Foster Parenting

A super special surprise! (OR: How the Bunny Family met their youngest kits)

When Mommy Bunny got the call for the Bunny Twins, the already had 3 kits at home, ages 2 to 6. Unfortunately for foster children in the state of Florida, The Bunny Family no longer fosters because they have reached their quota of 5 forever bunnies – all adopted through foster care.
Approximately 4 years ago we received a call from our Licensing Agency.  It seemed Fluffy Bunny had two new sisters and they were in the NICU at Florida Hospital South.  Fluffy’s twin sisters were born July 29th, a bit earlier than their September 19th due date.  We will call Baby A (as the hospital named her) Hippity Hop and Baby B, Thumper.
We met Hippity Hop and Thumper when they were four days old.  They were in the NICU with tubes running into their little mouths.  Because they were born premature their lungs were underdeveloped and they needed to learn the basic skills needed to survive. 
Eating and breathing and swallowing seem pretty basic.  But because our bunnies were premature, the parts of their brains that control their mouth and throat reflexes were immature, and they had to learn how to breathe while eating and swallowing. 
I can remember the first night we entered the NICU.  The staff was very helpful and very kind.  Once we proved who we were they accepted us as part of the NICU family.  Did I forget to mention that we are white and Hippity and Thumper are African Americans?  So when we showed up the first time, it was understandable that the staff questioned us.  That I must say is a whole different subject that we can cover at another time.
Anyway, we visited them and fed them through their little tubes.  Thumper had a little more trouble learning to tube feed.  She hated the tube in her mouth and fought to remove it the best she could.  The doctors and nurses changed her tube and put it through her nose.  We knew she was doing better when she actually pulled it out as she grew stronger.  You see, these two bunnies started out approximately 2 lbs.  Their weight fluctuated throughout their visit in the NICU.  Our goal was 5lbs so they could come home.

For those of you not familiar with Central Florida geography, we live over an hour from Florida Hospital South, with traffic.  We visited every night for 4 weeks until Hippity came home and then I went alone each night to visit Thumper until she came home a week later.
As foster parents it was difficult not to fall in love with these two from the beginning.  We had already decided to adopt Fluffy and the process was in the works.  Unfortunately, not knowing what would happen to these two beauties worried us. Then we asked ourselves can we do two more…..GEEZ!
There was also the issue of bio mom.  Dad was unknown.  Within the first week the nurses asked us about bio mom.  They were frustrated because she had called that day and didn’t have the medical pin number to receive information about the twins. Now this could have been easily solved by contacting her case worker and getting the pin however instead of calling the case worker the bio mom continued to call, had her family members call and harassed the staff about how unfair they were being to her. We mentioned this to the case worker and she gave bio mom the pin.  According to the nurses, bio mom never called again. 
Once home as you can imagine we had double bunny duties.  Not only at home but in court and case worker visits. The case worker was never able to contact bio mom for visits so she saw them just once, the day they were born.  Luckily, because we finalized Fluffy’s adoption before the twins were a year old, their TPR was expedited.  Adoption was next and the story continues… now we have a house full. 
THEN WE ALMOST LOST THEM BOTH……maybe I’ll tell you about that next time!

Struggling to Encourage (OR: what if don’t have anything nice to say?)

I’ve been really bad lately about posting. Largely because I don’t feel like I have anything positive or encouraging to say. There are definitely some good things going on right now – we’re getting closer to adopting Squirm & Squish, and I’ve seen some huge benefits recently from Lady Bug’s therapy. I feel better now than I did about Lady Bug being reunified – if they let her keep her therapist.

But I’m just absolutely disgusted with the bio parents and Case Manager for not even bothering to consult Lady Bug’s therapist before the Reunification Staffing. That just shows me *beyond all doubt* that the bio parents and Case Manager are not even pretending to consider Lady Bug’s best interests. And then on top of that, they’re talking about discharging Lady Bug’s therapist because “it might be confusing to her to have multiple counselors” and the dad’s counselor is doing the family therapy. I can see the confusing bit – which is why the child’s therapist is normally the one to do the family therapy.

The GAL is objecting to the reunification, the transition plan, and the discharge of Lady Bug’s therapist, I just wish I had faith in the judge listening.

See? There I go again.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably know that I’ve wanted to be a foster parent since I was 8 years old. (If you’re just now joining us, check out the beginning of the story.) I feel called to foster. I’m passionate about it. And I’m passionate about encouraging others – to think about it, give it a try, stick with it, support foster parents, etc. But I just don’t feel so encouraging lately.

Hey, wait. I’m Somebody! (OR: let me straighten my halo)

Oh, you’re an angel for being such a blessing to those children.

You’re such a saint for saving these children.

What do you say to that? “Hang on a second, let me polish my halo?

Or “Heaven will bless you for taking care of these poor children.

I do have a response to that one: “Oh, didn’t you hear me? I’m a foster parent; I’ve already been blessed.

I love being a foster parent. Do you remember the first time you gave your little one bananas? Or introduced them to giraffes? Maybe yes, maybe no. But I get to do that OVER and OVER and OVER. I get to see first steps and hear first words OVER and OVER and OVER.

On the downside, I also get the first tooth. And the first tantrum. OVER and OVER and OVER. Frequently I get the first crib-rattling diaper explosion. And the first “Your-little-darling-bit-another-child” phone call. (say it with me) OVER and OVER and OVER.

But they usually leave before they want to drive my car, so that’s a bonus! 🙂

Anyway.. what do you say to those people? You can read How I Got Here from There, so I won’t repeat it here. In a nutshell: I’m a foster parent partly for selfish reasons – I love and want babies, but I’m infertile. Sure, we could have gone the surrogacy or private adoption route…. But I’ve know since I was 8 years old that I wanted to be a foster parent.

Since I discovered that foster children exist, I have felt very strongly that all children deserved to be loved and wanted – by SOMEBODY. And I realized “Hey, wait! I’m Somebody.”

But that doesn’t mean that I’m an angel or saint or “saving these poor children”…. I’m a mom. And the fact that I get to be a mom to so many kids in such awful situations, when they need a mom the most… That blesses me AT LEAST as much as it blesses them.

Today wasn’t a good day, foster-care-wise. But as I sit here searching for words, listening to my Ducklings chase each other around the living room, I wouldn’t trade it for fertility. Not on your life.

How do you respond to these people? Let me know in the comments.

“There is an instinct in a woman to love most her own child – and an instinct to make any child who needs it her own.”

~~Robert Brault

Step-by-Step Guide: What to Do If Your Family (Or Friends) Isn’t Supportive Of Your Decision to Foster?

Steps 3 & 4 apply to anyone considering foster care, but especially to those without a strong, well-developed support system.
Step 1Do it anyway. 
Seriously. For two reasons: A – Foster parents are desperately needed, and not enough people are willing even to consider it. Are you really going to let other people keep you from doing something that is so urgently needed? The starfish aren’t going to save themselves. and B- They just might surprise you. There’s a good chance they’ll come around once you actually have the kids. I only have anecdotal evidence of this happening – but I have a lot of it. I know many families with similar stories.
Step 2: Be very clear with your expectations.
Treating a foster child differently than other children in the family is unconscionable. And everyone you know should know that it will not be tolerated. Be explicit – do it nicely, but don’t leave any grey area.
Step 3: Connect with other foster parents to develop a support system.
This is particularly critical if the majority of your family and friends are not supportive. Foster parenting is HARD. 
In infertility circles, we talk about the roller coaster. You start a cycle and you’re hopeful. Even if you’re not, you force yourself to think positively. This could be the one. You temp and you baby dance and you chart and you temp and you hope and you analyze every. single. possible. symptom. And you get your hopes up. And then you get your period. Infertility is a never-ending cycle of ups-and-downs. 
If you don’t think your sanity/marriage/blood pressure can survive the infertility roller coaster, foster parenting may not be for you. 
The foster care roller coaster requires you to greet a strange child in the middle of the night, hand them your heart, and then watch the system jerk you -and them- around for the next year-and-a-half. All while smiling, being flexible, understanding and positive – and as supportive as possible the the bio parents who caused this situation in the first place.
The foster care roller coaster is a never-ending cycle of ups and downs, but it also spins you inside-out, turns your upside-down, drags you through razor blades and rubbing alcohol, punches you in the stomach – and then asks you to get up tomorrow and do it all again – with a smile on your face and a positive attitude. 
So. You need a strong support system. It is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL that you have someone you can call when you need to cry – or scream; someone who won’t say they told you not to do it, or that this was your choice, or *god forbid* it could be worse; you could have cancer and no job/money/house/electricity…. 
I strongly believe that other foster parents are the best people to have on the other end of the phone when you just need to process the wonderful, horrible, beautiful, bewildering adventure that is foster care. So even if you have family that will be happy to love your ducklings and babysit on demand, connect with other foster parents. Because no one can understand the frustration of foster parenting, or the desire overriding necessity to keep doing it, like a foster parent.
Step 4: Buy a mini-fridge and put a padlock on it.
Stock the fridge with beer or other adult beverage of your choice.You’re going to need it.

What to Do If Your Family (Or Friends) Isn’t Supportive Of Your Decision to Foster?

My mom was dead-set against me fostering. For all the silly reasons that you’ve probably heard from your “support” circle. I listened to her apprehensions (if you know my mom, you know that I didn’t really have a choice on this one), thanked her for her concern, and told her I was going to do it anyway. My in-laws, on the other hand, were fairly supportive (more on that later).

Before we actually got licensed, we very clearly and explicitly laid out our expectations to all of our family and friends: Every child in our home will be treated as our own child, for as long as they remain in our home – by everyone in our lives. Full stop. If anyone felt they couldn’t abide by this one non-negotiable rule, that was fine – they were welcome to remove themselves from our lives and those of our children. Period.

We have actually been incredibly surprised by most of our parents – pleasantly so by my mom and mother-in-law, not so much my father-in-law (the pleasant part anyway). My dad is my dad. He just goes with the flow – just like I expected him to. (Again, if you know my mom, you know that he doesn’t really have a choice.)

My mom and mother-in-law have taken a genuine interest in the kids in my care. My father-in-law has no idea how many kids are currently in my home, much less their names, and couldn’t care less.

My mother-in-law (Grandma Duck) visits Florida frequently and recently moved down here – she and her husband (Grandpa Duck) see the kids much more often that we expected her to – and is genuinely concerned about them and their cases. If I vague-book something negative about foster care, Grandma Duck will message me as soon as she sees it to find out what has changed and what is going on with the kids.

My mom (Meme Loon – what? it’s a waterfowl! it fits the theme!) …Anyway, Meme Loon sends birthday balloons and recordable story books with her voice reading the Christmas Story to Lady Bug. She was dead-set against my being a foster parent, but she is all-in with being a foster grandma. The best example of how she has surprised me: we really weren’t sure how our families would react to the possibility of our adopting a mixed-race baby. I sent Meme Loon a link to the pictures we had had made of the toddler ducklings for Mother’s Day. The next time we talked and I mentioned Squirm, she interrupts me and says, “You have to keep that baby! That is YOUR baby!!” She didn’t even know yet that adopting him was a possibility. We recently found out that Lady Bug will likely be leaving us soon. I called Meme Loon and told her that if she wanted to meet Lady Bug, she’d better get out here. She and my sister (Auntie Loon) will be here for July 4th weekend!! (I’m soooo excited!!!!!)

So… what do you do if anyone in your circle isn’t supportive of your plan to foster? Come back tomorrow for my step-by-step guide. 🙂