05 April 2015

Meeting Our Foster Son's Mom

Daniel and I decided because our bonus kiddo (foster son) likely didn't have much time left in the NICU that he would stay home with Aurelia and I would be at the NICU. So each morning I went to the NICU, got updated on how his night went, took care of him until about lunch, went home to have lunch with Aurelia, went back to the NICU, went home to do Aurelia's bedtime routine as a family, then went back to the NICU again until I needed to go back home to sleep.

This was the same time of year I had been in the NICU with Noah. It was like doing it all over again. Same NICU, same nurses, same exact time. I was so thankful I had sought out help for my PTSD before becoming a foster mom. Because I had already started the help I needed I was able to better care for our foster son. Had I not gotten help for the PTSD I don't think I would've been able to handle being surrounded constantly by so many potential triggers. All the similarities also made the experience very healing. It was an opportunity to rewire, to attach a more positive ending to these experiences.

A few days after becoming his foster mom I drove to the hospital in the morning. I parked the car in the garage and before leaving the car I said a prayer. Since Noah's passing earlier in the year my prayers had been...begrudgingly and less frequently said. I was angry. What was the point of everything that had happened? I felt that God didn't care about my children, my family and least of all me. What was the point of talking to someone who had led us into so much pain? So I struggled with prayer. This prayer, said for our foster son, was the first truly sincere prayer I had said in a long time. I asked to know what to do for him, to know how to help him, to be guided to do what was best for him. Then I got out of the car and headed for the NICU.

The NICU is a secured unit, meaning to enter you have to pick up a phone, give the necessary names and codes to the voice on the other end and then you're let in to the unit (unless they just buzz you in because they know you and your giant floral print diaper bag. ahem.). I picked up the phone, said I was bonus kiddo's foster mom and gave his code. The door beeped and the light above me came on, signaling I was cleared to enter. 

I went through the doors, turned the corner to the right and started down the hall to the front desk where everyone is required to sign in each shift and receive the wristband for that day. As I walked down the hall I saw the receptionist look at me while leaning over and saying something to the charge nurse who in turn looked up at me walking toward them, I made eye contact and they both quickly looked away.

"Is everything alright?" I asked when I reached the desk.

"Oh, yeah, everything's fine," he responded.

"Are you sure? Because it looked like you guys were just saying something about me..." I know reading this it sounds really confrontational but I promise it wasn't. I knew both of these people and had had many candid conversations with them. I was concerned there was something going on with bonus kiddo. With foster care cases a lot of times people involved (like nurses) don't know how much they can or can't share and with whom. When you don't know what information CAN be shared it's better to not share anything at all. Being his foster mom though meant I could and should be told EVERYTHING about his case. So, while it sounds confrontational in writing, I was just pressing for the additional information that was clearly there.

He brushed off my pushing, saying, "oh it was nothing," and turned to look for something to busy himself with. I knew something was going on but let it go. I changed the subject and made light conversation while waiting for two people ahead of me to finish signing in. The woman finished filling out the sign in and went in to the NICU. The man ahead of me and I shared a few words before he finished signing in as well and turned to go toward the same unit. 

I stepped up to the binder and did my usual cursory glance at everyone who had signed in before me that day. As part of sign in you're required to write in the name of the child you're there for and I always looked to see if anyone had come to see our foster son. On the two lines above mine, written by the couple I had just met, was my foster son's name.

I froze.

I didn't want to have any noticeable reaction. I casually glanced up at the receptionist who was looking right at me. Now I understood what the awkwardness was about. As soon as our foster son's dad went into the unit the receptionist broke his "busy" silence.

"I'm so sorry! That's what we were talking about! I wasn't sure what was going to happen!" he hurriedly explained. I told him I understood and let him know we hadn't met yet so there was no recognition. The hospital staff didn't know if we could meet, if we had already met, if there was going to be confrontation, they had no idea what to expect. What were the odds that I would be walking in to the NICU immediately after our foster son's parents?

The receptionist kept staring at me wide-eyed, like some giant disaster had barely been averted. I didn't know these people, for all I knew his reaction was completely justifiable.

"I'll just go take my book and read in the parents lounge while they visit. I'll give them their space. No big deal." I didn't want to intrude on their time with their son. During every shift I asked Bonus Kiddo's nurses if his parents or anyone had come to visit. From this I learned that when family came to visit it usually wasn't for very long. I had a book I was reading for additional foster care training, a bunch of snacks and nowhere else to be. I was ready to camp out for however long they wanted to be there.

About 5 minutes later Bonus Kiddo's dad walked into the parents' lounge. We exchanged pleasantries again but this time I had to actually try to act normal. I wasn't sure what to do. Should I introduce myself? Pretend I don't know who he is? I decided not to say anything about what my role was to their family. He grabbed some snacks and headed out the NICU exit.

I sat there for a moment. His mom was probably still in the room with him. Then I felt a clear, strong impression as though someone were saying directly to me, "go introduce yourself." I laughed it off. "Yeah, right!" I thought to myself. What would I say?! "Hi, I'm the woman who will be your child's mother in your place for a while. I'm the person the state has deemed more fit to parent your child than you"? Obviously I wouldn't say all that but "foster mom" is kind of a loaded title. "No," I thought. "Bad idea."

Strong and firm I heard, "You asked to know what to do, now go do it". I had prayed to know what to do, and now I had my answer.

"Alright," I thought in response. "This is a TERRIBLE idea. If this blows up it's on You," I said in silent prayer.

I made my way down the hall to the reception desk. I told them, "I'm going to introduce myself. Wish me luck!" They looked at me like I was nuts.

"Good luck!" he replied.

I walked through the unit, back to our Bonus Kiddo's room. The curtain was drawn across the doorway. His nurse saw me and got the same wide eyes.

"His mom is still in there, right?" I whispered. She nodded in response. "Just an introduction," I thought to myself.

I gently pulled back the curtain and poked my head into his room.

His mother sat there in the rocking chair, cradling him in her arms as she rocked him. She turned to look at me as I poked my head in the room.

"Hi, I just wanted to introduce myself. I'm [Bonus Kiddo's] foster mom." She smiled and told me to come in and sit with her. 

"Are you sure? I don't want to intrude..." She welcomed me in again, so in I went and took a seat...

I stayed there, talking to her for half an hour.

We got to know each other. I got to know her, know her life, know the circumstances that led us to where we were at that moment. I felt like such a...a fool. This was where I was supposed to be and I had nearly missed it because I thought meeting was a terrible idea. 

We talked and talked. During our talk she asked if I'd like to hold him. I was again taken aback. Was she just trying to be nice? Did she feel obligated to let me hold him? I wanted her to have time alone with him if that's what she wanted, I didn't want her to feel obligated to let me stay. She assured me she wanted me there with them.

He slept while I held and rocked him with his mom sitting next to me.

I felt deep and complete compassion for this woman. I had been this woman. I had been the woman standing there with a broken heart while a new woman held my son. I had been the woman who wanted more for him than I was able to give at that time. I had been this woman wanting so desperately for my son to go home with me. This was an opportunity to help her, to support her, to lessen her pain in ways only I could. This was also an opportunity to heal myself. I took every opportunity to encourage her, to help her feel like his mother. My efforts to ease her pain were helping to heal my own.

We talked about a lot of very personal things during our time together. Shortly before she left she thanked me for introducing myself. She had been so worried about where her son would be going. Now she knew he was going to be with kind people until he was returned to her. She knew he was going to be loved and cared for and she didn't have to worry about him while he was in our care. She could now focus entirely on the work she needed to do to have her son back with her again.

This conversation, this time together, set the tone for all our interactions and our entire relationship from that day forward. I'm so glad I listened to the answer to my prayer for this little boy. His mother and I have never (yet) had another opportunity to talk like we did that day. Every time I've seen her since has been in meetings, while dropping him off for visits or in court.

What was best for this little boy was to make sure his mom knew he was well cared for. What was best for him was to make sure his mom knew the people involved in her case weren't judging her and had compassion for her.

She again thanked me for coming to meet her and left to join our foster son's dad in another part of the hospital. I sat in his room, rocking her beautiful sleeping son, humbled and thankful for the experience.

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