Friday, May 4, 2018

Fostering Series: An Open Home

Once all the boxes have been checked, all the hoops dutifully jumped through, there comes a wait.

It varies for everyone, depending on your availability for number and age groups. Our family focuses on newborn/infant placements. While it hasn't been possible for us to have a large family with our fertility challenges, we're really good at the baby phase. Our lives are set up to absorb the shock really well.

I've been self-employed as a contractor for over a decade. I work for my dad and a few of his business partners. My work life is very flexible and able to hit the pause button if I need to because of other life circumstances. I can accept or decline contracts at will, sometimes I don't have much work for months at a time, sometimes I work every spare hour I can squeeze out of the nights and weekends. It's fluid. For the last decade, it's always seemed to ebb and flow perfectly with our family's financial and time needs. It's been an exercise in careful budgeting and trust in the lean times and saving and planning in the flush times.

This unusual balance allows our home to be a place that newborns can weave in pretty readily. Sometimes I'm working enough that we need a few days of daycare coverage each week, but mostly, it's okay if I can't get anything done during the day for six weeks until daycare is possible.

Many times, babies coming into the foster care system do so for a short time while extended family arrangements are ironed out. Being the stopping point on the way back to family gives everyone a little breathing room to figure out what's best.

Most times, there's a component of drug exposure with newborn placements that requires intense physical care. It's rare for a baby to be pulled from a mother's care without some kind of drug exposure because they're just starting out together, and few things can indicate such an early need for intervention, other than drug exposure (previous neglect or abuse histories with older siblings would be another reason).

Right now, our country is in the grips of an epidemic. Opiate addiction means some states have more babies with exposure history than homes to put them in. These, and other drugs, profoundly affect the neurological, digestive and nervous systems. Concerns can range from profound brain anomalies to poor circulation and food allergies.

In the case of many of these exposure borne differences, nurture changes the baby's world. Constant and vigilant services, therapy and care can make a change in the baby's ability to heal and develop that changes the trajectory of the rest of their lives.

This is why we wait for babies. Not because we think they're the cutest, or we don't want to handle other traumas, but because we've discerned this is the mission God gave us with our unique gifts. Our lives can expand to babies who only sleep 45 minutes at a time because their nervous system is so damaged. We have the resources and the support network to advocate well for early intervention therapies.

So, when we wait for a placement, our home is open a little longer than it might otherwise be, but we wait, with a certainty that God uses our gifts in perfect synchronicity with the special needs of a newborn foster placement.

Friday, April 27, 2018

An Anxious Pregnancy

It's Infertility Awareness Week. Can I tell you it's a really weird week to be pregnant for me?

Like I'm cheating on my fellow infertility sufferers. I've also been thinking a lot lately about the weight and space this pregnancy is taking in my life and in my emotions.

After dealing with secondary infertility for more than a decade, I could be trying every single fertility treatment and becoming pregnant is still a stunning occurrence. After two confirmed, and fairly dramatic losses, becoming pregnant doesn't equate to a baby for me.

It equates to an eternal soul, but when half your children are dead and you suspect you've had some additional early losses that were unconfirmed, the immediate sensation is not HOORAY BABY, it's PLEASE GOD PLEASE.

At the end of September, we were waiting with an open foster home for the word on placements. I had heard from my licensing rep that an expectant mother was due anytime and we were anticipating being the foster home for this baby. We didn't know gender, ethnicity, anything really, other than that we were on high alert for a hospital trip and it was time to make sure the baby carseat was ready to go.

On October 3rd, I walked out of the hospital with a baby who needed a foster home for an undefined amount of time. Our days and nights became wrapped in her care. We settled in to the newborn phase of life and a kind of magic surrounded us as I watched our family knit closer around this common purpose of new life.

A few weeks later, I thought to myself, "that's funny, shouldn't I be starting a new cycle?" New baby fog hadn't made for the best record keeping, but surely sometime around now was the start of the next month, right?

Feeling unsure what else to do, I took a test on a whim. As it turned immediately in the affirmative, I crumpled over the bathroom counter sobbing.  No, God, no. Not again. I can't lose another baby. I can't do this. 

I needed to call the doctor, I needed to start checking hormone levels and getting any necessary medications, but I was frozen in terror. The sobs wracked my body as I stood unbelieving in my bathroom. I frantically messaged my close prayer partners, I just got a positive pregnancy test. I can't stop crying. I'm having an anxiety attack and I can't calm down enough to call the doctor. Please pray.

Their love and prayers flooded in, and slowly, my breath stopped catching enough that I could make the call to the doctor with a wobbling voice. Tests were ordered, I went straight out to get them done, newborn in tow.

Progesterone was prescribed and levels were monitored. Always just on the cusp of sustainability.

Even as I worried the baby would survive, the waves of nausea rolled in. Standing upright left me shaking and dizzy. All my energy, all my effort was on just the next thing I needed to do to care for the girls.

In the background of it all, as I fought through the sickness laying over my life, all I could think was, this could all be for no baby. I could just be this sick and then have to survive another ectopic.

As I made it to the day of the first ultrasound at 7 weeks, I walked in with dread. Seeing the baby's little heart beat, I thought, this may be our only time seeing this baby.

At 12 weeks, my progesterone levels dropped dramatically and waves of anxiety rolled over me as I waited for my doctor's appointment that week. The nurse put the Doppler on my abdomen and nothing. No heartbeat could be found. My heart dropped and I focused on all the people who were praying for me at that moment as I struggled to keep my composure on the way to the ultrasound room.

That wait, those moments, I felt the tangible and physical presence of grace surrounding me. Nothing else kept me from hysterical sobs on that table, as they looked for the baby.

Expecting this to be the moment where my life crashed down around me once more, it took a minute for it to fully sink in that I was seeing my baby moving on the screen. There, wiggling around, happily alive, was this little warrior. An anterior placenta and scar tissue from a csection had blocked the doppler from hearing this fully alive and moving baby.

As we publicly announced the pregnancy, elation rolled in from everywhere. Friends who have watched us walk through dark and difficult passages reached out to share their joy at the news. Still, I would think, yeah, but the baby could still die, guys.

Each time these thoughts entered in, I would think about a story my mom told me. When my mom was a young grade schooler, her mother entrusted her to the care of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as she left the house. So I prayed, Mary, this baby is yours to hold. I give you this baby to guard and protect because I know your mother's heart will hold this baby as tightly as my own.

Mary had to take over, I could only rest in the knowledge that her heart, pierced with sorrows, would hold this baby close and mourn with me, if needed.

At first, I felt guilty to not be excited like my friends about the news of this baby. But, the Holy Spirit spoke clearly into me, let them hold the excitement for you until you can carry it too. This is the Communion of Saints at work in the Church. They can hold my excitement in their hearts as I walk a harder path set before me.

Each phase of pregnancy has carried different worries, and slowly, the baby coming home sneaks in as a possibility. At week 17, I drove to school pick up and was suddenly assaulted with the thought if the baby dies now, we're going to have to do a full funeral with everyone. That overwhelming thought settled in me and I answered it, that's true, and everyone will surround us if that happens.

Slowly, I counted weeks/days until that mark of survival, Week 24. Finally, if something happened with the contractions that had been sneaking in, the baby might not die. Each week past that moment was a weight removed, closer, closer, more possible, we might make it.

Each week was a practice in asking for help, letting others take on more for me as my body told me to slow down more and more.

Finally, now, I'm here in the third trimester, 31 weeks. Even more things have to be taken off my plate as I honor the baby's needs and my body. We need to keep baby in at least 4 more weeks, according to this week's doctor's visit. Almost there, closer, closer, and there, standing with me, are all the friends holding the excitement, loving us, caring for me, praying for us.

The journey through this pregnancy has been hard and heavy and physically painful and emotionally draining. But my interior growth as I've released the anxiety, let go of guilt over how I "should" feel and let others care for us is slowly transforming my interior, in step with the physical transformation of housing a person. So here I sit (or lay most times), waiting out the days until we all rejoice together that the baby is here.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fostering Series: Licensing

The licensing process can work differently from state to state and between agencies; here's a look into our licensing experiences in 2011 and 2017.

Once we knew we wanted to pursue fostering, the next step was finding an agency. In our area, we have two private and one public agency that handle foster care. We switched agencies between license renewals to find a better fit. Here are some things you should consider when talking with agencies:
  • How quickly do they respond to your questions and inquiries about fostering? Every caseworker and licensing representative I've ever met is overwhelmed with a very heavy caseload, so there's going to be a lag everywhere, but really pay attention to how well you feel heard when inquiring about foster care. 
  • Ask about what resources they have to support foster parents. Do they plan monthly support and educational meetings? Do they have dedicated staff for visit transport? Will you be expected to provide all transportation? It might seem small to do a little extra driving for visits, but you have to guard your downtime against burnout, and you'll be driving to many, many doctor's appointments probably, so a support person to drive for visits is a big plus.
  • Do you feel camaraderie with the workers at the agency? These are going to be your teammates, you should feel comfortable talking to them. They're going to be in and out of your house and a part of your life.
We didn't find our best fit the first time with an agency. It was manageable, but the process has been so much smoother and our comfort level so much higher being in an agency where we feel like we just fit as part of the team.

After the initial inquiries and decision to pursue our license with an agency, we moved on to basic data collection, physical check ups with a doctor and home and background checks.

The licensing process is the first step in kind of laying your whole life out in front of others. Not just the cute pictures you'd share on social media, but the details of how you were parented, how you parent, what traumas you've been through in life, all of it. In my state, there's a pretty intense questionnaire around 30 pages long that's your whole life story, your relationship with your family members, everything, put in a file for the agency's review and records.

It gets personal when you open up your life to the state and an agency.

A licensing representative walks you through the initial process, interviews you, inspects your entire home for safety concerns, talks to you about foster care and what to expect.

I remember frantically scrubbing baseboards and cabinet doors before our first licensing inspection. Seriously, my house shone like the top of the Chrysler Building. Then, the licensing rep walked through with a glance around, and I thought she didn't even notice how clean my baseboards are!!!!

After we moved houses and switched agencies, we had our new licensing rep out. I still cleaned and tidied, but I felt so much more relaxed having learned my lesson; they're not going to glove test my baseboards.

Once all the initial questionnaires, interviews and paperwork are filed, you'll need to be fingerprinted, have a physical and have a background check. Obviously fingerprints and background checks are a safety requirement you may have already considered. The physical isn't as obvious, but it's also a precaution to make sure you're in good health to provide the kind of physically demanding care of young children.

Finally, there's the training. This varies from state to state, and the requirements and methods even changed in my state between our licenses.

The first time around, we attended an in-class session of 3 hours at a time for 9 weeks. It was a great place to ask questions and really get to know the material. During our second licensing, we were part of the pilot group taking the online classes. We completed two modules a week and had the whole process completed in about 5 weeks.

While it was mostly a repeat of information for us, and the convenience of online classes really worked with my husband's work schedule, I think if it had been our first time through, being in the classroom is really where it's at. I say this as someone who designs online learning for a living, so I'd really urge you to consider the classroom if you're discerning this process.

Sitting with other foster parents helps you gain future support people, and the classes are usually led by veteran foster parents who can help answer your questions.

Once we'd completed all of our interviews, safety checks and training, one day, a paper arrived in the mail. There is was, we were an active foster home. Thus began the wait for a call. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Fostering Series: Discernment

Discernment is different for everyone, we all walk such a unique path in our journey to heaven.

For me, the first whisper of fostering I remember came around 19-20 years old. I was watching a news story about children aging out of the system, and a small seed was planted.

How could these children be alone?

Where are the families to take them in?

 It worked in my heart for years, slowly distilling into an urgent calling. Each Sunday, I would kneel after communion and a weight would settle onto my heart, my children are out there.

Following an ectopic rupture in 2010, I felt a firm push that now, now was the time. After nearly a decade of slowly growing in intensity, the call was sounding loudly. I felt we'd done what we could with what we knew in terms of my fertility and God was saying that we needed to look outside our own biology with our family. The answer wasn't in us, it was outside us.

So, slowly, my husband and I began talking about fostering, what it would look like in our lives, whether we both felt comfortable with it. I somewhat jokingly refer to myself as the "gas pedal" and my husband as "the brake". You need both for a safely moving car, so it's a good pairing, but one that can cause tension. Perhaps the holy tension of two souls making their path to heaven, perhaps a little less holy and more frustration filled, depending on the day.

My jump into fostering was a wild leap with abandon. My husband took some time, made sure we had the information and resources we needed, and then he walked into it with the bravery and determination of a man who knows he's embarking on a difficult journey.

Our foster placements have taught me the hard lesson many parents learn in the loss of a child, these souls aren't mine. There is no guarantee. They are the purest form of what God is calling us to with each of our children, care for them, all in, all the way until they don't need us anymore. Slam straight into the wall of love and loss so that they can know the complete love we're all striving to give our children.

I have heard we are brave for fostering. I have heard people say that they don't know how we could do it because they would get too attached.

I don't feel brave. I feel worried and uncertain and blind to what my future looks like. But, we all have pieces of our journey that ask bravery, of which we're uncertain. We all walk through some area of our lives with our hands along the wall, feeling for the next step.

This is my family's, and it maybe looks a little radical if it's not yours. We go in scared of loving and losing, we get too attached, but this is our calling. This is the voice of God that leaves no rest until answered. The Holy Spirit called, increasingly loudly, urging me to jump. I could feel the unrest in my soul building until we leapt. Now, it's the peace of the flight, the landing is left to God. It may be a crash landing where we are built again anew, it may be a sweet story of how our family grew, but always our hearts are growing in the gift of giving them away.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ignite: A Review

Franciscan Media provided a book for my review.  All thoughts are my own.  Links are non-affiliate.

Over the years, I've tried a number of things over the years to get better at daily devotionals, but it's always a struggle for me.
I'm not one to rise before I *absolutely* have to.  But, this year the girls are both in school all day (aren't they cute?!), so there's been a little more breathing room during the day.

One of the things that has really inspired my interest in digging back into the Bible is reading Ignite.  The back and forth conversation of Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers and Sonja Corbitt leads the reader through two different perspectives and experiences with the Bible.  

The book is divided out into the the Who, What, Why, Where, When, and How of the Bible, as well as a thoughtful explanation of Lectio Divina.

Any response is correct, even negative emotions.  He's a big God; he can handle your ugly. (pg 8)

This has been one of the biggest insights for me over the last decade of low fertility, pregnancy loss, foster care loss and everyday upset.  Offering all of ourselves up, even the hurt and hurting pieces is an offering.  The encouragement to let scripture into those places as I read them is a new layer to add to my prayer.

In reading through the When of the Bible chapter, I loved the anecdotes and ties to our Liturgical Feast days and the rhythm of the Church calendar, and how we can uncover it more fully in reading the Bible.  

As a cradle Catholic of cradle Catholics, I really enjoyed Sonja's insights, especially in Which Voice Is His.  Coming from a different faith tradition (Baptist), she takes the reader through her upbringing and impressions of the Catholic Church from the outside, and then dives deeper into the richness of the traditions she found.

Seeing the Bible from the outside looking in was a unique opportunity to approach the Bible in a new way.  The structure and order of the book helped me feel like I had the complete picture of where to start and why.  

If you're looking for a way to inspire your Bible reading, with a healthy dash of conversion story woven through, this is the book to add to your reading list.  Available in paperback.

Let me know what you think of the book and share your prayer time habits to help you stay on track!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Every Rosary Has a Story

Franciscan Media provided a book for my review.  All thoughts are my own.  Links are non-affiliate.

When I was 20, I took a trip to Italy with a group of college students for the Jubilee.  There was excitement and newness, wrapped in a trip centered on the oldness and familiarity of the Catholic faith.

I am a cradle Catholic, from cradle Catholics.  Our lives have been punctuated by and woven through with markings of this faith.  The smell of an old church at the end of winter, with the boilers keeping time with the falling thermometer, the feel of a wooden pew, aged by generations of hands before yours.  These familiar sensations laced through my childhood.

Always, with these sights, sounds and smells, the rosary.  The hard wooden beads or slippery plastic beads dotted the path of my childhood.  At the start of a long road trip, at the end of a Sunday, always there.

As I stood in the beautiful gift shop at the feet of the Vatican, there were rosaries.  

All different styles and materials.  This one, though.  This metal rosary with the cross of St JPII's papacy was the one I picked out especially for my someday husband. 

And there, in Rome, as I stood in a crowd of hundreds, I held the rosary for a special blessing from St JPII as he called our group by name and prayed a blessing for our families.

This rosary, I presented to my husband on our wedding day four years ago.  This rosary, he keeps with him 13 years later.  This same rosary, touched to the relic of St JPII.

As Catholics, our rosaries can weave a story through our lives, touching our hearts, holding our stories just like the mysteries of the rosary walk us through the stories of Jesus' life.

Within the greater context of our universal Church, our stories are magnified and held within this simple strand of beads as well.

In The Rosary: Your Weapon for Spiritual Warfare, Johnnette Benkovic and Thomas Sullivan dive into the miracles attributed to the rosary, as well as saintly devotions and tools to get our own devotion on track. 

They weave together a complete context and history of our Church's ties to the devotion of the rosary.  The book paints such a full understanding of where we are rooted in the history of this tradition that once finished, it feels like you are seated within the stories of the past as you pick up your beads. 

Just as I have the memory of my mother picking up her rosary, or the stories of my great-grandmother praying 15 decades every day, this book gives us all that rich heritage through the retelling of miracles and devotions.

Savor each piece of our history, and when you're done, share with me what most touched your heart.  The stories of St JPII kneeling in prayer as he was in forced labor as a young adult struck me with a pang to deepen my own devotions. 

Available in Paperback, Kindle or Audio.

Friday, August 18, 2017

7 QT: 101 Places to Pray

Franciscan Media provided a book for my review.  All thoughts are my own.  Links are non-affiliate.

When I volunteered to review some books, 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin' Catholic's Guide was high on my list to check out.
I love a good road trip and have fond memories of visiting shrines and beautiful cathedrals during youth group pilgrimages.  We would take two weeks, travel to work somewhere for a week, visiting holy sites along the way, then go play at an amusement park before heading home.  

Praying somewhere new, seeing the variety of holy, beautiful places in our country that celebrate our Catholic faith were formative, growing experiences as a teen.

If you're planning a family, individual, or group road trip, this is the guide you'll want to include in your trip planning.  From Hawaii to Maine and everywhere in between, our country is filled with treasures to behold.  

Here's my wish list of places I'd like to plan trips to soon.  If you've been there, or you know, have a place for me to crash along the way, holler!

(1)  Peosta, Iowa.

This one hails from close to my neck of the woods, and really, it's on my list to visit as soon as I have a weekend to take for a retreat.  This monastery and retreat center has a guest house with twenty-two rooms, so group retreats and individual retreats are both welcome.  They also offer structured retreats for those in discernment (not me - but maybe you!?)

(2)  Detroit, Michigan

Assumption Grotto  (pg 101)
This church has daily Latin masses, something I've never been to, but what a great pilgrimage experience for the whole family!  The Gothic architecture and close proximity to other interesting Michigan sites puts this on the list as a great stop for a family trip.

(3)  Fonda, New York

I've actually been to this site, and it's gorgeous.  It's one of those spaces where nature and Church come together to give you a sense of what it may have been like for our early Church ancestors in this country.  The shrine is an restored barn and there's a beautiful outdoor statue.
When I was there last, she was Blessed Kateri Tekawitha and I was a teen.  Since then, she has been canonized and is the patron saint of my oldest, whose name means Lily, and shares her birth month with St Kateri's feast day (July 14th).  

I really want to bring my girl to this place to see the shrine of her patroness.  Time to break out the old Almanac and plan a road trip for a summer soon!

(4)  Portland, Oregon

About The GrottoI am so drawn to Our Lady of Sorrows.  As a child, my parents had a print of  the Pierced Heart of Mary with the seven swords representing the seven sorrows.  In my adult life, as sorrows have gripped me, I've sought refuge in Mary's Mantle, comforted that she knows my sorrows as a mother and woman.  

Traveling to see the shrine to her sorrows is a dream trip.  The sanctuary also has amazing botanical gardens and a marble replica of the Pieta!  Go look at their website cover photo and tell me you don't want to join me.  So strikingly beautiful.

(5)  Doylestown, PA

My Polish grandmother was such a treasured part of my childhood.  Visiting this shrine to Our Lady of Poland and a center for Polish culture would be a chance to visit with her heritage.  

With all my grandparents deceased, presenting some of these experiences and parts of our heritage to my children has become even more treasured.

(6)  Dickinson, Texas 

This shrine has a relic of the true cross.  What an amazing treasure.  Texas has a special place in my heart, my brother's family lived there for a number of years, one of my sisters lived there and was married there.  

If only I'd had this book a few years sooner, I would have known to visit this shrine before my family moved back north!  Next time Texas, next time.

(7)  Champion, WI

Living in the Midwest, I had heard vaguely of this shrine, but after reading a bit more about the healings that have been attributed to this site, it's moved much higher on the priority list to get out there.  

It's also the only authenticated site of an apparition in the United States.  I started looking at when we have off school for teacher in services to take a family trip north sooner, rather than later.  

This book is available in paperback and Kindle.

For more quick takes, and Kelly's amazing news this week, check out This Ain't the Lyceum.