June 5th, 2020. Today, had he lived, Russell would have been 38 years old.
The day was June 5th, 1982; we had a new baby, a new member of the Simon family; a new beginning. I delivered our third son early on a bright, sunny Saturday morning. The “Smurfs” cartoon was playing on television, it was a perfect day, until it wasn’t.
You see, Russell was a full term baby, weighing a little over six pounds, but he was born with a diaphragmatic hernia. Because the herniation had occurred so early in my pregnancy, his left lung was severely underdeveloped. Minutes after his birth, he was incubated. I never held him, but when I put my hand into the incubator, he grabbed my index finger. The neonatologist informed us that while surgical repair of the herniation offered the best possible outcome, realistically, the likelihood of Russell’s survival was small. We gave our consent for the surgery and our son was immediately transferred to Children’s Hospital where the surgery was to be performed; my husband, Harold, went with him.
I found myself very much alone; I was angry at God, I was overwhelmed with sadness, and I had a thousand questions – none of which had answers. A dear friend, Helen, who had lost one of her twin boys with meningitis the previous year, came to sit with me; she passed up a day at the lake with her family to be there for me, and I will never forget her kindness.
After Russell’s surgery, Harold was able to see him, kiss him , and tell him goodbye for both of us. We were told of his death that afternoon around 4:30. His entire lifetime was less than eight hours. It was an ending which occurred all too soon after his life had begun.
Grief work is painful; it is physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually draining. For eighteen months, I seemed to be on autopilot; but by God’s grace, I managed to care for our four year old and two year old sons. I can remember as if it were yesterday when, upon finding me in a puddle of tears, they would say, “Mama, are you crying because you miss Baby Russell? Mama, he is with Jesus!” Truth, spoken from the mouth of babes.
“Yes, I know,” I replied. “I just miss him being with us.”
It was around this time that I felt God’s call upon my life to somehow be involved in the pro-life movement. I decided to do sidewalk counseling in front of the clinics on Saturday mornings. It was extremely difficult for me to do; I am not a confrontational person, and when I got home, I would review in my mind the conversations I’d had with clients – second guessing what I should have said, or didn’t say. I felt a sense of personal responsibility; I felt I’d failed if a client to whom I spoke went though with her abortion. Then one day, I met a lady who was expecting her fourth child. I told her there were people who would gladly foster parent her child until that child was adopted into his/her forever family, “OH REALLY?” was her retort. “Tell me, how many of these babies have YOU ever kept?”
Her statement changed my life! It was a new beginning. It was one of those BUT GOD moments!
You see, for some unknown reason, I always equated being used by God as having to be involved in doing something you have absolutely no aptitude for, or interest in doing. Why I had this mindset is a mystery to me, but nevertheless, I had it! I remember the song, “Please Don’t Send Me to Africa!” There is a line about “lions, and tigers, and bears, oh no!” I really have no desire to go to Africa with lions and tigers and bears! It never registered in my mind that God could use the abilities He’d given me, that He’d specifically gifted me with those abilities to use them for His glory; and finally, He never intended that I do something I was ill suited for or not equipped to do!
BUT I LOVE babies! I knew this was the avenue of involvement in the pro – life movement! I called Lifeline the following Monday and said, “Do you have a need for foster parents?” The receptionist who answered the phone was kind; I am sure she wanted to ask if I had recently come to planet earth from another galaxy!
“Oh yes! We always need foster parents!”
After completing the necessary paperwork, background check, and our home study, we got our first baby, a little boy. We called him Michael. He was the first of 14 foster children to come through our home over a period of seven years. We had Caucasian children, biracial children, African American children, and one special needs child. Each and every one of them added joy to our lives. By the time we received our first foster baby, we had had our fourth child, Jesse, as well.
When you foster parent, you sign an agreement with the agency that you will not try to adopt any child that you foster. Harold and I never considered adoption. We wanted four children, but with Jesse’s birth, we had four children; one of them lived in heaven. We decided that we would consider adoption only if 1) the agency came to us and asked us to adopt and 2) if for whatever reason an adoption failed and there was no home for that child, or the child was not placed, we felt that was the Lord’s will that we adopt that child.
I have a gazillion stories of our foster parenting experiences, but in view of all the racial tension in our world today, this is my favorite story. We had a little African American girl in our home for about seven months prior to her adoption. After she had been in our home for about four or five weeks, sweet Jesse looked at me one day and said, “Mama! Did you know this baby was black?!?”
“Yes, Jesse, I had noticed that!”
“Mama, I wish we could keep just one of these little chocolate babies!”
Was that precious, or what?
In late July or early August of 1991, we had returned from vacation after having had a special needs little girl in our home for about nine months. She weighed just under two pounds at birth, was born at 28 weeks gestation, and we were able to bring her home from the NICU when she weighed four pounds. She had been on an apnea monitor which alarmed most every night, and when it didn’t, we awakened with an adrenaline rush, thinking something had happened to her. In short, we were pretty tired. I made the decision not to take another baby until we could get a little more caught up in the sleep department.
On Wednesday, after coming home on Saturday, Lifeline called and asked if we would keep a baby while another foster parent was on vacation. I declined.
On Thursday, they called and asked if we could keep one of the babies that would be transferred from Mobile on Saturday. I declined once again. I had the same conversation with Lifeline on Friday as well. Still, I declined. I was beginning to think I had this “Just Say NO” down to a science! On Saturday, alas, I was not at home: when Lifeline called, they spoke to Harold. They even told him they had been asking me to keep a baby since Wednesday, and I had refused, but they were desperate. Harold decided that of the three babies, we would take the oldest child, and pray he/she did not have colic so we could sleep!
You can imagine my shock when I got the call!
“Susan, you need to go by Lifeline and pick up a baby!”
“Huh? I what?”
“Go by Lifeline and pick up a baby; a biracial little boy who is three months old!”
“Really??? I told them we had to get some sleep; that we didn’t need to keep another baby right now!”
“Yeah, I know; they told me; we’ll just pray he doesn’t have colic. That’s why I picked the oldest one!”
When I arrived at Lifeline, the cutest little fellow you’ve ever laid eyes on was in his car seat in the backseat of the social worker’s car. When I started to pick him up, he grinned from ear to ear as if to say, “I know who you are, or at least who you will be!”
He slept all night…no colic!
Fast forward until April 1992. Shortly before his first birthday, he was adopted by a wonderful African American family who had two daughters. Very shortly after the adoption, the family contacted me and asked if I could come and get him; they did not feel the adoption was going to work out. I urged them to contact the agency. In turn, Lifeline contacted me and said,”Will you take him back?”
“Yes,” I said, “For some unknown reason, I have loved this child more than any other child we’ve kept. My brain is telling me this is an unwise move, but my heart won’t allow you to put him anywhere else.” He came back that day.
And finally, on June 3rd, two days before the 10 year anniversary of the birth and death of our third son, Russell, Lifeline called and said, “We went to every couple who expressed an interest in this child, and they have either become pregnant or have decided on another baby. We felt led to ask if your family would consider adopting this little boy?”
That was a no brainer! I called Harold at work and he was in total agreement. The conditions we’d agreed upon as confirmation from the Lord that we were to adopt, had been met. By this time, the “just one little chocolate baby” Jesse wanted to keep had been in our home for almost a year. We named him Philip Jordan Simon, and we have been blessed to have him for 29 years. Four years ago, he gave us another blessing, his wife Jeseka, our daughter in love!
While a child can never be replaced, had Russell lived, would I have become involved in the pro-life movement, with sidewalk counseling and foster parenting? Only God knows. Harold and I never planned to pursue adoption, BUT GOD. From Russell’s brief life, God gave us a new beginning and another member of our family.