First, two became one. And that was the day Milkman and I were married. We were going to wait a year before trying for a baby.
2 months into our marriage we decided to “leave it up to God and see what happens.” We were pregnant the next month. Just two weeks before our first wedding anniversary, we became a family of 3 when Captain was born.
We thought we would wait a year before trying again. And then when Captain was 8 months old, we got another positive pregnancy test. Our sweet Mamitas was born 41 weeks later, and we became a family of 4.
When Mamitas was 11 months old, we had another positive pregnancy test. We were so excited to be a family of 5! We cherished each moment we had, but at my 17 week appointment, our little baby love was no longer. I delivered Ezra’s sleeping body 4 days later, and we remained a family of 4.
4 months later, another positive test! Our rainbow baby was the greatest joy of our lives. Peachy was born that Fall, and then we were 5. We knew after such a difficult pregnancy and traumatic labor and delivery that biological babies would not be in our near future, but we had already completed our foster parenting requirements, so we trusted that our family would grow in time.
9 months later, we received a call for two sisters from our foster agency. Within 24 hours of getting a call, we were a family of 7. Three months later, they reunified, and for two weeks, we became a family of 5 yet again.
It was too quiet, so imagine our joy when we received a call for an “adoptable” 5 day old newborn baby boy. Sweet Warrior. He left us just under 3 months later to a non-family relative home. We were devastated.
And the calls stopped. We were just 5 again. For 6 months we sat by the phone, and no more children came. But then, a call. And we were 6, when little Chatito came to live with us. And 6 we have happily been, and 6 we shall remain for a little while longer. Then 5 again when he reuinifies, but not much longer after that…
And we will be a family of 6 yet again. Because the Lord has blessed us with the gift of pregnancy!
We are grateful to God for giving us another baby to love. Our hands are full, but our hearts are bursting. What a joy to have 4 children at my feet to love on while a 5th steadily grows in my womb! Join us in praying for a healthy pregnancy and a sweet, full of life baby in Summer 2018!
As we all piled for our morning cuddle on the couch the kids asked what the plan was for the day. I told them, “Don’t forget, you guys need to pack your backpacks with quiet activities, today is visitation.”
Captain, my oldest asked, “Is it the one where we go to the coffee shop?”
“No, that’s the other visit. Today is the one where you need to sit quietly in the car in the parking lot so your baby sister can sleep while the baby is visiting with his mom.”
Both my preschooler and kindergartener groaned. This is the least favorite day of the week. We eat an early lunch, every one goes potty, and we load up into the van and head to the other side of the county for our fosterling to visit his mother for an hour. Because of when it’s scheduled, my little ones end up stuck in the car for two and a half hours. I don’t like it either. Trying to keep my older kids quiet and occupied so that my youngest can get some sleep is stressful. On good days, she gets half of her normal length in nap. On bad days, it’s a 5 minute nap and a whole afternoon of meltdowns. It’s not easy on our foster baby either. Some how it always works out that he gets awoken to go to the visit or awoken once we get to the visit. Lots of interrupted sleep usually equals a very long day with lots of crying, nap fighting, and fussiness for him.
“Mom, we don’t like this visitation day! It’s boring!” I sighed as the day had just started and the complaining was already starting. Milkman looked at me sleepily from the corner of the couch where he spent the early morning after a very early wake up call from our foster baby. We trade off nights, so I actually got sleep last night, but I couldn’t say the same for my sweet husband.
As much as I wanted to reply, “Stop complaining, too bad!” I realized this was a teaching moment. “You know what guys? I don’t necessarily like this visitation day either. It’s stressful for me trying to ensure every one is quiet in the car. But… Well. Do you know why we do this? God says that we need to care for orphans and widows. Do you know what a widow is? It’s someone who has lost their spouse and has no one to care for them. Do you know what an orphan is?”
They looked at me blankly.
“An orphan is someone who either doesn’t have living parents, or their parents cannot currently safely care for them. The foster children we’ve had in and out of our home are considered orphans. So we actually have a really important job, because we are obeying God when we care for foster children. We don’t just do this because babies are cute— even though they are! We do this because we love them, and have a duty to obey God, and this is how our family has been called to obey. And one of the jobs of foster families is to make sure foster children get to see their parents.”
They nodded slowly. Well, the older kids did. My youngest, Peachy, was dancing around like a wild maniac to Celtic Christmas music. Never a dull moment.
Milkman chimed in, “Can you imagine if you only got to see mama and papa two hours a week?? You would miss us so much and we would miss you so much, right? The baby’s mommy wants to see her baby.”
I continued, “Exactly! And that’s one way we can serve his mommy, too. She loves her baby. So I know that visitation day is kinda lousy and boring for us. But it’s a sacrifice we make together as a family to obey God and to serve the baby and his mommy. Can you understand that?”
“Yes, mama.” They replied. I’m sure they didn’t feel super happy to go on with the plan for the day, but at least they now knew there was a valid reason behind their boring day ahead.
Sometimes teaching moments are hard to come by, and sometimes they fall perfectly in your lap, like it did for us today. My kiddos do sacrifice a lot for our family to continue fostering. While it’s not as much as Milkman and I have to, it’s a decent amount for very young children.
I hope they know, for as long or short as we have to foster, it’s not just something we do for the heck of it. It’s something that takes self sacrifice. It’s something that is hard to do. It’s something that takes giving up our schedules, preferences, and desires. It’s certainly not something we do for praise from others or accolades. But, most importantly it’s something that we do in love and obedience— together. As a family.
On a Tuesday afternoon last October we got the call. “Would you take a 5 day old baby boy?” 3 hours later we were pulling into the driveway with a tiny stranger, screaming both from withdrawal and hunger.
We jumped out of the van, unbuckled everyone, ran into the house and I yelled to Milkman, “Make him a bottle!” He looked at me completely confused.
“How? Do we use hot water? Cold water? How much do we scoop in? How much does he need?”
I was frustrated– not because of *his* lack of knowledge on the subject, but of our collective ignorance. As I fumbled with the pacifier and white noise, Milkman was googling and so was I. “Okay! Warm water, sanitized bottle, 2 ounces, so that’s one scoop!”
How is it that 2 adults who had been parents for 4.5 years to 3 children not know how to make a bottle and feed a baby?
As a nursing advocate, lactation hobbyist, and exclusive breastfeeder, I was (and am!) steeped in all things human milk related. I can help you latch a newborn, hook you up to a pump, make you lactation cookies, and assure you at 4am that that screaming gassy 3 week old you have is totally normal, and it’ll pass. (No pun intended…) but formula feeding? Totally new. We were lost.
So, we began to educate ourselves, learned proper handling, preparing, and best practices for formula feeding. I thought time and time again how much easier it would be if I could just give him breastmilk. I did some googling and found that while it was not common to get approval for human milk, it was in the realm of possibility.
Because of the baby’s particular set of health concerns, I presented the idea to his pediatrician. She agreed that human milk would be optimum for him. The next step was to get approval from the social workers, who surprisingly were also in support of the idea. The last (and most important) approval I needed to receive was from the baby’s mother. I was so nervous, it was my first time meeting her, and while all the social workers had told me his case would go to permanence and he would likely end up apart of our forever family (he didn’t by the way, because foster care!), I knew this was still her baby. I told her of his particular struggles and that the pediatrician had recommended human milk. Before I could even finish my question, the response she gave was, “Ew. No.” Of course I was disheartened. It was a long road to get him on the right formula, to help with his various health issues, but thankfully we were able to sort his problems out with Gerber Gentle formula.
I had been cautiously optimistic about being able to give human milk to our foster baby, but once I talked to other foster parents I began to realize how rare approval was. Since then I’ve been asked dozens of times in breastfeeding groups online, crunchy mom circles, and friends “since you have milk, can’t you just nurse your foster baby?”
So let’s break this down.
Biologically, can I nurse a foster baby while still nursing my bio child? Yes. Absolutely. I’ve spent almost half of my nursing journey tandem nursing– that is, nursing two babies (of different ages) at the same time. Milk production works based on demand. In general, the more you nurse, or the more children you nurse, the more milk you make. So biologically, it would be possible for me to nurse a foster child– or any other child for that matter.
Legally, could I nurse a foster baby? The short answer is no. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but the general rule is, this isn’t my baby, so I don’t have the authorization to feed this baby whatever I please. In my county, I can’t even switch formula brands without pediatrician approval. The other issue we fall into is the matter of that of physical boundaries. We live in a culture that has re-assigned the human breast to one task: sexual arousal. Of course, we know biologically that the primary purpose of the female breast is to provide nourishment to children, but nonetheless, offering your breast to a child who is not yours, and may have experienced sexual abuse is going to be a logistical nightmare.
So can you bottle feed pumped human milk to a foster baby? There will be times where a baby is struggling badly with withdrawal, is having serious digestive problems, or is premature, and a doctor will approve human milk, likely from a milk bank. If a biological mother were to refuse this recommendation and it was deemed to be medically necessary for the child to receive human milk, with proper documentation and approval, it could go to court for a judge to overrule the mother’s protest. Again, there could be a biological mother who says yes, and it’s approved that way. On the other hand, some mothers send their own milk with baby, which (if pumped safely and mom is sober and healthy) is a great option. However, the most common answer is going to be no. Of course, this is a hard pill to swallow for me as an advocate for human milk for human children, but it all comes back to this: these foster babies are not my children, so it is not my choice to do something I have been told not to.
Imagine if you were an exclusive breastfeeder and you found out that your child’s day care provider was feeding them formula every day. You’d probably be pretty floored, right? Well the same goes in this situation. I’m caring for this child, I make decisions to keep this child safe, fed, and loved, but generally it’s not in my jurisdiction to change their food source if I’ve been denied that request.
Do foster parents breastfeed or bottle feed human milk to their foster children? Yes. I’ve talked to many of them who have. Some in hushed tones, others with boldness. Many social workers will say “don’t ask, don’t tell”, some doctors will say the same, and some bio parents aren’t around to give approval or denial for the request. Most of these foster parents have the best interest of the child in mind, I’ve never met anyone doing it maliciously. Some counties care less than others and leave more decision making up to foster parent, so it’s not as big of a deal.
The important thing is that we feed babies using best practices. Clean hands, sanitized bottles, properly prepared, and portioned. So if you’re a crazy breastfeeder like me who ends up formula feeding, instead of being too crestfallen at your denial for human milk, do all you can to become educated on formula feeding so the baby has their best chance at a healthy start! And if you’re a formula feeder who has been told to feed human milk, do your research for best practices on handling human milk!
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on foster parenting, breastfeeding, or everyone’s experiences ever with feeding every foster child on the planet, these are merely my thoughts, experiences, and observations. If you’re unsure about human milk and your foster baby, contact your social worker!
To be a Foster parent does not take incredible strength, it does not take super powers, or special gifts. The right timing isn’t needed, nor is a perfect home. It does not require great wealth, a heart of gold, or above average patience.
What fostering takes is much simpler. It takes the ability to love someone who needs love, when you aren’t sure if that love will be reciprocated or how long that love will last. So, it basically takes what you need for any relationship, whether it be of a romantic, friendly, or parental nature, as my friend Jessica put it to me today, it’s being willing to risk a piece of your heart.
One thing I hear from a lot of people is, “Wow, you foster? I could never do that, I would get too attached.” It’s always such a strange statement to me, as nothing in life is ever certain. I suppose we could say the same thing when people get married: “you pledged your life to someone? Man, what if s/he dies and leaves you a young widow? I could never do that, I would get too attached.” And the same goes for friendships and biological children. Getting too attached isn’t really the problem of fostering, because as a foster parent you SHOULD get “too attached.”
If you loved everyone you love with a guard up to keep you from getting too attached, you would not know real love. Loving people is always a gamble. But it’s what we are made to do and called to do.
I some times wonder if people think you have to be a robot to be a foster parent. Foster parents aren’t people who have a special switch they can turn on and off that keeps them from getting too attached. By saying *you* couldn’t do it because *you* would get too attached, insinuates that I don’t get too attached.
I currently have a 3 week old baby sleeping on my chest. I feel his chest pushing into mine as he takes breaths. A little whistle in his nose squeaks as he does so. His head is soft, with the most delicate blonde fuzz, and has that newborn smell that causes oxytocin to flow whenever you breathe his scent in. Every now his little feet dig into my tummy to readjust himself, 10 itty bitty toes, delicious and sweet. When I move my face towards his, he opens his mouth like a baby bird for what I like to imagine are baby kisses (but actually are just lips in search of milk!) Some times when he’s asleep, he smiles and laughs– don’t tell me that’s gas, it’s a smile and every time we see it we ooh and ahh. When he cries at night, Milkman interrupts his sleep and leaps up to change his diapers and feed him his bottles. During the daytime we wear him hours each day close to our hearts so he can learn how to bond and form healthy attachments, we seldom put him down. I some times weep when I stare at him, completely overtaken with his innocence and beauty.
Do I sound like someone who isn’t too attached? Do we sound like people who can just take care of an innocent human life and then not shed a tear when we get the call that it’s time for him or her to leave us? Of course we are attached. We love our foster children.
I am not special. I am not more gifted than you. I do not produce some sort of magical half love reserved for fatherless children. I do not find goodbyes to be easy. What I am is willing. I am willing to have my heart broken for those who have broken lives. I am willing to get attached. I am willing to risk the pain of saying goodbye. I am willing to love.
Can you be willing to love too? It could mean the world to a child.
I’ve been hoping they would formulate a baby lotion since I first tried their baby body wash. I use the healing balm for really rough spots on my children’s skin, but I wanted something for daily after bath use. My dreams have come true! Tyler and Nikki from Era Organics reached out to me and asked if I would like to try their new baby lotion, and of course I obliged. Any chance I get to test some Era Organics products, and I’m jumping on that!
We’ve been using it on all 5 of the children after baths for a couple of weeks, and Milkman and I are loving it. Our younger foster child, Cheekies, has really sensitive skin. It’s been a long process to try and get her skin healed and soft. The HoneyBuns healing and diaper balms have helped on the super bad patches she had, but now that those are healed up, the HoneyBuns baby lotion is keeping her skin from being itchy and her sweet little pudgy arms and legs are deliciously soft.
I have been stealing a pump here and there after shaving my legs, and my skin is loving it, too! Oh and the fact that it’s a pump? What parent doesn’t love a pump cap body wash or lotion? One handed, easy peasy, done! And when you have 5 children to get ready for bed, you appreciate every little time saving feature you can get.
After 6 years of discussing it, 4 years of deciding to do it, 1 year of going through classes, background checks, paperwork, and fingerprints, Milkman and I got the call to become Foster parents. The last week and a half of my life has been so exhausting and such a learning process. It brings more emotions each day than I normally experience in a month.
Thankfully, we expected uncertainty, we expected to work through a lot of emotions, we expected to be exhausted having 5 children aged 4 and younger… But one thing I didn’t know I would feel is intense love and compassion for the mother of our Foster children.
There are so many horror stories of biological parents who get their children taken away and put into foster care. There are parents who truly don’t care about their kids, parents who abuse their kids, and parents who grossly neglect their children. Many of those stories are sad and real. These are the stories that made me want to become a foster mom as a teenager, so I could help remove a child from a scary situation.
However, in my VERY short time as a foster parent, I’ve come to the realization that some (hopefully many!) mothers whose children get placed in foster care are not so far gone that they are not in shambles at the thought of their precious babies being handed over to complete strangers. I don’t know the parents of our placements. I don’t know their ages, what they do for work, or what kind of struggles they are going through. What I do know of most parents whose children end up in foster care is that things got tough enough in their lives that someone needed to step in to help out while they get the right things into place.
I am not the hero. The parents of these children are not villains. We are not fighting some war on opposite sides of the battle field. We are, in fact, on the same team. We are on the same team as their children. We all want the same thing: for their children to be healthy, happy, and safe.
When I hold these sweet children close to my heart and sing them bed time songs, I think of how their mother must be wondering who is tucking her babies into bed. When I push one of these children on the swings and hear them giggle, I think of how their mother must miss that sound. When I look into their eyes, I wonder if they look like their mom or dad did as children, and think of how I’m staring at a piece of this mother I’ve never met.
How her heart must ache. How empty her arms must feel. How many tears must her eyes have shed…
When I put myself in her shoes, I imagine her desperation, fear, love, and yearning to feel complete again.
There may come a day when we have children in our care who have been in truly deplorable circumstances, and whose parents I struggle to love. But for now, I’m so glad that God is teaching me to practice empathy for these people I have never met.
I wish I could tell the mother of these children that her treasures are safe, and hug her when she cries. But for now, I’ll just keep holding these little ones close for safe keeping, until she’s ready to hold them safely again herself.