First, let me say that this is strictly from a foster parent’s point of view, however, for those who have experienced this type of loss, for others who have experienced the loss of a child through different means and for those on the outside of this situation, I think that sharing in this journey can benefit everyone.
Next, let me say that we have not lost our foster son. I know it may seem a bit premature, then, to be writing about loss, but I think that once you continue to read, you will understand a bit more.
Let’s take an imaginary journey. It is an analogy to help those who have not experienced this loss to be able to identify with those who have. It is a representation of feelings, not an actual situation, but very similar to situations in which foster parents find themselves every day.
Imagine that you have explored every avenue that you can to try to add children to your family. Now imagine that you have completed every piece of paper required, given every blood sample, been examined by physicians, and analyzed and inspected by social workers and have finally been declared an acceptable candidate for parenting.
The wonderful and frightening day finally arrives when a precious child is entrusted to you for foster care. You are elated. You have waited years for this very moment. As the child is handed to you, you are told that this child is terminally ill. You are told that there is a chance for a cure, however. You decide to keep the child and give everything that you can to this child so that his time with you, however short it may be, will benefit him.
As you bond to the child and he bonds to you, you are completely and totally in love. You begin to hope against hope that the treatment for this child will be successful. You make visits to the doctor, twice a week. The doctor has a cure for your foster son. You are ecstatic! How long will it take to cure this child? The doctor indicates that the cure is very costly and requires that someone else sacrifice organs in order for the child to be cured. You want to beg and plead for that person to make that sacrifice to save the life of this precious child, but you know that this person needs to make the decision without any coercion. So, you wait.
One day, the doctor calls and tells you that he is meeting with the organ donor to discuss a plan for treatment for your child. The doctor, however, has to be honest and tell you that the plan may end in the potential donor’s refusal to help your foster child, and, if the donor refuses, your foster child may die, possibly even that very evening.
You pace the floor. You make preparations for the child to be admitted to the hospital that evening. You hold that child as often as possible and shower love and affection on that child, all the while with your heart breaking and tears streaming down your face. You would willingly sacrifice your organs to help the child, but you are told that you are not a match. You pray and you determine to love this child even more because his time with you may be so short.
The doctor calls and tells you that the organ donor has not reached a decision. There is still hope and the child may be treated, to be kept alive, while the organ donor continues to wrestle with the issues of sacrifice that may be required in order to keep this child alive. The doctor tells you that there will be other meetings with the organ donor in the future, but with every meeting, there comes the possibility that death for your foster child may be imminent.
So, you wait and you wonder. Will the potential donor make a decision to give your foster child life? or will your foster child be handed a death sentence that you will be helpless to stop? Every month, the doctor updates you on the discussions with the potential donor. Sometimes it seems as though everything will work out and your foster child will be saved. Other times, you can only see the disease progressing and wonder if anything can stop it.
Now back to reality. On an almost daily basis, foster parents struggle with the possibility of losing a child that they have come to love. For us, before he came to live with us, we were told that there was a chance that our foster son would be voluntarily placed for adoption by his birth mother, only then to be told on the day that he was placed with us that adoption was no longer a realistic hope, then to be told weeks later that adoption was still a possibility, then to be told that our foster son may be returned to his birth parents on the same day as the day they had to appear in court. Needless to say, we have grieved as though our foster son is terminally ill. With each court date we face the permanent loss of our foster son. Hey may not die in the physical sense, however, for us, his removal from our home will be the death of our connection with him.
This is not to say that we only want our foster son to stay with us and that no other outcome is acceptable. Should his birth parents demonstrate their ability to care for him and provide for his needs, physical, mental, and emotional, then that would be the best outcome for him and his parents. Should his parents decide to place him for adoption, but choose another family for him, if that family could provide for him, that would be an acceptable outcome. This post is simply to take you on the journey that a foster parent goes through.
The bottom line for me is not that we spare the foster parents pain and grief. I am more than willing to experience this pain if I know that I am helping a child. The bottom line for me, is to save the life of the child, but everyone involved should know that it does not come without a price.