My Child Is Alive. She Just ... Isn't Mine.

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girl coloring

My 20-month-old (that’s one-and-a-half-year-old in non-parent speak) foster daughter loves crayons.

She especially loves to wander around the house and make her literal mark on non-paper items. One day, she happily scribbled all over the top of my Macbook Pro.

I was going to wipe it off with a magic eraser (those things really are magic), but I think I’m going to leave it, instead.

It serves as a memory for me, as a reminder that she really did live here with us and it wasn’t some sort of strange, surreal dream.

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From the moment that we brought her home from the hospital, everything has felt surreal. My spouse and I went from two people who did whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, and especially two people who loved to travel, to a couple of constantly tired parents.

Try to imagine that, please.

Try to imagine the car seat challenge in the NICU, the hospital room, and the late-night feedings. Try to imagine the colic and the doctor’s visits and the time off from work. Try to imagine the family that was created.

Maybe, if you can imagine it, then you won’t say things like, “You gave her a good start,” or, “She was so lucky to have you.”

Maybe you won’t make inappropriate comments about giving us your own kids. Worst of all, maybe you won’t tell us that “there is another little girl out there somewhere who needs you.” My spouse said it best: “I believe there is. But, it doesn’t replace this one.”

Our foster daughter, who had been in our care since she was 11 days old, was reunified last week. She’s about to turn two. Can you imagine that? Really, sit with and imagine that. It’s important.

It’s important because people speak about foster care in just a few ways. People will say that “the system is broken.” People will say that the children are “too traumatized.” People will say that they could never foster because they’d “get too attached.” Or, people tell us that we’re saints for caring for a child. There isn’t a lot of in-between.

Foster care is either evil, impossible, or wrapped up in goodness. Of course, the truth is that every situation is completely unique. Not to mention that every state, every region, every city, and every county is completely unique. Nothing is cut and dry.

My situation, our family’s situation, wasn’t cut and dry, either. 

In many ways, I can’t believe that I’m actually writing these words. It still doesn’t feel real that I’m here, alone in this house without her.

The rain is falling outside and I am not responsible for making sure that she’s had enough whole milk today, enough vegetables, or enough sleep.

Is that why my heart made my hands reach for my cell phone earlier to text her mother, to tell her that there have been tornado warnings? Is it because my body still doesn’t know, doesn’t understand that I can’t protect this baby anymore?

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And, now, the tears come. Tears that I hold back every day. Honestly, we’re lucky. We’re lucky because we built a relationship with the family. We’re lucky because they’ve let us see her so frequently since she left. We’re lucky because we’ve been able to offer resources and show loyalty in times of distress.

I actually worry that I’ve been too loving toward the family; that I’ve too easily overstepped my boundaries.

I’m bad at boundaries. I just want to hug and care for people, family, and all. Boundaries are especially difficult when you raise a child … and then that child is gone.

I’m glad that she’s had a slow transition since we’re still in her life. But I still worry about how she must feel to no longer be in the place she called home every day.

I wonder if she misses her crib or the stories that we read or the songs that I’d sing. I wonder if she misses her routine. She was here yesterday and I still haven’t cleaned up the toys that are strewn about what was her bedroom.

I just feel so completely devastated. I feel like my child died. But, she’s alive. She just … isn’t mine.

On the very day that my foster daughter was ordered to leave our home, an old preschool student of mine was adopted. 

I had tried so hard to foster that preschool child, but she lived across state lines.

I reached out to her then-foster mom, I called social workers. I was promised that if she became available for adoption, I could care for her.

Everyone lied.

I loved that kid. She was so intelligent and fun. It was bittersweet, to see that adoption posted on Facebook. Honestly, as selfish as it sounds, it’s enough to make you give up on the idea of having children. It feels like my heart will never heal.

It’s hard not to feel like I’ve already given my energy away to children who will never stay

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I'm not a saint. I’m a human being. Foster parents are just humans who want to help — at least, that’s who they’re supposed to be.

My mom really wanted to babysit my foster daughter today. I had to help her understand that I can’t force her birth mother to let us watch her. I don’t want to make her feel pressured.

My mom was disappointed and sometimes, that makes me angry, too. Oh, my mother’s disappointed? What about us? What are we? We lost our daughter. And, yes, for that period of time, she was our daughter.

The people who have been the most supportive haven’t been my best friends from high school (save for one or two of them, most of them don’t even talk to me anymore) or my own family members. The people who have offered support the most have either been complete acquaintances, old friends, or other foster parents.

I’ll never forget those people and their kind words. I don’t think I’ve ever properly thanked them, and I don’t know if I can.

There is so much more that I could write, so much more that I want to write.

I keep thinking about how I just want to see her in front of me right now, singing into the toy microphone that I got her.

I keep worrying about her.

I keep wondering when I’ll see her next and if I’ll still get to take her to preschool this week and see her in her Princess Leia outfit for her preschool class’ Halloween party.

I keep thinking about how much I’m dreading the holidays because she won’t be here with us to enjoy them.

There are so many more things. There is laughter in my dreams and there are scribbles on my laptop.

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Summer Warner is a freelance and creative writer. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @seagreensummery.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.