Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Fostering-to-adopt: Our story, Part 2

First, a very few important links you'll want to look over.
Find Part 1 of our story here.
Deanna, Leyla's first foster mom, wrote their version Leyla's story here:  Part 1,  Part 2 and Part 3.
I highly recommend going through all the posts before continuing here. Now, I know that sounds like a lot of reading before you get to, well, you know, reading . . . but it's really worth it. I promise. Deanna's even a good writer. :)

Ok, so without further ado . . . Part 2.

It's the first week of January 2013.

I'm still reeling from the failed, but hoped-for, foster placement of a newborn baby girl. We just had Christmas, Maddy's birthday, and the 1-year anniversary of our loss of Olivia.

I remember being invited out with some new friends to go dancing at a bar a few days after Christmas. Ryan encouraged me to get out of the house, and have something fun to do. (The dance at the bar was a different story entirely, but I'll suffice it to say I did very little dancing and was hit on by an Amish guy. Ask me the story another day.) :)

At dinner, one of the girls commented that I seemed sad. And I was. I was sad all.the.freaking.time. I really didn't know how to be happy again. And so I was totally honest about it all with them. I told them of the babies I'd lost (talk about an awkward "fun" night out) and I told them that it felt like my life had just been sucked out of me.

So, when I got the call to do respite for a 10-month-old baby, I wasn't really in a great place emotionally. But man, was I ready to have that baby in my home for a weekend.

The caseworker sent me Leyla's foster mom's email so I could check in with questions. As you could imagine, I had quite a few as I had never met this baby before and we would have her for an entire weekend.

So I shot her off the following email:

Hi Deanna,
I'm just writing to find out about arrangements for Leyla's respite care.
What time should we take her tomorrow? Would you like us to pick her up, or are you planning on dropping her off?
Also, I was wondering if you would let me know about her normal eating/sleeping routine.
The notes said that she's been clingy and crying more. Is there anything that is soothing to her? Does she like to be in the Ergo carrier?
One last thing -- Depending on when you pick her up on Sunday (or we drop her off), she will be attending church with us. Is it OK for her to go in the nursery?
Here's an excerpt from her reply:
Hi Rachel, 
Leyla can be a pretty fussy baby and has a very loud cry when she is upset. But when she is in a good mood she is so sweet and delightful and a joy to be around. Her moods definitely swing though. Sometimes she likes the Ergo, sometimes she hates it. She loved it this week when we went outside for a walk. She loves to swing, so if the weather is nice a park visit would be a hit. She typically enjoys riding in the car or stroller rides. 
She generally sleeps through the night, after bath, a bottle, and some cuddles and stories. We usually sing to her and pray with her before putting her in her bed with a little music to put her to sleep. During naps we have a fan going in her room for white noise (it gets loud with two other little people running around!) and that helps her sleep longer for sure. We typically put her in a blanket sleeper at bedtime and naps, and she has a special blankie too. I'll be sure to pack that for you.
Typically she is up in the morning at 6:30, but the last few days she has been sleeping until 8:30. It's been insane and I'm wondering if she's gearing up for a growth spurt. Usually she is in bed by 6:30 or 7:00 pm, and she will definitely let you know if she is over tired.
We give her a bottle when she wakes up, then feed her some real food an hour or so later. She is typically ready for a morning nap about 2 hours after waking up, and then ready for an afternoon nap 2-3 hours after waking from her morning nap. She doesn't sleep so well in the carseat or being held; the girl loves a crib. (emphasis mine.)
We kind of play by ear giving her real food or a bottle depending on when she is awake and when the rest of the family is eating. She eats purees (we thicken with a little cereal) like a champ and devours cheerios and crackers. But she is struggling with squishy foods like bananas, steamed carrots, baked apples, cheese, etc. So we keep offering these things to her, and try to have her eat with the family and give her tiny pieces of what we're eating. The sweet child still has no teeth, so we do what we can. I was just at the doctor today and he was concerned a bit with her weight, so he wants us to be sure we offer at least 4 bottles a day. 
I'll pack you bottles, formula, baby food, clothes, pajamas, diapers, wipes, etc. Besides her blankie, is there anything else you need? Toys or spoons or anything?
Yes, church nursery is fine. With daycare, mops, and our church she is used to multiple caregivers and as long as she has attention, she is usually pretty happy.

So, Ryan and I got ready for our baby to enter our family for a weekend.

We didn't know she'd be staying the rest of her life.

I'll never forget the moment Deanna and Darin walked through our door for the first time. They brought in the cutest little bundle in a carseat. We small-talked in our entry way as we went over her routine again, and everything they packed (the poor family had to pack everything but the kitchen sink), and we talked about pick up plans on Sunday. Then they were off.

And facing me was a darling girl that was a little bit fussy. She had big, big eyes. (And a big forehead. But she's growing into it.) And a tiny, wee little body.

Leyla, a few weeks before we met.
For the first time in a while, I felt a lightness and a joy. Sometimes babies do that to you.

Ryan probably wondered what happened to his wife, as I quickly took her off to play. He may not really have seen much of me the rest of the weekend. :)

The first night, I totally (intentionally) disregarded the whole thing about just putting her in her crib. I never knew a baby that didn't like to be rocked, and I was ready to rock. The second night, before we put her down, I snapped this shot:

I remember thinking that her eyes looked a little empty. I later learned that this was all part of her coping mechanisms. Shutting down a little, sucking her fingers, and twirling her finger in her hair (or rubbing her forehead.)

As I rocked her, I noticed another odd behavior. She turned away from me, and covered her eyes with one hand.

I later learned that this is what she does when she's overstimulated.

It's just as well I didn't know. That girl was rocked, sung to, and generally loved on for a very long time.

And a really strange thought came to me as I rocked.

This little girl is mine.

I didn't want to admit the thought to anyone. After all, we didn't know much of anything about her case, other than why she was in care and how long she had been with first family. The child even came with a picture book that said "My Family" on it, with pictures of her with her foster family on the inside.

Even as my heart assured me this little one had a place in it forever . . . . my mind thought I was being a little ridiculous. Maybe it was just the grief talking? Maybe I was so desperate, I was a little crazy?

All I knew for sure was that I was crazy about this little girl.

Leyla rocked to sleep in my arms
 the first of many, many times.
That night, I marveled at how tiny she was in that great big crib that stood empty for so long. A mere 15 lbs, and sleeping kind of folded over, she barely even made her presence known on that grand mattress.

But I knew she was here.

I couldn't sleep that night. Not because she was a bad sleeper. Quite the contrary, she slept through the night. I, on the other hand, was a hot mess. I was so worried that something would happen to her. She survived the night (as did I, albeit much more tired than she) and we pressed on through our weekend.

She had just learned how to crawl, and it cracked me up watching Ryan try to "wrangle" her into just staying in one part of the house. He even set up pillow barricades . . . all to no avail.

I was sure that her first foster mom was missing Leyla, so I sent quite a few texts and photos to her during the weekend. We ended our time with her by taking her to our grandma's birthday party at Anthony's.

I'm not going to lie. I held that baby, fed that baby, walked that baby like she was mine. Because secretly, I really wanted her to be.

A few of my Facebook posts from that weekend:

"Enjoying my 6 o'clock time in the rocking chair! I forgot just how peaceful it is. Hoping one day soon we'll have our own placement, and can make this an everyday kind of thing."

"A very good morning."

"Treating Maddy. She did so well helping with the baby!"

First family let us know that they would be needing some more respite soon since Deanna would be doing some more travelling. I couldn't wait. It was the hope of the next visit that helped me get through some of those darker days.

For me, when Leyla came into our home, a light started shining in my heart.

It did not erase the pain of loss. It has not protected me from further loss or heartache.

But God used her little presence to start some healing in my heart.

Funny. I always thought it was the children themselves who were broken and we were supposed to fix. Turns out, I had the equation all wrong.

Stayed tuned for Part 3: The big reveal!


  1. Rachel,
    I'm so glad you and Deanna are both sharing this story - Leyla's story. I'm following along with great interest. Thank you for your writing.

  2. Rachel- I'm really enjoying reading your story. It's such a wonderful reminder that life can be full of good surprises. :)

  3. This was an amazing story! I hope both of her new moms can watch her grow up!