I struggled with how to begin this blog post. How do I even begin to describe the whirlwind of life-changing events that was the last thirty days? Being first-time parents and foster parents has been a dream come true and overwhelming at the same time. It has involved all the emotions, struggles, and triumphs of being a first-time parent with the added stress of meeting the demands of foster care.
I would have to say what I have learned the most from my first month as a foster parent is that the stress of foster care doesn’t come from actually taking care of the children. It’s not the crying, or the sleep deprivation, or the fact that I sometimes have nothing clean to wear and I haven’t taken a shower in three days–though those things pose their own challenges. The stress and the ‘negative’ that is the dark cloud hovering over foster care stems from meeting the demands of the actual foster care ‘system’.
In the first month of Baby E’s life, she went to four doctors visits, four visitations with her bio parents, one visit from her lawyer, a court hearing (she did not attend), two visits from our agency, and a home visit from her CPS case worker. That is so so much to do for a regular adult–much less an infant. It’s taxing on her and it’s taxing on us–not that we are complaining. Our agency properly prepared us for what was ahead and it is a responsibility we gladly accept. It is hard to watch her struggle with such a demanding schedule, and though there is only so much that an infant can take, it doesn’t matter if she is having a rough day or if it would probably be in her best interest to stay at home and rest, she is obligated by the state to be at whatever visit or appointment they say she has to be.
I’ve also learned that is doesn’t matter what age a child is when they come into foster care, they ALL struggle to cope. I can only imagine how much harder it is for children who are old enough to understand what is happening around them. For Baby E, we all hope this is just a blip in her life–no matter what the outcome–and that she never remembers any of her foster care experience. On the other hand, just because she will most likely not remember, she still experiences the effects of going through the process of foster care. It doesn’t exempt her from how hard it is.
If I could get each person reading this post to come to the CPS office just one time with me and you could see the brokenness, the darkness, the sadness, and the hopelessness of that place, you would all be lining up to be foster parents. Not to mention, it is physically one of the filthiest places I have darkened the doorway of in my life–and I have been on mission trips to impoverished countries where people were grateful to have cardboard boxes to live in. Dropping Baby E off at the visitation office is the most gut-wrenching, stress-inducing, heartbreaking experience. I’m not going to sugar coat it for anyone. It is miserable. I’m not allowed to stay during the visit so I have to occupy myself for two hours until she can be picked up again–and we do this once every week. It is important for her to see her bio parents every week and I know this. But, it doesn’t make it any easier on me to hand her to CPS and walk away. Each time, I have to remind myself that this is not about me and that no matter how afraid I am, God is in control. Sam and I are here to help Baby E because she needs someone to help her. If she didn’t have us, who else would be able to take care of her?
There are hundreds of kids who come into foster care every month just like Baby E. It is not some far-off distant imaginary thing that happens to someone else. Can you see how much these kids need you to help them? If Sam and I hadn’t decided to be foster parents, who would Baby E have right now? If not us, then who? It just breaks my heart to know how many children right this minute–not tomorrow, not ten years from now–have no one. Are you hearing me? They have NO ONE to be there for them. And guess what? That doesn’t mean that they still don’t have to do EVERY. SINGLE. THING. Baby E is having to do. Are you hearing me? These kids still have to go to every visitation, every court hearing (children four years and up have to attend hearings), every CPS visit, and every doctor appointment on their own. ON. THEIR. OWN. Are you hearing me? There is not one excuse for why every person reading this is not involved directly with a child in foster care. If you’re a Christian, then you really have no excuse. James 1: 27.
As the Foster Parents
I would say for us the struggle has been watching Baby E cope with her situation. She is a really easy baby with a sweet disposition and is not really prone to crying or fussing. And in the beginning, when she would come back from visitation, it was like they handed me a totally different child. She was a total emotional wreck when she would come home from visitation. Hours of crying and whimpering and needing to be held constantly. Constantly. Once I could get her calmed and soothed, she would be OK until I would try to lay her in her bassinet so she could get some rest or so I could go to the bathroom. Instantly emotional eruption. She would cry so hard all day long that she would make herself hoarse. The first month, I was the only one at home with her after a visitation and I was really just winging it on my own. A few weeks ago, Sam was able to be home with me on a visitation day and he was really blown away by how rough it is on her. It is rough for many reasons and thankfully it is getting better as we have figured out how to help her transition, but is it still something no child should have to deal with on her own.
Sam and I have had to learn how to manage her schedule in a way that takes some of the burden of this whole process off her too. She is definitely the victim of her circumstances and even though she didn’t put herself in foster care, she still has to abide by all the state rules and do as she is told. So, we have learned that there are just certain pre-visitation and post-visitation activities that we do or do not do. This has helped to reduce a lot of stress for her and us. We are learning there are just certain things that trigger her and certain things that soothe her.
I have also learned that our agency is an invaluable resource and support. I have no idea how anyone is fostering without the help of an agency. I really don’t. They have really guided us and helped in ways that I never could have anticipated. To me this is such a big deal I’ve written an entire blog post dedicated to this topic. If you are considering becoming a foster parent please, please, please find a great agency. Your experience will be so much better. I promise.
People’s reactions to Sam and my new life has been quite educational. People have one of two very distinct reactions–they either think what we are doing is amazing and inspirational and they are in turn very supportive, or they are very negative and distrustful of our decision. For example, the supportive person uses words like, what a blessing, thank you, I’ve always wanted to know more, how can I help, I’m so glad you can help Baby E. The negative person uses words like, I don’t know how you do it, don’t get too close, it is probably not going to work out, foster care is such a broken system, I have a friend (usually quite distant and removed and this person is truly ignorant and has no first-hand knowledge of the actual foster child or their situation) and it was a nightmare for them, just don’t get your hopes up.
Surprisingly, I haven’t been upset, but rather enlightened, by people’s opinions. And it’s very telling about what kind of person I’m dealing with. The person that uses supportive words unconsciously tells me that they look at foster care from a selfless place seeing the needs of others before themselves. The person who uses negative words unconsciously tells me how selfish they are. Foster care is about them and what they can get out of it. If it is too hard, or painful, and not all about them in the end, they have nothing positive to say. So just know that I know who really supports Baby E and what Sam and I are trying to do, and who doesn’t as soon as they open your mouth.
And even after all the hard stuff I just shared–and I have just mentioned a lot of hard things–we have gotten to take care of Baby E and that has made it ALL worth it. Seriously. It is worth it. Sam and I get to take care of this precious sweet child who God knew before she was born and called her by name. We have already made so many wonderful memories with her. So many wonderful memories! And, it feels good knowing that I am making a positive life-changing impact on another person’s life, and in turn, on the world.
Foster care has also been a balm to my mama soul because it has allowed me to be a mother–despite all the hardships. I feel better now than I have in several years. I’m in the middle of writing a big blog post about this topic because I want people–especially women–to know how being a foster mom has changed me and empowered me and given life to my bones. I want you to know my experiences. So more coming on that soon!
I’m excited to see what the next month holds. Baby E is growing like a weed and is the sweetest, cutest little girl ever! If you would like to know exactly how to become a foster parent,this blog post has everything you need to know. If you missed her latest hearing update, you can find ithere.