My heart beat fast as I saw the number flash onto my screen. It was the 4th call for infant placements in less than 24 hours. I answer, listening intently, trying to remember the questions I’m supposed to ask.
“He’s 2 weeks old and being released from the hospital with a double fractured skull.” My heart stops; a part of me wants to crumple on the ground and weep, while all my nerves are poised, ready to flee to the hospital to scoop up this boy I’ve never met. None of the questions matter. I hear nothing else. In that moment, our first son through fostering was wholly mine.
“Yes,” I interrupted her, “Yes, we will take him.” I called my husband and said, “We’ve got a baby boy coming tomorrow.”
Baby J became our son.
“He has a sister. She’s in another foster home but the judge wants them together. Are you willing to have her? She’s 1.5. She’s terrified of men. She will need to be taken to a special doctor’s appointment. Are you willing? If not, we will be finding a different home to place them in together.”
My heart starts pounding. It means baby J will leave if we say no. But I knew what that special doctor’s appointment meant. I was bawling inside. I was torn up all over again. Can I possibly be brave enough for this little girl? Can I overcome my own fear, my own hurt to carry another little girl through this again?
“Yes, yes, we will have her. What do you know?”
They wouldn’t answer any of my questions because of privacy’s sake. I kept asking for information in different ways and kept being told the same thing.
I knew we had the answer. The answer was yes. Yes, we will protect and love and hold safe this little girl. We will fight for her when others will not. We will protect her, we will be her safety where safety has potentially failed her—of this I could be certain in our home.
Miss P became our daughter.
We became a family of 8. Our older 4 fought over who got to feed J, who got to chase P. We learned she loved reading books and to be outside. He wanted to be held and had the sweetest milky smiles. P learned to trust my husband. Being thrown in the air shrieking with laughter became her constant request from him. Eventually, she sat in his lap, snuggled into his arms resting there, just as if she knew this is how it was always meant to be. Driving, I would look up into my rearview mirror loving the fact that it was packed full of kids. There were no empty seats. There was so much joy.
I learned how to navigate family visits. Every time I dropped them off my stomach was in knots. I felt like I was abandoning them. I wrote out feeding instructions. I packed snacks and toys and diapers. I printed off pictures of the kids each week to give to their mom and dad. I smiled, and introduced myself and asked how each parent was doing. Very quickly I learned I could trust their dad. He called to check on them every day. He wanted to know how much J was eating, how much weight he had gained, what P did that day she enjoyed. P cried every time she had to say goodbye to him. She clearly loved him, was clearly attached to him, clearly felt safe with him… so I did too. He would take baby J’s hand and rub it against his beard and remind him, “I’m the one with the beard. It’s me, daddy.” We would leave the visits with a crying toddler and a fast asleep infant and my heart would hurt for this man. He was a good dad and I settled in my heart I would fight along with him for the safe return of his kids.
Four months later we said goodbye. Kinship placement was taking precedence. I sobbed as I tucked them into their car seats, not letting go of baby J until I absolutely had too. I was the only mamma he knew and I grieved deeply that he would be forced to adjust to a new mom…at least that was my hearts plea. “Please, please be this boy’s mamma.”
I wrote pages of instructions. I sent them off with so many clothes and toys and diapers the social workers car was full. I called their dad crying, letting him know they were sent off well and I hoped he would have them back soon. Than he thanked me. In the midst of the sorrow of losing children, I realized those words of thanks were also part of foster care, also part of our “why.” He understood what it was to loose his children, and in this he thanked me for caring for his own when he was not allowed too.
Choosing to love this father instead of fear him, led to a relationship with him. It led him to continue to send us pictures and updates of P and J. He kept us informed on the court decisions and with great joy he texted me, “Guess what? My kids are home!” I rejoiced loudly with him. The best news of all was just last month, a year nearly to the day of saying goodbye, he wrote to tell me his case was closed. He had the kids 100%. This is foster care too. This is the goodness and the joy it can lead too, reuniting a good dad with his children. Our role in their lives was to give their dad time. And his words of thanks all those months ago helped our family say yes again just two weeks after we had said our painful goodbyes.
His big, deep brown eyes bore into mine. He was only 5 weeks old and he clearly didn’t know me. His hair was soft and glossy black, his forehead fuzzy with baby hair that merged right into his eyebrows. I stroked his chunky brown arm with my finger, trying to dispel the startled look coming from this new baby boy. “He knows I’m not his,” ran through my head and my heart broke for him.
Baby D became our son.
The more we learned of Baby D’s story, the harder and sadder it was. Days went by with no one checking on him. Than weeks went by and no one asked to visit. Months went by and no one went to the court dates, no one was coming for this beautiful baby boy we were falling fast in love with. Our six-year-old son started praying every night, “Dear Jesus, please let us adopt D.” With every missed birth family opportunity to reunify, we clung to this little man harder and harder.
Having moved into the largest county in the nation with a fostering need, we were told, and had experienced, that nothing moves fast, or even on time legally. “It never happens on time even in cases as clear as D’s,” were words repeated to us constantly. Yet our story with our son was moving fast. Court dates never got delayed, the paperwork was always done. Our social worker was for us, continuing to make sure everyone else was keeping up with their part so D’s case could keep moving forward. Each on time answer felt like a miracle. Within 8 months of being introduced to D, his birth parents rights were terminated and we were named as the potential adoptive placement family. We sat in a court house building for hours, waiting for a 3-minute appearance before the judge to see what he was going to say. He smiled at us and said, “Congratulations mom and dad.” We walked out stunned, holding our breath, whispering to each other, “Did that really just happen?”
So many people ask the same questions, or make the same statements, “How do you give them back? I just couldn’t do it, it would be too hard.” And their right, it is hard. There is no such thing as a superpower (foster) parent, as if there’s some sort of secret to make the separation easier. There is so much grief involved in fostering, but it’s never just our own grief, it’s your child’s too. There is so much hurt and anger, but it’s never just our own, it’s your child’s too. The comfort that it’s not “just you,” is that you are being for that child exactly what they need to heal. The joy that exudes from that knowledge is unstoppable. It is unique, empowering and the best kind of all-consuming.
We tend to have this wrong assumption that having biological children somehow guarantees ease, or safety in the protection of our own heart from hurt. But this is a lie. Anytime we choose to love someone we choose risk, no matter how they come to us. We falsely think if we birth them we have control over what happens—if we can control the circumstances than we can control our hearts from ever breaking.
It was the very breaking of my heart for our new dark-haired baby D that told me I was prepared for him. I was prepared for his grief and his hurt and his loss because I knew what sadness and grief was. I knew how to live in the tension of joy and sorrow, and I knew how to answer it. We had waded through the sorrow of saying goodbye to two babies too soon through miscarriage. We had deeply grieved the handing off of our first two placements. We had walked through the horror of discovering sexual abuse to one of our children. We had trudged through the darkness of the stripping away of our sense of safety. At the end, sometimes even in the very midst of each hard valley, we re-found our hope and our light and our safety in Jesus. He prepared us and would keep preparing us to say yes to children carrying their grief and pain all on their own. In this, we were able to see that the roads these children walk through in foster care, are not so different than our own. We can choose to be the person to walk through it with them—whether that be for a short time or for their lifetime.
If we could stop focusing on all of the “what if’s,” on all of the details that seem to be incredibly nuanced and scary, on so much about how we feel about fostering, we could step back and see the “what if’s” aren’t so different from ones we’ve already walked through or learned to overcome in our day by day. Seeing this connection, this similarity in struggle, takes so much of the fear away.
We looked into our sons’ great big brown eyes, knowing we could not keep our hearts from hurt, nor keep the answers to ourselves that had been poured into us. All of our children, regardless of how they come to us, regardless of whether they live with us until they are grown or not, need someone to carry them in their hurt—hurt none of us would ever choose. They, as we, simply need someone who’s willing to risk walking with them.
So as we wait to hear when our blessed court date will be assigned to make our boy D legally what he already is to us, our son, we choose to walk with each of our children. We choose daily to keep risking our love for them, knowing that each yes makes us deeper and deeper in love with them. Each yes brings greater joy as they overcome fears, or challenges or discovers what they love. Each yes brings greater risk, but what is worth more than risking your life and love for another? I dare say nothing brings greater joy.
To find more stories from our National Adoption Month series head HERE.