There are so many things that I don’t know how to do. Like last week. I didn’t know how to do last week. All I knew was that I had to move forward or I would get swallowed up by the vacuum of grief that was threatening to unhinge this delicate balance of love and pain that I have perched myself on. Grief can be a dangerous lure in this hard work we do as foster parents. It can turn selfless into selfish in a hot minute and it can use those misguided feelings as a tourniquet for our aching hearts. Closing ourselves off to loving because it hurts too much is a death sentence for a foster parent. Really, it’s a death sentence for any of us, isn’t it?
I didn’t how to do last week, but I guess I knew what not to do. I didn’t disappear. I held on. I loved my kids through their own aching hearts, even when mine felt too bruised to carry on. Yes, the grief was big, but in the end, I focused on the hope that the payoff for staying present would be bigger.
One of our Baby Girls was adopted last week. And really, there is so much to be grateful for. She is with her biological sisters, she is with a kind and loving family who is committed to her, and I can say with confidence that we will forever play an active role in her life.
Yesterday we were invited to celebrate with her adoption with her new family. Grief was telling me to pull back and protect, because letting go is oh so painful. Love was telling me to push forward and show up. I reminded myself that we can be overjoyed and incredibly sad in the exact same moment. And in most instances, if we hang on long enough, the joy will lift us up. So I took a long, deep breath and I remembered the day this Baby Girl came to me. I remembered how much she needed me to be present. She was physically broken and she was scared. She was just a couple of months old. She wanted to retreat into her fear. I could feel it. Over and over again in the many months she was with us, I would sing a little song that I made up to help soothe her broken bones and heal her tiny wounded heart. The repetition and predictability of it also gave her something to hold onto as she worked to get brave enough to connect with me and to learn to trust again.
Yesterday my Baby Girl and I sat on a swing together. It was almost four years after she was first placed in my arms. She snuggled herself right back into me. Within moments, her sweet little voice filled the space between us. She was singing me her special song. The cracks in my own wounded heart began to shrink and disappear. The grief swelled and then receded. Our connection was palpable. My joy exploded. And then as if on cue, she whispered, “Mama Deb, stay with me for a million minutes.”
So today, a day that I do know how to do, I am feeling gratitude for the adoptive family who thought to embrace our Baby Girl’s past, rather than erase it. I am reminded of the invisible strings that connect us and of the freedom we need to grant our adopted children to love all of their people. I am mindful of the hard work we need to do to redefine family so that it is inclusive of the past, the present, and of the future. And I am so undeniably thankful for the millions of minutes I won’t have to miss because even when I didn’t know what to do or how to do it, I still showed up.
About the Family
Deborah Sweet is a biological, adoptive and foster mama who believes parenting is best played as a team sport. She works hard as a foster parent ambassador and harder at raising community awareness for kids who come from difficult places. Deborah is a teacher by trade but now spends her time advocating for school districts to become trauma sensitive and provide wrap-around services for children who are challenged by developmental trauma and attachment disorders. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and six(ish) kids, plus a couple of amazing animals that add to the calm of the house, not the chaos. You can read more of Deborah’s writing at Because I Stay.