On Thanksgiving, one little child will sit with hands folded, his head bowed in prayer, not yet realizing the magnitude of thankfulness that surrounds him. But those who love him know this little boy’s gentle moment was unimaginable just 3 1/2 years ago.
“He was a meth baby,” Brittney Tejeda said, remembering the history she learned while he was in their foster care. “His bio mom abused meth daily – among other things – and she had him almost 2 months early.”
From the moment this infant’s life began in 2015, there was distress.
His mother’s drug addiction while he was in the womb, and life-threatening complications just before Ethan’s delivery, presented forbidding challenges. An emergency Cesarean, early loss of amniotic fluid, a brain bleed and collapsed lung left doctors with little hope for Ethan — a name that means “strong and long-lived.”
But could he breathe life into that name?
One night in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. One week in NICU. Hope glimmered for the premature baby.
As days continued to pass, Ethan fought to survive under the watchful eye of the Kadlec Medical Center team in Richland, Washington. But what should have been a mother’s moment-by-moment anticipation for the hour he could go home, instead became an exit door for her as she abandoned her newborn son.
Foster care was Ethan’s foreseeable future. Yet, on the horizon, a blessing that couldn’t be seen was a “forever home,” one that was held in another’s heart long before this precious baby was even born.
“I first became interested in foster care as a small child, and I remember it being around kindergarten age,” Brittney said thoughtfully, as she described the at-risk home where she grew up. “So, we constantly were divided up as siblings between different family members.”
It was during one stay at her grandmother’s home that an impressionable moment created a permanent heart’s desire.
“There was another little girl about my age, and Grandma favored me over this foster girl,” Brittney said, recalling the emotions she felt. “And it really bothered me to see how Grandma would buy me the extra candy, ice cream, or the pretty dress, and the other child wouldn’t get the same treatment.
“It was at that age that I decided that I would be a foster parent.”
Too young to know her life’s purpose? Not for this little girl, who later as a young woman was determined to not let even romance stand in her way.
“When I met my husband, it was, at most, a week and a half into knowing each other and we weren’t official yet. And I asked, ‘How many children do you want?’ We weren’t on that subject yet!” Brittney said, smiling at how the unexpected conversation had led to talk about foster care. “He had a confused look like, ‘What’s that?’ And I explained it to him and he said, ‘Yes, I would do that. It sounds great.’
“But had he said ‘No,’ or ‘I’m not sure’ and wasn’t that confident, there wouldn’t have been a relationship later.”
Their love blossomed. Marriage, a home, and education for both in the health field followed. Brittney and husband Nic were now ready to have a foster child join his 11-year old daughter.
“God made me for this. This is why I’m here,” 31-year-old Brittney said about signing up to be a foster parent, and then added lightly, “I trained for years by being the oldest of seven. He made sure I was ready.”
Equipped for the job of respite foster care (stepping in when foster parents need relief), Brittney received a typical call on a wintry February morning in 2016 about caring for another child, something she and Nic had done often. But what was atypical was that this busy mom had some free time when the plea came for immediate extended help.
Looking back, it was a godsend.
“Usually if the placement coordinator called on a Monday, I’d normally not be available,” said Brittney who worked on-call weekdays as a surgical technician, keeping her weekends free for her family. “But this particular Monday, I didn’t have a single shift assigned to me for that whole week.”
Within the hour, an overwhelmed foster mom briefly dropped by with the 7-month-old baby, a car seat and a bag filled with clothing. What was missing for the weeklong stay were any instructions for the infant’s care.
“Ethan was so fragile. He was very ill and he didn’t sleep — and he cried constantly,” Brittney said, remembering the difficult situation, but also the instant bond that grew stronger in spite of it. “I called the foster mom directly because I had become very attached to baby boy — so attached that I wanted him to be mine.
“This is my son.”
There were telephone calls and meetings with the social worker, paperwork and a weekend of anguish when state protocol required that Ethan return to the original foster mom before he could relocate to their home permanently.
“My heart broke! ‘I have to give him back!’ ” Brittney said, her voice breaking. “That was so hard, but I told myself I’d get him back on Monday and I’d never have to give him back again. When that day finally came, it seemed like forever.”
In his new foster home, Ethan thrived; his health improved so much so that his doctors were amazed.
“We got him so chunky at one point that he had no neck! He was just a butterball,” Brittney said, chuckling at the memory of this smiley baby. “We checked in with his pediatrician, and the doctor was just blown away by how much better he was doing. He told us, ‘He was meant for you guys.’ ”
A prognosis any parent would welcome.
And on National Adoption Day in November 2016, Ethan officially became their son. With it came the decision to make “Ethan” his middle name (a nickname he had acquired in early foster care) and change his original birth name.
“Jaxx means ‘God has been gracious; has shown favor,’ ” Brittney said with feeling. “I believe the Lord favored him, he guarded him and gifted him to us.”
A blessing beyond measure.
About the writer: Lucy Luginbill is a career television producer-host and the Spiritual Life editor for the Tri-City (Washington) Herald. In her column, she reflects on the meaning of her name, “Light Bringer.” If you have a story idea for Light Notes, contact her at [email protected]