Kaety waved urgently to me from the doorway. We were in the middle of a meeting in a Best Western conference room with about 40 of our colleagues. She mouthed “Deborah is calling – she has news”. We hurried down the hall to a secluded alcove and huddled around the phone to learn that we had lost our baby.
I don’t really remember the phone call ending. We wrapped ourselves up in each other and sobbed our hearts out into each other.
We’ve been fostering ‘Oscar’ since he was 17 days old. When his case plan changed from ‘return to parent’ to ‘adoption’ he had been with us over a year – he was our baby and we were his parents, so we applied to adopt him.
He had extended family that also wished to adopt him – and it would come down to a DHS adoption committee deciding which home he would go to.
The weeks leading up to the adoption committee meeting were surreal for us. We reserved talking widely about the upcoming date because of the uncertainty of the outcome and the complexity of the process. Rarely are child welfare cases simple and this was no exception. While we prepared our adoption book, and brushed up our home study with our amazing DHS certifier we floating in an unreal place knowing that one outcome could be that we could lose our baby. Even with that reality shadowing us we saw little benefit to thinking or believing anything other than that he would stay with us. We hoped that the agency would value the bonds of love and attachment over the ties of blood.
While we were hopeful, we were not naive. We knew we lived in a world that thinks about children much like property. Even with over 50 years of developmental psychology research telling us exactly what children need – the law only uses that research as guidance. Blood lines, clan ties and property rights are still the prevailing concepts we use to make child welfare decisions. The rights of the parents trump that of child’s.
So in the next few weeks our sweet, funny, curious, smily baby will be taken from our home, and his mommy and his daddy and be introduced to a new home and new a mommy and daddy. Yes, we are angry, confused and sad….and feel terribly powerless.
Oscar has been very attached to Kaety lately – we’d joke, “All mommy, all the time”. Last night we lay in bed with our heads pressed together whispering our thoughts into each others ears. Kaety started, “…it breaks my heart that he will look for me and won’t be able to find me…” but ended in a choking sob. We cried hard together for a long time. When the crying was done we moved to an anger that reached out into the world and demanded change. Our child welfare system needs reform, which starts with everyone examining their own views on what defines family.
We are on vacation for the week of Thanksgiving and we will get to spend the week with him, loving him and saying a thousand small goodbyes before the big goodbye comes in a few weeks. I can’t even imagine that day.
Last night we looked at each other. Even through the blur of tears our love for each other was clear. Kaety laid her head into my chest and said, “We will be alright”. I knew what she meant. She wasn’t talking about packing up our grief and feelings and pretending to be fine. We’d be alright because we’d feel every ounce of the good and the bad while staying deeply connected to each other – too isolated from each other in our grief would violate every value we shared.
When we talk to others about being foster parents the first thing we hear is “I could never do that – the pain would be too great”. Our answer to that statement varies depending on how charitable we are feeling at the time – but is a version of: “I would never hold my pain in balance against the needs of a child.” Today we are standing in that spot – the devastating loss. Neither of us holds a single regret about what we gave our baby, not a single moment of hesitation about opening our hearts up to him. The countless sleepless nights, the fevers, the teeth, the tears, and risk of loving in the face of uncertainty were small prices to pay for the gift of love and personality he brought to us all.
You will never leave our hearts sweet boy.
A few excerpts from his ‘first year baby book’:
Your first night at our house
We didn’t yet know your whole story the night you came to us. All we knew was that a little baby boy needed a home. I got a phone call from a nice lady at DHS, who told me, “Look out the window, I think they may be there already”. Through the dark and rain I saw Kayla coming to the door with a baby. When she handed you to me I realized that it had been a long time since I had held a baby – I had a moment where I wondered if I remembered how. When I pulled you close to me I remembered that daddy’s never forget how to love. I rocked you and held you tight and told you it would be ok. When mommy got home she snuggled you and then gave you a bath, wrapped you up tight in a blanket and fed you a bottle. I remembered you letting out a big sigh and relaxing into mommy.
You grew so fast and we loved you…
You slept, you ate and you smiled and laughed so much! Mommy kept buying you clothes and you outgrew them so fast – you were so excited to run with the other kids.
Our big fun family full of loudness, laughing and love.
Mommy and I are really in love – when we dance in the kitchen every one of the kids, including you, try to cram themselves into the space between us to get as close to the love as possible. “Blended” is what people call a family like ours – almost all the kids in our family have different last names, have multiple moms and dads, and even different skin colors! One thing we have in common is that we all love each other.
Life at our house…
As you grew, you wanted to be a part of everything! You loved helping daddy unload the dishwasher and sort the Tupperware. Grammy Robin would always bring over lots of bubble toys and we’d all go out on the deck to blow and chase bubbles – you’d screech and laugh every time a bubble would float by you.
Every weekend we would all go grocery shopping together – all you kids would get a cookie at the bakery and even though you were little you wanted a cookie just like all the big kids.
Most nights mommy and daddy would give you a bath – either in the tub or the sink. You loved to splash and play in the water and laughed and laughed when daddy would ‘sneeze’ the washcloth onto your back.
You spent a lot of time in the ‘love garden’ crawling around and helping. The whole family would plant seeds, harvest vegetables, and pick weeds together. We spend a lot of time in the garden together – it was one of our favorite things to do. We called it the ‘love garden’ because it grew and changed just like the love in our house and in our lives – full of abundance, surprises, and beauty.
Cooking, fishing, mushroom and berry picking are all things we love to do together. We fill our tummies with delicious things we find in the beautiful place we live.