Baby E has been in our care for a full month today. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to sit down and write something for the world to read, and I’m grateful for a few quiet minutes to tell this part of our story.
My first goal is to answer some of the questions we’ve been asked repeatedly by our friends and family who have had a chance to meet E. Secondly, I want to introduce you, readers, to a “kid in foster care.” I hope that E becomes a face to the statistics (even though I can’t actually show you her face). It’s crucial to preserve privacy and safety when telling someone else’s story (in this case the details involve both E and her parents), so I will not share some things in print. If you have further questions after reading anything I write here, please feel free to send me a message, and I’m happy to answer any and all questions privately!
Let’s pretend we’re having coffee/tea/drinks and catching up, something that has occurred many times over the last month. The conversation is pretty much the same every time:
YOU: Start from the beginning. How did E come into your care?
ME: At 3:15 on a Tuesday, I was on the phone with our licensing worker, Carolyn, scheduling a regular visit, so she could come check on our house. This is something she’s required to do to make sure our house is a safe place for foster kids. At the end of the conversation, she said rather nonchalantly, “We have a 3-month-old in the office right now. Would you be interested in taking her?”
At that point I told her I would need to call Scott, and she said someone would call me back within the hour. Scott and I had a brief conversation, and then I had a brief conversation with the boys about the possibility of a baby coming to live with us. By 4:20, E was at our house. She arrived with an agency-provided car seat, a few clothing items, two cans of formula, and a box of diapers.
I had told Scott during our conversation to go ahead with his regular routine because we didn’t really know what was going to happen, so he was at the gym when E arrived. He came home and took the boys to karate, and I found myself alone in a quiet house for an hour with a newborn baby. I knew her first name and nothing else.
YOU: Why did her parents lose custody of her?
ME: Mom and Dad are not together, and Dad has no custodial rights at this time. Mom was enrolled in a program meant to keep mom and baby together. Mom was not compliant with the requirements of her program, and there was an inciting incident that changed E’s plan to a regular DCFS case (making her a foster child). I can’t say what the incident was, but I can say that E had no signs of abuse when she came to us. She was underweight and had severe cradle cap, but she was otherwise relatively healthy.
YOU: Are you going to adopt her?
ME: Foster care’s primary function is not to funnel kids straight to adoption. If the system works the way it is supposed to work, E’s parents will do the work required of them to regain custody at some point. If they cannot do the work to regain custody or if they choose to relinquish parental rights, she will be available for adoption, and we would absolutely consider adopting her.
Honestly, we can’t think about that right now. Fostering is very much a one day at a time operation. Our job is to care for E the best way we know how and to support her parents as they try to regain custody. Our approach is very much a “same team” approach—we, her parents, the case workers, and the case assistants are all working together to provide the care E needs right now. We cannot move into a place of judgement (that her parents are bad parents or the case workers aren’t doing their jobs or the system is too broken or…), or we will all fail.
And now I want to answer some questions you didn’t know you had—these are the things I really want you to know. The first night she was here, I called my friend, Megan, who has two young boys. She had told me at book club several months earlier that if I got a baby, I should call her, and I took her literally. She showed up with a bouncy seat, a bath tub, a playmat, and a box of other odds and ends that she wanted us to have. She was E’s first visitor (my parents were on vacation, or you know Mimi and Papa would have been over in a hot second), and she brought us some seriously important loot that continues to come in handy. We call Megan’s bouncy seat the “amusement park” because it’s E’s favorite thing.
My friend, Pam, texted me the next day after I made the Facebook announcement. The only question she asked was “Which day is a good day to bring you dinner?” Can we pause for just a moment and talk about the ministry of someone else making you dinner? Because this is God’s work. I didn’t give birth, but the shock of adding a newborn to our family was still very real, and even thinking now about the soup and bread and Christmas cookies that Pam brought to our house a few days later brings tears to my eyes.
Of course, eleventy billion people texted and called in those first few days, and I told her story over and over and over again. Each time our new normal felt more real.
There was a lot of confusion about E’s case for the first week, but on Friday after we got her, I learned her full name and birthday (September 8th—the same day as my Grandpa Leonard’s).
On the Sunday after she came to us, my friend Michele came to our house to take professional pictures of E. Michele refused to take our money because she deserves sainthood (right next to Saint Megan and Saint Pam). It was really important to me to have pictures taken of E, and not just the snapshots on my iPhone. If she was my child, this is what I would do. If my child was living in someone else’s home, I would want to see pictures of her to see how she was growing.
I put together a small book of pictures to give to E’s mom when I met her. E’s biological parents are allowed to come to doctor’s visits, and E had a visit scheduled ten days after she came into our care. I met Mom and Grandma at the visit, and I hoped the small book of pictures would set the tone for our first meeting. I wanted Mom to know that E was safe and happy and healthy—and again, that we were on the same team.
E traveled to MO and OK with us for the holidays. I was actually surprised when they allowed us to take her with us (I did use my assertive teacher voice when I asked). She met both sides of our family and more framily than we can count. Every stop brought another Christmas present and arms that wanted to hold her. E has no idea how much she is loved by dozens of strangers who have chosen to board the crazy train with us.
This is getting long, so let me close with this for now. As I’ve said, it is best practice to not show E’s face to the world while her case is still open-ended. Allow me to paint a picture of our girl.
She has dark hair that is somehow both wispy and thick.
Women pay hundreds of dollars for eyelashes like hers.
She has a pixie nose that she stole from Tinkerbell.
Her lips are like a tiny strawberry ready to pick.
Since she’s been with us (she gained 1 pound and 14 ounces in the first ten days we had her!), she’s formed plump chipmunk cheeks and a belly that would make Santa proud.
When she’s sleeping, she looks just like Will at that age.
When I change her socks, I’m reminded of Ben’s long toes.
She makes the same faces that my cousin Hailey (now in her 20s) used to make when she was a baby.
Her first name is the same as someone on my dad’s side of the family, and her middle name is the same as someone on my mom’s side.
In my very objective answers in the above question and answer format, I left no room to talk about how I feel about all of this because I’m not ready to talk about it. I’m living in a space where I love this tiny human being wholeheartedly without thought to what the future holds for her. Of course, I think about it when I can’t sleep. Of course, I’ve cried about it. Of course, my heart is broken for a million different reasons—some about me, some about our family, most about her—but I can’t stay in that place long, or I will be useless.
This is how I stay above the feelings right now: I start every day with a prayer (help me be the best mother I can be), and I focus on the very objective actions of caring for a newborn. Bottle. Diaper. Doctor’s appointment. Bath. Books. Because it’s a lot of work keeping a tiny person moving in the right direction.
There is time for the feelings to be processed, and we have such an incredible network of support in our friends and family. We don’t know what will happen, and we have no way to control any of it, but I will tell you that this feels like the holiest work I’ve ever done.
One month down.