In Short: Rewarding.
Virginia state law says that a birth mom has ten days to change her mind if she offers her infant for adoption. It’s our job to care for this gift until he or she is placed with his forever family, to prevent the pain that would occur if he or she were taken back.
Even though there is a law, every case is different. Of the more than fifty infants we’ve fostered, some went back to mom in a couple days, some were with us eight months, and we adopted one ourselves.
Most of the time, the adopting parents are told only a day or two in advance that they’re getting their new daughter or son. That doesn’t matter because once they’ve been approved, it’s a sure thing that they will get a child — it’s just a matter of time. They have already decorated the baby’s room, set up the crib, and purchased the car seat. They’re ready.
Caring for foster infants is really no different than taking care of your own children, except that you won’t be paying for weddings or college, and you won’t be toilet training. And, like with your own children, as long as you don’t need sleep, everything will still get done. We’ve taken babies along to gymnastics meets, dive meets, band concerts, plays, and family reunions. Infants stay where you put them and their opinions can be silenced with a pacifier, and everybody loves to hold a baby!
We’ve had 2/3 of triplets during a week-long power outage, and we’ve been to the hospital for emergency surgery. Through it all, we have had excellent support from our social workers, doctors, friends, and family.
This didn’t start as some altruistic idea that we were going to do a good thing. No, when our own fourth child was three years old, she was the helpless youngest child — just ask her! She became much more self-sufficient after she saw a truly helpless one-week-old, who couldn’t even turn over by himself. I guess we didn’t damage her, because she’s now a wonderful mother of two charming girls.
While we have a baby, we keep a little diary so that the new parents have some newborn pictures and an idea of what his or her life was like with us. Many days, it’s nothing more exciting than, “We went to the grocery store today.” We include our mailing address, phone number, and email address. We’re happy to hear from them, even if it’s a panicked phone call — “Are you supposed to heat the formula before you give it to him?” We still get Christmas cards from a couple of families thirty years later! We also have our own coffee table ‘Happy Endings’ albums which are a constant reminder of what’s really important in life.
We’ve fostered over 50 pre-adoptive infants and toddlers over 30 years. The most frequent question we get is, “Isn’t it hard to give them up?” Not at all. When you hand a baby to a family that has been waiting for years, and you see their joy to hold their new son or daughter, you only feel happiness and two rewards: helping a birth mom implement her greatest gift of love, and starting a new little person on a lifetime in her forever home.
Joe Finnegan is retired after 38 years as an engineer with his local electric company. Terri Finnegan teaches dance, and is a Court Appointed Special Advocate on behalf of abused or neglected children in the legal system. They are currently caring for three teens from Central America in long-term foster care.
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