‘Every baby I hold still remembers their known mother.’: Foster mom shares realization ‘a mom is not interchangeable’

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“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.

Babies remember.”

mom holding her foster baby close and giving them a kiss
Courtesy of Stacey Jackson Gagnon

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stacey Jackson Gagnon. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more from Stacey:

‘Mommy, he called me a monster.’: Special needs mom urges ‘take 10 minutes to teach your child about differences’ before schools reopen

‘In ONE week, I’ve heard: ‘What’s wrong with her?’ ‘That’s so sad she has no arm.’ ‘She’s scary, I don’t like her.’: Special needs mom shares important reminder to teach inclusivity

‘I hit bottom. Knees to the ground, ugly tears in the shower. My friends stepped in. They didn’t ask what I needed because honestly, I’m in so deep I have no idea what I need.’

‘The minute we walked inside, the room became silent. Every child stared or pointed at my son. I know he looks different, but today hurt.’

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