Thursday, May 14, 2009

Loving MiMi: loving and letting go of a foster child

On April 13, 2006, we finalized our adoption of our son, Luke. He was our first adoption after seven biological children. We had a party to celebrate, inviting many of our friends. They had almost all gone home when we got a call that the court had ruled our seven month old foster daughter, that we had had since birth, be given back to her parents by five that evening.
We were sad to see her go, but happy, too. As I told my heartbroken nine year old daughter, Mary Susannah, “Today we got Luke forever and for always, and today (foster baby’s) mommy got her baby back forever and for always, too.”

A day or so went by, and I put our name back on the list for more foster children. We had two openings, and a week later, late at night, I got a phone call asking me to take a two and a half year old girl, named Angel-Leah. We accepted, and the little girl who is now our adopted daughter came to live with us.

One week after that, we got another call, asking us to take a six month old baby girl. We said yes, and MiMi arrived that day.

These two girls looked enough alike to be sisters, except that MiMi’s hair had a redder tint to it than Angel-Leah’s. Both were blue eyed, light haired, delicate looking girls. But while Angel-Leah was very verbal, and handled her grief at being separated from her mother with words, MiMi screamed. And screamed. And screamed. She cried all day unless she was being held. In desperation, I finally told the children that I would hold her for 15 minutes every hour, and then for 45 minutes, I would get my work done. My daughter Mary Susannah said if I would hold her 15 minutes, she would also hold her 15 minutes an hour, which gave Mimi half of each hour to be held and comforted. It also gave our household 30 minutes of peace each hour, because as soon as MiMi was sat back down, she screamed.

I finally took her back to her doctor to see if he could help her. He was upset that MiMi was in foster care, not because of anything I had done, but because her parents had messed up. He was not much help to me; he just kept telling me it was exposure to drugs in the womb that had done it. I tried to explain what I was looking for, exposure to drugs had never been determined, but even if it was, now that we know what the problem is, what can I do about it? He didn’t have any answers.

I reported my problem to the social worker, and she suggested I get Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) to come look at MiMi. I did that right away! They came out and evaluated her. They gave me a checklist of questions to answer, and said that they suspected she had a sensory integration disorder. This is an autistic like problem, although they did not suspect MiMi of having autism, mainly because as we talked, she would be curled up in my lap, totally at ease and bonded with me and the family around us. They began to come out once a month or so to give me instruction and therapy to do with her.

And so, life went on with MiMi in our house. We learned what we could and could not do. She had a lot of trouble being out of the house when she was little. She screamed throughout entire car rides. She never did learn to handle church. Sitting in the seat of a shopping cart brought hysteria. I became a kind of recluse, because taking her out was too hard. I began to rely on my older children and husband to run the errands I used to run. No one wanted to babysit for me, because it was too hard, and to be honest, I didn’t feel safe leaving her with anyone.
But all this was teaching me great lessons in patience. And somehow I felt like if I could get this little girl through her problems, I would have really done something.

Getting other people to understand MiMi’s problems, though, could be a challenge. The church we had attended for so long split, and two more churches were formed from that split. For many reasons, we decided we needed to leave the original church, and we visited the second one. But they were not really equipped, physically or emotionally, to handle a child like MiMi. I tried to struggle on there, for the sake of my older children. One Sunday, during one of MiMi’s meltdowns, I took her back to the nursery. Even shutting the door did not drown out her screams, and the other mothers in there were trying to get their babies asleep. When it was obvious that MiMi was not going to calm, I tried to slip quietly out the nursery door to take her outside, but a brewing Texas storm caught the door and slammed it shut behind me. I cringed, and began to walk MiMi. Sprinkling rain soon drove us closer to the church building for shelter, and in a minute I saw the windows begin to shut against MiMi’s screams. Feelings hurt, I covered her and walked her further away from the building. When I finally managed to quiet her, I tried to slip back into the nursery door, only to find someone had locked it.
The next Sunday, we began to visit the third church, which was meeting in a wedding chapel. I found more sympathy there, which is something that is really appreciated in times like these! There was no nursery at all in this wedding chapel, so I would take MiMi outside during her meltdowns. But there was one lady in particular who noticed, and if I was out there too long, she would come out ‘to sit with me’, she said. She would even walk MiMi for me, and sometimes just having another, unfamiliar person hold her would quiet her.

When MiMi was a year old, she was switched from formula to regular milk. Now we had a new set of problems. Her light colored skin was always sensitive, and now she broke out in patches of eczema on her face. She got raging diaper rashes. I took her back to her doctor, and told him I thought milk was causing this, and also aggravating the croup she always struggled with. Once again, the doctor would not help me. In fact all he would do was rant over and over that I had to give her milk. I was also informed at this visit that this doctor would not see her anymore unless her Medicaid could be changed to Americaid. I left the office and called the social worker with this news, telling her not to try too hard to change the insurance, because I desperately wanted another doctor. She said don’t worry, they couldn’t change it anyway.

But the eczema problem actually helped solve itself. MiMi had an angry young daddy, who grabbed at whatever he could to get at the Child Protective Services for taking his daughter, and I was included in his anger. At the six month court hearing, he stood in front of the judge and accused me of terrible things because of MiMi’s diaper rash. He really made a mess of his accusations, because the CPS attorney informed him that I had had her at the doctor’s office within a day or so of the time that he was accusing me of abuse, so he began to try and change the dates. Finally the judge said to take the child back to the doctor, with a letter from the parents, within 48 hours.
I didn’t have any problem with that, in fact, I took her straight to the pediatrician I had used for 30 years with my own children. I knew he would listen to me, and he did. He said if I felt like milk was the problem, it probably was. He gave me permission to take her off cow’s milk, and gave me a prescription for the eczema, the diaper rashes, and the croup.
It was almost like a miracle, everything cleared up. MiMi was more comfortable, which helped her meltdowns. I was very thankful!

And MiMi grew older. Her hair grew long, soft and very blond. She learned to walk at 10 months, and talking soon followed. Her voice was LOUD, in fact, she never talked in a normal voice, she talked in almost a scream. Her social worker described her as intense, and that was a good description. She didn’t scream all day anymore, but had regular meltdowns, where she would resort to tantrum like episodes that no amount of work could end. ECI had suggested isolating her in her room when she did this, and we did try, but someone would have to hold the door shut because she would not stay there. They were rough on all of us, and when she would finally quit crying, I would rock her while her wide, wild looking eyes would search my face. I would sing a song to her about being a happy baby, and she soon came to call being rocked “happy baby,” saying, “I wanna happy baby, mommy!” She greatly loved me, and my feelings fast followed, as I grew VERY attached to her.

And we did begin to make some progress.
I tried to get my homeschooled children out of the house whenever I could, and we spent much time at the zoo and the museum, which I discovered was very good for MiMi. It was an atmosphere where she could wander and play, and being a very smart little girl in spite of her troubles, she thrived in that environment.
I bought a backpack leash, something I just knew I would never do. But having MiMi on this allowed her some freedom when we went go out in public but she had to stay close to me. I bought the cutest leash I could find, a little puppy dog on the top peeked over MiMi’s shoulder, and the legs hung at her sides. She loved this little contraption, and surprisingly most of the time did not chafe at the boundaries it made her stay within. We learned that letting her carry a bottle most of the time also helped her calm herself, probably having something to do with the sensory issues. She had a favorite small, bean bag type black cabbage patch doll that she loved very much. I enjoyed seeing the contrast of the black doll and blond haired, blue eyed MiMi, as she cuddled it in her arms just like I cuddled her.

And sing! Oh, could MiMi sing!! She only had to hear a song a couple of times before she learned the words. One of the first songs she learned to sing was “Tis So Sweet”. She had perfect pitch, and sang with great enthusiasm, tilting her head back and closing her eyes. But my favorite was hearing her baby voice sing “Amazing Grace” in a perfect alto. She knew the whole first verse, and didn’t add words to it like Luke and Angel-Leah did. Once at a cottage meeting for church, the man leading decided we should sing a song for the little children to help with . When he suggested “Jesus loves the little children”, and asked my children if they knew that one, Angel-Leah said, “Let’s sing Amazing Grace!” The man looked surprised, but said okay, and they sang it, with MiMi leading out the loudest.
Most of my days were spent with my little MiMi shadow following me around, hanging on the back of my dress. She loved to help with the laundry. She helped me with the dishes, which could result in a lot of spills. When she wanted me to sit down, she ran and got my crochet basket, screaming, “Here crochet, Mommy!” because she knew I always sat down to crochet, and she could sit next to me and talk and draw. She loved my son Beau, who spent a lot of time doing ‘happy baby’ with her, too, only his rocking was much wilder than mine and more like play.
When MiMi would visit with her father once a week, she had what I would call blank outs. Her face went totally slack and without expression. The workers who would supervise the visits were often known to remark that that child had ‘no personality whatsoever’, at which MiMi’s own worker would reply, ‘Oh, but you should see her with her foster mother, she’s a whole other child!” When she would come out the door after visits, her face would break into a wide grin, and she would run to me with outstretched arms. She would run around the CPS waiting room, playing with Angel-Leah and Luke, often causing the supervising workers to also remark “I’ve never seen her act like a normal child.”

A year past, and final court dates for both Angel-Leah and MiMi rolled around. Angel-Leah’s parents rights were terminated, and she was freed for adoption. But MiMi’s mother was given a six month extension, because she had been in a place where it was impossible for her to work her plan, but now things were looking up for her. We began adoption proceedings on Angel-Leah, and settled back in to wait to see the outcome for MiMi.

Our little town opened a free splash pad, which was a series of sprinklers for little children to play in. Oh, how MiMi loved it. We went at least once a week, and she would SCREAM in delight when she saw where we were going. We moved the swing set and had a third swing put on it. We bought a sandbox, something ECI had suggested. MiMI thrived. During a week of meetings, we visited the church we had attended where I had the trouble with MiMi’s crying. The people there were astounded at the difference in her. They would say, “Is this the same little girl?” And “I’ve never seen her smile! The difference is amazing!”

Summer passed, our last summer with her. It became obvious that MiMi’s parents were not going to be getting her back. At this news, a great grandmother and great aunt in another state stepped forward to claim her, and began to do the steps they would need to do to get custody of her. Although I knew I should steel myself to release her, I couldn’t do it. I finally comforted myself with remembering what Jesus said when John’s disciples asked Him why His disciples didn’t fast? He said, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, then they will fast.”
That became my philosophy: while MiMI was with me, I would enjoy her. There would be time enough to mourn when she was gone.

So we continued to love her, while showing her pictures and talking about her Nana and aunt. I tried hard to explain to this little barely two year old girl, that soon she would go live with them. I told her over and over that we loved her. My heart broke sometimes, knowing she would be leaving. One night, I was reading a new book to them. It was about a farmer rocking all the animals on his farm to sleep. All three little ones were listening, but MiMi was just enthralled with the horse in the book. When I finished, she took it and turned the pages to the horse while I read another book, and she kept saying "Mommy!! Horsey CUUUUUTE!" As she showed it to me with her little bright eyes, and all I could think was, one more month, and she will be taken out of here, and she isn't going to understand. Right now she is secure and happy and she has NO IDEA that we aren't her family forever. She has no idea what is about to happen to her!
And we were planning to take a trip the day she left. My family hoped doing this would make it easier on me. As we would talk about the trip, MiMi would stand at my feet and scream “And me, Mommy? And me?” I always felt like she knew something was up. I would pick her up and we would ‘happy baby’, and I would tell her again that she wouldn’t be going with us, she was going to live with her aunt. She would curl up in my arms confidently and say “No, I stay with Mommy.” I would fight tears, knowing that was impossible.

But time passed, and one very cold January morning, I put the little girl I had loved so much for the past 20 months into a social workers car, and watched them drive away.   And that was it.  The little girl I had loved and cared for for 20 months was gone.  I didn't know if I would ever see her again.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I spent much time wondering if foster care was worth the heartbreak I was enduring.

MiMi was a special little girl, and for 20 months, she needed a home. We gave that to her, and we are the richer for it. I just pray that she is, too. I pray that we gave her what she needed during that hard time in her life. That what we gave her will carry her throughout the rest of her life, even if she does not remember us. It’s my hope that someday I’ll see her again, if not in this life, then surely in the next one!

Thought for the day: James 1:27 Pure religion is taking care of the widows and the orphans in their distress…


  1. I have read this and just cried and cried. It's so hard to give up these children who only know you as a mother. I hate that you lost her and I pray for the comfort of you when you think of her.

  2. Thank you. Losing her was very hard, and I miss her to this day. Thankfully, once in a great while, her cousin sends me pictures and updates. She's doing okay. I just wish she was still mine...


I love your comments!