By Ashlie Hairston
From nothing on the schedule, to keeping a baby for a few hours, to being a mother overnight, this was my day on January 23rd, 2017, the day before my birthday. Goodbye sleep, goodbye energy, goodbye youthful years. These were the first three thoughts in my head after I said “Yes, let’s do this.” Covered in vomit, with my eyes filled with tears, hair in knots, probably appearing more as a zombie than a woman at that point, and I still wanted to say “YES.”
My mother had brought home my second cousin from the hospital after he had faced a near death experience, and he needed a stable, loving home with parents who would love him as their own and give him a chance at life. Elias was his name, he was 7. 3 ounces and 26 inches long at the age of three months.
He had barely survived his first months of life with his biological parents. The father was locked up when he was thirty days old, and the birth mother did not know how to care for him or was so absorbed with her grief she couldn’t find it in herself to care for Elias. This is the nice version of that part of his story. It is still extremely hard for me to discuss but perhaps one day I will be comfortable in sharing the details of his placement in hopes of helping another one day. Elias lacked all the things an infant would need at the beginning of life, love, food, engagement, and dedication. Now he had arrived at our home, and we hadn’t raised a young baby in years. Our oldest was twenty at the time, so this decision was to start over. We talked it over for a few hours, went in rounds with the family, and ultimately decided this is what God had placed before us and how could we let this innocent child be a victim any longer?
Packed up with all my credentials, I headed to the juvenile courthouse to file for custody. I remember being so nervous. Could we handle this? Will we be good parents for this child? What if the court says “No”? What deficits will Elias face, and more importantly are we equipped to handle his care and treatment? These were all questions running around in my mind. I filed and was granted emergency custody until our official court date.
Court came, the judge looked at the case, asked me a few questions that honestly, I don’t even remember because I was so nervous for the future of this child. We were in the court room for less than thirty minutes. The judge granted my request, I was now legally responsible for this tiny human. The adventures that would follow would solidify our decision to become Elias’s parents.
I’ll be honest, parenting is no easy job; I was done and so much had changed over the years that I felt so out of touch with my mothering instinct, but that’s the thing about mothering, it’s just inside of you, it all came back, and we haven’t missed a beat! On no account did anyone remind me how hard it would be to care for this infant. He may have been three months old, but he was so malnourished that we were starting with an infant schedule and routine. Feedings every two hours that resulted in one or more of us covered in vomit because his tiny tummy was not use to food, so it rejected everything that went in it. He required special formula, multiple appointments and lots and I mean lots of attention and care.
Elias had fought to survive his situation and we were determined to give him the best life we could. We kept at it every few hours we woke him, fed him, and would just hold him and hope it all stayed down. We were empty nesters at the time and going from zero to one hundred in a few hours was overwhelming to say the least. We had nothing! We didn’t get the nine months of prep time most new parents get, we had hours to get it all together. We scrambled and gathered the basics for this baby. We needed so many things for him because when he arrived, he came with the clothes on his back and one dirty bottle. The situation was heartbreaking, but we rallied and got it all together and had at least clean clothes, blankets, diapers, wipes, and clean new bottles for this baby boy.
Together the three of us worked at making it all work. Elias would cry for endless amounts of hours because of his pain. My husband and I would stay up with him and try everything we could think to soothe him. At one point we pulled our mattress off our bed and lugged it into the living room floor in hopes of getting some sleep if we just took turns holding him while the other napped. When I say we were a mess, I really mean we were a hot mess! We got a few minutes of sleep here and there and I swear we didn’t sleep more than two hours for months. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but it was all so worth it.
Fast forward five years later. Elias is now doing wonderfully! He has overcome his GURD, his speech delay, and is on the charts for weight and height. These were milestones we didn’t know if he would ever hit. Recently we received the news that he has mastered all his speech goals and will be released from the program at the end of the school year. We are so proud; we didn’t know if this news would ever come, and we were fully prepared to have a nonverbal child, so this is a huge accomplishment for our baby boy.
When he first arrived, we had no idea what the future would hold for him or if he would have any long-standing issues from his prior situation. Elias had to overcome obstacles the first three months he was alive that most kids never face. To see him doing so well now makes all the long, sleepless, exhausted days, worth every second. To know him is an adventure, and if you know his story you would never look at him the same. He is a live-out-loud, hold-nothing-back, on-the-go-all-the-time kind of kid and we love it! He is a fighter for life and that trait has never left. He has faced struggles over the years, each of which he has worked hard to overcome, but he has never let it stop him from being great!
If you have ever thought about adopting or fostering, do it! While, yes, it was so hard, and co-parenting with these “iffy” individuals has been challenging, all kids deserve a chance to be great. Each situation is different, and I can only speak for myself as I’ve now done this twice with two of my three kids, but to me it was worth it.
My first child is my stepdaughter, she was ten when her father and I began dating, it has been nothing but amazing to watch her grow. Her mother left her with us for a weekend visit and did not return for three years, in that time I was able to build a strong relationship with her that has allowed us to continue to grow as “step-mom” and “step-daughter.” I use quotations here because to us, labels are not important. She is my daughter and I am her parent. She is now an adult and has our very first grandson, Eli. Now most think when they are grown, parenting is done, that is not true at all, good parenting is never done, it just transforms its shape into what is needed at each stage of life.
Our second child is our nephew from my husband’s side of the family. His mother was overwhelmed working full time and balancing full time parenting with no help from his father. We have been present in Rajae’s life since he was born and have shared raising him with my sister-in-law. Once his behavior and grades were reflecting her absence at home, due to long hours at work, we all together decided the best thing for his future was to live with us and attend school here. He has flourished in his new environment and is an honor student, athlete, and well-rounded pre-teen.
Then there’s the baby, Elias, and his may be the toughest story of our children, but he will never know just how bad it was before he came to our home. The stress, the anxiety, the hurt, the guilt: all of it was worth it for my kids. Now we have this beautiful, blended family, and we are very open with our kids about their birth parents, but we reserve the cruel parts to avoid any further mental blocks that could arise.
No one explains the emotional toll of becoming a parent to you when you are a kid. I learned the hard way. The journey is difficult and it’s still going, I’m dedicated to my kids and that will never change!