I stood at the kitchen window staring at our back porch. No breeze moved the weaving ivy, and the house was quiet while my boys, then seven, five, and three, lay down for their afternoon rest. My hands rinsed dishes, but my mind thought about two small girls in foster care, wondering if we could call them our own. Silently, I prayed we would be placed with them. The decision now waited on the social workers desk.
As if in the same breath with my prayer, a pair of hummingbirds zipped up to the window and hovered. My heart flooded with peace and expectation. I knew in that moment we would be their forever family. Twin birds, broken and neglected, would fly into our lives just after their first birthday.
An eager mother, I took all the required classes, read at least a half dozen books on attachment and adoption, and scoured the Internet for firsthand experiences. In the same way that nothing can truly prepare you for parenthood, nothing could have prepared me for the realities of bringing two traumatized children in to our home.
They were twenty-pound toddlers but acted like colicky newborns. They needed to be bounced and held while standing up, or they cried fiercely. I’d strap them onto my body with baby carriers, one in front and one behind, and do my best to keep everyone fed and safe. The house was a wreck that I hardly left. My favorite hobby was washing and organizing five sets of clothes into cubbies, one outfit for each day.
I was lost in motherhood and isolated by my experiences, but somehow found myself through pain. Exhausted and alone, God was stripping away my protective layers of self-focus. I was at my happiest and most desperate places all at once. Life is funny like that, the contrast of darkness giving way to brilliant light.
It had been nearly six months, and we were beginning to settle in as a family. I could feel the awakenings of it, the way you feel late winter get less chilly and you know spring is on its way.
Faith was a busy and sensitive seventeen-month-old. As I changed her diaper, I noticed her little legs were swollen all the way up to the hips.
I called my husband over, and we both inspected her. Her eyes and belly were also swollen. With a pit in my stomach, we took her to the nearest ER.
We stayed in that crowded waiting room for eight hours. The staff brought us back twice for triage that included the most horrible blood draw. It took several nurses and five attempts. Well past midnight, they strapped me into a gurney, and, with Faith on my lap, wheeled us into an ambulance. We transferred to the Children’s Hospital.
Something in Faith’s blood work was off. The ambulance EMT told me the transfer order said Nephrotic Syndrome, a rare disease he had to Google. Faith looked like a scared wild animal.
IV’s running, Faith throwing up and crying, and us in a tiny hospital room shared with another family, separated by hanging sheets, marked the start of a journey I couldn’t have fathomed in my worst nightmare. We went home the next day with steroids and a diagnosis. Nephrotic Syndrome was on a rampage in her tiny body and not ready to give up. The swelling continued, and the hospital stays got longer. She stopped walking, talking, and eating.
We were thrust into crisis mode before enjoying the spring season after their placement. Their old wounds weren’t closed before new injuries began. I was nurse and caretaker for Faith and did my best to give what I could to her brothers and twin sister Hope.
Hope was angry most of the time. Even as a toddler, Hope’s little body responded to chaos by controlling every situation. This was her survival instinct.
When I wasn’t home, I was at the doctor’s office. Or the hospital. Or the infusion room. A carousal of caregivers from my mom, husband, and friends at church watched the other four kids.
It was a beautiful spring day, but I wouldn’t have known it. There were no seasons inside the cold hospital. Painted trees with crazy looking woodland creatures covered the walls of the children’s wing year-round.
Faith gained over half her body weight in fluids and was recovering from a kidney biopsy, and a chest port, and a nasal feeding tube placed the day before. The monster inside her, which we would later know as FSGS, the incurable, life threatening cousin to Nephrotic Syndrome, took over her lungs.
The nurse came in for the four pm vitals and lingered. She listened to Faith’s chest, checked her pulse ox, and stayed quiet. She left and quickly returned with a resident.
“We are moving her to the PICU, just to be safe.”
A team of trauma nurses, all clad in navy jumpsuits, boots, and a singular focus, flooded into the room. The family sharing our hospital room looked alarmed. The team brought in new monitors, chest stickers, oxygen, and IV pumps. They rushed her out on a gurney.
Through the first watch of the night, I tried to sleep while a nurse and respiratory therapist stood near Faith’s crib—like angels, attempting to stay one step ahead of faith’s collapsing lungs. Somewhere in the middle of the night, all the lights came on, more machines were wheeled in, and a dozen people entered the room. They were going to intubate her and put her on a ventilator and into a medically induced coma. The machine’s warning alarms were terrifying. My heart went up and down with each beep.
Early that morning, I let everyone know. It seemed unbelievable, but things were still deteriorating. They moved Faith from a ventilator to an oscillator, and then made preparations for a heart and lung bypass machine. She needed surgery in her room to place another line and a dialysis catheter.
The doctor told us it wasn’t looking good—we should say our goodbyes before the surgery. Just in case.
I collapsed in the hallway, two of my friends held me on either side. Sobbing and trembling, not knowing, I cried out to God. I never knew emotional pain could hurt so bad physically.
My sister-in-law across the country, saw a beautiful double rainbow and sent me a picture. A promise of God’s faithfulness. In my soul I knew, from that moment, Faith would live. I believed it more than the doctors.
I stayed in the hospital four more weeks while Faith continued to fight lung and kidney failure on life support. The adoption social worker came to visit, and we signed the final paperwork in the PICU conference room. They were already ours in our hearts, but to the doctors and social worker, a foster parent’s commitment to a child on life support, seemed beyond understanding. Some strength in love cannot be explained by human effort.
Faith endured twenty more hospitalizations and surgeries. I trained to run her feeding tube and IV’s through the port in her chest from home. Because of the crisis, we had to move.
I had on my hands twin two-year-old’s who were in the midst of a fresh trauma. One from medical events, and the other from inconsistent attachment with the third mother she had known. We were so much more a mess now than when we began.