2 Months and a Lifetime of Love

2monthsBlue.pngWell it’s been a full two months since we have had our foster baby, we now call him Bug. He takes about 5 ounces in his bottle, he holds his head up, he smiles. He poops all the time, and projectile fluids are neat. Bug has hairy ears, baby chub that is starting to create rolls, and he loves loves loves to be outside. His symptoms from having Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome have decreased. Overall we have seen positive growth and improvement in his health.

I wish I could have found the head space to write more frequently to document this but something tells me more of this experience will be written looking back on it. Goodness knows it takes a lot of energy to care for a newborn and writing just hasn’t been the top of the list.

I will say that the feeling of fostering a baby is a rollercoaster. He is wildly cute and lovable. Most of the time, the days and nights go on without thinking about the magnitude of the situation. Other times, a wash of anger/sadness/grief/panic/anxiety comes over me. It passes quickly when Bug cries out and requires a bottle, a diaper change, or a snuggle. But the truth is, he is not going to be ours forever. I will not know what he is like in his teenage years, or who he will fall in love with. I won’t hold his hand as I age and he won’t bring me mother’s day gifts when he is older. I hope that his body and his heart know how much he was loved as a baby. I’m counting on that body memory that we see so present in our oldest child from early childhood trauma. I’m counting on Bug knowing we stayed up and gave countless snuggles, that we were there at every turn to love him through it. As long as he is with us, I will continue to show up and be the mommy that he needs and deserves. My heart will always hold him dear and I will love him forever and always.

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Hospital Part 2: Rainbows

I arrived to the NICU last Sunday for some special instructions on caring for and feeding Tiny Man. Due to Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, he has a few symptoms that we are working on learning how to support him with. A calm and confident older nurse welcomed me which was a nice change of pace from a couple of days prior where the nursing staff treated us like baby-snatchers.

The Nurse sat me down in the recliner and promptly went to work of treating me like any other mama learning how to care for her child. She showed me lots of ways to do things and never once made me feel bad or weird. It was a fast paced tutorial but once it was over she said “now you snuggle” and wheeled away to do notes a few feet away.

After my lesson was over, a different nurse asked if he could play some acoustic music for us. I was thrown off by this but said “sure” feeling like this was an entirely different experience than just 2 days prior. As he played his guitar, I finally slowed my brain. I started breathing at Tiny Man’s pace. I smelled his head. My heart swelled.

As I was leaning back in the recliner looking at the birds and clouds, the Guitar Nurse started playing “Over the Rainbow”. I looked down and at that moment I saw Tiny Man’s eyes finally open. I burst into an immediate slobbery, uncontrollable cry. It was the first time I had let the emotion sink in. This was a BIG deal.

The all-knowing nurse wheeled over to me and squeezed my shoulder. She whispered into my ear “I don’t know where this journey will take you, but you are strong enough to do it.” Turns out she has fostered children and has adopted as well. Of course the Universe sent her my way, of course! She let me ugly cry, the Guitar Nurse let me ugly cry, and just kept playing “Over the Rainbow”. She left me with “Of course it’s hard. But we do it because they are worth it. And he is worth it. However this lands it is always worth it.”

It is such a great privilege to be part of this little one’s life and his journey.

 

Hospital Part 1: Meet n’ Greet Foster Son

One week ago today, I met my foster son. We met the social worker on the 3rd floor outside the gift shop and then wandered up into the NICU. It was a total shit show to put it lightly. The staff didn’t seem to get the memo about this placement or DCF involvement. They were confused and looked at us like we were baby-snatchers. Of course, as luck would have it, the bio mom was about 5 feet away from us visiting with Tiny Man. We were shuffled away quickly while everyone tried to coordinate this awkwardness.

So we sat and waited with our own anxiety, not sure what in the world conversation was happening or what would be next.

I asked how she was doing. It surprised the social worker. I suppose many foster parents might not care? I’m not sure, but I genuinely wanted to know how she was doing. I couldn’t imagine going back to her room, knowing soon she would be unable to be with her baby. For whatever choices and mistakes that have been made, there certainly is no way that would be easy.

When it was time, we went into the open room of NICU babies. Not having a clue what we were going to be facing. We were shuffled over to the only baby that did not have parents tending to him. I’m well aware that sometimes parents leave to go get something to eat or get a break but in this instance it felt like a visible reminder and slightly painful. I can tell you, there is probably nothing more fragile than picking up a baby that you have agreed to care for and love.

We cooed over his little tiny body. His loads of hair. And mountains of cuteness. I talked to him and told him we would take care of him the best that we could. I told him our house has another kid and three dogs. I told him we live on a farm and that it would be a lot quieter there than in the hospital. I couldn’t promise how it would turn out. I don’t know whether he will reunify with his bio mom or whether we will be his forever family.  But I do know that as long as he is with us, he will be cared for and loved.

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For swing time!

One Year.

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Today marks one year with us.

As the snow began to thaw I saw you experience your new home with dirt, grass, and sticks. As spring came I saw you get dirty for the first time and I realized that you were scared of getting into trouble. Summer came and I witnessed the joy of you splashing in the water and running through a sprinkler. As the leaves turned the bright fall colors, we finalized your adoption. Winter came and we experienced Christmas and all the holiday hoopla (which I’m so glad is almost an entire year away!).

  • You call me mommy.
  • You will eat everything. Literally.
  • You are scared of the dark but otherwise you go to sleep right away.
  • You are violent if you feel you get too much love and attention.
  • You are often concerned that there won’t be enough food for you.
  • Your smile is beautiful and exudes joy.
  • Your cries include the following: (1) fake cry, (2) scared, (3) mad cry, (4) lonely, (5) manic after being triggered, (6) pain, (7) sad (sort of…I’m not entirely sure you’ve figured how to display this one).
  • You can dance from the soul. 

Becoming your mommy has been a joy, a privilege, and the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. You are my first child, and there will never be a feeling like it. I have realized my role involves case management, medical advocacy, educator, history keeper, race advocacy, adoption and trauma advocacy– and more to be determined I’m sure!

Now that I have my feet underneath me a little with this parent thing I’m planning on some goals and improvements going into this second year being your mommy.

  • Work on improving my own self-regulation.
  • Attend parent meetings with the drumming therapist.
  • With the help of your therapy team, work on creating opportunities for you to have your needs met that you did not have as a baby.
  • Have lots of adventures.
  • Create opportunities for fun and joy.
  • Dance.

December: the month of violence.

December was horrific. In fact, it’s taken me  the entire month of January to process it enough that I could even begin to put into a blog post. How can I describe to you a level of constant violence that seems near impossible to imagine in a small being?

The truth is, some of this is not shocking. Christmas is notoriously challenging for kids with early childhood trauma. Like clockwork, the moment post-Thanksgiving up until beginning of January he was not the child we know. He looked different, he acted different, he sounded different. He was mean, cruel, disconnected, and uninterested.

The previous December was when he was forced by the State to go to a “good-bye” visit with his birth mother in prison. Like clockwork, as soon as Christmas music started playing on the radio, little man started talking about his birth mother and seeing her in prison. It shouldn’t be a surprise that December was so horrific between the holidays (and all the anxiety that goes with never previously having permanence) and the physical body remembering this experience with his birth mother in prison.

The night before Christmas he was scared. He was scared we were not going to have enough food on Christmas. He was scared of the presents. He was scared of what would be in them or if he would have any at all. We already squashed the Santa thing because there was fear and confusion around this concept so much we just decided not to do that.

On Christmas, we had some nice moments. It was exciting to experience being a parent on Christmas, it was lovely to see him be excited about those moments, despite how tiny those moments were. That was all before 10am.

After 10am, he became manic and out of control. He tried to push me down the stairs (and almost violently succeeded). Eventually for safety we had to restrain him in a safe hold. He said he wanted me to bleed because I give him hugs and love. He then wailed. It was a blood-curdling sorrow. He cried a sound I have not heard from him in the almost year that we have had him. The heart-wrenching words:

“I not deserve a family or presents or love.”

As my wife held him, I cooed over him by wiping his face with a cool wash cloth and kept saying over and over, “you are safe.  you are loved.” until he eventually slowed and regulated himself again.  He then decided that he did not deserve my love and refused to speak to me or engage with me the rest of the day.

The entire following week he had off from school. Each day if I was with him at all he would immediately get violent. I am typically the person that does bedtime and for an entire week he did not want me to put him to bed. He refused to rock. He refused to do activities. He played alone and would not engage with us beyond our mandatory meals and care taking (if that).

Things are better. At some point in early January, our son reappeared. The challenging, quirky, pain in the butt that we love came back to us. Most nights I can rock him without problem, and I have been minimally hit. Those hits that I can think of this month were actually more of that toddler tantrum type and nothing like December brought. He has come back to engaging with us, eating with us, and having more good days than bad now. We have reached out to more support and we are going to be starting a child therapy that involves drumming. We are setting ourselves up with more supports.

It was easily the most horrific month of my life that my memory can recall. It’s nice to be on the other side of it, but I think putting it in text sets it in the past. I am finally releasing the weight of what has felt like a dirty secret.

Forward. With love.

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Election Reflection.

Dear Little Man,

As you giggle and play right now, my heart is heavy. This week, our country elected the most outwardly bigoted human to be the president-elect. It has been a disappointment to say the least and this week has been filled with uncontrollable tears, anger, and outbursts of deflection (I had a panic attack over paint colors for crying out loud).

He has exhibited vulgarities over how to treat women, the way you touch a woman, and even about how and when women should work. You see, this man has acted in appalling ways towards women, but also people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants/refugees, people with disabilities, poor people, non-Christians, and I’m sure some group of people I haven’t remembered the headline from.

I worry what decisions will be made by this man and the people this man appoints, that will have an impact on your early childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. I hope that we will remain safe. I cannot guarantee this to you. But you are young– too young. So I will do my very best to shield you from any pain and keep you as safe as I can.

 

Love, Mommy

Halloween Lessons: Pumpkins & Armor

 

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It’s pretty well documented that for kids that have experienced displacement or trauma, holidays can be wildly challenging. But I guess I didn’t really lump Halloween into that category for some reason.

Between the absolute meltdown, trying to throw pumpkin guts at us, and literally climbing the walls, it was clear this little guy of ours was having a hard time. He ran full speed and smashed himself into our door, busting a latched door open. Alternating between using the doorknob to climb up the door, scratching at the walls, throwing water/toys/food, and generally losing his mind.

I’ll cut right to the discovery time where I played Detective WTF. I tried to bring him back to reality and also figure out what in the world was triggering him so I could attempt to prevent or work through it.

Pumpkins. Fucking pumpkins. A squash did this? All I could think about was what a Christmas tree would bring.

He didn’t know what carving a pumpkin was. He wanted to know if his birth brother was carving pumpkins. He missed his birth brother. He didn’t think his birth brother was carving pumpkins because he wasn’t making good choices. Other questions fired at me… Why didn’t he do this before? What do you do with the pumpkin? What happens to your hand when it goes into the pumpkin?

Little watched us carve the pumpkin so he would know what it was like. He was not inclined to paint the pumpkin either. He would not have anything to do with it but he did do some pumpkin coloring sheets. That was as far as he wanted to get.

Lessons from Pumpkin Debacle: 

  1. The combination between anticipation, fear, and loss is really profound on each and every holiday.
  2. DO NOT tell him what we will be doing until we are doing it in that moment.
  3. Every holiday, ensure adult beverages are on standby and get protective armor to wear.