I never imagined having what is today considered a large family but by the time I was 35, Ben & I had 4 beautiful children. In turn, we regularly receive the public commentary, "You must have your hands full!" which is both unhelpful and true. And then we became foster parents. It was a calling. Although I never thought I would give birth to 4 children, for as long as I can remember, I pictured doing foster care or adopting children who needed a loving home. Rearrange some rooms, open our hearts. Done and done!
The thing about parenting is that it is not quantitative. One cannot gauge the challenge based on a formula of how many children you have, how far apart they are, or whether they were expected. I remember being amazed by our first daycare provider who would take our toddler on field trips to the zoo with 5 other kids in her minivan, laughing off my awe with comments like, “It’s just easier to be out and about with them!” When our 2nd child came I was terrified of leaving our little apartment with just 2 children in tow, packing up supplies, sweating about feeding them in public, and kicking myself when naptime was replaced by their unstoppable drift-offs in the last 10 minutes of the ride home. As a birth doula, one of the biggest stressors shared with me by parents is how a couple will go from 1 child to 2, the guilt they have over splitting their time, attention, and love in another direction when they cannot imagine loving anyone else ever as much as their first baby. And then they see their baby become a big brother or sister- meeting the person who they will likely know longer than their parents, life partner, or children…..and they just do it. I guess that’s how we went from zero to four in 7 years and why we never worried about having enough love to go around for another child.
I am far too new at foster parenting to offer perspective or wisdom and my sample size is too small to be general and maintain confidentiality for the child whose privacy deserves to be respected. Yet it is impossible for me to reflect on what the experience was like and not connect my story directly with the sweet person I nurtured for 9 months, with all his darling details, idiosyncrasies, challenges, and milestones. Without sharing the intimate details of the relationship with our fifth son, there are a few take-aways that are noteworthy. 1)We know, without a doubt, that he received, from the start, all the love and care that a 5 pound newborn baby can. Every cell in his body was given maximum opportunity to grow, develop, and succeed. He never experienced trauma or neglect; he never knew a bad day and never learned distrust or fear. He absorbed only acceptance and joy. He was beloved in our home and in our large, extended community. 2)When it was time to be received into his new family, he went before he was old enough to understand he was leaving a loving one. He didn't know all the bureaucracy, the fall-throughs, the disappointments. And we didn't have to leave him against his will or place him into a home where we had any doubt he would be safe; in fact, we get to live with the knowledge that he is with people who dreamed of and prayed for him. 3)He was never "ours". We were clearly intended to love him, wake up teens of times in the night with him, comply with a complex regimen of appointments and documentation for him, and treat him as our son/brother until we were told he wouldn't be any more. The most common question we received was, "How will you ever let him go?" Our response has been, "That is foster care. That was always the plan." Great efforts went into making a smooth transition for him and for the 4 big brothers who accepted and loved him for almost a year. 4)Letting him go was rewarding, rejoiceful, and brutal. I had to say good-bye to a charming, giggling, bright-eyed, beaming, good-natured child who would not remember me. He was never "ours" but we were definitely "his". One moment I was his mother and the next, I was not. Foster motherhood revealed.