After a 20 hour journey and all the emotions one could possibly feel, I finally lifted her in my arms and carried her to the awaiting car. As I buckled her into the car seat, I felt relief…and sadness. I had just witnessed the painful parting of a child from a foster parent, and this time I was on the other side.
The foster moms eyes were shiny with unshed tears and the green canvas bag she packed was carefully packaged with photos and memorabilia from the previous year. Well-loved blanket and toys, carefully folded outfits, and bottles had been placed in her overnight case.
I sat there knowing that feeling; that gut wrenching hurt of working so damn hard for a child and then handing them to the arms of another. It hurts and it rips you bare. I could imagine the tears as she folded all the memories into her bag, and perhaps prayed that the baby would be well loved and cared for. The feeling of emptiness in her heart and her arms as she walked away from the child and boarded the bus home.
She had done some hard work; taking in an 18 month special needs child from an orphanage is not for the weak of heart. It certainly is not a popular or easy decision in her country. I did not need to be able to speak Bulgarian to understand foster mom’s pain. That day I realized foster parenting speaks a universal language.
Zorey has done so well these past few days, but I see the damage from the orphanage. Here’s the real deal, what you cannot see in pictures.
She rocks herself violently to go to sleep, like thrashing her head from side to side for over 30 minutes. Ive learned that the neglect and emotional abandonment in an orphanage causes babies to self stimulate or self soothe, this might look like rocking, biting, teeth grinding, etc. In order to grow healthy brains, children must grow up in socially responsive situations, there is no such thing as a ‘good’ orphanage. Orphanages hurt children.
When she gets stressed, or tired, or angry, or scared,..she scratches her face and pulls her hair. Hard, hard enough to leave marks and pull out hair. Orphanages hurt children.
She has no language…yes, she is 2 1/2 and has baby babble. Zorey does not have a medical condition that causes intellectual delay, this is what happens when an infant is not talked to or nurtured. A baby comes into this world hard-wired to bond with a caregiver or parent. If this does not happen, the brain involved in vision and language and emotion don’t get wired correctly. Brains scans of orphans, show a brain that is physically smaller. Orphanages hurt children.
I have zero medical scans. Zorey is a double amputee with a club foot and they have not scanned or x-rayed to see how her bones are formed. When pressed, they admitted they have never done them. And yet, she has still undergone multiple procedures. Orphanages hurt children.
But I also want you to see what foster care has done for Zorey, she can chew. Israel did not have a foster home for any period of time and he could only consume puréed foods. It is much faster and more convenient in an orphanage to keep special needs children on a liquid diet. Foster families change lives.
She can go out into public and not whimper and cry. She has been allowed outside and she can also play with toys. Foster families change lives.
She has slept without waking and silently sobbing from night terrors. She looks me in the eyes and snuggles tight for comfort. Zorey is not afraid every moment of every day. Foster families change lives.
Zorey is not malnourished. This past year she was not kept in a crib all day, which meant she did not pass time by chewing her fingers or rocking endlessly. She was held and loved by a foster mother. Foster families save lives.
Children belong in families. As a foster parent, I have take in children from severe neglect and abuse, and I will tell you that none, not a single one of the kids that I cared for had the behaviors and delays that an institution will cause. Please do not look at the pictures and videos and see only a snapshot or a moment. I never want to underplay the damage of an institution. Israel and Zorey will always have residual effects from their stay in the orphanage.
I do want to applaud the devotion and care of a foster parent. Zorey has a long road medically and emotionally, but she is so much better off for having spent time in a family. Her foster mother knew that Zorey could receive social acceptance and better medical care by giving her up. And that is pure, sacrificial love.
As foster parents, we know our hearts will be broken. We know the kids we care for will go home. We know that we will pour everything into a child, and might never see the return. But, we also know the profound impact that can be made in the life of a child. I know this, I will soon be flying home with the evidence.