Don’t call us, we’ll call you

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.

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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.

Paperwork, Day 99

14 December

We had years between the time we decided to become foster parents and our first placement to contemplate how it would work for us. One of the lists I made was the strengths that each of us brought to the table. Addison would welcome any new person with open arms (especially if they would play with her!), and though untested, I believed she would be resilient in the face of loss and change. Neal would be patient and calm. In the face of tantrums and limit-testing, his intensity would go down in direct proportion to the increasing intensity of others. And I would love. So hard.

What I hadn’t considered at that point was just how much paperwork I would have to complete and collate. There was the Intake Inventory and the Monthly Report. The Centrally Stored Medication and Destruction Record/Medication and PRN Assistance Record and the Health Care Visit Form. This week brought a Victim Impact Statement we were asked to complete on the baby’s behalf in preparation for the sentencing of one of his family members. It was hard to write (as I’m sure all Victim Impact Statements are), but I also had this feeling of confidence. This is what I do. Paperwork is what I’m good at.

I like doing the paperwork. I can keep the baby’s binder so dang organized. I can type the monthly report so neatly and shoot it off the exact day the month ends. I’m sure it’s the sense of control in the midst of the uncontrollable that makes it so calming for me. While in comparison to many, I am not an impatient or anger-prone person, I am a regular hothead next to Neal. I’ve also got nothing on Addison’s emotional resilience. But in love and paperwork, I really shine.

January 23, 2017

Coping strategies, Day 60

5 November

I never thought that I would be a foster parent. I mean, going back a ways, I didn’t plan on being any type of parent. But even once I embraced the idea of parenthood and had a sensitivity toward foster children’s needs based on some of my nonprofit work, the narrative in my head was always that I was too emotionally fragile to be a foster parent myself. I would get too attached, and then with my depressive history, I would be thrown into an emotional tailspin when the children had to go away. Which they do. And they will, right up until you finally find that fourth floor, last door fit that was meant to be with your family. So I’ve been trying to face this question head-on:

What will I do when he has to go away?

What will I do that day? That week? That month? What will I do to memorialize him and his place in our life, but still keep moving forward? There is no such thing as closure still rings true to me, but what does that really mean in practice? How do I hold on to all the love and joy while simultaneously letting go of the one who produced them?

Of course, my first instinct is to do some research. What have other foster parents found helpful? Have there been any studies on that topic? But quite surprisingly, I ended up feeling resistant to that idea. Maybe it’s influenced by lack of time, but I also have this feeling of wanting to carve out this path for myself. I had tried to start that process back when I was writing my new life story, identifying at least two things I thought would be important: Create a place to remember each child and Escape. The first one will be easy, I think, if not totally defined at this point. I’m sure I’ll feel sentimental about practically everything, so it won’t be hard to fill something like a “loss box.”

But the second, it turns out, I’ve probably gotten worse at in the last 3 years. Even before we got the baby, I had given up “Dear Prudence” and no longer had a particular show to watch regularly (though thanks to Robin-Elise and her Netflix gift, I can binge watch with the best of ’em when I’m in a funk). We reduced our dining-out budget in order to save for a new home (did I mention we’re moving? minor detail…) so restaurant meals could not be a go-to. (I have, however, allowed myself the luxury of spending $3-5 during each of the baby’s visitations in exchange for using Panera or Barnes & Noble wifi.) In short, my strategies for “escape” are a bit non-existent at the moment (let’s be honest, I’ll probably escape into work because: workaholic), though I’m sure I’ll allow myself a meal out on the day we have to give him up.

I’m on the hunt for more coping strategies, but in the meantime, I’ve found quite a bit of comfort in a quote that my new friend Ali shared on Facebook:

grief(source, I think)

My grief will be proportionate to my love. So it’s going to be intense, and it’s going to well up in my eyes about 70 times a day, just like my love does now. What will I do when he goes away? Just keep right on loving him.

January 22, 2017

Control, Day 44

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 11:31 pm

18 October

Of all the “advice” I gave myself in this mammoth post from 3.5 years ago (which, at the risk of sounding too proud, has turned out to be remarkably prescient about the mental and emotional struggles I would face and processes I would need to employ as a foster parent), the one that has replayed in my mind most in these early days is this:

Focus on what I can control

I think this is the reason why it’s so important for me to never wait in the visitation center lobby. I can’t control what happens there, and it breaks all the parts of my heart to witness what must be for some children.

Despite knowing that we would get notices of court hearings as a matter of procedure, the first one I opened surprisingly filled me with a great deal of turmoil. We were too new to know whether we were allowed to attend, expected to attend, or discouraged from attending, but it was clear from my emotional state that the last thing I wanted to do was attend the court hearing. Neal, on the other hand, was quite interested in attending. We still knew so little information about the baby and his situation, so he was curious whether the hearing would reveal any new information.

As I reflected later on my strong initial response, I realized it all came down to this control issue. I can’t control what happens at court (and it’s more than a little frustrating to think of people, however well-intentioned, who have never met or cared for baby B making decisions about his well-being) so I’d rather avoid it altogether than needlessly shift my focus. (In the end, we were discouraged from attending anyway.) Similarly, Neal has had a desire all along to ask as many questions as we can. I, on the other hand, have felt that dwelling on trying to gather as much information as possible creates an inaccurate illusion that you actually know something. That you might possibly be able to predict something. But if there’s one thing nearly everyone involved in the child welfare system has experienced, it’s getting the rug pulled right out from under them– and not just the foster parents involved. So you have to focus on what you can control. For me, the best days with the baby are the ones where I can just keep him at home, stick to his schedule, buffer him from any effects of others’ choices.

Even at home though, I had to repeat this mantra. In case you missed the memo, this little guy is a screamer/crier/turn-blue-passer-outer. Just as I struggled with Addison’s crying while I was in the throes of my postpartum depression, baby B’s alternately mournful and angry crying was deeply distressing. Initially, I felt that I had to go to almost superhuman lengths to make sure he was never left alone while he was crying. In my head, I knew it was impossible, but in my heart I didn’t want to trigger feelings of abandonment that had clearly already been so damaging to him . . . even for a second. That is another way in which Jennifer was a godsend for me; she gave me permission to let him cry and in the process reminded me that that is yet another thing that is beyond my control.

Baby B’s angel, Day 20

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 7:42 pm

24 September

My new semester began just days after we brought home baby B. I wished we had picked him up a few weeks earlier when I was in the midst of my nice long, five-week break. Then there would have been lots of time for holding him, rocking him, observing his every move, without the crunch of students and instructors likewise needing my attention. But there also would have been no Jennifer.

I currently teach only 1 out of every 6 students that take our course, but it just so happened that Jennifer was in my section. On our introductory discussion board, she mentioned that she was a certified newborn care specialist and ran a consultancy company and that if I ever needed advice on the little guy, I should ask. Although I registered the offer appreciatively, we were still in such a whirlwind of adjustment that I didn’t even know the questions to ask yet.

We had picked baby B up from the children’s center on a Monday night. As we strapped him into the car seat he came with, we tried to keep him calm with a fresh bottle, but he wasn’t having it. He began screaming shrilly, uninterested in even a sip. Addison’s extreme excitement (which just an hour before was so overwhelming that she “could blow up the whole world,” according to her) quickly drained in the face of an inconsolable infant. About 10 minutes into siblinghood she leaned over to me and whispered, “I think I want to go back to being an only child.”

The ear-piercing screams notwithstanding, he actually fell asleep pretty quickly. He slept through the car ride home. He slept through the transfers, from car to house to pack-n-play. He slept for a solid 12 hours, and after being awake for only a short time, he slept again for 3 hours. And then again. And then again. After having a not-so-stellar sleeper in Addison, we were amazed and grateful. It turns out foster parenting is super easy when the baby’s only awake for about 6 hours a day, and even then, just wants to be held! He freaked out and held his breath until he turned blue about diaper or clothing changes, but otherwise he made little noise or movement.

Until the third day, when apparently the trauma wore off enough that he came out of his catatonic state . . . and we realized he had punked us. He would wake at all hours of the night. It didn’t matter if you were patting, rocking, swinging, singing; if he could tell you were trying to get him to sleep, he was mad. He always wanted a bottle, but he could easily down 8 ounces in just a couple of minutes and start screaming for more. We were trying to pull out all our rusty baby skills, but as the sleep deprivation mounted, we weren’t sure what to try. Things that we might have done with Addison didn’t seem right in light of a traumatized, neglected baby that we still knew almost nothing about. And in our 900-square-foot house, we couldn’t really isolate the impact so it wasn’t uncommon for the three of us to be huddled around him, trying to get his diaper changed at 4:00 a.m.

Finally, I remembered Jennifer’s kind offer and emailed, “Could we talk?” We chatted for about 45 minutes on a Saturday night and I took copious notes on her tips for sleepwear, diet, sound, lighting, schedules, etc. Besides his usual skepticism, Neal was even a little miffed because I holed myself up right during the witching hour before bed when baby B was most upset. While none of Jennifer’s ideas were magic, the combination of them and how quickly baby B adjusted felt at least magical, if not miraculous. After just a day and a half of following her suggestions, he started sleeping again. He stopped breath-holding so frequently. He was playful, active, joyful even. He was a different kid.

Having Jennifer in my class this semester was a tender mercy for us to be able to get through those draining early weeks. But for baby B, she was his angel.

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