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.
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.