I didn’t know if I could love you when I first saw you. I panicked, thinking “What have we done?” The whole situation seemed overwhelming and too much to bear.
The next day, we came again to visit, and I chose to sit there in the hard space with you. I didn’t feel love or connection or magically maternal. I just felt scared, like taking a test I knew I’d fail.
But still, I chose to take responsibility for you. I committed.
Good or bad times, attachment or not, I will care for your needs the best I can for as long as I’m allowed. I can choose this, feelings or not.
And so we began.
I didn’t know you’d melt my heart. Somewhere a little over a month in, you looked me in the eye, seeming to ask, “Will you be all in with me?” And I couldn’t help but say, “yes.”
I didn’t know attachment went both ways — as though some invisible string tied our hearts together. I worried so much about you connecting to us, only to find myself startled by your pull over me.
I didn’t know starting this journey with you would pull me into a perpetual roller coaster of emotions. Every time I thought I’d felt the depths of what I could feel, that somehow I’d seen all that this story could throw at me, something new would happen and the world would flip topsy turvy yet again.
I didn’t know you’d sleep through the night so early on or that you’d keep that nightly routine so easily. Thank you for letting Poppy and I get sleep too! You spoiled us with your easy nighttime sleep habits.
I didn’t know that childcare would be the easy part of fostering. The more difficult part was entering the very complicated narratives of everyone involved and doing it with grace, mercy and the benefit of the doubt. I wrestled with my internal stories about bio families, and as I attached to you, kept checking my impulse to make them “other” and to divide the world between us and them.
I didn’t know how hard goodbye would be. I worried so much for you, I forgot about us. We knew this day would come, even as our hearts hoped for a magical solution where everyone gets to keep wonderful you. I hoped professionalism and logic would slow the tide of grief.
I didn’t know the ways my feelings would defy my logic. How my head would understand and support what was happening while my heart screamed, “NO!”
I didn’t know how strongly I believed grace and forgiveness matter. And that if they mean anything at all anywhere in the world, they have to mean something here in this story too — even if my heart doesn’t want to understand.
I didn’t know that a weight would lift as you went out the door. That somehow the load was lightened, even as we wept.
I didn’t know how guilty I’d feel about the ability to breathe as you rode away from us.
I think it’s the finality of it all. We did what we could, and now there was nothing else to be done. We gave the best of ourselves, sent you off as well as we could, and the story came to an end.
We waited and waited with our breath held in hope for a different outcome. And we finally surrendered to reality. The worst part — handing you over and saying goodbye — came and went. The axe finally fell, and it’s time for healing for all of us. But, now our roads are separate.
I didn’t know my house could echo with the ghosts of your happy giggles and squeals.
I didn’t know how my arms would ache to hold you, and that for a few agonizing days I’d feel the phantom weight of you snuggled close in the crook of my neck.
I didn’t know I’d learn to hold new unanswerable questions: are you sleeping? Are you eating? Are you okay? Do you miss us a little? Or even a lot? Have you settled into a new routine? What new things have you learned?
I didn’t know how quickly I’d forget the sound of your happy chatters or the exact tone of your cries. Three days was all it took.
I didn’t know how hard I’d search for those sound memories, nor how sad I’d feel as the memories could not be recalled.
Tears streamed down my face as Poppy and I went to see the new Mary Poppins and Emily Blunt sang about where the lost things go. I didn’t know I’d find myself watching the song on YouTube over and over as I missed you.
I didn’t know I’d feel identity loss when you left. I forgot we wear identities like clothes. You left and somehow the “mom” cardigan was snatched from my shoulders.
I didn’t know I’d struggle with this identity loss. I never truly thought of you as ours. We bought a suitcase immediately after you arrived for that very reason. We loved you with the best of ourselves. In our weakness, we longed to keep you. But, we always knew we were foster parents, not your actual parents. And on the days we’d forget, we’d see that suitcase and remember — this is temporary.
I didn’t know that the “mom” identity felt like an essential part of me. With the loss of you, I also miss my favorite parts of me.
I didn’t know that losing you would also make me feel like the little matchgirl again. Watching families from outside while longing for that to be my story.
We finally joined the parenting club, and it felt lovely to belong as I swayed with a child on my hip. My nervous swaying finally had a purpose — it looked natural with you resting in my arms.
I didn’t know I’d find myself mentally reaching for you — as though you could know you were often in my thoughts. As if you could feel the weight of my yearning for you and know you weren’t forgotten or abandoned.
I didn’t know I’d wrestle with God like Jacob — struggling and refusing to let go until a blessing is granted. Only the blessing is not for me — it’s for you. I can’t rest assured that it is granted because I cannot see you.
Instead there is silence, and I long to know how you’ve grown. I hope you’re eating, sleeping, learning — even laughing. You’ve likely mastered crawling by now. And then I wonder too — did you make it to doctors and dentists appointments?
I didn’t know I’d check my email like I’d check my phone for messages from Poppy when we were dating. I didn’t know how disappointed I’d feel when no news of you came.
I didn’t know how fast Poppy and I would settle into old routines from the days before you. Just one short week after you’d gone.
I didn’t know that I’d have such complicated feelings about settling back into old routines. Grace. Guilt. Comfort. Fear.
I didn’t know I’d be nervous again for a new placement, that I’d ask myself the same questions I did before your arrival. Can we really love this new child? What if we don’t connect with them? Am I too old for this? Is the pain when they leave worth the journey?
I didn’t know how grateful I’d feel toward you for helping me believe we can do this again. We didn’t know how it would go last time, and yet small miracles happened along the way — enough manna to nourish us on the path each day.
I didn’t know if fostering would really be a calling for my life, or if it, like so many other things, would be an epic mistake. Walking in this sacred space with you helped me find my best self, and I’m so grateful that you were the one who started this foster journey with us. We’ve never regretted saying “yes!” when the call came about you.
And I didn’t know that we’d begin to feel ready for another child quite so soon. But, here we are — waiting again and ready. There won’t be another you, but we’re ready to see and greet the next guest who comes along.