Don’t call us, we’ll call you

January 22, 2017

Foster parenting, Day 18

22 September

If there’s one thing baby B hated when he came to us, it was diaper changes. But a close second: having his hands touched. He was already 10 months old so his grasp reflex was gone (except as applied to the death grip on his bottle), but he seemed unusually bothered by even the slightest touch of his hands.

For the first week or so that he was with us, we had Neal give him all his bottles. We wanted to quickly break down his obvious alarm at being near a man, and associating Neal with his beloved bottles seemed to be the quickest way. Once that was well in hand, however, I quickly claimed the rocking, bottle-feeding routine. I’d been waiting 6 years to rock another baby so there was no way Neal was going to get all that action!

The first couple of times I held him while he sucked down his formula at breakneck speed (seriously, you cannot believe how fast he could down 8 ounces!), I was struck by how insistent he was that he hold the bottle (even brushing his hand or the bottle could incite his wrath) and how tightly he held it, so much so that the blood would drain from his fingers and they would seem almost glowing white in the darkness. As I rocked, I would think back on how casually Addison had held her bottle. It was the casualness of knowing that someone would bring her another; there would always be another bottle, another time. Every last drop was not required to be sucked out with such force. Still knowing so little about the baby’s background, it seemed obvious that his grip was the grip of survival, of not knowing what the future would bring.

But I had a plan. I thought that if I could slowly supplant his hands on the bottle, taking care to not disrupt his flow of milk, his free hands would eventually land on mine. I would intentionally fan three of my fingers out so that as he moved his hands around they would begin to glance off mine. Once he brushed past my fingernail and his curiosity won out as he spent 15 or 20 seconds feeling around my nail with his tiny pointer. It felt pretty much like winning the lottery, if you’re wondering.

I still remember the moment, probably around Day 10, that he wrapped his little hand around my ring finger for the first time, and just held on. (As long as there was milk in his bottle, of course, after which all hell would break loose.) I wanted to whisper to him that he could hold on to me for survival, he didn’t have to “fend for himself.” But I didn’t, because on Day 11 or 12 or 13, they could come calling for him and he might have to go back to survival mode.

In those early days, my mind was a bit frenzied during these rocking sessions. I loved him so much in just a few short days, I would think about how wrecked I was going to be when he had to leave. During the morning nap routine, I was convinced that when he left I could never foster another child. And then by afternoon, I was sure that I couldn’t live without fostering 10 more babies. Because BABIES.

But most often my mind would rest on two thoughts. Or more accurately, it would rest on the first thought and spin on the second.

First, I would hear this poem in my head, introduced to me by my friend Steph. My mind might wander to the papers I needed to be grading or the discussion boards I had to post while the baby got a precious little sleep, but I’d hear, “I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.” I guess that’s true for everyone, but it was so poignantly true for us. He might only “keep” for one more day, so I could just forget about my work for awhile and press my cheek against his one more time.

Second, less pleasantly, I was plagued by this question: what if what I’m doing for him — which in some moments is pure euphoria and in others is the most painful thing I have ever voluntarily put myself through — is actually maladaptive for the life he has in store for him? He’s still an infant, yes, but maybe the survival instincts he’s developed are what he needs for the life he has ahead. What if teaching him to depend on me will actually make his life worse if he goes back to an environment in which his needs are not warmly met?

Of course, my mind spins through any relevant studies I’ve read. There’s the ACEs work, but did it address my fundamental fear that not only will the suffering we’re putting ourselves through not help him, it could actually make his life harder? I’d have to revisit it. In those moments, it feels absolutely urgent that I find more data. Of course, there couldn’t be any sort of random assignment experiments comparing human babies from his background who got temporary, nurturing care with those who did not. But maybe there was something with mice or monkeys? But then I remember, I’ve got a baby. Ain’t nobody got time for scouring the research when you’re physically running on empty.

Despite these misgivings, however, my plan worked like a charm. Slowly, he began to take hold of my hand more often and cling to it — but gently, not a death grip. And about a week later, on Day 18, this happened for the first time. 18 days to go from deep fear and distrust of Neal to a little thumb hold on a leisurely walk. Be still, my heart. (Time stand still too, if possible.)

baby-boy-holding-hands

 

 

 

 

January 4, 2010

No hands but ours

Filed under: Family, Personal — Tags: , , , , , , , , — llcall @ 12:30 am

I remember hearing a story about a village bombing during World War II.  There was a statue of Jesus Christ that was damaged in the destruction.  During the restoration, the villagers decided not to put Christ’s hands back on the statue, instead erecting a plaque that said, “Christ has no hands but ours.”  I have since learned that this is something of an apocryphal story, an amalgam of events that happened in more than one place and time.  But I have been reminded of it again and again over the last few weeks.

Two weeks ago today* I was coming out of surgery, still in so much pain that it almost seemed impossible that I would ever feel better again.  We had been in the hospital for only about 16 hours (many of those in the middle of the night) and had already had offers to cook meals, run errands, submit homework, talk to professors, keep me company. . . the list could go on and on.  A sort of calling tree had ensured that most of our family and friends were already aware of the situation, and countless prayers had been said on our behalf.

What astounds me now is that even with so much care and concern already offered, we had barely scratched the surface of what was in store for us.  We arrived home on Saturday and not a day passed for a solid week where we were not given dinner or treats or gifts or offers of service.  It felt truly overwhelming to us that we were remembered so consistently by so many different people — some we know well, some we know hardly at all, and some that chose to remain anonymous.  I mentioned already that we received an extremely generous anonymous financial gift, but not three days later we were surprised by two more Secret Santa gifts.  Behold the generosity:

The first ding-dong-ditching left all this on our doorstep, with each brown bag full of cooking ingredients and a recipe (is that a cute idea or what?!).  I may be wrong, but I had the sense that whoever gave this gift knows a little about my cooking skill (or lack thereof) because the recipes were extremely detailed — just the way I need them!  The red bag was full of specific gifts for each of us, including a handmade baby blanket!

This second gift was a diaper bag chock-full of goodies for baby girl.  It still touches my heart to think of someone caring for my baby girl enough to put together such a thoughtful gift (no one would dispute that I love this baby, but even I have not been able to muster the energy — and overcome my shopping phobia — to actually buy anything she might need :)).

This little jogging suit was just one of the many treasures in the bag — I defy anyone to look at those pants and not want to put little tiny legs in them!  If this girl is anything like her mama, she will get a LOT of mileage out of this get-up.

This week also brought a baby shower (which deserves a post of its own) that my cousin Audrey, sister-in-law Marisha, and mom threw me.  Even though it was quite a party and totally fun, I felt really emotional a number of times being surrounded by so many good friends and family.  I think that this little girl of mine is so lucky to have so many people care for her already . . . almost as lucky as I am!

Although we have felt consistently overwhelmed by so much kindness and generosity, it has been a beautiful reminder that on this earth God works through us.  He calls to us in small ways and large to be His hands.  And it is truly miraculous (and humbling) when you get to witness firsthand people answering that call.

* I wrote the bulk of this post on Christmas eve.

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