Screams echo all around me as I lunge from the bed. Micah is in a full fit of crying and Piper is wailing in the darkness. In the house I rent, the floor creaks where I’ve worn a path over it the last two months.
I rush to pick up Micah and console him as I carry him quickly beside of Piper’s crib. It turns out that I didn’t get a Madilyn at all. Micah Lawrence came to me instead, much to the surprise of everyone involved. We all thought Piper’s mom Brittany was having another girl, but I could not have been happier when I picked up Micah from the neonatal intensive care.
Piper’s cries slowed to snubs as I held her next to me in the glider. Micah gnawed fiercely on a pacifier as he cuddled up to my neck. Inwardly, I breathed a sigh of relief and whispered a prayer of thanks to the Lord up above.
“You can do this. You are a good mama to these babies.”
My heartbeat tripled. My upper lip was sweating and I felt nauseated from anxiety. A wave of emotion came over me and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to laugh incredulously or cry a torrent of tears. What had I been thinking? Taking on two babies!
Micah had been born addicted to oxycodone. He developed Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and stayed in the NICU for two weeks. I did a little research before he came home with me, but I was not prepared for the completely sleepless nights, his excessive sucking reflex, and his nearly constant high-pitched cry.
I often felt so scared. So overwhelmed and nervous with the task that lay before me.
Mostly I felt incompetent at times. As in, could I really do this?
Yet, I pressed on.
My days became full of bottles and diapers, adjusting my work schedule and balancing caregiving, pediatrician appointments, and visits from social workers. I sometimes felt like I would explode from the stress. I was thankful for the encouragement and respite from friends and my parents.
In fact, I’m not sure I would’ve survived without it.
But I didn’t know what stress was yet. I had just gotten started.
One day I’m in Target, Piper in the cart, Micah sleeping snuggled in a wearable carrier, when a middle-aged lady approached with a smile on her face.
“My, don’t you have your hands full!” She seemed nice, but my guard went up immediately. She hovered closely to my cart, eyeballing Piper and trying to get a good look at Micah, all with the same smile that gave me an intrusive vibe.
I laughed, courteously. “Yes, well. It’s wonderful though, honestly.”
“Oh that it is. I had 3 boys of my own.” Her hand inched closely to Piper’s hair, and I pulled the cart to the side a little. She only seemed curious and probably trying to make conversation, but I felt I needed to tread carefully.
“Are they yours?”
The question caught me off guard. I had not been prepared for the moment a stranger would innocently ask about such a deep part of my life.
I peered over at Piper and she stared back at me with large brown eyes.
“Yes. For now.”
The lady’s eyebrows raised. “Oh?” She wanted more. Tell me why they don’t look like you, I sensed her saying silently.
Where was the class on the intrusiveness of strangers? I missed that one. I felt pinned like a trapped animal right there in Target, and almost like I had to answer.
“Well I am in foster care. So to them I am Mama Heather for now.”
“Oh, honey.” She patted my arm, which was cradling the bottom of Micah’s carrier as he slept soundly against my chest. “Thank God for people like you. I don’t know how you do it. You are a saint.”
Again, I was so caught off guard, it took a few seconds to respond. My defenses were as high as the moon at this point, and I teetered between anger and wanting to flee.
“No saint here, ma’am. Just loving on children.”
I’m sure there was a better answer.
I mulled over it for days as that interaction gnawed to some deep place on my insides. What was a better answer? I had an online foster care support group so I asked them. My answer came in droves.
“We do it because we love others as God loved us.”
“We don’t do it for validation, or so someone can call us a saint or praise us for being altruistic. It’s in your heart to help these kids. You don’t need validation for that.”
“We do it because these children need a safe home and we have one. It’s a simple as that.”
I felt content in how I’d respond next time – and I was sure there would be a next time.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself talking to my Aunt Sylvia on the phone about Piper and Micah. None of my family really understood me or foster care. They acted as though I was deliberately dealing with things I never needed to get involved in.
“I’m just afraid for you. I know you are already so attached, I can tell it. What if they send these kids back to Brittany?” My aunt seemed to have good intentions with her questions, but I could tell she didn’t understand.
“Then it’s fine. I appreciate that you’re scared for me, but I know what I’m getting into. I love these kids. I’ll take them and love them forever if God allows it. If not, I’ll love them while they are here.”
My heart ached in two at the thought of Piper and Micah returning home, but I couldn’t allow myself to really go down that road just yet. I looked over at how they were cuddled in my bed for a nap. Just watching their angelic sleeping faces ripped my heart out.
“This is why people don’t need to be messing with other people’s kids.” She sighed, exasperated I didn’t see her side. “You’re just too attached. I could never do that.”
I felt aggravated. Tired. “Well, the reality is, it’s great to get attached. It means you’re human. I imagine social services wouldn’t want someone who couldn’t get attached to these kids, you know? They need people who will in fact, love them. They want people to care for these kids as their own while they are in their home. That’s what is needed.” I paused and she remained silent.
“It’s worth the risk, Aunt Sylvia.”
By the end of that conversation, I was exhausted. I said all the things I’d learned, all the things I’d practiced to say. But I wanted to scream.
I wanted to blurt out all the questions weighing on my heart: Why was it so common for people to hold their hearts back? Why would you be more scared over a hypothetical fear that you’d love them and they’d be taken from you and you’d have to experience grief? Don’t we all grieve in life? Is it worth putting your own fears above the desperate needs of these kids? There were plenty of scary moments in life, but when did that keep you from doing something truly necessary you needed to do? Why turn a blind eye from something so desperately needed in our communities?
This was my struggle. I was seeing firsthand the depth of brokenness and not a lot of relief. Even though I had respite, I felt isolated. I needed my church to step in. I needed them to help me.
I had determined that if a child was only in my home for 24 hrs, I would love and cuddle and treasure them for any second I was given. How is that not worth something? Maybe they would be removed and I’d never know what happened to them. But the risk of that happening was entirely focused on myself and my feelings.
What about the child who doesn’t have a choice?
I finally realized I can only answer for myself. Still the questions hounded me, raging a war within me. I wanted so much more for these children.
Yes, it was worth it to me. And yes, my plan had always been to adopt. But I was learning in my classes and learning through visitations with their mom that this was the hard work of the body of Christ. Meeting people in their desperate situations. Caring for them in ways that stretch and grow me. Loving them when it’s hard. Loving them when it’s a sacrifice.
Maybe my plan to adopt wouldn’t come to fruition. The mere thought crushed me on the inside. But those middle of the night moments, those hugs and kisses? Those moments of giggles and tickle fights, the joy of reaching a milestone?
All of it was worth it.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is coincidental.