Saying goodbye to children you have loved and nurtured is the hardest part about being a foster parent, says a woman who is retiring after caring for 300 children in the past 27 years. Louise Messer, 76, has a box of photographs of every child she has taken in at her Orange Park home. She still gets calls and letters from some of them.
Among her charges have been a blind infant, a baby born with no stomach muscles, a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome and one with cerebral palsy.
"I never refused to take a baby," Mrs. Messer said proudly.
The cerebral palsy baby was taken in when he was 3 weeks old. When he was 6, the Messers adopted him and raised him with their own three children.
"Nobody wanted him. Back then, people didn't want those kind of babies. So my husband said, "Let's just take care of him.' He's never been in any other home but ours," she said.
At one time, she had five newborns in her care.
"I don't know how I did it," she said, laughing.
Now, Children's Home Society limits the number of children a foster parent can care for at a time.
Mrs. Messer said she became a foster parent because her husband was on the road a lot, and she didn't like being alone.
Mrs. Messer recalled two occasions when she was asked by her foster children why she couldn't adopt them.
"I told them I was too old and that the agency wanted younger parents to adopt them. But it just breaks your heart every time they leave," she said.