Almost four years ago, my husband and I fell in love with my infant foster brother, and a miracle happened. We got to take him home. There were tears in my parents' eyes when we drove off with him... mostly because it was THEIR baby behind the wheel, driving off with their first grandchild. They would never have to say goodbye.
In the years that followed, I felt the familiar twinges in my heart many times. Often it was while holding a new foster sibling, or curling up on the couch with a toddler who lived in my parents' temporary care. When those babies and toddlers moved back home or to their adoptive homes, I'd feel a slight sadness, but never any true mourning. My parents, on the other hand, endured grief at every departure.
I never quite understood that sadness. That is, until now. I let myself fall in love again, with another little person. I'll call that little person Sam. Was it the spark in Sam's eye or the curl of Sam's smile? The wispy hair or the way Sam's whole face lit up with joy when a favourite person joined the room? Was it watching Sam play with Noah, and delighting in the shared giggles, the doubled grins, and the terrific team they really were?
I tried to figure out... what exactly put me so head over heels in love in the first place? I suppose it was more than my reckless disregard for protocols and adoption planning. It was just Sam. Sam had nuzzled into my heart. And letting go of a little one whose hand is on your heart? That's the hardest thing in the world.
There's good news for Sam. A family is waiting to welcome Sam home. Which means the giggles I heard won't be doubled, at least not yet. And not by Sam.
My head hurts. I stopped and I closed my eyes and imagined duplicating this feeling. I imagined feeling it again and again. It seemed impossible. Then I imagined feeling it from the child's perspective. Or a birth parent's perspective. I couldn't do it.
Sam came to visit recently. Sitting joyfully in the stroller, looking up at me with a devilish grin and a sparkle in both eyes. "Hi Mom!" Sam greeted me. I felt my heart shatter in that instant. I'd always been "Aunty Sarah". No one had prompted Sam to call me Mom. It just happened. And it broke my heart completely.
As much as that hurt, I can only imagine the impact Sam's departure will have on my parents. They cared for Sam with love and affection for years until the perfect family was ready, and Sam was ready, to move forward. Not to mention how it will impact Sam, moving from the only home in memory to a new, unfamiliar place. How long will it be until Sam's ready to flash that magnetic grin and say "Hi Mom!" again?
To all our foster parents out there, thank you for breaking your hearts. Over and over again in the name of our kids. Thank you for showing your kids this love, and preparing them for the awesome transition of loving their new parents. After all, you showed them how.