I chose loss. I volunteered for it. Signed up and waited for my turn. I chose loss; but I never thought it would feel like this.
Four days ago I lost my daughter. My beautiful baby girl, who had only ever known life in a NICU incubator. Four days ago I held her in my arms as she lay dying, trying to choke back the sobs as I whispered my love to her. It was the first time she had been cuddled to my side. Four days ago I lost the sweet child I’d been planning and preparing for during the past eight months. And I walked into an empty home filled with baby things I had hoped to fill with loving memories.
I kissed my baby goodbye and walked out of the small, dark room they use for these things, trying to hold it together long enough to get to my car. Long enough to get out before I completely lost it. But I couldn’t make it. Walking through the NICU halls I could see all these other beautiful smiling babies—success stories who had once fought for their lives in this same place. And I lost it, right there in front of the elevators, as I ran to find a bathroom where my sobs choked me until they turned out my breakfast. And I lost it again in the elevator. And the car. And pulling into my garage with its stores of baby goods. And when I finally climbed into bed and pulled the comforter over my head in a useless attempt to shut out the world.
I’ve lived in hiding for the past four days. Barely leaving my front door, other than a trip to the ER when the grief translated itself into physical illness. Today I had to get out. Not for me, but my sweet three-year-old son who doesn’t understand any of this. For my rambunctious love who has been trapped inside our small home for days as the wind chill dropped to -40 outside. It seems a fitting temperature for death. But not for little boys. So we bundled up and drove to the mall playground. I didn’t want to go. I knew what would happen. But I chose this, and so I held his small hands as he jumped and played. And then the inevitable—we rounded the giant tree to find an adorable little baby girl sitting in her mother’s lap. I couldn’t breathe at first. I needed to look away, but that sweet little boy’s voice kept telling me “Over here, Mommy” as he ran right towards her. I tried to turn my back on them, to hold my son’s hand while looking in another direction. I kept catching glimpses of her mother—looking bored as she held this sweet baby in one hand and texted with the other. I wanted to run up to her and scream, “Don’t take this for granted! Pay attention for all of us who can no longer hold our babies!” But this would only make me look like a mad woman—reveal all the cracks that are breaking into my carefully held together mask.
I wander through purposeless days–throwing away baby shower checklists and registry cards, opening letters that were sent while she was still with us, hiding baby toys in a now forbidden closet. I try to focus on my sweet little boy and hold things together so he can experience some sense of normalcy. And I wait. I wait to find out the funeral arrangements, to learn if she will be buried or cremated, to find out if I will be allowed some small memento from her brief life. Just like I waited sleepless nights to find out if she made it through delivery and her first night, waited to meet her for the first time, waited to be allowed in the NICU.
I wait because this was my choice. My sweet girl is not my biological daughter. And although I have anxiously awaited and prepared her arrival for the past 8 months, I have no legal rights to her—to see her in the hospital, to make the choice to end life support, or to plan her funeral.
I am a foster mom, and I chose this.
I chose to love children who were not my own. Children to whom I have no legal rights. Children whose futures lay in others’ hands. Children I could not love any more had I been their biological mother.
I met my son when he was two and a half—all questioning eyes and nervous giggles, as he tried to stow away toys and hide behind curtains. Over the past 11 months we have learned together what love and trust and family mean. I may have to get permission to take him out of the county or change his hairstyle, but he is my son. And we are moving towards adoption.
The precious little baby I lost was my son’s half-sister. From the time that the biological mom knew she was pregnant, I knew she would be my daughter. Nothing is ever certain in foster care, but according to the case worker, there was a 99.9% chance she would be placed in foster care. And because they strive to keep siblings together, as long as I wanted her, this beautiful girl would become a part of our family.
And I did want her. I knew from the time they told me that my son was on the track for adoption that one day I would want to adopt a little sister for him. Most people doubted my choice. I’m single and my son is overcoming a truckload of special needs as a result of his trauma. People questioned whether or not I could parent two kids. They asked if it was wise for me to take on more “work.” They wondered if it was in the best interest of my son to live with his sister. They doubted that the baby would be safe with a special needs kid in the home.
Once the time came for her birth, we realized the severity of her health problems and were told that she probably wouldn’t survive the delivery. A therapist told me it was better this way. And then she did survive delivery . . . and the first night . . . and the first week . . . and I finally confided to a neighbor what was going on. She told me to leave the baby at the hospital. That she wasn’t worth all the work and I had my hands full already. The doctors felt she’d never survive, that it wasn’t worth using extreme measures on a hopeless case. And since I wasn’t even the foster mother yet, I got to hear the news without any of the obligatory “we’re sorry” or caring bedside manner.
They meant well. They just didn’t understand that she was already my daughter. So I continued to fight for her and pray for her and stay awake nights hoping for a miracle. One week turned into two weeks. And just when I thought things might be more hopeful, I got a call from the caseworker—they expected her to die in the next few hours. I’d only seen her once, I’d never held her, and I had no rights to go visit her; but my baby was about to die. The sweet little girl I had loved and prayed for and stocked a nursery for only had a few precious hours left.
I lost my daughter. The sadness is unimaginable, and every day my thoughts are filled with her and the future that we were robbed of. I remember all the plans I had for our family, and it’s sometimes more than I can bear.
But I remind myself that I chose loss. I chose to be a parent whose child could be torn away from them at any moment. I am a part of a system where kids are moved on to different foster homes, placed with family members, returned to parents, and then come back into the system again. I am a parent in a system that asks me to love each child with every part of me—just as if they were my own—and then be willing to lose them. That’s what I signed up for. That’s what I wanted. And though I never imagined one of those children would be lost this way, I knew there was every possibility that my heart would be broken. This is what I chose.
But I also choose love. I choose hope. I choose to believe she is in a place where her tiny little body is no longer filled with pain. I choose to believe that God will bring healing to our family. I choose to believe that this pain, and loneliness, and suffocating sadness won’t last forever. And I choose to carry her heart in my heart forever. I chose loss, yes. But more importantly, I am choosing love.