In mamabare’s Labor of Love series, women share their stories of pregnancy, loss, labor and motherhood – in a variety of forms. We are repeatedly reminded that parenting is truly a labor – no matter how we come about it. Birthed out of love, whether biologically, through loss or pain, by fostering or adoption, our journeys to and through motherhood are so exceptionally unique in their own ways yet entirely universal.
Here, Gabrielle shares her journey into foster parenting. She relates her unique experience openly, in her own words, with depth, strength, and humility. Welcome, Gabrielle! Thank you for shedding light on children in need and for fostering unwavering hope for many.
Fostering Love and Hope for Kids from Hard Places
2 p.m. The phone ring
“…we have a 3 year old little girl in need of a safe place. Not much information yet but it’s going to court tomorrow. Would you be willing to welcome her if the judge orders a placement?”
Of course we’re willing, we were expecting a call anytime now!
The very next day, our life changed in a million ways… Waiting for the phone calls was almost surreal at first! Knowing our life could get shaped completely differently in the blink of an eye.
Everything went so fast and we got caught in a swirl known as “The Foster Care System.”
“…I know it’s almost 5 p.m. but I would need an answer as quickly as possible. There is this newborn baby, 5 days old, born with drugs in his system… We’d need a family for a 30 day placement. If you’re interested, would you be able to spend the night with him at the birthing center? Yes, tonight!”
Of course, I’ll be right there. Let me just organize the rest of the troops here!
Babies are so precious! I know, I’ve lost four of them in the womb. Never got to hold my own children… at least, not yet. Miscarriage and baby loss… another topic for another day though, because I’m all about breaking taboo to fight isolation and create healing bonds between women.
That first night was probably the closest I’ve ever been to my idea of entering motherhood. I ran to the hospital with a baby bag filled with mixed items, having no idea what that baby boy already had, how much he weighed, or even the kind of formula he was on! That night, a group of gentle nurses placed 6 pounds of love in my arms and showed me to a bedroom where I spent the next hours cuddling this precious baby, whispering words of love and comfort in his ears and marvelling at his tiny hands and feet.
The Phone Rings…
“…We’re looking for another family in order to transfer this 3 year old little boy with special needs. He doesn’t speak and he’ll need special assistance. Unfortunately, the family who welcomed him has some space issues in the house… this child would need his own bedroom…”
Of course, we’ll make space for him. We do have a spare bedroom! With regards to his special needs, every child entering the system is facing some sort of challenge: attachment, trauma, specific developmental delays caused by neglect, prenatal exposure to drugs/alcohol, violence or abuse, and the list goes on… Who are we to pick, right?
I could go on and on, reminiscing about every single one of them, the children who came in and out of my life, leaving forever footprints on my heart.
A Path to Growth
Fostering may be an act of making space in your home and heart for a child in need, but let me tell you a secret: these kids will probably give you as much as they’ll receive from you. It is, without a doubt, a path to growth and a journey very far from any comfort zone I had in mind.
My husband and I went from being a young couple to “having” 9 kids in 2 years. At times, we fostered as many as 4 children at a time. It was hard. It was raw. I felt more vulnerable than ever and the whole process brought me to my knees so many times.
Those first years were a roller coaster of welcomes, adjustments, and the pain of letting go. We never knew what to expect when the phone rang.
But things have become more stable over this last year. Our home has become filled with kiddos in “long-term placement.” Stability allows us to work deeper and encourage the rooting process, which often exposes the children’s emotional and attachment wounds. It is a difficult but much-needed step in order to start the healing process.
The Art of Letting Go
And this is how 3 little boys ended up rocking our current life!
I believe mothering is an art: the art of letting go in all kinds of ways! Letting go of one’s ideals of motherhood, of clean floors, and full nights of sleep. Letting go of all sorts of preconceived ideas, of complete silence, and lazy Saturday mornings. But this journey is certainly rich with many blessings and laughter if we become intentional in looking for them, if we pause to count them on a daily basis!
In order to be true while fostering these little broken hearts, I also believe we need to be ready to get vulnerable. Only then will we have the privilege to meet these kids in their own vulnerability.
From my experience, fostering is messy. It is humbling. It is the real deal with no filter on. But it will always be worth it. These little human beings need to hear and know that they are worth it, that they are lovable, that they are precious to our society.
Support, Safety, and Self-Care
After all, it takes a village to raise a child. I view this journey as much as a burden and responsibility as a blessing and privilege to be a part of.
If this is stirring your heart too, please know that there are so many ways to contribute and be part of a fostering “village.” No need to become a foster family in order to love and care for foster kids! Every foster family needs a support system and there are many ways to help build that safety net around them.
I learned the hard way that self-care isn’t selfish but essential – in order to keep caring, renewing strength for the long nights ahead, and for taking a step back. Self-care offers a better perspective while we accompany a child through the ghosts of traumas. Vicarious trauma (or compassion fatigue) is a reality and we need to be aware in order to prevent sliding into it (interesting link for resources here).
Fostering means becoming some sort of a work tool ourselves and, if we’re a broken tool, it becomes very hard to get the job done.
It Takes a Village
I can’t imagine how we would have done it without our precious allies and most generous friends and family members! Some sent us bags of kids’ clothes, books, toys or useful pieces of furniture; others brought us meals or accepted to do last-minute babysitting while we were rushing to a doctor’s appointment with a kiddo; some offered respite for a weekend while others ran essential errands when the phone had just rung for a new placement and we couldn’t venture outside for a few days. What keeps melting my heart though, is that every one of these supporting individuals welcomed each of the precious children we “had” as a real part of our family. These friends and family members treated our kids as equal: coming to birthday parties with gifts, including them without judgement or labels.
It really takes a village to raise a child and even more to create healing conditions.
The Most Difficult Chapters of This Great Story
Last, but certainly not the least, I couldn’t be completely true to myself without adding that, to me, fostering goes hand in hand with our faith. This journey is a difficult one, I’m not gonna lie, but once we had put little faces to it, it is a journey we couldn’t ignore. Faith brought us to jump in with our whole hearts as a family through the most difficult chapters of this great story. I like to look at our family as some sort of patchwork: from bits and pieces of all shapes and colors, we are being stitched together into a beautiful quilt.
Awareness and Hope
Yes, parenting children who are hurt is a journey: one filled with joys and sorrows, peaks and valleys, laughter and lots of tears. But the journey’s mostly filled with grace, patience and hope for healing.
Sometimes the healing isn’t only happening in the children’s lives. Many occasions have served to teach my husband and me valuable lessons about unconditional love. I’ve been healed in places I had no idea were broken.
These are glimpses of our story – ordinary but somehow one of a kind.
With nearly 30,000 kids in care throughout Canada and more than 600,000 children served by the American public foster care system, there’s room for awareness and hope for change.