HILTON HEAD ISLAND—As Karin Van Name lifted Isabella into the air, she smiled and shared a secret with the 3-month-old: she was going to be an older sister to a brand new foster baby.
Then, still smiling, she shared another secret: “I did hesitate this time because I know my daughter’s going to kill me,” she said with a laugh.
Van Name is a foster mother extraordinaire who has cared for over 80 babies so far.
It’s a labor of love, but taking care of two infants that require around-the-clock care is a lot for anyone, and Van Name’s daughter, April, worries about her mother’s health.
At 84, the octogenarian was just in the hospital for a week and is lucky to be alive, she said. Originally in for surgery on a perforated ulcer, the doctors also discovered blood clots in her legs and lungs. She is still in recovery mode, but that didn’t stop her from jumping right back into her mission of caring for babies with nowhere to go.
“When they get a newborn they call me,” Van Name said. “They know I won’t say no to a newborn.”
She is talking about children who have fallen into the care of social services; newborns whose families can’t take care of them, but are unwilling to give them up for adoption. Many of the babies are born to mothers addicted to drugs. Sometimes they’re in the hospital for weeks, struggling to overcome the toxins in their tiny systems, Van Name said. Even when they’re released, it takes several months to get the drugs out of their bodies enough to sleep through the night.
Van Name cares for each of them as her own, keeping them until they are adopted or returned to their families. As of this writing, she has fostered 83 children, all under the age of 4. She said her goal is to help 100 babies or reach age 100, whichever comes first.
“I cry every time one goes,” she said. “But then another one comes and we get caught up with that one.”
“We” refers to her three grown daughters: April, whom she lives with; Kim, who’s also in Hilton Head; and Dawn in Pennsylvania.
Her passionate outreach to help children in need is one of the reasons she was recently awarded the Catholicity Award by the Knights of Columbus Council 10668. She was nominated by Hal Weiland, manager of the St. Francis Thrift Store, where Van Name volunteers at least once a week.
“She brings her babies so she can still do her volunteer work,” Weiland said, adding that all the retired ladies at the store love to cuddle them. “Her attitude is always upbeat. Any kindness you show Karin, she just bubbles over. And she asks for nothing. Every penny she gets from social services goes to the babies.”
In fact, Van Name has so much infant paraphernalia and clothes, she could open a well-stocked baby boutique. She has two of everything, from car seats to hand-crafted bassinets, and closets of clothes ranging up to age 4.
Van Name said she’s been fostering for 27 years now and is still in contact with a handful of the children she helped.
One, in fact, became her grandson.
Bret came to the family as a newborn, she said, and by the time he was available for adoption, he was 4, and so much a part of the family that no one could let him go. April adopted Bret, who is now 22 and recently graduated from the College of Charleston.
At this point, April often encourages her mom to let go of fostering and take care of herself — to relax, play golf, travel. Weiland said that all of the girls worry about their mom and the toll that fostering takes on her now.
But Van Name keeps on chugging.
“This is what I want to do,” she said. “As a child, I always played with dolls. I was just called to it.”
She certainly has a knack. Isabella, who another foster mom complained about as crying too much, blossoms under the loving attention of Van Name, playing contentedly on her mat and smiling happily at everyone.
She knows that taking on another newborn when Isabella is still waking three times a night will be a challenge, but insists she’s used to it.
“If I didn’t have a baby I’d be in bed all day going ‘Ohhh!’” she said with a smile. “But I have a baby, and I’m so busy I don’t have time to think about it. I don’t have time for aches and pains.”
Miscellany photo/Amy Wise Taylor: Karin Van Name coos with Isabella, one of two foster babies she is caring for right now.