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!
Before you bristle too hard at the title, stick with me.
Back when Milkman and I started our journey to welcome non-biological children into our home, it was with one goal in mind: adoption.
We knew that we wanted to adopt, and we knew that private and international adoption was costly, and were familiar with fostering enough to know that it was a good thing, and thought of it as a means to an end. The end? To adopt a child.
When going through our training and our initial home study interviews, we made our goal clear to our agency from the onset. We were a “Foster to Adopt” home. Foster to adopt… that’s totally a thing, right?
Our first placement was last July. We were asked to take 2 children for a 3 day stint. We agreed to it firstly because it meant our paperwork would be expedited, and secondly because it was so short term. Those 3 days turned into 3 months, and by the end of it, we informed our agency we were no longer looking strictly for “adoptable kids”, but that we were happy to foster with the intent of reunification.
The next baby we fostered came into our home at 5 days old. He was an “open and shut adoption case”. Guess what? He left us to live with a distant relative 3 months later. Not so open and shut. It was really hard, but he was never ours to begin with.
Our current fosterling is headed toward eventual reunification, and though we desire to one day have our forever child via the system, I’ve learned something really important: There is no such thing as Foster to Adopt.
The very point of foster care is to be a temporary caregiver. Your social worker could tell you all day that this is a for sure adoption case and even still, foster care should be looked at as a temporary thing. You are to welcome a child into your home, care for them, feed them, love them, protect them, all with the goal of them reunifying.
You then tell me, “Well, I have a friend who adopted through foster care! And I’ve seen all those cute pictures with families holding signs that say how long the child has been in foster care, posed next to their forever family on adoption day!” Yes, we all know people who have adopted from foster care. I hope to be one of those people one day. Some of those people didn’t intend on adoption, but it happened that way. For some, adoption was the initial hope. But let’s think about what has to happen for a child to become “adoptable”.
If a child in foster care is supposed to be a temporary fix while their biological caregiver gets their ducks in a row, how is it that children are adopted through foster care every day? Because something has gone TERRIBLY wrong.
“WRONG?? Adoption isn’t wrong!” I didn’t say that. For a child to become “adoptable” a parent’s rights have to be terminated. Let that sink in for just a second. This means that (in general, there are always exceptions) a parent has been given the tools they need to get their child back, and they couldn’t or wouldn’t use those tools in order to reunify. That’s tragic. Even if the foster family that is set to adopt them is the best family in the world, we cannot brush past the real and awful reality that parent and child have a tie that has been severed. Their flesh and blood has lost the legal right to raise and nurture that child. That’s a terrible thing to have to happen.
Would you not agree, that assuming a parent has followed the steps they need to, and is safe, the best place for a child to be is with their biological family? When I say this I really mean “safe” not “my standards”. It’s easy to think you need to fight reunification because your house is bigger, you provide higher quality food, and you dress them nicer. Those aren’t qualifications for being a parent, though. Your job as a foster parent is to love and care for this child, all the while supporting reunification.
But what about the parents who are really far gone? Well, of course if a parent is abusive, neglectful, crippled with addiction, or can’t see their way out of a relationship with someone who is, those are the cases where adoption becomes necessary.
Am I saying adopting is bad? Absolutely not. It is still mine and Milkman’s deepest desire to adopt a child. But adopting via foster care is a bitter sweet act. One in which a child has to lose one family in order to gain another.
And this is why I say, there is no foster to adopt. You foster to foster. You foster to reunify. To help this child and their parent get to a place that is safe enough to become a family again. Adoption, is merely a bittersweet tributary off the main course of foster care. A beautiful, yet tragic thing.
So you still want to be a foster parent if it means giving every single child back to their family? If it means your heart is broken into a million pieces, so that a biological mother’s can be made whole again? So that a father can raise his child with his own culture and blood as their bond? If the answer is no, foster care may not be the right road for you. But if the answer is yes? Then you are in the right frame of mind. And maybe, just maybe, your family will grow through adoption one day. But let that not be your main goal in this journey, lest you be entirely disappointed and crushed. However, if you’re willing to take the risk, I can promise you, it is worth every step if the journey.
Want to read more unpopular opinions, follow our foster care and bio parenting journey, take a look at our life living on a working farm, and laugh at the stupid memes I post? Come check out She Rocks the Cradle on Facebook.
I’ve been quiet around here. It’s strange, and perhaps makes no sense, but the busier and more stressed I am, the more I tend to write. I suppose it’s a little escape, or, much like the pressure valve on my new instant pot (who else got one for Christmas??) a release from all the craziness that gets trapped inside when life is jam packed.
I’m in between. Our home for the last 2+ years is going to have the rent raised high enough that we can’t possibly afford to sign on another year. I’m packing up the house with out much of a clear picture of where we are headed next. We have reached one month without a Foster placement. Every day I wake up and wonder if today is the day we will get a call, and each day it doesn’t ring.
But though I’m in between, I’m also soaking up the cuddles with my 3 bio kiddos. Captain is enjoying being read aloud to. We are currently working through Mr. Popper’s Penguins and just finished Little House in the Big Woods. I love how he tells Milkman about what we read later on. Mamitas is as sharp as ever. She’s a never ending source of Disney movie facts, and has a myriad of imaginary friends (one named Bubblegummy and another named after herself– who has an astonishingly similar life to her own.) Peachy is a wild child. Wordless jokes, funny faces, and the ability to play her parents like a deck of cards. She’s brilliant and every time she does something new (be it naughty or clever!) I am in awe of her.
And then there’s been time with Milkman. We’ve had 2 dates in the last month, as dates are hard to come by once we have another foster placement in our home. We’ve spent a lot of time talking, cuddling, and indeed– staring at our phones waiting for a call.
We feel the same way. Thankful that we haven’t gotten a call while our own kiddos have been sick almost constantly this cold and flu season. Thankful for the time spent focusing on our children, and on our marriage. But also mourning the empty room in our home, just waiting for someone else to take it over.
We know God’s timing isn’t our own. We know patience is the key to surviving fostering, whether you have a full or empty home! We know that the right child will be here when the right time comes.
But in the moment, we feel very much in limbo. Very much in between.
One week from today, I will be waking up to your cries for the last time. We will be wearing you in your favorite carrier for the last time. When it is time to go, your temporary siblings will kiss you and say goodbye–not really understanding what it all means.
I will take you to your new home. I’m not sure how I will be able to say goodbye. I can’t even imagine turning my back after I have kissed you for the last time. As cliché as it sounds, how do you willingly leave a part of your heart behind?
I will go home and while my house will be filled with the sound of 3 young children, it will be too quiet without your steady snoring underneath my chin and you will not be asleep strapped close to my heart. There will be no bottles to heat, wash, or sanitize. Your bassinet will sit empty in the living room. Your clothes will sit cold in their drawers in the nursery. The Rock’n’play still and undisturbed by chubby toddler hands trying to rock you to sleep. There will be no middle of the night bottles to feed you, no songs to sing to you.
I will worry that you aren’t swaddled how you like, that you aren’t buckled in your seat properly, that you aren’t held in just that special position we’ve found you like. I will wonder if you are confused by your new environment, by the new people in and out of your day, the new sounds, smells, and environment. I will pray constantly that you are safe, loved, and well-cared for.
I’m sure for a week or two I’ll come across a tiny sock, a burp cloth, or a renegade pacifier and the loss will wash over me afresh. My children will see my weep. They will learn what it is to give sacrificial love. They will learn that defending the fatherless is a hard but worthwhile job. They will learn how to mourn, how to grieve. They will learn that loving as the Father loves is a great risk. Just as their father and I are learning.
But for the next week, I will hold you close, I will give you an extra kiss every night before bed and tell you it’s from your mama, I will sing to you, call you by the nickname you will no longer hear once you leave, and rub my cheek against your fuzzy little head, soaking it all in, before you are taken away and we never see you again…
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.
It’s been 24 hours since I first laid eyes on you. Red-faced and screaming so loud I could hardly hear anything else. You were a stranger to me, just one day ago.
You were placed in my arms by our wonderful social worker, and immediately I needed to protect you. I shushed you out to the car where we picked up your things. 2 paper bags with some clothes, diapers, wipes, and a can of formula.
It is the strangest thing to have a newborn without postpartum bleeding, nursing cramps, cracked nipples, and a whacked out hormone drop. But, some how my body is wanting to feel these things when I hold you. You do not smell like you came from me. Your scent is entirely different, but my body let’s down milk when I hold you close, my womb aches when I feed you your bottle. The sun is setting right now, and I sense that old postpartum blues feeling creep up where I am homesick in my own home.
It’s so familiar to have a newborn in the house and yet this time it’s also different and unknown. I’ve never fed a newborn formula in a bottle, and certainly not at the same time while nursing my biological baby. Having to watch the clock for feeds and log ounces in and diapers out feels formulaic (no pun intended!) and foreign. Trying to distinguish between your cry for comfort and your cry for hunger is something I’ve not had to do, since a breast has always fixed either problem in the past.
You’ve not been alive very long, and you’ve been with me for less than that, but some how I love you so much, my heart could burst. And whether you are here for 1 day, 10 days, or many more I’ll keep loving you.