Eye of the Storm

I am caring for my cousin’s daughter. She is a beautiful bouncing baby who is now almost four months old and has a head full of beautiful, lush hair. In doing so I’ve stepped up to help my family in a way I couldn’t have imagined I would ever be called upon to do. But truth is stranger than fiction (who said that? they were very smart!).

Of course it’s a delight to be caring for this lovely little speck of humanity. Seeing her little face light up and her whole body quivering with the anticipation of cuddles, kisses & loving interaction is food for the soul. She is passionately adored by J, my big 2yo. He leaps to her every need, patting her, putting her dummy/soother back in, tickling her toes, giving her big brotherly hugs and telling me in his own pre-verbal way what I should be doing to make our little darling happy. L (my 6yo with autism) doesn’t really care so much about her, but acknowledges her presence and so long as she doesn’t intrude on his space and needs, then he’s OK for her to hang around.

We are slowly settling into a rhythm and a dynamic that everyone is feeling the benefit of. There’s an awful lot going on around us and life is choc-a-blok, but we are in a good place in the eye of the storm.  It’s calm there.

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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.

Under the Tree

Christmas rolling around again. I’ve been reasonably efficient in present buying this year and have minimised my time in shops by shopping either through N’s child care centre’s fundraising catalogue and also through a little online browsing.  So I thought I’d share some of my fabulous finds.

Fostering babies means that you are responsible for taking photos of them as they grow, keeping all their special little things like id tags from hospital, the outfit they wore home from hospital, any cards or presents they are given and keeping track of all their milestones – just like a regular mother would. However, when it comes to putting it all together in a ‘baby book’ well…I’ve never been able to find a book that really suited their circumstances.

Usually, all you have to do is open the first page and there you find something like – ‘a picture of me inside mummy’s tummy’ or, ‘the day mum & dad discovered I was on my way’. Turn the page and there’s something like ‘My family tree’ …there’s usually way too many unanswered questions for that one. And on it goes. So, no…no baby books for my babies.

Guess what I found?? Oh yes I did! The very clever, sensitive and creative Kate at gadanke makes beautiful handmade journals titled ‘You Are Loved’ and which prompt you to write about so much more than the cold hard facts. So I’ve  got one of these under the tree for J. This will be something he can treasure forever.

Now for that elusive present that you can buy in quantity, not too expensive, unique, somewhat arty and which everyone will have a use for. Problem solved at todryfor . Some of you who read this are getting this present. So shield your eyes, or indulge yourself trying to work out which one I have got for you. No more info – either go to the site and be delighted or don’t. It’s up to you.

That’s it for now. I’m off to a mummy’s night out. Rare, precious.

Letter to a beautiful girl

To my darling little A,

As I am writing this – you are 9 months old. You are a beautiful little girl who is laughing, crawling, babbling, exploring, pointing and loving life. In a few days you will be meeting your new family and your whole world is going to change. Right now they don’t even know who you are, but I know that your Mum & Dad will learn to love you just as much as I do. I know just how lucky they are to be able to have you as their little girl and to see you grow into an amazing young woman.

But right now, I am the one person who knows you the best. I know all the little things that make you happy, how to hold you to calm you down when you are upset and where all your ticklish spots are. Here’s a few of the things I know about you now that I think will always be a part of you:

You have a big personality – you know what you want and you won’t stop till you get it. You have a quick temper, but when you feel safe and loved, you are the most sweet, charming and delightful little person. You are very passionate and very intelligent – I know that nothing will stop you from achieving any goal you set for yourself. The people who love you will need to be very patient because it takes you a long time to feel safe and secure, but once you do, your love is an incredible reward.

You are such a special little girl to me and I love you very much. You will always hold a special place in my heart. I hope that one day I will open the door and find you there. If you have any questions about the first 9 months of you life, I hope I can answer them for you. It’s been a privilege to be the first person to really know you, and to love you because of who you are. I wish you the absolute best in life – I’m so proud to have been a part of it.

Lots of love

How do you say goodbye #2

Most of the children who come into my home are babies or at least under the age of 5. I have cared for older children, but somehow over the past few years it’s the little ones who keep coming through my front door.

Sometimes these little darlings go back to their birth families, some go to their new families when they are adopted and some stick around. As I write this I have one playing at my feet and one being burped on my lap while we wait for the third to come home from his family visit. I am perfecting the art of one handed typing.

Saying goodbye is such a personal process. In the weeks, days or hours before one of my kids moves on, I start my goodbye by writing them a letter. In this letter I try to tell them a bit about the time they have spent with me, some of their experiences and milestones. I like to tell them a little about their personality traits and my hopes for their future. Mostly I want them to know how loved and cherished they were.

If they were newborn when they came to me, then I like to tell them some of the details of when they were still in hospital and when they came home. Of course they will have either a lifebook or journal that goes with them, but these letters are something very personal from me to them. I hope I can help them to fill in a little but important piece of a big jigsaw.

For some children who are being adopted, they won’t get to read this letter until they are 18 years of age and able to request their file. I try to imagine how it might be for them to get this little window into their very early lives. I know that I am the only one who can tell them about this time in their lives, so I try to honour that precious role.

On their last morning with me I always take a photo of us together. The protocol for children being adopted is that the foster carer is not in any photos that go with the child. So this photo is for me and for them but they won’t get to see it until they can access their file.

I am usually able to hold onto my emotions right up until the point where they are heading off for the last time. If I can, I like to carry them out to the car, strap them into their seat, tell them I love them and give them a final kiss goodbye. After that, I’m a mess and the best thing that can happen is for the parents or workers to drive off into the sunset and leave me to shed some tears for that little piece of humanity who needed me for a little while.

If I can, I’ll take myself off to a sad movie and sit there in the dark shedding a quiet tear. It’s remarkably therapeutic. After all the build up and the final farewell it’s great to have a moment to myself with a wonderful distraction (I never get to see films these days!!).

Life goes on and I try to get on and do things I can’t normally do when I have a bubba in tow – there’s always plenty of jobs to do around my house & garden. It gives me the change and purpose I need and before I know it, the phone is ringing and someone else is on their way to me.