When Love Comes Easily

Several months ago, I published a post about how love for our foster daughter did not come easily for me. Of course I loved her, but my love primarily looked like actions and not “warm fuzzies”. Compassion for her was simple; affection was significantly less natural.

Then Little Man came. And within the first few minutes that the DHS worker brought him into our home, I suddenly understood what people meant when they talked about getting attached to their foster children.

I loved that little boy.

He left us this week, and while I’m trusting that this move is for his good, I can’t walk past his room without crying. I printed off pictures of him to put in our home just before he left, and I can’t bring myself to put them up. Every one is a reminder that he is gone.

Though K’s stay with us was relatively brief in the grand scheme of life, my connection with him was immediate and deep. As a stay-at-home-mom, I’ve been the one primarily responsible for changing his diapers, feeding him, getting him to sleep, and making him happy. When your life revolves around literally keeping a tiny human alive, there is a sense of purpose that is lost and an emptiness that is felt when caring for him no longer consumes so much of your time and energy.

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People always tell me that they could never do foster care because they would get too attached. {Deep breath; I’m about to rip off a Band-aid here.} That is generally not a legitimate reason (though there are plenty of legitimate reasons not to, which I’ll likely dive into another day. I certainly don’t think everyone is called to foster parenting).

However, if it is really, truly the case that you’re worried about attachment and you’re not hiding other reasons behind an answer that sounds acceptable, then you are absolutely the type of person who should do foster care!

During K’s time with us, I knew that he would eventually leave. I also knew that that could occur next week or tomorrow or in a year, and I’d likely be the last person to know about his pending departure. I wanted to guard my heart to protect it from being ripped out of my chest when that day came, but every time I kissed his sweet fuzzy head, withholding love from him seemed more and more impossible. I imperfectly threw everything I had into loving Baby K, partly because he needed that, and partly because I couldn’t imagine another way.

He was never ours, but we are grieving a huge loss. It does feel like my heart got ripped out of my chest. But as sad as I am that he left, I am more thankful that he came. Our lives have been drastically impacted by a little guy with big brown eyes and two teeth.

I didn’t want to release him into the hands of someone else. Ultimately, though, he is forever held in the hands of his Maker, who loves him more deeply and perfectly than I ever could. Because of that, I know he’s going to be okay.

And I am, too.

When love does not come easily

If I had a dollar for every time someone said the following words to me, we could probably pay off our house:

foster care love

"I could never do foster care because I'd get too attached."

I used to say that, too.

And then we did do foster care.  And I could think of a billion reasons not to do it anymore, but getting too attached was not one of them.

Can I be honest for a second?  It is really hard to love a kid who is not your own.  

There was something different about adopting our oldest, P, from birth.  I fell in love with that girl the moment I saw the top of her head in the delivery room and have loved her more every day since then.  When our foster daughter, K, walked into our home on January 6th, I immediately felt compassion toward her, but I did not feel love.  She has been with us for 107 days now, and on exactly 107 mornings, I have had to make a conscious decision to show love to her, even when I don't feel it.

People are quick to dish out advice, reminding me to love K the same way that I love my own children.  But here's the thing: She is not one of my own children.  I can treat her equally, sure, but I cannot force myself to feel a certain way.  When my own girls have meltdowns, refuse to obey, or scream in my face, I am most definitely annoyed and frustrated.  Sometimes, when K has done similar things, my blood has been absolutely boiling.  On the surface, my response is always the same, but inwardly, I have felt frustration with K to a far greater degree than I do with either C or P.  The inherent love that breeds patience isn't there with her.

For many weeks, I have been ashamed to admit this.  What is wrong with me that I am not attached and connected to her?  Am I cold-hearted?  This seems to come so easily for other people.  The problem lies in the last statement.  I cannot compare myself to the perception I have of other people who may or may not have ever been in a situation even remotely similar.

Foster care is one giant question mark.  Whether or not K will be with us in a week, a month, or a year is undecided, and we are just along for the ride.  Lately, though, it seems as if K may be moving on soon, and I've been a wreck.  The thought of her not living with us anymore has made me come to an important realization: I do love K!

Love is not a feeling.  It is absolutely, one hundred percent, a choice and a commitment that must be made over and over and over again. 

I don't get the warm fuzzies with my foster daughter like I do with my adopted and biological daughters.  But I do want the very best for her, and I'd give up almost anything to ensure that she has a happy, safe, good life with people who want those same things for her.

Loving my foster daughter has been anything but natural.  Love has not come easily, but perhaps the challenge of loving K has made my love for her more beautiful.  This love that has slowly developed over the last 107 days is deep and abiding, unchanged by her frustrating actions and by my feelings of irritation.  

We will likely only be a stop along K's path in life.  My hope is that K has experienced love in a very real way while she has been in our home, but even if she hasn't or doesn't remember ... I have. 

My own kids make me happy, and of course I love them.  (That's easy.)  But loving a child in foster care has made me understand Christ in a way that loving my own never could.  He gave his very life for infinitely frustrating people like me.  My own calling to love K pales in comparison.  So tomorrow, for the 108th time, I'll choose to wake up and commit to loving my foster daughter once again, even when love doesn't come easily.

I didn't bond with my baby.

Our youngest turned two last week.

There are a million things about sweet Caroline that I adore.  I love her ringlet curls, long eyelashes, inquisitive nature, free spirit, gravelly voice, and willingness to try any food put in front of her.  I love the weird habit she has of chewing the noses off of her favorite stuffed animals.  I even love that she loves to make messes.  I could go on and on.  If you know Caroline, you could, too.

I fell in love with my daughter the moment that she was born.  Not a moment before.

I didn't bond with my baby while I carried her.

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I couldn't say that out loud for a long time.  

I so wanted to feel some sort of attachment to the little wonder inside of me like my friends did with their babies.  

But I didn't.

When I found out that I was pregnant with Caroline, the feeling was euphoric.  However, my elation settled after a few days and was replaced by an underlying worry that all was not well.  Because so many things had gone awry in the previous 4+ years of infertility, I was sure that disaster would strike this baby.  Subconsciously, I distanced myself from my growing fetus in an effort to shield my heart from disappointment.

As a former gymnast and recovering calorie counter, I struggled to accept my ever-changing pregnant body.  The desire to care for my unborn child constantly grated against my fear of gaining weight.  Often, I gazed into the mirror and cried, resenting the babe who was making me "fat" (a lie straight from the devil himself).  I continued running, if you could call it that, throughout my pregnancy, but I was frustratingly slow and angry that my body could not obey my mind.

Furthermore, I never was able to reconcile how such a tiny clump of cells could cause me to be so ill that I vomited over the kitchen sink multiple times a day for 20 weeks and hated coffee and prime rib.  I knew that I should be grateful for the opportunity to carry a child, and I was, but pregnancy itself was a generally unpleasant experience.

I thought that discovering Caroline's gender and giving her a name would help me to bond with her.  

It didn't.  

I continued to see her as a miracle and a blessing, but I could not see her as the person that I knew her to be in my head ... until I could.

On August 4, 2015, at 1:38 a.m., I fell in love with the daughter who I had carried for 40 weeks.  The idea of her became a reality, and as I took in her tiny toes and full cheeks, I thought I might explode with joy.

I am a visual and auditory learner.  Much to my husband's dismay, I connect very little through physical touch.  This explains how I could feel Caroline's kicks and hiccups in my belly and simultaneously feel nothing.  It also explains my lack of enthusiasm toward breastfeeding.  (Maybe more on that another day.)  But show me my kid's face or let me hear her tiny baby noises, and I'm undone.

I'm not less of a mom because I didn't bond with my unborn baby, and you're not alone if you don't, either.  No need to fake attachment or carry guilt over a feeling that isn't there ... yet.  Love will come.  

It may just need a face.