Last week my partner and I wandered into a new cloth diaper store in our neighborhood. It has lots of cloth diapers, plastic covers, slings, and basically all the things you need if you’re planning to be a hippie parent. We were there to purchase dryer balls, but my partner started asking the woman who owns the store about various cloth diaper services in the city, and she looked at me. “Are you expecting?”
I had a brief moment of not knowing how to answer. At all. My mind went completely blank. Finally I regained the ability to speak. “Kind of. I’m not pregnant, but we’re being certified to be foster parents. So we’re hoping to have a baby sometime in the next few months, but we don’t really know when.”
“That’s great! Congratulations!” the woman said, looking as surprised as I felt.
I have been slowly telling family and friends about our process for the past six months. Unlike pregnancy there’s no great time to mention to people that you’re hoping you’ll have a baby sometime in the indefinite future and that you may or may not end up keeping that child. There is no due date. What there is is lots of paperwork.
We decided to foster for a lot of reasons. I don’t know why, but for a lot of my life I’ve imagined adopting a child, and when I suggested that to Jesse, he was totally on board. But when we started to look into adoption, it became clear very quickly that there are more people looking to adopt than there are babies who need homes, and that adopting was going to cost us tens of thousands of dollars. To my knowledge I am not infertile, and knowing that adopting would put us up against families who can’t have babies of their own, and that doing so would cost us nearly $30,000, just seemed like not the best use of that money (I could get pregnant for free and use that money for 45 seconds of that child’s college education, for instance).
Fostering was something I always knew about, but had never really been on my radar. As we started moving away from thinking about adoption, I began to wonder if fostering would make sense for us, and began doing a little research. We invited a friend who used to work at a foster care agency over for dinner one night and grilled her. We read the phenomenal “To the End of June,” by Cris Beam, and the less great but still good “One Small Boat,” by Kathy Harrison, and finally we got a packet in the mail with a hefty stack of paperwork to fill out.
Clearances from the FBI, the state, and for child abuse. Instructions for getting fingerprinted, which we apparently have to do every year, despite the fact that I don’t think my fingerprints are likely to change. Lists of every address we’ve lived at going back five years, and everyone who has been a roommate to either one of us. Discipline statements, medical records, vaccination records for the dog, it goes on and on.
One surreal night two weeks ago we spent a few hours baby-proofing our kitchen—adding the plastic things that make it so a toddler can’t get into the bleach under the sink, or fall into a cabinet of cast iron pans. It felt like a delusional thing to do considering we don’t have a child for whom they’re necessary, but we did it because though we’d like a newborn, our caseworker was coming out the next day to see that our house was safe for children. She checked that we had covered outlets, that our smoke detectors were working, and that there were no exposed wires.
We attended a training in which we watched a video about safety (CPR, treating burns and frostbite, etc) and as soon as it was off the person training us told us that most of the information in the video (which was made in 1993) was out of date. So, that was helpful.
I’ve been feeling weird about both how excited I am to foster, and how worried I am that I won’t be good at it. In the car on the way home from one training in which we’d been read a terrifying four page list of possible problems a foster child could have, Jesse and I tried to talk about what we’d do if we got a newborn, and it had any of those issues. But we abandoned the conversation when we realized that a) we couldn’t anticipate what we’d feel at that time and b) if we had a kid the old-fashioned way we wouldn’t be able to choose. Like with most things, we’re going to have to wing it.
So yes, we’re expecting. We’re expecting to be surprised, and excited, and terrified. Seems pretty par for the course.