The following is a parallel narrative based on a true story detailing two perspectives of the same circumstance: how a single photograph – a single bold decision – impacted a little boy and the people who loved him. The voices you hear are that of a Social Worker (SW) and a Foster Mother (FM).
SW: On my caseload was a mother entangled in addiction. The calling for drugs was stronger than the calling to mother. This “frequent flyer” and I were on a first name basis. I had met her in Labor + Delivery several times before, but this time I walked into her room and told her, “We need to stop meeting like this.” She said, “I know…. please find him a good home.”
FM: The Placement Desk called again, to tell us she had another baby. I glanced at the one playing happily on the floor beside me, gumming some rubber keys with her 2 perfect teeth. She was about 4 months behind on everything, but the Occupational Therapist was hopeful that with weekly visits and therapy play groups, she’d catch up, just like the others did. She has no idea she just became a big sister. “I need to stop answering the phone,” I thought.
SW: I knew where this baby was going once he was released from the hospital – into the same foster/adopt home his siblings went to. The foster mother told me when I dropped the last baby off that they wanted any future children related to the ones they adopted and are currently fostering. I liked this family, and it’s rare that siblings can be adopted together. But I bet they weren’t counting on seeing me again so soon.
FM: We tried for so long to have babies of our own. Nothing worked. Then we realized how many babies need homes right now, right in our own backyard. So we started fostering, which led to adoption. We thought we were done! Case closed: family acquired.
But then Mom had another baby, and we couldn’t bear the thought of our children’s baby sister being raised by strangers… so we gladly took her in. Of course we took her in. We would do anything to keep our precious family intact. I just didn’t know there would be another one so… soon.
SW: We’re required to do a Health and Safety visit within the first seven calendar days of placement. At the first visit, I sat on the floor of the home, while the foster mother was “wearing” the baby in an effort to cuddle and connect with this tiny human whose life had started in such struggle. I caught a glimpse of the overflowing kitchen trash can, but didn’t inspect further. I didn’t want to seem intrusive. This family seems like they really have it together. There’s something special here.
FM: My back hurt all the time from wearing the baby. The house was a disaster until about an hour before the social worker was scheduled to come for a visit. I frantically folded blankets, fluffed pillows, and barked orders at the older kids to pick up toys and take out the trash. I need it to look like we’re holding it together. I need her to believe we can handle this fifth baby, because we do want him. We really do.
SW: From across the floor, the foster dad looked at me intently, and said how he wished he had a newborn picture of this baby. He wanted to create a baby book for him to look at when he’s older. Though the case seems open and closed, we still have to go through due process with the courts. Mom will be given a chance to get her baby back – to get clean and learn how to parent. While it would likely be a years-long process, the foster parents are so hopeful they can one day adopt. All they wanted was a picture.
I had a picture of the baby in my phone from the first time I met him in the hospital. It was for the case file, supposed to be confidential.
FM: All my kids have “life books.” We did our best to piece together their beginnings, but for the most part, the pictures started when they came to live with us. Now that all the social workers have state-issued iPhones, my husband had a hunch we could start at the beginning with this one – try to give him an actual “baby book”. If there’s one thing we’ve learned by being foster parents, it’s that persistence pays off. Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.
SW: Do I share the picture with him? Would I lose my job if I did? The internal dialogue was getting louder, but my heart was telling me to share the picture. I told them I had a picture of the baby when he was just hours old and showed them. Their eyes swooned as they looked at it. I knew I needed to break the rules. As I said my goodbyes and walked out their front door, they received the picture in a text message. I turned with a grin and said, “I don’t know how you got that picture?!”
FM: To have a social worker who will bend the rules – if only for a moment – for the sake of your child, is exceptional. I wanted to hug her. To this day, I wish I could thank her. I wish she could see how he pours over this one picture that a stranger took before he came home to mom and dad.
SW: They did adopt this little guy and now he will have a picture of what he looked like just a few hours old. I didn’t send the picture for the foster parents. I sent the picture for him, because one day he will become an adult and want to know his story.
FM: Our son pours over his baby book, looking for a glimpse of his past, of his beginning, of his birth-mom. There will always be a hole in his heart where he never had the chance to know his mother. I have to be ok knowing I cannot fill that void. When he looks at his hospital photograph, I wonder if he’s looking for her. I’m so thankful we have something that connects him to her in those moments after birth – that tender moment of clarity when she knew he would go to a good home, and she was at peace.