A fellow foster family we know had a newborn placed with them yesterday. A tiny, sweet new life. There was excitement, tenderness, and anticipation for their family. I thought back to the day we brought our current foster child home from the hospital. There was some sadness for the situation the child had come from, maybe even some frustration when learning about the background story. However, there was also hope and joy in the potential of new life. Being entrusted with a little one in foster care was so humbling for me, possibly even more so than when I adopted my older children as newborns.

I experienced three newborn adoptive placements from the hospital prior to becoming a foster parent. Each newborn child’s arrival was anticipated for varying lengths of time. We found out our oldest child was on the way about 2.5 months prior to his birth. Our second was born just a few hours after we first were contacted by her birth mother. We had closer to six months to anticipate and prepare for the birth of our third child. Each situation was so unique in how I emotionally dealt with the waiting (or the lack thereof!) involved.

In contrast, when I received the initial call about our current foster child, I was at the park pushing one of my daughters on a swing. I said we would like to be considered. Less than an hour later, on the way home from the park, my phone rang at a red light and I was told we were the chosen placement. The baby was ready to be picked up as soon as possible. I called my husband and made sure he could leave work early to pick up our son from school, arranged for a babysitter, and took a quick shower. On my way to the hospital, I had to swing by a friend’s house to pick-up the infant seat I’d lent her.

I expected to be at the hospital for a minimum of a couple of hours because that was what I’d experienced with our adoptive placements. In reality, picking up our foster baby was almost uncomfortably expedited: in and out in a matter of minutes. I was reeling walking back down to my van with an occupied infant seat. I was stared at by the same people who’d seen me just walk in with an empty seat minutes before. I saw women lean into each other and whisper as their eyes followed me. I wasn’t sure if it was more because my skin did not match his, because I was without a significant other, or because they recognized me as coming and going so quickly. I vowed to be less judgmental of others in my daily life. I was overwhelmed with the lack of ceremony or celebration involved in this child leaving the hospital. I didn’t even have to show identification. When I got him in the van, I was shaking. I had to take a minute to try to calm myself before driving home. I ached to be sitting next to him, but had no choice but to leave him in the back seat and head home. I struggled with the informality of what had just occurred.

To say I have felt mixed emotions over the course of the last year and a half would be greatly minimizing. As I drove home from the hospital that first day with our little one, I vowed to try to celebrate my foster baby’s life every day. From the start of our family-building journey, people have acted like I am not careful enough. I know they mean well. I know they are trying to protect me. Some told me I shouldn’t get my hopes up. Some have said I should be more careful or I will be too attached if our foster child has to leave. However, I have always thought that being too careful would take away some of the joy of celebrating life, whether in the case of foster care or adoption. Over and over, I have felt the truth confirmed as I have allowed myself to, as Dr. Brené Brown (researcher and author) says, lean into joy. Downplaying the chance for happiness in the name of practicality or in hopes of preventing disappointment is robbing yourself and your family of possible joy!

Today another friend and her family said goodbye after several months caring for their foster son, whom they had cared for since birth. I contemplated finding myself in the same situation many times over the last couple of years. I have imagined the experience to be bittersweet and full of complex emotions. Two foster children have left my home, and each time, I have fallen to the ground sobbing with unexpected and overwhelming grief as they left. Each of them were with us less than a week. Our current placement has been with us going on two years. All along the way, my heart has ached imagining any possible departure. I have felt sad for my friend yet have understood when she says she is glad for his family making the effort to be reunified. I know my friend has tried to make the most of each day caring for her foster son.

One thing I want to be sure of is that I leaned into joy whenever possible as a foster and adoptive parent. Refraining from doing so won’t protect me from possible heartache, but it would prevent me from having a more enriching, fulfilling family life.

Do you find it difficult to lean into joy for fear of what might be lurking in the future? How do you overcome the tendency to avoid leaning into joy?