Fostered, Freed

There was a tipping point at which the prospect of being a foster parent felt like a much-needed salvation rather than an act of final desperation.  There are many that approach the foster-care and foster-adopt programs from a purely altruistic place and simply open their hearts and homes to a child in need.  While there was an element of that in the decision-making, there were admittedly some underlying financial considerations as well.  After struggling for years with infertility, the remaining options with IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) were not only pricey, costing up to $10k per attempt, but with a success rate of about 25-30% it risked further frustration and disappointment.  Through random chance friends of ours were considering enrollment in an upcoming training program for prospective foster care parents around this same time.  At first glance it seemed like the perfect solution; it was not prohibitively expensive, it had a relatively good success rate and it felt like it put more of the power back in our hands, and anyone who’s ever been repeatedly disappointed by the results of pregnancy test can understand the benefits of empowerment.  Though there were a few dissenters in the family that feared for the welfare of our son or the potential for further heartbreak, most were extremely supportive, praising us for what appeared to be an entirely a selfless act.

For the next 6-8 months from orientation to final licensing, you become immersed in the foster care culture.  In addition to months of weekly night classes, you are required to submit to home inspections, and have all family members interviewed by a social worker.  You must be tested for TB.  You must go through finger printing and Livescan.  You must learn CPR and first aid.  You must learn to document all medications including any over-the-counter items that could come in contact with a child in your care.  It becomes an interesting editorial on parenthood, knowing that if all parents went through this degree of training and probing there would likely be far fewer kids in foster care in the first place.

Once you are completely official the real adventure begins.  The social worker is able to start calling you with potential matches and you are able to proactively begin your own independent searches.  This search process starts out with the most surreal checklist you’ll ever see, where parents are asked to mark off all of the things they would be “comfortable” with in a prospective child.  These questions range from the more benign preferences on gender, race and religion and build up to psychological issues, like (and I kid you not) biting, cutting, fire setting, and feces smearing.  Needless to say, a great many boxes were left unchecked for the safety of our son if nothing else.

The shopping methods were also disturbingly varied; you could catalog shop, browsing binders stacked high in the office, you could shop online through posted profiles, and you could even window shop at semi-annual picnic days for the local shelters.  Depending on your flexibility and tolerance level the available options could be wide open.  For us, more than anything else it was the siblings that seemed to be the most limiting factor.  There were a number of kids who, understandably, wanted to cling to their remaining family so they came as a package deal that we weren’t equipped to handle.  With that restriction along with other considerations we went through a few months of passing on the offers, until we got the one call we’d been waiting for.

The first pictures we received showed a sweet little girl (we’ll call her Leah) with big brown eyes staring up nervously at the camera.  Leah was staying with a temporary foster family who was helping her look for a permanent home.  Leah’s mother had abandoned her at 11 months old, leaving birth dad and daughter and moving to Washington State.  The young father had his own issues with life and realized he was unable to provide adequate care for his daughter.  The introductions with Leah were slow and methodical.  We visited her at the other foster family’s home a couple of times and then met her for a play date at the park near our house.  She was understandably shy and reserved but did come out of her shell in small bursts of tentative smiles.  Her connection with Jenean was almost immediate.  I think she longed for the missing mommy figure in her life and was able to build trust quickly from that.  The connection with me was slower in coming, which could have been caused by my own fumbling to form a fast bond mid-stream rather than building one slowly from birth.

She found security strapped into a high chair or stroller, which is how her dad often left her.  She hoarded food in her mouth, stuffing her cheeks like a squirrel.  She didn’t want to be left in her room alone.  She had tantrums if I went to get her out of the car instead of Jenean.  None of the problems were insurmountable and honestly many of them were not outside the toddler norm.  She soon found comfort in routine and stability.  She slowly started to thaw emotionally and found her place in the family.   We thought it was all going to work out.

Just as we were about to legally file for termination of parental rights from her birth parents, her mom flew back to California and demanded custody of her daughter.  Despite the abandonment and previous issues with substance abuse the rights of the birth mother in California hold up strong to the very end.  The social workers tried to calm our nerves, telling us it was unlikely that the mother would be able to meet the conditions of the court which were a number of rehab programs and proof of residence and income.    Surely she’d regress, or quit, or be unable to find a job.  It would all be too much and she’d return back to Washington within a couple of weeks.  We were all wrong.  In a way it was some meager consolation that her mom did fight so hard for her in the end.   Unfortunately she didn’t play nice along the way.

As one would expect the initial visitations were hard on Leah;  It was confusing to be taken from her new home to hang out with another woman she never really knew.  That in turn must have been equally hard to stomach for the birth-mom who had to hear references to this other family that was trying to steal her child.  Slowly those visits focused more on fun, like a visit to grandma’s with junk food and playful gifts.  She started telling Leah that we were not her parents and built up how she was going to take her away from all of that.   At this point the tantrums started up again before and after the visitations.  Even though we had been trained for the possibility of supporting reunification with a child and a birth parent, it was difficult to stomach when we had been so close to full adoption.   Over the course of a year and half, I was finally gaining some ground with the daddy-daughter relationship.  She enjoyed the playtime we shared together and I was able to see a future family with her in it.  But now, it was all changing again, and we had to be strong for her and help her get through the transition as best we could.

The last day she was with us, we got her ready for her “mommy time” like we would for all the other visits.  There really wasn’t a good way to explain to a 5-year-old what was about to happen, so we got her dressed, packed her backpack, along with some of her favorite toys and brought her outside to wait for the social worker to pick her up.  I think she started to suspect something was different from the prolonged goodbye hugs we gave her before buckling her in.  As they started to drive away Leah turned to wave goodbye, and I could hear her softly through the window say “goodbye daddy”.  It was the first time I remember her calling me that.  I went inside and cried for a very long time.

After all the work and all the turmoil, foster-adopt wasn’t salvation we had hoped for.   We felt more than a little betrayed by the system that would take a little girl out of a stable home and deliver her into an unknowable situation, and after that it was hard to stomach the idea of hopping back on the emotional roller coaster all over again, possibly multiple times before finding a perfect match.  Somewhere out there though a little girl is growing up with a very different life and maybe just a fleeting memory of the time she spent with another family while waiting for her mom to return.  Will she think fondly of us?  Will she think of us at all?  What started out as a promising solution to our problem, became a footnote in our personal history and the journey to find a child would continue down a different path.

350 Total Saved 1 Saved Today
Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *