April 5, 2012

The Race (Part II)

My New Stride

Every runner knows that if you want to compete well, you will need to run at a consistent pace:  not too slow that you get behind, yet not so fast that you use up all of your energy at the beginning, having nothing left for the remainder of the race.  As the weeks turned into months, and I continued caring for my sweet little foster daughter, I discovered that “frantic” was my new normal.   

Every day, almost without exception, was saturated with demands on my time and attention, as well as constant interruptions to my attempts to establish a routine:  the daily logs and paperwork and medicine charts that needed to be kept current; the home nurses’ roster that was in a constant state of flux and frequently had to be rescheduled; the therapists, each with their own specialty, who came to our home to work with her each week; the hours and hours spent at doctor’s appointments or waiting for the results of lab work or x-rays. 

Unfortunately, the nights rarely offered any reprieve.  The tiny human being in the room down the hall didn’t know the difference between day and night, weekdays and week-ends, and the viruses that frequently plagued her body didn’t know the meaning of the word “holiday.”  Monitors would beep or alarm at any time; equipment would fail without warning; fevers would spike in a matter of minutes.  If an inexperienced nurse was on duty, she may not know how to handle the predicament, so I would hear the footsteps running down the hall and the frantic knocking on my bedroom door.  It was also quite possible that there was no nurse on duty on any given night.  Finding qualified people who were willing to work the graveyard shift was a constant challenge.  Quite frequently, my husband and I became a relay team, passing the baton of night-time nursing responsibilities back and forth between us.  Sleeping in half-hour intervals became common.

A mother’s life is, by definition, busy and full.  Add in a medically-fragile baby to the mix, and even though it isn’t the child’s fault, life becomes absolutely insane and out of control.  There was simply no way I could physically continue that frenzied pace for any length of time.  And yet, what other choice did I have?  Her life literally depended on me!  

After a few months, my focus changed.  No longer was I able to think about the finish line, or even the next milepost.  It took every ounce of energy and determination just to take the next step.  To put one foot in front of the other, gasping for my next breath.  Forget the smooth, steady, consistent stride.  My gait became an awkward, unsteady limp.  I became so weary that even my bones hurt.  Every day before I even got out of bed in the morning, I begged the Lord to please, please let me quit.

Obstacles and Weights

If my “normal” pace was defined by madness and insanity, imagine what would happen when I hit a speed bump.   The little one would get sick, which for her, meant that I needed to drop everything and get her to the emergency room as quickly as possible.  I lost track of how many hospitalizations and operations she required!  Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, another medical procedure would be required, or an adjustment would need to be made to her medication or therapy or routine.  Another tube would be added.  My older children became accustomed to keeping a book bag packed at all times, so that they could do their school work at the hospital.  

Foster parents expect to make sacrifices for their foster children, but this girl’s health was the center of my universe, the determining factor in every decision.  All of my adult life I have prided myself on being a woman of my word, of always keeping a commitment.  But now I had to be content to write everything in pencil on my calendar, and my friends learned that if we made plans, they very likely would have to be changed at the last minute.  Because all of my focus was on advancing forward, on accomplishing the next task at hand, I barely noticed the scenery around me, much less had anything to offer anyone else.  If any of my friends faced difficult circumstances during that time period, I honestly cannot tell you one detail about them.  I was a preoccupied, unreliable friend.

I also realized that I was failing miserably as a mother and family member.  I distinctly recall the time we had anticipated with excitement spending the holidays at my sister’s house out of state.  My kids were devastated when we had to cancel on Christmas Eve due to a medical emergency.  To my weariness I now added the burdensome weight of guilt.
Besides the obvious health obstacles, I faced another major stumbling block on this race.   Every week that my dear girl was healthy enough, I was required to take her, along with all of her medical paraphernalia, to the county office for a supervised visit with her birthmother.  Wouldn’t you think that this woman would be grateful for all of the care I was providing for her child?  Um, no.   Her fierce scowl was practically her permanent facial expression, and her critical comments were sharp and biting.  My interactions with her took every bit of humility and grace I could possibly muster.  
 Not only was I gravely fatigued, but every week I was reminded that I was straining myself to the very limits for someone else’s child, for this angry, bad-tempered, ungrateful woman.  The resentment further encumbered me, causing me to slip and falter even more.

Quite unintentionally, I’m sure, small pebbles would find their way into my shoes, frequently causing irritating, unnecessary blisters.  While I was expending all my energy on simply taking the next step to keep this baby alive and healthy, the social workers would remind me about a piece of paper that I had inadvertently overlooked, or chastise me for filling in a form using blue ink instead of the required black ink, or require that I take an irrelevant training workshop.  Really?!  I was tempted to just brush them away with my sweaty hand, but when I became a foster parent, I had chosen to submit myself to the state’s authority.  I knew I couldn’t just ignore them.  The weights of discouragement and futility were now added to my increasingly stooped back.  

I knew that physically, mentally, and emotionally, I had hit the wall, but there was nothing I could do about it.  My powerful love for this child, and my fierce protectiveness of her fragile health compelled me to persevere.  However, I clearly recognized that my stamina had been thoroughly depleted.  If I were going to make it to the end of this race, it would only be by the grace of God.

(Please continue with Part III)

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