What I am about to admit hurts and stirs up a lot of guilt within me. I am a foster mom who struggles with her girls’ birth mom. The neural pathways in my brain, the trenches that let the rivers of shame flow are firing up right now that I wrote that last sentence. The struggle is not what I had planned. There is a lot of shame to go around in the foster care and foster-to-adopt process, and now I am ready to share a bit of load that I carry.
You know when you’re really, really insecure about something, and, as The Enemy would have it, you suddenly see people from, it seems like every corner, excelling at that one thing? Well, that’s me with the birth mom thing. I’ve read numerous posts and books about “building bridges” with birth parents. I see and know others who’ve successfully built that bridge. There are remarkable stories of birth parents attending Christmas get-togethers where the birth family and adoptive family celebrate under one roof. I have foster mama friends who chit-chat and pass time with little awkwardness during visitation. I feel the sting of regret that this has not been my experience.
Almost three years ago, when I first met my girls’ birth mom I sat across from her at a fast food restaurant while she held my first, a then-three day old baby girl, and listened as she told me her whole story. I was transfixed. I don’t remember any other story so well. I have words and phrases and facial expressions memorized, still, after all this time. My husband wasn’t able to make it to that visit but I could hardly wait to tell him about it. I rushed to my car when it was over and called him, sitting there in the silence listening to the ring as I watched birth mom disappear under the street lights.
Over the phone I was frantic with compassion. “Babe, I’ve never had such brokenness described to me…” I told him I had an idea. I told him we could invite her to church with us. She could sit next to us in church and hold the baby during the sermon. What a way to flip visitation on its head and make it about true Redemption with a capital “R.” I was thinking, I was dreaming, I was reeling with possibility. “And babe, she has no family. I hope one day we could be her family.” I don’t know if she ever did, but I so longed.
She was late the second visit. I wasn’t sure if she was going to show up, but I waited. She didn’t bring the baby a present like she said she would. “No big deal, baby won’t know the difference,” I thought. She had been using. I didn’t ask her about it. Instead I hoped. I silently prayed over her in that seat across from me. She didn’t know, but I prayed nearly the whole time. This time the stories weren’t about the past, they were about the present; they were about how she couldn’t get to visit on time and how she couldn’t get a job, and how her dad kicked her out.
I remained very hopeful for a while. Not for a sudden change from her, but for a connection, and opportunity to link arms with this woman who was struggling. She could say, “I am struggling” and I could say, “I’m here to help in whatever way you need.” But it wasn’t like that. She would show up, and then she wouldn’t. Her other daughter came to live with us. She was older and she knew when mommy didn’t show. When you witness a child who desperately misses their mommy wait for her endlessly in a gritty, old McDonal',s and you finally have to tell her, “baby, it’s time to go, she’s not coming” you die a little inside. The first no-show marks the beginning of my struggle with bio mom and the beginning of my raging battle against guilt. The relationship between her and our family began to crack and brake; I told myself it was my fault.
Years later we have gone the distance with visitation. Meeting frequently, not meeting at all for a nine month span, then meeting again. Meeting at parks, libraries, fast food joints and rehab facilities. Every emotion has been represented and felt over the course of these visits. It has been raw, if “raw” even goes deep enough. We are not linked arm and arm. She does not accept me as the girls’ adoptive mom, even though we are legally very close to adopting.
Being in the trenches of foster care, getting off work every day, picking the girls up, rushing to visits, seeing a social worker (or two!), quick answering that call from the lawyer, brushing teeth, calming down before bed, I had very little time to do a complete process on myself emotionally. But since being on the adoption track for the last few months, the crazy has died down. We can breathe. We can eat dinner and laugh and go to bed, that’s it. And I can think. I wake up in the morning and I look back and I thank God. I lay my thoughts and feelings out, my guilt and my shame and examine. It hurts so much knowing what could have been with birth mom. We could have been a picture of redemption on every wrung.
The fully reconciled birth parent relationship I had envisioned wasn’t what God had planned. He planned for me to love two little girls from a different womb. He planned for me and my husband to pour our everything into the girls we are united with, to give every last ounce of ourselves to them. That He planned and that He accomplished. When I fall back into guilt for what more I could have done or what I wasn’t able to accomplish in relationship, the grip of the Savior comes. The One who sees, and knows, has already woven the whole tapestry. I am on the underside of the loom. It looks messy to me, but he calls it perfect, no guilt necessary.