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13 Weeks with Baby Deal

June 15, 2016

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How Far Along: 13 Weeks

Size of baby: Pea-pod! It weighs about an ounce

Total Weight Gain/Loss: I haven’t been weighed since week 7 so I don’t know.

Maternity Clothes: I’m wearing them and enjoying it in the HOT Georgia summers. I have a black tank top with polka-dots that I like best

Gender: I don’t know but this week I feel like maybe a girl?

Movement: About two weeks ago we got to see baby on an ultra sound and he/she was be bopping around flipping, moving and dancing! I haven’t felt the baby move internally yet.

Sleep: I’m sleeping A LOT and sleeping hard.

Miss anything? I miss being able to not have to sleep two or three times during the day.

Cravings: I didn’t recognize it but Josh says I’m craving donuts. I’ve asked for them three times in the last month.

Symptoms: Exhaustion. Lots of extra tears.

Looking forward to: Hearing baby’s heartbeat next week.

Best Moment this week: Announcing our pregnancy online! It was truly overwhelming to have so many people rejoice with us.

Labor signs: None, thank goodness!

Baby Math….

June 12, 2016

You might have seen that our Internet world has exploded over the last couple of days as we announced the impending arrival of our first Baby Deal! Yes, it’s true, we’re pregnant! It’s still weird but it’s also wonderful and exhausting. If you’re like us you be blown away because this news seems crazy on top of ALL the other news we’ve had lately. I thought I’d do some clarification.

In brief: In the last 12.5 weeks: Josh started a new job, we became respite foster parents to a 7 and 11 year old, we closed on a house, we became full time foster parents to a 7 and 11 year old, we found out we were pregnant, I finished my 1st year at UGA, we said goodbye to our foster children, I got in a car accident, we bought a new car, and survived the first trimester. Oh yeah and we’re packing because we’re moving for the 2nd time in 11 months.

Fall 2015 – We took the first steps toward becoming a part of the Foster Care system. We stopped actively preventing pregnancy. We considered whether this was crazy but knew that we both felt very strongly that Foster Care was part of God’s plan for our family.

Early Spring 2016 – No baby yet. We continued to move forward in anticipation of growing our family through Foster Care.

April 6 – We became Foster parents for the first time. (Read more here).

April 8 – We closed on our new house! This seemed so anticlimactic after the craziness of getting the kids.

April 12 – At Josh’s request, I took a pregnancy test after being one day late. I just knew that this was due to stress from becoming an instant family of 4. SURPRISE! One week after becoming foster parents we found out we were 4 weeks pregnant with our own baby.
Shocked. Dumbfounded. Bowled-over. Surprised. Scared. Excited. OVERWHELMED.

Baby weeks 4 – 8: Not nearly as bad as they could have been. Lots of napping. Some discomfort. A little queasiness. Full of end of semester, end of school year stuff. Full of announcements to the kids, our family members,  and friends.

May 20/21Saying goodbye to Janie and Jordan. This was such a mixed time because we were very sad to say goodbye to these two little people that we loved and cared for but we were also relieved to know we wouldn’t have to break placement because of baby.

Baby weeks 9-12: I think I may have been almost asleep or actually napping for most of this time.

June 1 – Car accident. I was was so scared that something would be wrong with baby. I went to the Emergency Room and we were treated to a 20 minute ultra sound where we got to see baby looking like a BABY! The first couple that we had, it was more in its jelly bean/gummy bear form. This time, it had arms and legs, wrists and ankles, feet, toes and fingers! It flipped around, responded to me laughing and even stretched all the way out. Baby was fine and I, miraculously, did not have near the physical reaction that I have had in previous fender benders.

June 6 – After much consideration, we purchased a new car: Toyota Highlander. This was a very stressful and overwhelming process. We are glad it’s over and very happy with our vehicle.

June 10 – We told the world about Baby Deal in a video!

If you’re tired just reading this, you’re in good company. Here is to hoping that the rest of this pregnancy is less eventful than the beginning!

 

Going Home – Foster Care Thoughts

June 12, 2016

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We had been counting down to our court date – May 20th for over a month. We talked over and over about how there would be three possible outcomes.

1. Go home to mom and dad’s house
2. Go to another family member’s house
3. Stay with us here in Athens.

This court date was especially important because we were hoping the investigation into baby brother’s injuries would be completed and charges would be filed.

As we marched toward the court date, the questions grew more and more difficult. Hours of questions late into the night. This was exhausting and so difficult. They were all fair questions but there were no fair or easy answers to give to them in return.

I marveled at how they could maintain any semblance of normalcy as we went about our day to day activities.

The last two weeks before court were very crazy. The kids had several important meetings with lawyers and psychiatrists. We had phone calls with updates that contradicted each other. We had a stand off about whether the kids would have to be at court despite being lead to believe that we’d done everything to successfully avoid them missing the last day of school.

Josh and I took a four day trip to Virginia and the kids stayed with some of our care team members. We debated about taking that time away because we knew that it would be possible that we would miss the last few days of the kids being in our house.

In the end we decided to go because you just can’t live in a perpetual state of hesitant reaction to the possible outcomes of court dates in Foster Care. You have to live your life.

It was a good trip and friends and our foster care agency rallied around J&J to take them to graduation ceremonies and award ceremonies where they were both honored! Foster Kids, winning awards!

The day of court came and we lost our battle with whether the kids would need to go. They were, however, able to attend part of the last day of school. They had a very difficult time sleeping the night before, as did I. Our wonderful case worker, Kathryn, attended court and I met her there. I’m not going to go into all of the details but some very unexpected things happened at court which changed our case. Often, the authorities will take action at court because they know all parties involved will likely be there. Thankfully, I missed most of that action and the kids were completely unaware.

One wonderful, unexpected thing that happened at court as that baby brother was there! The kids hadn’t seen him in 7 and a half weeks (tons of time for a tiny baby!) and they were absolutely overjoyed to get to spend several hours with him. They loved that I got to meet him, too. He looks JUST like his big brother Jordan (not his real name).

We were the only ones having court that day so it was just me and Kathryn in the waiting room with J&J’s family and extended family. It was awkward. It could have been much worse, of course, if we had very negative interactions with them or if the circumstances of our case were different. After about an hour of waiting it seemed likely that the kids might be going to a family placement. There was an aunt and uncle willing to care for the kids who were already in the process of being approved. Approvals are tricky though and can sometimes take months. This was a welcomed possibility because we hoped the kids would be placed with family before school started again for their sakes and so that Josh and I would have some time just the two of us before the arrival of baby Deal (more on this in a future post).

This aunt and uncle approached me in the waiting room and asked me all about the kids. We talked for about 20 minutes and I told them everything I could about what it’s like to live with them and what kinds of things they like and don’t like. It was very encouraging to know that the couple caring for them wanted the kids to have a good time and cared about them as individuals not just responsibilities.

After this conversation, and an initial brief period in the court room. Things shifted. The conversation changed. Lawyers and case workers shuffled back and forth from meetings and looked over paperwork. Dates and times were being discussed but it was like hearing whispers at the end of a long tunnel. We still didn’t have much of an idea of what was happening at all. My heart felt like a YoYo.

When we went back before the judge, the outcome rang clear. The kids would be returning home to Dad’s custody, as soon as possible. I am TRULY thankful that our case worker and the kids’ Guardian Ad Litem (representative) stood behind the kids’ desire to have a day to return to Athens to pack their things and say goodbye to the friends they had made. The family, who was so appreciative of our care, over and over, agreed to this and before I knew it, it was all over and I would be dropping the kids and all of their things off a day later.

Someone told the kids before I had a chance. Janie was crying when I saw her. I later found out this was due to her learning that baby J would not be returning home with them. We drove back to Athens and started the process of saying goodbye. This included a sleepover with our closest Foster friends. A trip to the park to meet up with church friends and care team members. A trip to the movies that we’d been talking about since the first week and a lot of bitter sweet goodbyes.

We took lots of pictures together and prayed together for our sad and tender hearts. My foster care bff Tati rode with me as I returned the kids home. They slept the entire hour ride. We got to their house and Dad unloaded most of their things. They gave me a hug and that was that. We got in the car and drove away from them and that crazy, near 8 weeks of being their Foster Parents.

In an unexpected blessing, Janie face timed me later that night. I think that was the single most relieving part of the whole experience.

When I dropped them off the weight of whether this would be a final goodbye ,or just one more step in our relationship, was oppressively heavy on my heart.

Hearing from her helped me to know that the channel is still open and they were truly influenced by our time together. There is a lot that I haven’t covered in this post like how I was holding up emotionally or what it was like coming home without them. I hope to write about that in those topics more in the future. This is what I have to offer for now.

 

Could It Be Worse? – Foster Care Thoughts

May 10, 2016

I have been wonderfully overwhelmed with so many people who have taken on our burdens that I shared in the last post about our first family visit. Knowing we are not alone in this reality has made a significant difference in our ability to continue to serve Janie and John, even when the personal cost is so high. I feel compelled to add just one more thought to my last post.

Even with the brutal reality of this situation and this system, it could be worse for our children. Can you imagine what it would be like for the kids to have the experience I described and then come back to a Foster Home where nobody even asked how the visit went? A home where they aren’t served comfort foods or taken to the park to be distracted by something other than the giant holes in their hearts. A home where they don’t have clean, well-fitting clothes waiting in their drawers. A home where their personal items aren’t respected. A home where their tears aren’t acceptable and “bad attitudes” are punished. I hate this situation for our kids but I am glad that it’s easy to see how our involvement in providing a safe, stable home is helping — even when we feel so helpless.

The First Family Visit – Foster Care Thoughts

May 9, 2016

I’ve been through difficult things. I’ve been hurt and disappointed by friends. I’ve had to say heartfelt goodbyes. I’ve buried grandparents. I’ve researched and created stories about young girls being beaten and sold for sex. But today, for the first time, I had a personal experience so absolutely awful that it burned away an innocence I didn’t even know I had.

I’ve been hesitant to write about how amazing our kids are. I don’t want some people telling me to just wait for the other shoe to drop. I don’t want other people thinking that all Foster Children are like ours. They are polite, they are funny, they are clean and respectful. They are submissive and creative. They love school and wake up and get completely ready, by themselves in 4 minutes after our wake up time of 6:30 am. Then they sit patiently while I stumble around making breakfast and we all wait for 20 minutes before it’s time to drive them to school. They don’t fight with each other. They obey the first time. The only thing we have to correct them on are eating habits and how to be quiet when Josh is asleep during the day because of his night shifts. We feel comfortable leaving the kids with anyone and don’t worry about their well being when we’re not with them. I’m living the Foster Care dream life and I recognize every minute of it.

It’s been hard to remember that our kids are in the throws of a terrible reality. They have attached to us and our schedule. They love our “traditions.” Occasionally things come up that remind us how hard this is, like sitting for hours in waiting rooms for appointments and answering an hour of rapid fire questions about foster care, adoption, abuse, how court works, where baby brother is and others. These burdens are difficult but we don’t bear them alone. But today, today was a whole different level.

I got a call Thursday evening that DFACS was trying to set up a very last minute family visit for the kids on mother’s day. The kids have not seen or talked to their parents since the third day they moved in with us. We’ve had them for five weeks. They have had zero communication. This is not typical and it’s been very straining for the kids. I knew how much they wanted to see their parents. I told our case worker that I was willing to transport the kids to the family visit. To my understanding, family visits usually happened at a county facility, at our agency’s facility, at a neutral public site like a park or Chick-fil-A. Ours happened at the kids’ home. I don’t know if this is unusual but I have to say, overall, I think it’s really not a great idea for reasons I’ll get into later. Originally, I was asked to supervise the visit as well but thankfully my agency told me that this was not permissible. I cannot even imagine what state I would be in if I had agreed to that.

I waited to tell the kids about the visit until Saturday morning (today is Sunday). They were so excited. Especially Janie (not her real name). She told me she was sure she wouldn’t be able to sleep at all. If you’ve been following along, sleep has been our biggest struggle. I wasn’t encouraged by this result. We stayed with friends until late Saturday evening and bedtime was postponed by nearly an hour. Following showers, I answered another grueling 45 minutes of terribly fair and difficult questions for which there were no fair or easy answers. What would the home visit be like? Can we invite people over? Will we get to see our friends? Why can’t we talk about baby brother at the visit? Why does someone have to stay and “watch” us during the visit (a supervisor)? When we will we see them again? How long could it take for a family member to get approved to keep us? Why won’t you tell me everything you know? 

I was exhausted and it was Josh’s third 12 hour night shift (and thankfully last for the week) in a row. I’d had no back up and felt awful because the allergies I’d thought I’d been avoiding, hit me like a ton of bricks. I vented to my caring, generous and able heavenly Father and slept better last night. Cue this morning. We went out for a mom’s choice breakfast at Ike and Jane (by the way, our kids were disappointed that I MADE them get donuts when I chose to have a breakfast sandwich) and then loaded up the car to head to mom and dad’s house. I pulled up right on time for our visit and the kids parents stepped outside of the house. I told them they could get out of the car, because our supervisor was there. Then I experienced the first terrible wave.

Dad steps out of the house and drops to his knees with his arms open, wailing his son’s name. Jordan runs into his arms and hugs him tight. Mom is crying silently and Janie walks up to her for hugs. Dad reaches around Jordan, still wailing and wraps Janie in a hug. This is all happening on the front step of their porch while I, and the other neighbors out and about in their suburban yards, look on. Crying, wailing, hugging, the kids names repeated over and over. The case worker asks me if I want to be introduced to the parents. I told her I would like to wait to the end of the visit when things were less emotional (see reflection below). I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or take up any of their 120 allotted minutes with very awkward formalities. I don’t know why I thought things would be less emotional 2 hours later. That was probably the stupidest thought I’ve had in a while.

I left their house, drove to a park and took a nap in the car under the shade. Found a Starbucks and read a book for the remaining time. I was full of apprehension when I went to pick them back up. It was like walking into a nightmare. Mom and Janie both crying hysterically, dad loading huge bags of clothes and food out of the door and toward my car. Janie continues to cry, Jordan sees me and wants to show me his friends nextdoor and a picture of the two of them as a baby. Dad and Mom are clutching at the kids, Janie and Jordan are trying to stay strong but are coming apart at the seams. Tears flowing and the case worker tries to introduce me to Mom and Dad as the lady taking good care of their children. Mom can’t form any words because she can’t stop crying and alternately holding out her hands toward me and then covering her face. I just keep repeating how sorry I am. I’m so sorry. So sorry.

Dad is trying to be the Dad and get the kids to the car, while trying to hug them and hold their hands. Mom continues to cry and look on from the side of the driveway, as do the kids that Jordan wanted to introduce me to. I continue to try to offer a smile through utter numbness and regret that I have to take away their kids. I hate that I have to be the one to buckle them while the kids cry and/or talk about how they don’t understand why they have to leave.   The tiny bond they were able to piece back together during the visit was ripped apart as we drove away.

This is the worst thing I have ever experienced. I will not offer to transport the kids again if the visit is at their house. As a note, the state is required to provide all transportation needs for the children. I offered when they couldn’t find a transporter because of the short notice and the Holiday. I would not suggest that a Foster Parent supervise a visit. It blurs the line between being caretakers and part of the system that is “keeping” the kids from the parents. I know that this advice may vary based on situation but our agency does not encourage us to participate in this way and I know that I would be a mess and our kids very confused if I had tried to supervise this visit.

I came away feeling completely stripped of my ability to process all of the emotions in that situation, including my own. I came away realizing that there are no “dream” Foster Care situations because the whole thing is a damn nightmare for everyone involved.  I’ve never been so intimately affected by the brokenness of this world. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. But now I understand what it looks like to watch a family implode and what it looks like when your 11 year old’s eyes are still puffy from crying 9 hours after the fact.

Today was my first Mother’s Day. I’m positive that I’ll never forget it.

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I drew this at church during the sermon. I didn’t have words for this experience yet.

 

Week 3 – J&J Update

April 25, 2016

Sabrena gives highlights, challenges and an explanation of why Fostering older siblings groups is a great option for her family.

I am NOT the Shock Absorber – Foster Care Thoughts

April 22, 2016

Today was another roller coaster day. The most stress we’ve experienced in our past 17 days (but who is counting?) has been directly related to our interactions with “the system.” This afternoon I tried called our overworked and underpaid and certainly overwhelmed case worker for the Division of Family and Children services. You see, Janie’s birthday is tomorrow and I was hoping and praying that we would have some news to give her about when she might be able to see her parents. What a beacon of hope to be able to offer a little girl on her 11th birthday.

I’d tried calling several times over the week and left voicemails. I hadn’t heard from her and was losing hope. Thankfully, I knew enough NOT to tell Janie anything about what was going on behind the scenes. This time, our case worker answered! But that was about the most encouraging part of the entire conversation. She let me know that she was glad I’d called because she needed to notify me that the investigator for our case would be coming and picking Janie up at 7:30 tomorrow morning to have her second interview with the police.

I was dumbstruck. NO, not tomorrow. Tomorrow is her birthday. We had big plans for her to go to school and share cupcakes with her class. Plans to have a special dinner and a mini dessert party and even a sleep over (yes! Foster kids can have sleep overs, more on “Prudent Parenting” another time). A long day spent driving to and from her county, being interviewed by the police was NOT on the agenda. I asked, could the investigator please meet with her another day? It is better for her not to miss the party planned for school. The caseworker wasn’t hopeful because it was already nearly 5 pm by the time we got in touch and nothing can be planned after business hours. But, she said she’d try. She called back about 20 minutes later to tell me that it was potentially being moved to the afternoon. Great, that’s even worse, then we’ll have no birthday fun at all. I thanked her for her efforts but requested that it would actually be better in the end, if we couldn’t move the day, for it to happen in the morning.

In my head I was watching the little light that had been growing in her eyes as birthday plans were formed, being snuffed out by this horrible news. The real trouble was that we were supposed to make birthday cupcakes right after I picked them up from After School Program. We didn’t need to make cupcakes if she wasn’t going to be at school but we didn’t have a confirmation. I was really upset. Someone who doesn’t know what’s going on, can just jump into our lives with no understanding of things and arbitrarily make HUGE decisions like this? The case worker told me not to talk to her about it. Not to bring it up because it could change And boy do we know about this after the week they were placed with us. All day Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of that week we were told they would be leaving our house any time, “It’s just a matter of paperwork.” 

We’d learned enough to know not to say things. I was so upset. I called our wonderful Foster Care agency, Uniting Hope 4 Children, and talked through my frustrations. My case worker there sympathized and affirmed some of the worst about this broken system and its “quirks.” The hardest part for me was bearing the burden of being the one who had to tell her about these changes and with each phone call what I needed to tell her was changing. It is emotionally exhausting and today it brought me to tears.

There was grace for me tonight, though. I was writing in my journal about how hard it is to be the shock absorber. The one protecting the kids from all the terrible things about this situation and trying to make their lives as normal as possible. Jesus kindly whispered to me, no, you aren’t the shock absorber. That’s my job. Your job is to take care of them and keep them healthy and safe. You don’t have to bear their burdens for them. You’ll never make it if you keep trying. I can handle the weight of their sorrow and carry their fragile hope in my hands. You just keep taking step by step in the direction I lead you.

What sweet peace.

In the end, nothing changed for tomorrow. They worked it out so that she can stay in school and will have the interview next week. All that stress, and everything is exactly the same. Welcome to Foster Care.

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