Early one morning, an infant I had just finished feeding looked intently into my eyes, and his lips blossomed into a smile. When I smiled back, he squirmed in delight. I hugged him and told him we would practice smiling every day so that when we turned him over to his new adoptive parents, he would be able to light up their world with his smiles.
As foster parents in the baby boarding program of LDS Social Services, my husband and I act as a way station for babies who are journeying home. People often ask us if it’s hard to love these babies and then let them go. “No, not really,” we reply. It tugs at our heartstrings when we say good-bye, but it is exciting to know that the infants are going to worthy couples who have been praying and preparing for a child and who will love them with all their hearts.
My whole family considers it a privilege to care for foster babies. My teenage son adores every child we bring home. Our married children and our grandchildren treat the babies as honored guests in our home. At a recent family reunion, our foster baby attracted more attention than our two new grandbabies, but no one seemed to mind.
My natural shyness makes it difficult for me to speak to strangers, but whenever I have a baby in my arms, people come to me. When we take a baby for a walk, neighbors suddenly want to get to know us better. Noticing my gray hair, most people ask if the baby is a grandchild. When I explain that we are foster parents for our church, they often ask other questions about the Church and its programs.
We’ve learned several ways to help babies make the transition between families. Babies sense quite early whether they’re wanted or resented, so we shower them with love. However, infants need to develop independence as well. I let the babies spend a little time on their own, observing the world and learning that they don’t have to have something in their mouths or be held every minute to be content. I let trusted family members and friends hold and cuddle the infants so the babies won’t be afraid when new parents enter their lives. I don’t let babies cry unattended, but I often put them to bed awake so that they won’t grow fearful about falling asleep in familiar arms and then waking up in strange surroundings. My husband and I refer to each other as Grandma and Grandpa, leaving the names Mommy and Daddy for the baby’s new parents.
We follow several traditions in caring for our foster babies. I give each infant his or her own music box that plays “I Am a Child of God.” I feel that this inspiring song provides familiarity and continuity as the baby moves on. We take pictures of our foster babies to put in their journals so they will have a record of their lives when they leave us. When we have the opportunity to take care of babies from ethnic groups other than our own, we learn about their countries of origin and include in their journals information about their heritage.
We faced challenges recently when a newborn infant entrusted to us became ill and lost weight. Doctors detected a heart murmur and found a large hole in her heart. She was in the hospital for twenty-three days as the medical team tried to help her grow strong enough for surgery to repair her heart. Even with extra feedings, she weighed less at six weeks of age than she did at birth.
I spent much time with her at the hospital. Whenever I would pull myself away to go home for a few hours, I wondered if she would still be there when I got back. She lacked the strength to cry or move around, and she had to breathe three times faster than normal to make up for the problems resulting from the hole in her heart. Sometimes when I looked at her, I felt that she would have been relieved to give up and die.
We encouraged her, sang to her, and cuddled her limp body. We willed her to live at least until she could be sealed to a family of her own. When the doctors determined that she would not survive surgery, we took her home after we had received training in all the critical areas of her care: administering heart medication, changing feeding tubes, and watching for changes in her vital signs.
Oh, how our love for this child grew! We feared that the trauma of removing her from our care would be fatal. Yet I felt that the Lord had a family waiting for her. My feelings were confirmed when, after much prayerful deliberation, LDS Social Services decided to place her in an adoptive home despite her health problems. A gradual transition was arranged; the adoptive family came and visited her and gained her trust before taking her home. When we saw her a few weeks later, she was secure and thriving in her new family. She smiled at us when we held her, then reached out to her adoptive mother. As time passed, the hole in her heart closed enough to postpone surgery until she was stronger. We attribute her remarkable recovery to priesthood blessings.
I often reflect that mothers who place these precious babies for adoption want them to enjoy better, more stable lives than they could provide them alone. I notice that we don’t need to have a baby in our home very long to truly love that baby. We miss these babies when they go, but we know that they and their new parents will love each other and bless each other’s lives. Meanwhile, we are grateful for the opportunity to serve as a way station of love.
Sister Aileen H. Clyde, second counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society, said: “Positive nurturing is essential to the healthy development of individuals, especially very young ones whose beginnings have not resulted in a smooth flow of parental love. People who are willing to provide temporary foster care for such children can contribute significantly to the well-being and spiritual, emotional, and physical growth of those children” (from an address given 30 Apr. 1993 at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah).
Opportunities are often available for interested Latter-day Saint couples to serve as foster parents for both infants and older children. Working with LDS Social Services, these parents can give love to foster children and prepare them for future placement in carefully selected adoptive families. LDS Social Services takes care not to let children get bounced from home to home, which may cause them to develop feelings of insecurity, rejection, and ultimate rebellion. Your bishop can help you find out if foster parents are needed in your area.
Members are also encouraged to seek opportunity to help through local government agencies. As President Gordon B. Hinckley recently stated, “How great is our responsibility, how serious the responsibility of Christian people and men and women of goodwill everywhere to reach out to ease the plight of suffering children, to lift them from the rut of despair in which they walk” (Ensign, Nov. 1994, p. 53).