Before Nina abandoned me at the DCFS clinic for Malachi’s exam, she made sure we established a set weekly visit with Bio-Mom. They were going to be at our office in Oak Park at 9 am every Thursday morning. All I knew was that the visits were supposed to be at least an hour long and I was going to supervise. The night before our first one, as I was displaying definitive signs of type-A personality by making lists, preparing for the worst and planning every single detail, I realized that I had no idea how to document anything. What does it actually mean to “supervise” a visit? My case worker didn’t tell me if there was a form or even what to look for. I quickly add to my list “call Nina first thing,” but I knew she wouldn’t answer, and was confident that her voice mail would be full because it has been for weeks. It’s frustrating to know that I have rules to abide by, but no one telling me what they are. There were a few pressing issues I needed to speak to her about. The first one was day care. I had no choice but to return to work and it wasn’t as easy as I anticipated to do that from home with such a demanding newborn. I needed to get through the formalities that allowed me to consent to DCFS guidelines with child care. My maternal instinct was also telling me that something was up with Malachi’s health and I did make a doctor appointment for directly after Bio-Mom’s visit, but wanted to get my suspicions on record with the agency. Then there was the supervising thing and what that was supposed to entail.
“First Bio-Mom Office Visit”
We don’t treat patients on Thursday mornings in the office. It’s usually a time when I come in to get phone calls made, billing done and a few other administrative things checked off my list. I arrived with plenty of time to prep the space and prepare for anything that I thought could go wrong. I pulled back the privacy curtain and positioned the diaper-changing area on one of the physical therapy tables so that I could see it from my desk. I strategically placed all of the chairs in the waiting room so that I could have her in my line of vision from almost every seat, and I kept the diaper bag next to me so she would have to ask for any supplies.
Bio-Mom walked in 10 minutes late and made a bee-line toward the car seat where Malachi was sleeping peacefully. All elements had to be perfect for this baby to sleep. It couldn’t be too quiet, he definitely preferred some noise. The lighting couldn’t be too dark, he favored a little glow. He liked to be swaddled, but not too tight. I was starting to get a handle on his peculiar sleeping habits, so when Bio-Mom picked him up, unwrapped him and threw him over her shoulder like she was picking up a toy doll, I immediately became more agitated. We were up the majority of the night, as we had been since we brought him home and it was bitterly cold outside. Bio-Mom smelled like she just rolled out of a dumpster and her coat was filled with those white dandruff balls. Her long and knotted hair extensions were hanging down in front of her face and several strands were sticking to my baby’s already compromised skin. I was tired. Malachi was tired, and clearly Bio-Mom was tired because she was consistently nodding off while holding a now-awake, fussy baby in her arms. He became so upset I allowed her to give him a bottle early to calm him down. Thirty minutes later when he was still fussy she insisted on feeding him another one. I refused her the formula because I literally fed him right before she got there and if he drank another 8 ounces right now he would explode. I felt like I was being gentle and was trying really hard to not appear condescending as I told her no, but I was seriously so tired I have no idea how it actually sounded. I tried again to show her how he likes to be cradled and rocked but she only gave me the cold shoulder.
I did not hear her say “I love you” to the baby one time during the visit. I didn’t hear any gentle words at all. When she did speak to him it was in an aggressive, almost angry tone. Of course she made sure to use her catch phrase, “I know Malachi, you want the titty, but they won’t let me give the titty to my own baby.” Her behavior did not display anything maternal with him. She was hard all of the time and when she spoke to him, it was almost like she was personally offended by his crying. She would bark orders to him, “stop that crying boy, my kids don’t cry like this. These people are holding you too much, they need to put you on the floor.” I tried to talk to her about what we do with him (i.e. tummy time, stimulate with colors, etc.) but she completely ignored me. I continued to remind myself to be patient with her and understanding with how hard this had to be for her too. I was really struggling with my emotional control. I wanted her to know about the health concerns I had, so I pointed out how labored his breathing was and showed her the eczema and how it was spreading. Shockingly, she dismissed me by looking the other direction.
Malachi is like an Olympic champion when it comes to massive blow-out bowel movements. I’m talking fill the diaper, up the back and stomach, down both legs, everywhere poop. I heard the volcano erupt in his diaper about 40 minutes into the visit and escorted Bio-Mom to the designated area I had ready for her. I had laid out a changing pad, wipes and pampers so that everything was within an arms-reach. It was torture to watch her try to maneuver his wiggly body, t-shirt and pants while getting poop everywhere. She refused to take that revolting coat off and it was just getting in the way. I asked several times if she needed my help, but she acted as if she didn’t hear me. I actually got up once and started to walk toward her but she waved me away with, “I got this.” I cowardly walked back to my desk and felt the tension rise in my body as she jerked my little man up and down with his head bobbing around. She splayed the overfull diaper on the edge of the table and did not put the dirty wipes on top of it, but instead she laid them out on the table behind her. A few of the wipes fell onto the floor as I pointed out that the garbage can was literally just to the left of her. She still didn’t use it.
Bio-Mom escorted a very upset Malachi back to the waiting area and as I got closer to the changing station it looked as if a crime scene had just occurred, the only thing missing was the bright yellow tape. There was baby-mush, green-colored poop everywhere. It was on the therapy bed, the changing pad, the floor, and even a little on the wall. I spent the next 10 minutes disinfecting the area and then decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I had a headache from the smell of Bio-Mom mixed with the fresh newborn crap that was now sharing the air, it had been at least an hour and I could feel that I was about to lose control. Between making sure she wasn’t going to drop my son while sleeping in the chair, listening to him cry to be comforted and her complain about how unfair it was that I wouldn’t let her give him the titty, I had gotten absolutely no work done. I felt like I was babysitting the babysitter. I could feel the anger rising in my body as I stood to remove Malachi from her arms. With contempt oozing from my voice and through gritted teeth I informed Bio-Mom it was time for this visit to end. She stared at me blankly as I took the baby out of her arms.
She asked to use the washroom before she left and as she walked down the hallway I calmed my stinky little man into a sleep. After what felt like an eternity of her being in the bathroom she returned and sheepishly approached me. I felt that all-too familiar guilt as she walked toward me looking depleted. I had completely abandoned my goal of being consistent, supportive and kind with her and I really did feel bad about it. She looked like a little girl when she finally reached me and without skipping a beat said “so, when you bring Malachi home next month will you take him to the agency or just bring him to my house?” After pausing to process what she just said, I gently replied “I am new to this just like you are and I think you should discuss that with your case worker, but I believe the next visit is one week from today, here at the office.” She responded with “I get my new apartment in two weeks so the kids will be returned to me right after that.” All I could do was smile at her as she stuttered out her next question, “Could you bring him to my house for a Christmas party/overnight visit next weekend? The other kids are coming too.” I told her that I would take the baby wherever and whenever the case worker told me to. I felt for her, standing there with her head down, pleading for some glimmer of hope and clearly confused about the process she was currently going through. She told me that Nina does not return her phone calls, and I believed her because she doesn’t return mine either. I wondered if she was confused because of her condition or if it was because no one was taking the time to give her proper information. I think it was a combination of both. My heart ached for her, but at the same time I am overwhelmed by how protective I am of Malachi and everything I had witnessed here and at the first visit. I know she is attending classes on parenting, but can you teach someone how to be loving and maternal? Maybe she is comforting and nurturing in another setting?
If I were truly fostering her as well, and trying to form the bond I had promised myself from the beginning, I would have advised her. I should have told her to go home, take a shower, do something with her hair, throw that coat away and march to that private agency, demand answers and not leave until she had them. I want to shake her and say “these are your children, you need to snap out of this and do everything you can for them.” But of course I didn’t. I told myself it’s because she couldn’t comprehend it and I didn’t want to confuse her even more. Even though that might be the case, I am embarrassed to admit that there was so much more to the reason I didn’t give her one word of advice.
Thankfully, I had enough time to take Malachi home and bathe him before his doctor appointment. When I began to disrobe him, I noted that his t-shirt was unbuttoned and curled up his back, and his entire body was smudged with feces from the blow out he had an hour and a half ago.
Finding a doctor that would take his medical card in the area I lived in proved to be an all-day job. The pediatrician that treated my daughters would not take it, nor did the next dozen I called. I finally found a local non-profit clinic closer to my home and got him in. Actually taking him to the doctor was an eye-opening experience because I had no authority in regards to his health care. It was becoming more and more clear to me that a lot of people view foster parents as glorified babysitters. Not only was I limited to where I could take him because absolutely no one else would take the State insurance, but they hesitated to even see him at all when I arrived because the caseworker hadn’t filled out the proper paperwork yet. As I waited in the small reception area after convincing them I had authority to bring him here for treatment, I felt as if I were in another realm from the pediatrician’s office I’m used to. The receptionists were spewing patient’s personal information out into the waiting room, shaking their heads in disgust when they had to explain anything, and on the friendly scale they were batting a negative number. I am truly amazed that the amount of money you make has a direct impact on the healthcare environment you are entitled to. After waiting for at least 40 minutes I was finally ushered back to see the doctor. My biggest concern was that his breathing was loud and labored all of the time. He literally snored while he was awake. The doctor assured me that this was nothing to be concerned about. She said that this was just the way some people breathe. The young resident was nice enough and well-intentioned but she was more interested in asking me why I decided to be a foster parent than the issues I was presenting with. When I gave her my easy, standard line of “if I don’t do it who does,” she just looked at me curiously and said “Huh. Well the baby is progressing normally and is doing fine.” Despite my search for another explanation for his skin issues, the doctor concurred with the DCFS physician and said it was eczema. Daryl and I both felt that something bigger was going on with his skin. It was almost as if toxins were escaping his body and coming out through his pores. Even though I was told that Bio-Mom did not do any drugs or drinking while she was pregnant, I was not convinced and made a note to probe a little harder with the case worker at our next home visit.
“Bio-Mom visit #2”
Bio-mom was late by about 40 minutes so I had to give Malachi his bottle without her. When she arrived she did not take her coat off again and squeezed him hard against the filth as she asked for some formula. I told her that he just had one and wouldn’t need another for at least 90 minutes. She responded to the baby with the same old “I’m so tired of people telling me what I can and can’t do, when I know all you want is my titty, so just stop the crying cause I can’t give it to you. My kids don’t cry like this.” She went on to tell our baby in her combative tone “what they don’t know is that you will be back with me. Yes you will.”
Malachi was extra fussy for the visit and his breathing issues seemed to be getting worse. I had called the clinic to get him in again, but they told me if he didn’t have a fever that it’s probably fine and if I was that concerned I needed to take him to the Emergency Room. The response didn’t sit well with me but I was so exhausted that I convinced myself I was being overdramatic.
This Bio-Mom visit was pretty much mirror to the other one minus the diaper eruption. She didn’t ask me any questions about how he was doing. There were no follow up inquiries regarding the health concerns I told her about on the last visit. She still had no interest in learning from me how Malachi liked to be comforted, yet she didn’t really try anything herself. She never stood up and rocked him, she just sat there and let him fuss while repeatedly and sternly telling the 2-month-old baby to stop crying. I don’t know how she managed to doze off with a crying baby in her arms, but she did. It was almost impossible for me to put myself in her shoes, but I did try. If I was only seeing my newborn child once a week, I think I would spend the entire time imprinting his face in my brain, telling him how much I love him and soaking in every second. It hurt me to the point of nausea to imagine only seeing my son once a week.
After our last visit I was a little embarrassed about my behavior and attitude so I went home and made Bio-Mom one of those hard-cover shutterfly books of all of the pictures I had snapped of Malachi since he came to our home. When I handed it to her as an early Christmas present from our son, she shoved it into one of the grocery bags she carried without even looking at it and headed for the door.
I found out from other parents that every foster child has a Guardian Ad Litem, their own attorney looking out for their best interest. After several failed attempts to get Malachi’s attorney information from our caseworker and the agency, I finally spent some time on the phone with the courthouse where family court is held and was able to track down Henry, his lawyer. We had set up an appointment for him to come to the house and meet with us. While I had him on the phone, he indicated to me that I should NOT be supervising the visits with Bio-Mom because anything that I add to the case would not be submitted to the Judge. I am a biased witness. He indicated that all her attorney would have to do is ask me if I love Malachi and want him to stay in our home and when I answered “yes” it would void any testimony I had. So why would the private agency have me supervise? In the next two weeks I will be meeting Henry and will also have a visit with all five siblings. I can’t wait to tell you about it.
*Names have been changed