The call came at noon on Thursday, January 5th. “We have a 5-day-old baby girl, she is leaving the hospital today. We don’t know how long she’ll need to stay or the circumstances around her removal. Can you take her?”
This was the third child they were sending to us. We had two hours before the white agency car would pull up outside the house and we quickly scrambled to prepare. If anyone was listening through the walls this is pretty much what they heard:
“OH. MY. GOD!”
“What should I buy at Target?”
“Why isn’t my mother answering her phone?”
“This !@#$ing thing won’t come together–it says the sides will all click into place and then you push the thing down and it should be working.”
“I can’t get the carseat base in.”
“Did you read the manual?”
“Well, see if you can get a video up on YouTube.”
She was so tiny I couldn’t see her over the car door. She was wrapped in blankets, and even when I looked inside, a head of dark black hair was all I could see. The placement worker had no more information than the program director had on the phone. She had us sign a form that we wouldn’t sue for custody or deny her parents their rights to see her. And then, she left. She left us alone with the baby. A 5-day-old newborn we knew nothing about. And so it began.
“Google Green poop.”
“Do you think we should call the doctor? She keeps sneezing.”
“Ask your mom why she keeps hiccuping.”
“Should I wake her? The internet said she shouldn’t sleep through a feeding. She’s 10 minutes overdue.”
“My mother said never wake a sleeping baby.”
“Let me try another site.”
I gave her first bath while V was at a meeting. The most horrifyingly scary eight minutes of my life. She was slippery, I was confused. When it was over I sat on the bed with her wrapped in a towel and we stared at each other, exhausted. “I’m ok,” I remember saying out loud to her. “Are you ok?” She closed her eyes and went to sleep.
The baby slept through her first month on this earth, waking to eat every two hours. She’d burp and fall back to sleep. We watched her grow and change and become a person. I stopped standing next to her bed every few minutes to make sure she was still breathing. We celebrated milestones, good and bad. Her first smile; the first time she locked eyes with one of us; V getting her to stick her tongue out–a sign of brilliance according to the internet; those terrifying five hours at the ER, the X-ray, them failing to draw blood while we held her down and me refusing to hand her back to them to try again; the switch to soy formula; falling asleep in the swing; tummy time; parent visits at the agency; outgrowing her size NB clothes; walks around the neighborhood with the neighbors and snuggling at the local coffee shop. We were in love.
At around 6 weeks old she really started to come to life. Smiles, giggles, cooing sounds when we talked to her. Suddenly she was waking up in the morning with stories to tell. We forgot about them coming to get her.
“Maybe they will change their minds.”
“Did you read the (court appointed child advocate) G.A.L’s email? She said ‘at this time”–I bet something has changed and we may be able to adopt her!”
We conveniently forgot about the “foster” part and began kvelling about the baby. We called her our little Kneidl, our Matzah Ball. Facebook updates, pictures to our friends via email, videos for ‘Savta‘ in Israel, visits from friends who spent hours in the ‘baby vortex’, as V calls it. Everyone wanted to hold this beautiful child. And let me tell you, she is gorgeous. Some days, when she got up at the crack of dawn and V needed to sleep, I’d snuggle with her on the couch. When she sleeps she flings her arms wide and over her head. Those mornings, her soft hair tucked under my chin, her chubby little arm against the side of my face, her breathing the only sound I could hear–those are the sweetest moments I have ever experienced. In those moments, she was my child. My baby girl. My whole world.
The final call came at noon on a Wednesday, March 7th. A week earlier the social worker had said it would probably be Wednesday. But then we didn’t hear from him. And he’d been saying that for months now. We’d stopped taking him seriously. On Tuesday his boss confirmed that Mr. B had told her it would be Wednesday. But on Wednesday morning he called at 9 and said it wouldn’t be until Friday. He wanted V to get a chance to say goodbye. She was traveling. He understood we “aren’t robots, attachments have been made and goodbye will be hard.” I texted V: “We have another 2 days! And, probably the weekend–you know they never know anything for sure.” So I relaxed. The baby and I giggled and played. I fed her and was planning to go for a long walk. And then the phone rang again. It was him. “The court wants her placed with her grandparents today. I’m sorry Ms. Dunn, I really am. Can you bring her to the agency at 1?”
She was in my arms when he called. After we hung up I realized I had only 30 minutes to get her things and pack her up. And then I’d never see her again. I held her and cried, like I’d done all night before. But this time it was real–no question marks. It was over. They were taking my child. I cried like I’d been watching the final scenes of Beaches on repeat. Heaving sobs. And the baby looked at me in amusement. She spit out her pacifier, smiled up at me, and laughed out loud. And, strangely, I did too. Life is so bizarre. The past two months were magical. And now they’re over. It’s like my friend’s tailor said when letting out the waist lines of her skirts: is what it is.
The drive down North Capitol St. is never pleasant. That day it was excruciating. I cried while she slept. I didn’t dare turn on the radio–any love song would put me over the edge. I got to the agency and carried her, asleep in her car seat, and her bags into the building. We went through security, got wanded, showed my ID. There was a woman sitting on the couch watching me.
“Is that K?”
It was her grandmother. The woman who will adopt her and raise her. The woman she will call mother. As soon as I saw her I knew the baby would be just fine.
“My name is Lita.”
“My name is P.”
P hugged me. And I hugged her back. I showed her the blankets, the clothes, the Mary jane socks from Kristy, the sunflower she adores, the notes on her eating and sleeping habits. I told her this child is a perfect angel, a miracle baby, and she told me how they’d been waiting and waiting for her. She said I know this is hard for you today. I said I know it’s been a hard two months for you. Yes, she said. It has.
I held the baby one last time while her grandmother went outside to get her own car seat. The one she’d bought months ago, thinking she would only have to wait a few days. The lobby of the agency was bustling with people, police officers, lawyers, social workers, guards. I didn’t cry. I held her to me and whispered in her ear, “I will love you forever and you can be anything you want to be in this world. May you never want for fresh air, clean water, good food or true love.” It was all I could think of to say. She fell back asleep. I handed her over and left.
I felt pretty good walking out. I was over the moon knowing she would be safe and loved. What more could any foster parent ask for their temporary child? Nothing. It was what I’d prayed for. She will be held and hugged, tickled and sung to. Her belly will be full and she will grow up surrounded by people who love her, people who can tell her where she got that dimple from and how she came to be. This chapter is over for all three of us. It’s time to move on. K and P are writing their new chapter as we speak. And V and I will begin writing ours. On the way up North Capitol I looked in the rear view mirror at the empty car seat and fought the urge to break down. It’s ok. We’ll fill it again.
Update: Kveller has removed the author’s name from this post due to legal reasons.