“Can I just keep you forever?”
It’s a question that I ask my 3-year-old often, and it’s always followed by a sweet, “Of course you can! I’m your daughter!”
But not this day. This typical, playful, normal morning, I asked our 8-month old my question. “Can I just keep you forever?” And the toddler responded, “No, Mommy! She’s going to live with her aunt, silly!” That was the moment. The moment when reality smacked me in the face. My baby girl was leaving. The thing is, she was never really all mine. We are her foster parents, so we knew we would be loving her for as long as we had her until a family member was able to step forward.
We’ve fostered for years, and are always thrilled when our littles are able to reunite with their families. Reunification is the goal- families should stay together, and I believe that part of my role is to support families and love children until they can be back together. This time, though, it is very bittersweet.
Our sweet girl came to us at 7 weeks — a snuggly, chubby little thing. I cried when she came — for such a small, sweet baby to have endured so much. Foster care never starts with a happy story, and I was heartbroken that she had been dealt such an unfair hand. I wish that there was never a need for her to have to come into care but since there was, we were ready to love her with everything we had.
We have watched her grow and have seen all of her firsts. The first time she rolled over; the first big, squishy grin that made her eyes close; the first sloppy, wet kiss; the first time she pulled up, waved, and ate solids. We have laughed with her, rocked her when she is sick, and made memories we will cherish forever.
And now we are saying goodbye. I am so excited for her! She is going to an amazingly loving and caring family member, and she will be so happy there. She deserves to be with her family, and they can’t wait for her to move in! But today, my heart is broken. I have loved her as if she were my own because that is exactly what she deserves. She has every fiber of my heart, and I am so beyond glad that she does. She has been a joy and a light in our lives, and now that light will be gone.
I have cried every day for the past few months, thinking of how hard it will be to not have her sweet chatter in the house, to not see her crinkly smile everyday. How will I get through the day when my sweet girl leaves? The week after? How do I hold it together every time someone asks where she is?
Worst of all, I worry that when she suddenly moves to people who love her, but who are really still strangers to her, she might think that we abandoned her, that we didn’t love her, or didn’t want her. I worry that she is too young to understand or talk it out, so she will just be scared and alone in her new family until she gets to know them. I hug her hard every day and tell her how much I love her, but will that just make it worse when I’m not there the first time she gets scared?
And so I cry. I cry for our loss. I cry for her transition, praying she doesn’t feel any loss. But I never cry in front of her. She doesn’t need to carry my sadness. We want her to feel the joy that will come with her new life and to leave with happy memories. She wouldn’t understand why I was upset, and she doesn’t need any more confusion in her little world.
Honestly though, this is only hard for us. She is young, only 9 months. She will never remember us, and will quickly transition to her new family, her forever life. This will be a blip in her little life, only carrying the security of a loving beginning with her. So I will grieve our loss, but I will celebrate with her from afar. I will be praying for her and cheering for her, sending love and encouragement in whatever form that takes. I am excited that we will be able to stay in contact with her family, to be kept up to date on how our sweet love is doing as she grows and changes. Maybe one day, we’ll get to visit with her again, to see the beautiful young lady she is growing up to be. As hard as this transition may be for us, this is exactly why we do what we do. I can’t imagine what her life would be like if someone hadn’t loved her so completely over this past year, and we are so excited that she is able to go with her family.
We are forever changed by her, and I wouldn’t trade this pain if it meant that we never got to love our sweet baby girl.