Thursday, September 26, 2013

Other firsts as a foster parent

I'm continuing to catch up on our foster journey so far before blogging in the present.  

I thought I would go through a few firsts that threw me for a loop in my foster parenting experience so far.

First Doctor's Appointment

One lesson I learned is that if you call to make a doctor's appointment for a newborn placement and the office says that there is already one scheduled, find out who scheduled it.  If a birth parent scheduled it, and you can still make that appointment, make sure the office knows not to cancel the appointment, that you will be there.  In our case, Pterodactyl's mom had made the appointment at the hospital, and so when I called to make an appointment, I learned there was already one scheduled and planned on that one.  Soon afterward, Pterodactyl's mom called to cancel the appointment, thinking that since she didn't have the baby, she wouldn't have that appointment.  Then the caseworker told her to go at that time.  This caused a bit of a mess of both of us showing up to a cancelled appointment, though luckily we were able to reschedule for later in the day and both make it back there.  Not the best start for foster parent/birth parent interactions that are already awkward.  The awkwardness continued, but this was actually the best interaction we have had so far.  She asked about my boys and why I was doing foster care.  I gave her as much time to snuggle her baby as I could.

I also learned:
  • having a birth parent there is very important for getting family history written down
  • getting a Medicaid number takes awhile
  • telling office staff about confidentiality is important, as a receptionist checked the address they had on file by saying it out loud, not realizing it was Pterodactyl's mom's address.  I made sure they put a note so they wouldn't do the reverse (tell a birth mom my address).
 First Sibling and Grandparent Visit

This one caught me off-guard with sibling questions directed at me.  "Can she come home with us?"  I gave an answer that seemed appropriate to me, but wasn't cut-and-dry enough for a 4-year-old and the little guy thought I said yes.  And the Grandma didn't understand English enough to intervene.  IT was a moment of my heart sinking, wondering what I'd gotten myself into.

First Respite

We did not intend to use respite, but when Pterodactyl was only about two months old, she stayed at another home for the weekend.  We had hoped to bring her with us on a trip to Canada to visit B's family, but it got complicated when her birth mom did not give permission and no one could overrule it because the agency didn't have her birth certificate yet.  The caseworker suggested a family for respite, whom we had met in our training for becoming licensed.  I felt conflicted; I would never leave my biological babies with someone else for a weekend at two months old.  At the same time, we don't know how long we're going to be fostering, and we will need to sometimes make sure our family life has a high enough priority.  The way our agency set it up, we called the other foster parents and arranged the details, paying them our part of the stipend.  They were a wonderful respite placement, happy to take care of Pterodactyl.

 First Questions from Strangers

These started immediately.  Pterodactyl has dark skin; we have light skin.  I got everything from people wanting to know where she was adopted from to people complimenting me on bouncing back from childbirth so quickly.  It was especially awkward with a newborn newborn, as most people know that you don't have an internationally adopted baby that young, nor would you be just babysitting such a young baby.  I also worried about confidentiality and tried to dodge people's questions about exactly how old she was and her birth date.  I felt oddly exposed with all the glances and questions, and this is coming from someone who doesn't mind attention when pregnant.   I'm still not entirely over it, and my reaction is often to share more than I need to.  A library employee asked me if she was adopted, and I could just say no and let them guess at the rest, but instead I say, "No, we're foster parents."  I'm not really supposed to label her as a foster child more than I have to, though at least with a baby, it's not like she understands it.

So, we've navigated our family through some firsts.  Coming up sometime soon will be our first good-bye.  Pterodactyl's grandma had obstacles that prevented her from taking Pterodactyl as a foster placement, but we learned this week that those obstacles are gone.  The caseworker expects she will move to be with Grandma, but it could be anywhere from immediately to weeks.  This will be a very difficult first good-bye.  I know it would be harder had she been here for years, but four months still seems long enough that it's hard to imagine her not being here.  She is not the easiest baby and very attached to me, and I'm worried about what she'll go through when she's uprooted from the only home she has known in her life.  I don't say that as someone opposing the change, but I say it for what it is.  It sucks for me, but it also sucks for Pterodactyl.  But, as I've known from the beginning, foster care sucks.  It's an unnatural system that has frequent feelings of wrongness.  But that doesn't mean that Pterodactyl didn't need a home.  That doesn't mean that there aren't more kids that need us to love and lose and hurt once again.

It's all wrong, but it's happening.  We will face it only by the strength that comes from our God.

Monday, September 16, 2013

What it was like to pick up a baby from the hospital

I'm continuing to catch up on our foster journey so far before blogging in the present.

We were licensed in early May and got our first call later that month.  We decided to say no to that placement, as it was for a boy several months older than Rhinoceros, and we had decided to maintain the family birth order.  It was hard, though, and I still think of this toddler who was exposed to meth and how he might be doing.

The day after the first call, we got our second call.  The first call was urgent: it's 10:30 pm and we want to place him tonight, though other agencies were seeking families as well.  This time it was in advance, and a bit uncertain.  A baby had been born that would be coming into foster care, but they were still trying to make a relative placement happen.  Later I learned that the case was only offered to our agency because the mom had had parental rights terminated on her two sons.  We had absolutely no reason to say no to this newborn baby girl (and B rolled his eyes at me at the idea of me saying no to a Hispanic baby girl), and waited overnight to find out if we would be called to pick her up or not when she was discharged.

We got the call to be at the hospital ASAP, especially because they were hoping to avoid confrontation with an upset relative.  This thankfully did not happen, but it was a trip to the hospital I would never forget.  The agency offered that one of their social workers meet me there to support me, and I'm very glad I took them up on their offer as a brand new foster mom.  Awkwardness from beginning to end, even in asking for directions at an information desk but not being able to say the name of the mother of the baby, because I didn't know it.  All the nurses on the postpartum floor were staring at me.  But I met up with the social worker and filled out forms and waited in a conference room.  A nurse wheeled in little Pterodactyl in all her newborn sweetness in her bassinet.  She was swimming in a 3-6 month sleeper.  The nurse was having a tough time with the whole ordeal emotionally, and I'm sure she overhead much more of the whole story than I know to this day.  Then I was told that the birth mom was asking about me, who I was, and wanted to meet me, know about my family, etc.  Her older children are in a relative's care, so foster parents were new territory.  Though new territory doesn't begin to describe meeting a woman who gave birth to a child three days ago right before that child would go home with me, against her wishes.  I didn't have to agree to meet her right then, but I took a deep breath and said that I would.  I introduced myself, said I had two sons, and trailed off immediately as I looked at the young woman before me, tears quietly streaming down her face.  She should have been celebrating, cradling her new baby with family and friends gushing around her.  This was all wrong.  "I just want to help however I can."  It was quiet a little longer, then the social worker had me walk back out.

A chat with the doctor and a car seat check, and we (the social worker and myself) were on our way.  And we were a sight.  I had bought a convertible car seat that was good for newborns, not a bucket seat, so a baby couldn't be actually carried in it.  So, the social worker carried a car seat, and I carried Pterodactyl in a blanket.  No woman in a wheelchair or proud dad carrying a bucket car seat with a baby inside.  Not to mention the racial mismatch.  Everyone gave us a look.  I wanted a sign that said, "I'm not stealing this baby!"

And she came to live in our home, our first foster child.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Not wine left on the dregs

I don't remember who said it first.  "I'd be interested in maybe adopting someday."  But before B and I were married and several times through the following nine years, we considered adoption as a far-off possibility.  Yet when we decided to start having kids, we went straight to the typical route, and so we have two biological sons, Dinosaur and Rhinoceros (though I love their real names and want to share them, foster care confidentiality has me spooked so we're trying to lay low with nicknames).  Then we questioned having a third child, and we knew something was different in this decision.  It took a long time, and taking more time brought in those old adoption thoughts.

Along the way, we talked with friends who were having the same Third Child Dilemma and considering adoption, and I learned two important pieces of information from them.  They had met with an agency to find out about adopting from foster care, having heard the term foster-to-adopt.  First, what they found was that agencies in our area are moving away from that concept, as the primary goal of foster care is that children reunite with their parents, and foster parents need to support that goal.  Planning to adopt from the outset can be a conflict of interests, so foster parents need to be ready to sacrifice any certainty of their future with a foster child.  Second, I learned that you can set an age range for the foster children you have in your home.  This was completely different than the image I had in my mind: foster parents with a teen that runs away, school-aged children that swear like sailors, and maybe a neglected toddler.  While this image can be true, there are also babies in foster care that need homes that are set up well for a baby that arrives without much warning.

The more we searched, prayed, and talked, we crossed off different adoption possibilities.  Foster-to-adopt didn't really exist, at least as we thought it did.  International or private adoption didn't seem like the right thing for us to do at this time.  Adopting older children from foster care seemed to be getting way in over our heads, plus we were concerned about Dinosaur and Rhinocerous and preferred to keep the birth order.  What about foster care for the youngest ones?  We had the space and even a lot of the baby gear.  Though foster parents definitely can work outside of the home, it is convenient for newborns if one parent is at home because they're so young for child care.  My part-time schedule only has me out of the home when B is home in the evenings.  I also thought how it was a good personality fit for me, as some teaching jobs in the past overwhelmed me with responsibility and decisions.  In foster care, I needed to just follow the rules and gives lots of love to babies.  So much would be out of my control, and I almost liked that.  And I couldn't deny it, I had baby fever.

Still, we knew that the foster care system was flawed and would frankly mess up our lives.  Heck, I learned that when I did a research paper in 11th grade on foster care.  It would affect our young sons.  It would affect our extended family.  We would learn about brokenness in the world in a way that our fairly sheltered lives had never touched.  Our lives weren't perfect and we had bad days, but we were comfortable with our family life.  So, would we mess that up?  Risk losing what we honestly loved?

The same week we really wrestled for hours together on these questions, we heard a sermon at our church with the answer.  There are few times in my life I've seen an answer in flashing lights, but this was one.  The scripture was Zephaniah 1:12  "At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.'"  It was instantly clear to both of us that the complacency in our lives was our family life.  We liked having a family pretty similar to our friends, pretty similar to the families we grew up in.  Sure, we could learn about poverty, abuse, and drug addiction and volunteer to help others.  I had taught children with tough lives and served God in this way.  But God wanted us to shake things up more, even to the point of shaking up our home.  Our dabbling of service to God here and there was too much in our control, and it was making our wine bitter as it sat on its dregs.

We needed to take a risk for the sake of these vulnerable ones.  We needed to give despite the cost.  We needed to sacrifice the certainty of our family future (or what we thought was certain, anyway).  We knew we might end up adopting through foster care, but we might not, all along with no idea where this journey would lead.

We made our decision, and about four months from that sermon, we were licensed foster parents for ages 0-2.  Now we have two biological sons and a foster daughter, and when I explain that to others I often say, "She's with us for now."  So, this is us, this is my family (for now).