I feel like half of what I’ve been writing here this year has been explaining long silences here. Blech. That wasn’t the plan at all for this year, but this year has been a whole different ballgame than we ever anticipated, and I’ve realized that when we’re working on something particularly emotional in our family, I don’t have room in my brain to put words together and I’m quiet here. I can’t say this will be the last time that happens – heck, with the wacky way our year has been I’d be shocked if that was the case! But I’ve decided to just keep diving back in when I can. Here’s what we’ve been working on in the last few months.
If you follow me on Instagram or follow my FCV Facebook page, you likely caught the general gist of it. At the end of May, even before Maya’s adoption day (gosh, that feels like an age ago already!), we got a call on a Friday evening (it’s always a Friday evening!) from our agency asking if we could take a five month old baby girl for a few weeks while they finished licensing another family for her to go to as a long term foster family. We said yes, and at 9pm that evening, our caseworker dropped Baby J to our home. A sweet, sweet baby with the longest eye lashes, the chunkiest thighs, and the easiest sparkly smile.
We knew very little about her case or circumstances at the beginning, although it seemed there were quite a few family members involved and it seemed like it would be complicated. We enjoyed the insanity of having two babies just ten weeks apart in age, but prayed that her next family was ready for whatever was ahead.
Baby J took a little break and went to my friend Jaimee’s house for a week while we focused on Maya’s adoption and the subsequent celebration. We didn’t really anticipate that she would return to us, we thought she would go from there on to her long term foster family. But lo and behold, she boomeranged her sparkly little self back to us.
By this point, we started to learn a little more about Baby J’s circumstances and the prognosis for her in the long term. Without getting into any specifics, her case moved quickly into Child Protective Services (from voluntary placement with our agency), and they took custody and officially placed her in our home. We’d never been part of a CPS case, so that was a learning curve in itself. Court ordered DNA tests, visits from her guardian ad litem (the lawyer assigned to ensure her best interest was being served) and more caseworkers in addition to our agency’s. And what we began to learn from everyone involved was that they thought Baby J would likely be headed for adoption by non-relatives.
Just a week before we were set to head out for several weeks of traveling around the country visiting both our families, we were asked again to consider whether we could be Baby J’s forever family – not that that was a guarantee, but it was such a strong possibility that we needed to consider. But our extensive travel plans were a hitch. CPS denied the travel for Baby J, but her ad litem thought it was best that she stay with us rather than moving to another temporary foster family, so they pushed hard for her to be able to come with us. The night before we got on a plane, we found out she was approved!
To be honest, by that point, Michael and I had already been up and down on the Baby J roller coaster. We had tried to protect ourselves from falling in love with her, then fallen in love with her a little anyway, and then mourned the loss of her from our family once when CPS said we couldn’t bring her with us out of the state. But when she was cleared to travel, and when we were being told by everyone on her case that she would likely stay forever, we let ourselves completely fall in love with her as a part of our family. I don’t regret giving her that love one single bit, because what she needed from us then was to feel unconditional our love in a scary time for her, but it certainly made what happens next much harder.
Two weeks into our travels, at an emergency hearing back in Houston, a judge ruled against all of the parties who testified and ruled that Baby J was to return to a family member within 48 hours. We knew the hearing was taking place, and we knew that decision was a possibility, but according to everyone involved in her case, the decision that was made was a complete shock.
An hour after receiving that news, I left Colorado to head back to Houston to relinquish her to her family member via CPS. Between learning that she had to leave us and dropping her off, was a space of forty-eight agonizing hours. Michael and Maya stayed in Colorado with his family, so Baby J and I were on our own, sharing a list of lasts before dropping her off. Last bath, last bedtime, last bottle and snuggle before a last nap. It was heartbreaking. To look at her and know that we will never know what she grows up to be, to wonder forever whether she would be safe and loved, and to know that I would always miss her infectious smile.
But through the sadness of our loss, we weren’t broken. It was actually quite a strange feeling. Absolute heartbreak, but the kind where you know that you will be okay eventually. Perhaps not fully whole, because I think Baby J (along with our baby boy who wasn’t meant to be) will have a piece of our hearts forevermore.
I should make a few disclaimers at this point. First, from the very start of this roller coaster we always knew this was a possibility, and we protected ourselves as much as possible with the knowledge that it’s not over ’til it’s over when it comes to foster-to-adopt situations. Second, we do always support reunification of babies and children with their families. We know that that’s the best place for them if that’s a safe, secure place for them – as determined by the agencies in charge of determining those factors. It’s not our job to decide that, it’s our job to trust the people whose job it is. Baby J’s case is particularly hard because her safety was and is at question, but the judge ruled against every recommendation that was made to the court that she stay in place.
Our job was simple in theory but emotionally complicated nonetheless. Our job was to love Baby J as hard as we could – as though she was our own – for as long as we could. As we met family in Cincinnati and Denver and Colorado Springs, I explained Baby J’s story – including the fact that she could be returned to her family at some point. And I also joked that if that one day had to happen, we would do just that, but they’d probably have to pry her from my hands. But I wasn’t joking when I added that if we had to return her, God would just have to give me the grace to hand her over.
And He did. Until the moment the CPS worker took her, she was loved and loved unconditionally. And He gave us grace to pray for her safety, to pray for her caregivers, to pray that she always keeps her sparkle. And as if that wasn’t gift enough, He has already begun to heal our broken hearts. We miss Baby J, and for the first week Michael and I both felt there was just a hole in our little family. But little by little, it stings a little less.
As we were driving up to my parents’ house after meeting at the airport in Boston, Michael turned to me and said, “I just miss her back there.” Even though two babies certainly wasn’t the easiest thing to do, taking two flights with an 8 month old and a 6 month old, or to take care of them each day. It was so much baby food and diapers and formula! But it didn’t really seem hard either. It seemed normal. Maya loved playing with Baby J, even if she enjoyed using her to pull up even more. There’s enough hubbub on our travels that Maya has been distracted from the loss of her little playmate, and thankfully that has mostly been the same for us.
The last hard part of this story was the moment I actually had to relinquish Baby J. I am so grateful for the prayers and texts and calls of so many of our friends and family at the very moment I had to bring her to CPS. And I will be forever grateful to our caseworker, Allie, who drove us there, hugged me when it was over, and prayed for me and our family in the parking garage after the very unpleasant deed was done. Without Michael or any family there, I needed her there more than I even knew. By the time she dropped me to my car, I felt like I’d been run over by a tractor, but I wasn’t crying anymore. I’ve cried since, of course, especially in those first few days when everything was missing a Baby J shaped piece. But when I got in my car, I felt strong and hopeful that Baby J will be okay, because that’s all we can hope and pray for every day.
That day, of course, turned comically awful, as some of those really bad days have a tendency to do. My car broke down on the enormous highway in the horrible heat at the same moment that my phone died. I had to flag down a passerby and try to convince him I wasn’t a total weirdo while hoping he wasn’t one either! Turned out Brent was totally nice and absolutely saved the terrible, horrible, very bad day. And then I had two glasses of wine, dinner with family and slept so many hours that night.
I mentioned before that this experience felt like utter heartbreak without being completely broken. I woke up the next morning, the first morning in nine months without one tiny life, let alone two, depending on me or at least playing with dad in the next room. I spent two hours in bed just because I didn’t want to see and feel the reminders of that Baby J shaped hole. But what doesn’t kill you, can in fact make you stronger. I never thought I’d be strong enough for that kind of roller coaster with that tragic an ending, but I’m still standing. Our family is only better for the blessing Baby J was for those two months. Life is perhaps a little harder than we knew it would be, but we’re often braver than we thought we could be.
I’m forever looking for the lessons God is teaching me in this roller coaster season. This one for sure came with a few. I believe strongly that we were supposed to open our hearts and home – like really, utterly open – to care for Baby J, and that we were supposed to learn what it’s like to love that hard through complete uncertainty. We were supposed to practice ultimate service, hospitality, sacrifice and love, and we were supposed to learn that whatever the terrifying, scary outcome, He would be with us to help heal our broken hearts.
We’re in Maine for another few weeks and so grateful for the rest and distraction and help from Maya’s grandparents. My brain is coming back after the busy-ness of two babies and the emotion of the last few months, and I even have a post for later this week (two in one week, I know!) with a few highlights from our summer so far. It hasn’t been all drama, I promise! More soon, friends, thanks for sticking with us (and praying for us!) on our wild and crazy sabbatical roller coaster. xx Em