At 64, Maureen Waits For Her Next Baby
At 64 years of age, Maureen McClean is anxiously waiting for her next baby.
Maureen and husband John moved into their new house in Jerrabomberra at the end of last year and setting up the nursery is her top priority.
Once it’s done, she’ll be on the phone, eager for her next baby.
“I’ll be saying, ‘Just find me a baby, I’m ready’,” Maureen says.
For 40 years, Maureen has been caring for babies in her home – in total, 130 of them. They are not hers of course, biologically. But the way she loves and cares for them, and speaks so adoringly about them, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were.
A grandmother of three, Maureen is also a pre-adoptive foster carer. For four decades, she has opened her home to precious babies whose courageous mothers have decided to place them for adoption.
Her most recent baby left her on June 23 last year, having stayed with her for eight months.
Usually, the babies arrive at Maureen’s home just a few days old. Sometimes she collects them from the hospital. They stay with Maureen and John for months, and she cares for them as her own. She takes them to get weighed and have their vaccinations; to the shops and for walks, and she feeds them, which of course includes the night feeds. After 40 years, they are definitely too numerous to count.
“If I’m really tired I go to bed at 9pm, John does the 10pm feed and I do the 2am,” she says.
Then comes the time to hand over the baby to its new parents – the adoptive family or sometimes to permanent foster placements.
It’s a precious time and one this sensitive and compassionate woman plans carefully.
“The baby is in the nursery and I usually try to ensure they are just about to wake from a sleep,” she explains.
“I greet the new parents at my front door and say to them ‘Your baby is waiting for you’. I then show them to the nursery and leave. It’s time for those incredible memories to begin. It’s not for me.”
Usually the adoptive parents stay with Maureen and John for two or three days and ‘room in’ with their babies to learn their routine. Maureen is a gentle teacher.
When the time comes for the new parents to take their baby home, Maureen says a simple goodbye. “I’ll miss you,” she whispers in the baby’s ear. “Have a wonderful life with your new Mum and Dad”.
“Handing them over can be tricky,” Maureen confesses. “You try and not be emotional but it’s really hard. Some of them have been with us for a year.”
Foster carers like Maureen are the real link between the birth family and adopting parents, supporting both at a challenging time. Maureen has kept in touch with many of them. She attended one of her babies’ 21st birthday party with the birth mother and adoptive mother. This young woman boasts of having three mothers!
But nowadays foster carers have much less contact with the birth or adoptive families with so much managed by government departments or agencies.
Maureen’s “first baby”, as she refers to it, was born in March, 1973. At the time, Maureen wasn’t a Mum herself. She just adored babies and had worked as a nanny. She applied to be a pre-adoptive foster carer after marrying and. soon after baby Paula arrived, just a few days old.
“The social worker came to our house and said ‘Here’s your baby’,” Maureen recalls. “I think she stayed for a coffee, but certainly not for long.
“I remembered thinking, ‘What have I done. How am I going to do this’. It was quite scary. But after the initial shock I was hooked on having a baby in my life and haven’t grown out of it yet. I’m up to 130 now, which isn’t a lot. Some have had 300.
“We had eight foster babies before we had children of our own.
“In the early 70s they had at least 200 babies relinquished for adoption each year. Your baby would go in the morning and another would come in the afternoon; that’s my idea of heaven!”
It saddens Maureen that, as a society, we don’t value mothers who decide to place their children up for adoption.
“I remember when my daughter was 15 and had a sex education class at school and they said a woman had two choices when she got pregnant; to keep the baby or have an abortion,” Maureen says.
“They never mentioned adoption, so my daughter did. She said the birth mothers she had met who had placed their babies for adoption were wonderful. They don’t get enough support from the community but they are amazing women. To feel a baby inside you and decide to place it for adoption is a most courageous decision.
“Their stories are all different, but they make a decision they believe is the best for their baby. It’s a selfless decision.
“We don’t say the birth mothers ‘give up’ their babies for adoption because I don’t think they ever give up their babies. They certainly never forget them.
“Society says, ‘How could you do such a thing’. But if you met the adopting parents and see the joy the baby brings them, you’d understand. I like to remind people that if it wasn’t for birth mothers there wouldn’t be babies for adoption.”
Today, only a handful of children are placed for adoption. The babies Maureen now cares for have been removed from their birth parents, by the department. There are also special needs babies.
“The babies that make the strongest impression on me are the special needs ones,” she says. “They need you more. My nursery has at times looked more like a hospital than a bedroom.”