Every time someone finds out that one of the babies I have with me is a foster child, I usually hear the same thing……I could never say goodbye.
Oh let me tell you it can be pretty awful. Every time I say I’m never going to take another baby. The pain, loss and grief is so hard. And not only do we suffer but so do our own children, other foster children in the home and especially the baby who cannot understand why she must leave the only mother, father and family she knew to this point in her small life. It’s a wonder we ever say “yes” a second time let alone a third, fourth and fifth. It is the hardest age to take and the most difficult thing we do.
Babies are loved instantly in our home. There’s no taking time to meet them and learning to love it happens the second we smell them and snuggle them. And thank goodness that’s the way it happens here because it doesn’t in every home and that’s when the real troubles begin. Infants have so many needs they can be hard for some parents to cope with. They depend on us for everything and not just in an emotional way but physically. Every touch creates neurological connections. Little sparks go off every time you meet his hunger with a bottle. Attachments are made every time she is cuddled. Growth happens every time you change his wet diaper. A baby’s brain grows to more than double it’s volume in the first three months of life! There have been many studies on what happens to animals and babies when they are not touched or given love and the consequences are devastating to development. There is now no lack of evidence of the importance of meeting every infant need, and the importance of the first 3 years to a person’s life outcomes.
So that means that what we do or don’t do for a baby will determine how strong his brain becomes, how language is processed and how well they do emotionally as an adult. Huge weight on the shoulders of every mother but especially foster mothers. We often start behind the 8 ball when a baby comes into care because often the in-utero conditions were not ideal. Drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, lack of prenatal vitamins, lack of sleep, maternal stress all impact the growing life inside negatively. The negative effects of all of these are lifelong. Research is just starting to catch up on how important life on the inside really is for a child. Scientists now know that there are parts of the brain that are fully developed at 5 months gestation. WHAT! Pregnant mommas you cannot underestimate how important taking care of yourself while you are growing another human is!
24 years ago when I had my first child I had no idea of the impact of all these things. I have learned a lot in that time but it has been in the last few years of learning and education that I have become so aware of the impact of positive parenting during the first years of life. We now go above and beyond with the babies that enter our family to ensure they have the best start. We meet all their needs as quickly as possible. Crying for long periods mean a need is not being met and connections are not being made. They are being told that they are not important and to ignore their needs. We have seen babies come in who don’t even cry because they are so programmed that cries do not help and they won’t be responded to. So when I tell the nursery staff at our church when I leave a baby with them, that we don’t let them cry, and to call me if they don’t stop after a minute, hopefully this will explain why.
Foster babies have already experienced trauma and often domestic violence so they are often in extra need of love, affection, kisses and cuddles. I am a huge fan of the Moby wrap or the Bobba Wrap for the first four months and I try to think of the first three months after birth as a fourth trimester. A healing trimester where they can feel peace, love, and listen to my heart. It builds attachment and I wear them a lot so that attachment can happen faster. They need it.
We feed them the most nutritious formula we can find not the cheapest. We make our own baby food with organic veggies. We use cloth diapers to try and reduce the chemicals near their body. (Also because every infant uses about 5,000 diapers in a year and times that by the number of babies we have had and we’re using over 100,000 diapers!) We tried at the beginning but cloth used to be so difficult and expensive and now it is much more economical and they make it so easy with snaps and velcro. Anyways you get the point. We try and do our very best for these little people because we are impacting a human’s future success! Is there a more important job in the world? I don’t think so.
Is there a harder job in the world? I don’t think so.
When you understand how much we put into these babies and how well they are loved you can understand why we also say it is the hardest job in the world. To say goodbye when they go home or to family or adoption is like a death to us. We grieve it the same as we would the death of another family member.
And then we get a call.
We have a baby. She is four weeks early. She is withdrawing from cocaine. She has no one……..
And we start all over.