I’ve been a teacher for years, so have spent my life around children. But I’d never had a baby. Then, 3 weeks before I turned 60, one of my friends – Karen – said to me “Isn’t it so sad about that little baby being taken away from her parents?” And she told me a story that has changed my life.
There was a young couple living on the streets and they had a little girl who was just 5 months old. That week, the couple had been beaten up by a gang, and the dad had been stabbed. The welfare association got involved and the baby was taken away, but they had no temporary foster home for her after the weekend.
Straight away I wanted to help. My friend told Child Welfare that I was prepared to be a ‘place of safety’ for this little girl and they got in touch with me and asked for an appointment for Monday morning. Then I went home and spent all weekend googling things like “what does a 5 month old baby eat?” I was beyond excited. But Monday came and they cancelled the meeting. I was so disappointed, it felt as if someone had ‘pricked my balloon’ and it had burst.
On Tuesday morning as I was delivering Santa Shoeboxes (I co-ordinate the regional Kouga area for the annual Santa Shoebox charity drive), dressed in a red ballet tutu over green dotted leggings with a Santa hat on my head, I popped in to the welfare office to meet the social worker. We got talking about the baby girl, and she said: “If I had known that the foster mom application was from YOU, I would have given the baby to you right away!”
They then did all the necessary background checks on me, paid me a home visit, and told me they’d be in touch if they ever needed a ‘place of safety’ in the future. And that was the end of that.
A week later when I was doing my last Shoebox delivery, I received a desperate call from the social worker. The first foster family had returned the baby back after one night, as “she cried too much.” The second foster family had her for 4 days, and then returned her as their own little boy was experimenting with drugs and their community were not impressed that they had ‘accepted a welfare baby’ when they could not look after their own children.
Colleen Zanna Body image
Two hours after that phone call I brought Zanna home with me.
I had no idea what I needed. What do you buy for a new infant? She was so tiny – weighing only 4 kilograms although she was 5 months old. I remember that first weekend clearly – I never put the TV on. I tiptoed around in silence. I spent hours just feeding her and watching her sleep. I’d read somewhere that if you look into your baby’s eyes with intent, you will make a connection. So I did that at every opportunity. We both just took one day at a time. I didn’t panic. Maybe my instinct is just pretty good now because I’m 60!
We bonded very quickly. However, as the first three months are probationary for any foster parent, during which time, the parents can take their child back at any time, I felt like I was living on a roller coaster. It was a really traumatic time for me especially when Zanna had to go on parental visits with her social worker. She’d cry every time and get really scared when her father came near her. It’s now October, and although the parents have only seen her three times in 11 months, they still aren’t 100% sure if they’re ready to give her up for adoption – even though the mother is pregnant again! They want her back probably because they will receive a social grant every month to keep them and their drug habits going.
The social worker has suggested that we start adoption proceedings anyway. It’s quite stressful not knowing what will happen, but all we can do now is follow the rules. I take one day at a time and am blessed beyond measure with the love and joy this little girl has brought into my life. Having her is amazing – I can’t imagine life without her now. It’s like she knows that she’s loved and that’s making her such a confident, happy little girl. I called her Zanna, which means ‘gift from God’. I believe she was given to me.