As many of you know, our family has been marching forward on our renewed foster care adventure. With our youngest adoptive daughter turning four this month, and the overwhelming need for foster care in our state, we began asking ourselves earlier this year whether we have the capacity to dive back in.
For us, the question was never really about growing the family, rather our core belief that as Christians we are called to use our capacity for the good of others. With this in mind, we decided to call our local DCS office and begin the process of renewing our foster care license.
Cue a lengthy adventure that included nearly 30 hours of workshops and training, more paperwork than you can shake a ball point pen at, the purchase of a new van capable of holding all of these children, and a scramble to reorient our house to an appropriate environment for babies. Within two short months, we were ready.
Thirty minutes after turning in our final paperwork, we received a call for a likely permanent (adoptive) placement for a 3 yr old boy. Though his age was outside of our pre-established healthy range for our family (due to being only months younger than our youngest), we couldn’t help but see the need for an adorable little boy to find a loving home and say “yes!”
We walked that road toward a move-in date with the dear boy as he began to find his way deeper into our hearts with every hug. However, after a month of progress, we discerned that he and our youngest were just too similar to ever live happily together and (when alerted to another family looking to adopt the young boy) we stepped aside.
Back to square one.
The next couple of weeks were an up-and-down adventure of taking our new understanding of our capacity and learning to say “no”. Newborn twins. An older 2 yr old. A preemie still on oxygen support and with a feeding tube. Finally, we got a call that seemed like a great fit: we invited a preemie baby boy into the family as a short-term foster son.
Baby Z came to us at 6 weeks old, but due to his premature 29-wk birth, was still 5 weeks away from his original due date, just over 4 lbs, and resisting weight gain. We knew this would be a short term placement, and our task was to wake him every three hours, all day and night to make sure he ate to gain the weight needed for proper brain and body development.
We loved our time with Baby Z. He was about as perfect as you could ever dream. His eyes only opened for about an hour per day, but when they did, they stole your heart. Our 3 daughters were captivated as was Robin who spoke with clarity: “I need to remember this, because he will likely be the cutest thing my eyes will ever see.”
|Baby Z and our 4 yr old|
Five amazing, yet sleep deprived days later, we said goodbye to sweet Baby Z. He was placed with his loving grandparents, which brought us great peace.
The exchange happened at the doctor’s office as Z got his weekly checkup. When they put him on the scale, we saw a miracle. He had gained a full pound and an ounce -- 25% of his body weight in just five days! The doctor was amazed. We were overwhelmed with joy.
The days after a placement come with some interesting feelings: The relief of renewed sleep. The guilt of that relief. The awkward empty feeling of a slightly less full house. The sadness of a lost relationship. The curiosity about the future.
For us, it also came with some processing. Baby Z was about as perfect as it could get, and yet we realized it was still pretty overwhelming for our family. Our (now) 4 year old really struggled, and we struggled as parents to both meet her needs and manage caring for a baby. Further, our lack of sleep and its results alerted us that our mental health was not as stable as we supposed.
Ultimately, we realized that we just don’t have the capacity to be foster parents at this time.
This realization brought its own feelings: guilt--that we cannot help all the children that are in desperate need. Shame--that our own weaknesses contribute to our lack of capacity to help. Awkwardness--in the awareness that so many have supported us in this path that we are now stepping off.
But in the end, I return to the old poem: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”
The reality is that we all have limitations. Too often we allow our limitations or the fear of our limitations to hold us back from even attempting to sacrifice or make a difference in the world according to the way of Jesus. As a family, our desire is to always be testing the waters of what we can sacrifice for others. Sometimes that means that we step out and we have our lives & world changed forever, like with the fostering and adoption of our youngest daughter. Sometimes it means we step out and hit a wall and need to readjust our understandings of our own capacity. But without stepping out, we will never know which is which.
‘Tis better to sacrifice and reach your limitations, than out of fear for your limitations, never to sacrifice at all.
Finally, regardless of the premature end to this adventure, it was worth it.
The thirty hours of training. The mountains of paperwork. The house cleaning. The van purchase. The emotional roller coaster. The sleepless week.
It was all worth it.
If for nothing more than one child’s life, for five days of healing and development.
For one pound, one ounce.
It was worth it.