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Friday, July 20, 2012

Saying Goodbye

We said goodbye to baby girl today.

It wasn't easy.  Not that I thought it would be, but I thought that with her only being in our home for four days, it wouldn't be as bad.

I was wrong.

It started last night during her middle of the night feeding.  I jumped up at her first whimper and as I picked her up, I (doubtfully) wondered if her bios will do the same.  I know that my efforts were exaggerated this week.  After all, she was only with us for a week, so it's easy to jump at the first whimper in the middle of the night when you're only doing it for a few days.  I know the reality is that even the best mother in the world experiences the overwhelming weariness as the months of jumping up in the middle of the night wear on.  The exhaustion just overcomes you and you don't always jump at the first whimper.  Sometimes you lie there praying that whimper will be a solitary event and everyone will roll over and go back to sleep for another few hours.  

But as I jumped out of bed and lifted that little bundle into my arms and sniffed her baby scented head, I wondered.

I suppose I will wonder a lot in the next hours, days, weeks, years.

Wonder if her bios will keep it together and be able to do right by her. 

I know it's cynical, but after my years of professional experience in this child welfare world, I know that love isn't enough.  Everyone wants to believe that it is, but the truth is, the type of love we humans are capable of giving is not enough.  We're not created to be selfless.  That's why parenting is a sacrifice.   Parenting is constantly choosing selflessness.  It's a minute by minute choice.  Some people are just not capable of making those choices.  It's not always their fault - my professional experience tells me all of this.  But my heart wonders.  

Her bios may love her, but will they be able to parent her the way she deserves to be parented?  I selfishly put our (Erik and I) parenting skills on a pedestal as if we are perfect.  I know that we are not, but I do what a cynic does - I judge.

It's not fair.  But nothing about this situation is fair.  Even knowing what the results were going to be going into this situation, I still find it all unfair.  But that's me being selfish.  

Maggie, Whitaker and I drop baby girl off at the agency so she can be transported to her bios.  The caseworkers tell me that both bios completed their drug screen and everything came back negative, so they are drug free.

Cynic shouts in my head, FOR HOW LONG?????

I nod my head and say, "That's good."  

With nothing else to say, I tell the caseworkers, "Thanks."  I'm not really sure what that means, but somehow it seemed the only thing to say and I grab my children's hands and we walk out the door.  I try not to sniffle as the tears well up in my eyes - to put on a brave face for Maggie.  

We drive home and I stop and get them a donut hoping that the sweet treat will distract them from what we'll see when we walk through the doors at home.

This empty bouncy seat that just a few hours ago snuggled that precious pink bundle with the little rosebud mouth.  Maggie sitting next to her slightly pushing on the wire frame so that baby girl will feel that comforting motion.

The little leopard print nightie she wore to bed last night, that still smells like her.  Still draped over the pack n play waiting to be washed in a load of baby things.  Except it won't get that chance.  We have no other baby things to wash, so it will go in with all of our  regular clothes.  Once it's washed, it won't be her nightie anymore - it will just be another baby nightie.  Thinking that makes me tear up.

The basket of folded girl things and the little bunny hat with matching slippers.  Everything had been washed and folded to be used by her.  Most of it never touched because she wasn't with us long enough.

The swaddler that I bought on a whim just for her.  The only purchase I made just for her.

The pacifier I found randomly last week.  The irony of finding it just a day after we had been called about possibly taking a baby girl.  She didn't really care for it, but it's still on the green side table just in case.

Of all things, a bag full of tiny, dirty baby diapers.  

And her last bottle sitting by the sink waiting to be washed.

Such simple, little, and insignificant things, yet their presence is overwhelming.  

As we walk through the house and see these things, the house suddenly feels empty.  Maggie looks at the empty bouncy seat and we look at each other and tears fall.  Maggie tells me that she misses the baby.  I tell her that I miss baby too.  I remind Maggie that this is what it will be like every time and if she thinks it's too hard for her heart, we will stop doing it.  She tells me that it is just sad for today.  I tell her how proud I am of her and her brothers for being so loving and caring to baby girl because I am so proud of them.  My constant fear is that our endeavor to live out our ministry will negatively impact our children. 

I don't tell her that my tears are more about sadness of wondering what the future holds for baby girl.  Each item I pick up to put away brings a bittersweet feeling.  The joy it was to hold baby girl for a week, to care for her and love her.  The sadness of saying goodbye to her.  The prayers said for her over each item I pick up and lovingly put away.

Maggie and I decided that we're going to try to find a pink storage container to store all of the girl things so next time we have a baby stay with us, we can pull it right out.  Just about everything is packed up waiting to be put away in a newly purchased pink storage box.  

Except this.

After I tuck my precious ones into bed tonight, I think I'll sit with this for a while and smell that sweet baby smell.

And I'll pray the first of many prayers for the future of our very first foster daughter.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Opening Our Hearts

Erik and I have discussed throughout our relationship that we both felt that ministering to children outside of our own family was important to us.  We've discussed different ways we would accomplish this.  Youth ministry within our churches was one way, me providing childcare in our home was another.  A far off "one day" option was Foster Care.  Far off as in our children would be much older and we'd have lived through most of the elementary school years to have considerable experience under our belts.  Having once worked in a system with Foster families and foster children, I am aware of the challenges of foster care and have felt that to be fair to our children, waiting until they didn't need us so much would be ideal.

A dear friend of ours (referenced in this story as E) works for a foster/adoption care agency and we've talked with her over and over how "one day" we'd be interested in welcoming Foster children into our home, etc.   She tells us stories of how foster families are needed, never pressuring us, but saying, "You guys would be a great Foster Family" and then leaving us to pray about it.  Through her encouragement and our own prayer, we started to come around to the idea of starting the process a little earlier than we thought and tossed around the idea of doing foster care for children under 2 or on a respite type basis which would be very short term.  

Through a series of "coincidences" it became very clear to us that God was telling us it was time to start the Foster Care process.  It mid-June and Erik was home waiting for the veteranarian to arrive to look over our goats for the Big Butler Fair.  It was just after noon and he came into the house asking to borrow my cell phone because he could not find his.  He was headed back out to the barn to call his phone because he thought he dropped it in the manure.  While he was walking back to the barn, he tried calling our friend, N, whose son boards his goat with us and who was going to show his goat too.  The Vet was going to check that goat as well, and we needed to have her registered name on the Vet papers.  When our friend N didn't answer his phone, Erik then used my phone to call his wife, E, who at the time was at work at her agency in a meeting where they were discussing the fact that they had had a call from another agency looking for a foster home for an infant.  Erin looked at her phone, saw that I (Erik) was calling her and a light bulb went off.  Shortly after that, she called me and said that they were looking for people to foster an infant and since we thought we might like to care for infants she wanted us to know.  Erik and I talked about it, prayed about it and we both came to the conclusion that God was telling us to get the process started.  We both knew that we wouldn't necessarily be blessed with a child right away, but if nothing else, we could get certified and then take it from there.

So we did.  A few days later, we went to the agency, signed the papers,  and over the coming days had our criminal backgrounds checked, had our home checked out and a water test completed.  The water test failed.  Twice.  We're waiting for the results of the third test.

Then last week, we got a call from one of our coordinators who said that another agency was looking to place a baby girl.  They didn't have many details but the placement would occur Monday and we were to assume the placement would be for three months, but to be aware that all details were dependent on the hearing on Monday. If we were interested, we should come to the hearing on Monday.  In the meantime, we were cautioned that over the weekend, things could vastly change and nothing was definite.  I spent the weekend in anticipation yet preparing for the worst.  Finally, Sunday after we dropped Maggie off at Pymatuning to camp with Mimi and her cousin, I asked Erik to stop at Walmart to buy size 1 diapers.  Just in case.  And I allowed myself to get a little excited about the potential of a new baby in the house.  

The next day, I continued to allow myself to feel more excited and I began some preparations.  I dug out the bassinet from the attic and searched through my bin of keepsake clothes and found lots of adorable newborn outfits for a little girl.  I didn't even realize I had saved so much for Maggie!  That afternoon, after washing blankets and clothes and bedding, Erik and I went to the hearing and due to extenuating circumstances, had to leave before we knew the fate of the baby!  Talk about torture!  We ended up going home and about an hour later, our coordinator called to let us know that we would have the baby for just five days instead of the three months that we had anticipated.    It was a little discouraging, but I quickly realized that this was a blessing from God as we learned that there was a little more involved in the process than we anticipated.  

So here we are, four days later, basking in the pink presence of a baby girl in our house again.  

Ten little fingers.

Ten little toes.

Everyone has fallen in love with her.

It's going to be quite an adventure, this journey of the heart we are embarking on.  

There are going to be lots of highs and lots of lows.  We're trusting that God will guard our hearts and protect us from heart ache as we tend to these little lambs and then send them on their way.  The future is unknown for us and for them.  There are so many things we have double and triple and quadruple thought about in terms of exposing our family in this way.  The bottom line is that despite the probable (definite) heart ache, we believe it is our purpose to provide love and care for children by opening our home and our hearts.  

This was a light week for me in general because the children were taking turns camping with Mimi, so I didn't have a full plate of children to tend to, so tending to an infant was much easier.  Also, prior to Monday, were told baby would have visitation with her bio parents once a week, but it turns out it was three times a week, so that would have been difficult (but manageable) to figure out.  Additionally, we knew we had a week of travel/vacation planned and coordinating how to work that out with the visitation schedule was going to prove very difficult.  I think also, God is blessing us with just a little taste of what this is going to be like for us.  Because of the camping trip, none of the children but Whit had much more than 36 hours with baby in the house.  That gave them just enough time to love on her, but not too much time to become too attached.  Walker and Will were able to kiss her goodbye and head out for their camping trip - a welcome distraction, especially for Willie who was absolutely wonderful with baby girl.  Walker enjoyed her too, but was kind of over the whole crying thing.  Willie, however, was a champ, telling me that he would take care of her and he never ever would mind if she cried.  

Maggie got to meet her yesterday and hasn't left her side.  More blessings came this week as a school friend called to plan a play date with Maggie so she has something fun to look forward to after saying goodbye.  And even I won't have too much time to wallow in goodbye as I pack up the few baby things and get our family packed for a trip to Hershey with my mom and sister and then for a separate end of the week trip to NY and Lake Chautauqua.  

It's a scary adventure we're on.  But one I know will be well worth the journey.