“We pulled into the parking lot, Phil’s Foodway, our normal meeting place. I spotted her car across the parking lot and steered our 12 passenger beast of a van towards it. I watched as she climbed out of her car, a bag and bouquet in hand. Climbing out I greeted her exchanging a hug and a ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’
The hug was a new part of our greeting, we have been meeting here in this lot for a year and a half now. It is the meeting ground of our kid swap — a beautiful little 3-year-old leaps from my arms into hers and we laugh. From behind me the chatter of little voices bellow from the van.
I think back to four years before, when I met this woman, I was foster mom to her older three kids (the crew). The day I met her she was very pregnant with her fourth (little one). Our relationship was built backwards. Night after night, I listened to the crew cry as they told me things they had seen, the things that had been done to them, the things that mothers are supposed to protect against. The day I met her my mama bear was roaring.
Our relationship started off tense, territorial, and hard. She accused me of everything and I thought nothing of her. I had no interest of knowing this woman, every part of me wanted to protect the crew from her.
This woman who knew the crew, in a way, I never would. The woman who gave them her big toes and smiles. The woman who at first glance was inconvenient to me. The woman who threatened all my happiness, her sobriety, my loss and her brokenness, my mess to clean up. A woman I judged, questioned and rolled my eyes at.
Then one day, I had all her kids. She had messed up and it was done. For one month I raised her four children as my own, then the call came and little one was placed back into her care, she left as quickly as she had come. This was my first foster care loss and I was devastated. The crew crumbled and we wept as a family.
Then one sunny December day, 7 months later, I headed to the courthouse for a routine hearing on the crew’s case when the worker pulled me aside. She asked me if I would be able to provide care for the little one again. They were asking the judge to put little one back into care, shocked I agreed and ran home to get the car seat out of the closet. I left the courthouse that day, cradling little one in my arms, as tears streamed down my face.
The termination of parental rights ruling came in March for the crew, we were set to be a forever family. We said goodbye to bio-mom and began our life without her. We were settling in and it felt as if this was our happy ending.
May was adoption day for the crew, we had an entire day of celebrating planned. As we drove home after a fun day, I got a call. You can always tell by the first word when the worker has hard news. Hesitating, she asked what I was doing. I sent the kids into the house, sensing this was not a good call. Little one was asleep in the back, tuckered out from a full day of fun. The worker told me the next day little one would leave to go do a five day visit with birth mom (a sign that meant return was just around the corner), her first night away from us in seven months. In one day the paradox of foster care burned brightly. I would say hello to my three beautiful forever children and goodbye to the fourth of our family, our sunshine.
My heart sunk, the lump grew and the tears came, all I could do was sob on the phone. We had such an emotional day celebrating a happy ending two years in the making, then in a moment, the reality of our situation came into light, I am still just foster mom.
My heart broke for my three babies that would have to grieve their sister for a second time. I grieved for my little one who knew me as her mama and adored her siblings. I grieved for birth mom and the chains of addiction. I grieved for my mama heart that didn’t think I could say goodbye again. I sat in the car, feeling the weight of this broken system, pleading with God to fix it all. My mind raced as I struggled to believe if reunification is always best. How can we in one day feel such joy and sorrow. How can I prepare us to say goodbye again?
I wiped the tears away, took a deep breath and whispered, ‘it is well,’ the mantra I claimed this year. Opening the car door, I watched her sleep. Her little chest rising and falling, her sweet little lips pursed and I ached. I didn’t want to move one step for I knew it would be one step closer to goodbye. So I stood there, soaking her in.
10 days later we said goodbye to little one. The ache was real, fostering is hard. As the foster parent, it is easy to misjudge and assume we are always the best case scenario for these little traumatized souls. For nine months, I felt the loss and ache of that sweet little one. We longed and cried as a family for the weight and loss of addiction.
Bio-mom had our address and would write letters over a year that went unanswered as we settled in and found our groove as a family. One letter had a phone number in it. One January day, I punched that number into my phone and sent a message. The crew was healing and settling so well, and I reached out to see if we wanted to begin the steps of rebuilding a post-adoption relationship. When bio-parents are healthy, I am all about having an open adoption. In most cases it feels the healthiest option for all, especially my school age kiddos.
I wrote bio-mom that we can start towards a visit, that over the last year the kiddos had grown so much. Things were different, with adoption came new names and if she wanted to rebuild a relationship it would be different. Bio-mom and I talked through boundaries and topics. We talked through how to handle certain topics.
A little over two months ago, we stood in the Phil’s Foodway parking lot, on Mother’s Day, swapping a little girl we both desperately love. A little girl, who is entrusted to me and her siblings every weekend. I waited to open the gift bag she gave me that morning until I was alone. Inside was a mug, ‘you’re the kind of mom, everyone wishes they had.’ On a day when I could have been the enemy of her happiness she chose to let me have this day dedicating it to me. Tucked inside was a card, the kind of card from a child to a mother. I realized in these past 4 years I wasn’t just loving and raising her children, but her as well.
Tears stung my eyes, the words of the card, leapt off the page, piercing my heart. She used the left side of the card to write me a note: ‘You have and continue to make amazing impressions on my life. You truly are the epitome of what a mother should be, and I am so grateful I get to witness that. I dedicate Mother’s Day to you.’
I told bio-mom I was asked to write something about us, checking to make sure she was okay with it. I asked her what she thought of our relationship and what she would want to share. She shared this one thing with me. ‘So many things have changed over the years, my whole perspective on our special story. One thing I can say today is that I do believe the kids were meant to be with you. It took me a long time to even admit that it was for the best. Today, it’s so much more than being for the best.’
Our relationship was born out of the reality that we deeply love and adore the same four kids. We built our story there, on the foundation of deep love. She is not my enemy, her addiction is. The kind of enemy we can fight better together. I am humbled to do life with this extraordinary woman. I am honored to know her and am eternally grateful for the gift she has given me.”
This story was submitted to by Julianna Klepfer, a 30 something, single, foster/adoptive mama. She lives with her crew of seven, ages 11, 9, 7, 4, 3, 18 months and 6 months, their two dogs and 6 chickens in the hills of Iowa. You can follow along with her ever changing family at My Joyful Broken Heart.
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