Last spring, a flurry of text messages began to fly between two mothers. One mother, preparing to expand her family by one active toddler, was busy getting a new car seat installed, diapers bought, and a crib set up. Meanwhile, I, the other mother, was putting together boxes of clothing, medical paperwork, and albums full of photographs and memorabilia telling the story of a child’s first year and a half.
We texted about the types of food he would gobble up (everything) and the lovey he slept with every night. I shared schedules and medical history and milestones and practical details of the transition from a Department of Children and Families foster home to a permanent one. We forged a relationship in the most basic desires for a child: safety, security, and unconditional love.
The anticipatory grief, the thought of handing over a child who, I knew, was mine to mother only in an interim space, was almost too much to bear. A mewling infant had been handed to us on a cold December evening, and on a warm, almost-summer evening, he would wave goodbye to us with chubby toddler fingers. I had to keep reminding myself, as I found stray toys under the couch and fingerprints on the glass fireplace doors, that we were a stopping point for this child on his journey, that we had kept him safe for as long as we could, until he found a permanent place to call his own.
But the hurt was still there, the knowledge that something incredibly painful was going to have to happen in order for his future to begin. I found myself crying at every short handoff for a visit with his new adoptive family. His new mother, whom he would eventually call “Mommy” and ask for when he skinned his knee or had his heart broken or just wanted a soft place to land, hugged me fiercely as tears formed in my eyes. As a mother to two young ones herself, she knew that my anguish, though only temporary, would be equal to her joy. I was so happy for their family, but I wondered, selfishly, if there would still be a place for the people who were there when he took his first steps, and tried new foods, and learned exactly what would happen if he pulled the cat’s tail.
The official transition day came, and as we unpacked the last few boxes and got him settled into his new home, gift bags for my two children appeared. They were suffering through this, too, and framed pictures of them with their foster brother and thank you cards from his new mother acknowledged their sacrifice as well. It was an incredible gesture in a difficult moment, and I will remember it forever.
We could have assumed that that goodbye, that wave of the fingers at the back porch door, accompanied by the wailing of our two children as we pulled down the driveway, was the last; after all, they had a new family to form, new traditions to make, and a new normal to develop. But that wasn’t the case.
Hard work on the part of both families, as well as dinners, sleepovers, and FaceTime chats, have allowed for this transition from one home to another to seem seamless. Instead of narrowing his family life, we’ve all expanded our own.
I wanted him to have every new milestone and memory with his new family, but in the same breath, I desperately needed him to know how loved he was in his time with our family. I didn’t want him to ever question the love of the person who mothered him in the beginning of his life, and I hope he’ll always know a family that is as wide as the world.
Megan Birch-McMichael is a writer in Stow. Send comments to email@example.com. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.