The last time my house was filled with pink was equally as unexpected as this time. I walked into church one cold early February morning. Our church meets in a school gymnasium and in the back corner mats were laid out for the babies and toddlers to crawl on. Laying there, alone, was a 6 week old baby girl.
I knew her story, at least a bit, as I had known the family for years. Her mom was very, very young and dealing with some difficult issues. Grandma, raising her own young son, had put the baby into foster care and then taken her back out again a couple weeks later. Dysfunctional, overwhelmed, hurting and in the middle was a tiny, needy baby girl.
That baby girl came home with me that Sunday morning at Grandma's insistence and stayed a night or two. Then again, and again, and again until finally she was staying with us 5 or 6 days a week, and going to grandma's house on Sundays. Our families became intertwined as we fed grandma and uncle, took him to school, mentored mom and generally just loved the child as if she was the most amazing little girl on the face of the earth. And in fact, to me, she was. She was the daughter of my heart and I loved her fully and completely.
One day, about a year after she first stayed with us, she went for a visit to grandma's and never came back. Ever. No real reason other than all the same reasons she had came to our house in the first place. There was nothing we could do to fix it. Nothing we could do to undo it. Not even a goodbye.
I thought my heart would break. I thought our family would break. Some days the ONLY reason I had to keep breathing was the fact I was still a mom, but life without that little girl in it didn't seem like a life that was worth living. I wondered, out loud sometimes, if I would ever laugh again or if I would ever, ever exist without feeling the Constancy of her ABSENCE as much as I had felt the Constancy of her presence.
Within a week our house lost the look of a home with a baby girl. The toys were packed up and given away. Her clothes donated to friends. I sobbed as her crib was taken down, to be used by another child who needed it now.
I was a mama without the baby I loved. Except that there was really no word to explain my grief or our relationship or even my motherhood to her. I had simply loved and parented a baby that was now no longer a part of our lives. She hadn't died - she continued to exist elsewhere just out of our touch and out of our family. A baby that was living a difficult and hard existence literally blocks from my front door. It was a grief that I had never felt before, and did not know how to live through. But live through it we did. Oh how we all suffered, but we survived.
It has taken literally years (two and a half in fact) to process this loss and to, in many ways, forgive God (and woman) for putting us through it. Finally, slowly I have begun to heal and find closure. Hope of her returning turned to resignation that she will never know of us, never remember how much we loved her and never be told of the family that had her the first year of her life. I have accepted that to us, she will forever be a family member, but to her, we are simply strangers.
Acceptance came with a belief and even appreciation that I was done parenting small children and even the desire to have another child, particularly a daughter, abated. The grief, and the time and treasure that was our Baby J was never going anywhere, but the sharp edges dulled and became something I learned to live around and with.
Finally I though, even just a short time ago as I saw friends with their babies and instead of silently aching, I appreciated how EASY (in comparison) my boys are now.
Then Thursday came and the call about two little girls needing a home. TWO GIRLS. Here. And my heart cracked a bit and our door openned again and they arrived.
And in the same way that in a few short days our house lost all look of housing a baby girl, in a few short days our house again looks like a pre-school nursery. I went out for groceries and came home to a crib set up in the same spot that Baby J's crib once stood. Toys strewn across the living room, bottles on the counter, soothers in the dishwasher. As quickly as my life changed before, it had changed again.
And I was a woman with two baby girls in her home, shocked beyond belief at the reality. "This time will be different" I assured my friends who know at least a portion of the depth of my grief and loss. I told myself the same.
But the moment of utter reality and grief came unbidden as the scab ripped off on Saturday. I didn't even pause as I tore into a box of clothes dropped off for us. I was excited to dig into the layers of pink and purple and lace.
I pulled out the top dress and my heart stopped; for this box was full of HER clothes. Clothes I had given away, passed forward, and shared with others. And they had come full circle, back to our home. Back to me. My baby girl's clothes now BACK. Dresses I had bought for her, pants, her coat. Her sun hat featured in the picture staring back at me from my windown sill. Worse still, clothes that I had given away that I had bought in advance that were then too big for her and she never wore. My baby girl's clothes were back. All back for two little strangers.
And here I sat holding baby girls, crying for the one long gone. I hold two, one the exact age she was when she first stayed, the other the exact age she was when she left. The full spectrum. The full circle. And I cry because I know what is to come.
I lack the ability to NOT love a child in my home. I have heard people say that they could never love a child they didn't give birth to as much as they love their "own". I know no such distinction but oh how somedays I have wished for that. I have wished for the ability to turn off my heart, to not feel, but I can't. I wanted to protect my heart from these two little angels that I know will one day leave, but I was futile.
I tried, I tell you I tried. I promised myself. I promised my kids. I promised my family. I lasted 48 hours before I whispered to the older one, completely unintentionally "I love you sweetie". And I knew I did.
I am not a woman with two baby girls in her home anymore, I am a mother. Yet I know the pain to come. I know what my role is but already my heart breaks. Loving babies who will never remember the mother who loved them with her whole heart. How do you carry that pain? Love them as they deserve, be the mama they need, parent them for months or years and then let them go without regret? It's a burden I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.