The day after Valentine's day, I was at work on a video conference when my desk phone rang, I could see it was my wife calling and I let it go to voicemail. No sooner did my phone stop ringing, and my cell phone buzzed. Again, my wife. OK, this might be important. I muted the video conference and picked up the call from my wife.
"The foster care placement desk called with a brand new baby about to be discharged from the hospital and they need a home NOW. Can I go get it?"
It? Girl or Boy? How long has "it" been in the hospital? Do they have another plan? How long do they guess "it" will be with us?
"He's a boy, and he is only 4 days old. No other plan right now. He's Native American / Alaskan Eskimo. And they need an answer within an hour."
OK, let me finish this video conference, and I will call you back.
Four days is significant. The last baby we had was held in the hospital for nearly three weeks while he was given morphine to ease the physical pain of withdrawal, and gained a pound or two. But this new baby is ready to be released at only four days. He must be pretty healthy.
I called Sandra back and we agreed together we were ready to dive into another infant. In our mid 50's, we recognize new-born babies demand a lot of physical and mental stamina that is more often found in 20 and 30 year-olds. Sandra went to pick up the baby.
I arrived home to find a tiny blond, blue-eyed (yeah, about that Eskimo thing...), delicate, frail, peanut of a baby that, at just over six pounds, occupied little more than my left hand. His legs still folded up into his abdomen where they had been tucked for the previous nine months. And he was tired.
For the next couple weeks, our new roommate could eat about an ounce or two at a time. He would wake during the night every couple hours, and we would change his diaper, snuggle him up, poke a couple of ounces of formula in him, remind him "no failure to thrive on our watch," and tuck him back into his cradle.
Taking him anywhere with us required strapping him into a car-seat. Because he was so tiny, we moved the straps down to their lowest setting and added the extra supplied padding around his head to keep him from being tossed about. But even more so, it required tugging on his left leg to get it pulled out from under the car-seat straps. More than once I had to unbuckle him to get his leg out.
About mid-March he started to perk up, and he would be awake for more than an hour at a time. But he still slept a lot. He started being able to eat a little more, and was going nearly four hours between feedings. He loved his pacifier and it went everywhere with us. We had also established a bit of a routine. Being at work most of the day, I would step in when I got home. I would feed him about 7:PM. He would often sleep on my chest in the evening while Sandra and I watched a show. I also got the 11:PM feeding, which usually involved me reclining in the loveseat and falling asleep with him nestled up on my chest.
He continued to gain weight, unfold, and grow longer. We found he was quick to smile, and had a very sweet disposition. At the end of March we took him to Arizona to attend the wedding of one of Sandra's friends. On the flight down, we gave him a bottle as we took off and landed to keep his ears clear. As we were unloading, the elderly couple in the seat in front of us stood to collect their belongings. Glancing over the seat they exclaimed, "You have a baby!" (yep, we noticed) "We had no idea you had a baby back there!" He was just that good.
About three months he started sleeping through the night.
Our 17 year-old daughter soon claimed him. She's not too keen on the frail little babies, but he was supporting his own head, and his ready smile provided entertainment. He became a prized companion. We would debate who's turn it was to carry him into church, or who got to sit by him in a restaurant. In public, his toothless grin and clear blue eyes drew strangers in. But you could see puzzled looks in people's faces. Sandra and I are old enough to easily be his grandparents. But our daughter, while old enough, would be a very young mom. Some days we would let people wonder, others days we found subtle ways to explain. "We got him at four days old." or "He's one of the sweetest babies we have gotten."
It gave people an opening for them to ask questions without us having to say "None of us gave birth to him, he is a foster-baby."
At the end of May he got his first ride in a personal aircraft. After a short flight, we spent the day with good friends in Friday Harbor, and then enjoyed a delicious dinner. That evening we flew home and tucked him into his own bed.
Being in foster care, and having received negligible prenatal care or medical attention, we monitor his development carefully and seek the support of professionals. At four months we brought him in for a developmental evaluation. Not only did he do well, he excelled. Well beyond his physical age, his ability to track and manipulate toys was consistently at least double his chronological age. At five months he started army-crawling around the room.
The months have passed quickly. This Sunday he will be six months old. But it appears he is on track to be moved to his forever family on Thursday. I am going to miss his grin and the excitement of watching him discover the world around him.
He's not the cutest baby we've had, nor is he the one I have felt the greatest family connection to. But he is one of the sweetest. And every night as I give him is bed-time bottle and rock him to sleep, looking into his face I am reminded that he is a tiny, sacred life. It is clear he knows he can trust, and that he is safe in my house. He is easy to love.
Yet later this week I have to break that trust for his benefit, and he will need to learn to trust a new family. And they are an awesome family. Young Husband and Wife, four really nice kids, and a baby just a couple months younger than him. He'll be loved, and played with, and trained, and tormented as the "little" brother... There will be joy, and laughter, and disappointment, and success, and hope, and failure, and heartache, and achievement, but most of all, he will be loved. Loved well. Without us. By the time he is two he will have forgotten his time at our house, and have no significant memory of life beyond his new family.
But at our house he will have been given a chance to grow, and to thrive, and to develop, and to know how to be loved. And we will have done our job.
Later this week, we will sit on the kitchen floor, eat ice cream, and grieve our loss -- while celebrating his new hope.
This is hard.