I said goodbye to my baby yesterday.
Katie is eight months old – a sweet, happy, and chubby baby. I dressed her up in her snowsuit so just her face peeked out, buckled her in the car seat, put her favourite toy next to her and gave her one last kiss on the nose. She blew a raspberry at me and gave me a huge, toothless grin. And then she left forever. And I sat down and started crying.
Welcome to foster parenting.
My husband Mike and I talked about being foster parents even before we got married. Mike’s parents fostered children when he was growing up and he has fond memories of the experience.
I think the pivotal moment in our decision was attending a wedding of one of my husband’s foster sisters. There was a “family” photo taken with the bride – which included three different sets of foster parents – all who had played a part in raising her. I wondered what would have happened to her if no one had cared - but due to these foster parents opening their homes and their hearts to this girl, she is now happily married with children of her own.
In a way, my own kids won the birth lottery. They have a stable, middle-class, two-parent family – and their only worry is what flavor of ice cream to choose for dinner. However, I don’t want them to grow up thinking this is the norm for everyone – while at the same time, I want to shield them for all the unpleasantness in the world. How do you balance? I’m still not sure. I’m hoping that exposing them to other less-fortunate children will make them appreciate what they DO have. Rather than saying “is that IT?!” after opening a million birthday presents, maybe one day they’ll realize these kids are coming to our home with no more than the clothes on their back.
We’ve had a variety of different children cross our doorstep – either for a few days or for several months. My own kids have been wonderfully accepting and happy to share their rooms, toys, parents, and friendship. If it was even possible to love them more than I already do, I would. To see my four-year-old offer a frightened young boy his most precious sleeping toy to hold all night “to keep him safe from the scary things” made me more proud of him than if he had won the Nobel Peace Prize.
I woke up last night at 3am expecting to hear Katie cry out for her bottle – until I suddenly realized that she wasn’t there. So I stared at the ceiling for the rest of the night and thought of the empty crib down the hall and let tears soak my pillow. It was – literally - heart-wrenching to let her go. Having raised her since birth, it feels like I just gave away my own child. I can recognize her laugh from across the room – I know how she likes to be rocked to sleep – I know the shape of her toes and how she likes to be tickled. Now someone else will be the one to make her eyes light up.
Katie was adopted by a wonderful couple who have been waiting for years for a child of their own. They adore her and I know they will love her with all their hearts. I would love to adopt her myself - but there aren’t that many foster homes, and there are a ton of childless couples that would make amazing parents. How can we deny someone the experience that we’ve already been fortunate to have with our own two wonderful kids?
It doesn’t make it any easier. But you know, I’ve made a difference and if it’s just a matter of a few tears and some heartbreak – I can handle that. Because I know that I’ve just made someone a mummy today. And I’ve given a baby a wonderful first start for her life and she’ll always know she was loved from the moment she was born. And one day, maybe I’ll be that foster mother in the wedding photo with a huge grin on my face.