I wish I could remember your face. Your name. Something. But I only had eyes for the tiny baby in front of me. My whole world was about to change and I think you understood that more than I did. He was so tiny. Impossibly small. I had never held a baby so little. He made up for his teeny size with an impressive mop of jet black hair that stood straight up on top of his head. He also had hair all over his body and you reassured me this was normal for a preemie.
There was so much I didn’t know. But you did.
You were his experienced NICU nurse. I was a first-time foster mom and I was overwhelmed.
I wanted you to think I knew what I was doing, but I’m sure you could sense that I didn’t. I was worried if anyone knew how unprepared I was for this task, they wouldn’t let me be his foster mom. You walked me through how to give him a bath around the machinery that was attached to him. You told me what the numbers on the monitors meant and when to be concerned. You showed me how to change the smallest of diapers and how to take his temperature in the most accurate way. You showed me a little calendar where you’d been marking his baby milestones and important info during the days before I met him. You gave me his tiny footprint card and pictures you’d taken of him.
And here I sit, 13 years later, still thankful for you and your fellow nurses.
It’s easy to think my son magically appeared the moment I met him, but it isn’t true. He had a life with his birth mom for the months she carried him. He had a birth experience with her and then he was handed into your waiting arms. You knew him before I even got the call that he existed. And you loved him.
I can tell that you loved him by how attentive you were to his needs. You treated him like your own until the time you could teach me how to treat him like my own. He had a special place in your heart because he needed you differently than the baby next door. He needed you to hold him and feed him and document every big event because you were the only one who could.
I wonder if you think about him. If you wonder whatever happened to the little baby you loved as your own. I wish I could find you to tell you how wonderfully well he’s doing. He is hilarious and caring and smart and a gifted pianist. Remember how the doctor worried if he’d be able to walk normally? He runs cross country now. He makes us so proud and I’d love for you to be proud of him too. You are part of his story that we talk about regularly.
He was never alone, even in the days before we knew him. He was precious and valued and a favorite.
I hope you all have continued to love the little ones who need you most. These tiny wards of the state whose futures are so in flux. . . they need you. Desperately and uniquely. They are going through a transition that’s so scary. They’ve lost everything that was familiar to them and they have no words to ask why. Maybe they can only be with their mamas at specific times. Maybe someone is receiving a phone call that changes their whole world. Maybe they are waiting for someone to decide they want to be their family. Maybe a grandparent or aunt is working on fingerprints and a home study before they come visit. There might be some time before a plan is worked out.
Love them like your own during those moments when you are all they have. Snuggle them close. Sing to them. Tell them how precious they are. They are developing the first fleeing ideas about who they are in the world and what kind of world this is. Remind them that they matter. Treat them like the treasures they are. It will build something into their soul that they will need to weather the tumultuous world of foster care.
The NICU can be a scary place for any parent, but especially so for foster parents. We are meeting a stranger under the most stressful of conditions. We don’t have any ability to direct medical decisions. We are often looked at with suspicion. We are trying to do that dance of loving and supporting Mom while also advocating for Baby. We are so thankful for the ways you make that easier by teaching us how to care for this child, being careful with his story, and treating his family with respect. You have much more of a role in setting the tone for this case than you may ever know.
So thank you for making our NICU experience something we still talk about fondly. It was a warm, quiet, safe place to get to know one of the most important people in my life. You were part of that journey for our family and we are forever grateful.