Every adoption starts with a loss.
I know this now, but I admit it took a long time for me to grow in that understanding. I still wanted what I wanted.
Her brown eyes peered up at me, dark ringlets around her face. Her eighteen-month-old chubby fingers reached for my hand as we stood side by side waiting for supervised visitation with her mom.
Piper never liked leaving me to go into the arms of our social worker. It gave me the feeling of a puncture wound in my chest each time. I picked her up, squeezed her tight, and placed a kiss on her cheek.
“You are my big, brave girl. Enjoy your time with your mommy.”
Every time I closed that door and turned away, I never let her see me cry. I never showed anyone my deep pain. Never let anyone see the agony of letting her out of my care.
I had been unprepared for these big feelings.
Was I prepared for all things reunification? Yes. Was I prepared for caring for a small child? Yes. Was I prepared for the trauma? Yes.
But I was not prepared for the way my heart would swell one minute and shatter the next. I’d heard “it’s a roller coaster ride,” but the magnitude of that statement sent me reeling nearly every week.
I closed my eyes and placed my forehead on the door, then gathered up my will to walk away.
Brittany was almost out of rehab and doing quite well. I’d seen all sides of her. She’d been angry with me, jealous, bitter, then she turned soft-hearted, and tried co-parenting alongside me. She’d gone from being completely clean to relapsing, then clean to going back into a program again. She went from neglecting her children to wanting to try and parent them.
“I’ve seen you with Piper, and I want to let you know that you’re doing a good job.” The words slipped out of my mouth from some other level of human I’d become. I could hardly recognize myself standing in the visitation room as I spoke.
But it was true. She deserved encouragement. She didn’t parent like me. She had limited resources, very little support. But she was learning and she did the best she could. Perhaps in the back of my mind I thought she would relapse again, and the devastation would start all over. Perhaps I thought she really didn’t love her kids as I would. Perhaps I was right about all of these things – but was there a possibility I was wrong?
What if God was doing something in her life I couldn’t see?
Her face was taut, lips drawn in an anxious thin line. Brittany pulled a strand of stringy unwashed hair behind her ear; her waif appearance barely noticeable in the room. She wouldn’t look at me. I was thankful we were beyond the anger days now.
“I’m trying to be a good mom. I love them.”
“I know.” I folded my hands in my lap and realized this moment was about something bigger than me. Something more than my heart’s desperate desire to hold on to these children and give them stability and consistent love.
Ellen met me later in the hall. “You’re amazing, you know that?”
I didn’t respond, but gave her a questioning look.
“Not any one situation is the same here. Everyone has different backgrounds, different excuses, different outcomes. Sometimes we think it’s going to be a Termination of Parental Rights and then it turns into reunification instead. We do try to seek what’s best for the families. I’m sorry we thought this was going to be a possible adoption, but isn’t turning out to be that way at the moment. I know that is hard on you.”
I nodded. I understood her. I wanted to be mad at Ellen, but it really wasn’t her fault. She had to do what the court said. At any point a case can be headed in one direction and turn into another.
My emotions were at war within me. “That’s the price you pay,” I told her, quietly. “If these sweet babies will have a better life because of being with their mom, then I want that. I love them and just want what’s best for them.”
Somewhere deep inside, I wanted what was best for Brittany too, even though I didn’t want to admit it.
Control was hard for me, always had been. But our court date arrived and I handed it over.
Piper and Micah were at home with my mom. Earlier, I’d held Micah close, enjoying his snuggles deep into my neck where he’d always felt safe. He felt most secure when he held his beloved blankie and nuzzled in close, regardless of the busyness that surrounded us. Piper had made crafts on the floor in front of me, her dark eyes shining with joy. She started calling me “mama” a few months ago, and I tried to add “Mama Heather” to it. I didn’t deter her from it, though I always reminded her who her mommy was.
“Mmm?” She looked up at me and pointed to her craft paper.
“Yes, love. You chose a great place for your stickers.” I ached internally, knowing we were headed for a decision today. I knew it didn’t look like they’d go to adoption, but would instead be reunified with Brittany.
“I just want what’s best for them,” I whispered to my mom in the kitchen. “It’s just hard because I love them so much.”
My mom saw the agony on my face and put her arms around me. “I know. You’ve done so well with them. You have given them a safe home and a place to thrive and grow. You’ve given them love and support. You should be so proud of yourself.”
I cried silently on her shoulder, not wanting the kids to see my distress.
“You will grieve and you will heal. You can love again.” Mom smoothed my hair back and gave me the will to move forward. I went in to court later that morning.
Now I watched as the Judge made his final announcement, hitting the gavel that would forever resound in my head, “…reunification to mother Brittany Brown, effective immediately…”
He said other words, but my moment of horror had arrived.
I stood tall, but I felt tears falling from my eyes. It was such a gut-wrenching moment: wanting to keep these two beautiful souls as my own, but wanting them to thrive in their biological family as well.
Joy and sadness intermixed. What a dichotomy.
Ellen and Brittany came later that evening to pick up the kids. She gave me time to say goodbye and for that, I’ll forever be grateful.
The last thing I packed in Piper’s sweet pink luggage bag was the Baby Books I’d made for them both. Tears filled my eyes. I ran my hand over the cover, a picture of Micah as an eight week old staring back at me. I flipped to the back to make sure my note was in each book, carefully slipped into a folder on the inside cover.
Knowing this fate would be a possibility, last night I’d written a letter to them both. A private letter just in case they ever needed me.
I was afraid. I feared they would forget me, and would never know how much I loved and cared for them during the days they were here. It was always a possibility I could never see them again. I pulled out the letter to Piper:
This is what I called you for the days you were here with me. You stayed a long time with me and you started to call me “mama.” I let you because I wanted you to feel comfortable. I was your fill-in mama for a time and I loved every minute of it. But you have a mama and you are going to be with her now.
I need you to know how much I have treasured this time. How grateful I am for your precious life. I need you to know how much I love you. I pray that no matter how far away you are, no matter how old you get, or wherever you go, that you will always feel my love. It was never a sacrifice for me to love you. We had some hard days, but we had mostly beautiful ones.
You are treasured, my child. You are loved by a God you can’t see. He made you and formed you and created you with a beautiful purpose. I pray you know this deep down in your heart and that you will never spend a day questioning it. Your future is bright, my Pippy. Hard things come our way, but you know what? We can do hard things. You are strong and brilliant. You are eternally loved.
If you ever need me for anything at all, even if you just want to talk for a minute, please call me. Here is my number…”
I tucked the letter down carefully, knowing neither she nor her mother would likely ever find it. I was too fearful to give it to Brittany outright, so I slipped it in the book. It just felt like the right thing to do. A “just in case.”
It was my way of saying goodbye.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is coincidental.