Just Keep Swimming
Speaking to Gail Monte, it seems there is no end to her and her family’s positive spirit and perseverance. She and her husband Sam initially were interested in adoption to grow their family. Then they learned one of their sons had a biological brother who could only be fostered at the time. They decided to become licensed to foster as well. Soon, the family moved to Ohio and began researching foster care providers so they could help children and families building towards reunification.
“I was drawn to Ohio MENTOR because of all the supports they offer children and families. Communication with Ohio MENTOR was always consistent. Lots of communication with not only just the case managers that we had but the therapists and the program directors,” Gail said.
Siblings and Medical Needs
Soon they received information about a four-month-old baby boy with severe medical conditions due to Shaken Baby Syndrome. Because of his medical needs, it was difficult finding a home for him. He also had a sister who was in care while he recovered in the hospital. Not wanting to separate the siblings, Ohio MENTOR asked the Montes if they would take the children in.
“Of course!” was Gail’s reaction. The Montes took on two of the biggest foster care fears all at once–a child with complex medical needs and siblings. Gail and Sam not only tackle the unexpected, they thrived. “They need someone too to meet their needs. They need someone to care for them. It is scary, but you can get through it as long as you have a lot of support and someone to help you through,” Gail said of being open to medically fragile fostering.
As for fostering siblings? “I have seen first-hand the trauma it causes to lose that sibling relationship. More has actually been easier in the sense that you’re maintaining those relationships and everyone can play together and ultimately you’re giving another child a home.”
The baby boy was originally named after his abuser, but the Montes quickly gave him a more fitting identity along with a fresh start. The other young children in the home recognized his struggle and fighting spirit. They nicknamed their newest, littlest brother Nemo because “he would be like Nemo and just keep swimming.”
Nemo Loves Life
And Nehemiah (Nemo) Monte has kept swimming with the same ferocity of that cartoon clownfish. “Me try, me try” you’ll hear the now four-year-old say as he tackles every new challenge with determination, courage, and perhaps most importantly, smiles. When he was first released from the hospital, he was blind and deaf and needed incision care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Gail was diligent about helping Nemo develop crawling and walking skills, even when they were unsure those skills would ever come.
“Once he learned to walk, he never [just] walked again. He is wild. It’s hilarious. Throughout everything he has always been happy. He is very strong little boy who is carefree and loves life. He’s everybody’s little boy in this house.”
Gail is an advocate for her children and for others. She stresses the importance of addressing the misconceptions of Shaken Baby Syndrome and teaching parents to walk away. Children under the age of 5, not just babies, are at risk. Children who have survived this type of abuse can still have needs ranging from large to small. “It’s never going to end. For that child that was injured it’s going to be a lifetime of struggle.” Gail explained Nemo continues to experience post traumatic epilepsy which is a life-threatening condition.
“When he gets sick he has a seizure. Every time something happens your brain has to relearn how to do things. But with him it may be a little more difficult in life because he already learned to do it once and it was a struggle.” She is continually discovering the unknowns of his syndrome, having to decipher if different developmental behaviors are cause for concern or “typical stubborn little boy.”
With Sam’s flexible work schedule and Gail’s stay-at-home parenting expertise, the Montes stay scheduled, organized, and intentional with their family. Currently the Monte’s family is complete, but Gail left the possibility of fostering or adopting again open for the future.
For now, she is in the process of completing her training to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate in Maryland. Her role will be to speak up for children’s best interests in court so she can fulfill her inherent need to help. She maintains relationships with Ohio MENTOR staff as well as families she has worked with. She looks forward to updates from one mother in particular who was reunified with her daughter.
When asked to give advice to future foster parents by sharing the one thing she wished she would have known, Gail thought for a moment. “I probably would have wanted to know how big of a roller coaster the ride was, but ultimately the ride has always been worth it.”