Thursday, January 31, 2013

Parenting someone else's child: Falling in love and saying goodbye

Nearly five years ago we decided to expand our family. We started out on an adoption journey that never came to fruition. Then three years ago we decided to have another biological child. We suspected the road would be long, but we never imagined it would be such a winding road full of potholes. And we certainly never imagined that walking down this road would leave us with arms more empty than when we first started the trek. If you've read this blog for any length of time you've no doubt picked up on the fact that our attempts to expand our family in a biological manner have been unsuccessful, and at times far more emotional and heart-wrenching then I've ever come close to writing about. 

Many of you know that we lost a baby we so desperately desired in October of 2011. Most of you don't know that on what would have been that baby's due date, I found myself staring at two very, very faint pink lines once again. It was a secret between Rob and I, we didn't want to go through the pain of telling people if we lost this baby too. Six days later, on Mother's Day no less, I found myself in desperate tears in the bathroom at church. I was grateful that I wouldn't have to untell people yet again, but sad that no one would have any reason to suspect that my already fragile heart was breaking once again. I wanted so badly to cry on my husband's shoulders. But, he was preaching, and no matter how badly my heart hurt, it didn't make sense for me to interrupt him. My own personal crisis could wait. Such is sometimes the plight of a Pastor's wife. (Seriously... of 168 hours out of any given week, why does it feel like the 3 hours my husband is unavailable on Sunday mornings is when I'm most likely to need him?)

Nine days later I woke up in a hazy fog trying desperately to go back to sleep. I had been in the middle of such a sweet dream that I really wanted to finish. It was one of those dreams that was just so real that you wake up wondering how on earth it was only a dream. In my dream I went to the doctor not knowing what was wrong with me and found out that not only was I pregnant, but I was about to give birth. Rob and I came home with a teeny tiny wrinkly little girl. The dream was so real that I could smell her precious newborn smell. The only problem was that we couldn't come up with a name. I spent a good part of my dream searching for lists of baby names I'd made in the past and trying to remember ones that we'd said we had liked over the years. I was desperately trying to figure out our baby girl's name and then I woke up. I woke up in strange mixture of emotions. I was so content just having had this dream about our daughter and yet so sad and emotional that it had only been a dream and that I woke up before it was over. I never did find out her name. Rob was just heading off to work and I told him about my dream. He kissed my forehead and told me he was sorry then he headed out the door and I tried in vein to go back to sleep to learn more about my fictitious little girl.   

Just a few hours later I got a call from the state wanting to know if we would take a foster-care placement of a nearly 6 month old girl. It instantly brought a huge smile to my face. I gave Rob a quick phone call to confirm that we'd be open to this placement. My heart was more than open to having a baby around again. Her name? Hazel. Rob's Grandmother's name is Hazel. I love the name Hazel. I was already smitten!

Soon I pulled up front of DHS and it took me all of .2 seconds to fall completely in love with this little girl. Her caseworker literally handed me the kiddo, a brown paper bag with a couple of blankets and her placement papers, and I was on my way in less than 3 minutes. Suddenly, I was the (temporary) mother of a baby. After years of waiting and wishing and praying, the stork (that's what I sometimes lovingly refer to DHS as) brought me what my heart had so desperately been desiring. Okay, maybe it has less to do with the stork and more to do with God creating beauty from ashes in both of our lives! 

I quickly decided that Blessings by Laura Story would be "our song". In those first weeks she came to live in our home that song seemed to come on nearly ever night as I was putting her to bed. We'd rock and sway and I'd sing through my tears, "What if our blessings come through raindrops, what if our healing comes through tears, what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you're near? What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?"

(Click on the video to hear this beautiful song)

God knew that we needed each other... at least for a season.  

For the next three and a half months we had a beautiful baby girl in our home. She had big blue eyes and a gorgeous head of bright red peach fuzz. She was mostly content and happy and so darn lovable! She truly was as sweet as can be. It was so good for my heart to have this sweet little one around! 

Just after she turned 9 months old I said good-bye to this sweet little baby. Through tears I fed her one last bottle, changed one last diaper and loaded her up into her caseworker's car giving her one last set of kisses. Then one more last set of kisses. Then after I closed the door I went back into the car to snag a third last set of kisses. A piece of my heart drove away in that SUV. She was being reunited with her mom, and that was a good thing, the best case scenario for this precious little girl. But the problem is, she weaseled her way into our hearts with that first gummy grin. And honestly, our hearts would never be the same. She will be part of our lives forever, if only in the memory of our hearts.

Six weeks later we got two phone calls in one week. One was for a set of 9 month old twins. One was for a newborn boy that would likely be permanent. We were on vacation at the time and couldn't take the twins. We also weren't ready to say yes to a permanent kiddo, so we declined the little boy as well. My heart was sad that all of these kids kept making a brief appearance into our lives, then slipping through our fingertips just as quickly.

Just after we got back from vacation we got a call that Hazel was coming back into care. Now I knew why we couldn't say yes to those other kiddos. Isn't it funny how God just has a way of working these things out before we can even grasp what's going on? I was sad that her mom had a (minor) set-back, but oh-so-happy to have her back in our home for a while. We had missed her terribly and still talked about her quite often.

It's been a fun 3 and a half months with her back in our home. This time around we've not only continued to love her, but we've grown to care deeply for her parents as well. They are making amazing strides in their ability to care for themselves and for her. It's a beautiful thing to witness a transformation in their lives!

Now at 14 months old we just had to say goodbye yet again. I gave her kisses. And hugs. And kisses. And more hugs. Then I backed out of the driveway and blew her kisses from the road. Goodbyes are hard, especially when you've absolutely fallen in love. I have loved her and cared for no differently than I would have done so if she'd been born of my womb or if she'd become my daughter through adoption.

My kids adore her and my husband is even smitten with her (babies aren't exactly his thing... so this is no small feat!). If you can't tell, I kind of like her too! She fits in perfectly well with our family and she truly lights up our lives. But isn't ours to keep. And that's okay. 

People regularly make statements to this effect: "I could never do foster care. It would be way too hard to give them back." When I say that people regularly make statements such as these, I'm not exaggerating. I probably have this conversation with various people several times a week. At least.

So, to answer once and for all (or until the next time), how we do it—we just do. Just like any other person who finds themselves parenting under less than ideal circumstances. Parents who are raising children by themselves. Parents who are raising their children's children. Parents of colicky children, sick children, sensitive children, special needs children, children that weren't planned, that were born early... the list goes on and on.

These various parenting situations aren't necessarily ideal. They aren't text book. They aren't the circumstances we'd set out to parent under. But, it's worth it! All kids need love, care, comfort and security. We met a need in her life during a time that she needed a family to love her and care for her while her family could not. In turn, she met a few of our needs as well. I can't imagine never having known this lively, giggly, adventurous little red head. Our sweet little Hazelnut! I can't begin to fathom what these last 9 months would have looked like if we'd never met her, cared for her and fallen in love with her. Perhaps, answering the question of "How can we say goodbye to a child we've fallen in love with," is best summed up with the old adage:

It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. 

These are just a few of the incredible moments we would have missed if we had chosen not to love her out of fear of one day having to say goodbye.

We got to enjoy her first Halloween with her. 

We celebrated her First Birthday together with her family!
Curly haired cutie!

Meeting Mrs. Claus!

Christmas morning after opening up presents together. 
Dressed up in our Christmas best. 

Such a big girl with all of her teeth. Hardly a baby anymore!

Yup, I'd say that opening up our home and hearts to this little girl was more than worth it! And the truth is, as much as we care about this sweet little girl, God cares about her even more. He has a beautiful plan for her life! I am grateful that he's chosen for us to be a small part of that plan. We very much hope to keep in close touch with Hazel and her family. But even if we don't see her very often, we will continue to pray for her as often as God brings her to mind.

*While we don't typically put pictures of foster kids up on the internet, these pictures are posted with her mom's blessing.*

p.s. If you've found yourself making a similar statement about thinking you could never do foster care because it would be too hard to let them go, let me assure you that God will give you the strength and the grace to do whatever it is that he's called you to do.

Also, not to be picky about that particular choice of wording, but I'm guessing most people don't think through the implications of such a statement. It implies that the person who chooses to do foster care despite the fact that they'll have to let most, if not all of the kids go at some point (we're 16 for 16 on having to say goodbye), is heartless, or calloused, or somehow not deeply hurt by letting kids go. Granted, sometimes it's easier than others to say goodbye. But sometimes it's really, really hard. It usually hurts deeply. Sometimes it's downright devastating. But the truth is, it's not about us. Last I checked, kidnapping was frowned upon, and state laws don't change just because you fall in love. Therefore, saying goodbye despite the pain is not a choice given to foster parents. We simply choose to love and the pain of saying goodbye is just part of the process.

Might I suggest a slight change of wording that I think captures the same sentiment without implying what I stated above? How about something along the lines of, "Wow, it must be really difficult to say goodbye." Or even inquiring, "Do you find it hard to let them go after you've cared for them for so long?" Does that make sense? I try not to get offended because I know that people don't typically mean what that statement implies, and maybe I'm must being too picky about word choices, but this subtle change might take the edge off of that statement for those who might be sensitive or easily offended. Just my two cents! 


Anonymous said...

Of course,I cried the whole time I read your beautiful,kind words about not only Hazel, but what you have inside your hearts. Your hearts are extremely enormous,& so I can honestly say that I've never in my life met such loving caring beings that have this passion to love & to be loved. You truly are our guardian angel(s) sent by God to remind us what is the most important thing in my life is. Hazel. And learning the meaning of "unconditional love" is & how to not only give it, but to receive it. Thank you so much for loving all 16 hearts. I love your heart & beautiful soul! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Robyn just wanted to tell you that your post really touched me--thanks for being so real about life. I've been scared to become a mom because loving means opening yourself up to so much risk and your words show me that no matter how much risk there is involved in relationship, what God can do with those moments is pretty incredible. So thank you!

Anonymous said...

i know Hazel's parents and have worked with both of them. i have lots of respect for where they have gotten and it's a blessing Hazel has had you placed in her life forever. my aunt a d uncle we foster parents"grand parents" to over 250 kids while they cared for them. a very special one now takes care of them. GOD has great plans for us we just have to be open and willing to heed his call. GOD bless you and your family. Hazelnut hold a place in my heart because she a recovery baby. born and raised with love and faith.