By Veronica Bucio
There is no way to anticipate being placed in line to become a foster parent.
I was sitting in an oil and gas conference in Midland, two weeks after I’d been approved to foster, listening to the last speaker of the day, when I received an e-mail asking if I’d be interested in adopting a 2-month-old girl.
In that rather unexpected and anxious moment, I lost my breath, and my stomach turned queasy. Adoption wasn’t what I had planned, at least not so early in the fostering process, and definitely not on the first try. It felt as if I were in a time warp, rewound more than five years earlier when I initially thought to adopt, when I desperately wanted to be a mother solely to fulfill a deep, long-neglected maternal urge.
Since then, I’d come full circle, and yet I was nowhere near the same mental, emotional or spiritual place. I had purposely chosen to foster, in my late 40s, and it was nothing less than a calling, and it was certainly not all about me. A potential foster-to-adoption, I thought, could come later, but it wasn’t a priority. Even so, I also knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t turn away the possibility of adopting because I believe in being completely open to life’s amazingly wonderful surprises.
So, firmly back in the present, nervous but certain, explaining, briefly, all of the above, I typed my answer: “Yes, please submit my name. To God goes the rest.”
It was a process, I was then told, simply to be considered, meaning there were no guarantees, and there would be a wait.
Two days later, a second e-mail notified me of another infant, this time a month-old girl, a foster.
I did not hesitate. I said yes, but was informed a couple of hours later that Child Protective Services had chosen another candidate.
During state-required foster courses, the two social workers teaching the classes said babies through the CPS process were rare. Older children far and away outnumber them. So to prepare for the arrival of two potential children, toddler age to no more than 8 (my preference to start), I’d outfitted the second bedroom in my home with a pair of twin beds and gender-neutral colors.
After the second possible baby, I phoned my social worker and said, amused, “I thought you said babies were rare!” She responded with a laugh, “They are! I don’t know what’s happening. It must be a God thing.”
A week later, a third e-mail informed me of another baby. I was no less excited, but this time I paused long enough to question myself and my calling – in a deeper context, this “God thing” – to foster.
The baby was born to a mother who had used highly addictive drugs, and although the baby showed no signs of medical problems so far, I asked myself: Could I handle the potential problems associated with drug use throughout a pregnancy? Did I want to foster this particular child?
In only a few minutes, my Q’s had an A: Yes, fostering – all of it, including this possibility, this type of challenge – was what I had signed up for.
This time, I was chosen by CPS, and I left work at 3:30 p.m., speeding from the Galleria area to a suburban hospital I’d never heard of in rush-hour traffic – stopping at a department store along the way to buy an infant car seat, diapers and a couple of bottles – to make a required feeding by 5.
Placed into my arms as I sat in a rocker in the neonatal intensive care unit, snuggly swaddled, the baby was delicately beautiful. I could not take my eyes off her as I fed and then held her for two hours.
It was enough to have a nurse remark, “You’re going to make a good foster mother.”
Not so naively, I asked how a foster parent could be any less affectionate with the babies they were picking up and taking home, to which she answered, “You’d be surprised.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard about those types of foster parents.
The appreciatively straightforward social workers at my foster agency, Family To Family Adoptions, had addressed this issue. By their personal estimations, up to 80 percent of those who foster do so simply for the monthly stipend paid by the state. It wasn’t unusual, they said, to have to remind those parents to celebrate their foster children’s birthdays, with, at the very least, something as simple as a cake. The social workers made it clear that those types of parents wouldn’t be sought by or allowed at the agency. I was simultaneously appalled by their anecdotal figure and grateful of the agency’s stance.
I’ve been asked more than a few times about the reasons why I choose to foster. Only once have I been asked, directly, if it was for money. I refused to be offended.
Each time I am asked why, I respond, first, with why not? I am as much curious of others’ responses to that question as they are of mine to theirs.
Many people, it seems, have two extreme, opposite reactions to the topic of foster parenting. A foster parent is either seen as a hero/saint or as possibly only in it for pay.
I don’t see myself as either, though I do believe the hero/saint characterization may hurt fostering as much as disinterested parents. It’s much easier to reject the awe-inspiring ideal of being a hero or saint than it is to accept being a compassionate human being.
Beyond courses and background checks, the basic stipulations for fostering demand that a potential foster home have so much square feet of space per child.
To a large degree, I believe being a foster parent requires nothing more different than that spatial prerequisite, though in a metaphorical sense.
It is simply, in my opinion, a matter of making room in one’s heart as much as one’s home.
This month, National Foster Care Month, and this Mother’s Day, I hope more people would consider making room in both places for foster children who so desperately need foster parents who truly care.
Veronica Bucio is an associate editor at Hart Energy and former assistant Outlook editor at the Houston Chronicle.