The first week of our foster care journey back in 2006, we received the placement of a sweet baby boy. Immediately, we were completely taken by this child. He was so innocent and vulnerable. We were overwhelmed, yet eager to explore the new territory of parenting.

The first week we had him was quite exhausting, but also incredibly loving. We were on a learning curve which we had never even imagined; sleepless nights, visits from family, and calls with social workers made up our initial trip into the world of foster parenting.

About a week after he was placed in our home, we were told that the first visit with his birth mother needed to happen. Honestly, I knew this was how the system worked, but I was anxious about it and did not know what to expect. My stomach was in knots, my palms were sweaty, but I made sure he was as clean as a whistle and dressed in the cutest outfit I had on hand. His diaper bag was packed, and I printed off some pictures of him for his birth mother to take home.

As I walked into the local children’s services office and stated I was there for a visit, a woman swung around, gasped for air, and then said, “That’s what you look like.” I was stunned, and did not really know what to say. She went on to say, “I imagined him lying in a crib in a foster home with too many children, crying, and no one picking him up.”

I stood there for a moment examining her face and words. In that moment, I realized that I had visualized her just as monstrous as she had visualized me. After all, I was the foster mother. I had not make the same choices she made. I was approved to take care of this baby . . . she was not.

From that humbling moment on, our relationship grew into a friendship. Connected by the precious little soul we both embraced, we began to share our love for him. As the case timeline went on, it became clearer that my husband and I would end up adopting him. I would be his forever mother.

In some respects, I was completely elated, prayerful, and held on to a hope that is hard to describe in words. On the other hand, my heart broke for her. Her life had not been easy. She had experienced bitterness I would never have to taste, and yet, she still showed so much kindness and gratitude for the care we gave him. Gratitude? Can you imagine? I do not even know if I could show the same if in her position.

I learned so much from the sixteen months I had with her. I learned that somewhere out there, someone is always living a life much harder than mine. I learned that mothers whose children end up in foster care love their children, even though at times their actions may not show it.

I was reminded that every child in the system has someone missing them, wishing they were with them, and holding out hope that one day they would be together. I was humbled and refined by the story of her life. I was also reminded of the fruitfulness of faith and the importance of recognizing that our lives are forever intertwined by love.

More importantly, I learned that showing both kindness and humility are the most vital ways to connect with others on a deeper level. My husband and I could have chosen to disregard his birth mother. The temptation to judge, ignore, and put our own agenda first would have been a far-too-easy choice. Instead, our hearts were completely transformed by the experience.

I still keep in touch with his birth mother, even though seven years have passed since our adoption. Honestly, I think about her in some capacity nearly every day. I suspect, perhaps, I will always carry a bit of her in my heart.

Foster parenting is a tough road to walk. Sometimes, the road ends in adoption. Other times, it ends in reunification with birth family. Regardless of what the final decision is for children in one’s home, the actions and decisions made by foster parents will be remembered by birth parents. They are decisions that the foster parents will also have to live with.

The lessons I learned from meeting my son’s birth mother completely shaped my experience with foster parenting. Our adoption of him has been one of the most beautiful happenings I may ever have in life. It was also one of the most treasured reminders that judgment can cut short many blessings and that empathy, love, and kindness will always carry one through difficult circumstances in life.