A letter to my son’s mother

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We don’t talk, you and I.  You asked for my number at the first visitation, and, at the encouragement of the case workers, I politely declined to give it to you.  I left that first visit and started sobbing.  We had only had your son for a little more than a month and the love I felt for him was so strong, the fear of losing him was so great and I couldn’t not verbalize that to someone.  So I called the person who knows me best, my own mother.

When people ask me about him, I delicately dance around why he’s in foster care.  I’m sure to emphasize that he was born perfectly healthy and it’s based on circumstances that happened well before his birth.  But still, it’s easy for people to vilify you.  And I’m sorry I haven’t done a better job of defending you.

It’s so easy for us to cast judgement.

“How could she?!”
“You shouldn’t have kids if you’re not responsible enough to take care of them.”
“Clearly, you can provide for him better than she can.” (Definitely guilty of thinking this one myself.)
“No one’s heard from her?  How can you be a good mom if you’re not even following up about your kids?” (Yep, guilty of this too.)
“I hope he stays with you, he came into the foster system for a reason.”

But recently, I’ve realized the people who say these things (myself included) come from pretty supportive systems.  They have family and dear friends to whom they can turn when the going gets tough.  I can name at least 10 people Ian and I could move in with if things got really rough.  If anything ever happened with our nieces or nephews, a number of people from our families would be stepping in to care for those children as their own.  My mom drove eight hours to watch him for a day.  My mother-in-law bought us a box of clothes and burp rags and always wants to know how she can provide for us.  Friends brought us dinner and clothes.  My coworkers threw me a foster care shower before we even had any children.

What I’m trying to say is our support system is strong.  It’s fully intact.  We have people in our lives who fill us up when we’re feeling empty.  We have people who encourage us.  We have people who love us and speak life into us.

I don’t know what you have, but I imagine if your newborn son went to the home of complete strangers, your support system isn’t fully intact.  And I’m sorry.  I wish you had people in your life who “stood in the gap” for you.   I wish I knew how to be one of those people for you.

You’ll likely never read this, but if you do, I want you to know a few things:

1) He is loved.  I know it wasn’t your choice, but it has been one of the single greatest joys of our lives to care for your son.  He is healthy, he is so happy, and he is loved.

2) You are strong.  Remember that visitation where we were both early and we chatted alone for a few minutes?  You told him I was his “other mommy.”  You are brave and understanding and filled with love.  And in a moment where you could have made it known you were his mother, you instead made it known that I was also his mother.  I wish you knew how much confidence that gave me in the first months of motherhood.

3) You are loved.  I hope by your family and friends, but also by us.  Whatever the outcome of this, I hope one day we’ll have a relationship where we have each other’s numbers.


It’s been a minute


Where to begin…

(I’ve been updating Instagram pretty regularly, so if you follow me there, this is likely a lot of repeat info.)

In July of last year, we were just putting the finishing touches on the kids’ room.  So much has happened, but I remember being in that season.  We were eager to complete our home study, and then we were eager to be approved, and then we were eager to receive a placement call, then we were eager to receive the right placement call.

It all felt like it was taking forever.  But finally, in September, we were approved foster parents!  Right off the bat, we received a couple of calls for kids who were older than what we’re currently comfortable with.  Then there was a long dry spell.  Finally, in the middle of November, we received a call for a 2- and 3-year-old brother set.  We jumped at the opportunity to be their parents, and then almost as quickly that ended by our my choosing and by absolutely no fault of those sweet boys, but that’s a story for another day.

Then a week later, on December 1st, we received a call about a 4-day-old baby boy.  Would you believe we actually said no at first?  We were still a bit traumatized from the first placement and needed to tie up a couple of loose ends in our personal lives.

We were both at work, and the placement worker called me twice and texted me about this baby boy before I had a chance to call her back.  I texted Ian, but before he and I actually had a chance to talk, I called the placement worker back and told her we still needed a few more days and we couldn’t do it.  As soon as I hung up with her, Ian was calling me.  We talked.  We didn’t know if we’d ever get to experience the newborn phase of life after dealing with infertility and the PATH classes hammering home that getting a baby is next to impossible, and here we were being given the opportunity to parent a perfectly healthy newborn.  I asked him if he felt like I could actually be a mother after our first failed attempt, he reassured me I’m capable of being a fantastic mom.

So, minutes after telling the placement worker “no”, I called her back.  My heart was pounding in my chest, not knowing if she had already found another family for him.

“Hey! It’s me, Colleen, again.”

“Hi, Colleen.”

“I know I just told you we couldn’t take him, but have you found a home for him?”

“Not yet.”

“Ok, we’ll take him!”

She let me know his caseworker would pick him up from the hospital and bring him by later that evening.  I made sure everything was in order at work and I gleefully and anxiously made my way home.  Was this really happening?

And then reality started to sink in.

We had a crib and a changing station.  We had no diapers, no burp cloths, no bottle, no baby clothes.  How much do you feed a newborn?  How often?  What do I do about his umbilical cord?  How do I know if he’s sleeping enough?  Can he sleep too much?

Thankfully, I have some really wonderful mom friends who were able to coach me through some of those first moments.  One particularly kind, generous friend Amazon Prime’d us a care package with the essentials.  I don’t know what we would have done without her gift.

And with the reality of the situation came tremendous heartache.

Our rejoicing came at a terrible loss for our foster son and his mother.  They lost each other after 3 days out of the womb together.  Mothers and children aren’t designed to be separated from each other so early on.  Every day, as my love for my foster son grows deeper, so does the ache of knowing his beginning.

But regardless of the heartache and our lack of preparedness, we still signed up to be a safe place and a loving home for this sweet boy for as long as needed.  And about four hours after we first heard of him, his case worker pulled into our driveway and brought the tiniest nugget of a baby into our home.


And over 5 months later, Bubs is still here.  He is such a joy to have in our home and bring so much richness to our lives.

We still don’t know how long we’ll have him, and adjusting to that uncertainty is a constant struggle.  But we have him tonight, and we’ll likely have him tomorrow night, and we try as hard as we can to live in the “now” and enjoy the time we have together.


Preparing our home for foster care, part II

How do you prepare your home (or a bedroom) for foster care?  This was such a such a stressor, because in the state of Tennessee you have to choose from one of three age ranges.  The options are pretty limited at 0-12, 6-18, or 0-18.  We’ve said we’ll do 0-12, but how could you possibly prepare for that range with a small house and limited storage?

1. You don’t.  Ian and I know that even though we’re saying 0-12 (because anytime we try to be more honest, whoever we’re working with reiterates our only options are those three ranges), we’d actually prefer closer to 0-6.  And at the end of the day, while we’re not ruling anything out yet, we have the final say.   So if we get a call for two preteens, we can say no.  Actually, we’d have to say no.

2. Prepare for what you want.  We’d have to say no, because we only have one twin bed.  And we have a crib/toddler bed.  All the toys we’ve purchased have been geared towards younger kids.  We bought a changing pad because if we have a kid in a crib/toddler bed, we’ll probably have a kid in diapers.

3. Be as gender-neutral as possible.  Most of the toys, decor, and crib sheets we have will suit either gender.  We bought a handful of twin sheets (because they’re only $10 at Ross) that are a bit more gender-specific.  And this gives older kids a chance to choose their bedsheets the first night to introduce a bit of control back into their lives in such an out-of-control time.

4. Don’t buy clothes before you have kids.  I almost purchased the cutest baby outfit the other day, but I put it back before I hit the checkout lane.  It’s so tempting, but there’s not much sense in buying wee baby clothes if we never have an infant.  Thankfully, Davidson County has Resource Linkage that apparently provides new foster children with a week’s worth of clothes.  Regardless, after we accept our first placement and find out their sizes, Ian and I will be going on a bit of a shopping spree.  And as we purchase clothes that our kids grow out of, we’ll keep storage bins in our attic.

5. Don’t buy too much “stuff”.  It feels like I’ve been shopping left and right, buying more toys or accessories at every turn.  But when I take inventory of all we have, it’s not much.  Well, we have loads of books, because that’s really important to us.  As for toys and dishes, we have enough to get us started, but we still have room to buy more when we get the specifics of our kids.

7. If you have the space, accept all the things.  We have one sweet, sweet friend who keeps offering me all the things her kids are aging out of.  She’s given us a swing and a baby rocker, a diaper bag and a playmat.  Maybe we won’t get an infant, but maybe we will.  And if we have one, these things will really help.  They’re things I’m willing to store for a while, and if we don’t end up needing them, she’s fine if we pass them along to someone who does.

6. Be flexible.  Like I said, even though we prefer 0-6, we’re not ruling anything out.  I’ve asked friends who have 8- to 12-year-olds what toys their kids like and we’re going to buy a few things to suit that age range (because even if we don’t get an older kids, our kids will eventually get older).

Last time I wrote about this, our house was in a state of disarray.  But I’m happy to say the kids’ room is pretty complete.  And I have photos to prove it!





Please stop telling us we’ll get pregnant after we get foster kids

Or after we stop trying.  Or after we adopt.  Or after I relax (which is the worst thing to say to someone trying to have children).

Listen, I love you and I know you mean well.  And “you” isn’t one specific you.  We’ve had so many people say something along these lines to us.  They know someone (or someone who knows someone) who struggled to get pregnant so they went through the adoption process, and as soon as they received their placement, they found out they were pregnant!  Or they know someone (or someone who knows someone who knows someone) who has been trying for seven years, and they’re finally pregnant!
I am so happy for those people.  Truly.  I’m glad that their patience, perseverance, and prayers paid off.  I’m overjoyed they get the experience of growing a human, birthing a child, sleepless nights, endless feedings, poopy diapers atop poopy diapers, and all that jazz.  
And while you mean well, infertility is different for every person or couple.  Just as any child Ian and I could possibly someday conceive will be unique to the world, our struggle is unique as well.  That friend (or friend of a friend) you know, they’re not us.  Their story is not our story.  
You say it to comfort me and give me hope.  But it’s a false hope.  The reality of the situation is we’re not totally sure why we haven’t been able to conceive, we have some suspicions, but no smoking gun.  And we may never get pregnant.  I get sad about it still.  I can’t put my finger on why, but I’d bet it has something to with that maternal instinct to procreate.  If a small wave of sadness hits while I’m around you, let me weep a little.  It’s ok you can’t comfort me, and if you feel like you need to say something, just say “I’m sorry you’re going through this.  Do you want to go eat some ice cream?”
I haven’t mentioned this sooner because I wanted to cling on to the hope you were giving me.  I wanted to be that fortunate couple whose perseverance paid off.  But then our patience for having biological children ran out, and we started down a new path called foster care.
If you skimmed this post, please read from here to the end.  The reason I’m asking you to stop now is because when you say “You know, as soon as you get foster kids, you’ll get pregnant,” you’re doing something far worse than attempting to give us false hope.  You’re saying our foster children aren’t the children we’ve been waiting for.  You’re segregating our foster children from our children.  But to us, they are our children.  They are the children we’ve been waiting for.  There’s no “foster” about it.  Regardless of how long they’re ours, we are going to love them hard and become extra-attached to them—because that’s what they need and deserve. 
As our friends and family, I’m asking the same of you.  I know it’s a big ask and, for a lot of you, it’s foreign territory.  You didn’t get to rub my belly or visit us in the hospital after their birth or witness their first few months or years of life, but we need you to love them like you did.  Don’t associate the stigma of foster care with our children, there’s no reason to be scared of or timid around them, they aren’t damaged goods. 
And most importantly, stop thinking beyond them.  They’re more than enough for us, so let them be enough for you.

Moving Beyond Biological Children: A Mother’s Day Tale

A dear friend texted me today, “I want to tell you happy Mother’s Day.  I know all too well how hard this day can be.  You WILL be an AMAZING mom!!!”

I have to agree, I will be an amazing mom.  Not because I’ve read tens of parenting books (I haven’t, but I probably should).  Not because I have some special way with children (I don’t).  Not because I have an incredible husband who empowers and encourages me (I do, and that definitely doesn’t hurt).  Not because I’ve been yearning to be a mother for years now and I have so much love to give (although that’s true).

It’s because I have an AMAZING mom.

This photo, from my wedding day, is one of my favorite photos of us ever.  It reminds me of every ballet recital she prepared me for and every homecoming or prom she did my hair just the way I wanted.  As I stare at the photo, I can remember so many moments with her standing behind me, helping me along.

In settling into foster care preparations, I’ve nearly forgotten the heartbreak our infertility caused me.  So much so, that when my friend sent me that text this morning, I was almost caught off guard remembering how awful this day could have been.  Ian and I talked during our dating days about being foster parents, and as this situation continues to unravel, it feels so clearly like we were meant for this.  But I also realize we probably wouldn’t have made it to foster care without infertility.  And I’m okay with that.  But I might not have been if not for a simple conversation with my mom…

A couple months ago, I told her Ian and I were moving forward with foster care.  She had come to visit and we were driving to see my little sister coach a volleyball game.  She started talking about how me, Shannon, and Jessi (my sisters) are so different.  Simply because she bore us didn’t make us clones of her or give her some telepathic connection to us.  Sure, we shared some physical traits, but other than that we were our own people.  The character traits I have resembling my mom aren’t because she gave birth to me.  I have them because she raised me.  And something about that conversation was so healing for me.

That conversation answered the nagging, devastating question of “What if Ian and I never get to see what our biological children look like?”  I don’t think the root cause behind that question really had to do with aesthetics, I think it had to do with connection.  Can I innately, immediately understand what a child needs without being it’s biological mother?  No, I can’t. But that’s ok, because as it turns out that’s a learned skill for all moms alike.  There wasn’t some telepathic connection that told my mom I was hungry when I was a newborn, she learned through trial and error of going through the checklist of things to pacify a crying baby.  There wasn’t some telepathic connection that told my mom I skinned my knee by falling off my bike, she learned because I’d come crying and limping back home with blood trickling down my leg.  A telepathic connection didn’t tell my mom I was struggling to get dressed for college graduation because I was sobbing, devastated by a recent breakup—I did, when I called her and told her, somewhat unintelligibly through sobs, that I couldn’t get my sweater on.

And even without these superhuman powers, she still manages to be superhuman.  Over three decades after my birth, she still champions me and the desires of my heart.

Mom, thanks for being the best mom ever (not biased or anything).  I’m sorry I can’t give you the gift of gleefully telling all your friends that you’re going to be a grandma (again) in the traditional sense of the word, but somehow I feel like that doesn’t bother you.  I know you’re striving to understand your role as a foster grandma and how best to support Ian and I and our future children in this, but rest assured you continuing to stand behind us and cheerlead this journey is all the support we need.