Online training completed. Fingerprints and background check all good. Now I wait. I wait for a call to provide respite for a foster family.
Behind the scenes of foster care
According to the licensing worker, it will look something like this: A foster family has an anniversary coming up and wants to take a weekend getaway. They contact me and ask if I’m available for a certain weekend coming up in a few months. I check my calendar, take a few days to get back with them and then have months to prepare beds, fun activities and cute snack ideas. The foster parents will provide everything needed for the weekend including clothes, shoes and hygiene supplies. I’ll be able to plan a fun weekend for them and get a taste of motherhood without making a full-time commitment to a child. Being single and running my own business, I figure this is the perfect way to do my part while also not overcommitting myself.
Midweek I receive a call around 8 pm, but not from a foster parent or case worker: it’s an investigator. She’s on her way to remove a three-month-old from her parents due to abuse and neglect. She asks if I’m willing to provide “emergency” respite for the child until they can find a full-time placement. Could be a day, could be a month, could be a year. She needs an answer immediately, not in a few days, hours, or even minutes. “Um, sure,” I said. I get off the phone and my mind begins to reel; I haven’t really been around an infant since my nieces were little, and they’re now eight and 11 years old. What in the world have I agreed to?
Fostering is often filled with a lot of unexpected twists
I send an SOS to my sister. She says she’ll come over to help. I dig out the portable crib I purchased for just such an occasion as I await the phone call letting me know they’re on their way. Hours pass as I imagine all the cozy baby snuggles that I’ll soon be enjoying.
Then the call comes in around 10 pm, they’re on their way. I let my sister know, and she and my niece arrive just as the investigator is pulling into the driveway. Over the screams of the baby girl, the investigator hands me a diaper bag and says, “We aren’t sure when she ate last”. As we carry the car seat inside, the investigator asks if I have a car seat of my own. I do not. I thought I would only be providing “traditional” respite, where I would be provided with everything the child needed. She tells me I can use this one temporarily, but she’ll need it back, so I’ll need to get my own.
As she leaves, the baby girl is still screaming at the top of her lungs. She’s just been pulled from the arms of her mother and removed from everything she’s ever known; it didn’t matter that it was an abusive and neglectful environment, it was “normal” and “comfortable” for her.
I remove her from the car seat and notice she’s filthy and wearing an oversized diaper, an 18-month-old shirt, and nothing else. My sister begins digging through the diaper bag, which wreaks of cigarette smoke, and discovers only infant socks. No diapers. No wipes. No formula. No bottles. No clothes. Nothing but socks.
My niece and I make a mad dash for Walmart while my sister tries to console the traumatized baby girl. We rush through the baby section grabbing a baby bath, baby wash, diapers, wipes, bottles, formula and clothes.
A hundred dollars and what feels like an eternity later, we arrive back home to find the baby girl still screaming inconsolably. I quickly fix her a bottle and feed her while my sister runs her a warm bath. After she’s eaten her fill, I remove the oversized shirt and dirty diaper to give her a bath. She shakes uncontrollably despite the warm water and loving hands bathing her. We dry off her tiny body and put her in a cute cozy onesie. She begins to cry again. I rock her to sleep as the weight of the decision to foster begins to sink in.
After several minutes of enjoying the baby snuggles, which I was so looking forward to, I lay her peacefully sleeping into the crib. She immediately awakens in a jolt and begins crying. I pick her up and rock her until she falls back asleep. I laid her in her crib again, and again she awakens with a jolt and begins crying. After several more failed attempts to put her in the crib after she falls asleep, I abandon the idea and resign myself to a sleepless night on the couch with a sleeping baby. My sister leaves around 1 am and I’m left alone in my instant motherhood.
As I snuggle this beautiful sleeping baby girl I’m perplexed as to how anyone could abuse or neglect her. How could they see her as a burden or do anything to hurt this innocent child? My heart is broken. My body is tired. I smile at her and speak softly to her, but she never coos or smiles. Only blank stares and cries. Pain is all she’s ever known.
One direction and then another
In the morning I begin getting ready for work, a chore unto itself with an infant. The moment I lay her down she begins to cry. I get to my store to open for the day and my mother and sister join me as reinforcements and extra hands to hold the baby girl so I can assist customers.
These angels bring a carload of items: bouncy seat, toys, more diapers, blankets and everything they have for an infant. After lots of snuggles, attention and every need being met immediately baby girl starts to finally feel safe. By late morning we saw her smile for the first time! It melted my heart.
Around noon I receive another call from the investigator. They’ve found a family member who is willing and able to take placement of the baby girl. She will be in touch soon with more information. I worry what yet another transition will do to this poor baby’s sense of security. She was finally feeling safe and loved and now she would be in yet another scary new environment.
Several more hours pass filled with crying, diaper changes, crying, warm bottles, baby snuggles, more crying and playing mixed with assisting customers and bonding with my mom and sister over the joys and trials of motherhood. The new case worker calls to introduce herself and let me know she’ll be coming to pick up baby girl by 2 pm to take her to live with her aunt. My heart is met with equal amounts of relief and sadness. I’ve seen this baby girl relax, heard her coo, seen her smile and realized the hardest part was behind me and now she’d be leaving. However, I also like my sleep and realize now just how much work it is to raise an infant well.
Goodbyes are always hard
By 2 pm I ensure her new diaper bag is packed with her new belongings and she’s fed, changed and ready to go. The afternoon fades away with more crying, snuggles, warm bottles, coos, smiles and diaper changes as the diaper bag is unpacked to attend to her needs.
More than two hours later, a Children’s Division vehicle pulls into my parking lot. It is time. The case worker has come to take the child to her aunt. My mom repacks the diaper bag as I give baby girl one last snuggle, knowing I will likely never see her again. As I take in the last few coos and smiles of baby girl as she’s placed in her car seat and loaded into the sedan, my heart is full but heavy.
I watch them drive away and the heaviness of this calling begins to set in. Eighteen hours is all the time I had with baby girl, but she will forever hold a place in my heart and life. I keep a picture of her on my fridge as a reminder of this incredible calling to foster and of our short but impactful time together.
Fostering is a difficult balance of being willing to say forever to a child while also knowing they can be removed from your home in an instant. To be fully invested, but also open handed, trusting that God knows what is best. The only way to maintain this posture is to be fully submitted to the Lord, His sovereignty, His timing, and His perfect will.
I’ve heard many people say they could never foster because they’d get too attached, but that’s exactly the point. These precious children desperately need attachment. You can fully attach and yet be willing to watch part of your heart be carried out the door and possibly out of your life forever, if the Lord allows. I guess the biggest lesson learned was that a full heart is a heavy heart. The fullness makes it heavy.
Desiring a full heart without acknowledging the heaviness that comes with it is an ill-conceived notion. The heaviness is well worth the price of having a full heart. I promise you that.