In all my life I have never had a moment like the moment I met our youngest baby, Benjamin.
I told you how the phone rang again that first December just about 3 weeks after Moose arrived…well when that phone call came things were still up in the air. We had just met Moose’s parents for the first time and the fact that mama was clearly expecting was a big elephant in the room. So I knew there would be a call soon -I just didn’t know what that call would mean.
Would they be moving Moose to a home that could take siblings?
Was mom and dad’s plan to try and keep this baby with them?
Where was grandma, did she know?
So the phone did ring again and the caseworker and I talked and talked about all of the many potential avenues that this could lead to. Only one of which was for the baby to join us too until grandma could take them both. In that same phone call while we discussed logistics and what-ifs and options…I also learned that mom was expecting this baby boy in February, that she loved him already and really wanted to be a parent. (This is not the story to debate me on right/ wrong/ neglected responsibilities of birth parents) These boys were loved by her, the one that was staying with us and the one that she still had in her womb. And she was really hoping to have them back.
As a mother I began to wonder if I could do it, accept a newborn and then send him home. I really didn’t know and (spoiler alert) I guess I will never know now. But also as a mother, I began to plan for his arrival, I gathered cheap baby items on craigslist, a changing table, clothes, a bassinet…And Bob saw it coming like a freight train long before I did. He knew before I ever met Ben I was already in love and he had a really hard time believing it was all happening.
Ben was born on a Monday. We met him on Wednesday. I can’t say much about the caseworkers that brought him to our home, I tell myself that after a while they probably just grow weary, but they were bringing us a brand new baby and the air around them was dismal.
And then we saw him. Ben was beautiful, not peaceful, but beautiful. Healthy! Thank God.
The workers that came out cut the hospital bands off his tiny wrists in the dining room for his mother to have and they even took his car seat back with them. What an experience. The emotions of this deep love for a baby that wasn’t mine, the relief that he was healthy and the caution and restraint I spoke to the caseworkers with, who didn’t share in this moment for whatever reason. I wanted it to feel wonderful like when the rest of the kids came home, even Moose, but it didn’t feel wonderful that day.
He had been in the car with them for a while on the ride to our home and our first thought was to change him and comfort him. It was like I had never held or changed a baby before. Bob actually had to step in and help me. It’s bizarre how a child can feel so much like yours and not yours at all at the same time- that is the nature of foster care.
We had surgery for Moose scheduled the next day at 5am. Thankfully, our friend came over early that next morning to watch our new little guy and the other children. It made one less mess in a messy situation. That was the first hurdle we successfully faced as parents of ten.
And then there was another hurdle, I had to go back to work the day following Moose’s surgery. I was now not sleeping, and “all in” with two very needy babies. I remember not telling anybody at my work for a while. I thought if it was going to be temporary I could spare them the realization that I now had 10 children. I didn’t think anyone would understand when I couldn’t make sense of it myself.
Ben stayed for just over a week before a family friend stepped up to take him- because he was healthy they were able to take just him and Moose remained with us still waiting on grandma. There is another long story embedded here that is not mine to tell but just about a month or so later, they were bringing Ben back home to us. And again I wanted it to feel wonderful where instead it felt a little like we had wasted so much time… He now had hair and was starting with teeth and he smiled. And I just loved him all over again. I had missed him and asked of him often when he was away.
Ben was not an easy baby. He wasn’t my hardest, but he tried very hard for that title. I eventually told my work and made peace with myself that this was now life with ten kids. And we were doing it- things were going to be just fine- even when grandma fell through, then another relative, then another friend.
That’s when the phone rang again… but this final time we chose a different path. And even if you give me 1000 reasons why this was such an obvious choice… I will tell you we (I) struggled with it.
But that’s because I look at Ben most days- this happy, healthy, smart, handful of an almost three year old and I still see him on that first day we met. This vulnerable, tiny infant, dressed in hospital garb with just a car seat and an identity bracelet that he didn’t even get to keep. This baby taken from his mom and dad and driven far away to a new home, a new life, a new identity brought by those dismal workers and it makes me catch my breath a bit. And every time it happens I look at Bob and say “Bob can you believe it? Someone brought me this baby, thank God, someone brought him right in to our dining room. Can you believe that happened, Isn’t it wonderful?”