Upon leaving the grocery store, Elizabeth Millen (Founder/Publisher of Pink) noticed a woman with the most beautiful, delicate baby girl, all pretty in pink. She had to stop and admire her. The baby nestled so naturally on the woman's hip, Elizabeth assumed she was the mother, until she realized the attractive woman was probably in her late 60s. "Is this your beautiful granddaughter?" Elizabeth cooed.
Later, Elizabeth called and told me she had just met an amazing woman and wanted to feature her in Pink. The woman is Karin Van Name. She is not in her late sixties. She is 80. The beautiful four-month old baby isn't her grandchild, but her 68th foster child since she began foster care more than 22 years ago.
I pull into Karin's driveway on a blustery Fall day and start smiling. There are Hal?loween decorations everywhere: orange twinkle lights, tree ghosts, flying witches. It is a child's fantasy. Karin opens the door, holding "Baby Girl" in a pink dress, smocked with tiny baskets of flowers and pink and black polka dot socks.
Inside, the Halloween theme continues. "You should see my Christmas decorations, there are twice as many," she laughs. Hard to imagine. A live black cat curls around my feet. "No, that's not a decoration. He lives here!" The house is filled with the energy and details of celebration-all created for the children who come to stay. Throughout our conversation Karin says, "I'm doing what I love to do. It brings me joy." You can feel it in her house.
At the age of 58, after raising three daughters of her own, Karin was a single woman, living in Long Island, New York, wondering what to do. She saw an ad in the newspaper asking for people interested in foster care. She responded without hesitating. Except for one period of nine months, Karin has cared for at least one child and as many as four-all under the age of two-since she started. She typically takes infants until they are adopted or returned to their birth parents. This can be for several days or several months.
I ask if it's hard to see them go. She smiles gently and says, "I cry and then another baby comes along and I get caught up."
Karin moved to Hilton Head nine years ago and had no interest in retiring from foster care. Her certification through the Beaufort Department of Social Services* took a year. She has had 20 babies since. She admits that some of her friends and family worry that she is tying herself down and feel she should take this time to relax and do things for herself. She gives a simple response. "I'm already living in a vacation land; I have no desire to travel. I enjoy having babies that I don't have to give back at night. It makes me happy. I was lost for those nine months without a baby. I don't want to stop."
She says, "My goal is to have 100 babies or reach my 100th birthday, whichever happens first. I do the math. She has 20 years and 42 more babies to go. At 20 babies per decade she might hit both goals around the same time. She takes me into a bedroom that is now completely feminine for "Baby Girl" and opens an organized closet. I feel like I'm in the baby department of a major department store. There are racks of pretty pink dresses, labeled boxes of tiny shoes, stacks of soft blankets, and countless stuffed animals. The financial investment has been as significant as the emotional one. Karin has pictures, records of the dates the babies arrive and leave, and birth dates for all 68 of her foster children. One family in Beaufort County adopted three of the children who lived with her at different times and they maintain contact.
When I ask her if she ever gets physically tired she says, "I never think about it." When I ask if she was always so maternal she laughs and says, "I never really thought about that either. I did love my dolls as a little girl. I would have liked more children of my own, but doing what I'm doing now makes me happy. It brings me joy." Karin Van Name has an extraordinary capacity for love and devotion, directed to some of the neediest and most vulnerable babies in the world. It is just that simple. And that profound.
Family: Three daughters: Dawn, April & Kim; two granddaughters and one grandson.
Baby Equipment: Three bassinets; two cribs; "lots of strollers," and five car seats.
Baby Wisdom: She keeps the babies on an eating and sleeping schedule; she hates pacifiers, but sometimes the baby requires one.
Experience Advantage: She is now so at ease with babies they sense it and calm down; she also hums the same tune over and over. "It can be annoying to other people," she laughs!
*For information regarding foster care licensing, contact Beaufort County DSS, 1905 Duke St., Beaufort, SC 29902 or call 843-255-6147.