First, we got a license to be a foster care home, and then we “opened” to receive calls for potential placement. We opened at midnight on a Monday.
I turned on my phone ringer Sunday night, just in case. I had the feeling of anticipation identical to the days before my biological babies were born, when I was pregnant and overdue. I was so jumpy, so excited. For 36 hours I answered phone calls from close friends and family with “STOP CALLING ME I THOUGHT YOU WERE MY AGENCY” instead of hello.
When the call came, I missed it. This is foster care placement 101, and I made a rookie mistake. I had only gone to my driveway for a couple moments, and on my way back in my 5 year old daughter said matter-of-factly, “your phone is ringing and it’s probably our baby. And you missed it.”
I had missed it. I called right back — they had a baby. A precious and already-prayed-for, already-loved baby coming to our house that night. Our anticipation had come to fruition, my excitement made me almost incoherent on the phone, but I managed a yes. Yes yes yes yes yes, bring him here right now tonight immediately.
I hung up and sank to my knees in tears. My girls walked over to me — I’m not prone to emotional displays, and they were confused. We had been so excited! Why is mom crying?
They weren’t tears of joy. A baby coming to me meant a mama was leaving the hospital after delivery with empty arms. My car seat, and swing, and stocked changing table were indications of who was coming into my home. Anything she had in preparation for her baby was a reminder of who wasn’t coming home. Her things were going to remain unused. Foster care is a gift, but it is a gift to a broken system and a broken world.
The next few days I joked with my friends that I was enamored with this sleepy newborn because I felt fantastic. Because I was transitioning without having to personally recover from childbirth I could stand, work out, lift a car seat, take showers, carry multiple kids at once, and fit into my clothes. Glorious.
But it isn’t glorious for A’s biological mama. She had to cope when her milk came in. She wore diapers and endured wild rolling hormones. She is not getting baby kiss endorphins, and she walked into her first parental visitation to hold her baby, who was wearing someone else’s clothes. We sent a note with A when he went to visit her. “Thank you for choosing life for A. We know you love him so much, and we will love him and keep him safe until you can take him home again.” These are losses to mourn, and thinking about her losses grieves me as well. The thoughts seep into my regular moments, not a flood — just a quiet, dripping reminder. It’s a reminder that there is a world outside my own that is not always safe, and affluent, and promised, and clean. And since my family made the decision to allow our world to collide with the messier situations of another world that seems far away, we will share and bear the burdens that different kinds of families feel. We will not pity them, nor judge them, nor accuse them. We will acknowledge that we have enough privilege to share, and then we will embrace another parent and tell them that while custody may be, their value (and our care) is not dependent on their good choices.
For now, we care for a child without knowing what the future may hold. We attach and may have to let go. If they asked us to keep him forever, we would, in an instant. We would love him and we would celebrate getting to make him ours if that proves what’s best. On the other hand, we pray for his parents to heal and recover so they can get him back — and if they can accomplish this, we will celebrate. With either of those choices: joy. No matter the path: loss.
Many asked us on this journey “aren’t you scared you’ll have to give a child back?” Yes. A hundred times yes. But with this sweet child cooing in my neck, studying my face, responding to my voice, and just being the cutest little squish, I can now say with some skin in the game — this is a child who is worth the risk of my broken heart.