One of our first residents arrived with a four-month-old baby who had a heart condition that had not been treated. The child did not have a healthy, pink glow like most children, and she appeared to have gone without a bath for some time.
Not too long after this mother and child arrived, the woman left her baby at Blue Monarch and went to Florida to reunite with the baby's father. Yes, that's right. She asked us to care for her child and left town with no clear plans to return.
Naturally I contacted the child's grandmother and assumed she and her husband would immediately rescue their grandchild. But guess what? They did not. They had no intentions of solving this mother's problems. They had helped her so many times - they were finished.
This is something I understand much better today. But at the time, I was completely confused and angered by this reaction.
So I did what seemed reasonable at the time. I went to court and got temporary custody of the child. I went to work as usual one day - and came home with a baby. I just couldn't bear the thought of her going to strangers when she had an ordeal like surgery coming up soon.
At this point in our lives, my only child was in college. A baby didn't really fit into our world very well, and she screamed most nights because of night terrors. Our world was turned upside down and I didn't really have a clear plan for how this might play out.
Soon we began multiple trips back and forth to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital to prepare for heart surgery, and it was difficult to watch her tiny, little body go through all that was involved in that process. I have vivid memories of curling up next to her in the hospital crib, desperate to give her a sense of love and comfort during such a frightening time. There was one scary incident when she fought with the oxygen tube until it developed into a middle of the night crisis with a team of nurses and doctors struggling to help her. My heart ached as I had to explain over and over who I was, and why she was not with her mother during such a critical time.
There was a young, single mom working at Blue Monarch, whose lifestyle made much better sense to take on the role of primary caregiver for this baby, but Evie (not her real name) was still my responsibility and I loved her. Needless to say, I became extremely attached to this precious child and watched her thrive and grow from a sickly four-month-old, to a vibrant toddler. She was bright, funny, and had a fiery temper to go along with her beautiful red hair. I loved this child and felt a fierce need to protect her. She had a supportive and loving family surrounding her and her future looked bright.
But after we had ten months of falling in love with Evie, the grandmother decided she wanted to have her after all. I couldn't imagine a judge granting her custody when we had become Evie's family, but he did. It was that simple. She was family. We were not.
So on an otherwise ordinary day in a Stuckey's parking lot, we handed her over to the grandmother, along with a list of her favorite foods, which only illustrated how little this grandmother knew about our baby. I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest as I watched them drive away. It's a pain that was so severe, it's really impossible to describe.
However, today, all these years later, I thank God for that painful experience. You know why? It's because Blue Monarch is in the business of restoring families. We help women become better parents so they can regain custody of their children. In fact, at this point over 200 children have reestablished relationships with their mothers who had previously lost custody. But for every child that is reunited with his mother, there is likely a caregiver out there who is left with a broken heart, perhaps watching our car leave the parking lot with the child he or she loves.
If not for this personal experience, we may not have encouraged our mothers for all these years, to recognize and thank the many foster parents, grandparents, family members, and friends who were willing to care for their children when they were unable to do so themselves.
We rejoice when mothers are able to reunite with their children after lots of hard work and self-improvement. That's a glorious blessing! But we must also celebrate and honor the loving caregivers who are willing to offer their unprotected hearts to a child in a crisis. It's possibly God's best way to wrap his arms around his precious children when they need it the most. And the impact of that special gift is truly immeasurable.
Thank you, Lord, for showing me that in our efforts to reunite mothers and children we must never forget the sacrifices of those who bravely and selflessly step in to fill the gap.
Update: The grandparents have done a wonderful job of raising Evie. She is healthy, happy, extremely bright, speaks two languages, and is, of course, still beautiful.