‘She handed him over to me, barely looking up. She knew I was coming, aware she would leave the hospital empty handed.’

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Today the courtroom agenda reads termination of parental rights. We have arrived to this bittersweet transition yet again. Addiction is not the cause of this one, this time it came down to competence. Moments after birth the nurses and doctors realized this parent did not have the skills or resources to take care of herself, let alone a baby. So on that cold December day, I got the call.

She knew I was coming, aware that she would leave the hospital empty handed. When I walked into the hospital room, she began to cry. The cry of a child, just 18, who was losing something she wanted. She handed him over to me, barely looking up. As I gazed upon this perfect baby, my heart was overwhelmed.

Melissa Pennington Photography

Minutes later I was experiencing that pivotal moment of leaving the hospital with a tiny human. A human I was now in charge of. He didn’t make me a mom, but this was my first hospital exit, a scene I have only seen in the movies. He did not wear a special outfit or have balloons, I did not have 9 months to be ready for this moment or to prepare for him. I had hours to ready my home and life for this perfect little boy. He came into the world in the afternoon, in a hospital room where his mother, scared and confused, gave birth. He came into the world while I did my grocery shopping and after school routine with my kids. He came into the world and I did not notice — that day was just another day. It would be four days before the call came, a call that forever changed my life.

The dance of foster care began. Birth mom had grown this baby. Bringing him into the world gave her rights. Today those rights will disappear, as if they never were. The sobering paradox of her loss and my gain.

For the first month bio-mom came around, showing up for visits, awkwardly trying to dress and calm this baby she did not know. One day she never showed up. Today is the end of the road, her rights will be gone and so begins the next chapter.

Adoption will be around the corner. His name will change and he will forever be sealed into our family. This time the journey was different, no back and forth visits or long weekend visits with birth parents in treatment centers, trauma, chaos, stress and fear. This time we did not have the neural pathways to correct or the external trauma to heal from. This time I got to bring him home to the only home he has known.

This place is always bittersweet, the tragedy of brokenness, the loss and grief overpowered by the joy of redemption and security. Birth mom knew him the 9 months he was inside of her. He has her eyebrows, her fair skin and her red tint in his hair. I have gotten to know him these past 9 months, I know his milestones, his cries, his likes and dislikes, I know him.

This is the moment everything changes. His path has changed, the road he travels now so different from the one before. The weight of these days are felt. I carry them around forever, seeing the gift I have and aching over the loss they must feel.

This is foster care, it is hard, beautiful and bittersweet.

Melissa Pennington Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julianna Klepfer, a 30 something, single, foster/adoptive mama. She lives with her crew of seven, ages 11, 9, 7, 4, 3, 18 months and 6 months, their two dogs and 6 chickens in the hills of Iowa. You can follow along with her ever changing family at My Joyful Broken Heart.

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