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February 18, 2018

Labor Prep: Who/Where/How

One of my cardinal rules to deal with a potential posterior babe was that I would not lay on my back — no matter how good it sounded or how much pressure my birth attendants put on me. But of course, that poses its own challenges since hospitals are literally designed to try and get you to lay on your back, at the very least for delivery but often for laboring too. When we went on our local hospital tour, I spent some time asking about the types of adaptations their beds could make for someone who didn’t just want to lay down. (The answer: Um, what do you mean? even though I had actually read on their website that the beds were adaptable for different laboring and delivery positions, could have bars attached, etc.)

But perhaps I should back up a minute and mention that when I found out I was pregnant, I got on the phone with my insurance company to find out if they covered certified nurse-midwives so I could once again have a midwife while delivering in a hospital. They literally had no idea what I was talking about. They said I would just have to call every single provider on their list and ask that question. I started that laborious process, but figured there had to be a better way. Enter the Bakersfield Birth Network. Connecting with some local doulas, I soon found out that there were no CNMs in the whole city and surrounding area. What I had before simply wasn’t an option. If I wanted/needed to deliver in the hospital, I would have to see an OBGYN, something I still had never done in my life.

In a hurry to make an appointment in case the complications of last time arose again, I selected a doctor based on online reviews saying that she encouraged lots of questions and took plenty of time with appointments. That sounded promising and she did do that, but Neal was not comfortable with her. I was also hearing from the doulas that she was quite hostile toward low-intervention births. Although I ended up having an epidural the last time (and am very grateful for it!), I was again aiming to have an unmedicated birth, so we decided she was not the best option.

My second selection was again based on a doula recommendation. This doctor was relatively new to the area, but one of the doulas had attended a birth with him and said he was more flexible than most and certainly open to unmedicated/low-intervention births. The problem: my appointments with him were kind of your typical 2 minutes, check the heart rate, no time to talk. Sometimes he would get conversational, but always about non-birth-related topics (kids these days kind of conversations really got him going). Notwithstanding my frustrations with the lack of substantive conversation, I think I would have stuck with him if not for his office’s complete lack of attention to detail with my medical records. I’ve already vented about this plenty (!!!) elsewhere so I won’t belabor the point, but his office did things like: failed to request my medical records despite talking about it several times, said they couldn’t find my lab results at the moment but “I’m sure they were fine…,” and needed prompting on the appropriate timeline for my glucose test and Rhogam shot, which included leaving several phone messages that were never returned. (Funny though, the one time I called and said that I would be filing a formal complaint against their office, I got a call back REAL quick.) I told Neal that it seemed fruitless to continue with this doctor since it felt like I was managing my own medical care. This phrase kept coming to mind with him:

you-had-one-job34-580x425

By 31 weeks, I was beginning to doubt that if complications did arise he and his staff would even notice because of their lack of attention to detail. (Side note: I had done some initial online research about him, but didn’t find much. But this experience led me to dig deeper and on about the 10th Google page I found out that his medical license was currently sanctioned for . . . wait for it . . . failure to keep sufficient medical records, among other things.)

It was in the midst of these legitimate frustrations that I started to give serious thought to my original dream: to give birth at home or in a birth center. For obvious reasons, it wasn’t a possibility the first time. And knowing that the final word from each care provider the last time was that another pregnancy could be life-threatening and lead to organ failure, it never crossed my mind to consider an out-of-hospital birth. But at this point, I was 31 weeks along, no sign of the previous complications, and having to change medical providers anyway so I started interviewing local midwives and began to entertain the possibility once again.

Before I finish that thread, I have to interject with an explanation about how I discovered what was perhaps the most important aspect of this birth for me emotionally. As I mentioned, I ultimately loved the book Ancient Map for Modern Birth, but as I’ve hinted at there are many elements that feel a little too “new agey” for me and thus don’t resonate. In just the first few pages, England says this,

Knowing your heart’s question is central to preparing for birth as a heroic journey. You might have many cerebral questions about labor or your birthplace, but it is your heart’s question that will help you know yourself and thus deepen your preparation for labor and transition to parenting. You cannot answer this question with words and logic but must manifest the answer with your whole being through the way you live.

Yeeeaaaah . . . no. That’s what I thought when I read this. Here I was hanging out on the Evidence Based Birth website and looking for meta-analyses or systematic reviews on the Cochrane website, and they’re encouraging me to step away from cerebral questions and logic. I basically just read right past it, until I was a couple more chapters in and it hit me that I really did have a “heart’s question”: how can I make this birth healing for Neal? I didn’t just want to manage his anxiety about the birth, I wanted this to be such a different and better experience that the past would be truly healed. There is, of course, inherent folly in this question because it is not within my power to make something like that happen. I can’t even make him want to take out the trash, let alone have a life-changing experience. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this was what I was seeking in all my researching, decision-making, doula-interviewing, and so on. Turns out, Pam England was basically right even though I thought it was a little kooky at first: you will “manifest the answer with your whole being through the way you live.”

So all that digression is to say that I knew I would never choose an out-of-hospital birth if Neal was not 100% on board, which he never remotely had been even though he’d humored me in touring several birth centers over the years. I had honestly considered opting for a quick epidural just to make this birth experience more relaxed for him, so you can imagine my surprise when he was totally up for the Bakersfield Birth Center. (A birth at home, not so much “because we suck at cleaning” and it was a little farther from the hospital.) In fact, he was so on board with it that he felt like we had already made the decision long  before I was done hemming and hawing and researching and second-guessing. A very strange departure for us!

And that is how, right before I hit 33 weeks pregnant, we completely changed our birth plan and care provider (and insurance too since Neal had just begun his new job). It took me a while to get completely comfortable with the decision, but once I did it was so freeing to realize that I wouldn’t have to advocate for myself or fight to do something as basic as NOT lie on my back. Beyond that, my midwife Justine was much more helpful in giving tips to avoid a posterior baby and palpating to determine her likely position. Also, yay for visits longer than 2 minutes! Questions asked and answered! Medical records obtained! My birth preferences discussed! (Is that too much to ask from “mainstream” obstetric care?)

So that’s the labor prep prologue. Next up: my birth story.

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February 4, 2018

Labor Prep: Posterior Positioning

Although I wrote fairly extensively about Addison’s birth, one thing that became clear as I was preparing for this birth is that I was either never completely clear on how the posterior positioning affected the labor process or I had forgotten. I knew that a posterior position can happen completely by chance, but it also is more likely to occur in subsequent births and thus they think it can also be related to pelvic shape. So not knowing which was the case for me, I set out to learn as much as I could about how and why it occurs, how to prevent it, and how to labor effectively if it happened again.

The book Ancient Map for Modern Birth, the “sequel” (of sorts) to Birthing from Within, was incredibly helpful on this front with a whole chapter on stalled and back labor and how posterior positions played into those. It was really this small sketch on page 253, though, that kind of explained everything with one look:

IMG_20171224_115847640

It’s illustrating why you should never lie down on your back when you have a posterior baby — because, duh, their skull is now resting on your spine! Ouch! When I saw the figure, it flashed me right back to Addison’s birth and the specific sequence of events wherein I had been in lots of pain, but successfully coping by sitting/swaying on an exercise ball. There had been some encouragement, even pressure, from the nurses and midwife to get me into bed, but I was determined to keep moving as long as I could. Then they came rushing in saying that baby’s heart rate had dropped and they needed me to get in bed immediately so they could insert an electrode in her head. It was around this time that my pain started to shoot through the roof and that picture clearly shows why. It also led to involuntary pushing and “swollen cervix” (backward progress in dilation), which I didn’t even know was common enough with posterior babies to have a name until this round of research.

All this research led me to three conclusions: first, I needed to follow all the guidelines to try and prevent posterior positioning, especially no reclining (boo! I love me some reclining). Second, if I ended up with a posterior baby anyway, I would NOT lay on my back, no matter how much the doctor or nurses pressured me — side-lying would be the most they would get from me. And third, I needed to practice all the various positions for turning the baby so that I could keep moving and progressing like it was second nature when the time came. Thankfully, I had an awesome birth coach:

She was not only adept at timing my ice “contractions” (I’m holding ice in all these pictures), she just happened to be the perfect weight for sitting on my lower back/hips to relieve pain. Over our couple months of practice, she got pretty adept with the labor lingo too. “Are you ready for your counterpressure?” “I think it’s time for the rebozo.” Once she mischievously added an extra minute to the timer and when I reprimanded her, she said, feigning innocence, “I wanted you to try some camelback contractions too. You’ve got to be prepared.” Sneaky birth coach.

I was also religious about taking 30-minute brisk walks since some studies have found a link between that length of exercise several times a week and shorter labors (yes, PLEASE!), and if I was going to avoid laying down I would need lots of stamina. Addison wasn’t quite so helpful with those, as she would alternately stop to collect leaves and pick flowers or complain about how boring the walk was. (Kai Ryssdal is much better company.)

Knowledge is power, and I felt ready to handle another posterior baby if she came my way!

December 25, 2017

Labor Prep: Birthing from Within

I’ve wanted to chronicle some of my childbirth preparation (I want this girl to know I was at least as diligent as I was with Addison!) and since I’m 39+ weeks now and showing some signs of early labor, it may be now or never!

One of my biggest desires was to take a Birthing from Within class this time around since that was the childbirth prep book that resonated with me most before. Although there weren’t any local options, I found a perfect fit with a one-day, 8-hour class in Costa Mesa with Your Birth Team. It was a fast weekend trip to Orange County so that my parents could watch Addison and feed us lots of good food!

Neal was a little nervous about feeling exposed and uncomfortable during the class but it was a credit to Megan and Marlee, our mentors, and the small class size that he felt fairly comfortable. He thought they asked good, incisive questions to help us think through our past experiences with birth (spoiler alert: it was traumatizing for Neal) and create realistic plans and expectations. To say I loved the class would be an understatement — I would have done a weekly version if I could have!

There’s lots of reasons I connect with the Birthing from Within philosophy. Probably most fundamental is that it is more of a philosophy than a “method” per se, in contrast to some other popular childbirth prep programs like Bradley, Lamaze, hypnobirthing, etc. Of all the guiding principles, several fit very well with my conceptions before giving birth the first time:

  • Childbirth is a profound rite of passage, not a medical event (even when medical care is part of the birth).
  • The essence of childbirth preparation is self-discovery, not assimilating obstetric information.
  • Parents deserve support for any birth option which might be right for them (whether it be drugs, cesarean, home birth, or bottle-feeding).

Some fit even better after that birth experience:

  • Pregnancy and birth outcome are influenced by a variety of factors, but can’t be controlled by planning.
  • Pain is an inevitable part of childbirth, yet much can be done to ease suffering.
  • Fathers and birth partners help best as birth guardians or loving partners, not as coaches; they also need support.

I never could get behind the concept of not using the term pain as some prep methods suggest (instead referring to “waves” or “pressure,” for example) but especially after my labor, parts of which could only be summed up in this way apparently: “pain to exceed all pain I have ever EVER experienced.” Neal was, of course, a fabulous labor support and “coach” in many ways, but it also took a huge toll. And now with his residual trauma on top of the regular stress of labor and delivery, we knew it was a big priority for him to feel supported during the labor, especially in finding a doula that he felt as comfortable with as he did with Melissa. (Coincidentally, our wonderful new doula is also Meliza.) The goal is for him to be able to take more breaks than he got the last time — since last time around, his first bathroom break in about 7ish hours was interrupted by a frantic hurry, hurry, the baby’s coming! The breaks are especially critical now that he’s working on getting over the flu.

In case you haven’t noticed from reading my blog, self-discovery is a big part of almost every process in my life, so pregnancy, labor, and delivery has been no different. One of the ways that Birthing from Within emphasizes this is through “birth art.” It’s chock full of prompts and suggestions to creatively express your innermost thoughts, feelings, fears, etc. Interestingly, however, this was the part of the book that I engaged with the least. I think I tried a couple of times to create some art through the exercises, but the best I can say is that it felt a little bit more “new agey” than comes naturally to me. I never really got anywhere with it. I suppose my self-discovery process is typically a little more cerebral in nature, trying to find words and assign some order to what is going on inside.

But in the classroom context, I really saw how powerful the birth art process could be. One of the other attendees broke down in full-on sobs when asked to explain what she had sketched. Her previous birth had clearly been traumatizing and she articulated that trying to draw something representative really helped her understand the depth of emotion still there. The contrast in the birth art that Neal and I each created really shows just how much can be communicated without words:

Birth art

In case you can’t tell, my imagery of birth (on the left) is about the peaceful, end result. Neal’s: not so much.

But I loved Neal’s piece so much that I began to use it as a coping technique, tracing the various colors with my finger or eyes, during my practice “ice contractions.” As I’m staring at it, I think about how things don’t have to be serene or peaceful to be beautiful. An apt reminder for childbirth.

December 21, 2017

2018: Baby

It’s been a while since I’ve done a proper one-word theme for the new year. I seem to recall that for several years my first thought was Survive, which felt maybe a little too pessimistic to make it official. As I’ve been contemplating 2018 (still can’t believe we’re here now!), not surprisingly, Survive was also what came to my mind first. It’s definitely Neal’s mantra right now.

But as I was tossing and turning this morning, I realized that Baby is a much more fitting theme. Sure, there’s the obvious meaning: that we’ll have a literal baby again in the next week or so. But beyond that, I think there’s a lot of “verbing” to be done with this. I was reminded of this specifically when Addison had a (thankfully mild) flu last weekend. Neal banned me from sitting too close to her or cuddling her for fear I would catch it, but as I sat a distance away from her on the couch, she took my hand off my laptop and held it in hers. I was trying to wrap up my grading and final emails for the semester, but every time I took my hand back to my laptop, she grabbed it again in seconds. Finally, I acquiesced, put my work down, and just sat for the next couple of hours holding her hand while she watched inane cartoons. This simple moment was a clear reminder: even though I need her to be the big sister and helper, she will also need some babying through this transition.

2017 was a rough year for her in a lot of ways; enough that her pediatrician gave us a psychiatrist referral to have some assessments done. Those subsequent meetings with a social worker and therapist felt a little futile and disappointing, but the general consensus from them and the school personnel we’ve worked with has been that the amount of change she’s gone through in one year has perhaps just been a little more than even a gregarious, resilient 7-year-old can take gracefully. It’s certainly not rocket science to think that a new city, 3 different schools, 6 temporary siblings, a new full-time job that takes her dad away for the first time in her young life, and now a new baby is a lot to handle! So we need to baby Addison in 2018. Make sure she has one-on-one time with both of us. Respond to her bids for connection even if it means putting down the baby sometimes or cutting into time I’ve planned for work. Don’t expect too much of her. (Though as I’ve transferred a lot of chores solely to her over the last couple of months of the pregnancy, I can see that it will be difficult to strike the right balance. Some of you will not be surprised — *cough Elizabeth cough* — to hear that I can be a bit demanding.)

Beyond just surviving, Neal’s refrain right now is that this is going to be the hardest year of our life together. (He’s such an optimist!) His new job is often intense and we’re stressed financially . . . but if you know Neal, you know that it’s mostly about the sleep deprivation. That guy does not like to lose a minute of precious sleep, and babies are just the worst about that! I don’t know exactly what babying Neal will look like, but I’m sure it starts with accepting his preferred methods of unwinding even when they drive me crazy (like when I walk into our room and he’s playing two different games on his phone and computer simultaneously. What? WHY??!).

But at least he’s got some self-care and “escape” methods up his sleeve, which it became increasingly clear to me over the last year that I have still failed to adequately develop. I still love to read, but my books always end up being about parenting, education, politics, or economics. And when I sit down and pull up Netflix, I often gravitate toward depressing documentaries. So . . . not exactly escapist fare, or usually even relaxing.

On some level, what I first thought when I pondered babying myself is a bit absurdly basic: I have to eat. Regularly. I know this comes naturally to many, but when I’m tired, stressed, or trying to get some work finished, eating is the first thing to go . . . and I can easily let it go for 8, 9 hours at a time. I’ve never been a snacker, but I’ve also never been one to schedule mealtime into my routine (hence our woeful track record of forgetting to feed Addison lunch during her pre-school years). So while I may not be able to schedule lunch every day, I must eat.

With Neal working full-time, this will also be my first time going it alone with night-time infant care. (I actually did almost no nights at all with Addison per medical advice since I had been so sick for so long by the time she arrived.) So I’m trying to remind myself to sleep when the baby sleeps. I really hate napping; it just doesn’t work well with a long history of insomnia. But I couldn’t have survived this pregnancy without more naps than the rest of my entire adult life combined, and I think I will have to baby myself by continuing to nap regularly.

In some of the pregnancy books I’ve read this time around, they talk about cultures where there is a specifically defined period of “confinement” after you give birth. I’m planning to adopt one of the longer ones: 60 days. I’ll still have to jump right back into a new semester — and I actually have a higher credit load next semester than I have for the last year — but that’s in my pajamas from bed as usual! But beyond that and school pick-up (thankfully, Neal can still do most mornings because of his late start work schedule), I plan to stay pretty unscheduled. I’ve even declared myself on “maternity leave” from my calling at church — some people have laughed so that may not be a thing, but I’m babying myself by acknowledging up front how little I will feel like wrangling 7-year-olds for the next couple of months.

The one problem with the “confinement” idea is that even though I know I will want to stay mostly home-bound, isolation is definitely a risk factor for postpartum depression. I think we all anticipate that it will be an issue again (and maybe worse with Neal gone most days?), so I do wish I had been more proactive in making local friends. I do have some and thankfully, I’ve got my sister-in-law right around the corner but I still really miss the many close friends I had in our mountain town. I will have to persuade some of them to come visit! Luckily, I’ll have a cuddly baby to use as extra enticement . . .

Besides babying myself by eating, sleeping, and seeking help and social support (why do those three simple things sound like such a Herculean feat in my mind?), I want to focus as much as I can on the baby. My last baby! I need to set clear boundaries around my work time and hold her as much as humanly possible. I’m used to exceeding expectations at work and going the extra mile for my students, but this semester, I need to meet their needs but scale back and not go over my contracted hours as I sometimes do. Another Herculean feat of willpower for this workaholic!

Feel free to hold me accountable next year (and ask what I’ve eaten lately as my midwife does in almost every communication now) . . . it’s almost BABY time!

November 20, 2017

Phase One complete.

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 3:25 pm

That baby I’ve been grieving is long since gone. It’s been 10 months (exactly, today) since he went away. Life has moved forward in so many ways, some completely unexpected — like I’m going to give birth again in about 6 weeks. WHA???!!

I’ve asked myself sometimes why I’ve been compelled to finish those last two chronicles of our journey with Baby B when the emotional toll has sometimes been heavy and the tears (and thereby headaches) have flowed freely. I stumbled on this quote, which is just about right:

Gloria Andzaldua

 

What does the real world not give me? Time, for one. Life moves at a frenzied pace — I mean, how is 2017 almost over, am I right?! Addison moves at a frenzied pace, often leaving little surprises in her wake (this week: mosquito repellent lotion in the dryer. Why? No clue.) Foster parenting moves at a frenzied pace. It took months to get those first couple of phone calls . . . and then we might get 3 or 4 calls in a week for a while. As I’ve observed and listened to veteran foster parents over the years, I’ve marveled at how they embrace (accept? tolerate?) the constant change. I can’t help but feel different in my need to think, and process, and write. Repeat. I guess writing is a little bit like my pause button. And I must pause; there is no other way.

One day as I was in the midst of trying unsuccessfully to write those final pieces of the fostering journey, around the one year mark, Neal mentioned quite offhandedly that he sometimes checked the Facebook pages of Baby B’s mom and grandma and saw more recent pictures of him. This is perhaps not shocking to anyone else, but I was absolutely bowled over! I suppose you have to understand my very limited Facebook habits: scroll through my friends’ posts; keep up with messages here and there (admittedly, not my strong suit); and click on interesting posts about politics, religion, or parenting. I seldom do the “stalking” thing or go to anyone’s page that I’m not “friends” with, and so it had never crossed my mind to seek out his family. But once I knew that a picture of the little guy was just a couple of clicks away, I couldn’t help myself. Oh, how grown up he looked! Still totally recognizable, but not even a little bit baby-like anymore. I wept with even greater intensity than usual, much as I’ve imagined I would if we ever crossed paths without warning at a park or grocery store.

I’ve wondered if healing should mean that I don’t weep anymore . . . about seeing a picture of him, or writing about that time, or just remembering him. Finally now, about two and a half months after I had intended to finish writing this “story,” I feel it’s complete. Ultimately, there was just a little mist in my eyes, a couple tears here and there in the finishing. But rather than healing, that feels a little wrong to me — like I should have many more tears for something/someone so significant. But maybe that’s just because I am a person that would hit the pause button forever if I could. (Or I’m instinctively drawn to pain. Also true.)

As I’ve alluded to a couple of times, we’ve fostered several other kids besides Baby B, ranging from 8 months to 16 years. But for a variety of reasons I haven’t desired to chronicle those experiences in detail: shorter duration = less bonding and emotion to process; older ages = more high-stakes situations and trauma. We’ve kept a running list of our lessons learned (emphasis on our because it’s more about figuring out our own path through the system rather than widely applicable advice):

  • Social workers are always about the kids (not a bad thing) so you have to guard your own family. (We also encountered one social worker in that period who obviously didn’t care at all for the child, which was 1000 times worse.)
  • Relevant information will always be left out.
  • Document everything. (Even if it will make a social worker’s eyes bulge at the level of detail and specificity.)
  • Teenagers are a whole different ballgame (and also super freaking expensive)!
  • Teens require more work ahead of time to determine family rules and boundaries.
  • Speaking of, the fastest way to figure out your most hard-and-fast rules is to listen to your child explain them to new kids in the home: “You better eat that because she does NOT feed people after dinner. No snacks, nothing!”
  • Children coming into the system for the first time may be crazy hard no matter what age.
  • School-age kids are the way to go — built-in breaks! (Neal’s preference)
  • Don’t say yes to placements that you wouldn’t be willing to keep forever; “temporary” doesn’t always turn out to be temporary and vice versa.
  • Snuggle kids as much as physically possible even if it’s way past bedtime. (Not Neal endorsed, for obvious reasons)
  • Don’t forget to take pictures.

We’re not entirely sure what the future holds on the foster parenting front. There were definitely some times when we weren’t sure we could continue, but I think we successfully worked through those feelings. Now we’re on hold until we get this new baby here, determine her health status, and adjust to infant life again. While we’re keeping our foster certification (now legally called “resource family approval”) up-to-date, Foster Parenting: Phase One is officially complete.

November 19, 2017

Aftermath, Day 143

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 8:59 pm

28 January

Walking by the playroom was the hardest part. Even though we had sent almost all of the toys and many of the books with Baby B when he left, there were still so many reminders in that little space. He lived in this new house with us for only two weeks, but there was the corner I used to sit in and read board books or toss balls at him. There were the French doors he loved to open and slam, sometimes upsetting himself because he felt trapped by his own efforts. It didn’t help that the playroom is adjacent to the front door, so every outing or errand could trigger a breakdown just beforehand. (Thank goodness I can literally go days, weeks without leaving the house if needed!)

My mind played a lot of tricks on me in the days after. Addison and I both would hear his noises and momentarily forget (or attempt to forget) that he was gone. “Maybe he’s just hiding,” Addison would say, and peek into the pantry or laundry room. But the nights were the worst with my long history of vivid dreams. I would frequently wake up panicked, drenched in a cold sweat. We never put the baby in the crib last night! I know I never put him in the crib. Where is he? Did we leave him somewhere? In my half-sleeping stage, I would sometimes bolt out of bed to look, starting with the pack-n-play still assembled in our room. Neal packed it up for the garage shortly thereafter. Both waking and sleeping, there was often this vague feeling of not knowing how many kids I have. Who am I responsible for? Have I taken care of them? Have I forgotten someone or something important? It was an eerie feeling to walk around with (one that did not dissipate quickly since 4 more foster children would join us in the weeks and months after).

Just before Baby B went away, we had printed scads of pictures to share with his mom and grandma. Afterward I had intended to stash them all in my “loss box” with the clothes, casts of his hands and feet, and a few other mementos. I was sure it would be emotionally counterproductive to display any to be seen on a daily basis, but as we continued unpacking and placed photos on the mantel, Addison begged to frame one of the baby’s pictures and leave it up. That was the first real wrestle to reconcile what I thought would be best for my coping with what Addison seemed to need. Eventually I agreed to let her frame her favorite picture and place it alongside other momentous family events, from our wedding to her birth and beyond. Emboldened by that, she took several more pictures out of the stack and placed them in strategic locations. It especially melted my heart when she put one on the back of the passenger seat in the car so that she would be able to “see him everyday on the way to school!”

One day a couple of weeks later, I walked out to the living room to see Addison standing on the sofa, holding the picture we had framed together. “I just wish this were real,” she said as she tenderly touched the glass. “I just wish I could reach through the picture and touch his tiny hands again. His skin was so soft. I wish I could feel his soft cheeks. I wish I could smell him.” It was a special moment with my little girl, reminding me that she’s not always a bruiser and perpetual-motion machine. I knew then that Baby B’s picture was right where it was supposed to be, among our family’s most significant moments of life.

November 16, 2017

Goodbye, Day 135

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 1:22 am

20 January

What began as pick-up-Baby-B-and-keep-him-overnight-at-least on Labor Day 2016 became plan-to-have-Baby-B-until-December, and eventually plan-to-have-Baby-B-until-June. Until a Wednesday evening in January when there would be no more plans; just bring the baby and all his things to the Social Services lobby on Friday at 9:00 a.m. The week before, the social worker had indicated that the process of transitioning him to grandma might take several weeks, but that was not to be.

I spent Thursday night alternately packing and sobbing. The clothes were the hardest thing. Thanks to the generosity of several people, we had an abundance of clothes for him. Some he had never worn, but was oh-so-close to fitting into. I was preemptively missing getting to put him in a little tie/vest/suit combo. (But I was preemptively missing everything; that’s grief for ya.) As pragmatic as I tend to be about relentlessly using up anything that costs money, there were two pieces of clothing, in particular — a pair of footie pajamas and a collared shirt — that I couldn’t bring myself to pack. I rationalized that the footies were almost too small, so he wouldn’t get much more use out of them. But the shirt had plenty of good wear in it. Still, I just kept hugging it and weeping into it. I hadn’t intended to keep any of his clothes, but after watching me wrestle for way too long, Neal convinced me to just keep them and move on. Nobody would miss one shirt among 3 boxes of clothes.

Besides the clothes, I had always planned on including some type of painting with the baby’s handprints in my “loss box.” But in his perfect Neal way, he suggested that casts would be so much better for me. He knew that I would want to press my hands into something more tactile, and run my fingers along the imprint of his little fingers and toes. So early that Friday morning, he worked out some clay and made me an external imprint to go with my internal one. And then we packed up the car and drove through a hard rain to drop off Baby B for the last time.

The lobby hand-off was exactly as hard as I thought it was going to be. I cried, of course, but kept it from becoming full-on sobs. Grandma seemed taken aback at first, got a little misty herself, and said, “Oh, of course, you’re sad. I know you’re very attached to each other.” She invited us to a birthday/Christmas/welcome home party for him the next day, and to come visit whenever we wanted, which surprised us a little bit. Some foster parents maintain a relationship after the transition but we had a strong conviction that he was too young to benefit much from that. He needed to replace me in particular with other mothers in his life; we certainly didn’t want to prolong that for our own sake. (Since he had few, if any, male figures in his life, I do sometimes wonder if having some contact with Neal would have been a net positive for him. But since we’re kind of a package deal, I’ll never know.)

After we got back in the car, the full-on sobbing came and came . . . and came. Neal asked what we should do and I just said, “Drive.” And so he drove with no particular destination, through alternating mists, drizzle, and heavy rains. It was one of the darkest days we’d ever seen in this hot, sunny place. A perfect pairing of moods.

A couple of times we ended up near our house, but I just couldn’t bear to go in. With both girls at school, the quiet emptiness would be too much. Not to mention all the little reminders, including his breakfast remains still crusting over on the high chair. We ended up in a Macaroni Grill parking lot. I wanted to go in and eat but a fresh wave of sobbing was coming on, so we just parked instead. Mostly we talked about all those “I would get too attached” comments, which had so recently begun to sting. I was feeling what too attached feels like — can’t breathe, can’t eat, breaking apart from the inside out. And still it was inevitable and right. How could I feel anything but this in saying goodbye to such a special little person?

Neal said, “Maybe what people really mean when they say they couldn’t be a foster parent because they would get too attached is, ‘I worry I might be so broken afterward that I wouldn’t be able to put myself back together again.'” That seemed right, the very thing I had spent years grappling with myself. It was a leap of faith to decide that I have the mental health and coping skills to do this thing; now would be the test of whether I was right. That Ernest Hemingway quote I’ve long loved kept coming to mind: “Life breaks us all, and many are strong at the broken places.” Now was yet another moment, week, month, year for becoming strong.

We drove and parked and talked for hours until it was time for school pick-up. I had a new strategy, born out of necessity, for getting through the after-school hours:  bribery. Never one to sit still for long periods of time (or 2 or 3 minutes), I told Addison that if she cuddled with me she could watch shows or download new games on my phone. I held her for two straight hours, all the while wondering how people do it who don’t have another child to hold onto, to keep them tethered. (Perhaps that’s why in all the foster support groups we’ve ever been to, the veterans told us to say yes to a new placement as soon as possible after a goodbye.)

Beginning that night and for several days after, I listened to one of my favorites on a loop:

For child I am so glad I found you 

Although my arms have always been around you

Sweet bird although you did not see me

I saw you

 

September 21, 2017

One year

Filed under: Books, Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , — llcall @ 5:58 pm

I dreamed about Baby B last night. It was a long, winding story, like we spent a whole lifetime with him in just one night. (I guess that’s sometimes how it felt on those longest nights with him.)

Labor Day marked one year since he came to stay with us. My goal was to finish writing that part of our foster parenting story by the one-year mark. I had my glorious summer break in which to do it, but my grief, or my mind, or Neal said, Forget it; just do the dishes, the laundry, clean the house instead. And in a truly unprecedented turn, I did. The house was never cleaner (and may never be again).

I spent a couple of days trying to write, but I felt the last part of Job’s mourning: “Oh that my grief were throughly weighed . . . for now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea: therefore my words are swallowed up.” My missing him is not getting heavier, but my words are still swallowed up. How can I express how much I long to know that he’s okay? That he’s smiling and laughing and speaking. That his sweetest gaze is met every day with adoration. How can I express how much I just miss his face?

I’ve been reading a beautiful book of verse called Brown Girl Dreaming and it’s made me think in poetry again, something I haven’t done in probably 17 years now. This is what I wrote to remember my dream:

We are none of us whole

wringing our hands, crashing into each other

rushing through this cramped hospital room

trying to make this small child whole again. Or once.

We each lay a soft hand on his head in our turn

it will never be enough.

June 12, 2017

“But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this one…”

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , — llcall @ 4:58 am

Any Captain Underpants fans in the house? (Or if not fans, people whose obsessed children made them read every single book in the series to them?) If so, you’ll recognize the title. I’ve heard those words in my mind several times over the last few months as I’ve thought about finishing the story of baby B’s time with us and subsequent departure.

I wrote most of Day 135, our last day with him. Then I wrote some more a week later. And then the week after that, all sorts of things hit the fan in another foster parenting situation. Then there were two more children in quick succession. And then, a break. It’s been a long break now, much longer than we anticipated. There’s been ample time for writing, but I never could bring myself to even open up that document again. Until today when I heard in my head, “But before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this one . . . ” and I finally knew what I needed to do.

When I was 15, I met a girl who rapidly became my best, best friend. We were two peas in a pod, often inseparable. We wrote poetry about our friendship, made books for each other, took pictures with a bowling pin together (you had to be there! — actually, I take that back, even people who were there didn’t get it), shared joint custody of a favorite sweater, and took a senior road trip together for graduation. We went our separate ways for college but stayed in close touch until a falling out. Some people told me that I had to let that friendship go after all that had happened, but I said, “NEVER!” and we nursed our way back to closeness again. We went even further separate ways after college; I could sense both literal and figurative distance but I was committed to keeping our friendship alive. Twice I road-tripped to see her, bringing Neal because I couldn’t imagine her not meeting the most important human being in my life. She reciprocated with a visit and she and Neal and I walked around D.C. for several wonderful hours together. She made the great effort to come to my wedding, and I thought for sure we had reestablished a friendship that would never end.

But we saw each other only one more time after that. We were on different coasts by then, so I knew email and phone calls would have to suffice for awhile, but she increasingly stopped replying or answering. (Not that I can blame her about the phone calls; after all, my blog title.) Neal told me it was time to accept that she had moved on, or at the very least that circumstances had moved us both on, but I said, “NEVER!” I talked to her sisters for updates to make sure she was okay; they both said she prefers text messages. I had never sent a text message in my life at that point, but in a true labor of love, I T9ed a probably unintelligible message. And then again for her birthday. And then again. Neal said maybe she hasn’t just moved on, maybe she actively doesn’t want to talk to you again. I conceded the possibility, but for years, I couldn’t let her birthday pass without some kind of message. Once Facebook came into prominence, I found her there. I wasn’t sure if she would accept my request, but I was determined that one way or another, this would be my last contact attempt. She accepted my request, but I knew that I had to hang back in a way. I’m glad I’m privy to her precious few posts per year — it matters to me to know that she is okay and it still makes me happy to see a recent picture — but I never reach out anymore. I wonder if maybe I’m a reminder of a past she finds painful. Or maybe she feels we have little in common. Or maybe she just doesn’t think about me. I’ve accepted that I don’t know, will probably never know. I’ve accepted that maybe her version of this story is completely different or that perhaps she feels she reached out to me and I failed her in some way. I’ve accepted all that, but still I won’t let her go. She will always be a friend to me.

So many times over the last year, people have said to me, “I could never be a foster parent. I would get too attached.” I understand where this sentiment comes from. It’s an emotional wrestle I think anyone seriously considering fostering must confront, so usually it doesn’t bother me when someone says that. But in the lead-up to baby B’s leaving, it stung. I mean, truthfully, everything stung, even the happiness. But during that time, it felt more personal, like they were saying that somehow they felt more deeply than I did, or that I must not get that attached because I chose to be a foster mother even knowing it would entail many goodbyes.

Lest anyone reading this think that they are the one who said this thing that felt like a personal affront, or that I hold some bitterness about it, or that you have to carefully monitor what you say to me, don’t worry. I’m not one to hold a grudge. And even if I were, truly so many people said it at some point that it feels to me almost like everyone and no one said it. It’s all water under the bridge. But I guess it’s the reason I felt the need to tell you that other story: I’m a person that doesn’t let go. There will be no closure here.

January 30, 2017

Preparing for the unpreparable, Day 128

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 4:56 am

13 January

How do I fit a lifetime of love into 2 or 3 weeks?

That’s the thought my mind rests on every few minutes. I have massive amounts of work to catch up on in just the second week of a new semester after one of the most challenging weeks of my life. (Literally. We moved into a new house. Took a new foster placement –this time a 16-year-old! Wowsa! The baby and I got the flu. Then I got strep throat because the flu wasn’t good enough.) But after the news this morning that baby B would likely be leaving us in just a few short weeks, it is practically impossible to think of anything else.

I tell myself that it is good to have some notice and prepare myself emotionally. But now that we’re facing it, I’m not so sure. Will I cry every 3 minutes for the next few weeks? (Based on my track record, yes, yes, I will.) What can I possibly do between now and then that will make it more bearable when that moment comes that we have to pack up his stuff and load him in the car for the last time? How will I keep from falling apart (at least until we’re out of sight) when I give him one last kiss?

If you have an answer to any of these questions, let me in on it. Quick.

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