Thursday, 6 November 2014

What it's like caring for a pre-adoptive baby

People often get fixated on the "giving them up" part of fostering. They say "how do you do it?", "oh I'd love to foster but I could never give them up", or "you must be a special sort of person to be able to give them up."

We're not special sorts of people and it's definitely not easier for us than it would be for you. This is what it's like:

Imagine that you got a call out of the blue one day saying that a relative you didn't know had passed away, and that her baby girl needed a temporary home. They know you have a spare room and child experience, and wanted to know whether you would take the baby in for a few months whilst they searched for her father. You don't have much time - the baby needs a home today. You say yes and rush around buying nappies and formula and preparing her room. You're excited, it's been a long time since there was a baby in the house. You can't help yourself in the supermarket and buy a couple of adorable little outfits. The baby arrives with her social worker - she's so tiny in her car seat and looks so vulnerable. You sign the paperwork, pick her up and give her a cuddle. She's confused and anxious, and you spend long hours holding and comforting her over the next few weeks whilst you get used to each other and settle into a routine together. One day you realise you love her and you start to imagine her staying forever - you're only human - and picture her first day of school, helping her with her homework, teaching her all the things your mother taught you. You're there for her first milestones - teething, her first steps, her first word, her first birthday. She's part of your family - you're the one she reaches out for, you're the one she smiles for, you're the one she runs to when she's hurt and your children's grandparents dote on her.

You get calls now and then explaining that the search is still going on, and you don't really think about it. Then one day eight months later, her social worker comes to visit. They've found the baby's father. He and his wife were so excited to find out about the baby, they've been through the necessary parenting assessments and are looking forward to taking her home in about a month. She's brought a brightly coloured baby photo album containing photos of Dad, his wife and their home for you to prepare the baby for her move. They've sent a soft toy teddy as a gift for her, and the social worker tells you to put it in the baby's cot for her to get used to her new family's smell ahead of time. She asks for your phone number so that Dad can phone you to find out more information about the baby's routine and personality. You always knew that this was the plan, but you're surprised how shell-shocked you feel now that it's finally happening.

The next evening, Dad calls. He sounds so nervous, but relaxes during the conversation and his tone is gentle and kind. You can hear his wife in the background asking questions, and with your eyes on the sleeping baby you tell him all about his daughter - what makes her laugh, how to settle her at night, what her favourite foods are, the toys she has already and you suggest a couple of things for them to have in their house ready for her arrival. You've never heard someone so excited and you start to relax too - you know that this is the right thing for her and you know that she's going to be loved.

Two weeks later introductions start. The doorbell rings. You pick the baby up and open the door, and for the two people standing on the doorstep time stops for a moment as they meet their child for the first time. She knows their faces from the photo album. "Who's that?" you say, pointing at the man. "Daddy!" she says, and you see his heart melt. By the end of the first visit, she's sitting on his lap, knocking down towers of blocks built by her new mummy who clearly adores her already. They're all laughing, and you take Dad's phone and quickly snap a photo for them. Over the next week you step back, busying yourself in the kitchen so that the new family can spend time alone together, or recommending local parks for them to take the baby to on their own. You see familiarity growing, and one day the baby runs to Dad instead of you when she bumps herself. Your time together is nearly over. Friends and family start to pop round to say goodbye and you explain to so many people that they won't be seeing the baby again - people at church, mums at the baby group you took her to, the man who works in the bakery. You make a memory box for her of photos, cards and notes, and write her a letter to read when she's older about what she was like as a baby and how much she was loved.

When the day comes you're ready. All of her clothes and toys have already been taken to her new house, you pack up the last bag with her pyjamas, special soft toy and toothbrush. The doorbell rings at the agreed time, and as you've previously agreed as it's an emotional day for everyone there isn't much delay. You give the baby a big squeeze and a kiss, hand her over to her Daddy and wave as they drive down the road. You know that she's going to have a wonderful life, but your heart is broken and at several points over the next few days, weeks and months you will hold your family close and weep.

You think that you could never do it again, but a few months down the line the phone rings. "There's a baby…" they say, and you say yes because you know that they need you.

No comments:

Post a Comment