The story below is an excerpt from an article written by my grandmother, Betty Girard. This article originally printed as “Somebody Needs Me” by Betty Jean Girard, OACAS Journal, Number 5, Volume 24, year 1981 is reprinted with permission from the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies.
My grandparents served as foster parents in Windsor, Ontario for over 30 years until 1990, and in that time cared for over 150 infants who were awaiting new homes. I remember vividly many of the precious children they had over the years and still enjoy browsing through the albums, full of baby photos lovingly kept. I came across this article by accident during a recent visit with my grandmother, now 86 years old, and was so moved and proud I wanted to share it. I have a renewed respect for her and indeed all foster parents, for doing one of the toughest jobs imaginable- loving, and letting go.
Somebody Needs Me
by Betty Girard
I have been a foster mother for the Children’s Aid Society for years and would like to share some of this experience. Here is the way it all began for me.
Taking care of two daughters fulfilled me for the first six years of their lives, but when they attended school full time, I became bored and restless. The house was empty and so were my arms. They didn’t seem to need me as much any more and it appeared I was already in the very early stages of “empty nest symdrome”.
I was a secretary before my marriage and would willingly have returned to that career, but it was not practical to do so. Babysitting arrangements would have to be made for the girls after school and my husband worked long and irregular hours, often coming home for meals exhausted, whenever time permitted.
It took minmal effort to keep our small house clean and it is not feasible to wash curtains and carpets weekly, nor bake an apple pie every day. I tried volunteer work- getting involved with church and charity activities, but there still remained too many lonely days to fill. My longing to be really useful was not satisfied.
On an impulse, I called the Children’s Aid Society to inquire about their foster parent program and at their request, my husband and I were interviewed at their agency office. The social worker in charge questioned our motives fully and seemed to be trying to talk us out of the project, explaining the heavy responsibilities we would be taking on in exchange for no financial gain.
There would only be rewards for the heart.
It was 1956 and the boarding rate at that time was $1.10 a day for infants. This amount has since been increased of course. The cost of formula and food was to be borne by us, while clothing and medical expenses belonged to the agency.
We had to submit letters of recommendation from our clergy, family doctor and three others from persons knowing us for more than two years.
A home study was undertaken and our daughters were introduced– full of enthusiasm for the idea of having a new brother or sister. Although we had been warned that they might not readily accept an outsider in our home and even possibly be resentful, no such opposition ever materialized. We could not have been more thoroughly investigated if we had been applying to adopt. Official approval was given and we were told we could expect our first foster baby soon. My husband resurrected crib, highchair and pram, from basement, garage and attic, strengthening and cleaning every item carefully. We were ready.
His name was David and he was five months old. I remember his eyes as the biggest and bluest I had ever seen. He was very insecure and mistrustful, having already been in two other foster homes during his short life and the additional move to yet another strange house and family had terrified him. Following weeks of patient, tender loving care, he responded finally with his first smile. It was worth waiting for.
The worker noted his progress from a frightened and withdrawn child to one who was happy and outgoing. It was time to make adoption plans. Although this was the ultimate goal we had been working toward, there was no way we could have been completely prepared for the sadness we felt now that the prospect of losing him was immediate.
The babies available for adoption far outnumbered the families who wanted them in those days, but today the reverse is true and the line of eager couples is long, often resulting in a waiting period.
Parents were chosen for David and he left us for the last time on his first birthday. He had visited his new home for several consecutive days, eventually staying overnight one weekend in an effort to make his adjustment easier. Long after his placement, the worker confided that the little boy spent an entire week standing at the front door- waiting tearfully for me.
I could not bear to think of his believing we had forsaken him and for a while was not so sure I wanted to be a foster parent, after all.
It was a traumatic experience for our girls who were very much affected by the loss of David. They had helped bathe and feed him, begged for the pleasure of wheeling his carriage, raced to be first to lift him from his crib every morning. Their father and I had frequently reminded them that he was only a temporary love in our lives. If we were to continue fostering, we had to learn to love each one as our own, yet find the courage to “let go” when departure time came.
We talked about how much we had enjoyed watching his development- seeing him emerge from an unhappy baby to a cherubic and contented toddler. We had been the first to see his smile, his endless fascination with his image in the mirror, those first faltering steps, the way he would hiccough when he chuckled. No one could take these precious memories from us. We concentrated on the joy and excitement the new parents must be feeling and it was rewarding to realize we had made a meaningful contribution to their lives.
A few days later, a newly born baby girl was brought to our care. She stayed for several months and was replaced by a series of 150 young children from varied ethnic backgrounds during the next 25 years. I have never lost the thrill of hearing the telephone ring with someone to tell me an infant is on its way to my bassinette.
I have heard the comment many times that it must be exhausting and annoying to get up in the night for the inevitable 2 a.m. bottle, but I find it not unpleasant sitting in the quietness of the sleeping house, feeding a warm and drowsy baby. It means somebody needs me.
Countless women have remarked that they, themselves, are too tender hearted to take in foster children because it is so painful to lose them later to adoption. It is obvious that if everyone felt that way, all these little ones would have been given institutional care in orphanages, perhaps never knowing a warm family life.
My husband has always been helpful and understanding, giving our young charges a lot of fatherly attention. Our rocking chair is well worn.
We normally foster only one child at a time and there is often a depressing and pathetic story behind each. Most have been babies of mothers who have made the courageous decision to give them up for adoption, but we have also had many toddlers from broken homes- some abandoned in the night- some beaten and deprived.
There was a one year old boy covered in human bites and a little girl with cigarette burns to her throat. To see youngsters with black and swollen eyes has not been unfamiliar.
Standing out in my memory is one tiny victim who had a serious heart defect. She came from a home where her alcoholic parents indulged in fierce and violent quarrels. During these battles, her father, justifying it as an act of revenge against his wife, used to hide the baby’s medicine, upon which her little life depended!
Being a foster parent is not for everyone. There is emotional pain involved and I do not want to underestimate or oversimplify it.
At the time of this writing, a little boy not yet two years old, lies sleeping in our crib. He is suffering from irreversible brain damage, is severely physically handicapped, and believed to have only peripheral vision (legally blind). He is on a rigid exercise program of physiotherapy to help him attain at least partial use of his arms and legs.The heartache and hard work it takes to care for him is surpassed by the challenge and personal satisfaction. Even the slightest improvement in his physical condition is cause for celebration.
There is always an urgent need for good homes and parents for older foster children, but for us, happiness is having a baby in the house!
“Somebody Needs Me”, Republished with permission from Betty Girard and the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies
Special thanks to the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies for also providing the following links:
OACAS website –on fostering – www.oacas.org/childwelfare/foster.htm
OACAS website -on adoption – www.oacas.org/childwelfare/adopt.htm
Homes for Kids – www.homesforkids.com
Winning Kids – www.winningkids.ca
If you have any questions regarding OACAS’ foster care training program, please call (416) 987-7725