I Didn’t Adopt My Foster Daughter, And That’s Okay

There are some moments you never forget. Those times in your life—happy, tragic, heartbreaking—that are forever seared in your memory. Vivid details, emotions…time freezes, and you know for the rest of your life, you’ll know exactly where you were in that moment.

That’s what it was like when I got the text message from the social worker. I was standing outside my car, waiting for my husband to leave work, one day away from giving birth to our third baby. At the sound of the soft ding, I looked down and read the message. “We got the order!it said. And before I could stop myself, the tears were slipping down my cheeks. I’d wished and hoped for this moment. But standing there on that fall day, looking at that text message, all I felt was the wind being knocked from me. She’s leaving. Oh my God, she’s really leaving.

From the first day our foster daughter entered our lives—two days old, right from the hospital—I knew this moment was coming. It had always been expected that she would be adopted. We’re foster parents, this is what we do: take in children for a short period of time, love them well, give them a safe and secure home, and then send them home. We’d been doing it for years at this point; we knew the drill.

But we’d never had a newborn. Never raised a baby right from the beginning. I hadn’t gotten up in the middle of the night to feed a newborn, to rock a baby to sleep since my own babies. I hadn’t known the thrill of a first smile, first giggle, hadn’t felt the weight of a sleeping baby in seven years. It wasn’t hard to fall in love; it didn’t take long to wonder if we could adopt her.

I feel like we hear a lot of those stories, the ones where the foster family adopts a child. Or adoption stories in general. And we hear them so often for good reason—they’re good stories. Redemptive and hopeful, they remind us of what’s good in the world.

That wasn’t our story, though. We talked about it; I thought about it often, but it never felt as though it was the best decision for us. A few months into her placement, we found out we were (unexpectedly) pregnant with our third child. That news certainly contributed to our decision, but at the core of it was the sense that adoption wasn’t to be our story.

I struggled with it. I loved her so much; we all did. Saying goodbye to her was the hardest thing I have ever done, and I wondered if we had done the right thing. Would she understand why we didn’t adopt her? Had we inadvertently made her life more difficult by choosing not to adopt her and asking her to transition to another family? Would I ever stop missing her? It was so hard to believe that something that hurt this much was the best thing for everyone involved.

And then I met her family. I could see it when they saw her for the first time—this was one of their moments. I knew watching them that they would never forget the first time they laid eyes on their baby girl. It was such a privilege to witness the coming together of this family, to see this girl who I had raised and loved so much be so adored by this couple. I saw them fall in love with her the way that we had; I watched how she fit with them, and I knew that we had made the right decision. This was her family. These were her people. This was their story, and we had helped to make it happen.

When we started fostering, I expected the most incredible feeling would be adopting a child who had come into your home. It didn’t take too long for me to realize the real gift in fostering is having a small part in bringing families together—in opening your heart and home for children and families who need it, and even breaking your own heart and saying goodbye.

Sometimes, I still wonder what our family would have looked like if we’d been able to adopt her. But then I get a text from her mama and it has a picture or a video, and she tells me of new words and silly faces, and I know. I know she is happy. I know her family loves her. I know she will grow up feeling safe and secure. And I know we were so blessed to have been a part of it, to lay a foundation, to bridge the gap until she went to her forever family.

That was our story, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.


Photo caption: Lindsay Smith and family