Menu
Foster parenting broke our hearts—and we'd do it all over again

On the day our foster care license went live two years ago, my husband and I were asked to pick up a newborn baby boy from our county's Human Services building. At our respective jobs, we clutched our phones and talked about what this would mean for us. For me, it would mean accessing DC Government's new parental leave policy and becoming the primary caretaker for an infant—for as long or as little as needed. For my husband, it would mean juggling his busy job with parenting.

With about an hour to make our decision and little to no information about this little boy's family, we said yes. And immediately, we were in love.

This sweet boy was everything we could have imagined he would be. He was tiny. He was beautiful beyond words. He kept us up every two hours. As first-time parents, we relished in the everyday with him. We color-coordinated his outfits. We held him on our chests as he napped. He was a planet unto himself and we were thrilled to be in his orbit.

Almost as immediately, we were introduced to his parents, and our hearts broke.

They broke because it was obvious his parents loved him—deeply—and were struggling with the loss of their precious baby to another mother's arms.

They broke because our foster son stood to lose at least one set of parents, the ones who created him and welcomed him lovingly into the world, despite their challenges, or the ones who were tasked with bonding with him, with giving him a normal infancy despite the upheaval in his life.

And yes, our hearts broke for us. Because we loved him. Because having been his parents for a moment, we wanted to have that privilege for life.

A moment turned into 18 months. Every joyful experience with him and his family was tinged with grief. When he laughed or smiled, we wondered exactly how many more times we would get to snuggle him, tickle him, play peek-a-boo with him.

As his parents gained confidence and skill with him, we rejoiced in their progress while struggling to accept our dwindling days with him.

Then, one day last summer, we dropped him off at his mother's house for good. Typing out those words still remains painful. We grieved—hard.

In empty moments, we wandered into his room, everything still in its place and cried. For some time, his parents invited us to spend time with him a couple times a month. We cleared our schedules. We held off making plans with friends and family members, just in case we might have the chance to see him.

After each visit, we collapsed—the grief returning in waves that we felt might overtake us entirely. We tiptoed around each other, trying to be strong for the other. And when one of us gave the other the opportunity to unload tears, to reverse the feeling of drowning for a moment, it seemed the other would then be subsumed.

Our visits with him became less frequent, but so did the tears and the feeling that we might never again experience the joy he brought to our lives.

Slowly, we began to fill our calendar with activities we had once enjoyed. We vacationed with family members. Friends came over to eat dinner and keep us company. When we came home from a visit with him and his family, we were no longer undone and could continue the day's activities. We began to hope that they could truly trust us to be in their lives for good.

One evening, we were able to arrange for his family to come to our home for dinner. We welcomed them into his room and showed them where he had slept, where we had kept his little clothes. For all of us, it was an opportunity for healing. Eventually, we also saw the bigger picture of what had been accomplished by two families who were willing to work together, despite their unique grief.

Here's what two sets of "parents" did together: we took on the grief that this little boy would have had to carry for his entire life had we failed, the grief of losing his first family, the parents who gave him his beautiful name and his luminous smile. For some children, that grief is inevitable. But for many more whose parents, while not abusive, have struggled with mental illness, addiction or poverty, that life-altering heartbreak is preventable.

And in the end, like many foster parents before me, I can tell this story. I can share this experience with nearly universal responses of acceptance and praise, whether deserved or undeserved.

But this little boy's mother and father? Like most parents who have struggled to keep their family together and afloat, they won't receive many expressions of admiration for their hard work, for their tenacity when all seemed hopeless, for saving their son the grief of losing them.

We don't regret our choice to be foster parents and plan to foster again in the future. For now, we are regaining our strength. But there are children who will enter foster care today who deserve foster parents that will fight for the right outcomes to their stories, to their parents' stories, the stories you won't read online or in the newspaper.

Perhaps, rather than only trying to recruit lifelong foster parents, local governments should also begin welcoming families who may be willing to foster just once or twice and become lifelong supporters of fragile families who deserve the chance to be together.

It's difficult to take something on that will break your heart. But once you love a child, you'll gladly do so for the chance to help heal theirs.

You might also like:

When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

$23

Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

$20

Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

$25

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

$36

Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

$99

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this

Shop

They say necessity is the mother of invention—and nothing makes you more inventive than motherhood.

Sometimes that means fashioning a diaper out of paper towels and your older child's underpants (true story). Sometimes that means creating an innovative and life-changing weighted baby sleep sack and totally crushing it on Shark Tank. Tara Williams is the latter.

Keep reading Show less
Shop

Our list of 100 baby names that should be on everyone's list this year includes more choices than in the past of names that are obscure and surprising. That's because there are so many more unusual baby names coming into widespread use and baby namers have become a lot more adventurous.

Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

Here are our picks for the 100 best surprising + unusual baby names now.


Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play