‘It isn’t fair, she couldn’t take care of us.’ These were the words spoken by one of my kiddos as they broke down at the news their biological sister would be returned to their birth mom.

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“‘It isn’t fair, it doesn’t make sense, she couldn’t take care of us, and we are big kids.’ These were the words spoken by one of my kiddos, as they broke down at the news that their biological sister would be returned back to their birth mom for the second time in 1 and half years. This is the part of foster care that I hate. Over the last 4 and a half years as a foster parent it is the ultimate paradox and the place I struggle to find peace.

Some of you know first hand the deep ache of foster care, and all of us on some level understand the sting of loss. We grow up in a culture that loves happy endings. Our favorite movies end wrapped up with a bow. We spend our whole lives, dreaming, reading and watching ‘happily ever after’ happen. That is where we live the paradox of life and loss. What do we do when we get to the end and the happy ending isn’t there?

My biggest foster care paradox came into play on one of the happiest days of our lives, adoption day, May 12th, 2016. February of 2016, the courts had decided the birth mom to all 4 of my children was not stable enough to continue to have custody over her 3 oldest children. Her youngest was in my care for the second time, but her case was on a different course. We had a whole day planned of festivities and an entourage that would rival any pop star. We laughed, cried happy tears, celebrated and soaked in all of the love as my oldest 3 officially took my name, always and forever.

As we finished up our last round of celebration, I got a call. You can always tell by the first word when the DHS worker has bad news. Her tone was heavy and she hesitated for a moment, and asked what I was doing. I reminded her it was adoption day. Sensing the heaviness in her tone,  I sent the kids ahead into the house. Baby Girl, just a year and a half, was asleep in the back, tuckered out from a full day of fun. The worker had news that jolted me – the court order came back that tomorrow, Baby Girl would leave our home. Her first night away from us in 6 months.

Baby in foster care standing beside window whose foster mother is holding her arms
Melissa Pennington Photography

In that moment the paradox of foster care was painfully clear, I would say ‘forever’ to my 3 older children and ‘goodbye’ to the fourth of our family. My heart sunk, the lump grew and the tears came. All I could do was sob on the phone. We had such an emotional day celebrating a happy ending, and within the same day the reality of our situation came into light – I am still a foster mom, and reunification with birth parents is the goal until proven otherwise.

My heart broke for my oldest 3. They had already experienced so much loss in their short lives. They would be saying goodbye to their baby sister for a second time. She had come to our home shortly after birth, only to be returned to her bio parents a month later. I grieved for them and Baby Girl who adored her siblings. I grieved for birth mom and the chains of addiction and the trauma these kids had all experienced over the years. I grieved for my mama heart that didn’t think I could say goodbye again to Baby Girl. I sat in the car, feeling the weight of this broken system, pleading with God to fix it all. How can we in one day feel such joy and sorrow? How can I prepare us to say goodbye again?

Four and half years into my journey with foster care, I have not been able to settle on the answers. I have have heard countless accounts of people with stories likes ours and some even worse. It doesn’t make sense. The challenge is instead finding the peace in it all, the confusion and unfairness of it will most likely never go away. Addiction is an ugly thing; the way it tears families apart is devastating.

I wiped the tears away, took a deep breath and whispered, ‘it is well,’ the mantra I claimed after the first goodbye with Baby Girl. I opened the door and watched as she slept in her car seat. Her little chest rising and falling, her sweet little lips pursed, and I ached. I didn’t want to move one step for I knew it would be one step closer to goodbye. So I stood there, soaking her in.

Foster mother who holds baby that will be leaving her home
Melissa Pennington Photography

One of the struggles in parenting for me is when do you deliver bad news? When do I interrupt the giggles and pretend play to share the news that our baby is leaving… again? I wanted them to just have one day where they could not feel like foster kids, where loss was a distant memory, where they could just soak up all of the love. When I finally told them, they all looked at me and said ‘okay, will she be back?’ My heart broke. ‘No, she won’t be.’ They all just sat there and accepted what I said. The greatest tragedy in that moment, was the fact that my oldest 3 were getting used to losing people they loved.

I want to hope that the system will change and become better but I am skeptical. I have discovered that maybe it is less about the system changing and more about me changing. Life is filled with moments that show us what exactly we are capable of doing. In hindsight, we find that we are thankful for them, because no matter how hard, they teach us something. These hard moments have taught me to love fully, without walls or guards. To allow myself to love deeply enough that it hurts. Loving these babies well is what they deserve. I will continue to open my heart and my home to the ones who need love the most.”

Foster mother smiles down at baby that is leaving her home
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.

Read more of Julianna’s stories here:

‘I ran upstairs, and the smell of putrid decay invaded my nostrils. I coughed and covered my nose, searching for the source of that smell. There, in the corner of the closet, sat a dark blue trash can.’

‘At the performance, my baby boy blew out his diaper. I scooped him up, rushing to the bathroom. This was at our fancy playhouse, which apparently meant no changing table.’

‘Today was Mommy day and she didn’t come’: Foster mom recounts heartbreaking moment ‘little one’ feels ‘broken’ over bio mom’s addiction

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