What To Expect When You Are Not Expecting

A series on foster care

The nurses up at the Special Care Nursery at our Women’s Hospital recognise me these days. Over the years I have spent quite a bit of time up there. I still have to produce all the paperwork of course – but their silent acknowledgement of my role is a salute to all the carers who find themselves in this place.

That first moment when I get to meet this brand new baby is very special to me. It’s never going to be like a birth mother finally meeting the baby they have been growing inside them. This is different. This is a big bang experience of the heart. You get very little warning and all of a sudden, there they are in front of you, about to be placed in your arms. You have no inkling as to what they will look like, their personality, their little idiosyncratic mannerisms present from the get go and no clues to refer to. They just are who they are, And what they are is a surprise package who needs your love more than anything.

Quite often, the babies who come into care at birth are in the process of de-toxing. Some have what is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS. This happens when the baby has been exposed to the mothers use of drugs or alcohol. There are clear indicators when a baby has NAS and usually they will need to stay in hospital until they are through the worst of it. It is so hard to watch them come through this, knowing that this is their first experience of the big world.

If they are coming into my care and I know that (sometimes, I don’t), I get myself up to the hospital quick sticks! I take clothes so that they have their own clothes and blankets as usually, they don’t have anything. I try to spend as much time as I can with this little bubba while also juggling my other children & responsibilities. I try to be there to give them as much eye contact, as many bottles as possible, to give them their bath, do any physio that may be necessary and most importantly – to just be there, holding them, whispering sweet nothings in their ears, telling them how amazing they are and wrapping them up in love.

I’ve cared for a few little premmies and have been trained in baby CPR – luckily I’ve never had to put that training to use. When they are so little they are just so incredibly vulnerable. They are not beautiful bouncing babies. They are tiny, transparent tenderlings. To hold a little premmie baby is breathtaking. To see them grow into robust and cheeky little darlings is miraculous.

image credit: globalgiving.org

These bubbas will not be welcomed home with multiple generations anxiously awaiting their turn for a cuddle. You will not get a baby shower. No one will drop home cooked meals off to help you through those tough first weeks. You will be asked rude and intrusive questions that you won’t be able to answer.

Despite all that, you are still in awe at this little spec of humanity. You are amazed by their every yawn, by their piercing gaze that seems to reach deep into your soul. You delight in their precious moments, capture them in photos, write about them in their life book. you do everything you can to make them feel loved while you slowly develop a real relationship.

Somewhere out there, their birth mother will be grieving and desperate. So desperate that they may just disappear, or try to lose themselves in whatever way they can. If re-unification is on the cards, then you will be doing a lot of transporting, taking them to and from supervised visits. That can be up to five times a week. The birth mother may be angry, hurt, confused. They may not know anything about babies, from how to hold them, how to soothe them, how and when to feed them. To some, this child is a little doll to be played with and dressed up. To others, these little ones represent everything that has gone wrong in their life.

You soon get a feel for how these visits are going based solely on how the baby is when they return to you. You send them off all calm and settled, clean and swaddled and if they come back with their nappy/diaper on backwards, throw up all over their clothes and in an exhausted heap, well you know things aren’t going too well. I keep a diary of how the baby behaves and any obvious issues so that I can provide this info to their case worker if necessary.

I do everything I can to help these little ones but I’m no magician. Any child who is removed from their birth mother and family is traumatised. Even when staying with them could mean more trauma and danger. You might think that they can’t really know, but they do at a cellular level. They are not getting breast fed, nothing is familiar. They respond to you, of course they do. They want to survive and you are their lifeline.

12 thoughts on “What To Expect When You Are Not Expecting

  1. I love love LOVE reading your posts and at the end of each one I always say the same sentence…which is “she really is an amazing woman” you put your life on hold for others and never expect anything in return thats something not too many people can give to this world…I try my best to give what I have because I honestly believe in the good karma and that we were all put here on earth for a reason…and you’ve found your reason…:-) keep doing the amazing things you do!! They certainly do not go unnoticed(even though I don’t tell you what I think often) I think your really special!!:-) xxx

    • Thankyou! I know I’m doing a bit of preaching to the converted, but I guess we all had a first time, so I hope it helps those who haven’t been there yet, but hope to! Your support and confirmation is appreciated!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I am so blown away by your love and heart and hope that when, and if, we get through the process I can be some way close to you in providing the love these children need. Thank you. x

      • I would love to hear about how you got ready once you were approved – was it before or after the “call”. Also, after each call what do you do? Do you have lots of different age appropriate toys/clothes in the house? When they leave you (which is another topic – how do you deal with the inevitable mourning?) do they take the clothes and toys with them? Where do you shop for clothes and toys. Do you have all the baby things and when did you get them (where did you get them? Do they go with the kids?)? I want to get your take on everything – even things I can’t imagine because they haven’t happened yet. How do you deal with a child who “hates” you and won’t behave because you “are not my mom”? How do you hide your heartache when they act out and you just want to hug them but you can’t, because they are too angry/frustrated/confused and need love but can’t yet accept it…. how do you deal with that??

        Sorry for the huge list but you offered!! :)

        And I have more!

        Thank you!

        • No problem! I can answer somethings easily right now, but others will be a separate post and there are some topics I have previously touched on, so suggest you do a search on the foster care category too!
          I didn’t have too much when I started, but had beds/bedding sorted (until the babies started arriving). You will find that there’s things you don’t have, but most kids are happy to go and blow a bit of cash with you, especially if it’s on them. Once people know you are fostering many will offer you things – so you can end up being a dumping ground. Avoid if possible! I always buy a few new things for each child as they all need and deserve that, but I’ve got enough to get through any initial 24hours – pj’s, underwear, socks, basic clothing. It’s worth getting a few nice travel bags too as kids who come into care usually have their things stuffed into a garbage bag. I always send them off in style, with their own bag and their own things. If I buy things for them specifically, they are theirs and take as much as they want with them when they go. I’ve bought new, second hand and have been given many things. Don’t go overboard, just have enough things to keep them amused and occupied in that initial phase, then you can work out where to go from there. I started out by doing respite and that really helped to clue me in on what I hadn’t thought about – bath toys, toilet insert, dvd’s etc. Trust in your own common sense! There’s only so much we can plan for, the rest we have to take as it comes – that’s parenting!

  3. Another outstanding post, Rose! I’ve said it before, but I mean it: you put your reader right there in the moment. You introduce information that your reader probably isn’t aware of, and answer questions—always using discretion and good taste—that the reader might not be comfortable asking. Excellent job!

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