Meet a mom who takes care of people's babies while they make huge parenting decisions.

This article originally appeared on 04.08.16


I'm trying desperately to be respectful of the person speaking to me, but my husband keeps texting me.

First he sends me a selfie of him with Rafi*, then it's an account of who stopped him on his way into the NICU. Then he suggests I take a selfie with Jillian* so he can post them side-by-side on Facebook and boast that we finally have two babies.

People will ask if they're twins, I'm sure. But they're not twins. In fact, the babies aren't even ours.





James' dream come true: Two babies! Rafi in the NICU with Tatte, Jillian at home with Eema. Photo by Ann Lapin, used with permission.

assets.rebelmouse.io

I take care of these babies because I'm what's known as an "interim parent."

Over the past four years, my family has cared for 22 newborns.

assets.rebelmouse.io

The program I'm part of is rare; there are very few like it in the United States.

While the babies are in my care, the birth parents retain their legal rights as parents and are encouraged to visit their babies (if that's something they would like).

My three kids with our baby before he meets his forever mommy. Photo by Ann Lapin, used with permission.

If they weren't in the care of interim moms like me, these tiny babies might wait in the hospital a few extra days while their adoptions are finalized — or they might enter the foster care system.

In New York, biological parents have 30 days after adoption proceedings begin to change their minds about their placement plan.

I became an interim parent when a local mom posted about it on our neighborhood Yahoo! group.

"That! THAT I can do!" I thought, as I looked at the computer screen.

I was thrilled. I felt incapable of doing other types of volunteer work, but I felt like I had finally found a community service that I could perform. So, my husband and I applied. And after months of doctor appointments, background checks, interviews, and letters of reference from close friends, we were accepted.

assets.rebelmouse.io

The hope with the interim boarding care program is that biological parents have time to gain clarity about their decisions without pressure.

It also helps adoptive parents feel secure in their status as parents.

The children don't usually get the chance to be present when one of our babies goes home, so this was a special day. We left the adoption agency with an empty stroller — but it didn't stay that way for long! Photo by Stacey Natal/ Total City Girl, used with permission.

Roughly 30% of the babies I've cared for have returned to their biological parents after their stay with me, and the rest have been adopted. Many of the birth mothers I've known have pursued open adoptions, selecting and meeting their child's forever families.

People often ask me what the experience of interim parenting is like, but there's no rule: Each case is different.

Babies stay with us, on average, for a few weeks. But one baby stayed with us with five days, another for nine and a half weeks.

Whatever the scenario, my family and I are available to care for these babies until they go home ... wherever "home" may be.

Photo by Stacey Natal/Total City Girl, used with permission.

assets.rebelmouse.io

This work can be emotionally challenging, too. Some biological parents do not interact with us at all while they're making big decisions, and some end up being very involved. Some text regularly, requesting photos and updates on the baby while the baby is in our care. Sometimes they schedule weekly visits with the babies. One birth mom became such a constant in our life that my son asked if we could bake her cookies.

I am often blown away by the biological parents' gratitude.

Melody* was one of the most beautiful babies I'd ever cared for, and I met her parents a couple of times. When they came to take her home, it was as though she was the only one in the room. When they thanked me for taking care of her, my lip started to quiver.

I had also never met Jibraan's dad, either, when I placed him in his arms the day they went home together. "From the bottom of my heart ... I can't tell you what you've done for me," he said. I remember that he towered over me, the size of a linebacker, clenching his jaw to keep the tears from spilling down his cheeks.

Photo by Stacey Natal/Total City Girl, used with permission.

assets.rebelmouse.io

When I wave goodbye to the social workers at the agency after introducing each baby to their forever family, I always wonder how long it will be before I get to hold another baby.

I don't get attached to each baby, per se. But I get attached to having a baby, to taking care of a baby. I resent my empty arms, and I feel like I've lost my purpose. So each time I see the adoption agency's phone number pop up on caller ID, my heart skips a beat.

When the voice on the other end says, "Hi, Ann ... are you ready to take another baby?" my first thought is, "Baby! I'm getting a BABY!" That excitement lasts for at least 48 hours.

But even as the adrenaline calms down and the sleepless nights begin to take their toll, the experience of caring for each baby proves to be more than enough motivation for me to keep going.

The emotions that swell when my babies go home with any parent — their adoptive parents or their birth parents — are not just because of the emptiness I feel in my arms or even because of the happiness I have for my babies and their families.

The emotions I feel are because of the fullness in my heart and the gratitude I have for being a part of each of these babies' stories, even if it's just for a moment.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

Keep Reading Show less
Pets

Ginger the dog reunited with family 5 years after being stolen

Ginger's family never gave up hope, and it payed off.

Ginger the dog was missing for five years before being reunited with her family.

A sweet pup is finally home with her family where she belongs after way too many years away.

Ginger the dog was stolen from her family back in 2017. Her owner, Barney Lattimore of Janesville, Wisconsin, never gave up the hope that his sweet girl was out there somewhere. Whenever he'd see a dog listed on a rescue website or humane society website that even remotely resembled his Ginger, he would inquire about the dog. Unfortunately, it was never her. You'd think that after a while he would stop, but if he had, he likely wouldn't have gotten the sweetest reunion.

Keep Reading Show less

Prior to baby formula, breastfeeding was the norm, but that doesn't mean it always worked.

As if the past handful of years weren't challenging enough, the U.S. is currently dealing with a baby formula crisis.

Due to a perfect storm of supply chain issues, product recalls, labor shortages and inflation, manufacturers are struggling to keep up with formula demand and retailers are rationing supplies. As a result, families that rely on formula are scrambling to ensure that their babies get the food they need.

Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"

That might seem logical, unless you understand how breastfeeding works and know a bit about infant mortality throughout human history.

Keep Reading Show less