Nobody has said it to us directly, but I always wonder if people are confused about how we are grieving the loss of our foster daughter. Do they think to themselves, “Well, they knew there was the possibility of not keeping her when they started, so why are they acting like this is a total tragedy?” Maybe I’m giving people too little credit. Maybe nobody is thinking this and everybody understands.
I know some foster parents who are wonderful with biological parents. They encourage phone calls between the children and the parents, they actively try to foster a good relationship between their foster child and their biological parents, they are great at not judging the parents and why the child was taken away. They look forward to the day when their foster child can be reunified with biological parents and somehow they don’t seem to worry about the child’s future in an iffy situation. I admire those foster parents and if we ever decide to become solely “foster” parents, I hope I can be like that.
But the fost/adopt role is a tricky one. Which is probably why it is relatively new. The courts understand that it is best for a child to be in concurrent planning for adoption while they are in foster care, so that if the reunification doesn’t happen, there isn’t another traumatic move for the child from foster home to adoptive home. But the court also understands that fost/adopt parents can look at things differently from straight foster parents. In my admittedly limited experience, I find that fost/adopt parents tend to act more like biological parents than foster parents. We get protective. We don’t tend to trust the social workers and the system and the “team decisions” as easily as straight foster parents do. We push hard for what we think is best for our foster kids. To sum up: we parent these kids with our full hearts. We parent them as if they were our own. We don’t trust what others say is best for the little person we cherish, we know them best and we want what’s best for them and we will fight if we have to fight to get it.
At some point in the fostering timeline, it becomes clear whether a child is going to reunify with parents or not. The time has gone past the court’s deadlines, the parents haven’t made anything close to adequate progress, and the adoption word begins to be tossed around. And once a child becomes “yours” in your mind and you let your heart go to that place, it is a whole different ballgame.
We were pretty good at guarding our hearts with Midge for the first eight months. But when she had been in foster care for nine months (and the court “officially” encourages infants to have cases wrapped up in 6-12 months) and there was no glimpse of her parents getting their case plans finished or their acts together, and there were continuing “incidents”, the social worker threw out the word: adoption. Of course we would have been heartbroken to lose her at any point during that first year. But we would have understood…the system is supposed to work a certain way and we would have understood and stood by that. But when, at the 12 month hearing, the judge set a hearing to terminate parental services, and when, at the 12 month hearing, the parents were nowhere near resolving their issues or following their case plans, yes, we got our hopes up. Because we thought the system would function the way it was set up to function to protect the children.
Of course, we all know now that that didn’t happen. For me, it is a loss of innocence as well as the loss of a child whom in my mind, we were “in the process of adopting.” A loss of innocence in realizing that the world doesn’t often function the way it is supposed to function or the way the people in charge say it functions. Social services does not watch out for the best interests of the child, but for the “rights” of the biological relatives. I see this confirmed over and over in the foster parenting blogs I read. I had hope that somehow in the end, somebody would speak up for Midge and advocate for her, like we were trying to do. But nobody did.
Yes, we knew when we started walking the fost/adopt path that we could fall in love with a child and lose her. Yes, when the social worker says it’s heading for adoption and the attorneys for the bio parents tell Greg it looks like it’s heading for adoption and the courts set hearings that point towards the case moving towards adoption, and the official timeline indicates it’s time to move towards adoption, she became ours in our heads and our hearts. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.
Ultimately, God is in control of the courts and the timelines and the extensions and the judges and even the horrible social workers. In a way, it’s almost like He stepped in to work a miracle in the opposite direction of the one we were praying for. He wouldn’t have had to step in at all to let us adopt Midge in an appropriate time frame. We have to trust that He has a plan for her life, and He even has a plan for Midge’s father’s life. He wanted them together and He did what He needed to do to make that happen. Even the mediator at our last team decision meeting was shocked that reunification was being seriously considered this late in the game with an infant case. God stepped in on behalf of Midge’s father. It was a miracle. Just not the miracle we wanted.
For those six or seven months when adoption was a no-brainer result in the minds of everyone involved, we began to see Midge as our daughter. Our “real” daughter. Whose future we dreamed of and whose heart we nurtured with our whole beings. And when the new social worker started pushing for a new path towards reunification in month 19, I did have to turn over the reigns to God. She was my daughter, but she was in His hands. And although sometimes I just prayed that we could keep her, most of the time I prayed, “Lord, we want what is your best plan for our daughter, for our sons, and for us as a couple and us as a family. If you have to split us up for Your best plan to happen, then I guess we’ll have to live with that. But please, if you can possibly work it into Your will for us to keep our daughter and still have us all bring glory to You with Your plan for our lives, please do it. Please.”
The end result: prayers answered. Not the way I wanted them to be, but answered nonetheless. He knows the future like I don’t. He knows why she needs to be with her biological father. Whether it’s for her sake or for her father’s sake or for both of their sakes, I don’t know. Maybe it’s even for our sakes. He knows the future and He made it happen just how He needed it to happen for His glory.
Yes, she was our daughter just as much as our sons are our sons. She was our daughter for one year and eleven and a half months. We miss her like you would miss any child you lost and we mourn the loss of the dreams we had for her life and for our family of five. We didn’t lose her into the loving and protective arms of Jesus, but into the imperfect arms of another human being with his own flaws and challenges about which we’re way too informed. We don’t understand it and we wouldn’t have chosen it, but it was God’s will, and we have to accept it and move forward. Even if we’d rather stand frozen in time looking back at the years of sweet memories we have with our whole family, daughter included.