Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Giving the baby back

People ask, repeatedly, how I can be a foster parent. How I can stand to give the babies back.

That is actually the biggest concern everyone has: "How do you give them back?" they ask. "I would never be able to do that!"

What does that mean, exactly? They 'would never be able to do that'?
I give them back because these babies are not mine. And this is not about me.

Parenting - foster or otherwise - is about priorities, and sleeping through the night.
In other words, you call them babies, Sam calls them birth control.

Let me break it down for you:
Inevitably every year or so, I start to make noise about having another baby, and Sam politely but firmly declines. He reminds me how much I like my sleep, and how many years of sleep I have to give up when I have a baby. I pooh-pooh him, and vow to bring another child into our family - promising that I will get up with them every time they cry at night, and that I will never ask Sam to lift a finger. "You will not change a single diaper!" I proclaim. Again, Sam graciously declines my very generous offer. I ignore him and wait patiently. Eventually CPS calls with a placement, we get a foster baby, all hell breaks loose, and BAM - we're in the thick of it. Up all night long, bleary-eyed and haggard, I get my baby fix, but not much sleep. Sam restrains himself from pointing out that HE TOLD ME SO. And he changes a few diapers.

After a few weeks or months the parents regain custody, I sleep for two weeks straight, and then we gleefully return to business as usual around here. Which is to say, fishnets and stilettos and roller skates, late nights out with the girls, and long mornings at the beach with bloody marys. Sam is a perfect gentlemen and never mentions that if we had a baby of our own we would still be stuck at home in sweatpants. He is thrilled to see the stilettos back in rotation. The kids are thrilled to have my full attention, and to not have to sit next to a screaming baby on car rides. I am thrilled to not be accessorizing with a Baby Bjorn and delete the list of baby names from my phone. And then we pile into the Mini Cooper and take a family vacation and live happily ever after.

My point is this: I have raised my babies. These foster babies are not on the market - they already have a mother and a father, and I have met them. We spend time together at doctors appointments, or communicate when I drop the baby off for supervised visitation. And if I have met them, it means they show up, that they are making their child a priority in their life. And that counts for something.

It means they are trying.

I cannot judge someone who is trying to make amends, turn their life around, and be the best person - and parent - they can be. The parent their child deserves.

In those situations, my job as a foster parent is to help them out, while they help themselves.

I am the surrogate, and the example: I show them how to care for a newborn. Their baby arrives to each visit bathed, dressed in clean clothes, with a stocked diaper bag and a bottle. Their baby travels in a carseat that has straps that fit properly, that is clean and in good repair. Their baby is gaining weight, and responsive, and sometimes even smiling. Their baby goes to doctors appointments, and sees specialists to deal with medical problems associated with fetal drug and alcohol exposure. And for the most part, the parents pay attention to their baby. People ask how I can stand to give the babies back - I wonder how the parents can stand to be away from their babies. I cannot even imagine handing my baby to a complete stranger. I am rooting for them. I want them to succeed, and to have their baby home with them.

And I want to sleep for more than 3 hours at a time. I'm not gonna lie.
But sometimes, showing up for a 90 minute supervised visit is the extent of their interest. Raising a baby is not their priority. And at times like that - when the biological family seems to view the baby as an object rather than a person - it is almost impossible to model good behavior for them. When a parent shows up high, or worse doesn't show up at all, I want to pick up the baby and get back in the car and say "Never mind." They are not trying to help themselves, or their child.

They are not interested in helping anyone.

And I think that is what people are thinking of, when they ask how I can give these babies back. But for the most part (and yes, there are always exceptions, but for the most part) babies don't go back to parents until the parents have gone through an exhaustive process to regain custody. If only every parent had to meet these standards before bringing their baby home. Parents who get their kids back from foster care have made some serious effort.

On the other hand, when parents are completely disconnected from the child, when they act as though there is no rush to get their act together, as though the child is a toy to be played with and then put away, when they continue to abuse drugs, when they have no idea what their child weighs, or how to put on a diaper even after 7 weeks of visits, when extended family is offered custody and they suggest that maybe they could "just visit the baby instead".......at those times I am not worried about them regaining custody. Instead, I become the mama bear. The gate closes. The smiles and friendly chit chat at visits fades. And I hold the baby closer. Because someone has to. Someone has to hold this baby, put him first, get up with him each night and greet him each morning. Someone has to want to be his mother all the time - not just for 90 minutes a few times a week.

Every child deserves to be someone's priority. Being a foster parent is being the one person in the world who puts this child first. Sometimes because the parents can't. Sometimes because they won't. I have no control over whether they want to be parents, and I can't help people who can't help themselves. All I know is that as long as a baby is with me, that baby is my priority. And that baby is just as important as Max and Lucy. I don't care for these babies when it's convenient. I don't love them part time, I love them all the time. Even at 3am, when I would much rather be sleeping.

And I don't know how anyone could feel any differently.


Judy said...

My husband and I have started the paper work to become foster parents. We decided to do it because of a little 7 year old boy at his school whose parents were in prison and there was nobody for him to live with. Broke our hearts. They finally found a home for him with a foster woman who has lots of other foster children. but my heart is still broken because I know we could have made his life a little more secure and happy had we been prepared. You are doing a great thing!

Becca said...

Never mind what are people are saying,what important is you are trying to be a good foster parent for this baby.

Amy said...

Just stumbled upon your blog, seems like good timing for me. We are considering becoming foster licensed (what i mean is i am working on my husband to become foster licensed). I need that baby fix that you were talking about and yes I know it is so much more complicated than that. Never done it. And am a bit scared about giving the baby back. Do you usually feel O.K. about who the baby is going back to? Do the birth families/mom usually get their “stuff” together? I know it is not about me but the baby. But I know how much that mamma bear kicks in and I am scared. But excited.

Kerry said...

Thank you for this post. My husband and I are foster parents and I must hear that half a dozen times a week. I appreciate your insight and your foster parenting. Best, Kerry

Erika said...

Fantastic explanation of what you do! I'm a houseparent, so our jobs aren't the same but are similar. You explained it better than anyone I know . . . even though people can be so rude and/or thoughtless when they speak! Hugs and thanks again for taking care of these precious little ones.