Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fostering and newborns

We're still in a waiting mode.  The transition for Pterodactyl to move to her grandma should be complete, but now we're waiting on some bumps in the road with child care that the grandma needs to have set up before she moves in.

When we decided to do foster care, I had never heard of anyone fostering a newborn that they didn't adopt.  Our age range for fostering is 0-2, and our first placement happened to be a newborn.  In listening to others and thinking of our own experience, here are some distinct experiences of fostering a newborn.

Lots of doctor appointments
Newborns are always at the doctor.  Our agency even required an extra visit beyond what the doctor's office required.  This makes the first month extra busy, because the first month of foster care is busy on its own, and then you have all these doctor visits.

Lots of birth family visits
In our state, birth parents have three hours per week of visits with children under three.  These start as soon as possible, so I was bringing Pterodactyl to the agency at a little over a week old.

Child care complexities
Daycare centers won't accept infants younger than six weeks, so if you are working, you need an alternate child care plan that you can put into place immediately.  Listening to others, some take leaves of absence, some have a family member or friend who can fill in for day care for six weeks.  Many stay home.  I kind of stay home.  I have a part-time job three evenings per week while B is home with the kids, plus a few more hours that I do at home during naptimes or whatever.  So, I am set up well to take care of a newborn at the drop of a hat, although it did get complicated when I took on a little extra work and planned on using a babysitter.  Babysitters need to be cleared by the agency with a background check, and this didn't get completed before I started that work assignment.  I had to call on some favors from people we had cleared and B took a day or two off.

Few questions for birth parents
For better or for worse, older foster children and even older babies are used to how they were cared for before arriving in your home.  So, the first questions many foster parents ask birth parents if they get the opportunity is about how they took care of their kids: schedule, sleep, food, etc.  I had the opportunity to talk to Pterodactyl's birth mom, but no questions.  She had only parented her for two days.  The way I cared for her quickly became the only thing she had ever known.  This makes my job easier in some ways, but it adds a sad and difficult element.  I am easily the expert on what Pterodactyl likes and dislikes.  This puts me in an awkward position if I want to share helpful advice or even just tell about what Pterodactyl is doing lately.  We both know it's not just two moms talking.

Extra-pitying reactions from non-foster parents
Whenever I say Pterodactyl's age or that we got her as a newborn, the reactions are strong and full of sadness.  I'm sure the same people would be sad about any abuse or neglect, but with a tiny baby?  I am also sad for Pterodactyl, but I'm also relieved that she didn't go home with her birth mom at birth, as much as I want her to go home with her eventually if she can.  I don't want to start a conversation about her case that I can't finish, though, so I usually just stand there not really knowing what to say.  I usually just look at Pterodactyl and stroke her hair.

Extra difficult early weeks
I mentioned before that when I became a foster parent, I had to face the fact that I'm rather selfish.  This was especially true with mothering a newborn that I knew was unlikely to be a permanent part of our family.  With the exception of buying tiny clothes and nuzzling my nose into a newborn's head, the newborn phase is not my favorite.  I lose track of days and nights as time blurs together.  Everything is guessing, guessing, guessing; is that normal crying, or is something's wrong?  B has to help more during the night, and B gets tired and crabby.  My downtime in the evenings is gone.  All of these were true for Dinosaur and Rhinoceros as newborns, but there was something different.  I don't remember picturing them walking in their graduation ceremony or riding a bike for the first time or making me a Mother's Day card when they were screaming their heads off at 2 am at five weeks old.  But I must have, subconsciously.  I kept looking at Pterodactyl while she cried, thinking, are we even going to see her come out of this phase?  Are we even going to see a smile?  Why are we doing this again?  Though I don't like to admit it, it was damn hard.  I would do it again, though I'm not sure how many times.  B thinks he has a limit on the number of times he can go through the newborn phase.  I think I do, too, but I don't think I've reached it yet.

She did smile, though.  And as if she knew we hadn't learned our lesson yet that this isn't about us and babies entertaining us, she smiled rarely.  She knows us and loves us, and yet she still gives us the "Are you people crazy?" look constantly.  And we kind of have to be.  She needed us to be.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Glimpses of Pterodactyl

I'll be honest, I'm not going to post many photos because I'm not that organized and I don't have a smart phone or DSLR.  I assume people who post six photos per day on their blogs have such things.  But since a lot of my posts have been wrestling with challenges of foster parenting, I thought I'd add some lighthearted non-identifiable glimpses of Pterodactyl.


Pterodactyl says, "Hedgehogs are the new owls."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Visit to visit

Pterodactyl should have had a visit with her birth mom yesterday.  Her birth mom canceled it ahead of time because of a doctor's appointment.  I haven't written down how many times they've been canceled due to having another appointment, but it has to be at least five times in the past five months.  Either there's a serious medical condition I'm not aware of or she is cancelling visits unnecessarily.  By the tone of the case worker's voice when they relay the cancellations to me, I assume the latter.

I don't like assuming any of that.  There's nothing productive in me rolling my eyes when a visit is canceled.  When I read about birth parents missing visits before we had a placement, I felt the foster parents were being judgmental of the birth parents by complaining about missed visits, especially in cases like mine when Pterodactyl isn't even old enough to know that she had a visit planned.

I thought I wasn't a judgmental person.  Honestly, I know I have plenty of flaws, I am told by others that this is one of my strengths.  I can put myself in someone else's shoes.  I have an extra dose of empathy.  I thought that this part of foster parenting would be easy.  It would be more difficult for my husband, and he would have other strengths to bring to foster parenting.

Then I became a foster parent.

I am still always trying to put myself in her shoes.  I am telling myself I don't know the whole story.  But there's something about the practice of mothering that erodes my efforts not to judge.  I make sure Pterodactyl wakes up at the right time so that her schedule is on track because I don't want her to need a nap during the visit.  I put on her clothes, picking out an outfit that her birth mom would like.  I plan my errands and activities around the visit.  I am hopeful, but I'm also waiting for the phone to ring.  It does, and plans change.  I look at the clothes on her and feel sad her birth mom won't see them.  I'm grateful for the freedom in my schedule, and feel guilty at feeling happy about that freedom.  The next visit day, I have a plan A and a plan B for whether or not her birth mom will stick with her commitment to visits.  I don't like the plan B mentality, especially as plan B usually makes me happier because there's more freedom to do what I want.  I don't want her failure to meet her commitment to make me happy.  That's another trait I thought I possessed a little more than the average person: unselfishness.  Then I became a foster parent.

Then there's the other kinds of visits, as we scheduled Pterodactyl's first overnight visit with her grandma.  I'm glad it's happening because I want the momentum to keep going in this transition.  The grandma was so positive about the last visit, and I'm happy for her and Pterodactyl's brothers.  I know it'll be the first glimpse of what life is like accepting she's moved on.  The uncertainty here is that we still don't have an official date for when she is moving.  Living life, visit to visit.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Supermom and that foster mom you read about in the paper

We had a family team meeting for Pterodactyl's transition to moving to her grandma, and it's still slowly but surely happening.  There's a general goal set, but no exact date for the move.  Some things are so in between.  I want to transition her out of swaddling, but I don't want to change up her sleep habits right before moving.  I consider starting solid foods with her, but figure I could save that as a first that grandma can share with her.

I knew birth family interactions would be complicated, but I'm still overwhelmed by the awkwardness of it.  I want to show how I love Pterodactyl deeply, how I have tried to do my best to make sure that she had a start in life that was full of love and security.  When I'm asked if she has a coat, I feel the need to explain why she's not wearing a coat, with a clumsy explanation of how I use blankets instead because the recommendation is that you should take off coats before putting babies in car seats anyway.  Then I feel the other end of the spectrum, that I'm trying to win a parenting war and think I'm the deserving supermom to have Pterodactyl.  I don't know how to express "I never wanted to steal your kids from you."  The same impossibility that I live out, loving a baby as my own and then giving her away, I have to somehow express.  I take excellent care of your daughter, your granddaughter, but I also let go with politeness and a smile.

Also, this is all going down with the grandma in Spanish.  We did have a translator at the meeting (who was absolutely amazing, translating five seconds behind people like closed captioning), but the rest of my communication with grandma has been in my second language and outside of my culture.  I'm learning I have a vocabulary gap in baby-related matters and have been scouring the dictionary.  How do I say she likes to be worn in a carrier?  Portabeb├ęs, is that really the word?  Am I showing off again if this isn't a cultural norm for her?  Why does the word I looked up for swaddling blanket show Google images that look like a SIDS nightmare?  Now am I being the foster mom she read about in the newspaper who was doing it for the money?

I know it hasn't been awful.  I know I haven't been called names and I've never felt unsafe.  But I feel like in every word and every look I give, there's no right way to be this person I have to be.  My pastor recently spoke about how he was the pastor of a funeral that was 98% African-American, and he is white.  He knew with something so culturally entrenched as a funeral, he would be making cultural mistakes all over the place, even with decades pastoring a multicultural, multiethnic church.  He decided to be humble and honest, accepting he could probably do a B- message at best.  That's a bit about how I feel.  At best, just playing this role has a high likelihood for failure.  There are successful foster parent and birth family relationships.  Maybe it can be learned and I have much to learn.  I want to be a champion for the birth family, but I'm not sure they'll believe me.