) We brought all four children with us so they could say goodbye when the time came. It seemed insensitive to leave our three older children home while we took their brother away—and to return home without him. Joanna was with us to watch the children while we went into the court hearing.

Upon entering the courthouse, we connected immediately with Baby C’s mom. She hugged us and thanked us again for caring for her baby. She was incredibly nervous and she had no idea Baby C was supposed to go home with her today. We prayed together. The court was very busy and the wait was long. Thankfully, her attorney took her aside and let her know the plan. She was absolutely beside herself with joy—and, at the same time, still unable to believe she would get her son back. We were all waiting for the judge to affirm the DFCS recommendation.

During the wait, we obtained court permission to take Baby C’s mom outside to see him. We sat with her outside the courthouse for some time as she cuddled her boy. We laughed about the various nicknames the children had given him. When Cora broke down in tears again, his mom passed him over for Cora to hold and feed. We went over her case plan and how she was doing and I gave her the details on his eating and sleeping patterns. We taught her how to swaddle and showed her what positions were most comforting to him. It felt strange to be the expert on someone else’s child.

 

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(Yes, I know this looks creepy with his face blurred out…)

The hearing itself took about 7 minutes. DFCS made their recommendations, the judge clarified some details—and then affirmed the recommendation for reunification. Baby C was back in his mom’s custody! Our eyes were full of genuinely happy tears as his mom came straight to us to celebrate. It is a testimony to God’s grace and presence that this woman felt so safe with us.

At the conclusion of his comments, the judge said, “This is the way it’s supposed to be.”

We said our good-byes to the numerous case managers and other officials before heading back outside. We checked the car seat and transferred the baby gear, then began our final round of good-byes—mixed with more prayers and tears. Last pictures. Last cuddles. Last kisses on that soft head. Then everyone was loaded and buckled. And good-bye.

Then fatigue. Deep fatigue. Through lunch and more driving—heading to the Y for swim practice, bathing children, and eating dinner—there has been an unsteadiness. There is a sudden release, and the weight of responsibility lurches. And I still hear him shifting and sputtering in the back seat or crying when he would normally wake to eat. We stepped onto the boat six weeks ago and found our sea legs—and now, as we step off the boat, the land seems to heave. I feel like Gabriel, “Mommy, where is C—? I know he went with his mommy, but where is C—?”.

No, this is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Foster care….it is provision and grace. It is life. God remains sovereign—and He is our Healer. But it’s just not the way it’s supposed to be.

 

As we move on….

Baby C’s mom has asked us to remain connected—perhaps even to be his godparents. We are headed over to her house in a few weeks to deliver Christmas gifts from a local church. Knowing of our upcoming visit really helped our children say good-bye today. And we said “Thank-you” to our children with ice cream. They definitely understand ice cream. (Thanks for the idea Sarah Ward!)

We are taking a few days to a few weeks off before accepting further calls. Our agency will send a counselor later this week to check in with our children and us. And we must decide what age(s) will would like to foster next…. The holiday season is, sadly, one of the busiest times of year for foster placements. Please continue in prayer for Baby C, his mom, and our family, and the many other families who are supporting us.

Six weeks old!

Baby C is over six weeks old now! I expected the interrupted sleep, endless diaper changes, and piles of laundry that come along with a newborn. I was excited that Parker could share in the midnight feedings since I wouldn’t be nursing. And we were ready to enjoy sharing the newborn experience with our three older children.

However, I didn’t quite understand the extent of all the meetings and appointments! On top of the frequent pediatrician appointments, we sat in the WIC office multiple times (all foster children under 5 are on WIC), visited with various case managers, went to court, participated in the FTM (Family Team Meeting—to establish the case plan for the biological family), attended more foster training sessions (for continuing education hours), scheduled developmental assessments, and helped coordinate weekly visitation with Baby C’s mom.

If it weren’t for the help from Uniting Hope for Children and a number of families, I have no idea how we could have pulled off the last six weeks! They have been baby-sitting, coordinating meals, helping with housework, schoolwork, and groceries, picking up children, buying diapers and baby gear, etc. Some families are getting trained to do baby-sitting for foster children and one family has finished the full home study in order to be a respite family for us. They kept Baby C for a week while we were out of town.

I have been told that 50% of foster families stop fostering within the first year. Now I see why—and I haven’t even mentioned the deeper issues.

We love Baby C. My older children cried when we left him with our respite family. Before leaving for school, my 3YO kisses Baby C on the head and says, “Don’t worry, your bruvver will be home soon.” We would be delighted to enjoy him for many years in our home. We love Baby C—and we love his mom. And we know it is best that he goes home to a safe and stable environment with his mom. We are praying for this and encouraging his mom in her efforts.

This tension is no surprise. So many people hear our story and say, “I could never do that! I would want to keep him.” Well, we do want to keep him! But, more than that, we want to love him and love his mom. Others express concern that Baby C will be sent home to an unsafe situation or will be pulled back into the foster system. I am too! But I must trust God’s sovereignty together with His goodness. I must choose to trust, even when our family grieves. Because we will. When Baby C goes home, we will grieve—while we rejoice in the reunification. If he must be adopted, we will grieve the absence of a safe home—while we rejoice in his presence with us.

Tomorrow, we go to court. So, this could be our last night with Baby C—or he could be with us for months to come. Lord, give us rest—and grace to believe!

Open and Filled: The First 7 Days

Our home was opened by the state for foster care on Tuesday, September 29th! At 1:30pm to be exact. It was one of those moments where I, again, questioned our sanity. Yes, we spent months doing paperwork and home visits…and years discussing this moment. Yet the realization that someone could call at any moment and ask if we would like a child for an indefinite period of time is, indeed, a bit surreal. We had narrowed the field pretty sharply by limiting our availability to a 0-6 month old boy—or a sibling group in that general age range (twins, essentially)—so we weren’t sure how long it would be before we received a call.

That Friday morning, I picked up a car seat and some baby bottles at the YMCA consignment sale. Actually, I picked up bottles and then Parker sent me back for the car seat. I didn’t buy it the first time because I felt a bit silly buying gear for a baby that may not come.

We got the call from UH4C* just a few hours later—72 hours after our home was opened. There was a baby boy, born the day before, who needed a home. He was not quite ready to be discharged, but they wanted a foster family ready to pick him up.

It sounded like a perfect fit. So, heart pounding, I checked with Parker and called them back to accept. Within a couple hours, I met our UH4C case manager by phone and the DFCS case manager e-mailed placement paperwork and let us know there would be a court hearing that Monday. (I believe an initial hearing for the biological parents must be held within 72 hours of taking the child into state custody.)

I had tons of questions: “How big is he?” “What is his name” “Does he have health problems?” “When will he be released?” They did send the name, but that was about it.

I ran to the store for diapers and a preemie size outfit—since we had no idea how big the baby was. Target had one preemie outfit for a boy and the shirt read, “Daddy loves me.” I couldn’t buy that outfit. We knew nothing about his dad…or his mom. And we had no idea why neither parent was able to care for him. Parker would love him–but it seemed insensitive to his birth mom on that first day. So I left without an outfit.

At home, I printed the paperwork and stuck it in the “blue binder” (a simple three-ring binder that has become essential to function with a foster child!), installed that car seat (yes, the one that Parker made me go back and buy…), and started pulling baby gear out of bins. I was still a bit hesitant. They said he was coming home to us. However, many times a family member will come forward or something changes so the baby does not actually come into the prepared foster home. We know a family who received seven calls in the first week, accepted all of them, and did not end up with any of those children.

Then we waited for the phone to ring. Our children were so excited! “When is he coming, mommy?” I had no idea.

Baby C (as we came to call him) was taken to the NICU that night with some complications, so the call did not come till Monday. Our UH4C case manager met us at our home and we drove an hour to the hospital. After searching for the proper entrance and figuring out how to get into the NICU, we washed up, submitted ID and CPR cards, and received a copy of Baby C’s hospital record.

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Then we got to hold a sweet, healthy six and a half pound boy! We fed and changed him and were escorted out.

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We, then, drove a few blocks to the courthouse for the biological mom’s first hearing. As we stepped into the hallway to wait, my eyes met those of another woman. She had papers in her hand that said something about a birth mom. Parker introduced himself and asked if she was there for a foster care hearing. After a moment of confusion, she blurted out her baby’s name and leapt up from her chair. “Do you have him? I thought he was still in the hospital!” I glanced at our case manager, who nodded, so I quickly unbuckled Baby C and handed him to his mother.

As this woman sobbed over her 4-day-old son and begged us to take good care of him, we began to understand more of what foster care is about. It is about sin and grace and second chances—for parents and children. It’s about moms and dads who sometimes love deeply, but not well. It is walking with these moms and dads and pointing them to the cross. Believing God for them even when you can’t believe them. And it is doing these things regardless of the anticipated outcome. Because it is God’s heart for His people. Whether the parent turns or not, we are called to love freely and selflessly.

“We are for you,” Parker said. “We are not trying to take your baby from you.” Baby C’s mom hugged us and thanked us. Perhaps this sounds like a common reaction from a woman whose child has been removed toward the family assigned to care for her child. It is not.

*UH4C: Uniting Hope 4 Children is a faith-based child-placing agency. They are amazing! Check out their website at UH4C.org.