I am so tired right now, but this story needs to be told, so I'm going to do my best without slurring my words. My wife has basically been on the phone all day telling this to everybody who calls, but I'm going to tell it from my perspective. It's a story that's much more egalitarian than a typical pregnancy, where the bulk of the pain and suffering is born by the wife. Even so, she's more tired than me because ... well, I'll get there.
My wife and I were certified to be foster parents almost two weeks ago, on February 13th, through the Children's Bureau. We were very anxious (see my previous post) and had been expecting a call at any time. We had even been told that there was a specific family of 3 siblings that the Bureau had in mind that they wanted us to consider. Even so, no call ever came, and we eventually did receive a phone call from our "matcher" from the Bureau who wanted to schedule a time to visit with us and to discuss with us more about our hopes and expectations. We scheduled the appointment for yesterday (Thursday the 23rd), but we didn't make it that far.
On Tuesday the 21st, we received a phone call in the morning about a few children that needed a place to go. We were informed that there was a little girl who had been born prematurely a few weeks ago whose mother intended to give up her parental rights. This same mother had 4 other children, all of which were in "the system" and the youngest of which being in need of a place to go. We were told that this child, a 3-year-old boy, had been removed from his grandmother's care because she was struggling with depression and couldn't care for him very well. Aside from that, all we were told was that it appeared that the children were Caucasian and were healthy with no obvious developmental delays.
My wife and I consulted for a brief time -- we had about 20 minutes -- and prayed about it, and decided to take the plunge. Despite the fact that they were looking for a place that would likely be a permanent placement, we still recognized that we could back out later if the situation turned out to not be what we expected.
So it was on Wednesday morning that we delivered all the kids to some good friends of ours who committed to shuttling them to and from school for us and to take care of them while we figured this whole thing out. We left home just before 7 and began to make our way south to Orange. We were met with ugly rush hour traffic and it took us almost 2 1/2 hours to get there. There, at the Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), we made our way to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and were suddenly face-to-face, so to speak, with this very little baby girl, swaddled and red-faced and looking so very, very helpless.
The nurses were very happy to see us, and they were seemingly anxious to be rid of her. As it turned out, the baby had been born at roughly 31 weeks, though the mother had had no prenatal care, so they weren't sure. We were told that the mother had been having a lot of bleeding so went to the hospital to discover that her placenta was separating. One emergency C-section later and there was this little baby that the mother, who had arrived with amphetamines in her system and having smoked cigarettes and sipped margaritas throughout her pregnancy, decided she couldn't care for. Frankly, from my perspective, I perceive her decision to be a rather responsible one. She didn't even name her.
The baby had typical troubles for a premature birth, having been born at a measly 4 lbs 2 ounces, a birth weight half of what each of my own 3 biological children had been born at. She had mostly lung troubles from swallowing blood in the birthing process, but some additional problems caused by the drugs that she'd received from her mother's bloodstream. We were told that it took her about a week to kick most of it, and we soon figured that the little girl was a fighter, having shook off all that and was putting on weight fast. She was at 4 lbs 9 ounces when we got the call, and was 4 lbs 11 ounces the day after. She was hungry!
We weren't allowed to just pick her up and go, though. First we had to demonstrate that we would be able to feed her, so we had to give her two feedings -- one at 11 am and one at 2 pm. I took the first one, changing her diaper and getting peed on at the first opportunity. It was a very strange thing for me. Each of my biological children had nursed for their first year, and never took a bottle, so it was very strange for me to sit and stuff this big bottle in her tiny mouth and watch her chug away at it. We also had to show that her preemie body could take the stress of sitting in a car seat for as long as it would take us to get home, so we had to sit there beside her while she slept in the car seat.
Just after the 2 pm feeding, our social worker showed up and started walking through the procedure of getting the little girl released to us. Lots of paperwork and lots of signatures later, we finally were able to carry her out. It was a strange feeling.
Interestingly, we did a little math and figured out that this little girl was conceived at around the same time that my wife and I decided we'd pursue this course for bringing more children into our family. Even more interesting was the strange occurrences of numbers in her life. She was born on 2/4 at 4:02 a.m. and was 4 lbs 2 ounces. Notice the 4s and the 2s? They also told us that she was 41 centimeters long at birth, but we supposed they mis-measured her, as clearly she must've been 42 centimeters! 42, the answer to ...
Finally departing the hospital after the social worker had to wrangle to get a copy of the baby's complete medical history, we made our way across town to Lakewood to the Department of Children of Family Services (DCFS). By the time we arrived, we were an hour and a half late to meet this baby girl's big half-brother. We were quickly rushed into a meeting room and were soon face-to-face with a 3 1/2-year-old boy with a dazzling smile. We were stunned. For one thing, all babies sort of look like space aliens, so there's no way you can really extrapolate what one is going to look like in the absence of the presence of the mother or the father. We were desperate to know what this little girl might look like as she grew and suddenly we had her brother before us to give us a clue.
For a second thing, he was anything but what we expected. Consider for a minute that most of the kids in the care of the State are Hispanic or African-American, yet here he was, not only Caucasian, but a dark blonde with blue eyes! My wife got all teary eyed. I was confused. Yet there we were.
We spent another hour doing interminable paperwork while he played casually by our side. He did not fear us, though he was a little uncertain at first. We soon found out that he had been in the care of his grandmother for a while, but had been removed from her care last March -- almost a full year earlier. He had been in two foster homes since that time and while he kept smiling, we could tell he was still uncertain. I can't even imagine how frightening it must've been for him.
We found out that he and the baby have 3 more older siblings, the oldest being 13, and all of whom have different fathers and are "in the system". It seems the mother is good at making babies, but is just not so good at caring for them. We've chosen to be charitable and be grateful for what she's done, rather than angry for what she hasn't.
After all the paperwork was filled out, exchanged, and in triplicate, we finally were able to load him up in the van with his baby half-sister, after changing his really rank and really full diaper. By this time, it was 6 pm and we were all very hungry. We stopped by McDonald's and we were surprised when he clearly knew the difference between there and Burger King, but couldn't count to 10.
We made our way up the 405 and it took us another 2 1/2 hours to get home. It was a painful drive, but he managed it well, as did his sister who slept the whole way. When we got home, our 3 biological children were wide awake and very excited to see them. Needless to say, it was a late night, and it wasn't even done for us. I finally managed to get our foster son to go to sleep at around 9:30, but we had to get our biological children to sleep and then we were in the midst of feedings for the baby girl, who needs to eat every 3 hours.
Being a preemie is quite the life with a very lengthy handbook of instructions, which I quote here in its entirety: eat, sleep, poop, repeat. She seems to handle it well, but I'm falling to pieces because I haven't slept. We put her in our room last night because my wife was anxious about her, but this just kept us both awake, even when the baby was merely sleeping. None of our biological children stayed in our room when they were babies, so this was new for us, and it didn't go well. Tonight she'll be in a crib in the other room with a carefully tuned baby monitor. We'll set an alarm to wake up at appropriate intervals for her nighttime feedings, which we've synchronized at 10 pm, 1 am, and 4 am, which means we only have 2 mid-night feedings.
As for our foster son, tonight he went to sleep without much of a fight. I'm sure that will change when the novelty of this place wears off, but I could tell he was tired. He spent the day playing and exploring his new home, while we shuttled kids to school, met with our social worker, and took the baby girl to a doctors appointment (she's doing just fine!). We've been watching and evaluating, and it is clear that he is delayed in various ways. At 3 1/2, he's not speaking in complete sentences, he's not potty-trained (but we see positive signs there), and he doesn't know very many colors. He doesn't know his numbers nor the alphabet, and his speech appears stunted. It breaks my heart that he doesn't even know Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. It is clear that he is the product of plain and simple neglect.
Interestingly, he is quite independent and knows how to play well by himself, which we think is pretty much all he's been doing for a long time. On the flip side, he is very polite, with a fine amount of please and thank you being spoken. Tonight he told me "Goodnight, Daddy" and my heart melted. It's going to be an interesting challenge to bring him up to speed, but we're ever hopeful.
Next Tuesday is a court date to determine the status for both of these children. It is our understanding that the social workers will be recommending to the judge that parental rights be removed and that these two children be made available for adoption "immediately" -- meaning sometime within the next 4 to 8 months. We shall see.
In the meantime, we have a preemie baby to keep as isolated as we can for the sake of her underdeveloped immune system and a toddler who needs to be taught pretty much everything. It doesn't feel at all like we're "babysitting", which was a fear that we had, as it feels very natural to have them both in our home. We've got a long way to go to get things normalized, though, and our biological children are being very patient. Here's hoping for the best!
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