Monday, March 31, 2014

When your family isn't nearby

When we were preparing to foster, I read a lot about support systems and making sure we had them.  They don't have to be extended family, but that's usually the first assumption.  My family lives one state away and B's family lives one country away.  I do have one sibling + spouse within 45 minutes, and they have been very supportive, but it's not quite like having your whole family in town, or parents.  So far, this is how being a foster parent without much extended family nearby has played out.

What's been not-so-great

Travel:  Out-of-state travel needs birth parent and judge approval, and out-of-country needs birth parent and judge approval, and some serious documents that are hard to get a hold of.  We have successfully traveled out-of-state with a foster child, but not out-of-country.  (Theoretically, we would have taken Pterodactyl out of the country, but she moved the week before.  Since I never had all the documents in hand, I'm still not entirely sure it would have happened.)  We've used respite once, and done some creative planning.  I sent B with Dinosaur for one trip to B's family rather than having the whole family go.  We just went out of country because we knew that doing that between placements was easier.  We plan things telling people that they may be canceled, but we also let them know that we won't cancel trip after trip.  If it starts looking like that, we'll use respite.  We have two trips planned out-of-state in the next few months, and we'll see how that goes.  We're planning every third Christmas to travel nowhere (though I argued for this anyway).

Feeling the foster kid difference:  After having both families swoop in and stay for lengths of time when our biological kids were born, it's hard when they don't do that for a sweet foster newborn.  I don't blame them, but it's still hard.  It's hard because we could use the help, and it's hard because we already know this child is treated differently.  Some relatives haven't met any of the foster kids so far, and they only ask about our biological kids.  One relative asks about Pterodactyl because she met her, but had no interest in hearing that Beetle was coming over for respite.  I know it would be different if they saw them more frequently.

Lack of free babysitters:  We knew this part already because we have biological kids, but with foster kids more things have come up that we've missed this.  We do have wonderful friends and my one nearby sibling who are able to fill in, but I know it's not the same.  It's hard to ask people who aren't related to you for those kinds of favors often, or for bigger things like overnight stays.

What's been great

E-mail:  I send e-mail updates to our parents, siblings, grandparents, as well as our church small group and a few very close friends.  Our agency okayed e-mailing pictures as attachments, just not "posting" them, so I can introduce foster kids this way.  I keep them up to date with my constantly changing perception of how long the child is staying and what the child has been up to lately, plus some prayer requests.  Getting short responses from people really, really means a lot to me.

Prayers: My mom reminds me that she prays for our former foster kids and their families every day.  Shoot, that's better than I do sometimes.  Plus, we have their prayers for our family as we go through this journey.

Personalized gifts: While any gifts for foster kids are thoughtful, I get really excited about personalized gifts.  One relative made Pterodactyl a nursery wall hanging with her name and info from her birth, just like she had made for Dinosaur and Rhinoceros.  Foster kids get clothes and toys from all over, but those individualized things I think are the the things that may really stay with them and remind them that people cared about them in particular.

Intentionally including:  Even though I feel an overall sense of the foster kids being treated differently, there have been some really special moments where that wasn't the case.  One relative spent a Valentine's package for our family, and included a little Valentine for Beetle, despite the fact that he was 2 months old and had no idea it was a holiday.  It touched my heart, and it was special for Dinosaur and Rhinoceros to see that Beetle was included.

I would never discourage someone from fostering because they don't have extended family in town, but I hope that helps some know what it might be like.  I am grateful for their prayers and love for our foster babies, and we'll continue to grow and try to communicate well as they continue on this journey with us that they didn't ask to be on!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Foster podcasts

I'm just about to finish listening to a podcast that has been incredibly helpful and thoughtful for my foster care journey.  I love podcasts because I can listen to them without distracting a baby or child with lights from a screen.  I put several on my mp3 player and listen to them when holding a baby to sleep, or cuddling Rhinoceros to sleep when we're out of town (he does not sleep well away from home), or for listening while running or knitting.  I wish there were more podcasts related to foster care, but here are the ones I have found.  I have only listened to the first one so far.  Please add more if you find them!

  • Foster Parenting Podcast.  I started listening to this podcast when were getting licensed almost a year ago, and because I listen pretty inconsistently, I am just now finishing it.  It's no longer active, though they do have a current a Facebook page.  I have laughed and cried along with Tim and Wendy and friends.  I felt like this podcast kept a great balance of a realistic view of the struggles in foster care and yet a passionate commitment to it in spite of the challenges.  Are you a Christian and in need a good smack in the face to be reminded how God calls us to care for these children?  I recommend this episode.  But honestly, you should listen to this start to finish.  Some listeners even got training hours for listening (I didn't try because I'm way over my hours for the year anyway).
  • National CASA Podcast  - This is more for CASA volunteers, but looking at the topics, I bet I could learn a lot from it.
  • The Journey
  • Voices of Foster Care
  • The Foster Parent Podcast - This one is new and going strong.  I just found it today and am excited to follow a current podcast!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Break, and Spring Break with Beetle!

I got an e-mail last week asking if we would do respite for Beetle during Spring Break in April.  His new foster family had a trip planned and decided that travel and beach time might be pretty rough on him as he's still been very sensitive to light, noise, etc.  Plus, I'm sure they'll enjoy giving Beetle's sister and their other child some extra attention since Beetle is pretty high maintenance.  I'm excited to see how much he's grown in a month and love that we can still have a connection with this family.  It makes me wish for the same kind of opportunity with Pterodactyl, but I need to remember to appreciate this in itself.

Because Beetle will be here for a week, and because I have some extra work hours that week subbing for a co-worker, we're going to wait to go on the call list until after Beetle leaves.  I was tempted to just put ourselves on and see what happened, but I am reminded that not all families say yes in the same way and still can contribute a lot.  We say yes to only one child at a time and only very young kids.  But we are also saying yes to sticking with foster care for a long time.  As our bio children get older, we'll say yes to older kids.  If we stick to saying yes in a way that makes sense with this plan, we may be preparing ourselves to adopting an older child that otherwise would have never had a permanent family.  B and I talked more about this on our drive back from my in-laws' house, and we can't say for sure what we'll do in every case, but we do want to carefully consider that there is a need for experienced foster parents and that there are many parents who would love to adopt young children from foster care.

Though we're still on a bit of a fostering break, I'm done with my online foster communities break.  It was tough, but I'm glad I did it.  I know I spent more time on my devotions and reading things on other topics.  I spent my weekend with my in-laws talking, knitting, and playing with my kids.  But I miss keeping up on all your stories, and I do find it lonely.  Time with extended family can be especially lonely.  I want my foster babies to matter to others, but the truth is that they won't, not in the way that they matter to me, or that their biological grandkids matter to them.  It can be hard with some friends as well.  I'm sure spending time with me and a baby that is definitely going to grow up with their baby is different than spending time with me and a foster baby that will leave any day.  I know none of it is personal and it's not about me, but if I'm honest, I need my connections to foster parents, and I'm going to continue to need them.  However, I know I can depend too much on online communities, and this last week was a good reminder that I need my connection to God and to depend on Him first.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


In my wonderful, wonderful moms group at my church, one woman talked about how when God is calling us, or possibly calling us, to something, we should write out all of our fears and pray over them.  We will find that God makes a way in all of them, even though it's rare that the concern is removed entirely.  He does work in us, or He does work in the circumstance.  We prayed about Dinosaur and Rhinoceros and how foster care would affect them.  I wasn't always good at naming that fear in a prayerful way, but I know I did at least a few times.  So far, God has provided above and beyond what I could have imagined, not only comforting them during times of loss, but putting hearts in them to love these babies, even learning a love for giving and caring for others.

So, here's a big old list of my fears right now with foster care.  Days like this I wish my blog was known among my friends and family, because it would let all those people that call me a hero know that I am scared to death pretty much all the time.  What was scarier than bringing my oldest biological son home from the hospital knowing that we were solely responsible for his care was?  Bringing home someone else's newborn from the hospital.

I fear a long-term placement that turns adoptive, bringing us to face the dilemma of choosing to put a child through one more loss or choosing to limit our fostering capabilities to help more kids.

I fear a long-term placement that breaks Dinosaur's and Rhinoceros's hearts with the goodbye.  And our hearts, but I know theirs are so much more tender and young.

I fear of a series of short-term placements that slowly drain us to the point of not being able to handle the frantic life of fostering.

I fear caring for a newborn that's as fussy or fussier than Beetle.

I fear trouble in our very secure, happy marriage directly resulting from a difficult placement.  (Funny enough, I typed sexure instead of secure.  Apparently I feel our marriage is secure and sexy.  Ha!)

I fear getting laid off and having to find another job that fits fostering so well.

I fear cheering on birth parents to reunification only for something horribly tragic to happen after the child returns to a parent.  This article about kids who should have been removed or remained removed is one of the most horrifying things I've ever read.

I fear never making a positive impact with birth parents, because I'm too shy, too aloof, too awkward, too privileged.

I fear that keeping with our age and capacity limits will result in a child being placed in one of those bad foster homes, just because we couldn't stretch ourselves a little further.

I fear having toddlers placed with us who have behaviors that I can't handle well, or trauma and loss that I don't know how to comfort.

I fear isolating myself from friends and family who aren't foster parents, or becoming proud because I've weathered more than they have.

I fear foster care.  Thank You, God, that You are bigger than foster care.


I wanted to add that I'm taking the next week completely off of foster care reading and blogging before we go on the call list again next Monday.  I was planning to do this just because it seemed like a good idea, but I know it won't be easy, as I get lonely in my foster care feelings and seek out connection on the internet, and thankfully I've found a LOT of foster care connections.  However, I think it will be a good kind of fasting, and if I get lonely, I will just come to this post and pray over one or all of my fears.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Blessed by Pterodactyl

I mentioned that I had a few reasons for wanting the twins as a placement.  One reason was to have a connection to Pterodactyl.  I realized that wasn't a very important reason when there were other things to consider, but I couldn't help but picture monthly sibling visits and getting to see her.  I haven't seen her for about two months, and though I don't think about her constantly, I miss her.  I tried suggesting that her grandma call us for respite, but it hasn't happened.

So, I'm going to connect in my own way and write up the same thing for her that I just wrote for Beetle.

What I Learned from Pterodactyl
  • I learned that the time after a baby's birth can be heartbreaking instead of joyous.  Even though my first days with my biological babies were not perfect, I will not take for granted the happy memories.
  • I learned that foster care is full of awkward situations.
  • I learned having birth parents at doctor's appointments can be a great thing.  Even when it's awkward.
  • I learned my biological sons love babies and have big hearts.
  • I learned that some birth parents will disappoint us, and that it's important to assume the best even when it's a stretch of the imagination.
  • I learned that the future is never certain.  I learned this about Pterodactyl's future with us, but I see my children's future differently now.  I realized how easily and readily I imagine future days that are not promised to me, that I'm not entitled to.
  • I learned that I'm more selfish and judgmental than I thought I was.
What I Loved about Pterodactyl
  • Concerned expression.  Pterodactyl is by far the most serious baby I've ever met, and Dinosaur was not a particularly smiley baby.  Even when she smiled and laughed, within seconds she went back to this look of "What do you think you're doing exactly?" It was so much a part of her that it cracked us up.
  • Cheeks.  I'd never had a baby with cheeks!
  • Hair.  She was born with lots of silky hair, which took on a life of its own.  It did make me nervous at times that I wasn't caring for it properly despite my best efforts to be informed, but how much fun to have a baby with a full head of hair.
  • Baby girl clothes.  If I never have a girl again, a selfish little part of me is happy that I had the chance to enjoy shopping for baby girl clothes.  And I'm not usually much of a shopper.
  • Her love for baths.  It was a nice time to be just the two of us.
  • Her low-pitched little baby voice.  At 7 months by the time she moved, she wasn't talking, but when she made little noises, they were these quiet little things.  Her (very rare) laugh was like "heh heh."
  • Her name.  I can't share it, of course, but her mom picked a name that I had never heard before and may have never chosen for my own child because pronunciation difficulties, but I thought it was just beautiful all the same.  I loved saying it.  I'm dying to know what she's going to name the twins.
I'm sending out a prayer that whatever Pterodactyl is up to right now (hopefully sleeping), she feels a little bit of peace knowing that I still love her, over here in my house with an empty nursery.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Foster... adopt?

I feel like I'm going to be somewhat unproductive until I get these words out.  I've always been a writer.
I think people who knew me age 19 and younger are shocked that I didn't pursue writing as a career, not because I was great, but because I was always writing.  Something trailed off around college, too much comparing to others, too much of a feeling like there were enough writers and my added voice wasn't anything special.  Plus, I watched my mom go through the very difficult journey of becoming a published writer, and as proud as I am of her, it wasn't a journey I really wanted for myself.  But something about the peculiar story of fostering has me at it again, and now I can't stop.  It makes me wonder how I lived the past decade without writing much.

B and I had a long, very good conversation last night about fostering.  We hoped to decide what to do about the potential placement of newborn twins, and we did make a decision.  We won't be taking the twins.  I know what made me say yes originally, but we couldn't figure out why B did.  He doesn't want to take on more than one foster child for at least another year or two.  He is nearly ready to be done with newborns.  None of this adds up to newborn twins being a good fit for our family, but sometimes it's just being asked that makes you want to say yes.  The fact that I'm more ready to jump in does not make it a good decision.  First, I am often willfully blind to difficulties ahead when my heart wants to say yes.  Second, we need to be a team.  Setting up a family scenario that's particularly stressful to who B is as a parent, in a potentially long-term way, is not wise.

But the really interesting topic that emerged from our conversation was about adoption.  I brought it up as a pro for taking the twins: I would like to be open to the idea of taking sibling placements because I can see how adopting siblings could be a good fit for our family.  We don't know the twins would be available for adoption, but there's always that possibility.

B stopped everything and said, "Oh, you really want to adopt?"  Cue record-scratch sound.

Going into fostering, we said that we might adopt through foster care, but we might not.  B reminded me how we wanted to fulfill a need for foster parents.  He took that to mean that we would foster long-term, even if it meant turning down adoptive placements.  How did I change to hoping for adoption, hoping our stay in foster care wouldn't be that long?  I think a big part of it came from the online communities I've been a part of over the past year.  While I'm grateful for all I have learned from forums, blogs, and Facebook groups, with a few exceptions, these are people hoping to adopt.  The word adoption is everywhere  Many people hope for an easy case: abandonment, no parental visits, parental rights terminated quickly.  No one wants the multi-year mess of being in limbo.

Don't get me wrong, adoption is a good thing.  Permanency in safe homes is a good thing, and being in limbo is not good for kids.  I also haven't been through the struggles of infertility that many of these foster parents have lived through.  Please understand that I am speaking only of our story, and in our story, we felt called to be shaken up from the comfort of family life we might have pictured for ourselves, and the family life of our friends and family.

So, for our story, it leaves us with very difficult decisions in the future.  We agree that we do not see ourselves as having a large adoptive family.  B imagines 3 kids total, I imagine 4.  So, how are we to be the foster parents God has called us to be?  What if we have a foster child that is available for adoption?  We would want to prevent an experience of loss by continuing to be that child's family.  However, as our home quickly fills up, that would also shorten our "career" as foster parents.  We are needed, and as we gain more experience as foster parents, I think we would become even more needed.  The system needs foster parents who stick with it for more than a few years, who know enough to effect change and mentor birth families and other foster parents.  And as we foster very young children, there are many people who would make very good adoptive homes for them.  Could we say no to adoption to help make a difference for more kids?  Or will it be too difficult to say no to adoption, knowing the heartbreak one child will endure in being uprooted, a child we know and love?

We don't have a child available for adoption in our laps now, so we will cross this bridge when we come to it.  Yet, this conversation was very important for us to have now, as I hadn't realized how set I had already become on the first option, that clearly God would bring us a child or two that we would adopt and then we would retire from fostering.  It's the story I've read in 20 blogs, so clearly it should be our story, right?  Maybe not.

In the meantime, if anyone has some good resources for foster parents who are less focused on adoption or who "strictly foster," please send them my way!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

8th Day - Family of four

I completely forgot about 8th day yesterday.  Since trying to do this later in the month hasn't helped my memory, I'll probably switch to 1st day next month.  We did go to the children's museum, though, so I have a few fun photos from that.  I go here often with Rhinoceros, but going as a whole family was a special on-a-fostering-break treat.

My processing of Beetle's goodbye seems to be following the same phases as Pterodactyl's goodbye: Phase 1 - Sadness, Phase 2 - Tranquility.  Going from three kids to two does feel like a breath of fresh air, even though I know I'll gladly do it again.  But I really appreciate sleep.  And spending time with my husband without baby and/or children on us.  The last time Phase 3 was a bit of longing and loneliness, so we'll see how that goes.  I'm going to try to keep a little busier this time, while still savoring the break.

Now B and I are hashing out what to do after this break, mostly regarding Pterodactyl's future little siblings.  We're thinking long and hard about life with twin newborns.  We might have more doubts, especially considering the strict safe sleep rules that make it nearly impossible to care for two babies and still follow said rules.  If we decide to go ahead planning on that placement, we need to decide if we stay off the call list to make sure we have enough time off, or if we just stay on and see what happens.  Only God knows what the future holds!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Blessed by Beetle

We said goodbye to Beetle this morning.  I brought him to his weekly doctor's appointment, and his new foster parents and caseworker joined us (though late, as they had a mix-up on where it was), and he left with them.  It wasn't the best news kind of appointment, either, as we decided Beetle had trouble with the last time his methadone dosage was decreased.  He has consistently had withdrawal symptoms when he gets upset at times like diaper changes, with a high-pitched cry and arms and legs straight out, but he always calmed quickly when picked up.  This past week, he takes several minutes to calm down even after picked up, and he's getting more upset, with his little chin trembling.  So, his dosage wasn't decreased further, but still it's hard to then hand him off to a family that I know will be very loving, but hasn't experienced his symptoms or NAS in general.

Today's goodbye was a little different than our goodbye to Pterodactyl, as we with Pterodactyl we were together as a family.  This time B and Dinosaur said goodbye before they went to work and school, and Rhinoceros said goodbye as we left the doctor's office.  We did pray together for him this morning, so I think we'll just make that our constant in all our goodbyes: pray about the transition specifically and separate from usual bedtime or mealtime prayers.  So far, Rhinoceros has asked where Beetle is more than he asked about Pterodactyl.  Right when we got home, I was tempted to attack our giant mess of a house, but instead I sat and painted with watercolors with Rhinoceros, and this afternoon we have another activity that will help me focus some extra attention on him.

My favorite podcast did an excellent episode on saying goodbye, and one thing that has stuck with me is that many friends and family get that you're sad and want to comfort you, but talking about how you're doing isn't always comforting.  I also find that I would much rather talk about what I loved about that child and what I learned.  If I don't, I start to feel like they don't exist anymore, or that they are something I need to cry about and then get over.  I was and still am blessed by Pterodactyl and Beetle.  I am a better person for having been their mom.  I'll write out why, even though this post is getting long.  I can't keep it to myself today.

What I Learned from Beetle
  • Babies with NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome) need extra care, extra note-taking, and extra time.  But I didn't find it to be an entirely sad experience, as there is hope that he will come through all of this, and as I've learned through recent research, he may show few signs later on that he had a rough start.
  • Being a foster parent of a baby in the NICU is a special and humbling experience.  Something about all the wires and beeps and our daily short period of time together made me experience this new little guy differently than any of my other babies.
  • Biological parents of foster kids can be appreciative and easy to work with.  I had heard a few stories in which this was the case, but living it was a deep way of learning it.  I really, really wish them the best.
  • My biological sons get this pure joy from our foster babies that I couldn't have expected.  They adapt easily and are resilient.
  • Curling was the most common live Olympic sport at 4 am in my time zone.  Also, Jimmy Fallon is a fun talk show host.  (Those were my main sources of late-night viewing.)
  • I am still selfish and wish I was sleeping at 3 am instead of giving Beetle the cuddles he needs.  I am still short-tempered and snap at my older kids (and husband) much more easily when a baby is crying loudly.  I need a lot more Jesus.
What I Loved about Beetle
  • Big bug eyes.  This guy had wide, wide eyes that made you smile whenever he was alert.
  • Old man hair.  Babies bald on top with that little fuzz of hair around the ears and below just crack me up.
  • His fascination with our voices.  He loved when we talked to him, and my older boys loved lying down next to him on a blanket and chatting with him.
  • Quiet snuggling moments.  Okay, maybe not so particular to Beetle as pretty much all babies will curl up and sleep on you, but I just love the little weight of a newborn.
  • His nicknames.  I can't share them because they're from his real name, but for some reason, Beetle had the longest and funniest list of nicknames of any baby I've had.
Goodbye, little one.

This post happened to line up with a Counting Blessings link-up at Our Good Life.  So, I joined in; hop over and join in, too!