This blurry-you-can’t-see-her-face picture is of the first drug baby ever placed with us.
The picture was taken more than three years ago.
She was a hard baby withdrawing from drugs. We brought her home from the hospital as a newborn. We couldn’t keep her awake long enough to eat. She cried hard when she was awake because she was detoxing. We did everything we could to stimulate her, praying for every brain cell she had left… we played classical music for her, we rocked her in the room while Nathan played violin, we got her in all the SoonerStart therapy services, and we read to her and sang to her and touched her and held her and everything we could think to do to give her a chance.
But those drug babies – that’s hard work. It was exhausting. It was scary, because she wasn’t gaining weight because she couldn’t stay awake to eat. She was barely five pounds when she was born, and every feeding we would have to completely remove all her clothes, change her diaper in the middle of it, tickler her feet, and just keep stimulating her in all the ways we could just to keep her awake enough to eat. She wasn’t very interested.
We thought that was hard, back then, before Kyrie, but now we know it was preparatory for Kyrie.
This baby is the one from our book, in the chapter about cancer, the baby the took from us when we found out I had ovarian cancer.
After dinner, we took the children over to Nathan’s parents for them to say goodbye. While Nathan kept an eye on the pack, as they rioted through Grandma and Granddad’s house, I slipped away with the youngest — a drug baby — for some time to say my farewells in private. It was hard. I cried. But what a gift, to have known her, for even a short bit of time, and maybe helped in some small way we would never know.
What a miracle that, after all those miscarriages, we would get to have our new-parent experiences: bringing a newborn home from the hospital, middle of the night feedings, bottles and burping and diapers galore, and even sleep deprivation! I was so grateful to her, for that little taste of normal, for her sweet smile, and for her tenacity to survive so much in her short life thus far. I cried and I kissed her, I fed her and rocked her one more time, and then I sent her away.
It was strange, after the caseworker loaded up the children and their bags of things and pulled out of the driveway, to come in to an empty and quiet house. My nieces who had come for the summer had already been sent home early, and our teenager that graduated had already moved out on her own. All that was left was Alex and Anber, who had already changed into pajamas and climbed into bed.
I just stood there, listening. Nothing moved. I heard the ticking of a clock for the first time in two years. I started tearing down the streamers and balloons still up in the dining room, left from a foster birthday party. Suddenly they didn’t belong anymore, and not just because the birthday was over. It’s one thing to be ready to fight cancer, and another thing all together to invite it to a party. There would be no cancer party. So I took the balloons down and threw the whole mess away.
I walked back to the bedroom that was mine and Nathan’s before the newborn invasion, and swept it clean of baby stuff. I packed up all the Onesies and zip-up jammies, and moved out the swing and the bouncy seat and the bassinet. I loaded up miniature shoes and gloves and hats, blankets and burp rags. I took empty bottles to the kitchen, and looked for pacifiers the way children look for Easter eggs. I took out the trash, and then cleaned this corner, and then that corner, and then over here, and then over there, and then dusted, and then made Nathan move this and move that, and then vacuumed until I ran out of things to do.
That was a hard day.
There was a lot of grieving.
Of course we had to do what was best for the children, and let them go since I was sick.
We almost got her back, later, a couple times, and wanted to take her back. We loved her, that one, and would have kept her… except her pre-teen sister was part of the deal. We loved her sister, too, even though she kept hiding poop in her lunch box. The sister also did a lot of stealing, but we figured that comes with fostering, and if we gave her enough time and enough chances, she would figure things out.
Except then she stole Mary’s hearing aids, and that was the last straw as far as family votes.
It broke my heart.
They also had a brother, but he was too close to age in Alex and neither were good for the other. They each did fine with us individually, but Alex and the other boy together were a disaster. It just didn’t work.
These three, the baby and her brother and her sister, were a sibling set we adored, and we would have been a perfect match for any of the children individually, but they couldn’t seem to be healthy together, and we couldn’t match them with the children already in our home.
Also, they were still trying to go home then, and we supported that, and when we found out about the cancer, we hoped they were headed home soon.
But then we found out they didn’t.
It was a sibling set we watched slip away from us, and worried about, and never forgot, and will forever love… but it was a sibling set that didn’t get to stay with us, and we said goodbye several times as they came and went and kept not staying.
It was heartbreaking.
But this baby? We kept seeing her. We saw her at the doctor’s office. We saw her at the DHS office. We saw her at a fast food place once. We saw her at the library. We saw her at a school.
She didn’t know us, of course.
She didn’t know that we brought her home from the hospital, or fought so hard to keep her alive. She didn’t know that we cleaned her umbilical cord until it fell off, or took her on walks in the park, or took pictures of her in serving bowls to show how small she was. She doesn’t remember Nathan’s violin, or the songs I sang to her, or that we tried our best to give her all we had in the little time we had together.
She isn’t aware of what she gave us, like how she made Anber smile again when she fed that little one a bottle for the first time on the same day Anber’s mother didn’t show up for her second birthday party, the same week Kyrie was conceived among a swirl of toxic substances that would take her twin sister and leave her fighting for every breath.
She isn’t aware of what she gave us, like teaching us how to care for drug babies so that we were ready and prepared when Kyrie came along in a much more critical state.
But when we saw her around town, and we couldn’t help but smile at her, and sometimes Alex or Anber even waved or tried to play with her. They remember her, too, even though she doesn’t remember us.
But that’s fostering: you are strangers to the ones you love, when they first come and when they have gone home again.
Except this one didn’t go home.
And this week? We found out she is getting adopted.
And I couldn’t be more thrilled for her, or more relieved.
This one was one of two little ones we especially missed and struggled with understanding why things didn’t work out differently for them, or for us.
So it is a bit of closure, even if it stings when the worker contacts me to let me know, or even if I cry while I select pictures to send to her new adoptive mother who isn’t me.
But she has one, a new mother, a family that loves her and cares for her, and she’s doing really well.
And that’s how it works, when a community raises a child, or a little one weaves her way through foster care until finding her forever home.
And she’s alive, and safe, and doing well.
And that makes us happy, even if we will always miss her, always remember the smell of her, always remember the little sounds she made when she snuggled against our shoulders.
And if she and her brother and sister had stayed, we wouldn’t have the four others who eventually came to stay after Alex and Anber.
It’s all exactly as it should be.
Even if we cry.
Or maybe I cry because it’s also the week my father died, two years before we met this little one… just months before I met Nathan. I can’t even write about that tonight.
But I had to share her story, this little one who has found a home, and my gratitude for the workers who care for children who have no one, children who have no where, children who wait three years to find where they belong.
And tonight, when I say my prayers, I will thank God for the one who will tuck this baby girl into bed tonight, and add this “new” mother to my prayers every time I think of this little one, one we will never forget.
And we will celebrate her finding her forever home, even though it was somewhere else.
Because we know it must be exactly right for her.
And that is amazing.
A forever home is always worth celebrating.