Monday, 11 February 2008

The day I became a parent.

It wasn't the day I was approved as a fostercarer. It wasn't the day I met my first fosterchild, and it wasn't the day that first child moved in. It was a day about six months after that, when I was fostering a different child entirely. This child was a seriously gorgeous little cutie-pie. His parents supplied exquisite designed clothing, he had a little angel face, and a truly wonderful innocent joie-de-vivre, a complete trust in the adults around him. He was, for various reasons, hard work. But he was also delicious.

This little lad had been living with me for five months, on a shared care basis with his parents. I had him during the week, they had him at the weekends (and I had a variety of other children instead, to keep life interesting). I woke up early one morning and for some reason decided to check the child. Not something I'd usually do; generally he'd come and find me when he woke up. His little feet and his panting breath as he huffed his way up the steep staircase to my bedroom from his were generally the first things I heard each morning. A lovely way to wake up.

Back to the story. On this particular morning I woke up early. Much earlier than usual, and instead of simply turning over and going back to sleep I walked down to his room and checked on him. I found him having a lengthy silent seizure in bed. Not a common occurrence; in fact only his second seizure ever.

How do you explain that? The seizure was silent, and his room was on a different floor to mine, so I would not have heard him thrashing about if he had been? I choose to believe that God woke me when I was needed; over and over again since then I've had similar experiences with my fostered children. I have been woken from a deep sleep knowing that I needed to check Mog, and found her not breathing or with her head trapped in her bed. I have been nudged to check Goldy, and found her trapped on her back, silently vomiting. These are just the ones that stand out, the ones where there was nothing noisily obvious to wake me.

But that wasn't the moment I became a parent either. Instinct took over, I called 999, gave him his emergency medication (which was ineffective), threw some clothes on over my nightie and grabbed a bag for hospital. I held him down as the paramedics fought to get a line in, I hushed him as he fought the oxygen, I rocked him as he slept. And I called his birth parents at breakfast time.

I didn't become a parent when we reached hospital. I was still the carer, still the significant adult in his life at that time, but I was not a parent. It was much later that day when parenthood hit, when his father and I sat by his hospital bed. And it was only a very small moment that tipped the balance from carer to parent.

I sat by his bed, holding his hand and idly reading the monitors. I ate some surreptitious lunch (hospital regs against food on the ward) and thought about how long I had been up. By 1PM, I was acutely aware that I was wearing dungarees over my nightie, and whilst this had been acceptable at 5AM and odd but understandable at 9AM, it was definitely bordering on the scarily eccentric now. It was as the clock ticked over to 1.40PM that I became a parent. Sitting beside this child I noticed the time, and my ex-residential-social-worker (my previous job) mind said "oh, not long to go now; late shift starts at 2 so I should be relieved in about an hour and" and then I realised. There wasn't going to be a late shift, I wouldn't be relieved, I certainly wouldn't be getting time off in lieu or compensation for my disturbed sleep-in. As the second hand ticked round, I realised that from now on, I was a parent.

Until that moment I had still somehow thought of my role as residential carer, but with me working every shift. With a child here just Monday to Friday, I had pictured my shift not as 12 hours long but as 5 days, with my nights not as life, but as sleep-in shifts. I had considered time spent by the child at nursery or school as "time off", and resented work based interruptions to it (Sick child, the inevitable constant round of meetings, etc). Realising this was just the first step towards being able to give up my residential role and relax into parenting instead. But that moment beside his hospital bed was definitely the moment I became a parent. The rest I had to learn on the job, just like any new parent does.

It's interesting that the day I became a parent was a day when the birth parents of the child I was now parenting were present too. Parenting is not an exclusive business, especially in the world of fostering and adoption.


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