Sunday, January 27, 2008

Journey of an Aspiring Allie, Part I

The following is a link to a video, with which I will begin to share with you a personal journey I have taken over the last 33+ months.

I will share my journey by way of a video tour in a series of posts titled: "Journey of an Aspiring Allie." I hope you will watch the videos (one or more in each post over the next several days) exactly as posted in the text, as a break before reading further. I had attempted to learn to imbed videos in my posts but was unable to do so.


The week my son M. was born, I had no idea that I was going to have a baby. At least, I had no idea what age child I was going to have and when.

My dw G. and I had been foster parents with a private, state-contracted therapeutic foster care agency. We had several life-changing, perspective-altering experiences as foster mothers, including the most significant of them all: parenting a teenager with a complicated life (over 2/3 of which had been lived in foster care) and a list of diagnoses a mile long. He had come to us, we were told, as a "permanent foster placement." We had not actually asked to be a permanent home for any child. In fact, we weren't even foster parents when we received the call about this boy. They hand selected us from the community (we had a connection with them through a person in the congregation I was serving, and we had been in touch with them at one point when we were considering getting foster licensed). They called us and asked us to get foster licensed specifically to parent this child. The agency did not do adoptions, but this child needed some kind of a "forever family."

It turned out the agency lied to us, and in a story deserving of its own series of posts, it turned out our dfs was not with us as a permanent placement afterall. Slightly less than a year after his arrival, he left. His exit from our life was devastating. We cried nonstop and swore we would never foster parent again. Being his mothers had changed us forever in ways that I can't possibly get into now without it requiring multiple posts of its own. But let's just say, among many other things, that we had our eyes opened in regard to "disabilities" and that we had a new sense of respect and compassion.

We stuck with that agency for six or seven months before we finally decided to transfer our license directly to the state due to what we felt were irreconcilable differences in philosophy between us and our agency's Director at that time. Shortly after, we decided to apply for an adoptive homestudy as well, so that we could provide permanency for a child if it was in the child's best interests.

It took us about nine months to get our new license and adoptive homestudy completed, and then we began our wait for a child to be placed with us. We accepted a couple of placements for children who ended up staying with their families rather than coming into care. Then we found out about a nine year old who needed a very temporary foster home, and we gladly took her in for the month that her mother could not care for her. Two weeks after she left, we received the call about M. He was just one and a half days old.

When I went to meet M. at the hospital, I knew virtually nothing about him. I knew he was a boy. I knew why his birthparents could not care for him. I knew he was having some difficulty eating and that he was very jaundiced and in the special care nursery. I knew his birth weight. This sounds like a lot to know, but in fact, this information was very watered down at that point. Though I asked many questions, the notes I had taken over the phone filled nothing more than a thirtieth of a letter-sized paper scrap. Still, by the time G. and I had said we were accepting the placement, I was more interested in racing to the hospital than in taking notes (G. had to finish her day at work, which was awful for her...having to wait to meet our baby).

I walked into the special care nursery and, standing by the door, my eyes scanned each bassinet where there were no parents, looking for a blue name card indicating that the child was a boy. I would not be able to pick out my baby by distinguishing family marks; resemblance to me; eye, skin, or hair color about which I had no information; or his resemblance to ultrasound images. I needed a name card, but I couldn't see the names from where I was standing. Within a moment, a cheerful nurse came to me and inquired about my identity. Then she said, "Let me introduce you to your baby."

"Let me introduce you to your baby." Those are words I will never forget. My heart fills with such joy, and I get so weepy when I think of those words.

She led me to a bassinet, where M. was wrapped from head to toe. His eyes were closed (as they would be for seven full days, like a little kitten). He was wrapped up so tightly, that I simultaneously wanted to let him be and scoop him up in my arms. The nurse immediately sensed my hesitation, and thinking that it was about all the machines he was hooked up to, she said, "you can pick him up you know," and she brushed away the machines and put the cords off to the side of M.'s body. Then I scooped him up, and drew him into my chest, taking him in.

In my former life, when I was very involved in childbirth education, I had seen so many real-life and video recordings of birth, with children coming out and gazing at their mothers, that I remember wishing M. would just open his eyes so I could really SEE him. At that time, I felt like I needed to see his eyes to really "be" with him, to really take him in (of course, I believe that the sterile smell of the hospital special care nursery contributed to this feeling, as the smell of starched blankets was too overwhelming for me to catch a whiff of him, and the bright lights and scratchy starched blankets encasing his whole body did not encourage me to run my hands against his skin).

This tendency I had does make some sense. Barring complications, medications in the baby's system, or too bright of lights (for example), babies are born awake and alert and ready for bonding. This means survival from an evolutionary perspective. Their physical structure during the newborn period emphasizes their eyes, which are big with dilated pupils, attracting the gaze of adults. But I did not have eyes to gaze into, so I sat and rocked my baby, too fearful of what the nurses would think or say to unwrap him and get a look at his little body.

I also felt a tinge of fear that perhaps he was totally unaware of me, that he was sound asleep and that I was nothing but another disturbance, another person rudely handling him.

I pulled him in closer to my body, hoping that even in his sleep, even with the tightly positioned blankets that kept his head from my skin, that he could smell me, however faintly. I rocked him, and rocked him, and whispered sweet nothings in his ear. I wrapped his fingers around my pointer finger. He was (and is) sooooo beautiful.

My heart swelled. My dear, precious baby. I was falling head over heels in love. be continued tomorrow

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