Wednesday, August 19, 2015

For Forty-five Days, He Was My Little Man

Two children delivered to our door; she was one, and he was seven. His ruffled sun-blonde hair, huge smile, and immediate connection inspired hope. Her strawberry hair, wide blue eyes, and shy smile had my heart from the get-go. Dad was over twenty years Mom's senior and an alcoholic who was often in jail or rehabilitation facilities. Mom had an IQ slightly higher than the seven-year-old. The situation at home required their removal. He suffered from attachment disorder and several other problems for which he was prescribed medication and counseling. She was only a baby and still being evaluated. 

After being placed in our care, we learned they would have a sibling. Mom was pregnant again. We cared for the children the nine months of Mom's pregnancy; the caseworkers told us that when the baby was born, he or she would immediately be removed and placed in our care. The department of social services felt it was in the best interest of the children to pursue termination of parental rights. The topic of adoption was broached with my husband and me. One of the reasons we'd entered the world of foster care was the possibility of adopting a child. We both had two boys from our first marriages, but due to my own health problems, having another child was a danger to my life and possibly the baby's life as well. 

Mom gave birth to a boy. Boy 2 was delivered to us straight from the hospital. Tiny squalling bundle of love, his features strongly resembled his siblings, and he was adorable. We'd turned my office into a nursery. We bought a ton of baby clothes, blankets, pacifiers, bottles, diapers, and wipes. Assembled a crib, bassinet, changing table,  baby swing, portable crib, stroller - you know - the endless list of things that people who are expecting babies buy. The first few weeks, I kept the bassinet next to my bed, because it had been a while since I'd had to get up for the middle of the night feedings. I was a little anxious, to be honest with you. My youngest was eleven-years-old at the time. It turned out boy 2 was colicky and needed near constant attention. We had to switch his formula three times, and it didn't seem to help. I was awake all night long. He'd usually only sleep if I sat up and held him with his head on my shoulder. Sometimes, sitting him in his swing and letting it rock gently would help him sleep for an hour or two. I was exhausted by the second week. My husband started taking Friday night or Saturday night shifts to try to help me get some rest, but Little Man wanted me. I'd lay there and listen to him cry and cry. When my husband couldn't get him to stop, I'd go and pick him up and settle him down. I had my four children, plus baby's siblings and one other child in care at the time who needed me during the day. I wouldn't have given up baby, though; my heart strings were bound to that boy as if I'd given birth to him. 

By week number three, we'd received the bad news. There would be a hearing because Mom and Dad were fighting the removal of the baby and wanted him returned home. The department of social services contacted us and told us that they would battle against this happening. We continued to pray they would not return the baby to a situation that his older siblings couldn't face. How did it make any sense? Why would they send him home? It wouldn't happen. It couldn't happen. We continued to love this child, and our children bonded with him, all the children in the house bonded with him. They all enjoyed holding him, helping to feed him and bathe him, push him in his stroller. They all loved him. 

The hearing came and went, and we received a phone call from the caseworker. It happened. Of all the idiotic decisions that a judge had ever made, this particular judge ordered the baby returned to his parents. The basis for her decision? The well-thought-out, logical reason for her judgment? "Just because the first two children were abused doesn't mean the third one will be abused." Can you wrap your mind around this? But don't worry, they set 'safeguards' in place. Mom and Dad were mandated to parenting and anger management classes. They would begin visits with the baby for the next three weeks until finally the baby would be returned home permanently after they met their requirements.

Baby went to Mom and Dad two afternoons a week for visits. Two afternoons tore from my soul every week welcoming baby home with strip checks and examining every inch of him for problems. The day came closer and closer, the day they'd take him permanently. I cried every night as he fussed and cried. What would they do when he couldn't sleep at night? Would they know how to comfort him? Would they simply leave him crying? Would it make them angry? What would it do to him when he cried, and I wasn't there - when it wasn't me who picked him up and rubbed my cheek against his and stroked his back while I rocked him? It was killing me slowly. I couldn't sleep even if he did. I just wanted to hold him. 

Then the day arrived, 45 days after I first held him. I fed him, bathed him, and dressed him. I'd gotten him up early that morning. He fell asleep in my arms, and I breathed in the smell of his hair, stared at his face for hours to memorize how peaceful he looked. The doorbell rang, and I buckled him into his car seat. All my children were in school, and my husband was at work. Younger kids in care were all at appointments. I had purposely scheduled the pick up during that time. The transport worker was an incredibly nice woman who'd we'd worked with for a long time. She and I couldn't make eye contact. I held out the car seat; she took hold of the handle, and simply rested her hand on my shoulder for a moment. I watched her buckle baby into the backseat of her car, and she drove away. I slumped onto the landing in my garage and wailed. My heart would never recover. 

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