I have a baby book sitting on a shelf in my house with the names of parents, grandparents and great-grandparents handwritten on the right lines in the Family History section. The All About Mommy and All About Daddy sections are filled out.
The rest is blank.
We bought that book about 10 years ago. We weren’t pregnant, just hopeful.
We’ve never had a baby’s name to list in it.
I may have fostered 11 children, but Mother’s Day always reminds me no one calls me Mommy.
We’ve hoped, prayed and planned. And struggled and questioned.
I’ve tried to listen politely when people tell me God’s timing is perfect or everything happens for a reason. But there’s no valid reason children suffer neglect from their parents but God never gave me a child — except that our world is a broken place where infertility, addiction, violence and sickness sometimes overwhelm us. I’m weary of the platitudes.
Watching friend after friend announce their pregnancy — and then their second pregnancy and sometimes third — was painful when it should have been only joyful.
Welcoming children into our home for the first time without baby showers or balloons or meals at the door still makes me feel bitter.
Sitting among women talking about their journeys with pregnancy, delivery and breast-feeding is always tough for me.
At some point it became easier not to hope. Years of continued failure have been devastating, but the pain of it has lessened, if only because it’s become expected.
Enough time has passed that there’s a lot more joy than pain when I learn someone I care about is pregnant. And none of this is to say we don’t have options to add to our family permanently. The options just don’t feel right.
Expensive medical procedures are right for some. Adoption is right for some.
As hard as it is to hope for my own child who may never come, I can’t stop hoping the children we have cared for can reunite with healthier versions of their families. Not all of them can, but as long as they live with me, the Mother’s Day crafts they bring home from school will be sent along to their mother.
And I’ll hug her children tight and tuck them into bed and tell them I love them. And I know the chance of watching them grow up is slim. I won’t be there for milestones like first girlfriends and boyfriends, learner’s permits or graduations. I won’t struggle through the drama and rule bending of their teenage years. I won’t know what they become when they grow up. I will experience an empty nest — over and over.
If I just had one of my own to keep, the ache could dissipate.
Maybe motherhood is colored by conflicting emotions, too. But it feels an ever-present reality in foster care — love for a child sometimes overwhelmed with the grief of eventual goodbyes and pride in their accomplishments tinged with longing that their birth family wasn’t missing them.
Then there’s the understanding but also pain when a child cries for his mom. And I’m not her.Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.