“What to Expect” When You're...Picking Up a Foster Baby From the Hospital
You haven't found this one on a bookshelf, have you? I wish, but alas, us foster mamas are left to figuring it out on our own, walking (aka tripping) this path without a "how to" guide.
Well, here's my "how to", a list of all the things I’ve learned along the way. Things I wish I would’ve known, things I did right, and (more often) things I did wrong. You, my friend, don’t have to look like a fool at the front desk of the hospital (“Um, I’m here to get a baby, but…I don’t know the baby’s name.”) or have your car seat carted out to the dumpster by mocking nurses or desperately search for a babysitter for your kids at home while you sit through the third hour of training. I’ve done those things so that you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Expect information - The good news about picking up a baby straight from the hospital is that you’ll receive far more information than you would ever typically receive about a foster child. You will most likely have hours to speak to the nurses and doctors who have been caring for your baby. Not only do they have medical expertise to share, they have the child’s medical history and, most likely, they have gotten to know the child’s routine and habits over his time in the hospital. Knowing anything about a new child in your care is wonderful. Knowing this much is foster parenting gold.
Expect it to take hours - I now know to carve out 4-5 hours for a hospital pick-up, but the very first time, I expected it to take about two. My babysitter had to leave for work, and my dad had to pull emergency babysitting duty. You guys, I love my dad, but he is a mere mortal, and I pretty much need Super Nanny™ to manage my crew. Lesson learned: schedule a babysitter for 5 hours. There’s the rigmarole of driving/parking/getting to the room, scrubbing in, 90 minute car seat test, training videos, discharge information, directions from the nurses, talking to the doctor, bottle, diaper change, and packing up, all before heading home.
Expect to bring a car seat - This may seem like common sense, but don’t forget the car seat and don’t forget to check the expiration date on the car seat. One time I quickly grabbed a car seat from the pile of 10+ sitting in my garage. When I got to the hospital, the nurses took one look at it and literally laughed out loud at me. It had expired about ten years before. Oops.
Be prepared to place the baby in the seat while a judgy nurse looks over your shoulder and shakes her head “no, no, no.” It’s all very confidence-building and makes you wonder how you’ve kept your children alive so far. Also remember that the baby will have to sit in the seat for 90 minutes for the car seat safety check.
Expect a social worker will visit your home - Each time I’ve picked up a baby from the hospital, the worker has either followed me home or visited within an hour or so. They need to check the baby’s crib, make sure you have formula, and generally make sure you’re prepared to care for a baby. So you’ll want to make sure those things are in order.
People often comment on how hard it must be to get out the door with six kids. The trick: I give every second of my attention to preparing us to leave as my children make every effort to destroy my house. I’m not really the “clean up for the worker” type, but if your house is really bad, they may not, you know, leave the baby. So you may want to straighten up a bit.
Expect to show up at the hospital with your new foster child’s information - File this one under the “duh” category. But, full disclosure: the last time I picked up a baby from the NICU, I showed up and realized I didn’t know the child’s first or last name, I didn’t know the worker’s name or phone number, and I didn’t know the hospital social worker’s name or phone number. The fact that they figured out who I was there for, let alone let me go up, let alone let me actually bring the child home, is a miracle. To anyone who was formerly impressed with me: “Pleased to meet you. This is the real me.”
Here’s that checklist of information you’ll want before you show up: •Child’s first and last name •Worker’s name and cell phone number •Hospital social worker’s name and phone number •Biological mom’s last name (In hospital records, newborn babies are tied to the mother’s last name, no matter the last name given on the birth certificate. If you only know baby’s last name, but not mom’s last name, the hospital may have a hard time tracking down your baby.)
Expect to (maybe) be escorted by security - The very first time I checked a baby out of the hospital, I was met by a frantic social worker. Bio mom was still at the hospital and was very upset, so I was quickly escorted to a small room where I had to wait until mom was walked out to her car. This could add time and, certainly, stress to the whole event, so it’s good to know it could happen.
Expect to walk out with a baby - Think about everything you would typically have with you when out with your baby. I like to walk in with an empty stroller (I’m partial to this one, especially in situations where you're picking up the car seat at the hospital) and a diaper bag with an outfit and diapers and wipes and the like. And in cold weather, I always bring along a car seat cover, blanket, and hat. If you don’t have all of this, don’t fret. I usually walk out with bags and bags of formula, diapers, clothes, blankets, and such from the hospital and/or bio parents.
Expect to find out things about the child that you didn’t know - Remember that game “Whisper down the lane?” You whisper something to the first person and then the message is passed (make that mis-passed) from person to person. No one intentionally tries to distort the message, but alas, it happens. There’s a long string of workers “down the lane.” There’s the worker who removes the child, the worker who makes the calls to place the child, the worker who actually places the child, and then the worker who will follow the child’s case. Chances are that the person who is calling you about the child has never met the child and has very limited knowledge about the child’s history and needs.
One time I got a call for a black baby boy with no health issues. Three different workers told me this baby was black and healthy. One went as far as to ask, “Are you white? Because this baby is black. Are you okay with that?” When I showed up this healthy black baby was so white he could’ve been called clear and had some serious health issues. Thankfully, his white-ness and health issues weren’t deal breakers, but they could’ve been for someone else. My advice? If you’re concerned about certain medical issues, I would ask for the phone number of the hospital social worker and ask to speak to a nurse or doctor in the NICU.
Expect to enter the NICU - I was pretty overwhelmed the first time in the NICU. I walked into a dark room filled with sick little babies and tired parents and saw the oh-so-tiny, five pound baby I would be bringing home. It was all very sad and intimidating. Also, be prepared to scrub in. It will nearly feel like Grey’s Anatomy...until you walk in and realize no one looks like McDreamy.
Expect training - Veteran moms, you’re going to love this one. You will be watching videos about how to operate a car seat, not shaking your baby, and other important-yet-already-known information. If the child you’ll be caring for has special medical needs, be prepared for much more training. I’ve spent hours learning how to operate monitors and perform CPR. Consider yourself warned: those rubber CPR baby dollars are creepy.
Expect to make an appointment with the pediatrician before you leave - The hospital won’t let you leave until the baby has an appointment scheduled with the pediatrician. This may mean they schedule it with whomever they choose (“Hello? Yes, I need to cancel my child’s appointment. Why? Because I’m not driving an hour into the city to meet with a doctor I don’t know, when my own beloved pediatrician is five minutes away.”). It may mean you need to schedule your own appointment. Bring your phone, or-if you’re still living in the year 1997- you’ll need to have your day timer and address book.
Expect grace - Caring for a new foster child is always challenging. Add on the challenges of a new baby who is premature, drug exposed, or struggling with an injury or illness. Expect to feel overwhelmed, confused, and pulled. Expect to question if you’re going to be able to love this child, or if you’ll love them “too” much. Expect to cry for their parents and be angry at their parents. Expect your other children to struggle with the adjustment. Expect friends and family to not fully understand. Expect to have to remind yourself of why you upended your life in the first place. Expect to feel weak and needy.
Expect to receive amazing mercy. Expect to find strength from your loving Father. Expect to receive comfort and direction from His Word and His Holy Spirit. Expect to receive forgiveness and power at the foot of the Cross.
Expect to experience the grace of God that is sufficient in every situation. Even foster care.