July 22, 2024
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July 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Night We Became a Foster Family

One Friday night in early August two strangers showed up at my door and dropped off a baby. It was almost anticlimactic.

My partner and I had gone through the foster-care certification process months before, and had been patiently waiting for a call, but there was no morning sickness, no bloating, no endless doctors’ appointments, and no labor. There was just me, getting a call on my cell phone while I cooked Shabbat dinner. Would I like a 1-month-old baby girl? Yes? See you in a few hours.

Those few hours were a blur. I called my partner and told him we were having a baby, and could he stop on his way home and get diapers and wipes? (God bless Jesse Bacon for being the kind of person who was not only not horrified by this turn of events, but was in fact incredibly enthusiastic and happy.)

Even as I felt my excitement building to a fever pitch, I tried to calm myself down. A few weeks before, I’d said yes to a 4-day-old baby girl, but the placement fell through before we even met the baby. So as we started to prepare for this arrival, I steeled myself for a call saying that it wouldn’t really happen. At the same time, I was giddy inside, feeling myself on the edge of hysterical laughter.

I ran down the street and knocked on the door of a neighbor. I didn’t know her well, but she had adopted a baby boy a year earlier, and I had a feeling she would let me borrow a Pack ’n Play. “Hi,” I said when she opened the door. “I know this is kind of crazy, but I’m getting a baby tonight, and we don’t have a place for her to sleep.” She laughed and hugged me–on her journey to adoption she had also gotten surprise phone calls and had little notice before the baby arrived. Luckily, she had just what we needed, and while she got it from upstairs I sat on the floor and played with her son. “I’m going to become a mother tonight,” I thought. It did not seem real.

When I got home I finished cooking Shabbat dinner because we were having guests over. I texted my family and walked the dog and waited.

Then someone from DHS (Department of Human Services) called and gave me some basic details about the baby (though not her name). After that, a nurse from the hospital called and gave me some instructions for the baby: her feeding schedule, her medicine, and the time and place of a doctor’s appointment on Monday morning. I interrupted after a minute, “Can you tell me her name, please?” The nurse spelled the baby’s name, but said she didn’t know how to pronounce it.

A few minutes later, Jesse arrived home bearing the finest in newborn amenities that CVS had to offer. We set the table and looked at each other: This was really happening.

And then it was Shabbat. Our guests arrived. We made kiddush, ate challah, and began the meal with soup. Just as we were collecting bowls, there was a knock on the door. A man and a woman and a tiny baby girl came in. They watched as we inexpertly set up the Pack ‘n Play. We were handed a big plastic bag of clothes, diapers, and formula. And then they lifted the baby out of the car seat and into our arms. We wrapped her in a blanket and looked at her in wonder.

And then they left, and we had a baby.

For the first hour I had a terrible feeling in my stomach. What had we done? I wondered as she cried. Looking around our house, which was set up for adults and my 6-year-old step-daughter, the baby seemed so out of place. I had been looking forward to this day for so long, but suddenly I felt terrified, like I’d made some kind of horrible mistake. Now that I’d done it, I was stuck…with a baby.

But as the night wore on, the baby got tired, and when we held her she gazed at us intently, as if she was trying to get to know us and figure out what this was all about.

Honestly, that first night was rough. Dafna (the name we gave the baby to preserve her privacy, and also because the people who dropped her off didn’t know how to pronounce her given name) couldn’t stay asleep, and we did not have any swaddling clothes. I could tell Dafna was dying to be swaddled, so we improvised, using a hand towel and the belt from my wedding dress. As I was cinching her into the towel she looked up at me with an expression that said very clearly, “amateur.” I was discouraged and embarrassed–even the baby could tell I wasn’t prepared–but Jesse was patient and calm, rocking and shushing her until she relaxed again, and fell back into a light, fitful sleep.

At 9 a.m. the next morning, I deemed it late enough that we could reasonably knock on a friend’s door and request baby supplies. I wouldn’t go to a store and buy things on Shabbat, but fellow Kveller writer Sharrona lives a few blocks away, and had been our biggest cheerleader when we were going through the certification process. When I showed up bright and early to ask her if we could borrow some swaddling clothes, she went down to the basement and emerged with several huge bags of baby clothes, from socks to onesies to all the swaddling clothes a baby could ever hope for. I felt like I’d won the lottery.

That afternoon we were scheduled to co-host a picnic in the park for a friend who was moving out of town. The park was nearby, but since we didn’t yet have a stroller or any kind of baby-moving device, we couldn’t figure out how to get Dafna to the event, and didn’t feel like we could just not show up. After debating a few options, I knocked on the door of yet another neighbor. She and her husband have six kids (seventh on the way) and I suspected she had a baby carrier that we could borrow for the afternoon. When I explained what we needed she ran and found a carrier, and told us to take our time returning it.

So we set off for the park, where we were greeted by a dozen or so friends, and had a lovely meal. Dafna slept and stared up at the sky. Another Kveller writer, Miriam, went home and brought us yet another load of vital baby gear. (Seriously, how did people survive before the SwaddleMe was on the market? Dafna Houdini’d her way out of nearly every swaddle, but that Velcro held her in tight.)

That afternoon, all three of us napped, exhausted by the craziness of the last 24 hours.

It took a couple of days, but sooner than I ever could have imagined, it all felt real and good and even normal. And not just to me.

The second night she was with us, Dafna slept through the night.

*This article is reprinted with permission from JTA. It may not be reproduced without permission. If you would like to receive your free subscription to JTA’s daily briefing, visit http://www.jta.org/briefing/index.htm.

By Tamar Fox, via Kveller/JTA (reprinted with permission)

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