“Have you seen a newborn grieve loss?
How about a 6-month-old?
I didn’t recognize grief.
Through all the years and all the foster babies that came through my home, I didn’t see it.
I never realized that a mother is not interchangeable; you cannot just change a known mother with an unknown one.
I guess I thought these babies were coming from such horrible circumstances, that they wouldn’t understand the loss; because in my mind, my home was a gain.
They were gaining safety, love, attention,…I now understand that foster care and adoption begin with loss; the loss of the known.
I used to think that a foster baby coming into my home would not remember.
I was wrong.
While in the womb the child knows not any difference between mother and self; they are one.
They are tasting, smelling, touching, hearing, and seeing within the womb.
Upon birth, a separation occurs and what had once been a unified, indistinguishable source of life, is now separated.
And suddenly there are things that prohibit the attention and care that had once been always present and never-ending.
So the baby learns to express a need for this attention and care; they learn to cry.
And the mother responds, and she is known…the baby knows her smell, her sound, her touch, her taste.
All is remembered and well.
But then imagine, this mother is suddenly gone.
It is now someone else’s face and eyes; someone else’s touch, smell, and routine.
The mother is gone and replaced by someone who is unknown.
All is not well.
Where has the known mother gone?
Why has she left me with this unknown?
I was the unknown mother and I didn’t recognize the grief.
I wish I had understood that every foster baby coming into my home was experiencing grief.
No matter the circumstance of their removal, they were experiencing loss.
Grief is a normal response to the greatest loss.
I was an unknown mother.
Every baby I held still remembered the known mother.
Grief was not assuaged by my home, my family, my deeds, or my words…it was instead held in the space of shared daily moments.
And slowly over time I became known too.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stacey Jackson Gagnon. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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