I just have this thing about babies. ~Ruth Powers
When Ruth graduated from nursing school, she worked in obstetrics at St. Elizabeth Hospital. She did that until the first of her five sons were born. Then she had babies of her own to care for. And still, that wasn’t enough for her.
At a 10th nursing reunion when her youngest was only three years old, one of her classmates talked about serving as a foster mother. That sounded “too good” to Ruth, but she was realistic. She knew that wouldn’t work while her own children were so young.
But in 1980, when her youngest was in high school, she broached the subject with her husband. Bill’s response, “Are you insane?”
But she persisted. “This is something I’d really like to do. Couldn’t we just investigate it?”
And in 1981 they began their journey with Catholic Social Services foster care system. After extensive training, in 1982 when Ruth was 43 years old, they received their first child … a boy they named Richard. Bill lovingly referred to him as “Little Richard” of 1950s rock-n-roll fame. They weren’t sure what his name would be after he left them.
“It was a different world back then,” Ruth recalled. “There were sealed adoptions and when they left your care, you had no idea where they were going and how they would end up.”
After Richard’s four-week stint with them, Bill was totally hooked. If there was too much space between babies, he would ask, “Are we going to get another baby soon?” This Dazzling Dayton Dame was wise enough to marry a Dazzling Dayton Dude*.
Ruth wasn’t so sure she could handle it. She cried for two days after Richard left. “How can I do this? It hurts too much. I’m the one who knows how to feed him … how to comfort him.”
Despite her pain, Ruth and Bill went on to foster 52 children over the next 19 years. Ruth modestly noted that this wasn’t that big a deal … “There were a lot of us doing this and some people cared for over 100.”
I reminded her that many people don’t do it at all.
When I first suggested to Ruth that I include her in my Dazzling Dayton Dame series, she couldn’t imagine how she could be considered along with the extraordinary women I’ve previously written about. Just goes to show how often exceptional people rarely notice how special they are.
Because Ruth is a nurse, at times they cared for special needs children. One child, born with spina bifida, went through 14 surgeries in his first year of life with them. On rare occasions, they cared for two babies at a time. “I couldn’t have done it without Bill’s support,” Ruth remembered. “He got up at night. And we didn’t use babysitters. We took them with us wherever we went. People got used to seeing me out and about carrying a baby.”
When open adoptions became possible, Ruth found it easier to hand her charge over to the new parents. At that point they were able to meet the adoptive parents, giving them the ability to pass on the information about feeding and soothing.
One little girl with special needs came to them at 8 months old and stayed a little over 2 years. Her adoptive parents had 4 children of their own and adopted 2 special-needs children. Ruth and Bill befriended them and were able to watch Shelley grow up. She is 35 now and they still have contact with her and her parents.
I wondered how Ruth’s sons felt about this.
“Our kids took it as a matter of course.” The youngest, because he still lived at home, joined his parents in caring for the babies. “He could take care of them as well as I could.” He went on to have six children of his own.
Their other sons helped out when they visited. Today they say that even though they didn’t like changing diapers, they learned to be comfortable with babies. They gave Ruth and Bill 20 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren.
When Ruth turned 62, she could no longer handle nighttime sleep disruption. She needed more rest. So, she and Bill ended their service as foster parents.
Now 78 years old, when Ruth heard about Brigid’s Path, an in-patient medical facility for drug-exposed newborn infants, opening near her home in November 2017, she jumped at the chance to volunteer. Once a week, during a three-hour shift she holds 1 to 3 babies … unless they are all sleeping. She chuckles about needing to go through training to be able to feed them.
Ruth’s face lit up as she told about a recent bill being passed making Brigid’s Path eligible for Medicaid. This will take off some of the pressure all non-profits face related to raising money through donations, foundations, and grants.
It’s wonderful to be able to hold a baby again. I just love babies. ~Ruth Powers
*A “Dame” is a woman of refinement
*A “Dude” is a gentleman considerate of other’s needs