My husband and I were having lunch at Belair Cantina when his phone rang. “Maybe it’s the foster care people,” I joked. We had been discussing how strange it was that our house had been “open” for an entire week and we hadn’t gotten a call. We get a little jumpy when the phone rings because as Foster Parents, a ringing phone can be a big deal.
Scott answered the phone. “We were just talking about you,” he said. He listened for a few minutes and then mouthed the word, “Baby.” He started asking questions, trying to remember all of the things we were supposed to find out before accepting a placement. I was being super-helpful, pelting him with more questions from across the table until he finally rolled his eyes at me and handed over the phone. I held the phone down for a minute. “Yes?” I asked. Scott smiled. “Yes.”
Answering the phone is a Foster mom’s version of peeing on a stick. Except that when you get that positive, instead of waiting 40 weeks, you’re lucky if you have 40 minutes.
It’s ok to say no. We’ve done that a few times when the situation wasn’t a good fit for our family. Always with a heavy heart, and a lingering feeling of sadness for a child we would never meet. More often, we’ve said yes. We don’t always know exactly what we are saying yes to. But we say yes anyway.
So last November, we said yes again. To a baby girl who was 9 days old.
So much had already happened in those 9 short days. As her tiny body was struggling to adjust to the world, a call was made to the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. An Initial Assessment worker talked with her mom and dad, researched her extended family. Reports were filed. As she was cared for by a rotating team of fantastic nurses, there was a determination that she was “A Child In Need of Protection.” And as she slept soundly in the hospital nursery, completely unaware of the chaos swirling around her arrival, the placement worker looked over a list of available Foster homes and made a phone call. To us. While we were eating tacos.
We finished our lunch, letting the news settle. We were about to become parents of a newborn again and knew from experience what that meant. I quickly packed a bag and headed to the hospital. On the way, I tried to work through the logistics of adding a baby to the family but I kept getting sidetracked by the intense mix of emotions that a new placement brings.
I was about to meet a baby that might one day become my daughter.
Some of my thoughts started with, “if we eventually adopt her.” I stopped at Target for a coming-home outfit. I made a mental note to call a friend about newborn photographs. I admit to saying her name with our last name, middle-school boyfriend style, wondering if it would flow.
All of that was done lightly and very hypothetically, because I was also well aware that I was about to meet a baby that might stay for a while and then leave. While we would love to adopt again, that is not our focus. Foster Care is not that simple.
We are always thrilled to welcome a child into our family but not without fully realizing the trauma necessary for that to happen. So while we accepted her placement with joy, my heart already ached for the loss she was enduring. And equally – if not more so – for the woman whose birth story includes her baby being taken away and placed in the home of a stranger.
As a mother, that weighs heavy. I cannot, with any part of me, wish her such an enormous loss for my gain. Because before I even meet her, which I will, I know that in her love for her baby, she is just like me. A mom.
At the hospital, I met with the Initial Assessment worker who went over the details of the baby’s case. I met with the doctor who went over the details of her health. And I met a tiny, beautiful baby. It turned out that she wasn’t going to be released until the next morning so I stayed and held her. Because I was certain that in all 9 of her days, she had not been held nearly enough. I fed her and changed her and marveled at her wrinkly newborn-ness. I told her about our family. Our kids. Our cats. I promised that we would take care of her as long as she needs us. A few months or a few years or forever.
The next morning, we brought her home. She folded into our family seamlessly, as if we had been expecting her.
Her Permanency Plan is a dual path; they are pursuing reunification with a backup plan of adoption. Yes, it is strange not knowing what will happen. But we’re used to that ambiguity. We understand the process and we support the time it takes to make informed decisions.
And yes, we will get extremely and willingly attached to her so that deep down she can know secure attachment. We will do everything we can to patch up at least a tiny bit of the trauma caused by the loss of regular contact with her mother. We will love her freely and fiercely so that she knows love. And she will be every bit a part of our family so that she knows what a strong family looks like.
I know that no matter how long she stays with us, those gifts will make a difference.