Ben & Rachel

Some time ago Ben Sawyer noticed a foster home recruitment advertisement placed by a developmental disabilities agency. A home was being sought for a young mother and her baby. Although Ben didn't understand exactly what this agency did, he pictured the young mother with her baby and thought how he would feel if his own grown daughter and her baby were out on the streets of a strange city. The vision touched his heart and he and his wife, Rachel, reached out and called for information.

Stories of the heart surface in many ways. They come from courageous people who care about others and are able to get beyond the emotions involved in taking a risk. Such people can relate to the fear a young mother can have when she has an infant and nowhere to go. The seasoned reader could deduce from the advertisement that the agency had not been successful in locating a suitable home for the young mother among her relatives or other individuals and that there were evidently no available foster homes at the Division for Children, Youth & Families, either.

Although only middle aged, Ben was retired from a job he had enjoyed and held for over twenty years. He left this job due to company cut backs and attractive retirement incentives. His wife, Rachel, was currently working part time. Ben realized that he had inadvertently become a "house husband" and, although he missed the bustle of a busy business life, he loved being at home. He wondered what it would have been like if he had been the "at home" parent when his own children were growing up. He would have liked that, he thought.

I remembered Rachel, from years ago, as a fun loving "live wire" kind of person. We grew up in the same city, which was much smaller then, and folks knew each other and friendliness was "just the way it was." Now, I was about to reconnect with her and meet her husband, Ben.

"Come on in," she said laughing. "I'm making a sponge cake for a friend's surprise birthday party!" I stepped into the kitchen and spotted the sponge cake. I had to look again. It was made with real sponges and was in the process of being frosted! Maturity doesn't always stifle the "imp" in some of us, I thought. 
The interview was off to a great start and we spent a few minutes catching up on each other's lives and reminiscing about the "old days" while Ben listened, fascinated. As our interview became serious, the Sawyer's story of the heart began to pour out, one thing building upon another.
Ben and Rachel were selected by the developmental disabilities agency and the Division for Children, Youth and Families after a lengthy interviewing process. They were told that the young mother, Donna, was in her early twenties but that she was mentally limited, behaving more like a thirteen year old girl. She had some good skills, but was missing others. A description of Donna included a comment that she was friendly and was able to handle personal cleanliness adequately. The Sawyers were told that she would be able to walk downtown and back, unaccompanied. They were aware that she had trouble handling money.

Donna's baby, named "Dolly," was about three months old at the time they moved into the Sawyer foster home. Donna liked Rachel and Ben and accepted them immediately as "parents." She loved television and video games, preferring them to tending to Dolly. Rachel had to show her how to care for her baby and then had to remind her almost constantly to do so. She seemed to prefer video games to motherhood. Parenting both Dolly and her young mother, who could be a lot of fun one minute and throwing a temper tantrum the next, was not easy, but the Sawyers patiently stuck with it and grew very attached to both Donna and Dolly.

It became apparent that Donna would require almost constant supervision in order to ever deal with Dolly. She'd make excuses when she didn't want to hold Dolly, saying, "Dolly says that she wants to lie down." Although Dolly was a four month old baby at this time, to Donna, she seemed more like an actual "dolly." There seemed to be no bonding between Donna and Dolly, although, Rachel and Ben really felt that Donna did love her child. They noticed that Dolly seemed frightened when Donna picked her up, holding the baby away from her body - like a doll. When Dolly cried Donna quickly gave her to Rachel. She seemed to know that she couldn't handle it.

For months the Sawyers worked constantly with Donna. They worried about what would happen in the future. The original goal of the Agency had been to move Donna and Dolly into an apartment when Donna had learned sufficient parenting skills to be able to handle both the baby and herself. Finally, Rachel asked the question that had been nagging at her for some time, "Donna," she said, "do you want to care for Dolly for the rest of your life?" They were sitting on the couch and the question came out naturally in the conversation. 
"Oh, no!" came the quick reply from Donna. "But I have to keep her. If I don't, they'll make me go and live with my mother." Rachel knew that Donna's mother had been a patient in the state mental hospital for years. "I don't want to have to live behind bars!" she said. No wonder Donna was apprehensive!
Calmly, Rachel explained real choices to Donna. "You could continue to live with Ben and I and take care of Dolly as you are doing now here in our home, or you could go and find a job, live somewhere else and come and visit Dolly often, or you could give Dolly up for adoption," Rachel advised. Donna said, vehemently, "I don't want Dolly placed in a foster home. Foster homes have bars, like the hospital where my mother lives!" Rachel and Ben were shocked. Donna didn't realize that she and Dolly were living in a foster home, and it certainly had no bars! They explained all this to Donna who seemed visibly relieved. "I don't mind if Dolly stays with you, if you want to keep her," Donna told Rachel and Ben. She told them that she really wanted to live with her brother in Maine, if she wasn't going to be forced to live in the State hospital with her mother.

Slowly and lovingly Rachel and Ben helped Donna think realistically about her future and to express her feelings. They knew, as much as they loved the baby, they were not in any position to begin a new family again. When Donna urged them to keep Dolly, they were honest with her and said that they could not keep Dolly unless Donna was actively involved in taking care of her. It appeared to the Sawyers that Donna really wanted to be on her own without the responsibility for Dolly, but she was afraid to say so.

Finally, over time, Donna was able to sort things out for herself. The agency decided that Donna would have to tell the workers from the developmental disabilities agency, the DCYF social worker and the adoption worker and several other involved professionals what she wanted to do. A meeting was called for this purpose. It was very difficult and frightening for Donna to meet with all these people, some of whom she didn't know very well. "She was determined," Rachel said, "She just wanted to get away from this area and the guilt producing comments her relatives made over and over." It was almost as if Donna's relatives didn't want her to succeed.

She was making plans, supported by the Sawyer's consistent nurturing. She met with the professionals on the appointed day and, when the adoption worker asked her what she wanted to do, Donna stated forcefully that she didn't want Dolly. She didn't want to take care of her. She just wanted to stay with her brother in Maine. In the end the group agreed to allow Donna to go to Maine and visit her brother to see if a move would be feasible.

Donna left for her brother's home soon after permission was granted by the Agency and arrived back at the Sawyer home on a date later than what had been agreed upon. "When it was time to return to New Hampshire, Donna hid so she wouldn't have to come back. She was afraid she'd have to keep Dolly if she returned," Rachel said.

At this point the adoption worker took over. She learned that Dolly's father was not interested in providing a home for his daughter. The Sawyers, in fact, had never met him. Donna enthusiastically signed relinquishment papers, freeing Dolly for adoption. At this time Dolly was about six months old. Donna prepared to leave. She said her "good-byes" to Dolly, kissing her and saying, "This is the last time I will kiss you as your mother." Donna crossed the room, turned around purposefully and returned to kiss Dolly again saying," Now I am your friend," and with that, she left for Maine.

The social worker praised Ben and Rachel and said, "You gave Donna the courage to express her own feelings without being afraid. That was a big step for her." Adoption proceedings were begun. The Sawyers had already decided that they would not be able to provide Dolly with a permanent home. "She is a very bright little girl and we felt that she needed a loving, caring family with brothers and sisters," Rachel explained. Soon an adoptive family was selected and the Sawyers met and immediately liked them. The transition began for Dolly. As the families worked together, a blending and bonding occurred between the adults and, in the final transition, Ben and Rachel Sawyer became honorary grandparents for Dolly. Regular contact between the two families continues. Dolly is adjusting well to her new family. When Ben and Rachel visit, Dolly puts her arms up for a big hug and, in her own language, asks for "uggermuggers" and she and Rachel rub noses as they had once done in the Sawyer foster home. "We've become one big happy family," Ben comments, "You don't find that very often."

The Sawyers haven't heard from Donna but they know she is free. They are glad someone finally listened to her and heard her explain, as best she could with her limitations, that she could not handle motherhood. Donna knows she is welcome at the Sawyers whenever she wants to reconnect. Ben and Rachel expect she will do that when she fully realizes that she will not be forced back into motherhood. "It was a happy ending for all concerned," Rachel said.

Ben has more free time on his hands now and he's taken to writing poetry for his family and friends. Here are two verses from his poem from the heart for Dolly,

"You, Dolly, learned to laugh and play
with us and children, perfect in every way.
Very soon a choice family will be found
while you still weigh a mere twenty pounds.
To your foster home you brought such delight,
but ever so sad as you vanished from sight.
You and your new family will never more tire,
for being together is love's purest desire."

To view other "Stories of the Heart" selections go to the Contents Page.