Today, July 8th, is a very important day for me. I remember it every year. It was on this day that the last baby I raised was born. No, it’s not my youngest son’s birthday. This is the birthday of a little boy who came into our home through the foster care system.
When Mitch* was born, he had been exposed to methamphetamines in utero. He weighed only a little over three pounds and would spend the next several weeks in an incubator in the NICU. His birth mother was given every imaginable chance to be a good parent. When Mitch was transferred to a private room so that he and his birth mother could bond, she regularly left him unattended to step outside for a cigarette. Thankfully, the nursing staff was paying attention to this and kept him safe.
Once the state brought him in to custody, they contacted me and asked me if I would be willing to care for a special needs newborn. We had been warned during our training that we would never have an infant (the department often assumes that foster parents only want babies with hopes of adopting them later) and this would be the second special needs baby we had.
Mitch arrived into this world with many problems.
- His family threatened to kidnap him when he came to me, so I was escorted to my car with two armed guards and advised that if I suspected anyone was following me that I was to contact the police and drive to the nearest police station.
- Mitch did not know how to cry. He couldn’t cry when he was hungry or when he had a diaper that needed to be changed. So I had to sign an agreement indicating my willingness to feed him every three hours around the clock.
- He had none of the standard reflexes with which babies are born. He could not suck when he was born and had to continue to learn this each time he was fed. He didn’t even have the grasp reflex, the one that causes a baby to wrap his fingers around an adult’s fingers.
- He only weighed five pounds when he was released from the hospital. Although I had set the car seat straps into the smallest positions, I still had to tuck blankets around him so he would not shift around too much.
The department that oversees the care of children in state’s custody was well aware of these problems and did everything they could to help me to care for Mitch. Each week a childhood development specialist came to our home and taught me how to ‘play’ with the baby. At first it involved passing a small pen light back and forth in front of his face to teach him to follow the light. Later I had to teach him to grab a toy. Then we had to teach him to crawl. It was a lengthy and detailed process.
He often didn’t seem to have the motivation to learn. I was told that this was typical of meth babies. Even as he got older, he didn’t seem to care about playing. He would often just lie on a blanket and stare at the ceiling. So it was up to me to engage him and sit and play.
This time paid off, though. Eventually, Mitch began to reach for toys when he was left alone in a room for a few moments. He began entertaining himself. As I stood in the doorway, just out of his sight, I would peek in to see him swat at a toy hanging above him. I had seen my two sons and many other babies do this hundreds of times, yet it was very exciting to see this special needs baby to do the same thing.
After several months it was evident that he was improving by leaps and bounds each week. The education specialist was very pleased with how far he had come. She was stunned the day she walked in and saw him standing, holding on to our family dog. So was I!
By this time, the department had determined that Mitch would never return to his mother and had asked me if we would adopt him. We really had not gotten into the foster care system for the purpose of adopting, but it had certainly crossed our minds. We were in love with little Mitch. He had become a part of our family.
It was shortly after his first birthday that I got another call from the state concerning Mitch’s birth mother. She had just given birth to twins. Soon after they were born, the state had taken them into custody and asked me if I could care for them, too. They were impressed with how well Mitch was doing and wanted me to repeat the process with these infants.
This was the first time in my life that I remember looking toward the heavens to ask God if He had temporarily relinquished His throne to the Joker. At the time, not only was a raising a very active toddler, but I was also homeschooling my two sons who were in high school and middle school. Furthermore, my husband’s job kept him out of town for weeks at a time. There was no way I could possibly care for the twins, too. So I respectfully declined. Then I cried with worry over where they would go.
I needn’t have. There was a lovely Mennonite couple who lived an hour’s drive away who could take in the twins (one boy and one girl). State law requires that whenever possible, siblings are supposed to be given opportunities to visit with one another if in different homes. So we set up a time to meet with them.
When the couple walked in the door, my focus went directly to the gentleman. The resemblance between him and Mitch was uncanny! They shared the same facial features, jawline, nose, and eye color – the prettiest blue I’ve ever seen. I knew right then that I was not supposed to adopt, that Mitch was not to be our younger son, but the big brother and older son in this family.
I knew that, but I didn’t like it. So in true Temerity fashion, I argued with God about it for a couple of months. He has an interesting way of debating with me – He uses logic even while hearing my heart. In the end, though, God always wins. I knew the right thing to do.
We soon began transitioning Mitch slowly to his new family. We set up play dates, then sleepovers. I wanted to make certain that this really was in the very best interest of the child – a phrase so misused by the department and government that I wasn’t willing to take a risk of being wrong. I could see that Mitch easily blended with their new family and responded well to the foster parents.
This wasn’t my first time to hand over a foster child to new parents, so I had tried to prepare. I agreed to plan a wedding for a client on the same day that Mitch would move to their home permanently. I had hired two assistants to help with the preparations that day. It was a good thing, too. I have absolutely no recollection of that wedding at all other than what I have seen in the photos. I have since been told by the bride, her family, and my staff that it was the best wedding they had ever seen. It was flawless and beautiful.
A year later, I was invited to attend the final adoption procedures as the Mennonite couple adopted all three children. The judge stated during the proceedings that this was the “high point” of his day. That from there forward, it went downhill for him.
I thought it was the high point of Mitch’s life, too. He had come so far! When the parents were finishing the paperwork, the case workers and I were chasing Mitch and the twins around the courthouse as they ran about playing. Playing – I taught him that. Reaching for the ornaments on the Christmas tree – I taught him that, too.
I apologize for the lengthy blog post. In light of the crazy news we’ve had lately, and that which is to come, I thought my readers might be ready for a reminder that the sun will rise again tomorrow, the world will still spin in space, and that God is still on the throne.
*As always, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the guilty.
If you are considering becoming a foster parent, please take a look at the information on this website: http://nfpaonline.org/foster