When you sign-up to be a foster parent, you surrender yourself to the unknown. I had less than 24 hours notice before receiving most of my foster care babies and it wasn’t until someone showed up at my door with a newborn did I know the babies’ ages, sex, and race. Sure, someone on the phone would ask me to take a “six-month-old white boy” but when the child arrived I would learn that he was actually a six-WEEK-old, black boy. C’est la vie in foster care. After a while I learned to go with the flow. No one was purposefully deceiving me about the babies’ demographics, it’s just that there are so many babies flooding case workers’ desks on a daily basis. They needed homes for babies, and if a foster parent doesn’t say “yes” on the spot, they have to continue down the list until someone does.
In my situation, even when I said yes, the babies usually didn’t show up. Generally meant that a family member was found to take the little boy or girl in. However, I wouldn’t be updated. After a few days I would finally figure out that they weren’t coming (NYC is so big that the people placing the babies aren’t the regular people I normally deal with at my foster agency). So, when I say I had 24 hours notice, I learned to not even prepare until a baby was actually placed in my arms.
I know, I know, you have a million questions.
But what about your job? They were very cool about it. I usually welcomed the baby and showed up to work the next day, with the little one in-tow. Co-workers would take turns holding the baby as I tied up loose ends and then I’d take a few days off. At first I took a lot of days off. However, after having two babies that stayed with me for less than a month each, I realized it wasn’t sustainable for me to take several weeks off work for each baby. Also, it freaked me out too much to suddenly be home alone as a mom(?) for several days in a row. Eventually, I found a balance of taking baby to work, taking off from work, and finding a babysitter.
How did you have what you needed? That was a tough one. Friends asked what I needed, but I had no idea. I had collected odds and ends ahead of time, mainly based on sales I’d seen on cute baby clothes, but most were out of season. Still, it wasn’t until I had the baby and went to the store did I realize the basics that I needed. I spent many, many hours dazed and confused in the bottle nipple aisle asking myself what I’d done to my life. If the babies were a bit older and I didn’t know how much they weighed, I stood in the diaper aisle wondering what “Size 1” versus “Size 2” really meant. I’d wonder, if this baby were a sack of sugar, how many pounds does she feel like? (I had no idea.) I would often wish there was a sampler pack I could buy to try them all on the baby and come back later for the size that fit.
Then, of course, there was the instant-mom emotions. I couldn’t figure out whether my life was over or if it was just beginning. Will this baby be mine forever? Is this ‘the one’?! Or will this child be returned to his or her parents and I’ll be back to trivia night at the local pub by Wednesday? At first I felt a rush of excitement but this quickly turned to laying-face-down-on-the-floor-fear. Friends helped in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It wasn’t healthy for me to be alone with my thoughts since I tend to focus on disasters (I am aware of the irony here that I became a sort of disaster-relief parent by fostering) so having company averted my naval-gazing. Eventually, I replaced my “What if I can’t do this?!” thoughts with “I AM doing this and it’s going just fine.” With each new baby I’ve fostered it’s gotten easier with gained confidence.
Now that I’ve found my stride, I try to encourage other single people in their 20s and 30s to give foster parenting a go. It’s the ultimate “Think globally, act locally” opportunity to engage in your community. I had always thought that I had to have children of my own and be an experienced parent before fostering, but I learned that’s not the case. When I think about it, no one is an experienced parent the first time around. The level of attention and energy that a childless person has to offer is of tremendous value. It sounds cliche, but trust me, if I can do it, you can do it!
For more information on becoming a foster parent, you can check out AdoptUsKids and if you live in New York City, just call 311.
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