When I got the call that we had been certified for foster placement, I was extremely excited but also deathly nervous. The whole process had taken a year but our home studies went very quickly and we were approved months before we were told we’d be. Then, less than twenty minutes after we were approved, we got a call. Two girls, Little Lady (22 months) and Teeny (3 days old), were ready for us, were we ready for them?
I called my husband.
“Honey, there are a pair of sisters, do you–”
“Are you kidding? Yes! Call them back now!” Click.
They would be arriving in a few hours so we had a tiny window of time to get the house prepared for the girls. My husband started putting the second crib together while I was rushing through Target, asking every maternal-looking female salesperson to help me. Diapers, car seats, all led to the same question:
“How big is she?”
“Oh, I don’t know, but I only have an hour, so what size are kids usually?” I was every eighties movie about a businesswoman who gets a kid out of nowhere and doesn’t have the first clue what to do. I used to love those movies.
When the girls finally rolled up to our apartment in a white, unmarked van, we ran to the street to get them, knowing our lives would be forever changed. The door opened and inside were two sleeping babies. One was huge, for some reason it didn’t dawn on me that 22 months was basically 2 years old. I thought I was getting two little babies. (I know, eighties businesswoman.)
I grabbed the big one, while my husband took the three-day-old. She was so teeny tiny it was scary to hold her. It seemed like an out-of-body experience, but natural at the same time. We made jokes and I showed Little Lady around. My husband followed behind holding Teeny in the car seat like it was a ticking time bomb that may or may not kill him.
The next few days were not pretty. I was a rag doll person flapping in the wind, not eating for hours, not sleeping at all, wondering why the hell I did this to myself?! I actually called every mom I knew and yelled at them for not telling me how hard it was. My freedom!My sleep! My individuality!
Then something happened, I kinda, sort of, got the hang of it. And we were falling deeply in love with them. So, when we got an unexpected call, two days in, that Little Lady would be leaving us to go back home that night, I was shocked. I had just made a very poorly constructed blanket fort with her, and now we had two hours to pack her up and take her home?
And then, exactly one week after her placement with us, Teeny left, too.
“Hi, I’m calling from DCFS, I’m arranging a pickup for Teeny.”
“Yes, Teeny, what time can I come pick her up?”
“Pick her up for what?”
“Oh, she’s going home today. Will you be around in an hour?”
“I’m sorry, I’m in shock.”
“We are, too.”
When the social worker arrived, my husband was at work, so I packed up Teeny and walked her to the car. That day, we had gone to the doctor and I had a long-term plan set for caring for her, I had to give her a bath for the first time that night, and clean out her new belly button.
Was the social worker listening to me?! What if my note wasn’t clear enough to mom? What if she accidentally fed her the wrong amount of formula? What would happen when she cries into the night and I’m not there to comfort her?!
I had been her only mother; she was removed from mom at birth. She had only known me, and here she was, in the backseat of some woman’s car, smiling up at me, knowing in her heart I would be there to care for her forever.
I kissed her goodbye a hundred times and then I slowly backed away from the car with a cheesy grin on my face. I turned around and exploded into a firework of sobs. I hugged the social worker a little too tightly and headed into my apartment, wondering what concoction of junk food would make this all go away. A man walking his dog was watching the whole thing in awe, perplexed as to why I was giving my newborn baby to this stranger.
“Hey!” The social worker called after me. “Please don’t stop doing this. We need you.”
“I won’t,” I promised. I closed my eyes and pictured their family reunited and happy, all snuggled in the bed together. Their parents recognizing what they did and that they got a lucky ticket and would then change the path of their lives. I had to picture their happiness to survive my own pain.
I closed my eyes and pictured their family reunited and happy, all snuggled in the bed together. The girl’s parents recognizing what they had done wrong, that they’d gotten a golden ticket and would then change the path of their lives forever. I had to picture their happiness to survive my own pain.
In our foster parent classes, we were told to give all the children who come into our home one hundred percent of our devotion and love; they need that to grow and they will carry it with them for the rest of their lives. Without attachment, they may suffer irreparable damage. So, we attached. That’s why it hurt so bad when they left.
I remember a woman coming into our class to share her experience adopting through the foster care system. She now had three beautiful children, but she repeatedly mentioned her first two placements. She had both children for under a week, yet she still looked teary-eyed when she spoke of them, hoping they were doing well with their birth parents and wishing she might one day see them again.
Sitting in our makeshift classroom, I rolled my eyes. Why does this woman care about these two blips on her radar? She now had everything she could ever dream of, complete with adorable Christmas card and matching outfits. Why, then, was it me, one week after our first placement, Lifetime Original Movie Style curled into a ball, screaming repeatedly “I want my baby back!” and clutching an empty onesie?
That night, in a literal pool of my own tears, my husband crept in the door.
“Honey, did you get our placement worker’s text?”
She had called about a six-month-old boy whose mother was incarcerated and it was pretty much a done deal if we wanted him. My husband was sold and wanted us to go get him right then. But, I couldn’t string a sentence together. I was so broken. He said the little boy was at a hospital because they had an open bed. This broke our hearts, but again, I was not on the planet. I told him I couldn’t say yes, but I couldn’t say no, and could we decide in the morning? I was experiencing the greatest pain of my life and didn’t want to welcome a little boy into our house while I was feeling that way (Mommy’s crazy, she cries into that pink onesie all day.)
So, we waited until morning, and by then he had been placed. I do deeply regret not saying yes to taking him, but he is now living in a big house in a fancy neighborhood with a family that is absolutely perfect and meant for him. The last part I made up, but hope, with everything in me, that it’s true.
The next couple of days were a mix of highs and lows. We had a few calls for newborn baby girls and we said yes to all of them. Without hesitation. Without asking questions. When you get the call it’s very quick, they tell you a few basic facts and you have to say yes right away if you want any chance of getting them. So, we threw our hat into the ring. But, both times it was too late. And that was hard. My husband and I wanted these babies, and we wanted them bad.
Then one day we got a call from our placement worker saying she had a “real hot tamale”, which she explained meant a lot of people wanted her. She literally said, “Hey, I got a real hot tamale for you.” (I love her.) So we said yes to a seven-week-old baby girl and then sat in a neurotic, pacing, prayer circle for the next couple of hours.
Then she called. “Okay, you were picked out of eight families. They are bringing her over tonight.” Click. My husband and I immediately started jumping up and down screaming, “We got her!”
It was one of the happiest moments of our lives. Then later that day, while the cleaning lady was there, and the handyman fixing the pilot light, in came our bundle of joy personified. This girl “Sunshine” was To. Die. For. But, I’m not gonna lie, part of me was scared to love again, so I felt slightly reserved when she arrived. Not my husband. He grabbed her and held her for the rest of the evening, singing to her and telling her she was the most special lady in the whole wide world. As the night went on, I gave in. Maybe my heart was big enough to get broken and regrow a second head?
However, our first girls never left my mind. I always wondered if they would come back and find me when they were eighteen.
One day, several weeks later, the day before we left for Thanksgiving break, my husband was cleaning out the fridge (this never happens; it must have been some sort of lunar eclipse where husbands clean stuff they’ve never cleaned before), when he came across a baggie with a “raisin thingy in it”.
“What is this?” He asked.
I snatched it from his hands. “It’s Teeny’s umbilical cord,” I said, somewhat ashamed, somewhat relieved that I found where it went.
“Babe, you need to throw this out, it’s gross, and… sad.” I looked down at the mini prune, my love all stored in this little piece of her.
“But, I thought the doctor might–” He held out a trash bag and I gave it one last look. “I’m sorry, I love you, Daddy just made me throw it out but if you come back I can always dig it out of the trash,” I said under my breath as I walked away.
On our way up north to visit family the next day, my husband and I looked at each other. We had a simultaneous thought. What if we got another baby? Sunshine was so good and would one more really hurt? We did have the other crib…. We texted our Placement Agent: If you have any babies that are like really super hot Tamales, we wouldn’t say no.” Literally less than twenty minutes later we got a call.
“This is Teeny and Little Lady’s social worker. The girls are going back into custody. We need to have them out tonight. Are you open for placement?”
We said yes instantly and couldn’t contain our excitement to hold them again. It had been over a month since they left and I had thought about them every hour of every day. (Disclaimer: We know that when we are experiencing this excitement and joy someone else is experiencing a huge, huge loss. We understand that on a profound level.) They said we’d have to move to a new apartment because Little Lady was turning two in two weeks and we needed her to have a separate room from us. So, within a matter of minutes, we were signing up to have three children under two years old and finding a new place to live in Los Angeles.
They would find temporary placement for Teeny because it would be easier to place her. Little Lady needed to be picked up in Los Angeles tonight. We were an hour away from the bay area. They couldn’t find anyone who could take Little Lady, even for one night. So, my knight-in-foster-dad-armor walked through my parent’s door after a seven-hour car ride, grabbed my awesome brother and a dried up veggie burger and drove right back down to get Little Lady from an office building in downtown Los Angeles at 2:30 am. And he did it with a smile on his face.
That night, poor Little Lady couldn’t sleep and was bouncing off the walls (more on this another time), so “sleep” was not really “sleep”. The next morning they turned right back around and drove up north so we could all be together for Thanksgiving.
A couple of the hardest, most trying weeks of my life later, Teeny came back to us. She looked so different, so grown up, but I felt whole again holding her in my arms.
When the social worker left I looked around the room and saw three little girls in various forms of distress. I turned to my husband and we exchanged a strange look. It was a mix of absolute excitement and life-altering terror, and we’ve been looking at each other that way ever since.
If you are curious to see if adopting through foster care is right for you: IFavela@5acres.org (Mention this blog.)